Friday, 16 February 2018

Frugal Friday

Frugal February - end of week 2...

Half way through the challenge and still ticking along. Gone are the sweeping financial sacrifices of years gone by - we're not in that place any more and this was never the purpose of this challenge. The name of the game this time round is to stop and think, to re-train ourselves to return to the habit of "yes but is it actually needed? Is it of value to us?" before spending. And so far, it's working!

Our shopping spend this week ended up precisely where I hoped - with the arrival of the meat box expected for Tuesday we were keen to see what stuff we could use from the freezer before the spoils from the box needed squeezing in there. The meal plan reflected this, and I pulled out a couple of "ends of loaf" ready for weekend breakfast toast. (Sometimes if MrEH doesn't get time to make rolls we make a loaf for our weekday lunchtime sandwiches - and when this happens there is always a bit of loaf left over past the point when it's fresh enough to use for sandwiches - he's taken to slicing this ready for use and popping into a bag in the freezer ready to take out a slice at a time and toast). Last Friday night's dinner of "home-made Indian takeaway" used up a couple of naan breads that had been waiting for just such an occasion. A chunk of shin of beef was taken out for defrosting ready for a massive pot of beef stew that fed us on Sunday and again on Tuesday, some liver and bacon came out ready for Monday night's meal, and the second half of a pack of pork was used to make a "use up the veggies" stir fry yesterday. As a result of this the shopping list veered towards the minimal and spends were £17.48 total spend which we were happy with. I took out £10 food money and the Aldi spend came from this with that balance being on the Pay+ app again. Unusually for me there was a second supermarket visit yesterday when I popped in to grab a sandwich to take with me to Scampton today - wanting to avoid the "meal deal" option I picked up a sandwich then wandered to the crisps and snacks aisle and grabbed a multipack of crisps well below our "target price" of 10p per packet at £2.49 for 30 packs. While in store I also noticed a deal on for the wholewheat couscous we use - 2 packs for £1 rather than the standard 70p a pack is a good saving and I decided it was well worth purchasing a couple of packs. If the offer is still on at the weekend I will be stocking up on a few more as well - it's not an offer I've seen before and on a product we use a lot of it's a deal worth having. Total of £5.99 spent.

A chance discussion in the office in the week made me realise how different our shopping habits probably are to a lot of other folk's - the question arose as to whether we were planning pancakes for Tuesday night, to which my response was that we weren't, and in fact we'd not even got any eggs in so we definitely wouldn't be. A chorus of "how can you not have eggs?!" followed - well, quite simply as there were no meals requiring eggs on the plan, and the last of the previous box had been used, so there was no requirement to buy more currently! Generally speaking the only things we buy routinely so we "always have in" are storecupboard and freezer goods. Fresh stuff gets bought on an "when needed" basis as I find that this minimises waste. So if I put omelettes on the meal plan I'll buy a box of 15 Free Range eggs as this is the best value way of buying them, for me, and I'll then factor in meals the following week that involve the rest of the eggs too. So we tend to go "feast to famine" on the egg front - a couple of weeks with lots of eggs and then a couple of weeks without any at all. (And of course now I've thought about it next time we DO have eggs I might well use some of them to make pancakes!)

Spends this week then: Not too many.
- Some accommodation has been booked for airshow trips for me for later in the year. I've shopped around, studied a few of the booking sites AND double checked that I can't get a cheaper price by going direct to the properties themselves rather than through a booking site. It's all budgeted and saved for ready and cashback has been earned where possible.
- MrEH needed to put money on his smartcard for his work travel.
- £20 to tax MrEH's car for another year. (Yes - and that yearly tax price is one reason why we're in no hurry to replace it!)
- Beers at the rugby club while we watched the match on Saturday - £10 from me for a round and MrEH and others bought rounds too. 
- On Wednesday night we had a meal out. We budget to eat out once a month but do't always do this - on this occasion though we decided to do so as I was taking part in a 5k race at the Olympic Park after work and I knew it would be late to eat by the time we got home. We shared starters and had a main course each at a nice pub locally to where I work and it cost just over £30 which was paid on the credit card.
- Sunday we had intended to get ice creams at the RSPB reserve we visited but got back to the shop too late to allow it so instead stopped and got a bar of chocolate each as a treat. 
- MrEH also treated me to a cup of tea and a piece of cake at parkrun - it felt richly deserved after a freezing cold and very icy run and was in aid of a good cause too with donations going to MIND.

Our monthly takeaway budget remains untouched for a second month - and will stay that way for another week also as I've a quick but tasty meal planned for tonight.

The rugby club is forming a key part of our social life these days - with the club having moved to its new location last year it now has the advantage of being a short walking distance from home so we're tending to spend more time there than we used to at the old club. The bar prices are good and it's really nice to socialise with friends a bit more than we used to particularly without having either a long walk or needing to think about getting a cab home. From my perspective I can tend to "hibernate" a bit during the winter months and it's been god for me to be out and about a bit more than usual too.

Next week's main plan on the financial front is to work out what we intend to do for a long weekend we have coming up and plan ahead for that, making any bookings that are needed at the best prices we can find and planning things to do while we're away. If there is anywhere in particular that we want to visit that is chargeable this will give us time to get Clubcard vouchers changed if this will help, or to look for any discount codes that might come in handy. Also to have a proper discussion of where we see things going from here in relation to our cars - currently we both drive diesels and with the changes coming in on the MOT Test shortly this may have to change. Finally I want to take a look at our electricity costs and pay any outstanding balance we have there as winter starts (hopefully!) to draw to a close and we will be discussing whether an increase in the Direct Debit amount would be sensible. Sitting down on an occasional basis to have a "summit meeting" on all things financial means that we're both singing from the same hymn sheet and we both know where we stand. Although I look after our household finances on a day to day basis we both keep infiormed on everything as should anything happen to take me out of the loop this means no nasty surprises for MrEH.

Finally - fancy the chance of some "Free money"? Who doesn't! For those of you not already in the know the Free Postcode Lottery basically does what it says on the tin - it's free to join, you just register a single postcode (can be work, home, anywhere you like!) and then check the site daily to see if you've won. They guarantee not to generate you any spam, and don't sell your details on to third parties. I already know of one person who's won the main daily prize and it's absolutely genuine - so why not sign up and have a go for yourself? (For transparency the link in this post is a referral link which will add to my "bonus" on the site although not generate me any actual money unless I do win one of the draws at any stage.).

Until next week!


Saturday, 10 February 2018

Whizzy Red Jets...

It's been a funny winter on the weather front - lots of very grey days forecast have lead me to cancel several planned trips up to Scampton although ironically had one of those gone ahead I'd have had a day of wall to wall blue skies - the moral of this is clearly "never trust the Met Office" but there you go - you can only work with the information you're given. Suffering from a nasty case of "I want to see some flying-itis" I switched my working arrangements around and committed to heading up last Monday - regardless of forecast!

The disadvantage of a Monday rapidly became apparent with more traffic than I was used to on the way up and a combination of that and managing to set my alarm 15 minutes later than I should have done meant I screeched to a halt in the car park with just a minute spare on the time of the programmed first flying slot - thankfully with a heavy frost and light dusting of snow on the ground it seemed unlikely that they'd take off on time and so it proved. The slight delay also gave time for  my companion for the day to arrive from his drive across from Derby - and we convened at the fence as the jets were crewing in. A 6-ship duly taxied out shortly afterwards and we quickly realised that the runway in use was at our end which meant this:

...they don't often use that end so that was an unexpected treat! 

6-ship sorties aren't the greatest to photograph as generally they are a bit "unbalanced" looking but we made the best of it and the weather certainly did us a favour early on with skies like this...

With just 6 jets on the line at the start of the day and all 6 having flown that meant we had a pretty solid idea of the time of the second flying slot so I seized the chance to head off and get some much needed diesel in the car and grab a sandwich before heading back in time for slot 2. Lo and behold another 6 ship - and in not quite such good skies sadly...some nice clouds though...

...and the rare use of the runway at our end meant scope for some shots of the jets on approach to land too...

Finally slot 3 gave us a coveted "Gypo" sortie - the 4 jets at the back of the formation which of course include the Synchro Pair. Annoyingly by this stage the sky had gone to a dull, flat grey, but the beauty of the dynamic flying you get from Gypo is that there's still options for shots even in those circumstances - particularly if you have a fairly solid grasp of where you need to be for the various different manouevres - and on this occasion I spotted them pulling round to practise the Gypo Pass and a quick dash up the fenceline netted me this series of shots...

Sometimes a day in the cold and nearly 6 hours of driving is worth it! We Pretty much gave up shooting after that - the light had gone, the sky was flat, and the final session of the day was a 3-ship repeating the same formation over and over , plus the temperature had dropped dramatically and it was making a determined effort to snow on us. I'll be planning another trip up shortly and will be hoping for more jets, more blue sky and more degrees centigrade too!


Friday, 9 February 2018

Frugal Friday

Frugal February - end of week 1.

1 down, three to go and so far, so good. Shopping last week went to plan - Meal plan & list, albeit I did make some considered changes while actually shopping but for the best reasons I think.
Started at Lidl - leeks. 2 x 69p for good sized packs.
ThaT supermarkeT saw our main shop although I had in mind what I had on my list for Aldi also.  We grabbed MrEH's pears in T's as they looked like decent ones for only 4p more than Aldi's price. My list for Aldi included Blueberries and plums from the Super Six offer, and my list for T's had a pack of their fresh pomegranate seeds - I buy those regularly for £1 and we use them in couscous. I'd noticed a few weeks back that T's do a pack of frozen pomegranate seeds for £2 - 300g as opposed to the 80g Packs of fresh, so we decided to try those instead as better value - then realised when we got there that they were part of a "3 for £5 offer". I quite often buy packs of frozen fruit to have with yogurt or porridge so decided this was worthy of altering the list for! That also meant that I abandoned the plums & blueberries from Aldi, just using S6 for the citrus "Easy Peelers" and buying my planned Greek Yogurt & butter.
£25.79 spent in total.
£7.50 was food money which was stashed at home, and the balance was spent on the Credit card via T's Pay+ app.

Also on the food side of things - a "sort of unplanned" spend as we got a very good offer from a meat supplier we have used before - their stuff is great quality, with good provenance, and is all high welfare, grass fed rare breed animals - the deal we got means that I have ordered what I reckon will produce at least 35 portions and that will include several Sunday roasts which I always budget a bit extra for, for a spend of £50.40 - I ordered extra items to avoid paying postage as it seemed to me that spending £5 on delivery when I could spend it on food instead would be a bit silly. I'll count 50% of that as part of this month's food spend as obviously it will last well past this month. Having ordered this means that my meal plan for the upcoming week will need to really focus on using up items from the freezer as if at all possible I'd like to avoid turning the second freezer on to store this order. It also means we won't go to the Farmers Market this month.

Having started well on the shopping front I need to continue that, but my next focus is to think about how mindfulness can help with spending and most of all with not frittering! It's one of those silly habits that you can just slide into without realising - popping into a charity shop because there's one nearby and emerging with a handful of paperbacks. Going into Poundland for a single item that's needed but coming out with a fiver's worth of bits and bobs. Or going to the supermarket for milk and ending up with stuff that will either go to waste or throw your meal plan off track entirely - whichever it is (or maybe all of them!) it's easy to end up "losing" hard earned money buying things you never planned for or even needed. I started thinking more about this last month - trying to get back into the habit of stopping to think before I spent, and already it's made a difference - the end of January saw a surplus in our joint bank account after the credit card bill was settled. A great feeling and I have the feeling we can do even better this month.

As I mentioned previously I've had no choice but to do a fair amount of clothes-buying over the past few months - having gone from a size 16 (bottom) 18 (top) to a 10 (bottom) 12/14 (top) not a lot of my old stuff is even close to fitting! I've kept what I can - some shirts that were on the right side before I can still just about get away with now. I've also got a few t-shirt style tops from before which are still OK for wearing under other layers. Beyond that though, it pretty much all had to be replaced, and the same will have to happen all over again when summer comes along. So for the past few months as well as buying what I've needed to set myself up again, I've also been keeping an eye open for summer clothes at a good price - which seemed sensible. There are still things I need but I intend to use this month as "thinking space" - time to really work out where the gaps in my wardrobe now are and what my priority is for further purchases - so to initially whittle it back to the things I need rather than getting bogged down with wants. As I think of items I'll add them to a list so I can keep my eyes out for the items I need at a good price. The good thing about being smaller is that there is a lot more chance of me finding bits available in charity shops - I already have a pair of summer trousers set aside that I paid about £2.50 for a couple of months ago.

Planned spending this week:
Saturday - beers at the Rugby club while we watched one of the 6 Nations matches - MrEH paid from his weekly spends.
Sunday - Bird Food from the RSPB Shop = £14.50
Monday - I was out doing some photography stuff for the day. I took a flask with me and some food, but still needed to spend for a few bits. = £3.90 (Cash from purse)
Tuesday - Entry for a 5k race I'm taking part in. = £18 - not cheap but it's at a venue I really want to run at, and it forms part of my goals list for this year so to me, that's value. (CC as paid online)
Thursday - My usual weekly gym session = £7 (Cash from purse). 
"Personal" spends for me - £3
Unplanned spending this week: 
- Tea & Cake at the RSPB Reserve cafe - MrEH's treat and from his weekly spends.
- £25.20 - 50% value of the meat I ordered.
Spending prevented this week:
- Fancied stopping at the services on the way home on Monday to grab a bar of chocolate but instead told myself just to head straight home.
- From habit planned a visit to the Turkish Supermarket for flatbreads on Tuesday then decided that I'd do home made ones instead. 

Although the Cafe visit was not planned ahead we did make a conscious decision to do that rather than it just being an impulse or habit thing. The reserve is one we visit from time to time - we went there because they have a shop so we could get the bird food that we needed, and as RSPB members we got a lovely walk round the reserve absolutely free of charge so £7 on tea & cake seemed fair enough.  On Monday I also saved some money by choosing to fill the car up with diesel in Lincoln rather than at home - saving of 4p a litre on a full tank.  I've also stepped right away from using the contactless option via my phone for payments at the moment. And strangely enough I've got back out of the habit just as quickly as I slipped into it in the first place! It's made me uncomfortable realising just how fast you can slip into bad financial habits like that - there is no question that handing cash over makes you think more than paying by card, but even the act of physically getting the card out and entering your pin number still provokes more of a thought process than paying by contactless does.I don'[t consider myself to be someone who routinely spends without thinking, or impulse buys, but even I found myself getting sucked into spending more because of the ease of it.

There is a great article on the Clearscore Website about mindful spending which touches on many of the same points I've mentioned above and is worth a read. It's amazing how even when you think of yourself as living a quite frugal lifestyle you slip into odd habits that you'd rather avoid - but I'm already finding that this is relatively easily countered too with a bit of thought.

If you're having a frugal month how are you getting on with it and have you learned anything about your spending habits so far this month?


Friday, 2 February 2018

Frugal Friday

My intention is that for the duration of #FrugalFebruary I will do a Friday update each week focusing on a particular aspect of the stuff I'm looking at along with some more general notes on the challenge as a whole. Now regular readers will be fully aware that my intentions on the blogging front do not always meet my achievements so we'll have to wait and see how this goes - but for now, let's assume that's the way it will go!

I reckon that my very first task for this month needs to be to sort out the food aspect of things. As you probably know for meal planning purposes I work on the basis of planning evening meals and having an established set of foods that cover lunches and breakfasts. For us, that works - breakfasts are generally a piece of fruit or cereal in the week,and toast or porridge at weekends. Lunches on working days are either a filled roll or a sandwich and some pieces of fruit, MrEH also takes a bag of crisps most days. Non working days are often soup, but sometimes vary depending on what I have that needs using. Having those guidelines in place means that it's one aspect less of planning things out that needs to be considered, and knowing that we have the right stuff lined up saves on the risk of "needing to nip out for a sandwich". MrEH sorts out lunches, I sort out main meals, on weekdays, as a general rule. We budget for one takeaway a month but for this month (and last, as it happens!) we're not necessarily going to have that. My aim for the month is to thin down the freezer, use up some stuff that's been languishing in there for a while, and make use of what we have as far as possible.

Meal planning and good shopping habits is in my view one of the most important subjects for anyone wanting to live life more carefully from both a food waste and a financial point of view to master. Once you have the hang of it, your bills drop considerably. Cooking from scratch is undoubtedly another - kudos to all you parents out there passing the message on to the next generation - being able to feed yourself on a fraction of what others can manage? That's a super-cool skill-set! (Not least as it frees up more money for beer which I believe is a key consideration for your average student!)  Whether you've emerged from Christmas feeling as though your bank account has been plundered or the New Year has provoked a lightbulb moment on wanting shot of credit card debt, then tackling the grocery spend can be a fabulous way of boosting your finances and uncovering money you never realised you could have spare.

First job is to work out what you have - so grab a notebook and a pen. Initially your aim is to discover what you have in your fridge, freezer, cupboards and any larder, pantry or storecupboard you might use. Storecupboard space is a fantastic thing to have by the way, as it allows for the possibility of buying foodstuffs in bulk where this will save money. Once you have your list, then the next priority is to make a further list (or use a highlighter on the first one) of anything that needs using up - veg in the bottom of the fridge starting to go a bit bendy? Half a packet of bacon that's only got a day to go on its use-by date? A packet of bread bought for toast with only a couple of slices gone? The last few eggs in the box? All that stuff needs to get dealt with as a priority as otherwise it ends up in the bin, and that is like rolling up £10 notes and feeding them through a shredder. That bread - freeze it, then you can just take out a slice or two as needed. The bacon might also work to freeze - separate it into the number of rashers you'd use together and interleave with greaseproof or plastic film. While eggs and veg can be frozen I'm always a fan of just getting on and using them - so think about whether they will work together for a frittata for the next meal you have to cook? Otherwise there is always the soup option for the veg of course - home made soup is one of the quickest and easiest things imaginable, honestly!  Get into the habit of each week, before you shop, evaluating the stuff you have that needs using and incorporating that into your plan and you'll quickly find that both your rubbish bin and your food spend will slim down dramatically. Remember - "Best before" means that it's still safe to eat after that date but may change in taste, colour or smell. "Use by" needs a far more careful assessment and if you are in ANY doubt then bin it - I'm not getting too far into here but let's leave it that you have eyes and a nose - use both and if either say they're not sure then don't risk eating, please! (This applies to stuff that's within date too - don't just blindly assume!)

OK - got your full list and your "use me up" one as well? Next steps then is to start thinking about meals that you can make using entirely - or mostly - the ingredients you already have. Obviously prioritise the things that are in urgent need of using.  I've made a start on ours for the next month already, with my aim being to spend as little possible in the supermarkets, and so far it looks a little like this:
- "All day breakfast" to use remaining eggs, plus some bits from the freezer that have been there a while
- Batch-cook bolognese sauce - each pack of mince will make 2 x double portions and this will use up some onions and some carrots needing attention, plus the final 2 peppers
- Stew - I have diced beef in the freezer.
- Pasta bakes using veg to bulk out the dish and incorporating bacon and cheese for an extra pop of flavour. (A really good way of using up veg too!)
- liver and onions with mash (yum!)
- Hearty salads made more "wintery" by adding cooked mushrooms or peppers and with the centrepiece being some rather tasty smoked mackerel we got at the Good Food Show in December and froze when we got home
- a pasta dish with smoked chicken - again from the GFS and frozen, and just a single breast left so this dish will help it stretch to feed two of us.
- sausage and bean casserole
- Couscous salads with chickpeas, veggies and usually something like Halloumi as the star of the show

Initially it's best to just try to plan a week ahead - anything more gets more challenging. Cross items off your "what I have" list as you use  them, and make sure you revisit those "need using" items weekly. Your shopping list is of course those items that you will need to complete your chosen meals, storecupboard items that you will use up (we usually replace rice, pasta, couscous etc when we open the previous bag) and of course your routine bread, fruit etc.  For vegetables as far as possible plan around what is seasonal and thus generally cheapest. If you live alone frozen veg might work better for you than needing to eat - for example, cauliflower for a week. Personally I LOVE frozen sliced peppers and frozen sweetcorn to have in the freezer as it means I can just add a handful to a dish without needing to have fresh in or open a tin. If you have a discount supermarket nearby then look out for their "Super 6" and "Pick of the Week" offers as those can be brilliant building blocks for your week's meals too - this week Aldi will be dictating some of our fruit - I'll be buying apples elsewhere and these will be British, but it's tricky to get a lot of home-grown fruit at this time of year so my citrus will come from Aldi, along with almost certainly plums (crumble - yum!) and blueberries (to have with yogurt or in porridge at the weekend). MrEH may well put in a request for pears too. Lidl meanwhile will offer me British Leeks at a great price - and as I will be in the area anyway I'll almost certainly grab a pack or two of those. I also have a quick scout about online to see what is particularly good value and this influences where I shop each week to a degree. Write your shopping list, and shop according to it - try not to stray even if an offer looks tempting - oddly enough all the really good offers tend to come around again and again, and regardless of how cheap something is, if you won't use it then it's no bargain at all!

For so many people cracking overspending on groceries can make a HUGE difference to your budget - it's one area where you can see an immediate saving too of course. Why not establish what you've spent previously and then set yourself a budget to come in at a certain level less, to start with? And then any savings you make could be paid off a credit card perhaps, or stashed aside as the start of an "emergency fund". And if you have any great tips for cutting your food spend or planning meals, please do pop them in as a comment below!


Thursday, 1 February 2018

Frugal February

Well well - here we are again! Seems like ages since I last did this and sure enough, looking at the tag on my blog it looks like the last time was 2014 - so more than time to give myself a kick up the backside and take another month-long look at the small stuff on the Frugal Home Front.

In all honesty we're still pretty good on the bigger stuff. I keep an eye on things like the cost of our electricity and gas - we still use electricals overnight where possible to make the most of the lower electricity cost. We don't sit around in short sleeves with the heating turned up higher than it needs to be in midwinter. Sky get a phone call when the cost goes up to bring it back down to a level that we feel means we're getting decent value. We still shop with a keen eye to prices and know what we expect to pay for particular items. We use the credit card for purchases where it's sensible to do so, collect a small amount of cashback on those purchases, and pay off IN FULL (channeling my inner Martin Lewis there!) every month without fail. We save for planned expenditure, and shop around for the best prices on things. We meal plan and shop to a list. BUT...I'm pretty sure there are bad habits that have crept in *almost* unnoticed, and that is where I'm looking to make savings.

We agreed when the mortgage was paid off that we would increase things a little. The flat is now kept slightly warmer than it used to be, we've increased food spending a little. We're signing up for slightly more pure "fun" stuff - albeit we're planning carefully how that will be financed. For me personally, necessity has played a part - with a substantial weightloss over the course of the past year I've had no choice but to replace most of my clothes - pretty much the only stuff from older than a year ago that I'm still wearing are shoes and socks! There *are* things I still need too - so I have a list of items that I need to purchase as and when I find the right thing at the right price. One of my plans for this year is to set myself up a savings account which will get fed with a small sum monthly to budget for clothes purchases.  All of the above is stuff that we're aware of, and conscious about - the things I want to target are the unconscious habits and frittering - things like the tendancy to pop into a charity shop or two because I'm nearby, not finding anything useful (clothes) but leaving with another couple of books; the purchasing of bargains that are excess to the level I/we need purely because they ARE bargains; going to Aldi for yogurt and items from the Super-6 and leaving with a few other odds and ends that tempted me. This month will be about retraining myself to not just routinely use ApplePay on my phone to pay for something because it's easy - but to think about whether I'd be better using cash for that transaction, and about returning to being more mindful about spending.

I'm not intending to set any hard and fast budgets this time round - it's more about thinking about keeping spends down and not spending unnecessarily. As we no longer have our ClubCardPlus account we're less tied to ThaT supermarkeT than we used to be (hurrah!) and I've been making the most of that by shopping about more and keeping my eyes on offers. I've got £12.50 sitting in my Nectar account ready to use which I will probably spend this month. Clubcard points will as ever get saved towards converting to deals - our railcard will need renewing later in the year, and we usually use points for the Good Food Show tickets too. We don't currently have enough Morrisons points to do anything with. Should I need anything in the toiletries line, my Advantage Card has £11.54 on it to spend. I want to return to keeping an eye on the Aldi & Lidl "Super 6" and "Pick of the week" fruit and veg deals and then think about planning meals around what is best value - however we will still be keeping to our principles of where possible buying British produce, and keeping meat British and high welfare. As I have done before I'll post weekly with spends, thoughts and any confessions - I'm sure there will be a few!  On a personal level this will apply as well - I intend to return to my old habit of starting the week with a set amount in my purse, retaining notes of £10 or above value from the previous week but feeding anything smaller into my Airshow Savings tin. (Change below £1 coins will continue to get fed to the pigs - and the sheep - as ever.) I'll also be going back to paying cash for the gym each week to see if it suits me better than using ApplePay.

Planned Spendiness: 
- We have a weekend away later in the month - spread over 2 locations, Derby & Norwich, for me and one (just Norwich) for MrEH. Travel for me to the first is booked, travel between that and the second is being covered by a lovely friend who will be driving between the two places and is giving me a lift. Accommodation for both is already booked - including a superb £19.50 bargain for me on my overnight in Derby - but there will be spends at both locations on food and drink...possibly mostly drink! MrEH will in turn be taking our car to Norwich - there will be a £4 spend for parking there plus obviously the cost of the diesel.
- I intend to travel to Scampton to photograph those Little Red Jets at least once during the month, possibly twice. Diesel and food costs will be involved - but I will price check fuel at home and up there and fill my tank there if as is so often the case there is a good saving to be made.
- There may be some Airshow tickets and/or hotel bookings to make - anything on these lines will come from my "Airshow Savings Account" though as usual.

As ever if anyone wants to join me on this I'd be utterly delighted!

So - only one thing left to say then....LET'S GO!


Wednesday, 31 January 2018

2018 Challenge No. 1 - COMPLETE!

I suspect that nobody is more surprised than me, but I have indeed managed to start 2018 off with a straight month of doing some form of exercise every day. when I first committed to this I knew it was going to be a tall order for me - I knew there would be bad weather, at least a couple of days when I might feel a touch hungover, and above all that the level of impact on my joints might cause a problem. Well all of the above proved to be the case but I've dealt with them, and that's it - Exercise Every Day in January is complete.

I dealt with the "stuff" that I knew might get in the way by factoring in some lower impact stuff - and stuff that could simply be done indoors too. At the point where my joints really needed something different I reduced the running, threw in a swim, and cut the impact right down for a few days. I've been lucky with the weather - there's not been any significant ice and no snow at all, and the wet run I had a couple of weeks back just goes to prove quite how much I hate running in the rain. One VERY hungover morning last weekend rather than doing my planned HIIT Hotel room session in the morning I switched it to the evening instead, and brisk 2 mile plus walks have filled in some days when for whatever reason I wasn't going to be getting anything else done.

In the course of the past 31 days I have done:
1 x swim
5 x gym visits
6 x HIIT workouts
12 x runs
11 x Fast walks (at least 2 miles @ 15m/mile pace)
I've averaged nearly 16,000 steps per day and covered nearly 220 miles during the month walking and running.  

I've completed the Couch to 5k Programme, and also run my first Parkrun. In short, I've achieved a lot - and a lot more than I thought I would! - but I've also learned a lot - and above all that was what I wanted this to do. I'm still really new to this exercise lark, and a total newbie to the world of running - it's honestly something I never thought I would be able to do, so to have proved that if I put my mind to it I can has been something pretty special. Similarly I never would have imagined that I could keep up exercising for 31 days straight - in the past "can'tbebothereditis" would have got in the way and the excuses would have been wheeled out...

So the learning curve then - That I'm capable of more than I give myself credit for is one thing. And that actually I can be quite determined when I have a challenge to get stuck in to. That doing anything high impact for multiple days on the trot is NOT an option for me as it does give my knees and hip problems, but so long as I intersperse high and low impact exercises I'm fine. That ALL the good stuff they say about swimming is spot on. That the "runners high" is a real thing and is why a really good run in the evening is sometimes not a good thing for me (stops me sleeping!). I've really discovered how much I enjoy feeling fitter - and to an extent I've kicked myself for not remembering it sooner. Other stuff too - to watch my pace at the start of a run or the second half gets REALLY tough. That running up hills (or in the rain) isn't my thing. That I will never have the determination or the attention span & patience to even think about running a marathon. And that running can be really handy when it means I can drop the car off at the garage and run home FAR quicker than I would if I walked! It's a great feeling that I can now run further than MrEH - he plays rugby weekly and trains at least twice a week in addition and is a lot fitter than appearances might suggest - this is without question the first time in the 20 years we've been together that I've been fitter than him in any way!

February is going to be less full on by necessity I think - my poor knees need a bit of a break. Ideally I'd like to slip into a bit of a pattern of running a couple of times a week, going to the gym once, and swimming a couple of times a month. I want to do more parkruns, and I also want to do a "proper" 5k as well (for which read "one with a blingy medal at the end of it!). Some friends and I have a plan to do a 28 day sit-up/push-up challenge as well. Looking further ahead I've just signed up for a 100k in 100 days challenge as part of the #RAF100 Celebrations - very achievable but ever so slightly scary. (And will mean I definitely will need to do some more running on Islands...more on that in due course).   While it can be done walking or running, I'm determined I want to run the whole lot - it averages out at a little over 7k a week so should be very doable I think though. For now though and for the purpose of this blog it's on to the next big 2018 Challenge - Frugal February starts tomorrow!


Thursday, 25 January 2018

2018 Challenge No. 1 - 3rd Update!

Yep - I'm still going with my "Exercise every day in January" challenge! I HAVE had to scale back my running though - my joints were just getting too painful and the warning signs for not risking doing too much and wiping out altogether were there and have been heeded. I ran last Thursday (5k in a sub-30 time - go me!) and on Saturday (hill repeats in the rain....glug) and then did a LOT of walking on Sunday (30,000 steps worth of walking, to be exact!) and by Monday my legs were saying "" so this week has been about listening to my body, taking a step back and being sensible about things.

This week then has been about lots of walking, and HIIT sessions, and even some office-based exercise (which comes under the heading of "can be done anywhere" and is VERY useful) which served me well on a day when it bucketed with rain ALL day and I was going for a meal with a friend in the evening. Ideally I would have squeezed in a swim too but there's not a session that works for me. And for those wondering what sort of exercise can be done in an office? Quite a bit, surprisingly - I chose wall presses - stand with your feet away from a solid wall - stretch your arms forward until you are at approximately a 45 degree angle to said wall and then essentially do press-ups, and also bodyweight squats - 10 of each of those every time you go to the loo in a day makes you feel you've had a workout, particularly if you've been drinking your 2l of water, trust me!)

I've learned a lot in the last year about stepping things back and listening to my body - I've not had much choice to be honest as I reached the point where I simply couldn't do the things I wanted to. You can battle, and fight, all you like, but sometimes you just hit a wall and have to admit, well, if not "defeat" at least to a cease-fire! I've learned that generally, if the messages you're getting internally are "stop" or "slow down" then there's a reason for that and it needs heeding as otherwise there really can be serious consequences.

I've had a lot of comments and questions about this - so I reckon this post will be a good chance to address some of them. The one I've been asked again and again is how come I'm OK to run bear in mind my joint problems - very valid indeed! The first thing to say on that I think is that if you're someone who does have health concerns of whatever type, and you're looking to start or increase the level or the impact of the exercise you're doing, then ALWAYS seek advice from your GP first. I was pleasantly surprised as I was half expecting to be told that it was simply too high impact for my knees to cope with but in fact the advice for me was that running was fine but it needed to be "proper" running - absolutely NOT jogging as that potentially would cause problems. So right from the start I've had to concentrate on posture, really lifting my feet, and keeping my strides even and my steps light. Knowing the things I needed to be careful about was such a help and I absolutely wasn't made to feel silly for asking. The other thing I was told was, yep, bet you're there ahead of me aren't you - "listen to your body" - so basically a bit of discomfort, some achiness, was to be expected, but if I started feeling significant pain to stop doing what I was doing and step it back a bit. I can do as much swimming as I like - again, no surprise there - but I'll never be someone who can run miles 6 days of the week.

Another comment that I've had is "Oh but it's all well and good for you - you can do this stuff, I can't even do a press-up". Oh how I laughed - you see, and I'll let you into a secret that I've only learned recently here. You know you think that "everyone can do a press-up? Well, back the truck up, turns out not only can not "everyone" do them, but in fact MOST PEOPLE CAN'T! (Well, from the very amateur straw poll I took around people I know who aren't in the military, that is!).  When I first started this "trying to get fitter" malarkey, I literally couldn't even begin to do a full press-up - so MrEH got me to do "box" press-ups to start with - with my upper legs at right angles to my body, so my legs still took the majority of my body weight. Each time I tried them I moved my knees a fraction further back, so eventually I was doing "proper" press-ups but off my knees rather than my toes. Now I can manage 30 seconds of full off my toes but usually have to go back to the modified position after that - but it's improving all the time. The same is true of sit-ups - I STILL can't do a full one without someone holding my toes down. I'll get there though - and the feeling when I manage that first one will be brilliant!

Overall, one of the best bits of advice I was given when I started with all of this, which might be of help to others was "Just do something - anything is better than nothing" - and that really made sense, and genuinely is something that anyone can do, to one degree or another. So (with the nod from your GP) if you can run - then run. If you can't, walk - briskly and for a reasonable distance. If you can't manage that then try a walk at a moderate pace - you're still burning extra calories and giving your body a bit of a workout. If you can't manage that, or are restricted to what you can do in the house for whatever reason, then maybe try to make an extra trip up the stairs once an hour, or even get up and walk around for the duration of the commercial breaks or the gap between programmes. Each and every time you move about you're lapping everyone who hasn't moved from the couch. Why not get yourself a set of light dumb-bells and do bicep curls sitting upright on a chair - you can even improvise with a can of beans or a small bottle of water in each hand to start with! If that's no good for you then maybe give yoga a try, or some other form of stretching workout - it's amazing what an incredible difference even a session of that sort of thing once a week can make, and all this stuff, if it's extra to what you;d do otherwise, will improve your fitness. Something that is often said of older folk is that those that are able to keep themselves active tend to lose their mobility less and retain better balance etc - "Use it or lose it" - and research seems to bear that out. The key thing is again - focus on your body and don't do so much in one session that you can't do anything at all for days to follow -this truly is a slow and steady wins the race situation!

At the time of writing - day 25 - I have indeed kept to my intention to exercise every day, and that in turn leads to another comment I've had - that it's not good to do too much, or to fail to take rest days. Now this one is true - and this level of exercise is not something I'd want to keep doing for too long for sure. My reasons for doing it though were as I said originally - that I wanted to kickstart the year really well, and to prove to myself that actually I COULD do more than I had been - and it's definitely achieved its aim from both of those perspectives. Because I allowed for walking to count as well this has kept it less harsh on my body than had I decided to commit to running every day, for example. It WILL only be a one-month thing though - I'll be working out a more sustainable long term plan for myself before the start of next month.

If you want to step up your activity but aren't sure where to start then see if you can find some inspiration - have a look around on Instagram or Twitter and find people whose stories you find inspirational - see who they follow and are inspired by - the vast majority couldn't do a fraction what they are now achieving when they started. There are people out there who've lost huge amounts of weight, overcome illness, run whilst pregnant, refused to let being confined to a wheelchair get them down - whatever ticks your personal boxes as a "wow!" story, there will definitely be someone out there telling it. I never imagined a year ago that scattered amongst my followed accounts on insta now would be a fair number of runners, a lifestyle coach, and a personal trainer! Above all, find something that works for you - just because one person runs  miles every week that doesn't mean it's right for you and your situation, and vice versa - your yoga and swimming might not suit them. Not everyone gets on with spending time in the gym, but that's far from the only way of getting active. "Find your own path" - as they say! (And good luck with it!)