Tuesday, 22 March 2011

House-moving Preparations on a Shoestring Budget

 Pursuing the Dream of Microholding

We're supposed to be out of here by the 7th April, according to the notice we were served at the start of February. I've been reliably informed, this morning, that 15th April will be the earliest we can even get the keys to the next place, which is currently uninhabitable!

As you'll probably all know, we follow the frugaldom lifestyle in pursuit of our dream of microholding. Smallholding is completely out of the question, as we just aren't in the financial position to look at properties with that amount of land - buying is expensive, renting can be extortionate - so it's microholding for us.

Microholding should provide a semblance of self-sufficiency with a lifestyle sustained by working from home. And before anyone cocks an eyebrow or utters a sigh, we are NOT on benefits! It always amazes me the way some people automatically assume that anyone attempting to follow 'the good life' must be shirkers or social security leeches! This is completely untrue.

  • Yes, we enjoy gardening and growing our own fruit and vegetables wherever possible.
  • Yes, we're comfortable sitting at home earning our crust in whatever way we can.
  • Yes, we bake our own bread and make our own laundry detergent.
  • Yes, we keep poultry for eggs anf yes, we sell our surplus in an attempt to offset all the associated costs. 
We also keep long hours and have to budget to within an inch of our lives to afford an otherwise 'normal' life. Self employment means no sick leave, no redundancy pay-outs or unemployment benefit if things go wrong and no automatic pension plan. But it means freedom to live and work to meet whatever goals we set ourselves. As long as I can afford to live debt free and cover the costs of my National Insurance payments, I'll be happy. It's all relative!

In order to take up the challenge of saving enough to buy a house without a mortgage, I began costcutting and debt-busting around 10 years ago. It has been difficult, it has been fraught with setbacks, there have been major expenses to meet throughout that time, including daughter's 21st birthday, an engagement party, a wedding, my son's 21st and, along the way, trying to pay off previous debts and welcoming not one, but two grandchildren into the extending family. There have also been 8 house moves stretching between Aberdeenshire and Suffolk. We want our next move to be the last for many years. The family is now grown and settled into married life and work here in southwest Scotland, so the ultimate move will still see us living and working in the same area.

Becoming debt free is a most liberating experience. From thereonin, it is all about saving, so the frugal lifestyle does not stop when the bank balance moves out of the red and the reminder letters stop arriving. On the contrary, becomig debtfree urges you on to squeeze the budget even tighter in a bid to save as much as possible. We are still several years from having achieved our goals, but fate, as always,can throw a spanner in the works at any time. That spanner was the arrival of our notice to quit this house.

We have been happy here. When we arrived, the house had been empty for months. It was extremely cold and damp, there was no garden to speak of and the roof leaked - badly! However, we overcame each problem gradually - the landlords eventually fixed the roof a full 20 months after we moved in here! I have a full diary of photographs and updates of our progress turning the 'garden' into something productive. It was beginning to look like we might even achieve our dream of microholding, despite being in yet another rental.

I have to admit, the mile and a quarter long driveway that's here being lined with all sorts of foraging wonders has served us well. I have a year's supply of jams, jellies and wine stored, much of it made from free fruit, berries and flowers. I also make fresh lemon curd from our freerange garden hens' eggs. These are the things we can most enjoy about frugaldom - the release from the pressure to buy into a consumerist society. Make do and mend, preserve, bake, grow as much fruit and as many vegetables as you can and make space for some hens, ducks and/or quail. I even compiled a list of 101 things to do with eggs!

Costcutting is the most important factor affecting how much we can afford to save. Apart from the obvious things, like monitoring electricity use, cutting down on transport costs, sharing with friends, only buying what you need rather than what you want and always shopping online through a generous and reliable cashback site, I have found that grocery shopping is, by far, the easiest place to economise on a regular basis. Thanks to bulk buying, batch cooking, shopping for bargains and growing/producing our own, we have succeeded in honing our grocery spending skills to an average of £1 per day per person. I find this to be a comfortable amount. We eat well, the cupboards, fridge and freezer are always full and there's always a variety to our diet. OK, so it completely cuts out fast food, takeaways and eating out but once you are attuned to such frugal shopping, there's always a way of getting more for your money.

One side effect of all this frugal living is that it's both infectious and contageous! Numerical OCD (Obsessive, Compulsive Disorder) is thought of more as a behaviour trait than anything more sinister. In fact, it is to be welcomed. If there's a debt outstanding of £1,009.53, then the urge is to clear off that extra £9.53 as soon as possible. Likewise with the savings, once you reach that stage. If your account says £89.99 then you NEED to round it up to the next hundred or thousand, depending how far advanced you are with your challenge. Life, in all ots forms, is a challenge, so why not make them fun?

My first challenge was to clear individual debts, getting rid of the smallest ones first and tackling the most expensive ones. Prior to the Bank of England base rate hitting 0.5% two years ago, I played the credit card switch - transferring balances onto 0% cards and paying debts off faster. Following my own debt free moment, I continued with this 'game', transferring card funds into high interest accounts purely to earn a few pounds more, whilst always paying back the minimum until such times as the entire balance became due to avoid charges or interest. It used to work - it doesn't any more. To this day, I swear on the life of my cashback credit card and look forward, every year, to my payment. It isn't much, but it's free money and that's what I love about it!

The day of juggling savings to utilise the highest interest rates has well and truly gone, for now. For the past two years, it has been a prime time for shifting secured debt, like mortgages, or else shifting high interest debt onto mortgages with the potential there to clear them quicker and at less cost overall. Sadly, savings in the bank just are not worth it for now. With inflation at 4.4% (probably much higher for followers of the frugaldom lifestyle), money in the bank earning anything less than 5.5% gross is LOSING you money.

Being served notice to quit this house has been a blessing in disguise. We'd become too comfortable with our frugal lifestyle while saving, we had failed to realise the true damage we could be inviting through lost interest. Worse, still, we had already lost one third of our income to these hard times of recession and I suspect there could be much worse still to come. Receiving notice gave us the kick up the backside that reminded us that life is a challenge and it has to be met head on - nothing ventured, nothing gained. And that, dear readers, is how we have found ourselves in the position of buying a little house with a big garden and starting from scratch. It will leave us with no financial security net and very little guaranteed income for the foreseeable future. It's a full renovation job, both inside and out, but it's a challenge we're finally ready to meet, come what may.

I find that ordinary folks like us don't get given much of anything, let alone luck. Take the weather, for example. I feel as if we're living in one of the coldest, wettest areas of Scotland at the moment - not that there are many dry and warm parts - so that's always conspiring against us. Can you tell it's raining here, yet again? But in a funny old way, we have turned around the ill-fortune of facing impending homelessness to a positive thing. We are embarking on our next big adventure, sailing on the winds of hope and then paddling like mad to stay afloat when the reality of this all kicks in. I recently began a new challenge - find a house and move in 45 days - but we won't be able to do that. So now what? We have requested an extention to our vacating these premises date and, in the meantime, we are gathering together every single penny that we can in preparation to exchanging the lot for a fixy-up.

We count ourselves lucky in that we are debt free (for now), in reasonably good health (wear and tear permitting) and not living in constant fear of the next natural disaster or war zone.

My thoughts are with all of those unfortunate people around the world who find themselves in war zones, famines, natural disasters or dictatorships that offer no escape to freedom and little sense of self-worth. May friends, family and true community spirit see you through tough times.

I hope readers will join me in the Frugaldom forums, where we share hints, tips and suggestions for debt-busting, money saving, frugal living and, dare I say it, DIY!


  1. Brilliant post, I wish you lots of success with your move, I hope you get that extension of your tenancy!!

    Sue xx

  2. Thank you so much for your support. I'm just about to read an email that's arrived in my box from the lawyer... everything's crossed!

  3. It isn't bad news, we're safe so far. :)

  4. Thanks, Laura. Must catch up on the forums and blogs to see how everyone is doing. :)

  5. fantastic post - cannot wait to read how you get on with the new house

  6. What a wonderful post! I have only just started reading your blog and I'm so pleased you shared this.
    I would like to add my best wishes and hope you get the extension you need. I will be following your journey with great interest.

  7. Brilliant post Nyk fingers crossed

  8. great blog post, fingers crossed

    Do you have a tent?

  9. Many thanks to everyone for all the lovely comments. I'll certainly be sharing the next stage of our frugal journey with everyone.

    Yes, we have access to a tent and camping stove, kindly offered by a very dear friend know to many as 'the Duchess of Frugonia'. :)

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