Saturday, 29 October 2016

Five fabulously frugal things I've done this week #8

Returning home after a country walk

Turns out two deadlines during half term is not an ideal combination for getting much else done.
In a busy week, here's what we've been up to on the frugal and thrifty front.

Autumn leaves up near Holbecks House

Heading out for a country walk

During half terms and holidays, the grandparents kindly carry off each child in turn for a day of excitement and outings.
Last Saturday, while our daugher was on her "only child day", my husband and I decided to take our son out for a country walk. Great chance for family bonding, enjoy the beauties of nature, plenty of fresh air, loads of exercise and (from a frugal perspective) completely free - what could possibly go wrong?
Turns out country walks are not quite so appealing to six-year-olds who would much rather be glued to the telly.
However, through a combination of different tactics, from rampant bribery (come on a walk and you'll get one of the Approved Food bargain mini Mars bars!) to distraction (look! red tractor!), we did get out for a really good walk.
We went in a big circle out past Holbecks Park (look! that's where the Hadleigh Show was!) and back near the rugby club.
Entertainment along the way included lengthy discussion of potential birthday party themes, with a comparison of the relative merits of Star Wars and Lego Ninjago, attempts to catch falling leaves to guarantee a day of good luck, selecting sticks, rolling down hills, scaling stiles and five-bar gates and kicking a flint along the lane.
But by far the best distraction for a recalcitrant small boy turned out to be poo spotting. Yup. We counted six - cow, horse, bird, dog, rabbit and cat, with competing opinions on whether a second set of rabbit droppings actually came from a sheep. (Think it's pretty clear which side of the argument I favoured).
It was definitely the easiest and most effective way to keep a six-year-old walking. You're welcome.

Amazing smells, all for free.

Using up hotel toiletries

Moving on to more fragrant topics (see what I did there?), last Friday I was getting ready for an evening out and decided to use some of the hotel toiletries from my competition win.
That stay at The Marylebone Hotel really is the gift that just keeps giving, as the Aromatherapy Associaties range from the hotel room smell quite amazing.
I don't often bother using fancy toiletries, and I would very rarely buy them, but it made a nice treat.
And please tell me I'm not the only one to come home with part-used hotel bath products!

Late night Cambridge to Ipswich travel: less a train, more a bus on rails

Booking cheaper train tickets

The evening out was a committee meeting over in Cambridge for a voluntary role I've been doing for the last 15 years. It's time to hand on to new faces and fresh ideas after all this time, so it was my last committee meeting, and a strange mix of celebration and sadness.
There's a handy train that runs direct from Ipswich to Cambridge, even if it does stop pretty much anywhere you can think of. When I booked tickets online I was delighted to discover Abellio Greater Anglia was offering cut-price weekday tickets until 30 October, so I only paid a tenner for an off peak day return, rather than the normal £17.30.

Chocolate chip cookies: only disadvantage, they don't last long.

Baking chocolate chip cookies

While my son went off for his day with the grandparents, one of the things my daugher wanted to do was bake chocolate chip cookies.
Correction: my daughter wanted me to bake chocolate chip cookies, so that she could eat some cookie dough, and the finished biscuits.
Anyway, we had a good time in the kitchen getting all the ingredients out and bunging together some biscuits. I've posted the really easy and reliable recipe before, and if you don't fancy chocolate chips you could add in something else like raisins, Smarties or peanuts.
Last time I priced them up, they came to about 75p for 15 gorgeous chewy biscuits.
You only need six ingredients, and if you use raisins and Stork instead of butter, they're dairy-free too.
My top frugal tip would be to avoid paying over the odds for chocolate chips, and just cut up a bar of own-brand or value range chocolate instead.

Basilisk and Weasley jumper for Harry Potter evening

Making costumes and creatures for a Harry Potter evening

During half term, Hadleigh library ran a Harry Potter evening, which the attractions of quizzes, treasure hunts, hat and wand making, butterbeer and a selfie stand.
My daughter has been avidly reading the books, and both children like the films they've seen so far, so I duly handed over a fiver each for the tickets.
Rather than buying Harry Potter costumes, we had a look at what we already had in the house.
My daugher wanted to go as Ron Weasley, so I tracked down a hand-knitted pullover that had been passed on to us. I cut out a large R from some scraps of red felt, sewed it onto the pullover, and reckoned it made a recognizable Mrs Weasley Christmas jumper that could be worn with black school trousers and while polo shirt.
My son went as Hagrid, in a brown T shirt and trousers, eye liner beard, and the charity shop sheepskin gilet bought to be Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III on World Book Day. (If you've never come across the greatest Viking hero that ever lived, he's in the How to Train Your Dragon series of books and films).
There was also a competition for models of creatures from the Harry Potter books, and my daughter used some felt to sew a basilisk, the (spoiler alert) giant serpent which appears in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
We had a fun afternoon making stuff for free, and the kids enjoyed the Harry Potter evening afterwards.

Now over to you - any frugal success to share from half term? I'd love to hear!

I'm joining in with the #5frugalthings blog linky. If you'd like to join, or just want to check out other thrifty suggestions, hop on over to visit Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, Becky at Family Budgeting and Emma at Emma's Savvy Savings

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Five fabulously frugal things I've done this week #7

Banana ice cream - cheap, easy and tastes great. Big tick.

Wow. It's been crazy busy, head down, hard working, 'what happened to lunch?' kind of week.

One reason for the whirlwind was that I was writing an article about investing for the Money section in this weekend's Sunday Times, so it will be exciting to see it printed in the paper tomorrow.

But in the mean time, here's a round up of the frugal things I managed to fit in.

Golden stone on the Corn Exchange, Bury St Edmunds

Outing to Bury St Edmunds

Last weekend, my husband took my son to play in a mini rugby festival over at Bury St Edmunds, so my daughter and I went along for a day out.
As it was grey and raining, Isabel and I headed for the cinema.
We chose a "Movies for Juniors" early morning showing of "Ice Age: Collision Course", and with an extra 10% discount for booking online via a free "My Cineworld" account, the tickets for two cost a bargain £3.60.
I managed to steer clear of the pricey cinema snacks in favour of four Wispas for a pound from a nearby Co-op, and we took a packed lunch for later.
Afterwards we stopped in a local park while the sun was shining, and then headed on to the Abbeycroft Leisure Centre.
We'd never been there before, but Isabel loves swimming, so we paid £8.40 for the ominously named "Wet n Wild" session.
Turned out to involve multiple swimming pools, with shedloads of floats and balls in one, a full on pirate ship in another, a slightly chilly jacuzzi and two huge and quite terrifying flumes. I passed on the flumes (coward), but Isabel was overjoyed.
In better weather we'd have spent more time in the beautiful Abbey Gardens, but for a day of indoor activities £13 for the two of us didn't seem bad.

See: Mr Whippy stylee

Whizzing together banana ice cream

Confession time: I was sceptical when a friend swore blind that ice cream made from frozen banana tasted great. But I gave it a whirl, and boy was she right (Hi Sharon!).
It is so easy, and the kids were really keen to get involved.
All you do is freeze some banana cut up in circles:

Top tip: peel the bananas and cut into circles BEFORE freezing them.

Then get them out of the freezer for a few minutes so they're not rock hard, whizz with a food processor or stick blender till it looks like Mr Whippy (hang on in there, it takes longer than you might expect).
Then refreeze the mix in a tub or moulds. Or just scoff a bowlful that wouldn't fit.

I used three yellow-stickered bananas, and the teddy bear lolly moulds I found in a charity shop last year, so it cost all of 15p for six lollies and an extra helping.

My son has got all keen on chopping up bananas and shoving them in the freezer to make more.
So far we've just tried plain banana, but you could chuck in anything else you fancy, from frozen berries to chocolate chips.

If you search on Pinterest for banana ice cream or banana nice cream, there's a mind boggling array of flavours, but I've pinned a couple to my board.

Free mug - cheers Adnams and St Elizabeth Hospice!

Winning an Adnams mug

I was delighted this week when a parcel showed up from Adnams, the Suffolk brewers based in Southwold.
Over the summer, we did a couple of family trips to Ipswich to follow the Pigs Gone Wild trail in aid of St Elizabeth Hospice.
Loads of local businesses sponsored and decorated models of pigs, named them with painful puns (Ed Sheerham, Frankenswine and Elvis Porksley were particular favourites) and set them up as a sculpture trail round the city centre.
Each pig had a QR code you could scan using an app on your smartphone, and most of them had competitions to enter.
I cheerfully entered as many competitions as possible, figuring not too many other people would. Good plan - I ended up winning a very smart seagull mug courtesy of Sir Bradley Piggins.
It's now stashed in my present cupboard waiting for Christmas (relatives look away now) but I like it so much it might end up sneaking its way into our kitchen.

So many vouchers, so little time

Cooking up a storm with Gousto

Ever seen those vouchers for money off Gousto food delivery boxes?
I've stashed away several in the past, but this week I finally grabbed the chance to try a discounted delivery box.
With a crazy busy week, I was worried I wouldn't have time to cook, and we'd end up fed up with fishfingers or ordering expensive takeaways. During my October savings challenge I really wasn't keen on the idea of splashing extra cash for dinner, or letting the contents of the fridge turn into sludge!
With recipe boxes from the likes of Gousto, you get to choose from a selection of meals, and then a box shows up crammed with fresh food, all measured out to make the recipes.
It means you can cook from scratch without the faff of meal planning, shopping and forgetting vital ingredients.
Anyway, I'll be writing a proper post about Gousto, but it's been such a relief to have this week's evening meals sorted. We've had huge fun cooking them, and even more fun eating them.

(And if you want to try a Gousto box sooner rather than later, you can get one with 50% off by clicking on this link and using the code SAVE50)

Handy for International Gin & Tonic Day. Yes, that is a thing.

Still saving in October

And talking of the October savings challenge, I am still staggering on with small daily changes to spend less, earn more and save a chunk of cash towards Christmas - I just haven't had much chance to blog about them!

I posted this week about Day 11: Chasing Money Owed, and I'm glad to say the £70 invoice I finally sent has already been paid. Many cheers.

Aside from booking the discount Gousto box mentioned above, so we didn't go crazy on takeaway spending, other money saving measures included:
- ordering cut-price store cupboard staples from Approved Food (previous post here). Obviously tonic water counts as an essential in our house...
- taking advantage of bargain gift cards from Zeek
- squeaking in a Sainsbury's order for fresh food just before my "£12 off a £60" spend voucher ran out
- snapping up free Pringles and half price Cumberland sausages via the Shopmium supermarket cashback app
- getting confirmation my Bounts direct debits would be refunded
- opening a high interest current account, to earn some interest on the savings from balance tidying and hoarding £2 coins

So there are lots more things I'd like to write about! Just a small matter of half term this week.
Maybe I'll even manage to get the posts up before we get as far as Christmas...

Anyone else have any money-saving measures to report? Inspiration for thrifty activities to survive half term? I'd love to hear!

I'm joining in with the #5frugalthings blog linky. If you'd like to join, or just want to check out other thrifty suggestions, hop on over to visit Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, Becky at Family Budgeting and Emma at Emma's Savvy Savings

Monday, 17 October 2016

Save in October Day 11: Chasing money owed

Never lend money you can't afford to lose, especially the flashy new fivers.

This is just a quick update on the small changes I'm making each day in October, trying to spend less, earn more and save a chunk of cash towards Christmas.

One quick way to raise more money is to ask for anything you're owed.

Maybe you bunged someone a tenner when they hadn't been to the cash machine, or helped out a family member in a bind.
Maybe, if you're self-employed like me, you're owed money for work you've done.

Sometimes it's easy to say "Oi, can I have my tenner back?", or suggest the other person covers coffee/lunch/the cinema next time.

Sometimes it can be hard to ask for money back, especially if you've put off any discussion for fear of embarrassment.

I reckon the best approach when it comes to lending to family or friends is to say no - while checking out how else you could help, perhaps in time, childcare or emotional support.

However, if you do part with some cash, best to view it as a gift, not a loan. That way, if you never see the money again, it won't wreck the relationship, and if you do get paid back, it will be a bonus.

On my work front, usually if I do written work, I can attach an invoice at the same time as sending the finished article. All sorted, done and dusted, if the work gets published than it's tricky to argue that the invoice didn't arrive in the same email.

Yet earlier this year I did some work for a friend, editing some articles. Originally it was meant to turn into something more, so I didn't invoice immediately, and then life moved on.

He even reminded me to send in an invoice, but I felt a bit embarrassed after the delay, and because we hadn't finished the project.

Anyway, on Day 11 we discussed the cost of some completely different work, and it inspired me to finally create and email the invoice. Makes me wish I'd done it earlier!

Running total for the October Savings Challenge - Day 10

Save more: £16.15 from balance tidying and hoarding £2 coins
Spend less: £19.49 from ditching direct debits and maxing out supermarket vouchers
Earn more: £27.26 from supermarket cashback apps, joining Quidco and invoicing for money owed.
Total: £135.61

Over to you

Anyone else chased succesfully for money they were owed? Or do you end up letting things slide?

Friday, 14 October 2016

Five fabulously frugal things I've done this week #6

Apple and marmalade tart, when entertaining on a budget

It's been a heads-down, hard-working week, from one extreme to another.
On Wednesday I went for a whistle-stop trip to London for work, but then spent Thursday afternoon as a parent volunteer helping six-year-olds sew hand puppets. Never have I threaded so many needles in so little time.
Here's my round up of the frugal and thrifty highlights!

Unusual peppers at the revampled Hadleigh market

Searching the stalls at Hadleigh Market

There's been a market in Hadleigh for more than 750 years, so I suppose it was about due for a relaunch. 
Last December, I was concerned that the market was dwindling, but more recently a new market manager has reinvigorated Friday mornings. 
New stalls have been encouraged to set up alongside the greengrocer, fish van and the Cheese & Pie Man, a fine purveyor of Bob's Knobs.
The newly arrived Wooster's bread stall even sold out one week. The stalls do seem to vary, but when I nipped along last Friday I admired the cake-selling ladies, local honey from Beehouse Honey and Mena's amazing Indian food and spice mixes
I came away with a couple of unusual coloured peppers - pale green and purple - for 50p, and a big box of 18 satsumas for £1.50. 

It must be autumn, the hotties are back.

Hugging hot water bottles

The nights are drawing in, and the weather is turning chillier. Rather than rushing straight for the central heating and associated energy bills, we've been looking for more frugal ways to stay warm.
I've dug my mammoth fleece out of the wardrobe, the Morrocan blanket has reappeared on the back of the sofa, and my husband has been indulging his inner arsonist by lighting the woodburner.
Now that we've unearthed the hot water bottles to take to bed at night, I declare it is officially autumn.

Ingredients for game casserole. I meant to take a photo
of the finished article, but only remembered after we'd eaten it all.

Entertaining on a budget

On Sunday, we were delighted that a couple of friends from my husband's old job were able to come for lunch (Hi Vic and Pauley!).
Originally, I'd planned to roast a leg of lamb hoarded in the freezer since Easter, but when I discovered lamb wouldn't go down well I had to find a plan B.
Luckily I'd also been hanging on to some yellow-stickered packs of diced mixed game, picked up at the Co-op in a fit of enthusiasm for trying something new.
The packs were reduced to £5.26 for 700g of venison, wild boar, pheasant and pigeon, and seemed suitably autumnal.
Having never attempted cooking game before, I turned to Mr Google for help.
Much to my delight, the recipes I found for game casserole or game pie used loads of ingredients we already had - the half pack of bacon remaining from the night before, bay leaves and thyme from the garden, chicken stock made after last week's roast meal, some yellow-stickered chestnut mushrooms and storecupboard staples of an onion, flour and Worcestershire sauce.
I substituted a satsuma from the market for an orange, replaced port with the end of a bottle of red wine, and switched redcurrant jelly for some cranberry sauce made for Christmas.
The casserole simmered away for a couple of hours, and made a really meaty stew. We ate it with mashed potato from the big sack from Morrisons (£3 for 12.5kg) and steamed carrots and broccoli (39p each on offer at the Co-op).
For pudding I did apple tart with yellow-stickered apples (pic at the top, rough recipe here, although I made pastry this time and used home-made marmalade instead of apricot jam) and toffee sauce.

Charity shops came up trumps for a work outfit

Checking out charity shops for work clothes

I work from home, so rarely need to get gussied up for my job.
No-one can tell if I'm wearing jeans and multiple jumpers from the other end of a phone line (I hope).
However, this week I headed off for a meeting in London where I needed to look slightly smarter.
Unfortunately, I only remembered to take my work dress to the dry cleaners on Monday. Bad plan. Turns out Hadleigh doesn't stretch to same day or next day dry cleaning. Monday morning drop off meant I would only get the dress back on Friday - not ideal for a Wednesday meeting.
So on the way home I dived into an assortment of Hadleigh's charity shops.
Charity shops might not seem an obvious choice for smart work clothes, but a lot depends on the local area. Stoke Newington was good for vintage clothes, while Hadleigh does a fine line in mother-of-the-bride outfits.
I ended up with a smart black dress with contrast chrome zip, livened up with a red and black bamboo patterned jacket, from the East Anglian Children's Hospice shop.
It cost more than I would normally spend on charity shop clothes, at £36, but I suspect a Gerard Darel dress and Caroline Charles jacket would have cost distinctly more brand new.

Squeezing savings out of tight spaces.

Continuing the October savings challenge

I'm still plugging away at the October savings challenge, to spend less, earn more and save a chunk of cash for Christmas.

I've continued making small changes each day, including:
Day 7: Triple whammy food shop savings
Day 8: Ditching direct debits
Day 9: Cashing in on cashback websites

As of Day 10, the running total has reached £67.71 with some additional balance tidying and an entire extra 25p from a cashback app on milk.

I've also been beavering away behind the scenes, negotiating some giveaways if anyone would like to share in the October savings challenge, so do watch this space!

Anyone else have any frugal triumphs to report? Or brilliant buys from charity shops? I'd love to hear!

I'm joining in with the #5frugalthings blog linky. If you'd like to join, or just want to check out other thrifty suggestions, hop on over to visit Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, Becky at Family Budgeting and Emma at Emma's Savvy Savings

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Save in October Day 9: Cashing in on cashback websites

Cashback: save as you spend, and bank a nice bonus.

Fancy getting paid to go shopping? Welcome to the joys of cashback.

I'm a big fan of getting money back on spending I'd do anyway, so I'm keen to make the most of cashback during my October saving challenge.

Even for someone like me, who avoids buying much of anything, and always aims to spend less when I do, it's still possible to earn a bit extra.

On Day 4 of my October savings challenge, I claimed the cashback from food shopping via the Shopitize supermarket cashback app, and discovered the joys of Shopmium and free chocolate (check out all the details here).

Then on Day 8, I finally saw an incentive that made me sign up for the cashback website Quidco.

Cashback webites

If you haven't come across them before, I'm talking about websites like TopCashback and Quidco, which will pay you back a proportion of your spending.

Basically, if you want to buy something online, check the cashback websites first, see if the retailer is listed, and then click through from the cashback website to the website you want.

Buy as normal, and then - kerching - you'll get credited with a percentage of the money spent.

Admittedly, the money doesn't materialise immediately. Sometimes you have to wait weeks, or in the case of insurance contracts, months, before the money shows up.

Also, remember that cashback isn't guaranteed. Sometimes your claim gets rejected, or the money just doesn't show up. I have to remind myself that cashback is a bonus, not to be relied on until it's actually in the bank.

However, once cashback is confirmed, you can pick and choose how to claim you money. Usually you can opt for cold, hard cash in your current account or PayPal account, or get a bit extra by opting for a giftcard or voucher for somewhere like Amazon.

I wrote about cashback websites last year, and how the small amounts here, there and everywhere do add up. You might earn the odd pound shopping for clothes or toiletries, but for the chunky payouts think bills and banks. You are more likely to earn big bucks in cashback when signing up for gas, electricity, mobile phones, landlines, broadband, pay TV and roadside assistance, or for bank stuff like current accounts, credit cards and insurance policies.

Apparently, on average members of Quidco earn £280 a year in cashback, and £325 at TopCashback.
Even someone as shopping-averse as me has still managed to rack up over £450 in cashback in my four years since joining TopCashback.

As ever, the trick is to earn some dosh from spending you'd do anyway, not get hypnotised into buying something solely for the cashback.

Grabbing £75 cashback on a £300 insurance policy sounds great - but not if you could get the same policy for £150 elsewhere.

Follow the freebie

I hadn't signed up for Quidco before because I was hanging on for a decent freebie to entice me to sign on the dotted line.

Then on Sunday, I got a newsletter from Andy, a blogger over at Be Clever With Your Cash, which offered a £15 incentive for new people to sign up for Quidco and make a purchase that day. (Andy really knows his onions about making the most of your money and bagging bargains and deals, so do nip over and say hello)

A free £15 sounded good to me, so I duly clicked through, signed up and racked my brains for something I actually needed to buy.

I ended up buying a train ticket for a planned trip to London via But then I re-read the conditions, and was concerned I wouldn't earn any cashback because I wasn't a new customer at

So I bought some of my contact lens fluid from Boots' website, after a quick search to make sure I couldn't buy it cheaper elsewhere. My £20 odd payment is due to generate an entire 66p in cashback.

I also had a go at claiming £1 cashback on a big bottle of milk, after Jo tipped me off about the offer via Quidco's ClickSnap, in a comment on the October savings challenge.  

So by hook or by crook, I've accrued some cashback with Quidco, and now I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the promised £15 will actually show up.

Running total for the October Savings Challenge - Day 9

Save more: £16.15 from balance tidying and hoarding £2 coins
Spend less: £19.49 from ditching direct debits and maxing out supermarket vouchers
Earn more: £27.26 from supermarket cashback apps and today's cashback from joining Quidco, Boots and ClickSnap.
Total: £65.61

Over to you

Anyone else keen on the cash from cashback websites? Or have you never quite got round to having a go? I'd love to hear!

Disclaimer: I do genuinely use cashback websites, and no-one has paid me to write this post. However, if you click on a link to Quidco or TopCashback, sign up and earn cashback, it may bring a small amount of money to the site, but at no cost to you.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Save in October Day 8: Ditching direct debits

Bank statements: let the joy be unconfined.

When was the last time you looked at your direct debits?

(And no, this isn't some kind of strange euphemism).

Now, I appreciate bank statements might not make rip-roaring reading.

Checking online banking hardly makes me want to punch the air with delight.

But direct debits have a sneaky habit of siphoning off cash when you least expect it.

Sure, they can be a great way to save money on bills. Agreeing to pay for the likes of gas, electricity and phone by direct debit usually gets you a cheaper tariff than waiting for a bill each quarter.

With other direct debits, it pays to keep an eye on your account, and check from time to time whether they're worth the money.

Ditching direct debits

So on Day 8 of my October savings challenge, I resolved to double-check any direct debits and standing orders, and ditch any that I no longer use.

Much as it saddens me, there's a whole long list of direct debits I can't just scrap.

This includes debits for:
- Council tax
- Water
- Energy bills like gas and electricity
- Home phone
- Broadband
- Mobile phones
- Life assurance

We tend to pay for other forms of insurance (buildings and contents, car insurance) once a year in a lump sum, as it's usually cheaper than spreading the payments out via monthly direct debits.

There are also some direct debits and standing orders set up to sort out our finances.

I'm thinking here of the direct debit that pays off our credit card bill in full every month, the standing orders into regular savings accounts and the merry-go-round of standing orders to fund assorted interest-paying current accounts (of which more in another post - once I've written it...).

The ones to watch out for are:

- the gym membership you never use
- in fact any membership that doesn't get used, for anything from the National Trust to your kid's karate club.
- the mobile phone contract for the phone you've lost
- the magazine subscription that started small, but shot up after the offer ran out
- current account fees if you don't use the benefits
- charity subscriptions that you no longer support

So on Day 8, I thought I'd double check our direct debits, to help with the "spend less" part of the October savings challenge.
Now I keep a beady eye on our accounts, so I didn't think there was much I could ditch.

However, I did remember to cancel the direct debit for a web analysis package, where the free trial period was about to expire. Free membership was fine, but I didn't fancy paying $10.99 a month for the privilege, or whatever that comes to in pounds when sterling is skiing off a cliff at the moment.

Bounts app: back in the days when you could swap your steps for shopping vouchers

I also finally hardened my heart, and rang to cancel my premium membership of the bounts app.

If you've never come across bounts, it's a smartphone app that pays you to walk.
I remember the first day I downloaded the app and connected it to a fitness tracker. I ended up walking around in the rain for a hour, carrying a frozen chicken. It was all in a vain effort to rack up enough steps to earn points to turn into gift vouchers.

I've benefited in the past to the tune of a £10 Morrisons voucher, but now I can never find anything in stock on the Bounts website.

So I emailed to cancel the heady heights of my £1.49 a month subscription. By switching back to free membership, I can still earn points, just not so fast. And it all seems a bit pointless, if there's nothing in stock for me to buy with my points.

(And if after this truly rave review, you still want to give the bounts app a whirl, bung in the code faithhome65809 and we'll both get 100 points)

I don't think I'll be funding Christmas from Bounts alone, but every little helps. Stay tuned because later in the month I want to look at making money from my direct debits.

Running total for the October Savings Challenge - Day 8

Save more: still £16.15 from balance tidying and hoarding £2 coins
Spend less: £19.49, adding the cancelled bounts subscription to the supermarket vouchers
Earnmore: still £13.21, mainly from supermarket cashback apps.
Total: £48.85

Over to you

Anyone saved a bundle by cancelling unused direct debits? Or is your current account completely spick and span, with any regular payments pared down to the minimum?

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Save in October Day 7: Triple whammy food shop savings

Saving on food shopping in oh so many ways

Why choose one way to save on your food shopping, when you can save in so many more?

During the October savings challenge, I'm making small changes each day, aiming to spend less, earn more and save a chunk of cash towards Christmas.

On Day 7, I nipped round our local Co-op before meeting up for coffee at the front of the store.

I didn't buy much, but it's a great example of how lots of small changes all add up.

Combining small changes in a single shop

The main reason I dived into the Co-op was to claim a free bar of Green & Black's via the Shopmium supermarket cashback app, an offer I discovered on Day 4 of the savings challenge.
Turns out there's nothing quite like free chocolate to send me on a money-saving mission!

(If you fancy this freebie yourself, just download the Shopmium app on your smartphone and enter the code KFKKAMKL when registering. More details in this post)

While I was there, I thought I'd check out the reduced sections, looking for cut-price yellow-stickered bargains, as described on Day 5.

I found some half-price ham, which I needed as a topping for home-made pizzas that night. Fridays are movie night in our house, when we eat pizza and watch a DVD from the library together.

By making our own pizzas (recipe here), we can choose our own toppings, use up odds and ends from the fridge, and save cash compared to a takeaway or even a supermarket pizza.

If I freeze the rest of the ham, it will come in handy for my husband's packed lunches - another money-saver compared to forking out for shop sandwiches every day. (More inspiration for thrifty packed lunches in this post!)

I also picked up a yellow-stickered half-price pack of four teacakes, down to 39p. I pack snacks like multipack drinks and crisps plus a couple of teacakes or hot cross buns when I take the children to their swimming lessons.

They're always starving afterwards, and it diverts demands from the expensive vending machine. If I freeze the packet, I can take a couple one week, and a couple the next.

The total came to £3.58, so I was able to pay with a supermarket voucher as described on Day 3.
I used my last £4 Co-op dividend voucher, which unlike most vouchers will actually pay out some change when used for a smaller amount of shopping, so I got 42p back.

As an added bonus, on Fridays our local East of England Co-op offers free fruit to kids. I checked with the lady at the till, and took home a couple of pears for my children.

Ta dah the receipt, if proof was needed!

Shopping summary

At normal prices, my small shopping trip should have cost £5.57:

£2.19 for Green & Black's butterscotch chocolate
£2.00 for 120g ham
£0.78 for 4 teacakes
60p for a couple of pears

However, I paid with a voucher, got 42p in change, and Shopmium have since paid the £2.19 for the chocolate into my bank account.

The combination of:

- using a supermarket cashback app
- bagging yellow-stickered bargains
- maxing out supermarket vouchers
- taking adantage of the Co-op's free fruit on Fridays

meant that rather than spending £5.57, I made a profit of £2.61.

As an added bonus, the shopping and submitting the receipt to Shopmium all took distinctly less time than writing this down!

Running total for the October Savings Challenge - Day 7

Save more: £16.15 from balance tidying and hoarding three £2 coins
Spend less: £18 in supermarket vouchers
Earn more: £13.21 from supermarket cashback apps, plus change from the Co-op voucher
Total: £47.36

So at the end of the first week in October, my savings challenge has made nearly £50 difference, and that's without adding any savings from yellow-stickered food.
The vouchers help with spending less, rather than adding anything to a savings balance.
However, I have stashed away nearly £30 in cash from saving more and earning more, just by making small changes each day for a week.
Every little helps!

Over to you

How do you combine different money-saving measures to cut the total at the till? Do share your ideas!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Five fabulously frugal things I've done this week #5

Growing up a storm on the kitchen windowsill 

Many cheers, it's the end of another week and time to reflect on being frugal.

It's been a quiet week for us, with the whole family struck by colds to a great or lesser extent.

I suppose the silver lining to pottering around at home was that we didn't spend very much!

Freebie tickets, first thing on Sunday morning

Booked free tickets to a preview of Storks

Last weekend, before the colds hit, we did all get out.
On Sunday morning, my daughter and I went to see a preview of "Storks" over at the Colchester Odeon, while my husband whisked my son off to rugby.
We don't normally go to see films when they are first released, but wait until they're on offer at cheaper kids' showings. (More info on cheap tickets in point 4 of this post)
However, I took advantage of free cinema tickets offered via my Times and Sunday Times subscription. I've just checked, and if we went this weekend, it would have cost £18.50 for the two of us.
I booked online and had to print out the email, but then we just handed the piece of paper to the usherette at Screen 1, and could pick whichever seats we wanted.
Reckon my 8-year-old daughter was pretty much the perfect audience for a film cram packed with babies, more babies, storks, comedy wolves and a mad female inventor.
Her review; "So cute it was bursting with cuteness!".

Bageltastic packed lunch

Rustled up a packed lunch

With four of us flying in all directions on Sunday morning, we were unlikely to make it home much before 1.30pm.
I decided to make a speedy packed lunch before we set off, to quell any hunger pangs in the back seat.
Taking packed lunches, rather than grabbing food on the go or eating out, definitely helps keep our bills in check.
I resurrected some of yellow-stickered cut-price bagels from the freezer, and bunged in assorted combinations of soft cheese, ham and stilton depending on preference. I also raided multi pack crisps and drinks, chucked in cucumber, tomatoes, carrot sticks and satsumas in a nod to health, and added a little blue box of sliced peach for my satsuma-disliking daughter.
If you need further inspiration, check out my post on top tips for thrifty packed lunches.

One roast chicken, fresh out of the Aga

Stretched a chicken over several meals

Before we left on Sunday morning, I dug a half-price chicken out of the freezer.
After the thrifty packed lunch, I decided to do a full-on roast meal that evening, which would also provide speedy meals later in the week.

I stuffed the chicken with garlic, lemon halves and a bunch of tarragon from the garden, rubbed the skin with a bit of butter and poured some lemon juice under the skin.
We ate part of the chicken with roast carrots, roast parsnips and my daughter's favourite mashed potato and gravy.

Afterwards I stripped the remaining meat from the bones, to be boxed up in the fridge.
I then made chicken stock by boiling up the bones with a litre or so of water, a couple of bay leaves from the tree in the garden, a few black peppercorns, half an onion, and the peelings from the carrots and parsnips. It made the kitchen smell amazing, and will make a base for soup or risotto.

I made sure to cook more than enough mash, to accompany a meal a couple of nights later. Once my husband had shifted his cold, I steamed some broccoli to go alongside the leftover chicken, mash, carrots, parsnips and gravy.

Gratuitous pic of leftovers night, with broccoli added to Sunday's food

There was even enough left to make a chicken and peanut stir fry with rice the night afterwards.

All in all, the £2.45 yellow-stickered chicken provided enough protein for 6 adult meals and 2 children, and there's still soup to come. Stretching food to make several meals helps save time as well as money. Check out previous posts on stretching roast pork and sausages too.

Moneyboxes: a catwalk display

Started an October savings challenge

With the first day of October on Monday, I decided to start a month-long savings challenge.

I was shocked by recent research that more than 16 million people in the UK have less than £100 in savings. Yet some low earners can and do save. According to the report, nearly a quarter of working-age adults on less than £13,500 a year have £1,000 in savings, and 40% save every or most months.(More details in this post)

I've been posting my small changes each day, aiming to spend less, earn more and save a chunk of cash towards Christmas.

With apologies to regular readers, so far I have started:

Day 1: hoarding £2 coins
Day 2: balance tidying our main current account
Day 3: maxing out supermarket vouchers
Day 4: claiming cashback from supermarket shopping apps
Day 5: bagging yellow-stickered bargains

As of Day 6, the running total for these small changes was £40.75, after my husband and I both got given some £2 coins in change.

For Days 6 and 7 I'm going to dust down the direct debits on our current account, to check if there's anything unwanted that needs cancelling, and catch up on my spending diary.

No photoshop, honest

Celebrating Instagram with insanity

I wish I could pretend this was a fifth frugal thing about wholesome crafty activities with the kids.

But no, I wanted to celebrate the small success of reaching 250 followers on Instagram, as I track the passing of the seasons in our garden by posting a different flower each day.

Trudging home from the school run, I was inspired by the idea of taking a photo of leaves with the numbers cut out.

After battling with templates, an uneven lawn and the joys of the autumn breeze keen to whip away dry foliage, I can safely say this wasn't my best plan.

Do come and follow me over on Instagram, but feel free to remind me that taking nail scissors to leaves is an insane idea, should I ever contemplate it again.

But, on the plus side, it was at least free!

Basil update

For those of you on the edge of your seats, after three weeks the 49p basil plant still lives!
As you'll see from the pic at the top of this post, the kitchen window sill is going great guns with the basil, the accidental hydroponic mint, the remains of some coriander and a miniature rose which I'm hoping to resurrect.
In the middle you can also see the 25p pot of living salad, bought this week as part of the yellow-stickered shop on Day 5 of my savings challenge. Any bets on what survives till next weekend?

Anyone else have any frugal triumphs or crafty disasters to report this week? I'd love to hear!

I'm joining in with the #5frugalthings blog linky. If you'd like to join, or just want to check out other thrifty suggestions, hop on over to visit Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, Becky at Family Budgeting and Emma at Emma's Savvy Savings

Friday, 7 October 2016

Save in October Day 5: Bagging yellow-stickered bargains

My 77p shop!

Yes it's true.
I'm out and proud.
I buy short-dated yellow-stickered food from the reduced sections in the supermarket.

Now, some people turn their noses up at yellow-stickered food. However, I'm quite happy to save money at the same time as saving food from going into landfill.

So during my October challenge to make small changes that add up to big savings, I'd like to encourage you to give it a whirl too.

Five reasons I buy yellow-stickered food

1. It saves me money on food I would buy anyway, on basics like apples, bananas and bread.

2. I can cram into my budget more varied and exotic (read expensive) food than I would otherwise buy, like rocket and avocadoes.

3. I would rather buy better quality meat and fish with short dates, than spend the same money on cheaper cuts or lower quality food. For example, I  prefer to buy half price sausages with a higher meat content, rather than spending the same money on cheaper full-price versions with less meat and more filler.

4. I hate the idea of perfectly good food going to waste, rather than being eaten. Here's to saving money and saving the planet at the same time.

5. I do like a bargain!

My yellow-stickered bargains on day 5

The photo at the top of this post shows my shopping haul of yellow-stickered bargains from day 5 of my October saving challenge.

During this month, I'm aiming to spend less on food. I've been trying to stretch out the food in the house, and save money by delaying a big trip to the supermarket.

On day 5, we needed bread and yogurt, so I nipped into the Co-op after the morning school run. Our local East of England Co-op tends to mark down short-dated food first thing in the morning, so there's often a good selection about 9am.

Luckily for me, it was a particularly good day for reductions. I knew we were running low on fresh fruit and veg, so I could take advantage of things that would need eating quickly.

From the yellow stickered sections I bought:

Fruit: 2 punnets of strawberries (70p each), Cox's apples (45p), bananas (27p), physalis (40p), plums (59p)

Veg: rocket (25p), 2 ready to eat avocadoes (70p), baby potatoes (25p), chestnut mushrooms (34p), 2 little gem lettuce (29p), a pack of sugar snap peas and baby sweetcorn (63p) and a pot of living salad leaves (25p)

Chiller cabinet: a pack of 4 beef quarter pounders (£1.50)

Bread: 4 floured rolls, to eat with the beefburgers (45p), pack of brown sandwich thins (50p) and a Kingsmill 50:50 loaf (50p)

I also bought a punnet of peaches and a pack of yogurt Choobs at the full price of £1 each.

Just in case you haven't been adding up all the prices at lightning speed, that haul came to £10.77.

If I'd bought everything at the original marked prices, it would have cost £25.75. So by opting for the yellow-stickered versions, I saved 60%.

Even better, I was able to use £10 of the Co-op dividend cheques (see my Day 3 post about maxing out supermarket vouchers), and only had to hand over 77p in cash for £25.75 worth of shopping.

I reckon that's a good deal.

My top tips for buying yellow-stickered food

1. Know your dates

I think it helps that I take quite a robust attitude to "best before dates". Some people get really hung up on food safety. Fair enough, I've no particular wish to poison my nearest and dearest either.
But remember: supermarkets can't sell food that isn't safe to eat. Even food on the reduced shelves has to be fit for consumption, although officially you may be meant to use it that day.
"Best before" dates are based on quality, not safety, so you might risk some slightly dry bread, but you won't be risking your health.
This contrasts with "use by" dates on foods that go off quickly, like milk, fish and meat. Eating food after its use by date might make you ill.
Often, companies allow loads of leeway on "best before" dates, to try and ensure their products are in tippety top condition when you eat them.
I know perfectly well from doing my storecupboard challenges in February and June last year that dry goods like flour, pasta, rice and noodles taste absolutely fine ages after their "best before" dates.

2. Don't get hung up on the presentation

Let's face it, the reduced sections rarely look beautiful. The food is often jumbled together, and the packaging may be dented or damaged.
But just as I'm happy to rootle around in sale rails, or check out charity shops, I don't need all my food to be beautifully presented. In fact, I'd rather have less packaging and generate less waste to be recycled or dumped.

3. Use your eyes and nose instead

Rather than sticking rigidly to the dates on the packaging, I'd rather look at the food itself. Is the lettuce already going a bit brown, are the tomatoes squidgy, is there any mould on the raspberries? Does the meat or fish smell?
If so, I wouldn't buy it even if it was normal price and well within the official date. I find a lot on the reduced shelves that is in excellent condition, and don't buy anything else.

4. What to buy?

Personally, in trying to keep our food low cost but healthy, I usually cook from a scratch. Therefore I focus on fresh fruit and veg, meat and fish, and bread products (loaves, muffins, bagels, sandwich thins, hot cross buns that kind of thing). I don't buy much processed stuff normally, so I don't pick up many reduced tins and packets. I occasionally buy short-dated milk or cream, but only if I know we'll eat it in a day or so.

5. Focus on food you can eat fast or freeze

Remember, cut-price food is only a bargain if you actually eat it, and don't end up throwing it away.
No matter how cheap or how great the fresh fruit and veg look, if we can't eat it quickly I won't buy it.
Similarly, there's no point in buying extra bread, meat or fish if the freezer is already full, and I know we won't eat it that day or the next.

6. Be flexible

Yellow-stickered shopping works best if you don't have a rigid meal plan and are willing to swap things around. I'm happy to eat rocket or little gem lettuce instead of say iceberg. The kids are happy to eat Cox's apples rather than Braeburn, and strawberries instead of raspberries.
When I saw the half-price beefburgers, I headed back to the bread section in search of burger buns, and found some floury rolls that worked well.

7. Research the best times
For any particular shop, try and find the times when food is marked down. Some supermarkets make further reductions later in the day. Personally, I've found 9am at our Co-op, and 7.30pm in our local Morrisons are good times to check. 
The Money Saving Expert website has a useful table with a rough schedule of when different shops make reductions at point 23.
Kelly, who is the queen of yellow-stickered cooking over at Reduced Grub, also has a series of posts about when specific stores cut prices. Look for the Categories section on the right hand side of the site, and click on "Reduction time" to find the relevant posts.  
Obviously, jobs and family commitments can make it impossible to shop at good times for reductions. Certainly when my children were babies I could never hit the supermarkets in the early evening, but now they're older it's sometimes possible.

8. Plan ahead

I swoop on rarely-found cut-price food for the freezer if I reckon it will be useful in future, even if I don't know exactly when. I'm thinking here of big joints that come in handy when we shedloads of visitors, or the tin of chestnut puree I've been hoarding for Christmas. I posted previously about how a large bit of pork came in very handy for last minute guests. Planning ahead can save a lot compared to rushing out the day before and paying full price. 

Running total for the October Savings Challenge - Day 5

Save more: still £10.15 from balance tidying my current account. Still no £2 coins in change.
Spend less: £14 vouchers used against today's shopping and a previous trip.  
Earn more: £10.60, from withdrawing the money earnt using the Shopitize supermarket cashback app
Total: £34.75

Over to you 

So am I preaching to the converted - do you buy yellow-stickered food? Or would you rather run a mile than shop from the reduced sections? I'd love to hear!