Saturday 11 November 2023

Big things and new beginnings…

 I’m a shockingly bad blogger - I know. Tease you with mentions of a “big thing” happening, start a Frugal February and then go AWOL yet AGAIN - and let’s be honest, it’s far from the first time that’s happened, but still. 

I did finish February in a similarly consciously frugal manner. Clearly by now though I have no recollection of what our spending levels might have been, and to be honest I think things have well and truly moved on from the good old days of almost cash-neutral months thanks to various survey sites paying out copious vouchers and that sort of thing. Seems amazing thinking back that it was ever even possible, does it! About the best we can realistically hope for these days I think is that sense of mindfulness about what we are spending and how we are making our money work for us. 

I’m sorry, what? Oh - the Big Thing? Ah yes, sorry, got distracted there didn’t I! Well in many ways it could be said that it was far from frugal, as it did in fact involve us spending more money than we have ever spent in our lives before,  and even going back into debt again - but don’t fret, it is all in a good cause! Yep - those of you who guessed that we might be thinking about moving house would be right on the (considerable sum of) money!  We made the decision just before Christmas last year - various things have changed in our lives in the past few years and for now, we have accepted that the eventually intended move up to the Hebrides is right for us, but not right for us right now -  so with that in mind we decided that a more local move was right for us at the current time. Our flat went on the market in the new year, coincidentally at pretty much the moment the bottom fell out of the market in the area for flats of its type,  and we started casting an eye around to see what sort of thing we might want to buy. Our wish list was essentially fairly simple - our search area was most of the town we live in currently, and a couple of small towns close by, we knew we wanted a three bedroom property to allow room for MrEH’s working from home and also the voluntary role we fulfill with the Great British Beer Festival. Beyond that we were open to ideas. We had an offer accepted on a fabulous little house with the most wonderful garden - the history in it was incredible with it having been lived in by the same lady from when it was built in the late 1950’s until she died a short while before. Sadly due to the aforementioned issues with the market for flats, the property was then put back on the market - at the time this felt like a real low point as we had rather fallen in love with “one careful owner” as it had been dubbed during the process. 

Finally in May we received an offer on the flat at a level we felt comfortable accepting. In the meantime we had also done some thinking - we had been assuming we would buy at a lower price-point with a view to doing work - extending perhaps, knocking through a kitchen into a dining room…but remembering back to the upheaval of having what amounted to pretty substantial works done on the flat with the back-to-brick renovations of first the bathroom, then the kitchen, we began to question whether we really wanted to face living in a property while major works were done again. We second-viewed One Careful Owner - realised that on top of our other plans it would also need a full rewire, and with heavy hearts had to accept that at this point in time it just wasn’t for us after all. There were other reservations there too - a very small living room,  and a general lack of storage compared to what we had been used to. It was a tough decision because emotionally we were very invested in the house - but it was definitely also the right decision for us. 

Within days of getting the acceptable offer on the flat, a browse on one of the property websites showed us a fabulous house in our very local area - more than we could have dreamed of but equally right at the very top of our budget. We both agreed we wanted to view it as quickly as we could, and the second we walked in through the door we knew we had found our new home. We offered the next day, and after a little negotiation over the days following, we reached an agreement with the lovely sellers very quickly. We could hardly have dreamed of finding somewhere more perfect for us - a large kitchen diner, three decent sized bedrooms, a garden, an outbuilding providing a separate office space for MrEH, and the cosy sitting room I am in right now, in front of a blazing fire… 

See - pretty decent, eh? We’ve been here since the beginning of September - but it feels in many ways like we’ve always lived here. The sellers were downsizing, so we were fortunate in that they were terrifically generous with furniture they no longer had space for - a dishwasher, large fridge freezer and leather three piece suite sold with the house for a ridiculously low sum, and several other pieces left (by agreement) free of charge. It’s made a huge difference to our set up costs in a place which is basically double the size of what we moved from. We’ve also been fortunate that their decorating style is also very much aligned with ours - lots of soft colours giving the ability to add splashes of colour with soft furnishings made is ideal. We’ve made one change of colour in the kitchen diner changing a panelled wall to a deep, inky blue - the  light flooding in through the three velux windows in the extension roof means the room can definitely cope with dark colours - and we have plans to use the gorgeous soft brown we used in the flat in the third bedroom, now being used as a combined reading room and dressing room. Other than that though, there is essentially nothing much we need to do at all - inside, at least! We absolutely love the house though - coming home here make me smile every time I walk in through the door! 

So there you go - a big enough “thing” for you?! 


Friday 24 February 2023

Frugal February...


I'm viewing this as a week of small wins. Grocery spending was - for us - high, but in our defence it was a farmers market week which always bumps things up. The minced beef, mutton shoulder and sausages we bought though will provide a good many meals between them - I'm fully expecting that we'll get a minimum of 18 meals for the two of us from the £28 spent on those so excellent value really for good quality produce. We also made an unusual additional supermarket visit as Friday evening tea time loomed without any inspiration at all - I'd been considering making curry, but realised too late that I was out of onions (not at all a regular occurance in our house!). There was a brief discussion about a takeaway, but that was nipped in the bud pretty swiftly in favour of "Let's go to the supermarket and get pizza and garlic bread" which was what we did! Then during out main weekly shop I made a conscious effort to buy fish to make fish pie - a meal we both absolutely love and which for some reason I've not made in ages. I spent a fair few minutes in front of the freezer cabinet in store working out which fish would be the best options for this, and ended up settling on a pack of the "budget" white fish fillets, a pack of salmon pieces, and a pack of raw tiger prawns - those last will each be carefully cut in half to make them go a bit further, and each of the packs of fish will do several helpings for both of us. 

Another "small win" this week was finally getting round to linking my bank cards to the "Airtime rewards" app - this is a clever little app that rewards debit card spending with money off your mobile bills with some providers - and as EE, who I am with, are signed up, I figured I may as well give it a go. My mind was focused on this because of doing the shopping using the debit card for the next little while as some of the supermarkets are part of the scheme - I may well be able to end up getting double rewards! Longer term readers will remember that we have "back in the day" done pretty well out of cashback - notably through credit card spending. We're always fans of being paid to use financial products like this! (But only if we don't end up paying interest, naturally!) 

Also on both the "Small wins" and "cashback" front was the world's smallest TopCashBack payout of £2.40 - well it all helps, no?! This has been transferred straight across to the savings account I have running for expenses related to the "big thing" we're in the middle of trying to get sorted. (I know, sorry, it's annoying - I will tell you eventually, I promise!) I'm a big fan with both cashback and survey earnings of not letting them sit around gathering dust when they can be in one of my accounts earning even a tiny bit of interest!

Finally under the heading of “small wins” comes using what we have, and avoiding waste. The fridge has had a clear out this week with some elderly beetroot being roasted - half eaten at the time and the other half frozen for a future meal.  A couple of carrots were also converted into a salad addition to a meal for me by adding a handful of sultanas and a spoonful of peanut butter let down with lemon juice as a dressing. Then a head of chicory, the last of the carrots, and half a small cabbage were turned into a stir fry which also used the final bit in the jar of Char Sui sauce. Today’s “use up” is likely to be the last of a tub of Greek yogurt which will go into flatbreads to have with tea tonight which will be the delayed curry (I do have onions now!)  There is satisfaction in using things up - knowing that you have had your money’s worth from a purchase and have avoided adding to landfill. With the current shortages of various veggies too it becomes even more important to use every scrap of the things we spend our pennies on, I’m sure you’ll agree! 


Friday 17 February 2023

Frugal February...


Hello fellow frugalers - halfway through the month already, goodness! 

 We're now in a position of trying to get things back on a rather more "normal" footing after a difficult few weeks. MrEH sadly lost his Dad fairly unexpectedly at the end of last month, hence this has left him doing a lot of travelling up and down the country to spend time with his Mum and his brothers - and both of us were down there for half the week last week too for the funeral and some family time after. All went very well, FIL would have been extremely impressed with his send off I think. 

The higher than usual diesel spend this month is "one of those things" - I knew when I started the challenge that it was going to be a rather different shape to previous ones I've done! Some of the extra is balanced off against less travel into London for MrEH, and two less commutes for me, too. Other "extra" spending has included some food bought out, and our share of a family meal to celebrate oldest brother in law's birthday at the weekend too - we've never been minded to say "No" to the good, quality time stuff when finances do allow it, and the money for this stuff was all stashed away in our "fun" pot ready for when it was needed in any event, so all good. This is why we budget! Had the joint account not been able to absorb the diesel money there were assorted other pots it could have come from and at a pinch, in the circumstances, our Emergency Fund would have taken the hit.

In terms of general personal spending I'm still keeping things pretty low - I paid for a breakfast for both of us while we were down in Devon - we'd gone to meet friends & family out at the Castle, but annoyingly the cafe there wasn't open so we ended up having a slightly more spendy breakfast when we got back into the town. (MrEH bought lunch one day when we all headed to the beach so this balanced out). My personal spends account is still looking distinctly healthy! 

The mission for this week has been reviewing some more of our savings pots. Another maturing regular saver has been transferred into the highest interest "Limited access" account we have, meaning it's earning fractionally more interest than it would otherwise - and it all helps. I've set up a new monthly Regular Saver account too - as they finish at the moment we're being a bit cautious about how many new ones we set up as if our current plans come to fruition we will before all that long not be as well fixed to continue "feeding" them - this one should fit in with any new budgets that are needed though.  The other thing I've been doing savings wise is giving some thought to whether I should find a new home for our Emergency Fund. It currently sits with a provider where we've had an account for a while - a former "highly recommended best buy" of the likes of one Mr M Lewis, but in recent times said provider has kept up less well with interest rate rises. As a result our funds have been sitting at a rate around 0.5% lower than we could, for the past couple of weeks, have been getting elsewhere for easy access.  The issues around moving this money are several: because it IS our EF, it does need to be easy access. Also because it is our EF it needs to be easily accessible by either of us, when needed, and many of the current "best buy" options don't allow joint accounts. Finally right at the moment it doesn't suit me wonderfully well to risk getting a credit check on my file - and while there are options we could take which wouldn't credit check, a lot might, so this is another negative. In the event, this week has seen a (small, but still) increase to the interest rate in question, so for now at least the money will stay put. Sure, it could earn a bit more elsewhere, but it's still earning an awful lot more than it was last year, even! 

One money saving thing we have started this week is using our debit cards for grocery shopping - to earn the 5% cashback currently being offered by our bank. We usually use the credit card, then just settle up from the grocery budget at the statement date, so using the debit cards will make things a little more complicated, but as there is a decent payback on it we figure it’s well worth it! Now I just need to remember to use the right card when I pay! 


Friday 10 February 2023

Frugal February…


So the first full week of the challenge started with the most expensive gym visit of the year - once again I intend to keep track of my "per use" cost for this, so last Friday's visit cost me £280! The good news is that for the next few visits, that figure naturally drops at a fine rate. The bad news is that it will be at least another week before I see that happen, as family commitments mean I'm not getting there this week! I knew that was going to happen, though. 

One job for the weekend was to review some savings account rates. Obviously with the Bank of England changing the interest rates again last week, rates have changed - unfortunately neither of the two "homes" for my own personal accessible cash savings have decided to increase things at all since before the LAST rate change, so I reached the conclusion it was time to vote with my feet. For various reasons I didn't want to open an account with a new provider right now, however, we have accounts with various different banks and building societies, meaning I am a "customer" already with them, so I set to checking what various options were available. Eventually settled on one paying fractionally below 3% - close to as god as available for easy access right now, and within literally a couple of hours has set up the new instant access account, and moved money from two different institutions across to it. While I was money shuffling with banking, I also took the chance to set up a new regular saver account from another provider (it's predecessor had matured a couple of weeks earlier) and also set up standing orders to a couple of other regular savers that we have on the go. 

For anyone who's not familiar with the concept of regular savers, it is probably most simply described as an account offering a higher rate of interest than the usual in exchange for a promise from the customer that it will feed it regularly - monthly, as a rule - and not be able to take the money out until the term of the account is complete. If you have an amount of money to save on a monthly basis - so for example "spare" money once bills are paid - which you know you will not need to touch for a full year, you can earn yourself a better rate of interest than you would from most other standard savings accounts. Don't dismiss these because you assume that you won't have enough money to make it worth it, either - some of these type of accounts have maximum monthly funding limits as low as £50 - and you can even put in less than that if you choose! (An example here is Nationwide's Start To Save account which pays 5% interest currently). At the other end of the scale is the FirstDirect Regular Saver attached to it's "1st" Current account - in exchange for a maximum of £350 per month that will deliver a whopping 7% interest - and you could even get an additional £175 by switching your current account to them, too! One word of caution - it's slightly complex to work out how  much interest that these accounts will actually leave you with - but there are specialist Regular Savings interest calculators out there to help you work it out. For someone who wants to add to a savings pot monthly though, and does not have a need to access the money for a while, it can be a god way of earning decent interest.

As predicted there has been some high spending incurred for travel so far this month - MrEH's car has already needed a full tank of fuel, and will need another tankful this weekend. In other (spending) news, we had a planned trip into London on Monday - for a talk run by the London Transport Museum Friends - an organisation we are members of. While the talk was free, we had the cost for travel to and from (on the tube, naturally!) and also as we would not be home until mid evening, we elected to get dinner out as well, opting for a meal and a beer each in a pub belonging to a well known chain for a total cost of under £25. The talk was interesting, the food was tasty enough, and the beer was very pleasant indeed - so we're calling that money well spent. We also got information while at the talk about some other events coming up which may give us some low cost entertainment too - we'll be keeping our eyes open for further details of those.

Hopefully by the next time I write things will have settled down a little bit and we'll have stopped needing to feed the car fuel tank quite so frequently - sometimes though a situation occurs where the cost is quite simply irrelevant(as long as you can afford it, obviously), this is one of those situations.


Friday 3 February 2023

Frugal February underway…

Well, I know we’re only a few days in so there shouldn’t be much to say - truth is though that I decided I may as well think about starting pretty much right away after last week’s post - after all, the sooner you can start with money-saving exploits the better, right?

It started remarkably well - I was due to renew my gym membership - it had expired a week ago but I had  decided to give it a short break before making the renewal to give myself a few weeks grace before making the payment. I’d had a phone call in the week offering me a discount off the full joining fee, and had arranged to go in in early February to sign up, however, I then received another call offering me an additional £20 off if I was able to get in that day to sort it out… that £20 more than covered the difference on re-joining earlier than I’d planned, so obviously I went for it! I’ll be doing the same again this year as I did last - keeping a tally of how many visits I make in the year and then working out the cost per visit - it helps keep motivation high, and also means I can be sure I’m getting value for money. 

Payday has happened for both of us - and the associated money shuffling alongside that has happened. Most of our regular transfers to savings happen automatically, as this avoids the risk of forgetting anything, but there are still odds and ends to do to make sure everything is where it should be. This month this included transferring out the money which would usually go to pay Council Tax and Water rates as op for us February and March are our two months “off” as we pay both over 10 months. It might be useful for some people to be aware that while 10 months has always been the standard for Council tax payment schedules, in England at least everyone is entitled to ask to be changed to making payments over 12 months instead. This can help make budgeting easier and reduce your average monthly bills a little. 

We’ve had to make one financial decision this week too. For a fair while now we’ve been having a fortnightly veg box. It’s been great - means we’ve really increased the range of veggies we’ve been eating, and we’ve got to try some stuff we wouldn’t normally buy too which has been good. It also really meets what we want from a box scheme - we’re not in the least fussed about organic, but this one helps stop food waste, and that we approve of. While it’s been a bit more costly than buying from the supermarket, we like the ethos so have been prepared to pay. Unfortunately now they have informed us of a price increase, plus the addition of a delivery charge - entirely understandable, but from our perspective we’ve had to make the decision that for the time being we’re going to cancel. The increased price just means that right now, for various reasons, it doesn’t fit into our budget. The alternative will likely be a return to shopping at the farm shop once a month or so - something we’ve been considering for a while anyway. At least that way we get to continue to support a business we like - and it will be a relatively local one too.

The other bit of news this week has of course been another increase to the Bank of England rate - up another 0.5%. At the moment for us this mostly means we’ll be hoping for some savings rate increases - but equally we won be holding our breath on that, nice as it would be! 

Right then - until next week, stay frugal! 


(Photo above from a lovely walk at Lea Valley Park with Mum last weekend)

Saturday 28 January 2023

Frugal-ish February, anyone?

 I confess I was gearing up for a full-on Frugal February again - remember those? They’ve got their own tag on here so if you’re interested to know more, or you’re a long time reader who wants to remind yourself what we did before, why not head off and have a read? (After you’ve read this post, obviously!) 

MrEH and I are currently plotting a new adventure - no, not the Hebrides move before anyone asks, yes we still want to do it but the time isn’t quite right for it at the moment. We’re not quite ready to tell all as yet, but it’s exciting, and means we need to fine tune our budgets and tighten our belts a bit where possible, so suddenly the idea of revisiting an old game to see how cheaply we could live for a month seems quite interesting. 

I think we’re all starting to feel the pinch a bit now aren’t we? In between energy prices, (we saw an 8% rise in January, and are gearing up for a further 20% on top of that in April, too) food prices - it still feels like every time you set foot in a shop prices have escalated a little further - and now many of us are facing an upcoming hike of around 14% in our mobile and broadband costs in a few months time, too. All in all, if ever there was a time to really stop and think about what we are spending, this is probably it! 

February is often a fairly decent month to try to do frugally - I mean for a start, we like a bit of alliteration round here! V Then there is the fact that for anyone who pays their Council Tax and Water Rates over 10 months, February and March are the two “free” months - so an easy way of bolstering any savings pots you might be trying to fill. Then of course there is the advantage of it being a remarkably short month - which always helps to make the pennies stretch that little bit further! The winter weather might also mean that you’re less inclined to venture out and about much, and being early in the year, any money-saving motivation is still on a high too! 

I’m planning on doing things pretty much as I used to - normal Direct Debits don’t form part of any declared spending, and I’ll be having my usual personal spends money which will need to pay for anything I need to buy for myself, plus any trips out, etc. We also have commitments to spend on travel - diesel for the cars, and MrEH will need to top up his Oyster card probably a couple of times too. We’re likely to have some essential family-related long distance travel, too, which is unavoidable. I’m planning to meal plan for the month, and shop with a list - then stick to that list! 

This time round it is more about kickstarting ourselves back into a more frugal mindset, than “trying to spend as little as possible” - but I would like to see a decent amount stashed into our new “Exciting things ahead” savings pot by the end of the month, too!  My plan is that spending generally will be considered, thought through,,and made if needed, but only after it’s been established that it IS needed, and we’re getting value for our money. Where we are in our lives right now, that seems like the right way forwards.

Let’s do this!