Saturday, 31 March 2018

Monthly Roundup - March 2018

Back again with a round up of my expenditure and budget for March 2018. It's been a bit of a high expenditure month this month, although not on holidays to far flung locations, but just on stocking up on necessary items and buying items off my long standing wish list, which to me feels like progress.

As a consequence of the above, there are a few overspends budget wise, but please bear in mind that I don't work on a zero based budget, whereby every single penny coming in is accounted for, so I haven't necessarily gone into debt when I've overspent.  I don't know if I've mentioned this in the past, but in case you were wondering, I do have more income over and above the budgetary restrictions I place on myself, which is probably why I struggle to keep within the budget categories.

Anyway, here goes with the March budget report:

Food - Overspent the £400 budget here by £6.97, despite taking great care to only buy what we absolutely needed in the last shop of the month.

Household - I overspent on this £50 category by £79.50 this month.  The overspend was due in part to stocking up on lots of toiletry items, which I do from time to time, such as deodorant, witch hazel, toothpaste, cotton pads, mouthwash, shampoo, etc.  I'm pretty well stocked up on these now which will lower outgoings over the next couple of months.  In addition, I spent £22 on some anti-plaque powder for the dog's teeth, as I bought a much larger pot to qualify for using a 20% off voucher on eBay. I shouldn't now need to buy any more for at least a few months.

Misc. - I went over the £50 budget in this category by £19.47. Most of the expenditure here went on Easter/other gifts, cards, cold medications and shoe repairs.

Personal - Okay, so a big fail in this budget category this month, as I went £57.45 over the £25 budget I set myself. It was mainly due to buying various small bits and pieces at the CS and other shops, buying a new swimsuit at TK Maxx and placing an order with ASOS for some new skater shoes and a t-shirt for the spring/summer. It is scary how small purchases over the month very quickly add up to quite a lot, but the budget of £25 per month is quite a small one. (mainly due to my being on the Buy Nothing New in 2018 challenge, which obviously took a pounding this month).

LB - LB's budget of £25 was also overspent this month by £24.99, because I needed to buy her a pair of walking boots for an upcoming Duke of Edinburgh expedition.  I wanted to get them early so she could wear them in before the time. I did also pay for some school books and flash cards and some new bras for her out of this month's budget, so I'm not too worried about overspending here, as it was all stuff that she needed for school and other events.

Home - The home budget of £20 was well overspent this month by £66.75. This was mainly as a consequence of  spending £30 to buy a new quilt and pillows for LB and some paving slabs for my allotment plot which cost £26.80.  All of these things were on my wish list though, so that has been significantly reduced going forward, to the extent that there is hardly anything on it now. I probably could have waited to buy the bedding, but as I had spare money floating around this month, I thought why not?

Travel - I was spot on with the travel budget this month, spending the full £40 I usually allocate to this category.  This was mainly due to working extra days to cover leave in  the early and latter part of the month.  I will go into next month with a small credit balance on my Oyster card though, as I loaded it with more money than was strictly necessary.

All in all there were no really major unnecessary blow outs, which is good enough for me. In addition, I ended the month well in the black.  It feels good to have surplus funds at the end of the month for a change and it was great to see my expenditure drop by over £100 this month, to a level it's not been at for over four or five months. There's still a way to go to get it to a more satisfactory level, but it would be great to see it continue in a downward trajectory in the coming months.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Errand and Chore Day

Tuesday this week was my only full day off work, as the shop manager is away this week and I've been going in for all or part of the rest of the weekdays. I was feeling a bit tired after a not so good night's sleep, but was determined to get a few chores and errands done on my one day off.

It didn't help that OH was going away early to catch a plane. He's gone off cycling with his chums for a couple of days, so I'm left in charge at home too. Work was a bit crazy on Monday (what's new) and I had so much going through my mind that it took a long time to finally get to sleep.

Anyway, I woke quite early and read for a while, before getting up and ready, having breakfast, doing the washing up, putting some washing on and then heading out with the dog. By the time we got back it was 11ish, so it was time for tea and a hot cross bun, before doing some more chores.

I collected some washing off the drier and hung out the new wash and then caught up on a bit of blog reading and YouTube watching.  Then it was time for lunch and I treated myself to a big healthy salad and a left over chicken drumstick.

I'd given myself really bad indigestion at the shop on Monday, by trying to eat my sandwich way too fast and do various other things at the same time, so I was determined to enjoy my lunch without rushing on this occasion. I really need to slow down at work and eat properly. OH is always telling me the same thing and after this incident, I realise that he is, of course, right. I'm already prone to irritable bowel, so not taking time over my meals isn't a good idea for me.

After lunch, I headed out and about to do some errands.  I needed to re-heel some boots, that took very little time and only a handful of wears to wear out.  I made sure to ask for heavy duty heels so that they would last longer.  For just a couple more pounds, it's definitely worth it.

I also needed to take a letter to the bank to close one of my business accounts and finally draw a line under it. I made the mistake of wandering into a charity shop on the high street and came out having spent £10 on a black denim dress for me and this book, which sounds an interesting read. It was £3.

When I got in it was time for the second dog walk of the day, before settling in for the night, making supper, feeding the dog and finishing off the ironing. I ended the day with a shower in readiness for going back to work the next day. I didn't get everything I wanted to do done, but did what I feasibly could. The rest will have to wait until the weekend. 

Fortunately for me, the dog is going to the dog walker during the day on two of the days I'm working this week, courtesy of OH, to give me one less thing to worry about.  She should enjoy the company and at least I won't have to worry about her being home alone all day, which she isn't used to.

Sometimes, I guess you just have to do whatever you can to just get by and keep on top of things as much as you can.  This week (well, the whole month if I'm honest) was definitely one of those times.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

A Productive Saturday

This weekend, I decided to get up early on Saturday and do a bit of shopping with LB.  I needed to buy her some new walking boots for an upcoming Duke of Edinburgh expedition and I also needed some seed potatoes and paving slabs for the allotment. Saturday morning was the only time we could really go and as OH was using the car to take the dog on her special Saturday morning walk, he dropped us off at a local retail park on the way and collected us on the way back.

We only ever really venture out in the car on weekends early on a Saturday morning, because from 11am onwards traffic on the main roads in and around London can get really bad, so we try to avoid getting caught up in it like the plague. In any case, it worked out perfectly, because the shops don't tend to be too busy this early and we managed to get everything we needed by the time he came to pick us up.

Once we got home, we had lunch and then OH, the dog and I  all ventured across to the allotment to lay the slabs and get the potato seeds in. I'd worked on the plot on three separate occasions during the preceding week, but hadn't quite managed to finish weeding and digging it all over.  There was just one quarter left to do. It didn't stop us from getting the potatoes in or the slabs down though.

Once we'd done that we all headed off to the nearby park to bag up some free compost.  There are several massive piles of compost and chippings that are left in there by the council for anyone to help themselves to.  We consequently filled about 13 sacks and with the help of a wobbly wheelbarrow borrowed from the allotment site, managed to get them back to the car. To be honest, we didn't even make much of a dent in the pile.  I forgot to take a photograph to show you, but I may take one if we go back for some wood chippings for the back garden, as there was an even larger pile of these there that we might just help ourselves to at some point.

We took the compost back to the plot and continued working on it. I managed to dig over a bit more and get the compost on the surface of about 70% of the plot.  There's just one small patch now that still needs digging over and we left a couple of bags of compost there to spread on this once it's done.

Here's a couple of pictures of what the plot looked like as we left:

The paving slabs will make it so much easier to get across the plot, especially when the ground is muddy, as it is at the moment and they give the plot a bit more structure too. I just need to finish digging the last patch you can see in the photo and then sow some seeds and we're up and running again.

I feel so much better now I've got properly started on the plot. If I leave it too late, it feels like a lot of pressure to get the plot cultivated well enough by the time the inspections come around. I feel like I've got a head start now. I'll keep you posted as it develops and throughout the growing season.

By way of a celebration for all our hard work, tonight we are treating ourselves to a take away supper. I think we deserve it.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Feeling Downtrodden

I'm feeling a bit downtrodden today. I can't go into why in detail, but it's work related and caused me to get next to no sleep last night. I'm pretty annoyed about a conversation I had yesterday and am currently wondering why I bother working so hard at all. Sometimes it's just not worth it.  I should just go in and trundle through the day and then I'd probably be better thought of.  Funny that.

Unfortunately, that's not the way I'm made. I like to get stuck right in and do my absolute best and in doing so, sometimes I make mistakes, like I did this week.  Not a huge life threatening mistake, but you might have thought so, judging by the reaction.

I stood up for myself, but it's left a very bad taste in my mouth and I'm once again reconsidering my position and what I'm going to do next.  I know I've been in this situation before and you are probably getting bored of the repetition. Such is life. The constant cycles of life, positive and negative.

Anyway, today, I'm trying to get it out of my mind.  It's occupied enough of my time already and I don't get paid enough to spend my time off worrying about it. Thank goodness for my allotment, although it is currently looking like it might rain, so I might not get there today if it does.

I've recently started a new habit that I read about in Tim Ferris's book Tools of Titans. It's a kind of journaling habit, whereby every morning when you wake up, you write down 3 things you are grateful for, three things that would make the day great and three affirmations.  Later in the day, you then write down 3 amazing things that happened that day and 3 ways you could have made your day better. I'm finding it quite enjoyable to do.  It does help focus my mind a little, reflect on each day and be thankful for the many good things in my life.

I don't always manage to achieve or grasp the opportunities that would make the day great, and it's not always easy to identify amazing things that happen every day, but I do my best and it does make me feel a little better. In fact I quite look forward to filling it in and thinking of new things to make the day great and be thankful for.

Yesterday's ways I could have made my day better definitely included not ringing work (for a small query about a job that had been advertised) and getting more than I bargained for and not having to witness what looked like unnecessary police brutality outside of our local gym. Not a good day all in. I should have just stayed in bed. Anyway, I'm hoping today will be a better one.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Allotment Tales 2018 - March

It's that time of year again, namely time to start work on the allotment. I got an email from our allotment society the other day saying they expected plot holders to have started work on their plots by the end of this month. It's not the best timing for me as it's a busy month at work, with me working two full weeks this month, but I am virtually off for two weeks too, so for the remainder of this week, I decided my priority needed to be my plot.

Here's what it looked like after being completely neglected for the past 4 months:

You can't really tell from this photograph, but it is covered with small speedwell weeds, which need pulling out and the whole plot needs digging over ready for cultivation. I haven't touched it over the winter, as for the most part, the ground was just too wet. Digging it over when wet is not only way too much like hard work, but it also causes more damage than good to the soil structure, so I just left well alone.

Yesterday, however, was bright and sunny and after spending a few hours in the back garden, I decided to spend a couple of hours on the plot too and make a start. I'd forgotten how hard and back breaking digging the plot over is.  It is also, however, like having a mental holiday and completely clears your mind, so it was very useful in this regard.

I started in the back right hand corner and dug around existing plants that have overwintered, namely fennel, mustard leaves and chard. I was going to give up after doing this corner but then decided to tackle the back left hand corner as I hadn't done anything in this corner since the summer, after getting stung because of a wasps' nest in the bushes.  I assume that they died off or went into hibernation over the winter, as there was no sign of them, so I took the opportunity to dig over this area, just in case they come back. I'm sure it's highly unlikely, but I didn't want to take a chance.

Anyway, here's a picture of how it looked when I left yesterday evening:

I probably managed to dig a third of the plot over, which is a pretty good start. If I persevere this week and do a couple of hours of digging each day, for the next couple of days, I might even get it done by Saturday, when OH and I intend to add some compost to the surface to enrich the soil.  There's a big pile in the park that people can help themselves to, so we're planning to bag lots up and bring it to the plot, before it all disappears. (Unfortunately, we don't get it delivered to this site and it's way to expensive to buy it for this purpose)

I really need to sort out some sort of paths through the plot this year.  I haven't been lucky enough to find any free paving slabs as yet, but I keep looking when I'm walking the dog.  I may have to purchase some from B&Q if all else fails. It would really help to give some physical structure to the plot and make getting across the plot easier, especially when it's wet.

I haven't really thought much about what I'm going to grow on the plot this year, but I do know that I am going to try to grow some tomatoes, as other plot holders seem to have success with them. I will probably just buy ready grown plants for this purpose, as I'm not great at growing them from seed. I will also be growing cucumbers and lots of potatoes, as we use these regularly and I will also probably sow some beans again, but I'm not sure which variety.

I'm still thinking about what else I want to grow and having looked through my seed collection celeriac and more mustard leaves are very likely going to be among the things I sow this year. I've also got some borage seeds that I'd like to sow on the plot, plus some sunflowers, of course.  I suspect that marigolds and nasturtiums will self seed this year, so I probably won't sow any.  We'll see.

Anyway, I'll keep you posted with my exact plans, once I've made them.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Venturing into the Garden at Last

After working all day Tuesday at the CS, I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling exhausted and just had to have a lie in with a good book and the dog at my feet. (She has a lie in too, if she senses that I'm not going to get up and about early).  By about 9am I was ready to get up (don't judge me please!) and by 10.15 am I was out with the dog. 

It was a lovely sunny morning with blue skies and much milder than it's been of late.  It felt instantly like spring had finally sprung and was just what I needed. I've had enough of the cold, wet weather and a bit of sunshine felt so good. On the way back home, I promised myself I would make good use of the weather and either spend some time at the allotment or in the garden.

In the end, the garden won out, as I decided that I would sew some seeds in the raised beds and get the growing process under way.  It didn't take too long before both beds were fully sown, one with several varieties of my favourite lettuce seeds from Lidl and the second with a variety of root and other vegetables.  I'm not sure they'll all germinate, as some seeds were older than others, but I can always over sow with something else if nothing happens.

Here's a picture of the beds once sown:

Once I'd done this, I decided to tidy the decking up a little bit and plant some bulbs I'd bought back before Christmas. Yes, I know it's way too late, and some of the bulbs had rotted over the winter in the cupboard, but some seemed okay, so I went ahead and planted as many as I could in the garden and in any pots I could find.  There's still a few left to find a space for, but I might buy a new pot or two this week and use those.

Whilst getting out the bulbs, I also discovered that my potato tubers had also sprouted madly whilst being stored in the cupboard.  I was going to  throw them out, but decided instead to nip the shoots off and then try to chit them again ready to plant out at the allotment. It may work, it may not.  We'll see, but I couldn't bring myself to waste them.

Finally, whilst out in the garden, it was good to see buds on some of my fruit trees and the first few stems of rhubarb poking through the soil. Some positive signs of the growing season ahead. I still need to clean all of the pots I used last year and that will be my next garden job when I've got some free time.

It felt so great to get outside and get my hands dirty again.  I forget how much I miss it when I don't do any gardening over the winter.  It's so therapeutic and a great way to reduce any build up of stress after work. I think, if the weather holds, I will forget about house cleaning this week and spend some time at the allotment, as we plot holders are expected to start cultivating our plots by the end of this month. 

Expect more gardening posts in the coming days and weeks.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

This Week

Apologies for not blogging much this week.  I haven't had much to blog about really. I only worked one day at the CS, as I'm using up annual leave this week and next, due to it being the last month of the financial year.  That being the case, I haven't really been getting a whole lot done at home.  Not sure why, just not in the mood really.

I did manage to sort out a purported overdue payment to the HMRC though, which was a weight off my mind.  I didn't owe the money, but my account said I did.  Apparently, it was an error on their part and I now have a nil balance which is good and my last two years' voluntary National Insurance contributions have been allocated to my records, leaving just five or 6 more years credits to accrue before I qualify for a full state pension, (if it's still around when I reach retirement age).  A small thing, but I just didn't have the time to do it last week when I was working 5 days and interest was accruing on the sum which was a worry.

I've mainly spent my week working my way through the washing and ironing mountains that built up when I was working.  This is why I don't really want to work full-time, as life at home gets out of control. I'm getting things back to normal slowly but surely.

This week was also the week of LB's Parent/Teacher evening at school.  Both OH and I attended and the feedback we got was mostly very good, which was reassuring. We didn't get to see a couple of teachers as they were fully booked up, but the one's we did see seemed pretty happy with her progress, although there is always room for improvement.  We try not to apply too much pressure and let LB take responsibility for her own learning. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing, but school is hard enough without your parent's giving you grief when you get home too.

On the wellbeing front, I managed to get to all my classes at the gym this week, which was great. I've put on weight recently, what with the trip to New York and not getting to many classes of late. I overcompensate for the tiredness from work, by overeating when I'm at home.  It's a habit I have to break somehow, but it's hard.

My finances, however, have taken a bit of a bashing this week, as I went grocery shopping yesterday, to a big out of town retail park. I needed a change of scenery, but I got drawn into a few extra expenditures. Mainly gifts and homewares, as I decided to buy LB a new quilt and pillows.
They were on the wish list, as the quilt she inherited from us when we bought a new one for our new bed a couple of years ago, is smaller than some of the bedding I have bought for her room and she often complains of being cold when using it. (Her bedroom has two outside walls and the windows are not double glazed). Her pillows have seen much better days too.

A new lamp that I bought for the living room, wasn't, however, on the list.  It was reduced to £16 in TK Maxx and fits much better with our d├ęcor than our current lamp, but I will need to buy a new lampshade for it at some point. A bit of an indulgence, but I like it as it is a bit quirky.

I also splurged on a new swimming costume for our summer holiday (assuming we have one this year).  It too was reduced to £13 in TK Maxx.  I do struggle to find swimming costumes that look anything like okay on me, so when I do find one, it's worth just buying it. I'm feeling the need of a holiday in a nice warm climate at the moment, after what feels like a very long winter, but it's not likely to happen until at least July of this year, due to other commitments in the preceding school holidays.

Today, I'm going to try to do some cleaning around the house.  We've been invited to a 60th birthday bash this evening, which will be interesting, so I'm spending most of the rest of the day at home.

What are your plans for this weekend?

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Life Update

I've been very quiet this week on the blogging front, mainly due to working five consecutive days at the CS and on top of that having a cold.  It was the first cold I've had all year, and I thought it was too good to be true that I'd missed everything that was doing the rounds.  Anyway, it wasn't a particularly severe cold and after a few days I was feeling a lot better, but it did make the first couple of days at work tough.

Work has been very intense this week, with quite a few volunteers to organise. I'm not complaining, because it's great when we have lots of volunteers, lots can get done, but my brain sometimes has trouble keeping up with them and thinking of new jobs for them to do, as I'm already trying to think about 5 or 6 different things at any one time. I lived to tell the tale and was so relieved to get home on Friday night, knowing that I didn't have to be back at the shop for at least 3 days.

March is going to be a tough month all round, as my Manager is taking two weeks off to use it before the end of the financial year (one of which he took last week) and I've got leave to take before my contract runs out at the end of the month. I'm sure we'll manage, but it will probably mean working extra hours here and there, for both of us.

On Saturday morning, it was sheer bliss to be able to stay in bed and read my current book, which is one by Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It's turning into a very interesting read and he presents completely different ideas about wealth accumulation, than some of the previous books I've read recently.

I had a lovely leisurely Saturday morning, catching up on finances, online reading and generally pottering around.  In the afternoon I ventured out to do a big grocery shop at Lidl and managed to secure everything we need for the forthcoming week just about. Then after walking the dog, my evening was free to watch a few things on Netflix, including the film Mudbound, which was pretty uncomfortable viewing at times, but a good film.

Today, I'm feeling a little more decompressed and ventured out to my usual tough class at the gym this morning.  I came home to lovely flowers and chocolates from OH and LB for Mothers' Day, which was a treat. I'm not going to overdo it today.  I may do some ironing later, but I may not. I can feel another Netflix binge coming on this afternoon and then we may go out for supper tonight.

This week I should be working just one day at the CS, all being well, so there will be plenty of time in the week to catch up on chores and housework. There's no hurry and if you can't relax on Mothers' Day, when can you.

I hope you've all been having a good week and a lovely Mothers' Day.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Buy Nothing New for Me Challenge in 2018 - February

I have to say that I'm not excelling in this challenge and finding it pretty difficult, which doesn't really surprise me.  I'm hoping that it is just teething troubles related to forming new habits, but maybe I'm spreading myself a little too thin, taking on too many challenges this year. In any case, it was a bit of a spur of the moment decision to do it at all and I maybe should have put more thought into it. Anyway, here goes.

This month, I did purchase the following new non-consumable items for me:

1) A sweater dress I saw on sale in ASDA for £9. In a moment of weakness, it was in my trolley and on it's way home with me. On the plus side, it will be useful for wearing to work over my jeans as I like long sweaters and tops, but did I really need it?

2) I also bought a rucksack from Lidl this week which at £8.99 seemed a steal and was a good size for work to fit my lunch, etc. in.

It did come in very handy yesterday, when I went to Tesco on foot to do a top up shop and they had no carrier bags at all.  I ended up giving my cloth reusable bag to another customer who would have otherwise struggled to get her shopping home and I managed to put all my shopping in it.

3) I also bought another new book for myself this month from eBay for £11.98.  After many years of trying, I've now finally managed to connect my Nectar account on eBay, so I now accrue points on any purchases, which is a plus.  I'd have to spend a lot of money to get any vouchers to spend though, so it's not that lucrative.

Once again, not a perfect record on this challenge, but I'm hoping that being on the challenge at least has the purpose of keeping me focussed on not spending too much unnecessarily. If it helps me to stay out of the shops and cut down my expenditure, then as far as I'm concerned that's a good thing and was the aim I had in mind when I decided to opt in.

Still hoping to do better next month!

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Make/Save an Extra £2,018 in 2018 - February

Month two of this challenge has been interesting with regard to working towards the £2,018 target for the year.  I've done what I could, but there are still a few areas of my finances that need tackling, which I might attempt next month. Anyway, here goes:

1) This month, I sold a few more items on eBay, the most profitable being a Zatchel's satchel I bought a few years ago and only used once or twice.  To be honest I found it too heavy to carry around comfortably.  It was in immaculate condition and the buyer left positive feedback which was good, so hopefully they'll enjoy it. It had just sat in my wardrobe for most of the time I've had it, so it was good to let it go and let it be used by someone else. In addition, I also sold three other items and decluttered them from the house.

Money earned - £28.05.

2) I agreed with a friend that we'd stop buying birthday and Christmas gifts for each other and our respective partners this year, as we really don't need or want for anything. I've agreed to still exchange presents for the children, but the adults don't really need to continue with gift exchanges anymore. This should save at least £100 this year, which will be a useful saving for both of us I think and was something I've been wanting to do for a while now, but didn't really know how to broach the subject.

Money saved - £100 (and as she put it, it will also save a lot of time and effort deciding what to buy too).

3) I used my Boots loyalty points to buy some concealer, saving £3.99. A small sum, but it all adds up.

Money saved - £3.99

4) Likewise, another small sum of £2.04 was saved by using a 10% off voucher at M&S.

Money saved - £2.04

5) I received another £6.50 worth of Tesco Clubcard Vouchers this month, which I decided, along with some existing vouchers I already had, to spend on some groceries, although they would have been worth three times as much if I used them on other rewards. The problem is, there aren't any rewards that I want to spend them on. Anyway, in total I used £31.50 worth of vouchers on a £32.87 shop, which meant I paid only £1.37 for it.

Money saved - £31.50.

Total Made/Saved this month = £165.58 + £91.27 (total from January) = £256.85.

A slightly better month which takes me over 10% of the way there, but I will need to shift up a gear if I want to be successful in this challenge this year.