Season of Goodwill

•December 23, 2015 • Comments Off on Season of Goodwill

Why I abhor Direct Debit:

Tis the season of goodwill, and all over the country banks are helping themselves to yours. Courtesy of the Direct Debit mandate they can ask for money from your account up to 3 days earlier than the date you set – thereby bouncing the payment and triggering a £35* fee. If you don’t believe me, read the small print and/or query it with your bank.

I thought it was a fluke, the first January it happened to me, and I kept a more watchful eye on the account balance going forwards. Didn’t catch it the second year- again in January- but resolved it wouldn’t happen again. What’s the saying? –Once is chance, twice is coincidence, 3 times is enemy action. Right away, I cancelled all my direct debits. All but 2 of my bills have since been paid on payment plans or direct transfer, including water, electricity, council tax, and mobile phone. Paypoint has become my supplier of choice.

By voting with my choice, I send a message to the banks that their behaviour is unacceptable. Many more think the banks are fine to carry on as they are.

The singular advantage to retaking control is that I can postpone paying the bill until I know the money is in my account- I soon got the hang of it and it became low (but not zero) maintenance. For those on low incomes or benefits this is a crucial advantage, since even benefit income can be unpredictable. It’s bad enough to find yourself unexpectedly short- without having the additional burden of a £35* fee.

Merry Christmas!

* or whatever your bank charges for this service.

The Dolls House Report

•October 3, 2015 • Comments Off on The Dolls House Report

May 2014 – purchased Del Prado kit.

May 2014 I gambled £20 and bought a dolls house kit on ebay, on the premise that it was cheaper buying a bundle than spending out £5 a time for flooring paper, for the dollhouse I was renovating.  I planned to cover my outlay by selling the bits I didn’t need, and keep some half decent flooring and maybe lights for my own project. Here’s how we did.

This is my dolls house from 25 years ago which just fits on top of my wardrobe – my grandson spotted it last year. We had been refitting it for a new generation, tiny bits at a time as befits my miniscule budget, when I first noticed Del Prado Dolls House magazine.

Dolls House Project : New dormer window in the roof.

The full set of over 100 issues builds a large dolls house with fittings and furniture. 
Of these I kept flooring, hinges, doorknobs and stair parts – and found an unexpected bonus of dolls house plans included with later issues.  The bathroom got a makeover: with Del Prado bath & wc, flooring and a smart new landing banister.

Dollshouse bathroom August 2015

Del Prado Kitchen table & 2 chairs


Individual furniture issues were difficult to sell – there is much nicer ready-made furniture online– but I recovered my £20 outlay.




Wizard's Loft


Leaving me with enough panels to build a very large dollshouse and, inspired by the Witches Cottage on ebay,  I made this.

Net profit : nil  😦

Value add : £150 🙂

Christmas Cardmaking #2

•December 8, 2014 • Comments Off on Christmas Cardmaking #2

Christmas Card stash 2014

This is my Christmas card stash, an embarrassment of riches.  Most are handmade from my Hunkydory windfall in November, a few from previous years, and a free box from WHSmith courtesy of O2 Priority.  Thank you all – I love a freebie.  We might have enough this year.

Remember I signed up to 5 issues of Cardmaking & Papercraft ?  That went well !  I recovered my £5 outlay by selling 2 of the magazine gifts on ebay, so the paper stash to make this year’s Christmas cards was effectively free.  And it is soo nice having the magazine delivered to my door.  But frugal me cannot afford the full price subscription so I will be saving my Christmas cards again this year – ie those received- for upcycling.

Extra kit required, if you are thinking of doing same >>

Cardmaking Essentials

  • Pack of Stickies from The Works – can be ordered online for free delivery to your local store.
  • Plain white card – Check thickness, should be ~240gsm.
  • Double sided sticky tape – 3 reels for £1 in Poundland DIY section, or The Works
  • Envelopes – I get mine from ebay clearance lines.
  • Scissors, a pencil & a sharp knife to score folds.
  • A drawer to store all your bits in.

The first 3 items can all be found at The Works, and I have listed other details in case you haven’t got a local store.   Look on ebay for topper sets or use the best bits saved from your Christmas cards.  Get creative.  How many cards do you send a year ?


What do they really want ?

•November 5, 2014 • 1 Comment

This is the #2 way we save money at Christmas.

Dear Santa…. Encourage everyone to post their wish lists on their Facebook profile page. It’s what Facebook Notes are for.  Half my problem with Christmas is not knowing what to get DDs, so I used to buy 3 or 4 different presents as a substitute. Guess what?  They were often irked I spent so much on stuff they didn’t particularly want.  And vice versa.

Works because: once you’ve got them what they want,  relax.


My DD has prompted for my wish list this year, so here’s what I’d really like:

Hotel Chocolat

The Sleekster White Selection from Hotel Chocolat
Merrydown cider
Mulled wine
Cherries in liquer
Glycerine soap from the Bodyshop
10ml bottle of rosemary essential oil
18” Silver serpentine (snake) chain
Ecco runners in size 41

Last winter I won a Hotel Chocolat Wreath & Double Layer Selection box, and their chocolates are to die for.  😛   Whilst happy to share the Large Chocolate Wreath, I saved the Selection Box thinking to have one choc each day to brighten January – you can guess how that went.   I am appalled that I didn’t take a pic until half the top layer was gone: I blame the poor lighting and getting to grips with a new camera they were delicious.  And the box was so pretty: I hope I saved it somewhere.

The last item – Ecco runners – are my winter boots and I am having trouble finding a reasonable pair under £20 on ebay this year.  I have heeled boots, but prefer Ecco’s comfy flats.   Maybe they’ve suddenly become fashionable 😦

Christmas card making

•October 19, 2014 • 2 Comments

You might have noticed that I am operating on the proverbial shoestring- always up for ways to add value but only ever window-shopping. I rarely have money in my purse.  Last month though, I took the plunge and allowed myself a treat – £5 for 5 issues of Cardmaking & Papercraft magazine.  Their free gift of Hunkydory paper and toppers last February kept me in birthday cards all year and I was/am hoping my 5th issue will have a similar free gift.  But I didn’t have to wait that long!   November’s issue (on the shelves still until 30 October) includes a generous Christmas stack and I have been busy already.

Hunkydory Christmas cards 2014

An easy plain square, and a folded front.  Oops! I left the pink envelope in.

Handmade Christmas cards 2014

Another folded front, and an A5 card.  I felt terribly guilty cutting the poinsetta from one of the toppers, but I couldn’t think of any other way to hide the top left corner where the edge strip was too short!

I’m looking forward to making more cards over the next few weeks.  What do you think ?

What was your most recent treat, and was it a bargain?

Tomato relish

•June 18, 2014 • Comments Off on Tomato relish

Tesco made a big mistake this week – they stopped stocking a tomato relish, otherwise known as hamburger relish.  Too late I found where they had moved the salsa, because by then I had detemined to make my own.  How hard can it be?

Tomato Relish

Tin of tomatoes; tomato puree abt a third of a tube; 1 onion, minced; teaspoon of mustard seed; vinegar & sugar.  The vinegar was leftover from a jar of pickled onions, and I added a fragment of pickled ginger; some crushed dried chilli; and the last spoonful of Sharwoods Szechuan sweet chilli sauce – all languishing in the fridge.

Mince the onion, a manual mincer is fine for this.  Put everything in the pan except the vinegar and sugar, and go easy on the chillies.  Stir and heat to a slow simmer, then add vinegar & sugar & simmer gently til thick.

Vinegar, sugar & sterilised jars will keep this for longer if you are making a bigger batch, but my 2 x 12oz jars are for immediate use and will keep in the fridge well enough.

Alternatives – add courgette: twice as much as you have of onion, and call it chutney.


My Christmas Season: Weeks 1 & 2

•December 23, 2013 • Comments Off on My Christmas Season: Weeks 1 & 2

Christmas is a season for me, not a one-day event but a whole season. If you don’t read all of this – and it looks like being 2 posts – just take away that one thought. Here are a few of my favourite things, festive traditions old & new.

Week 1: Christmas cards.
I love making Christmas cards from the best bits of previous ones. It embodies my principle of ‘keep the best bits, bin the trash’ which I freely apply to any part of my life. This year I put together some kid kits so my grandson could make his own -and his finished cards came out surprisingly well. Click through to flickr if you would like more details.

Nana's DIY card kit for kids.

Week 2: The Tree.

My daughter wanted a red & white theme so I let her get on with it but oops, we forgot to cover the base until it was too late.   I’ve been banned from using tinsel in case it gets stuck to her gingerbread decorations, and the bead chains are proving too much temptation for the 3yr old. So ‘my’ tree looks a little different this year.

I leave a bowl of extra decorations underneath the tree-  meaning I can stop when I’ve nearly done, and other people can have a play.   Our tree is a work in progress…

We save our tree for next year – and the decorations, of which we have more than enough in four different colours, but we almost always buy new lights.   My treat is to buy just 3 of the best bauble that catches my eye – but this year’s candidate is £3 a pop.


to be continued…

Blackberry Season ! – Jams & Fruit Crumble

•August 25, 2013 • 1 Comment

It is a very good year for blackberries. I have a cupboard full of empty jam jars and bottling jars and last week I bought extra sugar, in anticipation. All this because pretty soon I will get bored with blackberry crumble (recipe below) – even though hey, it’s food. So here’s what I do with a glut of fruit.

1. Make fruit crumble. Crumble topping is dead easy to make, (4 flour, 2 marg or butter, 3 sugar or to taste) or you can find 30p packs of crumble topping in Tesco – currently on offer.

2. Bottle for future crumbles. Or freeze, except that I don’t have a freezer, but if I did I would pack up a lunchbox with berries for a few weeks time when the apples are in season. Bottling is slightly more tricky- a bit like jam making but with less cooking and less sugar, and to compensate I keep the jars in the bottom of the fridge.


3. Jam. Is really easy once you pick the right fruit, or combination of fruits, to get the jam to set. I’ve made up a small pot of strawberry jam – see pic – but strawberry alone makes a runny jam and you are unlikely to have free redcurrants. Blackberry and apple makes good jam: 4 lb blackberries with 2 lb of cooking apple and when they are cooked and soft add 6 lb of sugar; or smaller quantities in the same proportion.
Full instructions on bbc website here and more briefly here

A word of caution here – never get hot jam on a ceramic hob. I’m told it eats through the glass and I love my Tricity hob to bits, so I can’t tell you if it does.

Charity shop finds – crockery treasures

•August 24, 2013 • 1 Comment

What do you eat off when there’s no money ?

Here’s some china – the more interesting because it was mostly found for £1 a piece -or less- in local charity shops. Not all at once, obviously, and not on every visit – but snipped up when the pieces slipped through the net that registers value. If you are interested in the patterns -and mercenary details- you can click through to the big picture on flickr.

Crockery #1

Like many of the unemployed: treasures, destined for the scrap heap unless someone recognises their worth or appreciates their usefulness, or both.
So much good stuff is just thrown away.

For instance, see the 2 flowery cups on the right ? When I first saw the full 4 place setting for £4 I couldn’t afford it (& I didn’t need it) and I felt sure it would make a nice surprise for someone. A week later it was still there, and the staff said it would go in the bin if not sold. That was a while ago, but the plate in the foreground – equally valuable, and even more rare – was just last month.

I suppose the message here is not to rush down to your local charity shop & snap up a bargain – but that you can have beautiful things even when your budget (or lack of it) suggests otherwise.

I’ve shown you mine, now show me yours.

£10 Budget Food shop

•May 20, 2013 • 1 Comment

Here’s my food shop for this week – I did very well thanks to some reduced items at Tesco – but for each of these one-off reductions I will also say what I would normally buy instead. The total food shop shown here cost less than £9. Remember this is a ‘rolling’ week, so I still have several items in the cupboard from previous weeks i.e. tea and/or coffee, salt, spices, possibly butter. I will have onions and eggs left over for next week – the eggs are a big bonus for me as they are breakfast.


£10 food shop - week 1

The noodles, pastry case and milk are all full-price items: my treat last week was lemon pie filling but I didn’t have the eggs or pastry case.

Good reduction on the onions, otherwise I would have only had 2. The green beans –whoa 445gm! – come out of my budget of £1 that I would usually spend on broccoli. Noodles with greens and/or thin-sliced carrot make a very reasonable supper or the veg part of a dinner.

Black grapes reduced too, and the pack was full when I bought it! but almost as good are Tesco Everyday value green grapes. I would have omitted apples if they hadn’t been reduced, but these were too good a bargain to pass up. At other times of the year I collect apples and other fruit for free. Fruit loaf, also reduced, is this week’s treat on account of the extraordinary savings made today. My daughter and grandson are both happy to eat fruit loaf on its own but it is excellent with jam.

Eggs are where I made the best saving. I’ll keep them in the fridge and have one or two (fried) for breakfast every day. They go well with home-baked potato wedges. I’ll easily have one box left for next week which means I’ll be £1 ahead.

The chicken is not just a chicken! Cook carefully and you can save the fat for baking, such as potato wedges mentioned above, or frying eggs. Chicky makes 5 portions and the scraps go into a noodle meal. If you really can’t live without them, Tesco do 2.5kg potatoes for £1.20 (this week at least) which will round up your total spend to £10.