Friday 26 July 2013

Frugal Friday...

"So, what do you want for your birthday" my Mum and MrEH both asked a few weeks ago. Now I guess you know that the whole simple/frugal living thing is working when you struggle to think of a single tiny thing that you actually want?! Thankfully my family are pretty good about buying things that people need and will use, as presents - in the past our christmas & birthday lists have contained such everyday things as shampoo, makeup, footwear and even foodstuffs (vanilla extract proves particularly popular!) all of which are useful and far more worthwhile uses of money than something completely random that will never see the light of day after the person receiving it has thanked you politely.

There's been a big move in recent years towards the "charity gifts" market - fresh water for a family, seeds and agricultural tools, even livestock - all of these are wonderful BUT only work if they are from a charity that the person you're buying for actually supports - people have very strong ideas about charities and I know a good number of people whose choice is to exclusively support UK organisations. I'm venturing no opinion whether they are wrong or right, but I do know that it's their decision and the rest of us have no right to judge them on it. We've tried to move more towards thinking about the useful aspect of presents - I put together a box for MrEH with all manner of toiletries he uses in it - everything from razorblades and shaving oil to talcum powder and deodorant. Not only does this save him the hassle of having to buy those items himself, it frees up some of his disposable cash too through the year. He usually buys me camera memory cards which I go through at a fair rate, and things like makeup in brands that I love, but couldn't justify buying for myself. It's a win-win situation - you know you're buying something for the person that will be genuinely appreciated.

I decided to stick with the "things I need" approach to answer the question I was asked - the case that my clarinet came in when I bought it was in poor condition when I got it - a lot of the interior padding had deteriorated, and one of the catches had also failed, meaning that on a couple of occasion bits have started falling out as I picked it up. Likewise, my 8 year old and heavily used camera bag was starting to show serious signs of wear and tear, not helped by some "robust handling" from British Airways when we flew back from Orkney earlier in the year. Both of these things would have been purchases I would have struggled to afford or to justify for myself, but I was delighted to receive. My cherished Clarinet is now housed in a rather glam bright purple case, and my camera gear will shortly be transferring over to a new bag in fashionable black. The old camera bag will be heading MrEH's way - it's still got some life in it, and the zip pull on his existing one failed a few months ago making it difficult to open. His will head to the charity shop - although it no longer works for us, it may well help someone else out.

It's amazing how fast the thing of buying "useful" presents spreads - and remember, the most "everyday" stuff that's bought for you by others, the more of your own money you have free'd up for tea & cake!


Thursday 25 July 2013

On the move again...

We saw this little chap on our final full day in the Hebrides this year - he's a juvenile Stonechat, cute eh? We always try to do something where we can just drink in the landscape around us on that final day, and it usually involves some sort of walk, and if possible a beach as well. All the things we love best about the fantastic Western Isles, crammed into a few short hours (before we head to the pub, naturally!) It's always a wrench as the holiday draws to a close, but oddly enough it's got less so as the years have gone on - we know now that we'll be returning - in fact next year's accommodation is already booked and a deposit paid!

We;re going to be having another "relocation" as by the time we came to book The Moorings (all of a few weeks after we got back this year!) someone else had already booked one of our chosen weeks. *sigh* So back to the drawing board of trying to find somewhere in an area we wanted to stay in, at a price we could afford. Most places with any amount of character are way above our price range, and a lot of the places that are within our budget aren't necessarily places we want to stay - we were set on being on North Uist for example - had we wanted to swap to one of the other islands our options would have increased significantly.  After a bit (well, ok, quite a LOT) of trawling through endless websites, and quite a few email enquiries, we found a lovely looking renovated traditional croft-house over on the west coast. It's only about three miles from the pub, which HAS to be an advantage, and is in an area we really love. (No, not ONLY because it's near the pub - tsk!). One of its major plus points is that it's walking distance from some stunning beaches - can't argue with that!


Tuesday 23 July 2013

Life... still a bit up in the air round here. Dad's now had his bypass - just today in fact - and it seems that everything has gone well. He'll be in Intensive Care overnight, and they will be moving him to the high dependency unit tomorrow. I'll visit for a short while after work tomorrow - MrEH is coming along as well bless him as I'm somewhat nervous (for which, read "absolutely bloody terrified") of seeing my lovely Dad like that.

Tonight is the first night in nearly three weeks that we have come home from work - as normal - cooked dinner - as normal - eaten at a normal time, and just settled down for a quiet evening, and very welcome it is too. We're expecting that Dad will be in hospital for around another week - he's in the Regional Cardothoracic Centre now which is 25 miles away so quite a journey.

In other news we dashed up to Sheringham for the weekend to go to the North Norfolk Railway beer festival - camping on our usual favourite site with a couple of good friends. It's always a good few days - usually in spite of the weather (and this year was no exception!) and this year was further enhanced by meeting up with a few other pals unexpectedly too. We're hoping to sneak off again this weekend too - Suffolk this time to celebrate my birthday - I do like a nice birthday treat! (And Fish & Chips at Aldeburgh ticks that box nicely!) Will just be Friday evening through to Sunday - we'll be aiming to be back in time to see Dad on Sunday.

Hopefully normal service will be resumed soon - and I'll try to get back to slightly more regular blogging!


Friday 19 July 2013

Frugal Friday

It's that time of year again - Car Insurance Renewal Time! Scary stuff - how much will they want this year, what explanation will our current providers come up with for the extortionate increase in premium, and how much cheaper will we, with just a little legwork, be able to get our policies for?

I roughly follow Martin Lewis' guidelines on getting the cheapest quotes - this year I've used Confused, MoneySupermarket and those pesky Meerkats. I haven't bothered getting the stand-alone quotes from the companies he suggests this year as the past few times I've tried they have given me comedy-quotes! So far it's looking good - my insurance looks like dropping by around £25 for the year, with MrEH getting the benefit of a more substantial drop by around £70 for the year.

Garage - Kirkwall
Like most people I'm always short on time to get this sort of thing sorted - so over the years (and this applies to ALL insurance renewals) I've developed a strategy for getting the best price in the shortest time. I simply can't be bothered with the "dutch auction" situation where you call your current provider with the figure someone else has quoted, and they then tell you that they can "take a look at" their original quote, and suddenly they find they can knock £100 off the price they quoted you in the first place, in spite of the fact that NONE of your details have changed since last year! Instead, I do my shopping around, decide who to go with, buy the policy from them, and then call my previous year's provider and tell them "thanks, but no thanks". Invariably they suggest that they might be able to do better, and my response is always the same "Well I can't see how that would be possible - you've quoted me for the renewal already and that would have been your best price, wouldn't it?!" If everyone followed this strategy, insurance companies would start realising that they were losing business, and thus would reduce their renewal quotes accordingly. As things stand currently they know full well that 50% of people just renew without even really looking, and probably another 40% will succumb to the "let's see if we can do better" con.

Think carefully when you're looking for quotes - don't under any circumstances be tempted to lie, but things like job descriptions for example can vary the price you're quoted - you might be an Administrator, but equally you might also be a Personal Assistant, Secretary or around with the options without straying off a description that could reasonably be attached to what you do, and see what you get. Likewise think about the mileage you do - maybe you've changed jobs and your commute has shortened, or you simply use the car less these days due to the cost of fuel? My mileage reduced from 20,000 per year to under 10,000 a few years ago and my insurance plummeted! Other things to bear in mind are that Fully Comprehensive cover is not necessarily more expensive - some insurers seem to think that the very fact that you are looking for fully comp suggests you are a better risk - and that sometimes adding an extra driver to the policy can reduce costs - so long as it's the right sort of person though, a MrEH to add on is great (although he's not on offer - sorry!), a 19 year old son or daughter probably not so much so!

Petrol Pump - Shapinsay
If you DO have a claim of any sort - keep paperwork carefully. Insurers commonly ask about claims within the last 5 years and honestly, are you going to remember the exact date of that innocuous little bump that somehow caused a 4-figure sum of damage 4½ years later? No - thought not! If your car goes to a garage for repairs ask for the value of the repairs too - many insurers ask about this. having that sort of information to hand can make a huge difference if you want to go through a cashback site for your policy too - leaving fields on the online form blank might result in the policy having to be finalised by telephone, and many companies won't pay out, then!


Sunday 14 July 2013


Following my Frugal Friday post on...err....Friday, I had contact via Twitter from Darren Millar - the Dad of the family shown on the "Great British Budget Menu" programme. He confirmed what I thought - that the very last thing they wanted from the show was sympathy and pity - they were wanting solutions and answers. the great news is that they are now getting 28 eggs a week (and all the compost they can use!) from the hens they were given, and although he says that life is still challenging, they're doing OK.

Great news - we can only hope that the other households featured are moving forward as well!


Friday 12 July 2013

Frugal Friday

Did anyone else see the BBC's "Great British Budget Menu" show last night? I found it fascinating - although quite frustrating too. Even more interesting was following the hashtag relating to it on Twitter, with opinions ranging from the proactive "more food and budget education would help these people sort things out" to the defeatest and infuriating "There's nothing that can be done, the government are to blame". Several things occurred to me:

1) Simply saying what the families/individuals they showed "had left" for food was pointless - without knowing what the rest of their budget was like, it was impossible to see whether this was an accurate picture or not.
2) Kids are expensive things - I bet I won't find a parent out there to disagree. If you choose to have 4 of them, you can assume that your household budget will be stretched accordingly.
3) If you have Sky TV, flashy mobile phones, designer clothes and the like, then that's your choice - please don't be telling the world that you "Only have XX to spend on food" afterwards though. (This is a general observation not based specifically on the programme)
4) A budget of £1.40 (I believe was the figure) per person for a family of 6 is not actually as low as it at first appears. Plenty of folk have proved that managing on £1 a day per person - or even less - is not only doable, but can be done in a nutritionally balanced way, too.
5) 2.5kg of sugar per week costs around £2.20 - for the same cost you could buy a bag of porridge oats and a bag of mixed dried fruit - which would give you the foundation of a couple of weeks healthy breakfasts. Oh, and you'd have 50p change too - you could buy some bananas with that.

I had a bit of a debate with a chap on Twitter over the whole thing. I tweeted that the £1 a day figure was doable, he replied asking if I'd done it myself, then. Now, as regular readers may remember, I have indeed coped with this sort of restrictive budget in the past - at one stage a few years back MrEH and I found ourselves with £10 a week for food for us and HRH the Cat, I responded to the chap - we'll call him "YB" accordingly. There was a short delay - I had a feeling that I may have gone "off script" and that was not the expected response. He sneeringly asked what recipes I'd use for that I sent him the link to Weezl's excellent blog - but clearly that wasn't the "correct" response either as he responded without having had time to so much as clearly this chap has a major politically driven chip on his shoulder, and it felt as though quite honestly he was only interacting to perpetuate his own view on things - regardless of evidence to the contrary he wasn't at all prepared to accept that there are alternatives to the "I'm skint so I'll eat rubbish" approach which those focused on were following, but I wonder what proportion of those watching were sharing his view.

It was suggested via Twitter last night that the concept for the show might make a decent series - another programme following people who ARE eating well balanced, healthy meals on tight budgets would be fascinating, and would show the other side of the coin. Get someone like Marguerite Patten involved - an expert on such things, and someone who truly still understands the art of proper "Home Economics" in it's baldest sense.

While the "poor us" mentality of YB and his like prevails, it becomes increasingly difficult to encourage change. Financial Education in schools as championed by Martin Lewis is a good start, as is encouraging people to accept what is actually "necessary" and what is "luxury". Basic budgeting skills, and a focus on teaching people who are struggling basic skills like careful shopping, and knowing how to stretch - for example a Chicken, to make more meals than most folk imagine possible, is another step forward. Our grandparents knew all this stuff - it was instinctive in most households 50 years ago to make the most of what you had and to not create waste - those skills are now being lost though, and it's up to those of us who know that there is a different path to try to stem that flow of loss. while folk are happy just to accept the myth of "it's cheaper to eat rubbish" though, the health of the nation will continue to get worse, and no amount of banning packed lunches in schools will help that!


**Apologies - no photos today!**

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Blog, Interrupted....

Real life getting in the way here at EH Towers at the moment. My lovely Dad was taken into hospital last Wednesday having suffered a small heart attack. They have now discovered that he's a lucky chap that it wasn't one heck of a lot worse - in some ways that was more of a shock to Mum and myself than the original heart attack was. Thankfully quick-thinking as ever Mum responded faster than a very fast thing by calling 999 immediately, the solo Paramedic was with them in 5 minutes, ambulance followed inside 10, and he's suffered no permanent damage - almost certainly in part thanks to those quick reactions.

He's stuck in hospital now until they can do a bypass operation. As he keeps telling us, he's bored. 30-odd years of sweet revenge was gained when he texted his boredom to me the other day, and I responded with "Well for GOODNESS sake go and find something to DO then!". I knew if I waited long enough I could get my own back for repeatedly being told that as a child...

Get well soon Dad, and thank you for your quick reactions Mum. Love you both.

Robyn xx

Friday 5 July 2013

Frugal Friday

As some of you know, I'm fortunately enough to work a four day week and have Fridays off. During our working week Mr EH and I both take fairly straightforward lunches - a filled roll, some fruit, and he usually has a bag of crisps. On a Friday though it seems silly to make a roll for myself when I'm going to be pottering about here, so I generally end up making my lunch on Friday a "use things up" meal. It can be anything from a bowl of soup, to some toast, to the remains of the previous night's dinner, but one thing that does seem to come up repeatedly is "Pasta & Stuff" - which to be fair is probably a favourite in most folks houses!

Last friday I started with the pasta - we have a glut of spaghetti following a bit of a cock-up on the pricing/special offer front a while back at that sometimes-mentioned supermarket beginning with the same letter as "tomato" - if they're going to pay me to remove Spaghetti from there store, then I'll buy spaghetti. *grin* Once that was on to boil, I turned my attention to what else needed using up. The last two rashers from a pack of bacon were chopped up and popped in a pan with the final few drops of Garlic infused rapeseed oil from the bottle we bought at last year's Good Food Show.

A further rummage through the fridge revealed the final three tomatoes from the previous week - soft but still delicious - and just the perfect match for some of the Greek Basil I bought for 19p a couple of weeks ago...

and the final couple of handfuls of the bag of rocket I'd bought for salads - accordingly to it's "best before" date well past it's best, but still looking very crisp and fresh to me...

Prep was dead easy and simple - another "must" for a Friday lunch! I cooked the tomatoes with the bacon, stirred in a spoonful of a soft-cheese I got free in return for doing a product trial on it, and then poured the lot over the cooked pasta along with the rocket and basil. Tossed it all together with a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta water just to loosen it slightly, and shaved a little parmesan over the top.

It was every bit as delicious as it looks! I love meals like this, and the "real" cost was pretty much nothing. being self-employed, not working on a Friday also means I'm not earning, so I do always feel that my running costs for the day should be as low as possible!


Thursday 4 July 2013

HMY Iolaire

In the early hours of the morning of January 1st 1919, HMY Iolaire, travelling from Kyle of Lochalsh on the Scottish mainland to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis ran aground on rocks at Holm just outside the harbour at Stornoway.   The real tragedy about her loss however, was that she was fully loaded (some speculate that she was in fact OVERloaded) with men of the island returning home having been released from service in the Navy at the end of World War 1. 205 men at least are known to have lost their lives - many within sight of their homes and with their loved ones sitting up eagerly awaiting their return.

Almost everyone on Lewis at that time was directly affected by her loss. Some villages lost a substantial part of their population. Mothers lost sons, husbands and sweethearts never came home, and an island which had already lost so many to the war, lost still more just when they thought they were safe to believe it was all over. The local people were faced with the terrible job of having to recover bodies from the shoreline over the following few days, and still others had to identify those found - a truly appalling task when the ravages of the rough seas are considered. To this day the tragedy remains close to the hearts of the people of Lewis

The loss of the Iolaire remains one of Britains worst ever peacetime disasters.

Car ferry MV Isle of Lewis passes the spot where the Iolaire went aground


Tuesday 2 July 2013

Cheap Buckets!

I was sitting minding my own business this morning when my phone bleeped to alert me to a new tweet - "I've linked to you in my latest blog" tweeted Cheri @ CwtchCorner "I hope you don't mind!" Intrigued I clicked over for a look, and was instantly grabbed by the concept, not least because I too have never really had a bucket list - there are things I want to do, sure, but to me the idea of a bucket list always seems that if you don't want to skydive naked into the Grand Canyon, or do a tightrope walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge dressed as Dame Edna, you're somehow seen as "copping out" and not really doing it properly.... (Oddly enough, my good pal over at Wittgenstein's Watering Can blogged about being brave without being into Extreme Sports recently...)

Sometimes the things you do that really stay with you are almost incidental - if you'd thought about putting them on some form of "bucket list" or life list, you might well have done so, but opportunities come along and you simply take them without any real thought of perhaps achieving something of an ambition. Thanks to the company I used to work for, and Construction Industry Charity The Lighthouse Club, I had the chance a few years ago to take part in the inaugural "Lighthouse Run" a 2 day road rally from John O'Groats to Lands End. The entire company (well those of us who drove) were invited to put their names into the hat for a draw to select the lucky 4 to represent our company - to my astonishment only 4 of us stepped forward so I was in! It was a fabulous experience and regardless of the fact that people have run, cycled and even attempted to swim (yes, really!) before, I'm thoroughly proud to be an "End to Ender"

End to End Club
I started a list a few years ago of places I wanted to go within the UK - one of the first of those were the "Furthest Four" - the most Northerly, Southerly, Easterly and Westerly points on the British Mainland. The Northerly one was ticked off at the same time as the Lighthouse Run - Dunnet Head. Mr EH and I did the most Southerly together - The Lizard in Cornwall. I'd previously been to Lowestoft in Suffolk so that was the most easterly dealt with - so I'm just now looking for a reason to visit Ardnamurchan Point to complete the set! At the moment that one looks like it might be some way away - our spare cash is going to the mortgage and to fund our annual Hebrides trip, so it might be a while until we have sufficient spare funds to finish the set!  I wanted to go and see the Red Arrows practise at RAF Scampton - and ticked that off on the day we set off for our Holiday last year. A trip to Orkney was also ticked off thanks to the lovely OrkneyFlowers - we headed up there for Easter! The next reasonably budget "want to" is to see The Vulcan fly - it looks like it's going to cost us something, but we're considering going to the Dunsfold Wings and Wheels festival later in the year - if we make it that one will be ticked off the list, too! For me it's about seeing things and going to places, rather than doing extreme sports or scaring myself silly! Another adventurous type who I know has a similar list of "Would Like To's" is Jenni at A Cheerful Living Adventure - I wonder if she'll tell you about hers too?

Of course those of you who know us are probably wondering why I've not mentioned our big, proper, HUGE target - to move to the Western Isles! Well you see part of the deal with this challenge is that you have to talk about at least one "budget" plan, and one extravagant one, and while the Hebrides move isn't exactly extravagant, it's certainly not going to be cheap! Of course the very fact that we are overpaying our mortgage will actually mean we make a saving over time - you pay an awful lot less interest if you pay a mortgage off over a shorter time than the original 25 year term! At the moment ALL our "unexpected" money is going towards making our mortgage free date that bit sooner, so no prizes for guessing where any prize money would go if I won it! Once we're done with the "paying off" we'll be saving like mad for a few years more as once we're there there will still be the costs of finding somewhere to live, relocating ourselves and all the trimmings of our lives, creating income for ourselves, and once we are settled down there frequent trips back no doubt to see friends and family. Exciting, yes, and a bit scary too - in fact, almost exactly the things which I said didn't feature on my bucket list - fancy that!


This post is part of a competition being run by those chaps over at MoneySupermarket  for bloggers to blog about their "Budget Bucket List" - why not go and join in?!