Monday, 20 May 2013

Taking a break

Hi guys.

You might've noticed I've not been posting a lot lately. I have been crazy busy lately with Uni and life and haven't been able to keep on top of this blog and reading all of yours.

I'm writing this to let you know that I'm taking a break from blogging. I've got a bad case of the Bloggers Block and need to focus on my PhD for a while.

Most of all, thank you for reading.


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Walk to Work Week!

Monday 13th May marks the start of national Walk to Work Week. The aim is to get people moving, enjoying their local community and maybe even saving themselves some money. Of course, not everyone can walk to work, but even if you get off the bus a few stops early or park further away, you'll be getting some great exercise and clearing your head.

I often walk home from University (unless it's raining!) but so far I haven't ever walked there because I have a bus pass and I don't like getting up any earlier than I have to. Then again, in rush hour traffic it takes almost as long to get the bus to town as it does to walk to the University!

I live 2.8 miles away from the University, which means that it takes about 55 minutes to walk there. It's a fairly nice route, although there's a big hill at the end! Then again, I have to walk up a hill from the bus stop anyway, so there's probably not much in it.

I hereby challenge myself to walk the 5.6 mile round trip to University every day this week! I'll burn 600 calories each day, and it will only take about 10 minutes longer each way than getting the bus!

Anyone else walking to work this week?

Friday, 10 May 2013

A question to you: are allotments worth it?

I spent a sunny day at my friend's allotment last weekend. It was hard graft, but it was rewarding and a cold drink in the afternoon sun felt heavenly! It got me pondering the post-recession allotment craze.

In 2012, the average waiting waiting time for an allotment was 3 years (or up to 40 years in Camden, London!). Tens of thousands of people are signing up to the waiting lists, hoping to cut their grocery bills, take up a new hobby or grow organic food.

My question to you is, are allotments worth the time and money involved?

Check out any frugal living blog and they'll rave about how wonderfully cheap it is to grow your own veg, but ask a seasoned allotmenteer and they usually smile and shake their head. An allotment costs up to £80 a year in rent, but newbies have to factor in the cost of seeds, compost, seed trays, tools, fertiliser, eventual shed/greenhouse replacement, etc. etc. There's a huge start up cost involved. Despite this, a survey by LV in 2009 found that allotmenteers save an average of £950 a year!

Of course, there are ways to cut the costs of owning an allotment. Find yourself some second hand tools, make your own compost and free fertiliser, and Allotment Underground even suggests making pots from newspaper!

I read recently that you should aim to spend 8 hours a week on your allotment, which is a massive time commitment for someone with a full time job. On the other hand, that's 8 hours that most people would spend sat on their bum otherwise! Digging burns around 340 calories per hour, twice as much as walking, and you build muscle too! My friend was having backache though so make sure you follow advice on how to dig safely.

An allotment is a social place where neighbours exchange tips and friendly competition. (I get the feeling that this might be why the costs start mounting up!). It is also great for teaching children where their food comes from and how plants grow. (Frugal Down Under has got this nailed!)

As for the harvest, everyone knows that food you've grown yourself tastes AMAZING! I think it's a combination of pride and the super freshness of the crop. People say that they waste a lot less food too, because of the effort they put into growing it! 

You might've guessed that I'm pretty tempted to get an allotment (students get half price plots in Bristol!). The thing holding me back is that I am not sure how much free time I'll have during my PhD. I could rope in a minion volunteer (the Boyfriend) to help out at weekends I guess! Anyway, let me know what you think, especially all you aspiring self-sufficient types out there!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Guest post: Five tips for DIY motorcycle maintenance

This is a guest post by The Boyfriend!

I'd like to say that I live my life pretty frugally; recently we even sold the car. I like having some form of transport and have a small motorbike as both a hobby and occasional transport. It's only a 125cc so it’s very cheap to run; I get between 80 – 90 mpg so I rarely have to fill it with fuel. Many people think of them as dangerous however I see little difference between a motorbike and a bicycle, so I got my CBT and set about pootling around town.

Back in December tragedy struck; it was stolen from right outside the house. Luckily the police found it about a month later, however anything that could be easily removed had been taken. I was left with the difficult decision to keep it or let it go. I decided to use this as an opportunity to learn something and opted to rebuild the bike myself.

This was something new for me. I'm pretty handy around the house with odd bits and bobs but frankly when it comes to anything bigger than that I'm lost. The experience has been long and difficult in places but on the whole it's come out well. Having totalled up the amount of hours a mechanic would've spent on it I’ve saved in the region of about £600 in labour charges with a bit of time and patience. I've come to realise that the only reason I'd never repaired the car and bike myself was  fear. Since starting this endeavour I’ve found that a lot of it is simple and that which isn’t can be solved with a little patience, so I present the five essentials I've learned to save money on your own maintenance.

Get a manual
It seems an obvious one but you wouldn't believe how many people I hear say “I don’t know where to start…”. Well, look it up. In my opinion the Haynes manuals will do you in good stead. They cover a good range of general maintenance, they're easy to understand and have step-by-step instruction for the majority of things.

Take some pride
I have to admit, I've been guilty of rushing tasks just because I can't be bothered. Taking your time and getting it right first time gives you a strange satisfaction and will alleviate the hard work and pain that comes from redoing a hash job. No one likes time wasting on a job like this and it can save a lot of money from rectifying your mistakes.

Balance the costs
'I'm not going to say get the cheapest of everything; that’s false economy. Think what items are key (i.e. main mechanical items) and spend the money there BUT do you really need to install all those gadgets while you're at it?

When you go to the local auto store or mechanic, ask them stuff. Most of them are willing to give you advice on what to do and some things just aren't written in a manual. Many mechanics will also undertake smaller jobs such as a stuck bolt for a nominal charge or free. I encountered this because the previous owner of my bike had left the bolts either rusted or rounded off.

Get a basic tool kit
Once again it seems like an obvious one but get yourself a good tool kit. No need to go crazy with space age spanners but a good quality medium range kit comprising of spanners, sockets and the like will save you money over the long run through many years of service.

Of course, there will be times you will need a trained mechanic, but by taking on some maintenance and simple repairs, you will better understand how your motorbike works and save yourself some money in the process!

Have you ever tried to maintain or repair your own motorbike or car? For more tips, check out this guide on easy car maintenance steps

Friday, 3 May 2013

Super cheap chilli!

Do you have some slightly ropey looking vegetables in the fridge? (Carrots, tomatoes or peppers especially!) Why not make a vegetable chilli? The recipe below is what we had for dinner yesterday, and very nice it was too! As with everything I make, it's nothing fancy, easy to make, but filling and tastes good! 

According to Calorie Count, the chilli part was under 200 calories with lots of protein, vitamins and fibre! :) The best part? Even with rice, it costs just 36p per person! 

Cheap 'n Cheerful Chilli (serves 4)
(Prices from Tesco)
Nutrition for my chilli recipe (not including rice)

One onion - 19p
Two carrots - 16p
One tin of chopped tomatoes - 31p
One (drained) tin of red kidney beans - 21p
One tin of baked beans - 25p
A tablespoon of mild chilli powder - 19p
Half a tablespoon of oil - 1p

Serve with:
240g (uncooked weight) rice - 10p

Total = £1.42 (35.5p per person!) 

To make, just peel and chop the onions and carrots and fry them in a saucepan for a few minutes until they start to soften. Then add in the chopped tomatoes, beans and chilli powder. Bring it to the boil then let it simmer while you cook the rice. When the rice is done, eat! :) Simples.

If you're feeling hungry, just add in more stuff! I bulked my last batch out with some slightly squishy tomatoes, and sweet peppers are really nice in chilli. Actually, bulk it out anyway, because this is the kind of meal that you can batch cook, freeze in portions and defrost in the fridge when you want it again.

What are you having for dinner tonight? :) 

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Keeping out the cold

Just when I thought it was starting to get warmer, Bristol is hit with another cold snap! I refuse to put the heating on at this time of year, so we need to think about other ways of keeping warm at night. Slippers and a blanket help a lot! :)

According to, windows and doors are the second biggest culprits for losing heat from your home. I made a draught excluder for the front door, but our bedroom is always freezing because I never got round to beefing up the thin curtains "insulating" the north-facing bay windows!

There are a lot of ways to reduce the heat lost through windows. A good place to start is to determine whether there's a draught, which can be sealed up with insulating tape. For windows that open, you can use foam strips between the window and the frame. You can also buy an insulating film to stick onto the pane to bulk up the thickness of the glass itself if double glazing isn't an option for you.

Apparently you can stick a layer of bubble wrap onto windows for insulation, but if you want something slightly more normal you could invest in some heavy curtains or sew a second layer of fabric onto the ones you already have. Bathroom and kitchen blinds will help to keep the heat in at night! Don't forget to open your blinds/curtains during the day to let the sunlight warm your home.

The Energy Saving Trust found that you can save £170 by upgrading from single to double glazing windows, and a further £120 by draught-proofing your home. Improving your window insulation can save you twice as much as insulating your attic, so it's definitely time I got my act together and replaced our translucent curtains!

How do you insulate your home? Have you noticed any improvement in energy usage?

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Kitchen Blinds.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

How to grow vegetables WITHOUT a garden!

Ever wanted to grow vegetables but don't have a garden? Start a container garden!

If you have a sunny spot outside, or even a south-facing windowsill, you can grow your own vegetables! 

What to grow
It's a good idea to plan what you want to grow. If you are limited on space, grow small plants that produce expensive foods like lettuce and cherry tomatoes, NOT huge cheap crops like potatoes! Make sure you're growing things you actually like to eat or you won't be saving any money!

Even if you don't have any space outside, you could grow plants on your windowsill. Think small but expensive to buy, for example herbs or cherry tomatoes.

How much space will I need? 
The types of vegetables you want to grow will dictate how large a container you need. Use advice for Square Foot Gardening to determine how much space you need for each plant, or to calculate how many plants you can grow in a set area. For example, I have three tubs that measure 1.5' x 1.5' (46cm x 46cm), which is 2.25 square feet. I could grow 32 carrots in each tub, or mix and match and have half carrots with a few pea plants on the other side.

So what can you use for a container?
I have three large tubs, some large plant pots and... lots of milk bottles! If you cut the top off a milk bottle it makes a perfectly sized plant pot for a pea plant or a lettuce. Make sure you "black out" the sides to prevent sunlight getting to the roots. You can do this using non-toxic paint or, as I've done, wrapping them in aluminium foil!

If you're using an unconventional container, like an old welly or an ice cream container, make sure that you poke several holes in the bottom to allow water to drain out. This will prevent the roots rotting.

Caring for your container plants
Place your plants in a sunny location (a patio, balcony or windowsill works well!) and look after them in much the same way as a normal vegetable plot.

The main thing you need to keep an eye on is that plants in containers dry out a lot faster than if they are in the ground, so be prepared to water them once or even twice a day during hot summer days!

Luckily plants grown in containers are at less of a risk of soil-borne diseases like certain fungi and nematodes, but watch out for aphids munching on your plants!

Smaller containers holding top heavy plants are in danger of blowing over in the wind. Stand your pots against a wall and consider putting up a wind break if they are in a breezy location.

Buying compost for containers is expensive, so make the most of what you have by reusing last year's compost. Be sure to add a little fertiliser to the soil to replace the nutrients that were used last year. Where possible, try and rotate vegetables between containers from year to year.

Has anyone done this before? What's your favourite vegetable to grow in a container garden? :)