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? :)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

30 ways to save £1!

To celebrate the 30th birthday of the £1 coin, Money Supermarket is holding a giveaway for bloggers. For each money saving tip you write they will pay you £1 (to a maximum of £30). I've been away the past few days, so I e-mailed them to check that the contest was still going on. They said they still have plenty of money to give away, so if you haven't yet, get writing your entry! Click here for more information.

Anyway, on to my favourite money saving tips!

1. First of all, look after your stuff! By taking care of things, you prolong their life and prevent spending money! (Case in point: me ruining my old laptop through careless tea drinking!)
2. Check you're on the best deal for your utilities!
3. Make things from what you have rather than running out and buying a new item. I made a snazzy draught excluder from an old pair of jeans and some pants!
4. Keep an eye on your meter readings. Water leaks can be very expensive!

5. Make your own fertiliser from stinging nettles!
6. Make compost using vegetable peelings, grass cuttings and cardboard!
7. Grow from seed rather than buying plants - you'll get SO MUCH more for your money!
8. Recycle old egg boxes and toilet tubes as bio-degradable plant pots. 
9. Save water from the shower or washing up to use on thirsty plants.

10. If you spend more than £100 a year on train tickets, check if you are eligible for a railcard. For £20-£28 a year you can save 1/3 on all fares.
11. Ditch the car. Maybe you could sell a car, maybe you could just walk more
. Either way, you're saving fuel, money and the environment.
12. Learn simple car maintenance methods. Looking after your car will save you a lot of money in the long run!
13. Drive efficiently. Don't leave your car idling, don't carry around weight you don't need, don't brake and accelerate sharply.

14. Cooking and freezing a large batch of food in advance will save you time and money!
15. Don't run out of food! You'll be much less tempted to go out to eat if you have food in the house.
16. Eat vegetarian foods. Meat is REALLY expensive, whereas lentils and beans are a cheap source of protein.
17. Take a packed lunch to work. Stop the daily money leak.

18. Ditch the hotel - go camping! A decent campsite costs a tenner a night, with fresh air and birdsong thrown in for free! :)
19. Use your local library. As well as books, many libraries stock the latest magazines and DVDs.
20. Exercise for free. Have a look on Youtube for your favourite exercise, or try jogging or walking around your local area.

Other stuff
21. Try making a gift for someone. The Boyfriend's mum is a big fan of homemade chocolates!
22. Turn clutter into money by selling it on eBay or at a carboot sale.
23. Many colleges offer extremely cheap haircuts and beauty treatments performed by trainees. Everything is checked by a professional before they are allowed to proceed.
24. If you have a tax refund on the way, stick it into an ISA in case of emergencies. If something happens, you have money on hand and will avoid paying credit card interest. You might even earn a few quid!

25. Use rechargeable batteries instead of disposables. They cost about twice as much, but will last you years.
26. When buying something online, you can often find a discount code for free shipping or money off by five minutes of Googling.
27. Make (and stick to) a shopping list! Shops use all sorts of tricks to make you spend more than you'd planned, so avoid the impulse buys!
28. Draw a line on your kettle marking exactly how much water you need. Don't waste energy!
29. Use white vinegar as a degreaser and anti-bacterial spray.
30. Have a No Spend Day. Challenge yourself to forego your morning coffee and popping to the shop to get something for dinner. Make do with what you have and keep your money in your pocket.

What do you do to look after the pounds? :)

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Showrooming: Is it wrong to view in store then buy online?

Last week I wrote about ways that shops trick people into spending more than they planned, but are the tides turning as people use showrooming to trick them out of a sale?

When was the last time you went "showrooming"?

Showrooming is where you walk into a shop, check out the product that you're planning on buying, then walk out and buy it cheaper online. It was probably responsible for the demise of companies like Jessops and HMV, which sell goods at a higher price than their online competitor Amazon.

So is showrooming immoral?

In my opinion, showrooming is just another form of shopping around. People used to do it before the internet became popular, back when places like Argos were a cheaper rival to many other businesses. I would however say that you're taking the mick when you take up half an hour of an employee's time picking their brain about the product, before picking up your smartphone and ordering online!

People say that showrooming hurts a lot of small businesses. I can see how that might be the case, but small shops are more likely to have interesting little things that you can't find elsewhere (which is how they compete with bigger brands in the first place!). Small companies should use their unique angle to keep customers coming back.

Larger shops will be happy to have more customers coming through their doors. They know that the longer they can keep you in there, the more likely you are to spend. Best Buy, a shop in the US that was floundering because of showrooming, has now introduced a price match guarantee with This sounds counter-intuitive, but the impression of being a good value company has led to a increase in sales.

What does the future hold?

In Australia a celiac food shop has decided to charge $5 for looking at their merchandise, which is refunded if you buy something. How on Earth does this company expect to encourage people in with that attitude? The future depends on shops accepting that people have access to price comparison data and finding new ways to do business.

Even if a small shop cannot compete with Best Buy's price match guarantees, they can excel at things like customer service. If a shop assistant has been helpful in making a decision, people are more likely to buy from them. Introducing a loyalty card with rewards would be another way to keep people coming back. Sales allow shops to rival online prices, keeping customers in the store longer to entice them with the higher priced stock.

The future of large electrical items is online. The amount you can save is phenomenal, plus you don't have to try and cart a huge television home in the back of a Mini. We might even see real showrooms of electrical goods on the high street, with QR codes allowing you to purchase them online.

Like it or not, showrooming is here to stay. Businesses need to evolve.

Do you think showrooming is acceptable? What sorts of items would you scope out in store then buy online?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

10 ways shops trick you into spending money

A silk worm cocoon - made of a 500m long strand of silk!
Hello all!

I just got back from a fab week in Turkey. It was a really cheap trip because the flights and accommodation were subsidised by three Turkish companies. In return, the group had to visit these establishments (a jeweller, a carpet-weaving co-operative and a leather shop - vegan Mum was not amused!). Their aim was to sell enough of their beautifully crafted but ridiculously expensive products to make it worth their while.

Unfortunately for the salespeople, I don't have a budget of several thousand pounds for a necklace, rug or jacket! Still it was interesting to watch their sales techniques.

In each of the three locations, their first aim was to split up the tour group. People are much easier to influence on their own! They all described their wares as an investment, which would hold their value over the years (only if you can find someone to BUY them off you though!). They also insisted that you touch/try on the product, which even I know makes a person more likely to identify with and purchase an object.

If you're anything like me, you hate being tricked into buying anything. Here are some things to look out for closer to home:

  • Items placed near the entrance to a shop are there to encourage impulse buying whilst you're still in the mood to shop!
  • Similarly, fresh fruit, veg and bread are often located near the front of the store to give you the impression of a "fresh" shop - and because they are high-profit items!
  • The things you want are usually located at the back of the shop, to encourage impulse buys of additional products that the customer passes.
  • Shops regularly rotate their stock so people spend more time searching for the things they need.
  • There are very few windows or clocks to prevent people from realising how long they have been shopping.
  • Special offers make you think you're getting a great deal, but did you actually want three jars of pickled eggs? Or any??
  • Popular items are placed in the middle of the aisle, so customers are forced past other items to tempt them.
  • The most expensive items are at eye level. 
  • Inexpensive, small items are placed next to the tills, likely to be grabbed by bored people in the queue.
  • And online? Shoppers are more likely to buy from a website that already has their details stored.

It's a good idea to plan what you're going to buy before you get there to avoid being tricked into spending money you don't want to part with! Whether you're shopping for a new car, shoes or just a pint of milk, make sure you do your research and get the best deal for you!

How many of the above list do you recognise? Do you know of any other sneaky tricks? Let us know in the comments below!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Six Blogs You Should Read

Hello! I thought I'd share the love today. I'm going on holiday with my family for a week starting tomorrow, so I've made a list of some of my favourite blogs that will definitely keep you entertained while I'm away!

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourite blogs and why I think you should read them too!

Feral Homemaking is full of thought provoking posts, cookery, even the odd book review. Pamela posts a brilliant Friday blogaround that means you'll always have something interesting to read!

Ilona (Life After Money) isn't afraid to tell it like it is! She blogs about how to get the best deals from the supermarkets and living well on a pension. She often has lots of lovely photos from her long walks too.

Saving for Travel is a great mix of frugal lifestyle and travel. SFT always has a money saving challenge to take part in, which helped her to blast away her mortgage last year! She also loves Cornwall nearly as much as me!

Dan (Frugal Living UK) is an interesting chap; he's an opera singer who moved to rural Lancashire to escape the hassle of London. He's been renovating his house, starting to grow veg and is generally becoming a frugal expert.

Thrifty Crafty Girl is run by Priscilla, who can always make me giggle. She posts fun crafty projects that will inspire even the least crafty person! She also posts simple-but-tasty recipes that I am dying to try!

Allotment to Kitchen is pretty much a lifesaver for me! My Mum turned vegan, and this blog has so many vegan recipes that I barely know where to start! Shaheen used to have an allotment, so she is keen to promote seasonal eating.

Have you got a favourite blogger? Give them a shout out in the comments below!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

I Saved Over £200 in Money Saving March!

Over the past month I've tried 12 ways to save even more money from an already frugal budget. Here's how I got on:

Challenge 1 - packed lunch - Woohoo, I did it! I do usually bring my own lunch, but in February I bought lunch in the supermarket five times because I didn't have time to make it. That means I saved £15 in March by keeping soups and instant noodles at work!

Challenge 2 - see a penny... - I've got to admit, I got carried away by the bright lights of The Boyfriend finding £10 on the floor. I collected a whopping 13p in change during March. Oh well!

Challenge 3 - stay in with friends - This month we've had some great times with friends either at our flat or their homes; we made pasties, sushi (vegetarian for me!), and had roast dinner and brunch cooked for us! I don't really have an estimate for savings here, but it definitely would have cost a lot to eat out for each of these days!

Challenge 4 - £50 extra income
- I earned £19 for two psychology experiments and ~£66 for demonstrating in Undergraduate practicals! Total earned: ~£85! How did you do?

Challenge 5 - £1 meal plans - We've stuck to evening meal plans for the past three weeks and I like it! There's no pondering what to have for dinner and you can fit meals around both the ingredients you have and how much time you'll have to make it! We spent £26.15 less on food this month!

Challenge 6 - save money on bills - I signed up for Money Saving Expert's Cheap Energy Club, which checks that you are on the best tariff for you and alerts you if that changes! Pretty handy! Looks like I can save £71 a year by switching suppliers. 

Challenge 7 - save money on gardening - I have windowsills full of egg boxes, seed trays and milk bottles. I cut the top off the milk bottles to put a pea seedling in each of them, to get a head start on spring! WHEN WILL IT BE WARM?? No real estimate here, but I haven't bought the things I thought I needed!

Challenge 8 - enter a competition - I won a free Malteser chocolate bunny from Tesco! Haven't heard back yet about which amazing holiday I have(n't) won, haha! I am still in the process of writing an entry for the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize (check it out, fellow scientists!). Winnings: 60p (value of a Malteser bunny!)

Challenge 9 - No Spend week - We had to get milk, booooo! But we only spent £3.78 (milk, margarine, bread etc.) so I guess we did ok.

Challenge 10 - find a better ISA - I still can't find an easy access ISA with a better rate than inflation (I still only have a small Emergency Fund and don't want to tie it up too much), but I will definitely be opening a new ISA this month to get a better rate!

Challenge 11 - batch cooking - I've been stocking up the freezer with healthy meals rather than the "freezer crap" like pizzas and veggie burgers. So much cheaper and healthier, still very little effort involved. This probably saves at least 50p per meal I make instead of pizza/burgers, so currently about £3.

Challenge 12 - make a gift - I made a cake and cheese straws as a gift for my parents when I went to visit, which cost a lot less than a bottle of wine and was more thoughtful to boot.

So all in all I saved £200.88 during Money Saving March! :) That's not even including better interest rates and the cost of gifts, gardening and meals out! Woohoo!

How did you do?
Did you manage to earn extra money, plan meals better or switch to a better internet provider? Let me know! :)

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Money Saving March: Make a gift

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

It's the end of Money Saving March! There's just time to cram in one more way to save yourself (or someone else) some money.

Challenge 12 of Money Saving March is to make a gift!

Maybe you have a birthday or anniversary coming up or maybe you are just visiting family or friends. Either way, if you're going to take a gift, why not spend some time and make one they'll really appreciate?

I have a couple of weeks off from University, so I am going for a much-needed trip home to Cornwall to visit my family, and then on to a week's holiday in Turkey! So exciting! Anyway, I am spending tomorrow making this vegan carrot cake that Mum dropped hints about mentioned and some cheese straws for my Dad who insists that vegetables should not be ingredients in cakes!

There are plenty of awesome handmade gift ideas out there waiting to be Googled. I hear Pinterest is brilliant for this, but I refuse to sign up to it for fear of getting addicted to drooling over crafting!

Even if you don't have a birthday coming up, make something anyway! You can either save it for a few months or send it to the lucky recipient as a "thinking of you" way to brighten their day. :)

Friday, 29 March 2013

Money Saving March: Batch cooking

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

I sometimes get home from Uni pretty late and the last thing I want to do is cook something from scratch. It would be so much easier to just heat something from the cupboard or freezer, but wait! Cooking from fresh is cheaper and healthier! What a dilemma!

The solution? Get organised. Batch cooking!

Challenge 11 of Money Saving March is to do some batch cooking this bank holiday weekend!

The great thing about batch cooking is that you can just make extra of whatever you're having for dinner, then reheat it for lunch the next day or stick it in the fridge/freezer for a later date!

What sort of things are good for batch cooking? Anything that can be frozen and reheated easily is great because you can make a few day's worth of meals at once without having to eat the same soup every night for a week! Meals like chilli, soup, pasta bake, curry, cottage pie and stews freeze well and can be separated into portions for easy reheating later on.

Don't forget you can also make all sorts of desserts to freeze for a later date - no more excuses about eating the whole batch of cookies before it goes stale!

Food safety: Make sure you stick the food in the fridge or freezer as soon as it's cool enough to do so. DON'T leave it out on the side for hours - bacteria can breed on food left at room temperature. Defrost frozen food in the fridge overnight. Reheat food thoroughly so that it is piping hot all the way through. :)

My batch cooking:
I don't know about you, but I have five days off for Easter! It's a pain to be busy all day and then come home and cook, so I have pre-made some stuff for us to eat! 

Today I was making pasties, so I made extra pastry and turned the rest into a quiche that we can have for lunch for the next couple of days.

Whilst the oven was still hot, I decided to make some carrot cake using this recipe. The orange-flavoured icing really makes it taste delicious, although I definitely should have sifted the icing sugar first!! I made two cakes and stuck the un-iced one in the freezer for future snacking! :)

I also made some sweet potato soup using Anthony Worrall Thompson's recipe, but I forgot to take a photo!

We had vegetable chilli for dinner, so I made twice as much to store in the freezer for an easy evening meal.

All in all I spent about two and a half hours preparing and cooking enough food for six meals each for the two of us, plus 16 pieces of cake! :) By investing time in cooking this weekend, I can have hassle-free meals later on, with less cooking time and most importantly, less washing up!

Do you batch cook? Care to share some recipes? :)

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Money Saving March: Find a better ISA

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

I have been learning about ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) this week. Interest rates are still awful and it's hard to find savings accounts offering more than the rate of inflation (a whopping 2.8% in February!). We're trying to save enough to put down a deposit on a house at some point in the distant future, so it makes sense to try not to lose too much to inflation!

Challenge 10 of Money Saving March is to find a better ISA!

My 1% extra bonus will run out at the end of the tax year (5th April), so it's time to start hunting for a better rate!

You can save up to £5640 in a cash ISA, or up to £11280 in a stocks and shares ISA in the current tax year (until 5th April). After that, you get a whole new tax-free allowance to play with (but you lose any unused allowances for previous years).

I have a cash ISA. I don't have the full allowance for this year though because I withdrew some of it when we moved to Bristol. Unfortunately you can't reinvest money you withdrew until the next tax year.

The best thing about ISAs is that the tax-free allowance is ADDED to the amount you saved in previous years. For example, if you have saved £3000 into an ISA in the 2012/13 tax year, you can combine it with the 2013/14 cash ISA allowance of £5760 and save a maximum of £8760 next year! People who have maximised their stocks and shares and cash ISAs every year since they started in 1999 could have over £100,000 saved by now!

The best cash ISAs are outlined by the excellent Money Saving Expert guide. Think about whether you need instant access to your money, whether you have previous ISAs to transfer in, and what your starting amount will be (although don't worry; many ISAs can be opened with just £1!).

Anyone else looking for a better ISA? Don't forget, you can only open one cash ISA per tax year, so wait until the 6th April if you've already started one in the past year!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Money Saving March: No Spend Week!

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

Despite Money Saving March, my bank balance has taken a bit of a hit again this month! I have had to pay for travel and accomodation to Scotland for a conference (which will be reimbursed eventually!), as well as buying some foreign currency for a holiday next month! :)

Challenge 9 of Money Saving March is to have a No Spend Week!

We have food and no plans that require any money coming up in the next week, so we've decided to have a spending detox and go seven days without draining the bank account! So I will be bringing a packed lunch to uni (as usual!) and hopefully spending part of the weekend starting my veg container garden (depending on the weather, but I can't wait much longer!!). 

Another good reason to have a No Spend Week is that I am only 15% of the way towards my goal of 200 No Spend Days in 2013, and 23% of the year has passed already! I need to get back on the case!

Anyone else feeling a bit skint this month? Leave your wallet at home, grab your sandwiches and join me! :)

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Money Saving March: Enter a competition!

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

When I was a kid, I announced to my parents that I was going to enter any competition I could find. This was back in the days of "describe why you love our product in 100 words or less" - whatever happened to those? I remember winning an art set of pens, paints and crayons for a picture I sent to Twinkle magazine. Woohoo! Apart from that I didn't win anything, so I gave up on that idea pretty quickly!

You know what though, gang? SOMEONE has to win these things! Whether it's an all expenses paid trip to America or a free meal somewhere, I want to win!

Challenge 8 of Money Saving March is to enter a competition!

Whether it's a sport contest, a skills-based competition or a randomly chosen prize draw, you can't win if you don't enter! I suppose it's the lure of potentially winning £1000 or a holiday somewhere, but I've been signing myself up to anything I can find!

Skills based contests
No matter where your interests lie, there is likely to be a competition or contest that interests you. Maybe it's time to sign yourself up for that race or dance contest? You could submit a short story to a newspaper competition or perhaps enter a photograph in next year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

I'm a biology PhD student, and there are lots of science-y challenges out there for early career researchers. Within my University there was a science fair last week, where students create posters about their work and talk about it to people who wander past! I didn't win one of the prizes for best poster, but I can improve on the poster and submit it to other contests later in the year!

Another competition I am entering is the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize. If you're an early career scientist with an interest in science communication, have a look! The deadline is the 28th April.

Prize draws
Even if you don't want to put any effort in, you can still enter competitions! For many prize draws, you simply shove your contact details into a website and click "submit". Money Saving Expert has a forum page dedicated to competitions and most of the supermarkets and newspaper websites have a big list of things you could enter.

To be honest, it's kind of addictive once you start entering in your details! So far I've entered several competitions to win holidays. I think I'd enjoy a free trip to somewhere sunny! :)

I wish I had some awesome results / photos of a sunny beach in the caribbean to show you (really, I do!), but I've only been entering stuff for the past couple of days so nothing has happened as of yet! In the meantime, perhaps you could share you success stories with competitions! Oh, and don't get me started on the time I won second prize in a handwriting contest at school. My dad was surprised because, and I quote, "your handwriting looks like a spider fell in ink and ran across the page"... Cheers father dear!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Money Saving March: Nine ways to save in the garden!

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

I love gardening! Growing your own food is a fun hobby with the added reward of being able to eat whatever you produce. I find that food you've grown yourself tastes infinitely better than the stuff sitting in the shops. Of course,  growing your own is not without its costs; compost, seed trays, tools, fertiliser, perhaps pesticides, etc. But if you can keep your outgoings low, you could save a lot more than you spend!

Challenge 7 is to save money on gardening!

This year I am living in a flat with a pebbled garden, so I've decided to grow veggies in containers. I used some gift money to buy some tubs and compost, but everytime I turn around there's some new expense looming; propagator lids for larger seedlings, pots for transplants, labels for different plants, etc. etc.

This year I'm trying to keep things as cheap as possible. Here's how:

1. Grow from seeds! I remember my Nana buying some tomato plants for £1.50 each last year. You can buy a pack of seeds for that and grow tens of plants! It pays to grow a few more than you think you'll need, since not all of the seeds will germinate. Of course, if they do you'll have to find some friends to fob them off to kindly donate them to. :)

2. Don't buy pots! If you're growing seedlings up for later transplant outside you can get away with free alternatives to pots. Just fill 'em up with compost and grow seeds and seedlings in them until the plants are ready to move into your garden.

- Margarine tubs: poke drainage holes in the bottom, lid can be used as a saucer to catch water.
- Milk bottles: cut in half, poke holes in the bottom. Top half can be used as a cloche (see below).
- Toilet roll tubes: can be directly planted into the soil once seedlings are hardened off.
- Egg boxes: these are awesome! The top half can be used as a seed tray, whilst the bottom half is handily separated into individual sections! These can also be planted directly into the soil and will break down to allow your plants to grow.

3. Alternatives to cloches. Some of my seedlings have outgrown the little propagator lids, but it's still a bit cold for them to fend for themselves. I am using bottles cut in half (soda bottles, milk bottles, shampoo bottles, squash bottles - anything that lets some light through!) and placed over them at night, to protect them from the worst of the cold.

4. Grow things you'll actually eat. It's tempting to grow stuff because it's easy or you have been given some seeds. The problem is, if you're not going to eat brussel sprouts, don't grow them! You're wasting valuable time and space that you could be using for other things!

Last year's tomato plants!
5. Grow the most expensive stuff. I only have a few large containers to grow my plants in, so as tempting as it is to grow potatoes, I know that would be fairly dim when I can buy a massive bag of them for £1 in the supermarket! I'm better off growing something that takes up less space and produces more valuable products, for example spinach beet (spinach costs quite a lot for a small bag, whilst the easier-to-grow spinach beet will keep me in leafy greens for most of the year!).

6. Recycle water. Don't use fresh, clean water to water your plants. During the summer, you'll need to water at least daily in hot weather, so make sure you're re-using water from both your shower and washing up bowl to reduce your water consumption. 

7. Use coffee (but not as a pesticide!) - Coffee grounds are often espoused as being great for your garden. They enhance the soil, making it easier for plants to grow. They are often recommended (including by me before I knew better!) as a pesticide to repel slugs, but this is actually illegal because their effects as a pesticide haven't been officially tested. You can get free coffee grounds from most coffee shops (or perhaps your own kitchen!).
8. Make your own fertiliser. Last year I made fertiliser out of rotten stinging nettles! All you need is a bucket, some stinging nettles and water, and you can make nitrogen-rich fertiliser that is perfect for giving leafy veg a nutritious boost!

9. DIY compost! I've written before about how to make your own compost. All you need for a rich compost is some old vegetable peelings, grass cuttings, or even shredded paper! Unfortunately I don't have anywhere to make compost in our flat's garden, but it's something worth doing if you have a bit of space!

So far I've got a few seeds planted, with more to come when the weather gets warmer. I have lots of milk bottles, toilet rolls tubes and egg boxes under the sink ready to get started! What other top tips have you got to save money in the garden?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Money Saving March - Midway Round-Up

Hello! I'm halfway through Money Saving March and I reckon I've saved a pretty penny already! Here's how I've been getting on:

Challenge 1 - Packed lunch - I came close to failing this within a couple of days! I got up late and didn't have time to make lunch. Luckily, I had a not-very-tasty cheap-o packet of instant noodles under my desk at work, so I was able to just grab a banana and run out the door. Not the most exciting of lunches, but I haven't had to buy anything yet! :)

Challenge 2 - Finding change on the street - I've only found one 5p piece and a penny so far. Boring!

Challenge 3 - Stay in with friends - We made some awesome pasties, and I've also had brunch cooked for me by a Uni friend. I'm planning a murder mystery night too! :D

Challenge 4 - £50 extra income - I did the psychology experiment (involved a lot of clicking mouse buttons!) for £10, and have done 3 hours of demonstrating so far, with more next week! So far I've earned ~£43!

Challenge 5 - £1 meals - We've stuck to the meal plan pretty well this week, apart from on Saturday when we ended up going to visit a friend. Tonight we're having more fajitas to use up some ingredients, but I'll be making the quiche anyway to take to Uni for lunches! :)

Challenge 6 - Save money on bills - Still waiting to hear back from the energy company about whether we can get a better deal.

How're you doing this month? Are you having an expensive month like I did last month, or is it all going to plan? :)

Friday, 15 March 2013

Money Saving March: Save on bills

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

Now we've got rid of the car, our three biggest expenses are rent, food and bills. We can't move any time soon and we're already taking steps to save money on food, so the next thing in my sights is lowering our bills!

Challenge 6 of Money Saving March is to save money on utilities! 

First thing's first, use a price comparison site to check whether you are on the right deal for you. I've discovered that I could save money by switching to another company, something which I intend to follow up on as soon as I can get a straight answer from my current supplier!

Lower your energy and water consumption. The weather's finally starting to get a little warmer (it's above freezing here, which is a good start!), so turn off the heating and put on a jumper! We still spend too long in the shower, something I am trying to work on! For a full list of ideas, check out my previous post about saving water/energy!

Other ways to save:

Find out if your internet supplier gives you a discount for paying in advance. My provider knocked £56 off the total for pre-paying our line rental for the next year.

Look at how much you ACTUALLY use your mobile. If you constantly overspend, find a way to cut back or up your contract allowance. If you find you aren't using what you're paying for, cut back to a lower package. I saved £60 a year by cutting back to the lowest sim-only contract I could find!

If it's yellow, you could let it mellow and save around £25 of water per person each year! This benefits the environment too, and no, your toilet doesn't get smelly!

Now I have six months' worth of data about how much we actually use, I can find the best deal for us! Don't forget, if you are going to switch companies for utilities, phones or the internet, ring up your current provider and see if they can beat the offer made by another company! Can you save by switching?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Money Saving March: £1 meal plans

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

In the UK the price of food has increased by 32% since 2007, and it doesn't look set to stop any time soon. I was shocked by the price of meat when I bought some for the pasty party last week! Even us vegetarians are feeling the pinch; cheese isn't cheap and fresh vegetables can be very expensive when they're not in season.

Challenge 5 of Money Saving March is to eat for £1.

Today's challenge is to come up with evening meals that cost £1 or less per person. (Yes, it is possible to live on £1 a day, but it wasn't particularly pleasant!) Dinner is usually the most expensive meal of my day, so if I can cut costs here I should be able to cut down our shopping bill this month! :)

Here's my cheap menu plan for the next week, with per-person costs:

  • Stew - potato (7p), carrot (9p), swede (18p), flour (4p), butter (5p). Total cost: 43p.
  • Fajitas - wraps (30p), sweet peppers (30p), onion (16p), red kidney beans (9p), cheese (17p), salsa (22p). Total per person cost: £1.24
  • Stir fry - half a carrot (5p), sweet peppers (30p), beansprouts (15p), stir-fry sauce (50p), noodles (26p). Total cost: £1.26
  • Vegetable and lentil pilaf - creamed coconut (10p), stock (1p), rice (2p), lentils (10p), half a carrot (5p), peas (8p), red kidney beans (9p). Total cost: 45p.
  • Pizza and salad - pizza (67p), salad greens (30p), tomato (16p). Total cost: £1.13
  • Lentil soup - 14p per portion of soup plus 12p for bread. Total cost: 26p.
  • Cheese and onion quiche - flour (2p), margarine (4p), onion (16p), egg (24p), milk (4p), cheese (17p). Total cost = 67p.
Average over the week: 78p per person. 

Other cheap meals include delicious lentil burgers, vegetable ragout and lentil salad. 

Cooking for one can mean the per-person cost of food increases, but by batch cooking (more on this next week!) you can save money by making extra and freezing the rest. This won't work for things like stir fry, but soups, stew, pasta bake, shepherd's pie etc. can be frozen and saved for later, whilst many other things can be kept in the fridge for a few days (quiche, pizza, cooked meats etc.). 

Don't forget to cook extra if possible for an easy lunch the next day!

Any suggestions for cheap meals for the rest of the month?

Friday, 8 March 2013

Money Saving March: Extra Income

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

When writing a budget, you start with your income and work out what you can afford to spend. Living frugally allows us to save money on wants, but what if your bottom line (rent, bills, food etc.) is leaving you with nothing left to save at the end of the month?

Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You to be Rich, is well known for being anti-frugal, saying that increased income is the key to financial success. It's definitely true that picking up pennies and getting a cheap haircut isn't going to let me buy a house any time soon! As a PhD student, I get a fixed living allowance and I don't have the flexibility or free time to pick up a part-time job. What options do I have to bump up my income?

Challenge 4 of Money Saving March is to earn £50 of extra income!

I took part in Saving For Travel's challenge to find an extra £50 last May. I managed to pick up a few extra hours at work and sell some stuff on eBay, but only made £29 in the end. This year I'm not paid hourly, but I do have some ideas up my sleeve to bulk up my income.

Firstly, I have signed up to take part in another psychology experiment at the University. These are easy and pay fairly well (about £10 for an hour doing a computer task / test), so I'll definitely be signing up to more of these in the future.

I'll also be doing some laboratory demonstrations for the Undergraduate practical sessions. At the start of the year, each postgraduate is assigned some demonstrating work, which pays about £11 an hour. I volunteered to cover somebody because their shift clashed with fieldwork, and I should get at least three hours of work from that too!

More generally, there are a lot of ways to earn extra money. Here are some ideas:
  • Rent out a room or your driveway 
  • Make something and sell it on eBay / Etsy
  • Alter/mend clothes for people
  • Take surveys (for example, on
  • Babysitting or dogwalking
  • Overtime / extra hours at work

Fancy taking on this challenge? How would you earn some extra cash?

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Money Saving March: Stay in (with friends)! St. Piran's Day Edition!

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

Dydh Sen Pyran lowen! It's St. Piran's Day, a day for all us Cornish folk to celebrate our heritage in honour of the patron saint of Cornwall. A lot of people go out today (or in a couple of weeks on St. Patrick's Day...) and spend too many pennies on cider! I say, stay home with friends, eat (pasties), drink (cider) and be merry!

Even if you're not celebrating today, you know how it is. Maybe you spend too many Saturday evenings in the cinema or the pub, emptying your wallet for an evening that'll soon be forgotten!

Invite your friends over for dinner or a DVD night and see how much you could save! £20 on a meal out or £5 on a homecooked meal? £3 a pint or £4 for four beers? :)

Challenge 3 of Money Saving March is to invite friends over instead of going out!

I've already completed this challenge! :D We invited our fellow Cornish-in-Bristol friends over for an evening of pasty making today! It's good fun to lay out all the ingredients and let people assemble and crimp their own pasty (no forks allowed)!

Here they are before going in! What absolute bewties! Luckily, the more mess you make in the kitchen, the more fun you've had! :)

I used Ann's recipe for making the perfect steak pasty. (Best pasties in Cornwall! I'm not getting paid to say that, I just think Ann is awesome!)

I also made vegetarian cheese and onion pasties for myself and my friend. (I know, I know, it's just not the same!) To make these, you'll need to substitute the beef in the recipe for cheese and extra onion (about 40g cheese and a double portion of onion). 

The meat was expensive, but we got beer and wine on offer and made a nice evening of it! We definitely saved money compared to the four of us eating out!


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Money Saving March: See a penny, pick it up

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

One of the first posts on this blog was about a family who had collected $1087 worth of change dropped on the streets of New York. It inspired me to dig out all my loose change and bank over £21 worth of coppers and 5ps. But how much money is still waiting to be found?

Donna Freedman found $21.31 in 2012.* She discussed people's aversion to picking up money, but argued that it's the little things in your budget that really add up in the long run. Admittedly it would be tricky to live on $21 a year, but whilst people are saving money by moving to a cheaper flat or selling their cars, they don't stop to think about the cost of the little things like eating out for lunch or a chocolate bar.

Challenge 2 of Money Saving March is to find and collect coins on the ground. (No matter how embarrassing it is!)

I've seen so many pennies on the floor lately. I found £4 in the Univeristy's toilets a while ago, and £1 in a trolley in Tesco! I'm a bit strange anyway, so I don't mind the odd funny look if I can collect a few quid's worth of coins from the floor this month!

(Yesterday The Boyfriend found a £10 note on the ground! AMAZING!)

How much do you reckon I'll find on the streets of Bristol, assuming ~30-60 minutes walking each day? Anyone fancy a Change Challenge? See if you can beat me! :D

*Thanks to Pamela for pointing me towards this post!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Money Saving March: Packed Lunches

I'm on a mission to save money in March! I'll be posting three times a week with ideas and challenges. Free free to join in! :)

Hello and welcome to Money Saving March! I will be taking on various money saving ideas and challenges; some lasting a day, some all month!

One of the common frugal tips is to bring your own lunch to work. I do generally do this, however the numbers are in and last month I bought lunch five times! Granted, the £3 supermarket meal deal isn't likely to break the bank, but that would still be almost £200 a year wasted on me being too lazy to make lunch in the morning!

So, challenge 1 for Money Saving March is to bring lunch from home, every single day, NO EXCUSES!

What makes a good lunch?
I take simple lunches to Uni. I tend to make it late the night before, or in the morning while I'm waiting for coffeeeeeeee, so it has to be quick and easy. Examples include:
  • Cheese and pickle sandwiches, a tomato and an apple.
  • Couscous mixed with pesto and a roughly chopped tomato, and a banana.
  • Leftovers, such as lentil soup.
Yep, you won't find me chopping up 100 ingredients for the world's greatest salad or something in the mornings, but I still manage to eat relatively healthily for a fraction of the cost of a supermarket meal deal!

Back-up plan!
I know me. I know there are days when I sleep through my alarm and wake up with seconds to get ready and go! These are the days when I'd say, "Screw it, I'll buy lunch later". I need a back-up plan.

My solution? Keep emergency food at Uni! I've got cheap-o super-noodles, instant soup, bananas and apples that I can store under my desk. If I forget to take lunch, I won't have to resort to going to the shop!

If a homemade lunch costs about £1 a day, I should save £10 compared to last month's supermarket meal deals, and eat more healthily to boot!

Anyone else want to take on this easy challenge? How much do you think you'd save?

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Negative Interest Rates?

The Bank of England is considering changing its base interest rate of 0.5% to a negative figure. The idea is effectively a fee on commercial banks leaving money sat in the central bank, and should persuade them to lend more money to stimulate economic growth.

People looking for a decent mortgage rate are in luck (rates could be lowered even more), but on the other hand savers will take yet another hit to the amount of interest they can earn. It doesn't mean that savers will actually be charged interest, but with interest rates so low already inflation is taking big chunks out of their hard-earned cash.

I guess anything that stimulates the economy has to be a good thing, but I worry about the impact this could have on banks (for our sakes, not theirs!). If they start to feel the pressure too much, they might pass on an even bigger hit to their customers. I for one don't want to see current account fees or even lower interest rates for savings! Don't forget, banks are out to make money, and if they can't make it in interest they'll make it from us!

The jury's out on whether or not negative interest rates will actually be brought in. What do you think about this? Will you benefit from cheaper loans (mortgage refinancing, for example), or will your savings suffer instead?