Friday, 30 November 2012

Frugal Friday

 Store Cupboard Essentials

I tried to move these pictures to the bottom of my post, but blogger is not playing today so you get this first! These are the meals I have frozen and the way I organise my freezer. It is a fairly good size 3 drawer freezer with a smaller tray drawer at the top.

Naan breads and Breadcrumbs
3 steak pies, 1 lasagne
One spag bol, one mince base ( can be converted into anything!), one veg pack

one meal of faggots, one tub of steak gravy and some mince ( triple wrapped)
I have 3 steak pies and a lasagne, a spaghetti bolognaise and a mince dish that I can convert into whatever I choose, a portion of meatballs ( faggots), some steak gravy, a veg pack from my veg box, some frozen mince, some breadcrumbs made out of old bread and some naan bread I picked up on offer.
 Cooking in this way means I get a few easier nights a week and also means I don't get those days any more when I panic buy expensive food because I don't know what to feed my family. It is cheaper and easier. The only thing I have to be is organised to start it off. Once I am up and running with some food in the freezer it is great. So much simpler. I just cook an extra meal each time I am cooking or every now and then give an afternoon, evening or couple of hours at a weekend to stock up on a few meals. For example, if I am making a spaghetti bolognaise it is no extra effort to make an extra one and a chilli to put in the freezer. Three evenings covered! Give it a go if you haven't yet. Clear one shelf out in your freezer. I can get four meals on a shelf/drawer. Also if anyone has some good recipes that freeze well for chicken , let me know. I would really like a huge freezer so I could freeze more. I often see great bargains in the supermarket that if I had more room could pop in the freezer for a later date. It is on my wishlist for our new kitchen next year. Lets hope the budget stretches that far!! Actually I have rather a lot on my wish list. Have a look at my pinterest page on kitchens . I have been posting ideas and colours I like here!

You can make most meals from these ingredients.

This weeks Frugal Friday post is a look at my stock cupboard and the ingredients I use. Often the first thing to suffer when you are cutting costs is the quality and that is something I am very careful about.

 At the moment although I have a tiny kitchen without any surface space I do have a small walk in larder. It is great to have shelves where you can see your ingredients and can grab what you need easily and quickly. The downside is the kids also like to go in there and grab food quickly too! Those of you with hungry kids - how do you stop them clearing out the larder within minutes? I am tough and controlling about it otherwise it would all be gone within a few days. Am I being too mean? They do have plenty to eat. There is always a fresh supply of fruit and yoghurts on offer. I generally have a homemade cake and homemade bread for sandwiches and toast available and plenty of cereal. However, biscuits and other quickly consumed items are restricted and there are times when I don't allow them to eat ( pre meals and once the kitchen is cleared up at bedtime - I say the cafe is closed!)  I have a large basket that I keep high up out of reach for food they will snaffle without thought. They know to touch this will encur great consequences!

I have said before , I don't take the totally frugal route with my cooking. I tend to take the middle ground and go for a reasonably priced product that is good quality. If a supermarkets basic range has in it what I want and has proven it is a good enough quality, then thats good enough for me. I  shop at Lidl in the main as I find they have higher branded goods at lower prices. They also have a range of products that are incredibly cheap (we are talking pence here ladies), but really good quality too. All their meat is also British. I have tried and had success with their pork, mince and chicken. I had one bad result with their beef steak, although I would try again as I think it would cook well in the slow cooker. If you haven't yet got into using a slow cooker I really do recommend it, especially if you have a family to feed. Check out the selection on Pricerunner here. The only other supermarket we have within a few miles is Tescos and I will shop here about once a month to top up on items I can't get at Lidls. My beef and steak usually comes from a local farm shop as I get a good deal if I buy larger quantities. It is not completely lean, but the flavour is ten times better. I always drain any fat off after browning mince anyway. Definitely don't assume that the supermarkets will be the cheapest or best quality!

10lbs of mince for £16. Makes 5 to 6 meals.I buy 4 or 6 of these at a time.

 I know if I were to be totally frugal with my shopping there are more savings to be made, but the content of the food is important to me and my growing children. My two boys I have to budget as adults - they eat more than me so really I am feeding 4 adults and one child. 

One of the reasons I can shop less often is that I keep my larder stocked up with some basics that I can make many meals from. Often these can be snapped up when they are on offer, so cutting the budget even further. I got Seriously Strong Cheddar this time  on a buy one get 2 free offer for £4.99. These offers are not always good deals to rely on, so I always make sure I check the aisle for better prices first. The supermarkets will put what they want you to buy on view at eye level, not nescessarily what is the best deal for you. 

We buy pasta and rice in 3 and 4kg bags as they work out cheaper than buying them in smaller quantities. My husband is convinced they have priced the rice wrongly as it works out so much cheaper, so much so he got 3, 4 kg packs the last time he went. I am,needless to say, still working my way through this rice.

Family meals such as Chilli, Lasgane, Spag Bol and pasta sauces often start with the same base so it is easy to batch cook these as well as having the ingredients in . I find, as long as I have a stock of the following ingredients plus some meat and rice/spaghetti or potatoes, I can rustle up a meal. We usually have one or two mince based meals a week for their convenience and the fact that everybody wolfs them down. 

These are the items I can make so many meals from and make sure I always have:

  • Plain Flour - for thickening sauces
  • Olive Oil
  • Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Mixed Herbs
  • Mustard Powder - for adding flavour to stews and soups
  • Liquid Condensed Beef Stock
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Tomato Passata
  • Basil
  • Beef/Vegetable Stock Cubes
  • Tomato Puree
  • Chorizo Sausage - to slice into stews,soups and pasta dishs ( £1.99 at Lidls)
  • Chilli Flakes ( below)

Chilli flakes add flavour to anything

Of course I have many other things in my larder, but these I would struggle without. I tend to switch around with the stock cubes depending on what I can get at Lidls ( it changes ) and the only expensive item, but does make a difference in flavour is the Beef liquid stock, Touch and Taste. A splash of this in stews and spag bol makes a for a rich sauce - yum yum.

Planning your larder and making sure you keep it stocked with good basic ingredients to make the meals from your menu plan will help you keep your grocery budget down. I am strict with myself and do not fill my larder with items I know I will hardly ever use. They will just be a waste of our hard earned money. Supermarkets will constantly try and tempt you with offers and buy one get one free deals, but always ask before you buy....will I use this and is this really a good deal?!

What is your most vital ingredient in your larder?

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Christmas Outfits

Christmas Crackers

What to wear in the season of spending goodwill!

Christmas is one day. I have said it before and I'm saying it again. Why does it take over so much of our time and money in the preceding months if it is only a day! It so easily snowballs with gifts, food, entertaining, new outfits and before you know it the cost is running into four figures without you even trying. I confess to getting completely swept along by it all many a time. Once the tree is up and the carols are playing, my resolve weakens and I fall prey to the retailers seasonal assault on our festive good nature and I'm off. The new dress, the extra decorations, the presents for everyone including the milkman , hair done, nails done, cried at the John Lewis ad and watched The Snowman on repeat whilst eating a mountain of pringles. But my word doesn't it mount up!! 

So,this year we have all agreed to only swap presents around the extended family for children. My husband and I will of course buy each other something. When you have a large extended family it becomes expensive not only to buy presents for people, but for people to buy for you. We are always conscious that there are five of us - not a cheap family to buy for. This way we can focus on the adults birthdays throughout the year instead and get them something worthwhile then instead. I sensed relief from most people we talked to about this! This will save us hundreds of pounds so that's a good start. My children are going to have inventive presents and I am using every deal and voucher I have at my fingertips again to keep the cost down. We are sharing Christmas dinner at my mums this year. Everybody is bringing something. My job is roast potatoes and a Mary Berry chocolate log. Already I can feel the pressure is off and Christmas has become less complicated again. 

We do have a few events to go to and I don't intend on missing out on the festivities so I will be dressing up, but do I need another new dress, really? I have a ball to go to, but I really don't want to spend all that money on a dress I will wear once. I would rather have those Ash Jalouse ankle boots I am hankering after please!

Now if you read my blog, you know me well enough now to know when I can afford to, I love a good shop, but I have looked realistically through my wardrobe and I have a number of combinations that I could easily rehash to seem new to save me spending out again. I know a new dress is nice, but only when you can afford it. If you are facing some events this Christmas and need some festive outfits, but don't have the budget to buy an expensive new dress, here are my suggestions for an upgrade of your existing wardrobe.

  • Don't spend money you don't have - you will regret it later!
  • Look at your existing wardrobe with fresh eyes 
  • Turn an existing dress into a smart/casual outfit by adding some new sparkly leggings.
  • Change the feel of last years dress by adding new accessories or shoes - less expensive than buying a whole new outfit.
  • Could you have anything in your wardrobe altered? I have a ball to go to on the 30th Nov. I have a beautiful dress from Wallis , but it has a small 'train' I don't like. I've not worn it for years because of this so I am altering it and removing the 'train' myself.
  • Swap with or borrow from a friend. 
  • Scour the charity stores - harder to find , but dresses are out there!
  • Dress up a pair of wide legged black trousers with a new sparkly top and jewellery.
  • Focus on a great hair do and some statement jewellery to jazz up an existing outfit.
  • Focus on the night out and the people you are with and have a great time, new dress or not!
  • Go for dramatic red lips and a bright manicure - a party look in any outfit!
Here are some of my picks to top up an existing wardrobe for the party season. All £50 or under.I need to state that I am not an over the top dresser so if you are in the market for something extremely flamboyant and over the top Christmassy , then look away now :

Stella and Dot have a sale on at the moment. Lots of items to choose that are reduced and many below £50. I have now written my wish list for my hubby for Christmas! I adore these earrings at £22.50 , reduced from £45...hint hint OH.

Black Velvet Tapered trousers from Next. I think these would look great with some 
sparkly heels and a statement top.£32

Basic Sling Backs With Ankle Strap from Zara. These are a great shoe for only £29.99 and a festive colour too - stunning with black trousers.

Short Knitted cardigan with sequins from H and M . £24.99. Would look equally great with jeans or paired with a dress on a night out. Multitasking item for sure!

Topshop Glitter Flock Leggings £28.Not too over the top! Perfect under a tunic or dress to change an outfit .

Urban Code Black leather clutch Bag with Shoulder strap at Asos. Love this! £50 was £108. Very tempted.

Snakeskin print . coated jeggings from M and S Perfect under a shorter dress to make a different outfit - and can be worn after the party season has finished too. £35

If you are in the market for something a bit more sparkly to carry how about this  from Next, Glass bead Clutch for £35.
Have you equipped yourself with sparkles and sequins in preparation for the onslaught of Christmas or are you sitting this one out?! 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Wednesday Beauty Buys

  Topicrem - Body Glitter 3D Effect

With the party season fast approaching I thought this would be a good item to review. It was an item in this months Joliebox.  I generally am not a great fan of glittery skin or sparkly effects, apart from a little highlighter here and there a la Benefit. Is there an age limit beyond which one must not shimmer - not sure. However, Christmas of course is the time to break all those rules and if you are going to party then you might as well do it in style!

This is a close up of my hand so amplifies the pink, silver and purple sparkles - they are not that evident from a 'normal' distance and I actually quite like the effect they give. I would certainly wear this across my shoulders , chest and arms, but I am not , how shall I put it, well endowed, so would not be going around with a sparkly bosom! It is a creamy moisturising lotion that applies easily and feels lovely on the skin. I am not particularly keen on the smell, but this does not linger at all once applied. It was a little synthetic for me, but for the pretty effect it gives this is a very nice lotion.  I have seen this priced anything from £2.99 on e.bay to £9.00. As with many of Joliebox's products they are not always easily obtainable over here. However, if you are interested in some glitter lotion here are some alternatives to consider as well.

The Body Shops Ginger Sparkle Shimmer Lotion  £8.00. Grab a code from Savoo for £10 off a £20 spend at the Body shop here

Click for enlarged view

Marks and Spencer Limited Collection Shimmer  Body Cream £6.00 . Grab a code from Savoo for a buy one get one half price on beauty products at M and S here . 
Product Image

Sheer Gold Shimmer

Liz Earle have a couple of offers on. They have free delivery until 4th December and if your order is over £55 you get a free full size cleanse and polish hot cloth cleanser and muslin cloth. Orders must be through their Liz Earles stores, customer centre or website .

I have a ball to go to this Friday and I am wearing a sleeveless dress I last wore when I was about 30  so to get away with it now, post children, a bit of glitter ( as well as fake tan) is going to be needed. I also have a glittered scarf to throw over my shoulders if I am too self conscious! Both are from Wallis and are old. We are having a professional photograph taken, so if it is passable I will post it after the weekend and you can give me your verdict....or not.

What are your thoughts - to shimmer or not to shimmer at the Christmas party?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


That didn't cost the Earth

As promised when I did my Charity Shop post a while back, here are a few of the items I have had most wear out of, in some outfit pictures.

 I still feel slightly sheepish about putting photos up of myself, but I know I love seeing what  normal, everyday women wear so I'm hoping you feel the same.

 I don't see very tall, vey slim  people walking along the street with flawless, wrinkle free skin and the most perfect hair....ever. I like to see the things I am considering buying on real women with different beautiful looks! I love finding new items of clothes and beauty products modelled by stunning real women. I got the coated jeggings after seeing them on Kat at Does My Bum Look 40 in This and  the L'oreal Hair Oil that has changed my life as recommended by Jenny at Beauty and the Biryani . I am hankering after the Boots from Gap that Susie So So wears so perfectly and I love the way The Small Fabric of My Life puts capsules together . These are my fashion and beauty idols.... check them out!

 I also have no idea how to pose...actually it's the same in each picture and I've realised what I think is a smile is actually a silly smirk. No wonder I get the wrong reaction from people sometimes. I am practising smiling without looking gormless. Oh and I am debuting my new darker hair colour - a caramel brown, albeit very windswept! I'm no model I know - I've earned my wrinkles though years of laughter and pain and I'm kind of fond of them because of it. However many tummy crunches I do, that last bit of jelly belly will not disappear, but it reminds me of those wonderful pregnancy years and the great kids I have been blessed with. Does it really matter? I can still fit in my wedding dress. Thats an achievement I'm proud of after 3 kids!!!

Some of these items are thrifted from Charity stores, some were gifts and some were purchases in sales or with money off somehow. I have realised that I rarely buy anything full price! I love all the codes and vouchers you can find. Never order anything without checking for them first . Style at Any Age does regular posts with them all listed - superb! See my previous post here on my Charity bargains.

H and M skirt (Thrifted)

Toast Skirt (Thrifted)

Russel and Bromley Tan Boots
Fly Wedges 2010

Faith Boots (Thrifted) 
River Island Leather Belt (Thrifted)

Primark scarf

Just back from the school run!

Tucked in!

Love these boots - Xmas pressie 2010

I think one of my favourite items of clothing this winter is this little grey skirt from H&M. I got this from the local Hospicare for £4.00 . Such a bargain! It goes with anything, can be smart or casual. I've even worn it over leggings. It is so well made and is lined so hangs beautifully. Best £4.00 I've spent this year! 

What item do you have in your winter wardrobe that you couldn't do without?

Linking up with Not Dead Yet Style.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Music Monday

Music Monday - What's playing on Your ipod this Week?

I need to get in the mood to Christmas shop, ( not started yet) so on my ipod, as of today, is Nat King Cole and The Christmas Song.....that should do it!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Saving Money Around the House.

Without Much Effort.

Frugal Friday

Here is my menu plan for this week and next week. My husband has been away this week so not only did I get some time off working, I got away with easier meals too! Monday on week 2 I am planning to top up my freezer meals. I have to do this about every 3 weeks, but so appreciate it in the time in between as it makes the evenings so much easier, especially on the days I am not in.

F = freezer meals I have previously made
SC = Slow Cooker meals
* = indicates I am cooking extra for the freezer

Week One
Week Two
Lunch: Pumpkin Soup
Dinner :Roast Chicken
Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner:Pot Roast - Brisket
Faggots and Mash/peas   F
Chilli *and rice                
Risotto                       SC
Loaded Baked  Potatoes
Pasta and bacon/cheese
Beef Stew  *  SC ( will make a pie too )
Lasagne  F
Cheesy Macaroni
Egg and Homemade oven chips
Lasagne and garlic rolls  F
Lunch: Sausages in homemade rolls 
Dinner:Steak Pie mash and veg F
Lunch: Soup and rolls
Dinner:Italian tuna balls and spaghetti

My motivation for writing these posts is two fold. One is because we are trying to save a little more in preparation for an extension project we are starting on our house next year. We have been saving for about five years , but it's never quite enough is it?! The second is that I really resent spending our hard earned money on products I know I can get cheaper elsewhere. The retailers have us right where they want us and I feel like fighting back. I want to choose where and what I spend my money on!

Ok rant over!
money and savings

This weeks Frugal Friday is focusing on simple changes you can make around the house that can end up saving you hundreds of pounds a year. With the pace of life today , it is so easy to overlook some of the simpler things that we can do to cut back on our everyday outgoings. Each one of these tips may not seem much on their own , but tot them up over a month, a year, five years and they soon add up!  

There are so many I could choose, but here are my top 20.

  • Switch your light bulbs, as they run out, to energy efficient bulbs. They cost more up front, but can save you £7 a year, per bulb in running costs. That's £60 per bulb before it needs replacing.
  • Turning your thermostat down by 1 degree could save you up to £100 a year.
  • Turn your radiators down or off in rooms that are not used.
  • Install thermostatic radiator valves so you can control each radiator individually. Money up front that will save you money in the long run.
  • Bleed your radiators regularly so they run efficiently.
  • Switch appliances off standby. This can save up to £50 on your bills a year.
  • Turning your washing machine to a 30 degree wash instead of a 40 or 60 degree wash and save 40 degrees of energy thus saving money.
  • Get a good clothes airer and hang your clothes to dry whenever possible. Driers cost between 14p and 50p a 7kg load ( depending on size and energy rating) to use. This soon mounts up.
  • Drop a brand at the supermarket and see your grocery bill go down.
  • Start collecting coupons - you can cut your grocery bills by between 15 and 50%. Check out online sites - print off coupons.
  • Be vigilant about how much water you use if you are on a meter- don't leave the tap running whilst brushing teeth, take shorter showers, flush only when necessary etc.
  • Pay off your credit card every month to avoid interest charges.
  • Make a packed lunch for work, take flasks of coffee.
  • Turn off lights when you aren't in the room.
  • Use a slow cooker instead of your oven.
  • Learn to say no.
  • Always write a shopping list and plan your menus.
  • Go through your bank balance and cancel direct debit for things you don't make the most of - gym membership?!!
  • Use your library.
  • Stop trying to keep up with the Jones's.
tesco energy saving lightbulbsPacked LunchMy shopping list for the week. Eating clean sure does make for a pretty shopping cart. (Is anyone still using the #sscleaneating tag?) @danihampton
What tips could you add to this list?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my lovely American friends.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Christmas Crackers

Christmas Crackers


I will admit up front with no messing that I am controlling when it comes to decorating the house. I am that parent who will let the kids decorate the tree, smile sweetly, then redo it after they have gone to bed, or at the very least rearrange the branches that have 15 ornaments hung on them.

Just call me Monica.

"You won't get me to sit on the couch and talk about my problems until I have straightened things up Dr. Hunter."

I always think that decorating the house for this festive season divides people into two categories. It's either Santas grotto in your house or subtly reigns supreme. We have both types amongst the members of our family so I will be careful how I proceed. 

If you wish to decorate every nook and cranny with all the bits of tinsel and baubles and flashing snowmen that you can find then you go ahead, but I'm probably not the one to give you advice on that! I'm sure my kids would love me forever if I did, but I'm not, so there you have it. 

I'm a tree,candles and lights gal.

So can you decorate and make your house festive on a budget at Christmas? 

The first question is, "real or fake tree?" Hmmm. I love the smell of a real tree and thought I would never go down the route of an artificial tree , but when we had our second baby 9 years ago I could no longer stand the hourly destruction of the lower branches of the tree. Needles galore! So we purchased what we thought was a pretty good artificial tree at a cost of £49.99. Over the past 10 years (it will be it's tenth outing this year!)it has more than paid for all the 'real' trees we would have purchased of course, although that was not my motivation at the time.

If cost is your primary concern then I would suggest looking at an artificial tree or a potted real tree that  you can re use each year. However, you can also pick up bargains last minute if you are happy to wait. One year, before we had gone down the route of an artificial tree ,when we only had one small baby at home and we were both in full time work we waited until Christmas eve to purchase our tree. It cost us 99p from B and Q for a 6 foot beauty!

If you are starting from scratch obviously it is going to cost you more so pick and choose from these 10 ten tips for what is relevant to you. We do opt to have a tree, but of course you don't need to if you want to cut costs further:

  • Keep things simple - you don't need to decorate everywhere.
  • Fairy lights can change the feel of a whole room and can be picked up as cheap as chips.

  • Some candles on the mantle piece with a few sprigs of ivy is a lovely simple way to change up a Christmas decoration.
  • Use greenery and berries from the garden or a friends - it is free and smells divine. I decorated our banister last year with ivy, a few sprigs of holy, some red baubles and some fairy lights - beautiful.

  • Make a decoration for your door. It doesn't need to be an expensive wreath. A few bits of greenery mixed in with a few silver decorations, tied with a silver ribbon looks very classic.
  • When you buy decorations, invest in ones that will last and store them carefully. Pick up new decorations in the sales after Christmas - never pay the silly prices they charge prior to then. Wrap them in tissue and pack in boxes. We also get the children to write a letter about what they hope for over the year to come and put it in with the decorations. They love opening them when we decorate the tree!

  • I do splash out on a bunch of lilies and/ or red roses . I try and get these before the prices go up for Christmas! If you get them tightly budded they will last right through.
  • A simple nativity scene, particularly if you have young children, adds Christmas spirit to the season. I purchased this papier mache one for £20 about 5 years ago. The children rearrange it regularly. I seem to have missed out a shepherd - got them down from the loft to photograph during my sort out. I expect he is lurking in another box of decorations. We have had many funny combinations set up!

  • Buy a wooden advent calender for the kids. This will pay for itself as you won't have to buy disposable ones every year. I can fill it with chocolate for £1.00 . They take it in turns to open a drawer. It cost me £10.99.

  • For my last tip here are a selection of simple and inexpensive decorations to make and use, either as table pieces or around your home:

  1.  Pine cones sprayed in gold and silver
  2.  A glass bowl filled with silver or glass baubles
  3.  Candy canes grouped in a small vase tied with a red ribbon
  4.  A glass bowl with a bundle of battery operated fairy lights
  5.  Use empty wine bottles and spray silver,white or gold and put tall white candles    in. Cluster them together in the centre of the table.
  6.  A simple Christmas banner - Use some garden twine and hang an selection of items  along it. You could go really homemade and get the children to decorate brown tags and tie these on, or hang a selection of small wooden Christmas decorations or alternate two colours or 100s of small baubles ( these are so cheap to buy!)
  7.  If you are a bunting maker - make some simple Christmas bunting in red, white and  green to string around your room.
  8. Use the kids stockings ( or any stockings) and fill them with wrapped empty boxes for that ultimate Christmas feel. Hang along the banister or above the fireplace.
  9. Wrap a few small boxes neatly in brown paper and decorate with ribbon in one colour. Arrange on a surface.
  10. To display cards. Get hold of a child's hoola hoop. Cover it in Christmas wrapping and tie a ribbon at the top. Peg cards all the way around to make a card wreath.

All of these decorations are pretty basic and don't cost the earth. Of course if you have a bit more cash to splash you could make things a little more complicated and elegant, but I'm saving what I can for my new kitchen so I shall be keeping it simple this year!

What are your decorating tips?