Frugal living blog about all things thrifty: money saving, DIY, crafts, gardens, food, fitness, woodland, wildlife and making the good life affordable! It's about the freedom to enjoy a frugal lifestyle while pursuing a lifelong ambition... and sharing it with you all.
I started the year full of enthusiasm with the usual list of New Year's resolutions - spend less, save more, get fit, live a more frugal life... you know the type of stuff. My year's budget for running the household was set at £4,000 after rent and council tax and the amount I wanted to save had been deducted. It was the same amount I'd budgeted for the previous four years, so I was already combatting the problem of inflation by adjusting lifestyle and eating habits to fit with each consecutive year.
We'd had a lovely white Christmas, with some of the snow still lying. The day normally starts at dawn in Frugaldom, heralded in by an array of noisy cockerels, hens, ducks and quail. At this time of year, the cattle and sheep are normally fairly close by, sheltering as best they can from the chilly winds and I'm up before dawn to get the fire lit before going out to face the freezing morning. It was a dry, frosty start to the new year, with temperatures slightly below freezing. I'd managed to take a few photographs of the 'blue' moon before it disappeared. I also took some of dawn breaking over snowy Frugaldom; the skies look spectacular from here at this time of year.
Celebrations like New Year, in the Frugaldom household, include the making of the clootie dumpling. It's a traditional Scottish fruit 'cake' that gets boiled in a cloot, or cloth. Mine is a family recipe, one that's been passed from mother to daughter for several generations. As a rule, I now keep all the basic ingredients in stock at all times – flour, suet, sugar, treacle, syrup, dried fruit, assorted spices and milk. A dumpling was duly made for New Year's Day. I also made shortbread, to try out my new cookie cutters. I think everyone was fed up with my using the hoops made from empty tuna tins, so I eventually caved and got myself a set from the eBid online auctions. Homemade elderflower champagne was the drink of choice on New Year's Day. The main meal included beef broth followed by the traditional steak pie accompanied by carrots, potatoes and braised red cabbage – a friend made the braised cabbage. Pudding was, of course, clootie dumpling. There were mince pies for later, homemade by a friend who would eventually become a neighbour.
During that first week in January anything edible that could be frozen got frozen. Even the big old heron, not that I'm suggesting we eat him, looked frozen standing in his icy patch of the stream. Freezing weather is a great time for defrosting and cleaning your freezer, as none of your foodstuffs defrost if you leave everything in a box outside. After defrosting, cleaning and repacking my little chest freezer, I added a blanched cauliflower, pate, sliced dumpling, stewed tomatoes and a heap of chopped and blanched carrots. Even the surplus cheese found a space. Along with the normal bread baking, I also baked four banana loaves to use up my share of the bananas that soon-to-be neighbour bulk bought for a few pennies on New Year's Eve. I managed to squeeze the four of those into the freezer, too. Waste not, want not, my freezer was filled and Frugaldom was ready to face another year. All the vegetable offcuts and scraps get boiled for the feathered friends and, in return, they provide us with eggs. Egg production was picking up a bit, so lemon curd making was on the horizon.
The 'wishing book' was duly unlocked and the previous year's list inspected. Out of the 'top 10' items I had in my 'To do in 2009' list, I had succeeded with 8 of them, failing only in the 'homemake all presents' category and the 'fill my ISA' stakes. We'd had a big wedding for daughter, so what wpuld have been savings had been put to good use, meaning no borrowing and no ensuing debt.
With hindsight, hand-making ALL presents was too far-fetched for the world in which I live. I hadn't thought through the reality of preparing and making stuff and then ensuring it reached the right people at the right times, especially when they are scattered all over the country. Basically, I didn't plan, nor did I try hard enough to achieve that goal. I didn't really want to, if truth be told, I'd prefer to leave creativity to the creative or hand crafting to the handcrafters and simply trade for their skills.
The garden and poultry 'project' had been the bulk of the work done in 2009, but it was still nowhere near completed. With the ground being frozen solid, nothing could be done outdoors at this time, so indoor jobs became the main focus.
Baking and preserving were two things I loved about 2009! The gift of the bread maker from a very good friend was a godsend. I haven't bought a loaf of commercially produced bread since September 2009! Living where we do, with such a vast hedgerow, means that everything preserved one year will keep us going in jams, jellies, relishes and wine throughout the next plus, of course, I hadn't had to buy any eggs since the hens started laying in Spring of 2009! Surplus either get sold, traded via LETS or made into something that can be frozen for future use. Eggs fast become part of the staple diet in a frugal household, hence the need for my compiling the Frugaldom '100 things to do with eggs' list.
But it was time to renew the list of goals and ambitions for 2010. Here goes...
1) Grow more fruit, veg and herbs
2) Improve on the poultry keeping set-up to make it self-funding
3) Home make gifts - plan ahead!
4) Do not buy any bread, cakes, biscuits, jellies, jams or relishes
5) Improve the kitchen for better use of available space
6) Make better use of recycling, trading and exchange schemes
7) Live on £4,000 or less (excluding rent and council tax)
8) Maintain a debt free status whilst working from home
9) Fill my ISA
10) Continue to reduce, reuse and recycle
Rubber chicken is a great favourite in our household. After a roast chicken dinner with the breast meat, there's enough left over for a curry from one leg, a stir fry from the other and then at least one pie from what's remaining. What's left of the bird can then be turned into stock for a big batch of soup... it just keeps stretching to more meals.
I hasten to add that we do NOT kill or eat any of our own chickens. I may be frugal to a fault but the buck stops at killing anything for the pot.
Frugal chicken stock gets simmered in a 5 litre slow cooker overnight, during cheap rate electricity. It's then bulked out with whatever vegetables are available and a quantity of rice. It makes for a huge amount of soup but it's cheap, it's nourishing and it's great in winter for a hot snack or at lunchtime. Of course, all that surplus had to be fitted into the now bulging freezer. No matter how hard we try, there's just no emptying a freezer once you're into the way of using up leftovers to turn them into another meal, even if it's just a single serving for someone taking to work.
I was considering my 'master plan' to better utilise the kitchen space to provide more storage and introduce some extra heat to the place. It was freezing in there! But 12 degrees was starting to feel warm after being out in -6C Porridge became the staple morning diet of all Frugaldom inhabitants. The bitter cold kitchen was making me think of log burners and multi-fuel stoves. Once again, I began to wonder of the landlords would permit us to install one.
The lemon curd did get made (4 jars), followed by coconut macaroons and some frugal meringues to use up the egg whites. I also made pizzas and a big batch of bolognese sauce, which had to be fitted into the freezer. I'd had my New Year visit from daughter and family and then a friend had popped in with some odds and ends that she'd de-cluttered from home. I rescued a copy of 'Life of Pi' from her. Between us, we still managed to fill a couple of boxes of stuff for the charity shops.
By the 5th of January, the snow was back. Nothing too serious, we thought, but enough to trigger the 'top up the electricity meter and be prepared' type of mild panic. Son was due back at work, so he topped the meter key up while he was out, just in case the weather situation got any worse. How he managed to get his little car out the lane that week I will never know! It was getting so cold that I was worried about the water supply pipe freezing. The coal fire was lit continually, eating through the supply of logs. Sun, sleat, snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures... the road out of Frugaldom got worse. The snow fell on top of the ice that we'd had for the past several weeks and, eventually, all deliveries into Frugaldom ground to a halt – no animal feeds, coal, logs, even the postman wouldn't attempt to reach us. I went as far as send off an order for overnight delivery from one of those discount food supply outlets, but we'd to collect the box from the road end, just over a mile from the house. We took many photographs that week. How the digital camera survived it's speedy decent flailing from a frozen wrist is beyond me. All I know is that someone going arse over elbow then plunging head first down an icy slope like a human tobogan is rather amusing, especially as it wasn't me!
I was extremely glad that the electricity meter was topped up, cupboards and freezer full and plenty of grain in stock for the feathered friends. The landlord was out with a snowplough to clear the deepest snow from the road outside the houses, but it ended up making it worse than ever. Main roads were fine by then, just these little lanes and farm tracks that couldn't be cleared. The paths and driveway were soon like glass, so smooth and frozen that the salt was blowing off before it had a chance to melt. It was so cold, I'd to plug in oil-filled radiators to supplement the open fire and storage heaters. Electricity budget took a battering, using over £50 for one week, while temperatures remained below zero. It was a case of prioritising our needs and, in order to remain sane, we NEEDED heat. Logs were running out fast but still no commercial vehicles of any description were getting along our road. Salt was sold out everywhere, so it taught me a very valuable lesson - be much more prepared, keep a bucket filled with household salt for emergencies.
Temperature rose to -2C, power stayed on and the phone line meant we maintained access to the Internet. We discussed Berkshire pigs in the Frugaldom forum and I learned that the Berkshire is, "a first-class light–weight porker, suiting the modern smallholder, killing out at 55-65 kgs live weight". Apparently, “it's the ideal freezer pig for the discerning customer." I also learned that the housemartin nest in the eaves of the gable end had become a winter retreat for upwards of 20 wrens, which we managed to video at dusk! I photographed my first Reed Bunting that week, too, whilst out walking along the lane.
Temperatures dropped again, to around -8C. By the end of the first week in January, the council had to plough their way through and grit the lane in an attempt to get a hay wagon to the farm before supplies ran out completely. Our hen and duck eggs were freezing to the straw in the nest boxes! I stupidly tried hanging out washing in the winter sunshine, but it froze solid. I re-read my '100 things to do with eggs' page and awaited a slight thaw. That same week, the cows began calving in the field! I'll bet their babies hadn't expecting to dive headfirst from 38C to -8C or less!
That was my week one of Frugaldom in 2010. The future next-door neighbours made it through the snow for their New Year's visit, the cattle and sheep at the farm got their hay, the wrens continued to pack into their tiny, temporary home and the weasel began making regular visits to the Frugaldom garden! Of my £4,000 budget, I had managed to spend £90 on topping up the electricity meter and £17.93 on bargain bulk food supplies like savoury cous cous, that could easily be made using the kettle of boiling water that is always on standby in case of power cuts.