Friday 7 October 2016

Frugal Friday...

Well following on from last Friday's momentous action, we now need to make some decisions about where we go from here. Yes the long term aim is still Hebrides - but the time is not right quite yet for that. We ARE now in a position where if the right property was to come up for sale up there, we may consider taking a look, though. So with that aim in mind something we will definitely NOT be doing is blowing our new-found "spare" cash on exotic holidays or flashy new cars. But then you knew that already, right?

Things have changed immensely since we first started the onslaught on our finances back in 2008. Thankfully unlike so many people we never saw our home as a status symbol, so the temptation to over stretch ourselves when we originally took out our mortgage was never there.

Back in 2008 we had the mortgage, overdrafts and a loan. All of these seemed utterly normal to us at the time, although as soon as it was pointed out that there was an alternative we instantly grasped the benefits! We do seem to have a culture in the UK (although I'm assured it is similar in other parts of the western world) where living off credit is simply the "norm" - and while for some people there genuinely isn't an option around this, for the vast majority it's just that they want "stuff"without taking the time to save for it first. Martin Lewis makes a valid point about "Good" debt - for example a mortgage, for education, or for a car to provide essential transport to work or as a lifeline for those living in an area without good public transport. I'd add to that the costs that good friends of mine recently found themselves facing - that of immigration costs to enable them to live in the same country - and also in some cases to facilitate higher quality medical care than is available on the NHS in a person's local area. (Although whether this last *should* ever be required is a different subject which we'll not be getting into here!)

First job when we started this was to tackle where our money was going - on paper there was a surplus, when in fact....umm, no. Bank statements were examined. Takeaways and random unplanned treats were reined in, and the overdrafts vanished. We turned our attention to the car loan - that was paid off in 13 months rather than the 30 that it was scheduled for. Then the mortgage, and we all know where that ended now! In theory there should have been a hiccup in the middle where my income fell dramatically - in fact overnight it fell by over 50%, and is now probably still less than 50% of where it would have been had I stayed on my previous career path. There WAS no hiccup because we were already living a LONG way below our means through choice. There are aspects where we have been fortunate, but very few of these are "luck" as such - our household income is good, and our outgoings are low, but we have chosen for them to be low. Our mortgage was not a big one - but again that was a conscious choice to an extent. For a long while our property didn't appreciate in value much at all - none of the big killings that others have been able to make on property for us - but that didn't matter as we had no intention of moving on until such time as we'd paid off the mortgage anyway.  Interest rates have - by the standards of the 80's when I grew up - been low, albeit we didn't get the benefit of the super-low rates that some folk are seeing now.

Now our plan is to increase our personal spending money a little - and also increase our food budget a little per month too - to allow for more frequent purchases of things that would previously have been a treat, fresh fish for example. We'll continue to use the farmers market and local suppliers where we can. Our "joint fun" budget will increase a wee bit too. We plan to increase spending a little on weekends away - not necessarily to have more of them (god knows I'm rarely at home during the summer, anyway!) but to allow ourselves slightly less "budget" accommodation in the places where we would be going anyway, on occasion. Sometimes a Travelodge suits us perfectly, at other times a "nice" hotel will make for a more enjoyable trip. The actual mortgage money itself will still be heading straight into our savings accounts, the extra spending above will be funded from the "extra" money that we've previously diverted to the "overpayments" account - and THAT needs a new name allocated to it now, as well! All of the above will take account of less than £100 of our "spare" money - and after all we've achieved so far, we rather feel we deserve that!


Wednesday 5 October 2016

A simple supper & guilty pleasures...

I love spending time with MrEH - he's my best friend, as well as anything else, and we are, and have always been, quite happy in each others company for as much time as we have. Equally though we're not joined at the hip - we have different interests as well as those which we enjoy together, during the summer I have my aviation stuff, during the winter he plays rugby. Yes obviously it would be helpful if these two things overlapped on time, but life's not like that, is it! So we're happy to each let the other go off and "do their thing" - sometimes I go to rugby with him, occasionally he comes to an airshow thing with me. He gets on fine with my airshow gang, I get on fine with his rugby crowd. The rugby thing isn't just limited to the season when he's actually playing, either, as there are regular training sessions throughout the year, too, meaning that a couple of nights a week, generally speaking, we need to sort out meals that will work for us individually, rather than eating together.

For me, those evenings are a chance to just cook something really simple but tasty (MrEH usually defaults to an omelette or pasta when he gets home, I never quite know what time he will be in and this is quick and easy for him to rustle up) - often something which he would be less keen on - and then catch up on my "guilty pleasure" TV - Casualty, Escape to the Country, Amazing Spaces... I'm not massively a TV person, but do often have it on in the background while I'm processing photos - so when we're both in generally he will choose what we watch - which suits me fine!

On the food front all sorts of things might tick my boxes, and it will partly depend on what we have to use up. If we have posh bread left over from the weekend then it might be a big pile of fluffy scrambled eggs alongside (never on - soggy food, eurgh!) toast. Or sometimes a tin of soup - ThaT SupermarkeT's own Lentil and Bacon at 45p a can, for example. Yum. (And a guilty pleasure in itself!) Sometimes a bowl of salad with tuna, or small bits of bacon fried to JUST starting to crisp. And sometimes, like Monday night, the "odds and ends to use up" don't lend themselves to any of the above....2 chicken drumsticks rescued from the freezer. A few mushrooms, a handful of rocket, a single egg...and that is when I put into the play the meal that an acquaintance on MSE always referred to as a "Buddha Bowl". Now obviously as soon as you add meat or poultry you're immediately swerving this away from any sort of authenticity, but sometimes that doesn't matter, you know?

A quick Google search confirms that a traditional "Buddha Bowl" is essentially a dish containing a grain (or at least a starch of some kind), a protein and vegetables, usually with the addition of some kind of savoury sauce. I often end up forgetting the sauce though because the rest all smells so DAMNED good by the time I think about it. Last night was one of those occasions. I chose couscous as my base - easy as you like - a scoop in the base of my bowl, cover with the same quantity of boiling water, whack a plate on the top and leave it to steam which you deal with the rest.  I thickly sliced the mushrooms, I wanted chunks rather than slices, and popped those to cook off gently in a splash of rapeseed oil while I stripped the meat off the drumsticks. Once the mushroom was soft and turning golden I added in the chicken, and stirred it all about until it was thoroughly heated through. A handful of rocket was dumped on top and I turned my attention back to the couscous which was nicely plumped up by this time. A pinch of seaweed infused sea salt and a knob of chipotle butter were stirred through to give it a bit of punch, before the chicken, mushroom & rocket were thrown on the top, juices and all. The finally touch was a just-cooked single egg omelette cut into strips to top it off. Joy in a bowl. even more joyous as the whole lot was cooked in one pan, plus the bowl I ate it from. 4 items were dirtied in the making of this dish - no, hang on, 5, I forgot the fork I ate with! My kind of cooking!

Had I thought about a dressing in good time I might have gone for something like a teaspoon of tahini let down with lemon juice, and then added a sprinkle of sesame seeds for crunch. A vinaigrette with grain mustard added maybe. Or Rapeseed oil, lime juice and finely chopped coriander leaves. (I'm making myself hungry now!) Perhaps next time I should make the sauce first, while the kettle is boiling?!

Do you have a "go to" simple supper dish for nights like that?


Tuesday 4 October 2016

New Challenges...

I have to confess that on Saturday I woke up feeling a bit "meh" - after all the excitement over paying off the mortgage, it all felt like a bit of an anti climax after it was actually done. Mostly, friends just didn't quite "get" it - with a few exceptions who couldn't have been more delighted for us. One person I would formerly have described as a very close friend who I KNOW saw the text mentioning it (and had she for some reason not, would definitely have seen it on Twitter) chose not only to totally ignore it, but hasn't even mentioned it since - that sort of thing makes you re-evaluate, you know? We all have things going on in our lives, but I cannot imagine one SINGLE circumstance where I would let momentous news like that go without giving heartfelt congratulations to the person concerned, no matter how much there was a little bit of me sitting saying "why not me?". Hey ho, there's nowt so queer as folk, eh?

I said before that I was always just a teeny bit scared about this point - and I guess now I can say why - people just aren't meant to get to 44 and find themselves mortgage free, are they? The thing I was a little bit worried about was exactly that - that it would change the way people saw me....saw us, in fact. People don't see the hard work and effort that has gone in, the tears that were shed when I lost such a massive chunk of my income back in 2010 - and we genuinely had visions of all that work falling by the wayside (For a while I wasn't fit enough mentally to go back to even part-time work - it was at that stage that we took the decision that going forward I would only work 4 days a week, which has of course also impacted on my earning potential), the times when we've had to say "Oh no, I'm sorry, we're not about" because there just wasn't enough money to allow for us to join in with what was being proposed, or more recently the times I've had to sit mentally working out what "cheap" option I can eat off a menu so I still have enough money to stand my round of drinks because my personal spending money was so limited. Bottom line is, there is NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT THESE PEOPLE - so there you go, it's out there, I'm letting it go. (But, as I've said, with certain re-evaluations of where people stand in my life and where I clearly stand in theirs). I'm not angry - it's just hurtful that I can get a warmer, more excited and congratulatory reaction from people out here in blogland than from someone I actually choose to spend time with.

So - new challenges are required. I can't imagine, now, us not having a "goal" to work to in certain areas! The first is purely financial and is to rebuild the lump sum we've just paid out to clear the mortgage as quickly as possible. We're making a few minor tweaks in what money goes where, and allowing for  a "standard of living" increase to occur - "inflation" if you like. We've always been careful to make sure that our food choices are healthy and as far as possible, ethical, but we're now aiming to be able to buy better cuts of meat when we choose to, and more things like fresh fish, and shellfish, which we love! Being able to have that stuff regularly not just as a treat will be fantastic. Our savings are now spread over three main accounts - 2 regular savers and an ISA - as well as our "routine" savings pots which allow us to budget for regular expenses. I'll post more about the money stuff in a Frugal Friday post, I think.

The second is a bit of a decluttering challenge - I've done these before, including a whole YEAR of decluttering back in 2013 - but the time feels right to do it again. I'm not doing this in any sort of structured way this time, just "taking it as it comes" and aiming to free up space. My wardrobe needs tackling, and I want to look through DVD's, and books, too. It'll be done in 15 minute bursts as that is a method that works well for me. It'll be nice to be able to get clothes in my wardrobe without having to fight with what's already in there!

Thirdly is an attack on our well stocked larder and storecupboard. We're intending to get our kitchen rebuilt later this year, and as we already know from the upheaval of the bathroom rebuild back in the spring, living in a flat does mean that this sort of work around the place causes a certain amount of upheaval which simply has less of an impact if you live in a house...and thinking about how much storage was needed to house everything from the bathroom, the thought of having to empty our kitchen into the spare room, or front room, or wherever is just terrifying! SO - the intention is to start thinking about what can be used up, with the rationale on attacking the storecupboard as well being simply this: The more free space there is in the storecupboard, the more stuff from the larder it will house when the time comes. Simple. The first stage on this is, I think, to go through the larder and work out what is in there that can simply be used, and what there is if anything that has been overlooked too long, and needs disposal. I'm hoping there's not too much of that, though, food waste makes me very cross. My bullet (ish) journal contains a rolling list of foodstuffs that I know need using, and when I do my meal plans for the week I take these into account. That helps stop us take our "eyes off the ball". While doing that we will also refill any of the containers in there that need it, and I'll establish whether there is anything in there that can be better and more tidily stored. When the kitchen is redone the inside of the Larder will be getting fully re-tiled/painted so we need to consider how best to store things from then on. I might post back here about this challenge, we'll see.