Monday, 30 May 2011

Recycling rant.

As you may have worked out for yourself by now, I live in a flat (hopefully only for a couple more months or so). Now a few years ago I asked if I could have a recycling box, because although all the houses on our road have them, my flats didn't. I was told in a very curt letter that the policy of Croydon Council was that buildings with more than 4 flats do not get recycling boxes. This flew me into a bit of a rage, because I couldn't quite believe that the council were making this big deal about supporting recycling, but were actually missing out one of the largest parts of our community, making their whole policy a sham. Anyway, a few angry words later and cut on a year or so. I was eventually told that my flats would be getting, rather than the small green boxes, a large wheely bin type affair for recycling that could take glass, cardboard, plastic bottles, tins etc. All well and good and I felt that maybe (just maybe) I had helped this along with my complaining. So for the last 2 years I have been happily recycling my stuff, well done the council.

Anyway, as to my despair it is not actually this about which I am despairing, after all, the council finally gave me what I wanted. No, I included this purely as background to the main event:

My flat shares a building with about 12 more flats and we all use these bins, so why is it, do you suppose, that other people in the building can't even be bothered to recycle anything even with the facility in front of their noses? Obviously, I can't speak for everyone in the building, but the ordinary bins (which I am proud to say, I hardly ever have to use) are always full of cardboard, cans, drink bottles etc. Is there so little care about it that people don't even think about it once? I suppose I shouldn't necessarily be surprised as some of the residents here can't even be bothered to lift the lid of the bin and just chuck bags into the approximate area. So yes, I despair of my fellow human being. It is this lack of care, lack of awareness and pure and simple old fashioned laziness that causes landfills, causes nothing to change. If we can't get people to change just a simple thing like this when it is put in front of their nose, then what will make them sit up and listen? But are these the same people who are leaving all their lights burning all night? Heating their house but opening their windows when they are hot? Buying mobile phones to throw them in the (non-recycling) bin when the next one takes their fancy?

Perhaps all we can actually do is quietly go about doing what we are doing to change things in our own small, individual way and if there are enough of us, then perhaps we can make a difference.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.

H G Wells quote up there and a pretty nice one I think. I recently came back from working in Switzerland (yes, not great for my carbon footprint, but in my defence it was work not play - I don't play by plane, which is easier than it sounds as I loathe flying) and was interested to find that in the small town I was in they give you bicycles for free for the day. Just leave a deposit of 20 francs and off you go. Obviously, if they did that in London they would never see those little machines again, which is just a sad fact about the modern Brits.Yes, I know there is a bike scheme here, but only 30 minutes is free (plus £1 to activate) but it then goes up in price at an alarming rate, ending with £50 for a whole day. Perhaps I am missing the point of the scheme though.  Anyway, getting back on topic, I loved being back on a bike and definitely want one as part of my future. This is where it got interesting. I haven't, to my shame, owned a bike since I wore unflattering 80's silk shirts and was so thin that you couldn't see me sideways and would like to know when the price of a bike went from a few pounds of saved up pocket money to closer to £1000. What did I miss? A quick walk around my local bike shop and I couldn't quite believe the prices I was seeing. To be fair, I was only looking out of interest, as I want a second hand one, after all, I won't be setting new records or cycling around the world, obviously those who want a £700 bike will be doing all of the above. I have been in London for 19 years and I am always in awe of those people who actually brave the traffic on a bike. This above all else is why I stopped cycling. I am assuming it is a tad safer in the beautiful North.

So I have to accept that gone are the days that you just grabbed your cheap bike and went off somewhere, now you need all the kit that goes with it - florescent tops, helmets, locks. Not that I am complaining about safety features, all for the good, but it just seemed yet another pastime that has become a commercial circus. I am sure there are hundreds of unused bikes out there and yet more are made and sold to be unused.

Well to highlight my point I was telling my mum about the Swiss system and complaining about the bikes prices here and guess what? She and my dad bought a bike about 2 years ago and then found it too heavy to get in and out of a car (the irony was not lost on me) and so the poor machine went into the garage and has never even been ridden. Clever use of money mum.

Needless to say, I am now the proud owner of a second hand, yet never used bike. Now I need a small loan to buy all the extra equipment.........

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The countdown begins............

My flat will go onto the market this week - finally. After days of reshaping, scrubbing and hiding the worst bits, it is now ready. Estate agent chosen, market price agreed on, fairly satisfactory one considering the state of the sellers market it is good to go.

And I am more than ready too.

I can't look back with any regrets, it has been a good flat and a happy one. I have changed enormously within these walls but as all good things must come to an end, so must this chapter of my life.

I have hankered after a more sustainable, country, green, make-do-and-mend life for years now and I am proud of myself for having the guts to finally leave the city in which I have lived for the last 19 years, move 200 miles North to the wonderful countryside North of Manchester, and begin to slowly put my dream future into practice. Finally we are here.

Of course, that is assuming that my flat doesn't sit on a dead market for the next 15 months.....

Now that I am at this point, I have allowed myself to look at the possibly properties I can afford with a very very small mortgage in East Lancashire. It is a thrilling amount after the shoebox you get in London for twice the price. It is weird though, in a way I look at the house as secondary, my gaze instantly falls on the photos of the garden - how much garden can I get? I feel like I am buying a garden with a small house attached. OK, sure, I have a limited budget, who doesn't. Part of the dream of self-sufficiency comes with not tying myself into huge debts with a huge mortgage (being self-employed, this would be impossible anyway as mortgage lenders tend to laugh when I approach - which is annoying, as I have never had an unpaid debt in my life or missed a mortgage payment - anyway that particular gripe is a huge subject for another post one day, damn you, bankers). I am hoping to be mortgage free within the next 8 years, maybe less if I can seriously live on less and less. Not bad going for someone who has never earned more than £18000 before tax in a year.

So, do I have the cajones for the move? Will I make new friends? Will it all work? Well, unless I grab the chance now, I will never know the answer to these questions. Will I miss things here in London? Doubt it. Yes, of course I will miss some friends that I see on a very regular basis, but as we all approach 40, our lives are all changing, people are moving away, people are fed up with this aggressive, overpriced, overpopulated city. So, yes, my cajones are melons.

And so there ends the post........for now.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Surface cleaner

I made my own surface cleaner this week. Got it from the book Thrifty Ways for Modern Days by Martin Lewis.
It consisted of 1 cup of white vinegar and 1 cup of water put in an old spray bottle. I added a few drops of pine essential oil, only because I had some knocking about. So far, it does the job every bit as well as any surface cleaner I have ever used. Stubborn patches are coming off as easy as anything. I think I will experiment with other possible alternatives. A few months ago I tried to make my own washing up liquid. This was something that I failed totally at. None of what I made ever cleaned anything properly (by that I mean nothing greasy or very dirty.) No use at all, although if anyone has any good ideas I would be more than willing to try again.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


I have been experimenting with using my freezer for new ways.  Fairly recently I bought a massive sack of potatoes which have been sitting in a cool place and proved to be a hugely economic way of buying potatoes. However, they were getting to the past their best, sprouting days and there was no way I was going to chuck them away. Now, I have always been sort of living under the illusion that potatoes were not great for freezing, but a few minutes on the internet has blown that out of the water. So armed with my new knowledge, I have been busy making frozen oven chips and mashed potato portions to freeze. I will let you know how they come out, but according to other frugal people out there, there is no problem at all. Just make the mashed potato as normal and then freeze in portions. For the oven chips I peeled and cut the potatoes into fat chips, bung them in boiling water and parboiled for 3 minutes when the water was boiling again. After this I added some oil and some cajun spices and then put the on a tray to cool. When cold the trays went into the freezer with the chip spread out and not touching (and that is how they are now). When they have frozen, in a couple of hours, I will bag them up into portions ready to use. Great way to save tired old potatoes, the whole thing taking about 20 minutes for mash and oven chips.
While I was at it, I was using some butter beans today and noticed that one 225gr can costs 44p while a bag of the dried ones is 77p but makes the equivalent of  5 cans. definitely a good saver, as it seems, once they are prepared the portions are freezable. So 5 portions are made and ready to use. Same can be done for most pulses (chickpeas, beans, etc) although it seems lentils doesn't work, not sure why.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The plight of the singles

We live in a world that is designed for couples. In fact, increasingly seems to be designed for couples with 2 children. Why, even this week Sainsbury's have unveiled their 'feed a family of four for £50 a week' campaign. You only need to watch a few minutes of TV advertisements to notice that the perfect families portrayed there almost invariably have a mum and a dad and 2 children. But what, I cry, about the childless singles? Everybody turns their attention to how difficult it is for a family to manage these days, but I argue that, to be honest, it is much harder for the singles in this world. We have one income with which to make our way in the world, one income paying the mortgage, all the bills and council tax etc. Yes, we have one mouth to feed, but as buying the house is pretty much the biggest thing that we ever do, doing it alone is tough. I have been single for a few years and I am not sure that finding a partner should really be something that I base on easing my financial situation. I have been fairly lucky, because of my age, I was able to buy a house before things went to crazy and sell it for enough profit to generate decent deposits, but I do wonder about people leaving university now with a loan to repay rather than a deposit to save for. How can they ever afford a house by themselves - especially here in the South.
Anyway, this blog is not really about singles and house prices, but really my way of making my single life possible financially. Yes, I hope to one day have a partner to share things with but I can't wait for that day without making plans for the possibility that it may never happen.
That is one of the reasons why firstly I am relocating to the north - a mortgage free existence is the eventual aim - and also one of the reasons why I am wanting to learn how to live with less - less household and food bills.
Are there other singles out there who aren't super earners and who struggle in this way? I would love to hear how you manage. It would be great to learn money saving tips from others to add to my collection.


Another big saving I have found is on shaving. Instead of buying cans of foam I now shave using shaving soap and a brush. OK, so the shaving soap cost me a tenner, but 2years on, and there is still more than half there, making this a classic case of spending money to save money. I also invested in a RazorPit, razor sharpening tool.( Jury is still out on how much extra life that it gives to blades, but we will see. I am sure that the biggest money saving would come from buying a cut throat razor and being extra careful!

Hand soap

OK, so liquid hand soap doesn't really cost a fortune in the first place, but we seem to go through it at an alarming rate.
Well a tip I came across recently (which I admit to being slightly dubious about at first) was instead of buying hand soap, go to your supermarket and buy one of their cheap bubble bath liquid and refill from there. Well the one I bought was 55p for a litre from Sainsbury (bearing in mind that Sainsbury's own brand hand soap is 80p for 250 ml, making this a very big saving). Well, I have to admit to being a convert! There is nothing wrong with it at all, does the job every bit as well for a fraction of the cost. And what after all is hand soap? I can't really find much difference between the two. You still have a nice variety of smells.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Elderflower season is upon us.

I love elderflower cordial, and I love even more making something this simple in large quantities for my home use when I would have to buy it for about £2.50 for 750 ml in the supermarket.

Last year was the first time I made it, and I had enough stored in the freezer that I have only just finished the last bottle now. This year, with a house move on the horizon, I thought I would try making it to store outside of the freezer so that I can move it with me to my new address when the time comes.

There is a bewildering array of recipes out there, some harder than others, but all close in their actual ingredients and methods. This is the one that I am going to try using this year.


·         30 elderflower heads
·         1.7litres/3 pints boiling water
·         900g/2lb caster sugar
·         50g/2oz citric acid (available from chemists)
·         2 unwaxed oranges, sliced
3 unwaxed lemons, sliced

Preparation method

1.    Gently rinse over the elderflowers to remove any dirt or little creatures.
2.    Pour the boiling water over the sugar in a very large mixing bowl. Stir well and leave to cool.
3.    Add the citric acid, the orange and lemon slices, and then the flowers.
4.    Leave in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
8 teaspoons of sugar
4 pints of boiling water.

Scald the barely with boiling water and then strain. Place in a bowl with the lemon peel and sugar and pour over 4 pints of boiling water. Cover and leave to go cold. Pour slowly into a jug leaving behind the sediment rather than straining it. Bottle up and keep in the fridge. Dilute to taste.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


Have you ever noticed how all your best intentions can go out of the window when you get a little anxious or stressed? I have had builders in on and off for the last 2 months (one of the reasons why my house is not yet on the market) and this week it was finally over. Living without a proper bathroom for 2 months is stressful enough (a nasty leak meant the floor had to come up and the sink had to come out) but add on top of that complicated insurance claims and builders who never turn up when they say that they will and my stress levels were beginning to boil over. Now, I am the first to admit that I don't handle these things well, I don't like confrontation and I don't like my routines spoilt so when the 4th day of waiting in for non-materialising builders happened I was nearly at screaming pitch. This is when, like I say, my best intentions became a little spoiled. I had to get out of the house and break the builder imposed waiting in game and so found myself in Tesco, a shop that I generally avoid and loathe for its lack of ethics. However, on this occasion I found myself in the easter egg selling off aisle and before I knew it had filled my basket. In for a penny, in for a pound I added some crisps and a cake to the incredibly unhealthy looking basket and found that I had spent rather a lot more than I had any intention doing, especially as every single item there was unnecessary. Of course, when I came back to my home, with its un-lovely, un-finished bathroom I quicky set upon devouring my sinful purchases. Now, I am not in the least overweight, so didn't feel worried about a lapse in my usual healthy diet but it does pose an interesting question:  why is it that so many of us head for a junk food aisle when we get upset, or anxious or stressed? Is it simply the comfort of fat and sugar, or a deeper psychological learnt behaviour? What did our grandparents do when they got upset? I am pretty certain that my granny didn't reach for a bag of crisps. Perhaps she baked a couple of apple pies. But more likely, it seems to me, comfort eating was not a part of our grandparents make-up.  It is an interesting question to which I have no answer. perhaps there is nothing wrong with occasional comfort eating and now that the work is done and the builders are gone, perhaps I won't feel the need. But what about those times when we are feeling worried or depressed for long periods of time? This is when it must get out of control. It's quite expensive to eat junk making stress an expensive problem!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Cowboy Pie

When I was a small boy, my godmother, who I now realise was very short of money, used to make her daughter and me Cowboy Pie. I remember thinking of this as a treat, real childrens food. It is only now, as an adult, that I realise what a frugal dish this is, made, literally for a few pence. I also realise that this is not the original version, recipes for which you can find on the internet, but these contain a lot more ingredients. Having tried it again recently I find that it is still a nice, comfort food sort of dish, and can make a few meals for under a pound.
Put 2 cans of baked beans in a casserole dish. Usually I shy away from value range beans, but for this dish they are fine. Mash up some potatoes with milk and plenty of butter and season well. Put the mash on top of the beans and smooth out. On top of this grate plenty of cheddar cheese for a nice thick layer. Put in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes.
That really is it. OK, not the most exciting meal, but plenty tasty enough. Plus, when you really want to budget one week, well, like I say, the whole thing comes in for a pound. Can also be served with a couple of sausages. or you could maybe try adding some spices to the beans to liven it up. Chilli powder or cayenne perhaps.

Sunday, 1 May 2011


A lot of my friends differ in their opinion of me. Some think I am quite impressive, always cooking my own lunch and bringing it in tupperware, something different each day. Others, by contrast, think that this is a bit weird and that I am just too stingy to buy my own sandwich from Pret or Marks and Spencer.
My lunch diet this week varied from egg sandwiches (home made bread), sausage and potato salad and most tasty of all, a tuna salad made from home grown leaves with chilli olives, marinated myself. At a very rough estimate, 5 days of lunches probably cost me £5. So yes, I imagine I saved a lot of money: were I to buy a just 1 sandwich from pret every day I would have clocked up a bill of between £10 and £15 most likely. I also bring an empty bottle with me (empty because it weighs less for transportation) and fill it from a tap - yes, before the strange invention of bottled water, we all did drink water from taps. One day, in fact, I put a small amount of my home made elderflower cordial in the bottom of my water bottle which I topped up whilst at work for a nice change.
Now, the other camp of people that think I am hugely organised to have made all this stuff for myself every day are getting it wrong. It actually takes very little organising, but rather a small amount of forward thinking. Take for example the sausage and potato salad I had on Wednesday. I just had to engage my brain on Tuesday evening, when I put the oven on for my evening meal. Stuck a couple of sausages in on another tray and hey presto, add a couple of potateos and  lunch the following day, dealt with. I find it is generally just as easy to be preparing two meals at the same time when in the kitchen in the evening. Not hard to stick some eggs on to hard boil while you are cooking some pasta. not difficult to stick some herbs and spices in with some olives, topping them up with oil to marinate while you are making something else. No, I can't think making my own lunch takes me any longer than it takes my colleagues to walk to the sandwich shop, queue up and pay for their (heavy on the calories, low on the taste) sandwich. My way also ends up with fresh and healthier ingredients with no mystery as to what went into it and has a much lower impact on landfill sites having no packaging. A great book for ideas on different packed lunches is the latest River Cottage offering (River Cottage Everyday)
So to sum up, I don't do any of the frugal living I do because I am tight fisted, but I do begrudge spending money on anything  that I could do for myself.
For the next few weeks I have given myself the task of living with £50 a week cash in my wallet. This is so that I can be saving £300 each month towards my future move to the North. So far, I have managed admirably, possibly because I have done without any 'luxery' items. And yet, at no point have I felt poor. In fact, my life has possibly been richer because of it.