Wednesday, 27 July 2011

July Spend

Hello all,
This month I did a detailed spending diary for the first time ever, just to get an overview of what is going on. OK, so July is not over yet, but it is pretty close and all I have to do now is put about £20 of petrol in the car to take me to a job I am doing far away over the weekend.

So how did it go? Well I spent £237.48. More than I wanted, but with a couple of unavoidable extras.

Here is the breakdown anyway:

£17 Dentist
£63.90 grocery shopping (pretty damned good, if I say so myself)
£50 Travel expenses (unavoidable)
£19.53 Toiletries (will explain why it is so high)
£2 A coffee at the airport (well sometimes you have to)
£40.90 Books
£2.90 Laundry
£25.85 Luxery items, including one night out
£2.40 Birthday cards
£13 some new kitchen equiptment.

All in all not a bad month, considering that £17 was for the dentist and £50 was for travel. OK, so my weakness is for books (although at least this is money well spent as they were all second hand, all will be read and 2 of them were for presents. The luxery items was not what I considered excessive although it did gall me that £17 of it was for one round of 4 drinks in a London pub, wow, what sort of price is that!

So room for improvement lies in perhaps a little less enthusiastic book shopping and perhaps some visits to the library. I am pretty thrilled to find my grocery shopping bill so low, although, to be fair, I was working away from home for some of this month and food was provided on the job, so that is not necessarily a fair view of how much I would normally spend on food.

It was a bit of bind writing everything in when I spent it but certainly made me realise where my money is going. I won't do it again in August, because I am working away from home for such a lot of the month, but maybe I will repeat the experiment in September when I am home much more.

Oh and the toiletries was high, because I bought some stuff to make my own with, an initial spend, but should last a long long time.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Because you're worth it?

Sorry it's been ages since my last post. I have been working away from home so not had much time to sit down and write.

It has been interesting for me watching how other people live their lives. I was working some of the time in Jersey where, ok, there are many well off people; yet, being well-off doesn't really signify a wasteful nature. In fact, although they live in big houses and drive nice cars and go on holiday, many of them seem to have a fairly frugal attitude towards their needs, particularly where food is concerned. There is definite attitude of not wasting anything, the chicken carcass becomes stock, the left-overs become tomorrow evenings dinner. Perhaps it is how wealthy people remain wealthy?

So why is it that people with less money tend to throw away food, tend to not eat left-overs because it is too boring to have something that they have already eaten this week? Perhaps it is the lack of tradition and the reaching for some pseudo-celebrity life style that is the problem. We are all told over and over again by various media sources what we should be spending our money on and how we should be living our life. We should buy this shampoo because Cheryl Cole uses it (sure she does!),  we should wear designer labels because if we do we will attract the right sort of person and be living the life that our favourite celebrity lives, we should listen to this music because everyone else who watched x-factor thought it was good, if we love our children we will buy them a £700 flat-screen tv for their bedroom. When is the World going to stop listening to what the media tells us we should be doing and start living our own lives in our own way? Celebrity culture is telling us that not only do we need everything, but that we deserve it! 'Because you're worth it' seems to have replaced old-fashioned values. We are no longer striving for a good happy home life, now we are striving for everything, we deserve it all, apparently. It is easy to begin to assume that having all the things that other people have is the secret formula to a happy home life. It is actually of course just the secret formula for accruing what is apparently now the average debt outside of a mortgage or £9700.

I have a friend who is a single parent with 3 children, her mortgage is almost paid off, but she earns less than £11,000 a year. She recently told me that she is now really buying her clothes from shops in the next level up than places like next, she now buys Crew Clothing and tops from small expensive boutiques in town. How and why? She says that it makes her look better than cheap next clothes (cheap?) Of course, the answer is that she is told that a woman in her 40's deserves to look good and the way to do that is by spending more money on herself.

 Going back to all the people I met on Jersey, they are perhaps living an expensive life style in a lot of ways, because they have the money to do so, but they are not in general doing it because Cheryl Cole told them that they are worth it. They are doing it because they have always done it. In the same way they are boiling up chicken bones to make next weeks soup, they are serving beef sandwiches because they had a beef joint at the weekend and sliced it up for use through the week. Tradition and old fashioned values.

It is like a tonic to me to read other peoples blogs, people with the same attitude as me, to get back down to reality, to ground myself and know that there is a movement of people out there that are reacting against the I deserve it and I want it now trend.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Stir-fry and crumble for next to nothing.

This lunchtime I made myself a stir-fry and a crumble pretty much out of nothing. I love the idea of getting a meal out of bits and bobs kicking about the kitchen. I was inspired by my mum who is always stir frying up her home grown veggies.
I started with an old and very tired spring onion which I chopped up (always chop up to the very end of the green bits as well as the white, there is nothing wrong with them, but many people only chop the white and throw away the stalk) added a couple of cloves of chopped garlic. I had some bits of chicken in the freezer from a cooked chicken I had a couple of weeks ago so that came out.

 A quick trip into my garden got me some cabbage leaves, which I am sharing with slugs and snails, but I don't mind the odd tooth mark in there.

 Chopped that up and finally a couple of little plum tomatoes.

Put some noodles on to boil and then stir-fried the lot together. I whipped up a quick sauce with a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of peanut butter, some flaked chillies and some lime juice.

 Added the sauce at the end and then mixed in with the noodles. Some chopped parsley finished it off.

 Very delicious and all from a small amount of food that was in the cupboard or freezer already. Would have cost me only a few pence to be honest.

Next I made an apple and fruit crumble. These cooking apples I picked out of the bin at a friends house. I opened up his bin and there they were, he said the were too tired to eat now - not for me! I picked them out of the bin (it was pretty clean, but they are to be peeled anyway)

Cooked them up with some berries I found in the freezer and then quickly rubbed together some flour, butter and sugar and hey presto, a couple of crumbles, one for my dinner tonight and one for the freezer.

I will stick one of them in the oven later to cook for dinner, and the other one can go into the freezer for a treat some time in the future.

There is something immensely satisfying from cooking food that has been 'found' or grown by you, and making delicious meals for so little money and effort.

Friday, 1 July 2011

What do we actually need?

The world is a greedy place. Everyone wants something, thinks they deserve something, or want to make money from something. It made me start to think about what we actually need versus what we want. If you break down everything you spend money on into an order of priority starting with the most important and ending with the most luxurious thing you spend your money on I think the majority of us would be the same. The cut off point is at the luxurious end. Take someone like me, there is very little, almost nothing, at the luxurious end but I often work with people who put almost nothing into the most important end and loads into the luxuries.

What do we actually need to live a basic but content existence? Shelter, warmth, food and drink, friends. Obviously it is shelter that costs more than anything else in our life for most people. Those very small lucky few that inherit properties and never know the weight of a mortgage are very much in the minority. Food and drink costs increasingly more, but the more I read other peoples blogs on frugal living, the more I see how much the majority of the population wastes and how little we can actually live on, especially if the first (shelter) provides you with space to grow and store your own. Warmth is on the increase financially and we should all be looking at other ways to decrease our fuel bills. I have friends who spend double what I do on gas and electricity and can't understand why. When I was around at their house they had the heating on to dry the clothes - this was 2 days ago, a nice warm day, enough said. Put on a jumper is the one thing that most people could do and don't, yeah, perhaps I am lucky, I don't feel the cold so much, but I don't walk around the house on a cold winters day in a tee-shirt. Friends, good friends, should cost nothing. I am probably not the only one of you reading these frugal blogs that have this quandary - when friends want to go somewhere nice for dinner, or to do something expensive that I can't afford and they can. A good friend will always understand and just get it if you explain that you can't afford to, but it sometimes can cause difficulty I find. I will suggest them coming around for dinner to me instead of going out, I can cook something very good for everyone for much less than it would cost for me to go out and pay my own way in general. I intend this to go one step further when I start making my own wine and beer (preferably from foraged goods). Most of my friends get me now and those that don't just think of me as tight fisted - I can live with that.

So, when we break it down the largest portion of our income goes on shelter. Now there is the luxuries list. Now this is different for everyone and some will have other necessary expenses that they need to pay for their shelter - ie, travel expenses to get to the job that pays the mortgage.
But I am talking about the luxury items that are not wholly necessary for a happy existence - gym membership, perfume, mobile phone, even broadband. Yes, these things make life more interesting, but if we were to start with none and then decide which were the most important luxuries then I think most people would begin to at least cut down on their direct debits. Take broadband. It is a luxury in the grand scheme of things, but it is one that most of us could not really do without in this era, so I would place that on my necessary luxury list. Mobile phone, well most of us have way more minutes than we use in our package - I know I do. I recently did an overhaul and found that I am paying for 1000 minutes a month and during the last 18 months the most minutes I have ever used in one month is 425, less than half in other words. That will be cut down when my contract comes up for renewal. Now I need my mobile phone for work. Actually that is not true at all, A mobile phone makes my work easier, although it is not necessary, but therefore it will go on my necessary luxury list. Computer insurance - gone, boiler insurance - gone, gym membership - gone (a long time ago) Toiletries, make a lot of my own now, even aftershave.

I am not really saying that anyone should live with no luxuries, but it is a good exercise to break down what exactly in your life is a necessity and what is not, then you can get some perspective as to what you NEED to spend your money on and where can be cut back. Start with direct debits and work through to daily spends. Over the next month I am going to look carefully at where my money actually goes to and decide what will come with me to my new life.