Winter is almost upon us here in Scotland, with the higher ground already having snow. This is good for the visiting ski enthusiasts but, for us mere frugalers, it means digging deep to ensure we can afford to eat while heating our homes.
WHAT ARE OUR CHOICES?
The cost of fuel is escalating beyond the reaches of some low paid, rural folks who have few options for finding extra work or securing a cheap, online utilities deal. With no mains gas and roads that are notorious for closing during the harshest winter weather, it leaves few options for the likes of oil tankers getting through to farms and outlying locations if their oil or liquid gas runs out quicker than expected. We are left with one basic option for heat, light and cooking - electricity. There are those who opted to supplement with cylinders of gas, but I'm told these have almost doubled in price recently, leaving many having to look for cheaper alternatives. Indeed, one local supplier is giving up stocking it completely.
In the current economic climate, electricity prices have risen to such a level that things like heating, cooking and hot water are becoming luxuries. Many are returning to solid fuel. But even here, prices are dictating the level to which one can afford to heat their home. (It would be fantastic to even consider that the ECAT could be a potential contender for frugalers within the next couple of years!)
PRICE OF COAL, LOGS AND ELECTRICITY
In our area, the very cheapest, lowest quality coal is now £12.80 per 50kg bag. A trailer load of logs will cost around £50. Electricity prices work out about 14p to 16p per kWh, unless you have E7 that allows for cheap rate during the night - an option I may, once again, need to consider, despite my loathing of storage heaters.
Here in Frugaldom, we live in a small, terraced cottage. We have key-metered mains electricity that now costs £1.75 per week in standing charges and 12.25p per unit. The budget was set for an average 100 units per week, but this has already been breached. £15 per week seems to be seeing us through OK, for now! It covers cooking, lighting, showers and running the computers that enable us to work from home. But temperatures are dropping steadily and we've hardly had a dry day in months - laundry mountain needs to be scaled soon!
COST OF HEATING AND HOT WATER
The only form of heating we have is from an open fire with back-boiler, which can heat the water and 3 radiators. Keeping that fire going long enough to do both for a sufficient length of time is costing us around £25 per week between coal and logs, so that's now £40 per week on power/fuel!
HEATING V EATING
Overall, I have allocated £1,345 of my £4,000 budget in 2012 to electricity, coal and logs. That's 33.62% of the entire frugal living challenge budget! The grocery budget, on the other hand, is less than £25 per week, at £1,250 including toiletries, laundry and cleaning products!
SAVING ON COAL AND LOGS
In true frugal fashion, I rescued a couple of bricks from inside an old storage heater and have placed these at either side of the fire grate, reducing the overall size of the burning area and, thus, lessening the amount of coal or wood needed at any given time. By doing this, I have managed to keep within this £40 per week limit, but the unheated kitchen is becoming colder and colder! The new roof hasn't yet been insulated, there's no ceiling and the back door and windows still need to be replaced. For this reason, I now also have an electric convector heater plugged in, set on 'frost', so it switches on for just long enough to keep the temperature from dropping to zero degrees.
Insulation is paramount i the quest to retain heat, so a great deal of time and effort has been put into deciding what type to fit into the flat kitchen roof. Don't expect help in covering the costs of insulation, as all the wonderful 'free' offers are for specific groups within society - none of which are us! If you choose to support yourself by working from home, have no young children, illnesses, disabilities or pensioners in your household and aren't in receipt of specific state benefits, you can forget financial help from the Government subsidised agencies. Likewise, if your home is of an older, stone built type, there are limitations in how and where you can insulate - again exempting many from help. My best advice is go it alone and, in the event you ever receive any grants or freebies, accept the bonus and bank the savings for the next rainy day disaster that is sure to come along sooner or later.
GOING GREEN, SHEEPS WOOL INSULATION
Frugal living does not lend itself to pursuing a green or eco-friendly lifestyle, that's for sure! While the big, commercial DIY stores offer subsidised glass fibre insulation at £2 per roll, there are few alternatives for the more consciencious house renovators. It's a similar story with things like installing a living roof, solar panels, a wind turbine or a water wheel.
Insulation - I priced Celotex and Kingspan type boards, which many suggest are the best available, then I compared these to environmentally friendly sheeps wool. The insulation qualities between these boards and natural sheeps wool were very similar, but both cost a fortune and both would still need to be boarded over with the new ceiling... so I've gone green on this issue and am supporting the British wool market - I've placed my order for Black Mountain Sheeps Wool. Better still, it actually worked out over 25% cheaper than the builders' merchant delivered prices for Celotex. It even beat eBay prices for surplus to requirement stock! I am happy paying my £45 + VAT delivery charge from Wales, I'd have stayed local had there been a reputable, affordable supplier, but there isn't!
What else has happened during by prolonged absence, for which I apologise. Sudden deaths are never something we are fully prepared for, regardless of how hard we try to prepare ourselves and protect ourselves against every eventuality. But that's a whole different story that warrants a blog post of its own, with a frank and honest look at what devastation, financial or otherwise, can occur in its wake.
THE COST OF RENOVATING A RURAL COTTAGE
The new back door and window have both been ordered, the joiner instructed to start three weeks ago (and he still hasn't returned!) and I'm now contemplating what type of woodburning stove to invest in for next winter. Everything takes time, especially when you live in the country. None of the local tradesmen seem to be in any particular hurry to secure extra work. Let's face it - they can cover a huge area, travel time eats into working hours and there's always someone closer to home needs work doing. Then there's always the bad weather, affecting work outdoors. I'm hoping our latest joiner won't fail us, but he is almost 3 weeks late for starting the door. In fairness, it's hardly stopped raining in all that time, so he's probably doing warmer, drier work inside someone else's fixy-up house.
Our initial survey estimated £15,000 for the essential remedial works, excluding interior fixtures, fittings and decor etc, but we hope to complete for less than £10,000 by salvaging and reusing whatever we can, while making the most of local freecycle and exchange trading groups. Even these things are difficult when you choose to follow the Frugaldom route, because the local population is spread so thinly across such a wide area that it's seldom you spot a 'bargain' that won't actually cost you more in petrol or diesel to go and collect it! Few and far between rings true on this count. Thank goodness for the Internet and home deliveries, that's all I can say!
DON'T FORGET TO FACTOR IN CAR COSTS!
I often get asked why we don't simply collect our own firewood or shop in the larger supermarkets, but making such obvious choices aren't economically viable. It could take the best part of a day to make the 100+ mile round trip to the nearest Asda Walmart or Tesco superstore. And when driving a smaller, more economical car, it makes it impossible to hitch up a trailer and lug a tonne of freshly cut timber home to try and chop it then store it for 12 to 18 months before it's seasoned and ready for use.
These are the types of things that many townsfolk forget to consider before selling up and shipping out into the country to live their perceived good life of near self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency simply does not exist. We all need money. Setting up a new lifestyle costs money. Pursuing that lifestyle costs money. It is a very expensive mistake to make if you don't find this out until after you've relocated and all your savings have gone. Thankfully, I've never done the city-dwelling, high-flying career lifestyle, so budgeting, for me, is par for my chosen course. I have, however, experienced how quickly it can all go very wrong.
LUXURY IN FRUGALDOM
Nonetheless, I set myself another challenge to earn a little extra from my writing and have now afforded myself the luxury of splashing out on my expensive, environmentally-friendly, sheeps wool insulation. Renovation work in the kitchen should resume soon, without Christmas shopping causing any adverse effect on the spending. Frugaldom should have a snug kitchen before this winter ends, but I'd like to think we could achieve this even before this increasingly late winter begins!
Edited in - I spoke too soon! The snow has begun falling in Frugaldom!
Frugal Living Challenge