Frugal January

Argh, argh, argh, I spent way too much in December. Special food, presents, and charity donations all added up – as did the fact that I joined my work gym! More on that later – though for now, it’s worth noting I had to pay the whole year’s fee up front in one go. Ouch! Eminently worth it though – it works out that I get each month for less than £15, including classes. I still managed to make my regular savings payment at the end of December, but right now my everyday account is not looking particularly flush.

It doesn’t help that January is a long month. In fact, in my world it’s extra long. I got paid for December on the last working day before Christmas Day…and I won’t get paid for January until the very last day of the month! I have to admit to feeling a little bit perturbed when I looked at my calendar and realised that is still three weeks away from today.

In order to deal with this, I’m going to have as frugal a January as I can. I’m feeling very inspired by Frugalwoods, who are doing an Uber Frugal Month. If you go to that post, you can even sign up to receive an email a day for the next 30 days, with encouragement, tips and tricks. I find it really helps to feel part of a community, and her tips are pretty good.

So far we’re ten days in, and I’m not actually feeling ground down by the experience, which is good. I have a tendency to let a perception of ‘being broke’ make me miserable, and then sooner or later I give up on the whole thing. Not so this time! I’ve just got to remember I’m not broke, I’m saving.

In terms of spending this month, I’ve been pretty good. I’ve done extra work to keep spending down, with the result that I’ve spent next to nothing. Exclusions are paying now for events that will happen later in the year, and thus getting a reduction in fees, and a few bits associated with visiting my mom at the weekend. So, a couple of cups of tea and snacks whilst we were out, and the toll road fees to get there. I even managed to take my mom around a number of shops and not by anything at all for myself, even though I was tempted!

I have a day in the city scheduled next week, to meet up with a friend who just happens to be down from up-north, but hopefully I will be able to avoid spending too much. It’ll be worth it, for sure. I’m really looking forward to it, and that’s worth a little expenditure, as I need to have good things to look forwards to. Thanks to a very kind friend, I even have a giftcard for a coffee shop I can use if I need a pick-me-up this month, which will be really handy.

The aim of all this is to build up a buffer of cash in my regular account. I avoid using an overdraft facility, even for surprises/emergencies, but that only works if I make myself my own little ‘overdraft’ buffer. And of course, I’d still like to replace my phone, if I can just build up enough cash…!


Frugal January

A stitch in time…repairing rather than replacing (eventually)

Sometimes, you don’t know quite how comfy a pair of jeans is until you can’t wear them any more. I have a great pair I’ve worn until several rather important areas were worn thin and have holes – and horror of horrors, in the crotch! I thought I’d just replace the jeans. At first I tried another pair I already had – they proved a good fit, but for some reason tiring on the legs to wear. Then I tried buying a new pair (well, new-to-me at least) during our last charity-shop trawl, but alas! No luck -everything I tried fit terribly. Honestly, I’ve started to hate shopping for trousers. It’s such a thankless task.

So I finally gave in and looked up ways to fix them. I was reticent to just sew a patch on top, as I was concerned about making the area ugly, and uncomfortable to wear – particularly as the damage was in  the crotch area. And I wasn’t about to spend money on a special stick-on patch! However I found this method, and I was really impressed with how it looked in the images.

Basically, you just use zig-zag stitching in a complementary coloured thread to work over the top of the thin/worn out area to rebuild the fabric. I combined this with placing a scrap of thin cotton drill behind the worst of the holes, to support the stitches, and the outcome is really good! It took a little time (and quite a lot of thread), but the whole area has been reinforced, the work is hardly noticeable, and my partner says it looks lovely! Most importantly, I can wear my favourite comfy jeans again!

I only wish I’d just knuckled down and fixed them in the first place, rather than trying to find a replacement. Ah well, live and learn. One upside is that I’ve identified that the other pair of jeans are not worth keeping, and they can go back to charity as soon as they’re clean. If you have a sewing machine and a little time, I can really recommend the method described here, though I would suggest also adding a thin piece of cotton or something underneath to support the stitches and stop the zig-zag stitch from pulling the jean material into ugly rucks. It creates an attractive, subtle fix that works even in the crotch area. Hope the link helps!

A stitch in time…repairing rather than replacing (eventually)

Exchanging Christmas presents

Christmas presents are such a difficult subject. I feel very lucky that my partner and I pretty much never started giving each other presents at Christmas. If I see something he’ll like, I either buy it for him and give it to him straight away, or I mention it to him to see if he genuinely would like it. Easy-peasy. Almost no consumerism, and no unnecessary or unwanted ‘stuff’. I do actually have a small present for him this year, but only by accident. It’s just a small thing that he can’t actually use until next year, so there’s no harm in boxing it up for Christmas day as a little treat!

The only people I really exchange gifts with are my parents. I’ve tried telling them I don’t want anything, but that means that I tend to get a large quantity of ‘little things’, many of which are very lovely, but some of which I inevitably don’t use or am unlikely to want, and often all of which I don’t actually need. I’ve tried asking for money (towards specific things), but it doesn’t always work very well, and I feel awkward. Particularly if I have to remind the person they said they’d give me some cash! Ack, no thanks 🙂

I love receiving the care and thought that the gifts represent – particularly as I know that my parents will have spent time thinking about me, and considering things, and I know that sometimes they really enjoy picking out things for me. But I am trying to reduce consumerism by/for me, so I don’t really enjoy receiving things I don’t really need that much.

So as a response, I’ve shifted back towards asking for specific things. Usually these are things I’ve thought about getting, and decided to get. Things that are either ‘needs’ or only just on the side of ‘luxury’ – not so much that I will feel guilty. There’s always the chance I won’t get exactly what I want as a gift, but I think it works out well overall.

In exchange, I make a lot of effort to ask for things my parents actually want. I get the impression that they also save up things to ask me for! I suspect I am not the best at buying presents, particularly for my mother – my idea of what is useful, pretty or cool does not align very well with hers! So I am very keen for them to tell me what they want. I even force myself to buy what they ask for, even when I find something similar but better (in my mind!) or I think it’s a bit useless. That’s part of the gift, right? It’s not what I want to buy, but what they want to receive.

Ultimately, I do hope one day we can stop exchanging substantial Christmas gifts. A favorite book, or piece of music, or special box of chocolates would be more than enough. Just a little thing to show we’re thinking of each other, but not the larger stack. I have to admit, I just don’t like spending the money, either, not as part of the orgy of consumerism that is Christmas, and particularly not when I suspect stuff will just be thrown away after a few months. But then we’re coming right up against a much bigger problem – what to do when people you care about and are close to have views on consumerism that are so far away from your own? That’s a thorny problem that I am definitely not ready to think about during Christmas!

Exchanging gifts the way you want to comes down to communication, and being brave, and ultimately, to compromise. If people want to give, you can’t stop them, but you can guide them. You can talk about why you want something, about why you don’t want other things. And you can be patient. I figure sooner or later, me and my parents will get there 🙂

Exchanging Christmas presents

Compromising on being Green and buying a dishwasher

I’ve never had a dishwasher anywhere I’ve lived. Despite living in lots of shared houses and flats, and despite having my own place for quite a few years, I’ve always assumed they were bad for the environment and unnecessary.

Ultimately, I guess they are. They’re massive hunks of plastic and metal which take lots of energy to be made, and lots of energy to be recycled when they’re done, and they’re made halfway across the world and shipped via massive oil guzzling ships and trains and trucks. They need electricity to run, when I could just do the dishes myself with my own energy. At least the water use is damn good now – six litres for an ‘eco’ wash is pretty impressive, when my own sink takes more than that and would need to be refreshed at least twice if not three times to do all the dishes that fit in a dishwasher.

However, even with that in mind, and even with the fact I hate buying new things and I hate creating waste… today I did buy a new dishwasher. There’s a bunch of reasons. My partner is not great at doing the washing up without reminding, and I absolutely hate having to do that. I also hate having to do loads of washing up, and I feel like I’m never defeating the massive pile on the side. But perhaps what’s really tipped me over the edge on buying a dishwasher, is that I’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both my hands. So washing-up is quite pleasant really, because the hot water does ease the pain. But at the same time, I’m very aware that there isn’t any getting better with this condition. The bones will slowly degrade and the pain will get worse. And frankly, if I have limited usage out of these mitts, I don’t want to waste it on washing up!

So I did my research, read a lot of reviews, went around a lot of websites, and bought a new dishwasher. After all the hours, days, of faff when we bought second hand fridge-freezers, I just don’t have the mental fortitude to go through that again. Particularly as my partner will have to alter the kitchen worktops and plumbing to fit the dishwasher, as this is the first time our house has ever had one. I didn’t intend it this way, but it also turns out that this weekend is a rather good one for buying consumer goods – what with ‘black Friday’ being two days past – so I did get a discount and I could buy it from John Lewis and get an extra year’s guarantee. Frugal, if not green.

It feels a bit of a defeat to spend £325 for a machine that basically does what I feel like I should be doing myself. But frankly, I think it will be good not only for my body, but for my brain – I really get down when the house is dirty and messy, and piles of washing-up on the side do not help. So here’s to treating myself I guess! Let’s just hope I can make the thing last many, many years. I guess sometimes you have to compromise on your Green hopes, to make life livable.


Compromising on being Green and buying a dishwasher

Supermarket food shopping: how I’m avoiding it in 2016

There was a time when I really enjoyed supermarket food shopping. Probably sometime after I finished my masters, when I had enough money to buy whatever food I wanted and everything was new and exciting. But over the last few years it’s got to the point where I actively resent having to go in the supermarket.

Recently I read a post in the simplicity-minimalism blog-o-sphere where the author, Tsh Oxenreider talked about three things I’m resolving not to do in the new year (or something similar). She didn’t directly mention food shopping, but whilst reading her (somewhat relentless if you’re on her email list) plugging of something called ‘ePantry’, I got thinking about getting my food shopping delivered. Wouldn’t it be great to no longer waste hours of my life every week walking around the supermarket buying the same old things every damn time?! This week one of my colleagues also mentioned that she has switched to it permanently, and she explained how it worked for our local big supermarket.

Armed with that inspiration and information, I explored my local superstore’s online offerings. To save money I opted for the ‘pick-up-from-store’ option, and I have to admit that driving in today did make me feel pretty damn smug – there was a queue just for parking and the whole place looked packed and stressful. I was so pleased not to be participating in that!

So far it looks like a really good option, saving on hassle, time, stress and money, considering the following pros:

  • It will probably take me about ten minutes to order my usual weekly shopping, as we tend to buy the same things consistently, saving time.
  • It took 15 minutes door-to-door to pick up, again saving time.
  • I didn’t have to use carrier bags (though sadly my loose veg was packed in extra plastic) so only a small net increase in waste.
  • It allows me to review the order in a calm, peaceful, well-fed frame of mind which helps me be critical and pick out those things we don’t really need, saving money.
  • Not being in the store itself saves me from picking up impulse ‘treats’ as a reward/pacifier for surviving the experience, or because I’ve ended up really hungry whilst walking around. This is good for our health as well as our bank balances!
  • It is so much easier to check the ingredients of food online than it is in the store. As we tend towards a vegan diet, this is really helpful, as is the (slightly shonky but still informative) ability to search for ‘vegan’ food on the store’s website. This actually opens up greater variety of food to us, which is a real bonus.
  • I can easily check what we have in the cupboards/fridge and avoid getting things we don’t need, and as I can add to the order as the week goes by I can easily add things that we run out of as-and-when. This saves us money and avoids waste, and I’m hoping will avoid additional trips/frustration over forgotten things.

All in all, I’m tentatively hopeful that this may be a long-term solution to the grind of supermarket food shopping. I think there’s even a chance that, if we rarely actually go into a supermarket, the few times we need to we might actually enjoy it again! I certainly think it’s an excellent way to keep track of how much money we’re spending on food, and to avoid buying unnecessary things.

Overall, if you’re looking to reclaim some of your time from this boring task, I’d totally recommend it. I’ll let you know how it goes in the next few months.

Supermarket food shopping: how I’m avoiding it in 2016