Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Frugal Living on a Shoestring Budget...

My Shoelaces aren't Leather, they're Baler Twine!

(Title created in honour of Archie Sparrow)

Frugaldom is about frugal living. It's the kingdom of a frugal entrepreneur, or 'frugaleur'.

A 'frugaleur' will judge their successes on freedom from debt and fulfilment of a simple lifestyle dream. If it happens to lead to a fortune in the bank, then so be it.  It's simply a by-product of that frugal lifestyle of making do, mending, bartering, recycling, reducing, reusing, sharing and helping others reach their goals. You can always give the cash away if you don't want it.

The original challenge was set several years ago and was based on a minimum wage income for a household of 3. There are no social security benefits, no rent rebates, council tax rebates, bus passes, pensions or grants of any description incorporated - we work from home and save every extra penny we can.

After deducting 12 months' of rent (or mortgage payments) and annual council tax, the household budget was set at £4,000.00 for the entire year. Anything over this amount gets transferred into savings for a good life. It's now fast approaching the end of 2011 and that same £4,000 household budget has remained in force for 5 years, despite all odds. I should add that if you have debts, then all debt payments should be deducted and any excess set towards overpaying those, as it helps to speed up the process of becoming debt-free.

In April 2011, those years of scrimping and saving finally reaped some rewards - we pooled our resources and bought this relatively cheap, 3-bedroom fixy-up with about quarter of an acre of badly neglected garden land. No more rent to pay, no wacko landlords, no mortgage, no more housemoves.

We're based in Scotland, where it can get rather cold, wet and windy. We live in a rural area, where mobile telephone signals haven't yet reached us, where broadband is not yet broad enough, where no bus travels this route and no gas main will probably ever come. It's 3 miles to the village store and 17 miles to the nearest supermarket. It isn't remote, we're terraced and live in a street of about 25 houses. We love it!

As Government-imposed austerity measures take effect and inflation hits 9 times the Bank of England base rate, frugal living provides a cushion to the worst of these blows. It's simply a case of having already adapted to living on a tight budget.

It's never too late to start, so why not start now, with a 2012 pledge to follow a more frugal lifestyle and give debt a final kick into oblivion? It's a rollercoaster ride but it can be fun!

Frugaldom is about stretching every penny to ensure life is worth leading. It's about an entire lifestyle revolving around make do and mend, batch cooking, gardening, poultry keeping, bargain hunting, foraging and any other thrifty, moneysaving pastimes you can imagine. Ultimately, it is about debt free living with no reliance on the 'State', while fighting to earn your own income from home. In a nut shell (some call it a nut house!), it's about self-sustainability with an element of self-sufficiency thrown in for good measure.

This past week has seen Defra release the new 'Guidance on the application of date labels to food' (.pdf document) in an effort to cut down on the amount of food being thrown out, but that could hit some money saavy grocery shoppers hard. For anyone who actually enjoys the thrill of bagging themselves grocery bargains when stores start slashing prices to shift their stock quickly, this may mean the end of an era!

I can't see it making one blind bit of difference to wasteful households. In my opinion, those who bin perfectly good food will continue to do so, only this time it will be based on the 'best before' dates. Where will it all lead, I wonder? Will some future committee sit debating the pros and cons of 'best before' dates and decide that they need to meet the same fate? I hope not!

Then there's the power struggle. Utilities companies continue to fleece huge profits for their shareholders, forcing thousands of people into what's being brandished about as 'fuel poverty', but let's get realistic about this; how many people truly afford themselves the luxury of maintaining a temperature in their living room of 21C and 18C in their other rooms? This has to be city mentality, as it certainly isn't something that anyone I can think of would attempt to do. For most of us, 16C is almost attainable without breaking the bank, but it's also dependent on burning fossil fuels - coal, if you haven't the luxury of a central heating system run off oil or non-mains gas. Logs are great, if you have a reliable supply and space to store them, but what other methods are available to anyone on a tight budget?

Insulate your home! The Government was hell bent on pushing their insulation policies. Many companies jumped on the bandwagon with subsidised offers and freebies, but no thought was given to people living in old, traditionally built, stone houses. These old houses need to breathe. We can't suffocate them or wrap them in fibreglass wool, nor can we insulate walls that have no cavities. What alternatives were made available to us mere country-dwellers who stretch our budgets to afford to turn old houses into affordable homes?

And to top all of that, let us never forget our national heritage. Many of these old buildings, which can make perfectly good homes, are Listed. This can pose a serious problem for the uninitiated or unsuspecting buyer, it can mean extra costs involved in any alterations to your otherwise frugal home.

On 20 January 2011, Parliament passed the Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2011 and it received Royal Assent on 23rd February 2011. Among other things, this act has the power to, "raise the level of fines to £50,000 on summary conviction for unauthorised works to a scheduled monument or listed building."

Don't let this put you off buying an old property here in Scotland. There are hundreds of them, crying out to be rescued and renovated. We can make changes to these houses, but at a cost. For a start, we need planning permission before we can even contemplate something as simple as double glazing or replacing a front door. But frugal living embraces recycling, so let's recycle. It embraces local trading, so let's trade locally. Following the planning permission route to double glazing and all mod cons is not an option for us, nor would we even want to transform a traditional stone cottage into ultra-modern living accommodation.

Our leaking roof will soon be repaired, but it won't ever change its overall appearance. Our old slates will always be slates, our wooden, single-glazed, sash windows will, no doubt, always be wooden sash and single glazed. Our front door, which is literally hanging in there, needs to be replaced, but there's no 'off the shelf' or uPVC options for us, oh no. We eventually found a local joiner who is prepared to make a brand new door, identical to the existing one, reusing the old glass and reinstating the same skylight. The council planning department is happy with this, it has saved us the hassle of applying for planning permission and, to all intents and purposes, there will be no physical change or visible difference to the appearance of the building.

I guess what I am trying to say is, if you are prepared to keep your own house in order, follow a frugal lifestyle and say good riddance to our money-driven, debt-ridden society, then anything is possible.

We all need to earn a living, pay our taxes and contribute to society in some way, so why not plan for a future where you are contributing to a society you want to be part of in the first place?

Even if it's a gradual process, each step of the way taken penny by penny, pound by pound, wouldn't you prefer freedom from debt and freedom to enjoy life?

In 2012, NYK Media will, once again, renew the challenge to follow a frugal lifestyle on a tight budget. As yet, a final calculation has not been done to establish whether or not the Frugaldom household can afford to run on £4,000 (excluding council tax, as this is non-negotiable), but I sincerely hope that it proves possible. This being the case, then Frugaldom will continue to beat inflation and that's something that not many investments can achieve in this economic climate.

Beat inflation, invest in your own frugal lifestyle.


  1. Yet another brilliant post.....they just keep on coming!

    We are well on our way to starting on the journey you are at the end of, well your house isn't finished....but you own it!

    Hopefully in the next couple of months we will be able to move to a cheaper rented house with a bit of land, so we can continue our simple living while we save for that elusive place of our own. We reckon about 3 or 4 years should see us able to buy our very own bit of England.

    The frugal living has started and will now never end, we are debt free and own the things we need to own, we are downsizing our possessions nicely and most importantly of all enjoying this road we have placed ourselves on.

    Thanks for your amazing Blog posts, you are keeping me on the straight and narrow.

    Sue xx

  2. Thanks for honouring my alter ego - Archie Sparrow.

    I think your story would make a great book! Seriously!

    Thanks again

  3. Good luck for 2012!

    You've done brilliantly following the frugal life!

    Sft x

  4. I love the frugal life! One can't really fail in it when there are no other options but, funnily enough, even when alternative opportunities arise, the obvious route to take is the frugal one.

    Dave, most of my story has already been published online, free to share. I have followed some crazy routes in the past - some of which ended up in the newspapers with less than favourable journalistic flair attached, I might add! But I wouldn't change anything, even the failures that ended in tears.

    As for books - we'll see how that goes. ;)

  5. Sue, when failure isn't an option, success is just around the next corner. When you reach that destination, you'll wonder where on earth all the time went. It'll be everything you hoped it would be, even with the inevitable bad bits - because frugal living means being prepared for as much as we possibly can. :) I just hope you don't encounter any, what sheall I call them... 'odd' landlords. LOL

  6. This is SUCH a good post - I sent it to my OH so he has it in writing... We feel we are technically well placed to ride the economic storm, but need to get down to the fine detail of how to do it! Very inspirational. Get on with the book!

  7. "an effort to cut down on the amount of food being thrown out, but that could hit some money saavy grocery shoppers hard."

    I don't think this is workable. OK they can extend the sell by, but there's got to be a date of some sort, even if it's for stock rotation. And eventually that date comes and the stock will be shifted by knock-down prices.

    Or perhaps they know something I don't ?

  8. From what I understood of it, the 'display until' and 'sell by' dates are being abolished, but this still leaves the 'best before' and 'use by' dates.

    Got to agree that I cannot see it working properly, as there will be food waste for as long as the general public expects such wide choice and competitive pricing.

    Price control is more important to the supermarkets so they'll never just give it all away - we need more intermediaries, like Approved Food, Food Bargains and Big Brands For Less.

    Short of this, we need some sort of processing plant that can manufacture soup from all the leftovers then pack it and send it to the starving nations. Sending them money seems to corrupt their governments rather than nourish their citizens.


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