Monday, 13 October 2014

Beware false friends

This past weekend was our son's sixth birthday weekend. 6!

As a result, this Monday morning was one of those Monday mornings. The routine has fallen by the wayside the past few days and I woke to a house of dirty laundry, overflowing waste paper bins, scattered present wrappings, plastic packaging and Legos seemingly everywhere.

We once lived in what I consider a state of chaos - about a 3 using this scale. This morning I woke up to a completely manageable 1.5 and it was demotivating and draining. Back in the bad old days, it would have been demotivating and draining to the point that I sat and stared at the mess, anxiety and depression levels rocketing. By contrast, this morning I spent an hour recovering from the school run with coffee and blogs; and then cracked on with it, because doing something about it doesn't just stop anxiety in its tracks, it actually makes me feel good.

Today was supposed to be my 'desk day', where I sort out all of my administrative tasks; but once I had dealt with the overflowing laundry and waste bins, I carried on and decluttered our sideboard. Desk day can wait.

I used to think that when I was grown up, I would like to live in a library. Books are full of knowledge waiting to be learned, inspiration to be sparked, worlds to escape to. Books can feel like old friends. Now that I am grown up I have no desire to live in a library. Books are great, I love to read, but there are few fiction books worth revisiting over and over; and there are very few reference books that are so packed full of wisdom that I couldn't bear to part with them. Books, like other objects, aren't friends. Friends are what you have when you aren't too busy looking after 'stuff'.

One full bin bag of knickknacks, books and papers later and the sideboard is looking tidy. I need some attractive folders and boxes to make the space a bit more functional and tidy away the essentials, but for now it does the job. Never

I have added a decluttering card to my S.H.E. index and will make this a weekly thing until I feel we are back to basics again. Next year is the year of the move; we don't want to be carting mountains of clutter to our new home.

Monday, 6 October 2014


Stoptober? Hell no. If there is one month to be throwing money about, it is surely October. We have a birthday, our wedding anniversary and of course Halloween, set against the month long celebration of Pumpkinfest. It is a good month, the very best. 

Pumpkinfest is the month long harvest festival that focuses particularly on celebrating those glorious orange fruits, but actually encompasses an appreciation of everything this final harvest month has to offer. We go to the pumpkin farm and fill the boot. The pumpkin budget this year is £30, which might seem extravagant - but that is pumpkin and squash at farm gate prices and flavours, not toss-pot supermarket prices and flavours. £30 buys an awful lot of curcurbits that last us well into March.

This one is a table decoration from our wedding last year. If it continues to last I will seal it somehow as a permanent keepsake. It wouldn't surprise me if it was still edible.

In preparation for Halloween, I am trying my hand at DIY decorations. Aside from the pumpkin-carving/spooky film matinee on the day, we need a few other ghoulish touches. I'm crocheting some spiders webs:

It will look better blocked, fingers crossed. I'm browsing Pinterest for more ideas, but have a feeling that most of the pins will never be acted upon! Pinterest is the place that my crafting time goes to die.

We have storms coming today and the walk to school was a soggy one. The nights have been cool enough to wake me up to search for an extra blanket. The evenings have been crisp even at the end of some surprisingly warm days. It's October; and it's glorious - if a little expensive.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Tastes like chicken

I made a discovery in the kitchen the other day, thanks to a sinkful of unwashed dishes. Slatternliness pays!

I cooked up an entire bag of chickpeas in a couple of litres of water. I do this to save time and energy later, using some to make houmous and freezing the rest for later use. I also reserved a couple of tablespoons of them to sprout for a stir fry later in the week. A bag of beans is a wonderful thing for a thrifty cook.

Thanks to the sinkful of crockery, I ended up draining the cooking liquid into a jug. It smelt quite nice and so I took a sup.

 It tastes like chicken stock - albeit lacking fat.

This batch added body to the first stew and dumplings of the season - vegetable stew with chickpeas, veg and some bacon bits. Next time I will add less water to the pot to make a stronger broth; and batch freeze it.

I love making frugal, waste saving discoveries. They are fewer and further between now being so far down this road, which makes them just that little bit more satisfying.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Christmas is usually a dirty word around these parts. I'm sure that you appreciate how much it grates on my anti-consumption sensibilities. As much as I like the giving and receiving of presents, there is nothing like walking into a supermarket in December to bring home just how screwed our economy (and ecosystem) are.

We are actually 'giving up' on Christmas this year and for the foreseeable future. We both do jobs that call on us to work at least every other Christmas; and we aren't Christians. Instead, we will be celebrating the winter solstice, which we are much more likely to have off together. I'm in preparation mode.

Over the course of the year we collect all of our 20 pence pieces in a tin. When it is full, we take a can opener to it and count it all up; before changing it into more usable currency at the post office. This years tally is £65. This will pay for our main roast dinner, our desserts, our cheeses, pickles, cold meats and other festive foods for the whole week of celebrations. We may have an additional modest budget for alcohol. You can't make an eggnog without cracking open a bottle of rum, after all.

£65 seems like a huge budget to me, but a visit to a supermarket flogging it's festive wares makes me realize just how little we spend - and we have a hearty feast too.

I've also started a gift chest over the past few months for Christmas and birthdays. I'm collecting gifts for everyone throughout the year instead of in a mad dash and spend come mid December.  I see a few upcycled gifts for the kids amongst their carefully chosen new ones under the tree; and some homemade gifts for family and friends if I don't run out of time and wherewithal. 

My favourite part of the whole thing (aside from the feasting) is the Christmas stockings. The eager ransacking of these little sacks of thoughtful, simple pleasures is the thing I look forward to most. We have been making do with some cheap Poundland felt ones fro the past few years that are due for replacement. I've been collecting brightly coloured thrifted fabric for the past few weeks and I've drafted a pattern. I just need to get sewing.

I'm looking forward to Thriftmas.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Mirror mirror on the wall

This certainly wasn't the fairest of them all...

I bought this large mirror last year from the local junk shop. It had a horrible blobby 'bronze' gloss paint job and looked truly terrible. Still, it made our very dingy dining room look tons better by dint of the fact that horrible frame or not, it reflects a lot of light back into the room.

I initially tried to strip it back to the wood, which was a mistake. The grooves were too intricate so I painted it in a blue-grey chalk paint and hung it on the wall.  I love mirrors and glass, and anything that reflects light, but the frame just dragged the whole room down with a different shade of dull. 

I researched metallic paint - and quickly learned that if you see beautiful lustrous silver furniture on pinterest, it hasn't been acheived with a specialist paint job, it's almost certainly some kind of gilding or foil wrapping. So I looked into silver leaf kits - jaw droppingly expensive for a £5 mirror. I looked into aluminium leaf kits - much cheaper but still over £20 and a steep learning curve.

And then I hit upon a thrifty but highly experimental solution. Kitchen foil.

I applied PVA glue, let it tack up a little, and set to work with an artists paint brush and cheap kitchen foil. The cheap stuff is thin, which makes it easy to work with. I applied the foil along the outside edge of the frame, and used the brush to gradually spread the foil inwards, pushing it down into each groove and up the other side again, avoiding wrinkles as much as possible (which wasn't very as it turned out. Still, they add character). After I was done, I removed the excess foil with a scalpel and gave it two coats of satin varnish.

I might tarnish it with some dark wax as it is, in the words of Mr Pumpkin, 'quite bright'. It looks a thousand times better than it did and I am quite smitten with my handiwork. It's funny how much difference the little things make. A few hours work and 50p worth of materials and it completely changes the room.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Pantry economy

Today Mr Pumpkin starts the new career he has been working towards for the past 7 years.The past few years of parsimony have hopefully paid off.

We have honed quite a good life for ourselves on a limited income these past few years. Once we were free of debt, life was pretty much plain sailing. We gathered our emergency fund together; and now we are saving for the big stuff. We are both very motivated to make this work. There will be a few extra treats along the way, but the frugal life goes on, and probably always will, by choice.

I work three days outside of the home, Mr P averages 5; both of us shift workers. The plan is to live off of his salary and shell mine into the ISA. I will try and bring in some extra income; and liquidate a few unwanted possessions via eBay. Part-timer that I am, I have much greater influence on our household economy, with every purchase I make - from food, to clothes to utilities. I think I can up my game a little and make my biggest contribution by managing our resources better.

First on my attack list is the grocery budget. I haven't been keeping a close eye on it in recent months; and our takeaway consumption has been a bit excessive too. We are getting into autumn and winter which is always cheaper - lots of pantry staples, vegetables and cheap cuts of meat.

Yesterday I withdrew my month's budget of £160 and separated it into weekly envelopes of £40 each. This is for fresh produce each week - meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables (... and chocolate). We get something of a subsidy each week in the form of a bag of fruit from nan each week.  An additional £20 each month is set aside to restock the pantry, something we do every few months. The booze budget is additional and discretionary and varies month to month - a large proportion of it is ploughed into our homemade beer and wine at certain times of year.

This budget will feed 2 adults, 2 children under 7 and a newly weaning baby, plus the odd dinner guest several times each month.

In addition to the envelopes, I keep a shopping list-cum-spending diary in a cashbook. I write my weekly list and add the costs as I shop. I also add any additional non-grocery expenditures at the end of the day. It helps me keep track of what I am spending.

One day in and I've done the first part of my shop. We still have some milk and veg left from last week's shop; and we have several portions of curry left over from a dinner party we threw. I am set to come in at least £15 under budget this week.

Next week I will clean out and inventory the freezer and store cupboards; and write a list for a bulk shop, to ensure that I don't end up throwing food and (money away).