Saturday, 21 March 2015

Money Saving Experts


Are you a money saving expert or are you a frugal living expert? There is a world of differences between the two and both can be crushed by debt. Real frugal living frees you from debt before you start saving any money.

It's the pennies that make the pounds

This is a quick blog post in my own defence, after my being subjected, once again, to what one may refer to as criticism against my frugal lifestyle. I just want to make one thing clear - make no mistakes, I actually love being frugal! Get it into your head that some of us don't need to be part of the general 9 to 5, or a salaried slave to the system that we call 'normal' society. Some of us actually enjoy our freedom and we will happily go without what others consider to be absolute essentials in order to afford simple living. I have no fear of losing my income or my home, I earn my own pittance and have the skills to create a home from wherever I may be at the time. Again, don't get me wrong, what I do pays very little, as I'm mostly writing and publishing free content, attempting to grow some food from the kitchen garden or assisting those whose budgets (or wisdom)  [prevent them from seeking professionals. I don't mind non-cash payments by way of some pickle, veggies, a bag of apples or a cake. I just need to earn sufficient to pay the essential bills and this is made possible by squeezing them as low as possible and seeing beyond the goal of 'living within my means'.

Some people assume that it is a basic human right to be able to afford certain things that I would consider absolute luxuries, but let's get this straight - paying for all these things as cheaply as possible in order to save cash in a tin, jar or bank while having any form of debt or money worries, in my opinion, is just plain dumb! Absolute debt freedom allows you the luxury to continue following a very frugal lifestyle while saving and investing in your own futures. I know there are other ways of doing things but this is mine and it works for me.

Frugal living allows those of us on low incomes to speculate a little in the hope that we will accumulate sufficient to afford to continue our stress free lifestyle, right through to retirement and beyond. That is not to say that we will ever reach a point when we can easily live off the interest from our savings but at no point will we get into the unsustainable situation whereby we have more going out than coming in - that is the gist of this story. It's about living within lowly means in a way that demonstrates how it is affordable to all and making the most of every penny to grow it into a pound.

It's the pennies that make the pounds that make moneysaving possible

Money saving - it is such an ambiguous phrase. Is it money-saving or is it simply saving money? Are you saving by shaving a percentage off the overall cost of what you buy or are you living well within your means in order to save what's leftover by way of cash and other investments. For the past ten years, I have been living a fairly frugal life, primarily to clear debts like credit cards and a couple of contracts I had locked myself into and then to free myself from the rent trap, as I prefer the security of owning over the pressure of earning hundreds of pounds extra each and every month in order to sustain rent payments. Personally, I feel I could make a home anywhere, as it's about how you feel and not the material 'stuff' that's built up around you. Personally, I don't care if what's around me is built from stone, brick, wood or mud. I don't care if the roof is slate, tile, shingle, tin or felt. Affording to feel comfortable, relaxed and secure within that space is what matters, free from the worry of how to pay for it.

So, when someone grumbles to me that their savings are dwindling, their out-goings are far greater than their income, their home isn't worth selling because they won't get back what they paid for it and they are worried about how they will afford to keep the roof over their head in the future, don't expect me to wave a magic wand and say, "There, there, everything will work out somehow." My answer is blunt and to the point - quit spending, quit throwing good money after bad and downsize instead of playing silly games of 'what will friends and neighbours think?'

Yes, I did say it as I saw it and do you know what their utterly disgusted response was, fellow frugal lifestyle fans?

"I could never live like you!"

Money Saving Experts

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Frugal Pie Making

Life on the 'feed me for a fiver' challenge is interesting, especially when you look closely at fitting in the recommended minimum 5-a-day fruit and vegetables, discounting potatoes, while trying to make affordable, wholesome meals from scratch. That's why we love pies!

Leeks and Black Kale

The kitchen is one of the easiest places to start money saving, especially if your budget is tight or if you are taking part in our 'feed me for a fiver' challenge in the forums. Your kitchen, regardless of size, shape or design, is also the hub of most frugal homes. In many cases, it is also the gateway to your frugal kingdom - the kitchen garden. Even at this time of year, here in Scotland, we can find some winter greens by way of leeks and kale. It is like finding free food and everything counts when it comes to feeding the household and zero waste. I'm told some places already have wild garlic appearing but I haven't seen any signs of it here yet, just rain, hail, sleet and more high winds. Anyhow, let's get back to pie-making.

Homemade chicken and leek pie

Pies are the frugalers' best friends during lean times, especially when made for specific meals. I prefer to use self-raising flour for most things, so this is what gets used for my pastry, along with cheap lard and margarine. Lard is about one third the price of margarine while margarine is about a third less than the cheapest butter, so I tend to do a 2 parts lard to 1 part margarine for pastry making. It makes for a very short and tasty crust on any type of pie and I think it tastes much nicer with that little bit extra lift from self-raising flour. It also helps that SR flour is still only 45p per 1.5kg pack from supermarkets.

The pie above was made from a single chicken breast fillet weighing about 100g. I chopped the garden leeks and added 2 portions of frozen mixed vegetables (77p per kilo) to a frying pan and stir fried the finely chopped chicken with the veg for a few minutes before adding instant gravy and pouring it all into the pie dish to be baked in the mini oven for half an hour. Served with kale, shredded cabbage and an onion, again all cooked in the frying pan on the hot plate, this pie is sufficient to feed four adults without a problem.

Garden blackcurrants

Blackcurrants! These are so easy to grow once you get the bushes established and they just keep on reproducing! Every year, I cut back the bushes and stick the prunings into pots or buckets until I can plant them into the ground and every year, more blackcurrant bushes grow! These are now being introduced to the Frugaldom Project as part of our edible hedgerow, as they are such prolific fruiting bushes. Most are of the Ben Connan type, so are quite winter hardy and produce large berries. Blackcurrants are packed with vitamin C and have plenty of pectin, so make ideal jams and jellies, but we are now sampling them as fruit portions for breakfast, served with the porridge, and in pies, ice cream, cheesecake and yoghurt. They need to be soaked in sugar overnight to make them less tart and for today's blackcurrant pie, I used vanilla sugar. (My vanilla sugar is homemade, I just keep topping up my sealed jar containing 2 vanilla pods and they keep doing their job.)

Blackcurrant pie

This is the pie ready to go into the mini oven - painted with milk, sprinkled with sugar and the pastry trim made into a little decoration for the centre. I baked it for 35 minutes at 200C, but it should be noted that the top element of my mini oven has blown, so only the bottom one is heating it, meaning everything is taking a bit longer.

Freshly baked blackcurrant pie

Freshly baked blackcurrant pie, just out the mini-oven. It really does smell delicious! As usual, I was impatient to cut into the pie - it just looked too tempting, so I cut a slice while still hot and ran some of the juices into the bowl.

Slice of hot, freshly baked blackcurrant pie

This will be served with custard after tonight's dinner. I'm tempted to cook an early dinner just to get at the frugal pudding quicker! As the pie cools, the juice will set a little but we prefer our fruit pies hot and juicy, served with either homemade ice cream or ordinary pouring custard.

This pie can be made using any fruit or berries you have available, just sweeten them to your own taste. I've left another serving of the blackcurrants in the fridge for having with tomorrow's porridge.

Frugal Pie Making

Monday, 9 March 2015

Frugaldom Progress Report

Sunday saw some frugal activity out at the Frugaldom Project. With around 600 trees to plant, including 420 from the Woodland Trust, Sunday gave us the perfect opportunity to get some serious work done.

This is the Frugaldom Project. It is the result of many years of frugal living - saving every available penny in order to make the dream a reality. For those who don't know, we finally managed to buy sufficient land last year and work began in June 2014. This is where we are now 'at' with the plan.

Aerial diagram of the Frugaldom Project

As the diagram above demonstrates, we are concentrating on the main area surrounding HQ (the barn) in an effort to bring the land back under control and plant a new woodland, orchard, willow walk and gardens. Our new woodlands are being planted with native broadleaf trees, all of which have been donated. Many thanks to all involved, including the Woodland Trust and their associated sponsors, for accepting us onto their World War I Centenary Woodland project, and to Wildforms Gardening for Wildlife.

Green lines within the circle represent the areas now planted with new trees - mainly birch, oak, willow, beech and hazel. The bottom green lines represent our World War 1 Centenary Woodland, where we have already planted the perimeter with dog rose, blackthorn and hazel. Yesterday, we added Rowans to this mix and have 60 wild cherry trees to line the main track into the project.

Black blocks of land marked 1 and 2 represent corrals, or paddocks, of rough grassland that were marked out ready for fencing. Each has been planted along two sides, mainly with birch and willow. That tiny patch between the two paddocks equates to a strip of land 50+ metres long by about 3 or 4 metres wide, so we have planted a small willow bed in there to coppice, the end product being used as weaving materials.

Yellow lines show where the smaller, wild garden areas are located, including the Frugaldom 'Garden of Remembrance', which is gradually being stocked with donated flowers, herbs, shrubs and other plants. Beyond this will be turned over to wild flower meadow, more woodland and a seating area that will double up as a picnic area for al fresco dining while out on site.

Red areas denote orchard and foraging areas, where there is now a small, new woodland of crab apples, hazels, elder, sloes, hawthorn, pear, apple and cherry trees. There are quite a few established Siberian Crab Apple trees that already provide a fair harvest of autumn fruits, mostly enjoyed by the local wildlife, but the larger apples were almost exclusively used to make my own jelly, jams and pie fillings over winter.

The Trading Post at FrugaldomAlong the side of the barn, we have planted an edible hedge, which may eventually stretch the length of the main driveway, to include raspberries, blackberries, black currants and crab apples. We operate a 'help yourself' policy and have a designated 'trading post' where visitors can leave their plant donations or pick up any surplus available from here on the day. Foraging will be actively encouraged whenever we have fruit or berries available.

Along the green lines outside of the circle is where we have begun planting our willow and wildlife walk. This will comprise a meandering path between willow (Salix Viminalis / Osier) that will be grown into an arched avenue, hopefully leading off to wildlife 'hides', observation points and through the bog myrtle plantation to a beautiful big pond area we have at the far end of the project. Yesterday, I managed to get another 100+ cuttings into the ground and have marked out two new rest zones, each big enough to be used as collection points during harvesting of the willow and bog myrtle in future years.

View from rest area

The above photo was taken from one of the rest areas while I was planting the willow and marking out the path to the first observation hide, which will overlook the winter wetlands, along the side of the river. By the riverside, there are already well established willows and this is where we will be planting many more, plus rowans, hawthorn and hazel.

Along the riverside at Frugaldom

This is the point in the river closest to the first observation point, which is on a raised, dry area nearby, out of reach of any floods that may occur. As yet, we have been unable to determine what may once have been on the site, although there are several indications that whatever it was may have been manmade originally. (There's a bit of metal detecting and mini-excavation organised for here soon, but I'll save that for another post of frugal fun and adventures!)

Along the riverbank at Frugaldom

As you can see, we had an excellent day of winter sunshine for yesterday's frugal fun adventure to the field. I'd filled a flask of soup and packed some snacks, so there was no real rush. In between planting trees and giving the little caravan an airing, I had loads of time to explore, walking around the main part of the project and scaring a Snipe into flight! I also saw my first caterpillar of the year - what looked like a Peacock butterfly.

Willow walk route mapping

I had long, since, run out of willow cuttings by the time I reached the overgrown footbridge, so had to peg out as much as I could with garden canes. The path is very overgrown but still distinguishable thanks to the deer having been making full use of it during our absence over winter. Properly developing what will become our willow walk will need to be a major fundraising event if we ever want wooden slats all the way along it - I have been appealing for old pallets but none have been forthcoming, probably owing to the fact that we'd need them dropped off at the site, but it isn't exactly on a main thoroughfare.

Tree planting at Frugaldom, 8th March 2015

It really is hard to believe that we had such glorious weather for planting trees. This is where we are planting Rowans and, as you can see by the photo, there is already a good covering of bog myrtle in what is a fairly boggy part of the land. If truth be told, I'm stood ankle deep in water to take this, after all the rain we have had. Fortunately, it was a bit too cold for any of our resident adders to have put in an appearance but it certainly has not stopped the moles!

Molehills appearing everywhere!

From whence do these furry varmints come? They seem to just pop up one day to start creating merry hell with your land, while also exposing all that lovely soil that could end up in the recycled-tractor-tyre herb and strawberry beds. These molehills have appeared within the barnyard area and appear to be heading for the corral!

The corral, also known as paddock number 1

This is how our corral (otherwise known as paddock number one) is looking at the moment. The old posts have taken a battering through the winter but it shouldn't be too long before the new ones are erected. Last year we set up a 'fence post appeal' so if you sponsored a post, your chosen name will literally appear on a post once the new fence is completed. The links for post sponsorship (and sponsor-a-tree, shop online or donate) are included in the Frugal Shop. I hope you will consider taking part in this rather unusual 'sponsor-a-post' event. It's not something you see everyday but we do like to think we're giving our followers, supporters and members some unique opportunities.

Frugaldom Progress

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Puff Pastry Pizza

Reducing the food budget to £5.00 per person per week for all meals may seem challenging to some but for others, it's a bit of a game where we try to use up everything so we are wasting nothing. Puff pastry pizza seems like a great idea to me, but does it work?

I had half a block of puff pastry defrosted after making a pie at the start of the week - it is National Pie Week this week, did you know that? Anyhow, I had defrosted the pastry, therefore I couldn't refreeze it, so I decided to try making a flaky bake, puff pastry pizza. Rake out the rolling pin and let pastry flattening begin! I rolled it into a circle large enough to fit into my pizza tray.

Puff pastry pizza base with tomato and chili paste

I have a tube of double concentrate tomato paste with chilli, so I diluted a half cupful and spread that on as the tomato base. Next up, some of the bacon bits retrieved from making this week's pan of soup (bacon & lentil), as these all get removed from the stock before I add the vegetables and pulses.

Chopped bacon bits

The cooking bacon costs 80p per 500g pack from supermarkets, it makes a full pan of stock for soup and at least 2 meals for two of us after that, so it's a fabulous bargain to have as back-up in your freezer.

Stir fried mixed vegetables

Meanwhile, I diced an onion, chopped a tomato and added a portion each of mixed peppers and sliced mushrooms with seasoning and herbs to quickly fry these for faster cooking.

Mozzarella cheese on pizza

A bit of added luxury for any frugal budget has to be some mozzarella cheese! At only 46p per pack from supermarkets, a half pack is sufficient for a large pizza. (This is a 30cm/12" diameter pizza tray.) You can pretty much add any leftovers to a pizza but I have never, until now, tried making one from leftover puff pastry. Wish me luck!

Fried vegetables on pizza

The quickly fried vegetables got poured over the top - onions, mixed peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes - but anything goes when it's pizza, especially if you are adding more cheese.

Cheese pizza

I used supermarket's own smart price cheddar to top my pizza tonight, so here's hoping the mini oven can cope with baking all this lot into something tasty!

Puff pastry pizza

I needn't have worried. The puff pastry pizza worked out a real treat when baked at 200C for about 25 minutes. However, I can't recommend this temperature or time, as my mini oven is now running on just the lower element, so keep an eye on your pizza if baking in a conventional oven. This one will do us for two meals, so guess what's for dinner tomorrow night? I'll probably follow that with more of the raspberries set in jelly, too, as I'm now trying to use up all the garden-grown berries I have stashed in my freezer.

Don't get me wrong, if you are one of these people fortunate enough to have access to coupons and live within walking distance of a supermarket, chances are you will be able to buy discounted pizzas cheaper than us rural dwelling frugalites can make them, but we know exactly what's in our pizzas, they are made to our specifications and appreciated for what they are - open top pies that can be adorned with all sorts of leftovers. No easy access to shops is one of the things that townies often overlook when trying to state the obvious about money-saving in the kitchen. From here, our nearest supermarket is 20+ miles away and we don't have a car, but recently, we have been blessed with a trial delivery service by Asda, so their vans have suddenly become a very familiar site on our back roads and farm lanes.

Join us in to keep up to date with the £5 per person per week for all meals challenge.

Puff Pastry Pizza

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Moderation March 2015

It isn't all pie in the sky! Beating down the cost of food in an effort to reduce how much money we waste while grocery shopping can be the easiest place to start saving, especially if you are adopting a more frugal lifestyle while focussing on a healthier diet.
 pie in the sky

Welcome to March, month of mad hares and, hopefully, the final throws of winter for us here in the UK. Hopefully, the temperatures are beginning to drop for our readers in Australia and snows begin thawing for our Canadian frugal friends. We've survived the festive sales, the New Year sales, St Valentines Day and the Frugaldom February Fitness Challenge, now we have Mother's Day and Easter to contend with before springing fully into spring cleaning - or so I am led to believe!

Where last month was about losing pounds, namely the surplus gained over the festive fair season, March is about gaining them, marching proudly onwards in an effort to repair the rest of the damage that could have been done, especially by way of finances. We also need to reclaim cupboard space in preparation for the year ahead. And so through to winter we go, once more. It's that circle of life that gets us from one year to the next until we fall off the merry-go-round.

Moderation: Moderate - Balanced - Reasonable - I am neither over-indulging nor depriving myself of anything, but I will be saving money while enjoying the finer things in simple life, no matter what.

In the Kitchen  

Making savings in the kitchen is the easiest place to start and it needn't result in deprivation, unless you have chosen to deprive yourself of anything specific during the days of Lent. (I do notice quite a few mentions of cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sweets and alcohol when this topic arises. However, as a good non-pursuer of such faiths, I choose to motivate my lifestyle by moderation most of the time, not just for a few weeks of the year.

March has been named as our frugal month of moderation in the forums for all those taking part in the various money saving and lifestyle challenges. I have already looked back at my previous budgets, each having been charted in spreadsheets since bringing my frugal living challenge online officially. The following is from a few of my previous grocery budgets:  
  • 2011: Annual grocery spends - £1,298.16
  • 2012: Annual grocery spends - £1,227.59
  • 2013: Annual grocery spends - £964.80
  • 2014: Annual grocery spends - £916.06  
As you can see, year on year, my overall grocery spends have reduced and yet I have still been able to build up a suitable stock pile of dried, tinned and preserved goods. There were three of us in the house during 2011, so a drop occurred in 2012 when the household reduced to two.

For 2015, the new challenge is to hammer down the grocery budget to £640.00, which equates to £520.00 for foodstuffs and £120.00 for toiletries, medications, cleaning and laundry products.  I cannot guarantee that this will be achieved, as it actually works out at just under £5.00 per person per week for all meals, but with food prices continually falling and us now having access to one of the big supermarkets, I think it is entirely possible. It is even possible to include some luxury items, like biscuits, cakes and desserts. In many cases, such things cost less to buy than to make.
 Homemade choc chip cookies

In the meantime, if the ingredients are there, then homemade is always preferable.  Flour can be bought for 45p per 1500g, sugar at 49p per kilo. This morning, I made some luxury choc chip cookies for this afternoon's visitor using the tried and tested 1, 2, 3 recipe:

  • 100g sugar (5p)
  • 200g melted margarine (32p)
  • 300g self raising flour (9p)
The above is my basic starting point, to which I added an egg (10p) and extra flour, (3p). You can add about 100g of anything at all, be it grains, seeds, chopped nuts, chocolate, dried fruit... I chopped up a 100g bar of cheap supermarket (30p) chocolate for these. The mix does more resemble crumble but it kneads together like dough. I make the biscuits individually by squeezing then rolling a handful of the mix into a walnut-sized ball and then flattening it, rather than having to knead/roll/cut.  There should be enough in this to get 24 cookies but I opted for making larger ones today, so will probably get only 18. To make them extra luxurious, I added an egg and a little extra flour to bind it all together, baked 12 on a greased tray and have wrapped the remainder of the cookie dough in polythene to refrigerate for later use. The tray was baked for 10 minutes in the middle of the oven at 180C, then the biscuits transferred to a wire rack to cool.  

Total cost for luxury handmade choc chip cookies - 89p - this is assuming you have paid full price for everything, but my margarine cost less than half that quoted and my egg came from one of the garden hens, so my luxury cookies actually cost only 63p. You can, of course, reduce this cost by making plain cookies, as opposed to using the chocolate. As I use a mini oven for baking, the electricity costs are minimal and contribute to the overall heat in my otherwise cool kitchen.

If you would like to follow the progress of this or any of our other money saving, frugal living challenges, feel free to join us in where all the information is fully accessible to members only - not even the search engines get in to the members' only sections.

NYK in Frugaldom.