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?