Bank Holiday Savings

We all enjoyed some warm and sunny weather this weekend

It’s coming to the end of the bank holiday weekend and I hope that you’ve had the chance to enjoy some sunshine. After what seems like weeks of rain it was good to feel that summer was back again. Mr Simple and I have spent most of our time painting the outside of the house; we wanted to make the most of the dry weather. As well as being a productive weekend it has also been a frugal one and so, having not had a ‘Frugal Friday’ post for a while, I thought that I would let you know how I managed to save some money over the last couple of days.

When I popped into Boots on Saturday morning I noticed that they were selling ‘Nice and Easy’ hair dye at two for £10, instead of £6.79 each. I therefore bought a couple as I will definitely use them over the coming months.

Whilst I was in town I also picked up some CDs that I had reserved in the library. I am off to Italy next week with my mother and in a bid to refresh the few words of Italian that I know I decided to listen again to ‘Learn Italian with Paul Noble’. I did an evening class in Italian a few years ago and took the same CDs out of the library before I started the course. I ended up learning more from the CDs than I did from the teacher as he was absolutely hopeless. Audio courses as well as evening classes can be really expensive, so getting CDS out of the library is a great way to learn a language and it doesn’t cost you anything. I plan to listen to them in the car instead of my usual podcasts up until the holiday.

We were lucky enough to be invited to a neighbour’s birthday party in the village hall. We don’t know her very well, but decided that we would go along anyway, knowing that there would be other people there who we do know. I thought that we couldn’t go emptyhanded, but fortunately I had some toiletries that I had received for my birthday, but hadn’t yet used. I therefore wrapped them up and hey presto, a present. Some of you may think that it’s ungrateful to give a present away, but as I hadn’t got around to using them and they may have ended up being forgotten in a drawer, I though this was a good idea.

It was nice to share a bottle of sparking wine at the party

As well as the present we also took along a bottle of wine. We buy most of our wine when we go on holiday to France and even though we haven’t been this year, we still have loads left. This was a bottle of sparkling rosé that we bought in the Loire some years ago. We are not great drinkers and so only usually drink half a bottle of an evening. Unfortunately with sparkling wine that is not a possibility. This gave us the chance to share it with others so it didn’t go to waste.

When it comes to dressing up I am not a great one for fancy clothes, make up and jewellery. In a bid to make more of an effort I actually painted my toe nails and plucked my eyebrows, which did need a bit of attention as although I am still having them waxed it is only occasionally. I felt quite feminine for a change. I haven’t painted my toenails for a couple of years now and it always feels a bit frivolous, but they looked nice and it felt good to treat myself. I am hoping that they will last until we go to Italy as I am sure my feet will be on show in the warm weather. It’s amazing how many tasks we have got used to ‘outsourcing’ nowadays, whereas with a little bit of practice you can do them perfectly well yourself.

Finally, in an attempt to diversify my income I tried selling a few courgettes on a table in front of the house. I made a grand total of £1.52. It was money for nothing, as otherwise they would have gone on the compost heap, but I don’t think I can give up my day job just yet.

So that’s it. A few frugal ideas. How did your bank holiday weekend go? Did you manage to save any money, or better still, did you make any?

Stretching the Food Budget

We are lucky enough to have lots of veg from the garden at present

As you know from this previous post I am doing a monthly shop and then topping up each week with perishables e.g. milk, veg and fruit. I have to say that this arrangement is going really well and has completely taken the stress-factor out of the weekly shop. I whizzed around the supermarket in about 15 minutes this week.

The second change has been my monthly meal planning, which again is going very well. I changed it around a bit last weekend due to Mr Simple wanting curry instead of what I had planned, but despite that it’s another stress factor reduced. It’s particularly good when I am going to be late home. For me late is 6pm, which I know for many of you is early. We have dinner about 7pm and so 6pm is the latest time when I like to start thinking about cooking. It’s so much easier when I know what I am going to cook. Throughout the month I have included recipes where I can make double the quantity and freeze the left overs. For example, last night we had courgette and feta fritters from the freezer and salad. They are fiddly to make, but this time they were already in the freezer and I had got them out in the morning to defrost. I was only left with the salad to prepare.

The not so good thing is that it’s only 21st August, but we’ve nearly spent all of the food budget. I allow £140 for my part of the food budget. We don’t split it 50:50 as Mr Simple eats chicken and ham in his sandwiches, which tend to be expensive, as well as he drinks more alcohol than I do. Therefore most of the bill gets divided in half and then we each pay for the specific items that only we eat. For me it’s avocados – I did give them up for a while as they are expensive, but I do really like some with my eggs for breakfast. Doing the monthly shop obviously means we spend the majority of the budget in one lump sum, but last month we managed to last the rest of the month and not overspend. This month I only have £11.89 left and ten days to go. I went shopping yesterday and so we may be able to manage until September, but to avoid going over budget I am planning to rely on what we have in the freezer to tide us over.

We have two freezers. One is the bottom half of the fridge freezer and the other one is just a small upright freezer that belonged to my great aunt before she died. With all of the produce that we have from the garden both freezers are chock-a-block. I spent one Sunday morning recently peeling, chopping and coring apples and then chopping and blanching beans. We also have a total of 13 burgers/fritters of various types e.g. the courgette and feta ones I mentioned earlier. On top of that we have four tubs of dal (I use old spreadable butter tubs as freezer containers), two portions of black-bean curry and one portion of veggie chilli. I now just have to sit down and adapt the menu, taking out recipes that include items we don’t have and replacing them with food from the freezer. In an emergency we have frozen pizzas, something that I’ve mentioned before and an idea which I took from Mrs Frugalwoods. Unlike the other items these are not homemade, but useful in an emergency. We have four as Tesco sell three for £5, so I buy three at a time.

I have suggested to Mr Simple that we buy another freezer which we could put in the garage. He has agreed, but needs to do some work on tidying up the garage. With all of the work on the house that he is doing the garage is being used to store materials. Maybe we might get around to purchasing one by next summer. 

From the garden we are getting courgettes, peppers, French beans, runner beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and apples so we are eating a lot of these. Still left in the fridge from the monthly shop we have one each of feta, paneer and halloumi. The pantry cupboard also contains several tins of pulses e.g. kidney beans and chick peas.

Writing really helps consolidate your thoughts

Sitting here writing all of that out has made me realise that we have lots of food. I don’t know what I’m worrying about. It’s just about adapting the menu so it fits what we have at hand. I may need to buy some more milk and meat for Mr Simple. If you’re wondering about bread, we make that in our bread maker and have enough flour in the cupboard to last us for quite a while.

Thinking about next month, I would really like to reduce our food budget even further. I was shopping at Lidl for a while, but they don’t have everything that we want and so ended up going to Tesco as well, which was really tiring after a long day at work. Now that we are getting a monthly shop this may be more doable. I had started to compare prices between the two stores and I need to go back to that. I know that some items e.g. Greek yogurt are cheaper and just as good in Lidl. It may be that I can go and do a monthly shop in Lidl on things I know are more expensive in Tesco. I still have the receipt from the monthly Tesco shop so with that in hand a trawl around Lidl may be useful.

Jobs for me therefore seem to be:

Review the menu over the next couple of weeks so that it is based on what we have and I don’t need to do too much shopping, meaning that £11.89 will last me until the end of the month.

Do a recce in Lidl to see what we can get there cheaper than Tesco and I can buy just once a month. I don’t want to get back to going to two stores every week. I value my time more than a few pence saved and experience tells me that the veg in Lidl aren’t always of good quality.

If you’ve got this far, thank you for reading my ramblings. I do find that blogging is such a good way of crystalizing my thoughts, so it helps me and hopefully has given you some ideas. How do you organize your shopping and meal planning? Please let me know your ideas for saving money and taking the stress out of cooking and shopping.

How to Live a Balanced Life

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Tom Corley’s sixth habit from his book, Rich Habits Poor Habits is:

I will live every day in a state of moderation

The dictionary defines being moderate, as ‘keeping within reasonable or proper limits; not extreme, excessive or intense.’

So, let’s compare successful people and unsuccessful people, at least according to Tom Corley, in terms of their moderate habits:

Successful people moderate their work hours, eating habits, exercise, alcohol intake, television viewing, reading, internet use, phone conversations, emails, text messages, etc. They are even-tempered – slow to anger or excitement. Their moderate mindset puts family, friends, colleagues at ease, which helps improve relationships. Successful people eat, drink, entertain and live moderate lifestyles. They are not extravagant.

Do you spend too much time doing this?

Some of you may be saying, ‘This all sounds rather boring’, but if you want to achieve financial independence then behaving like an unsuccessful person is not going to get you there. According to Tom Corley, unsuccessful people have a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mindset. Their spending patterns are continuously influenced by others. They have no savings or financial safety net. They eat too much, drink too much, overreact to events. They have wild swings in their moods. They live pay day to pay day.

One area in which proponents of FI/RE may diverge from the thinking of Tom Corley is in saving habits. Here, one may choose to be extreme. Maybe not as extreme as Jacob Lund Fisker who I believe takes cold showers and sees food as fuel rather than something to be enjoyed for the taste of it. Extreme though, in the percentage of their savings, which most advocates suggest as 70% or higher. Where Tom Corley’s advice comes in is that in order to achieve such a high savings rate your lifestyle cannot be extravagant, otherwise you will be living beyond your means and your savings won’t be 10%, let alone 70%.

I would like to go back to eating more of this

Starting to consider where your habits might be extreme is an enormous task. I don’t think that anyone who wants to achieve financial independence can be extravagant, but you can choose the areas in your life where you are happy to spend money and those which you are content to forgo. I have a tendency to take things to extremes and have slashed our spending in many areas. If you do have the ability to do this I think that it is a good starting point to work out what is important to you. Currently we are surviving on a mainly vegetarian diet, whereas previous we were eating fish at least once if not twice a week. I have realised that I do miss fish. Not only the taste, but also I feel now that we are eating too much cheese for my liking. I love cheese, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that it doesn’t always love me and if I eat too much I get terrible sinus problems. At the moment I pepper the week with vegan meals, our main staple being curry, which hold the problem at bay. I would love to return to our former pescatarian diet, but I will have to decide where I can make savings from other parts of our budget in order to do so.

Another area where we are now more moderate than before is our choice of holidays. Over the past few years we have been on some lovely holidays where we paid a premium for others to take the strain. One in particular that I remember with fondness was a week cycling in Tuscany. We were met at the airport and taken to our first hotel. Bikes and the cycles routes for each day were provided. All we had to do was leave each morning when we were ready and when we arrived at our destination our bags were there waiting for us. This year we have holidayed in the UK and had two staycations. I admit I am going abroad with my mother next month, but you’re only 50 once and so we’re marking the occasion with a special holiday.

The nub of the issue is to be able to have control over your thoughts and emotions; being able to make rational and calm decisions about how you live your life. Just by reading this blog you are hopefully looking to make changes. I was listening to an episode of Dr Chatterjee’s podcast today and he was saying how choosing just one aspect of your lifestyle to work on can have a knock-on positive effect on other areas of your life. To take one of Tom Corley’s examples, you might worry about how much you drink and want to work on that. If you stop drinking as much you might find it easier to get up in the morning and be more inclined to exercise or to eat a healthy breakfast, as opposed to that fry-up to soak up the alcohol from the night before. You’ll also save money as well. Therefore, if there seem too many things to work on, or you’re not ready to address some of them just yet, make it easier for yourself and choose just one.

So, where do you start if you want to develop more moderate habits? This is an enormous subject, enough for a whole book. In fact, I have recently finished Atomic Habits by James Clear. A really useful guide to developing more positive habits.

If it’s your diet that you struggle with, as many of us do, then have a look at the advice of Dr Chatterjee. Gaining control of your emotions maybe more difficult. A popular solution is meditation and mindfulness. Dr Chatterjee can help here as well as he has a few podcasts on these subjects.

I hope that this has given you some good ideas if you’re struggling to get your spending under control in some areas or if there are areas of your health and wellbeing that you’d like to improve.

That’s all for now. Good luck in bringing a bit of moderation into your life. Hopefully you’ll improve your health and save a bit of money along the way as well.

August Intentions

This month for some reason I decided to write some intentions. For me they are not really goals, but something more vague. Just a general idea about some things that I intend to do. They were:

  • Start the 5:2 diet with Mr Simple
  • Continue painting the house
  • Prepare for Italy holiday
  • Continue to declutter my study
  • Read ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport and begin implementing its advice

So how am I doing?

Mr Simple has lost 2.5lbs on the 5:2 diet

Well, we’ve started the 5:2 diet and we’re on week two. Mr Simple lost 2.5lbs last week and I gained 0.5lbs. Fortunately I don’t actually need to lose weight; I’m just doing it to keep him company. I wasn’t sure whether Mr Simple would be able to stick to it, but credit where it’s due, he has done. I am hoping that he will be encouraged by the initial weight loss and that it will continue.

As for painting the house, the progress has been sporadic. We currently have scaffolding up due to work that was done on the house and Mr Simple decided that it would be the ideal opportunity to paint it. Unfortunately, since he started it the weather has taken a turn for the worse. I helped him one weekend and although the forecast was for sunshine we had a heavy shower half way through. Fortunately, the paint didn’t run off, as we thought it might do. The following weekend we had the guide dog and so we couldn’t both go up the scaffolding, so I stayed down in the garden. Then, last weekend, the weather was dreadful. As you may recall, Mr Simple only works part time, which leaves him free to get on with DIY tasks in the week so he has managed to make some progress. In fact, on fast days, he has done really well, because in a bid to distract himself from the gnawing hunger pains he has concentrated on painting.

Looking forward to a week in Italy next month

My preparation for Italy hasn’t started yet. I am going away to the Italian lakes with my mum for a week. Usually we have a holiday together once in a year in this country, but as I reached half a century back in the spring we are pushing the boat out this year. We’ve splashed out on a room with a balcony overlooking the lake and I’m really looking forward to it. I was a bit worried at the beginning of the week when they announced that some pilots were striking over the period that we are going, but fortunately we are not flying with an airline that is affected. Hopefully our itinerary should arrive soon and I can start thinking about packing. I have been to Italian evening classes in the past and listened to some CDs from the library. I keep promising to get them out again, but haven’t done so. I need to get on with that and listen to them in the car. It’s nice to be able to speak a little of the language when you’re abroad. 

I have made some changes in my study, but this is the one intention that I haven’t made a lot of progress on and I need to do so.

I have only just started ‘Deep Work’. I bought two books at the end of last month with the bit of money that I had left over. ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear arrived first so I’ve just finished that. I started ‘Deep Work’ this morning and so far am really enjoying it. I am hoping that if I can learn from his advice that I can make myself more productive at work, giving myself a bit of ‘wriggle room’ in my working day.

Do you set monthly intentions? Did you make any this month? How are they going?

How Not to be Busy

How well do you plan your work?

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For me ‘a simple life’ extends to keeping work simple, to keeping it between Monday and Friday and between approximately 9am and 5pm, but I know that it’s easier said than done. It seems that we are all expected to be busy. I don’t see my colleagues very often, as I work at home a lot, or am out and about at meetings, but when I do see them that is the first question that they ask me, ‘Are you busy?’ It’s an expectation. I feel scared to say that I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t got enough to keep me occupied, but most of the time I don’t feel overwhelmed by it. I’m not up until 2am writing reports the day before the deadline, unlike some of my fellow workers.

So how do I manage this then? I haven’t got less work than other people, it’s just that I have systems in place to manage it and I spend a lot of time planning. Some people would say that I spend too much time planning. The thing is when I’ve got a plan I feel calm.

Daily planning

My work days are very varied. Sometimes I am at home all day, other times I am out at the door at 8am, going to various appointments and don’t get to sit down at my computer until the afternoon, if at all. When I do get some time to myself though I have a system that I go through and I have that system written down. It includes tasks such as:

  • complete timesheet
  • reflect on previous day and note tasks arising
  • check voicemails
  • check emails
  • list any other tasks

Most days I get at least an hour to do this at some point. What this means is that I don’t end up for example having to fill in my timesheet days or weeks late when I can’t actually remember what hours I worked on that day. It doesn’t become a chore. It takes a few seconds at the beginning and end of the day and it’s done. I don’t forget about a message someone left on my phone. If I went to a meeting the day before then a task I add to my list is to write up my notes.

Make all your phone calls at once

How to keep track of your tasks

So, where do all the tasks go? Thanks to this book by David Allen I’ve developed a task sheet. It has sections for phone calls, emails, notes to write up, documents to read. The idea behind this is that instead of flitting from one type of task to the other it is easier to make all of your phone calls in one go or send your emails one after the other. On many days I am out and about between meetings and sitting in my car. I can look at my task list to see what calls I need to make and do those whilst I have time to kill. Other, lengthier tasks, I’ll save for when I am sitting at a desk.

Weekly planning

Years ago, I went on a training course about planning. It was a two-day course, the days several months apart so that we could try to implement the recommendations and then return later in the year to review how we were getting on. What I learnt from that course is that it’s not just enough to have a to do list, you have to put time aside in your diary to undertake those tasks. In fact, I came across an episode of The Life Coach School recently entitled ‘Throw away your to do list’. Brooke Castillo talked about this exact thing. Take your to-do list, diarise each task and then throw away your list.

We all have deadlines. My job involves writing reports, one at the beginning and one at the end of the project. For the initial ones I don’t always have a lot of notice, but for the final ones I know six months in advance when they will be due. I can also pretty much guess what other tasks I’ll have to do to gather information for the report. Each week I review where I am on different projects and put aside time in my diary several months in advance for any meetings that I need to arrange and to write the report. Now, I don’t always stick exactly to the time and day, but I know roughly what I’ll have to do over that week. It also means that I won’t miss anything nearer the time. I won’t sit down to write my report and think, ‘I should have met with so and so’, because I’d have diarised it and done it before the slot for report writing was in my diary. It also allows me to see how much work I’ll have in a certain month and if the manager is trying to give me something new to work on I can show how many other commitments I have at that time.

Every week I try to look at the following week, which should already have appointments pencilled in, and book those meetings. When the week arrives then I add the other day-to-day things such as making calls and typing up notes.

Do you ever turn these off?

Being Effective

There is also the question of focus. When you have to prepare a report how well are you able to concentrate on it? I have recently listed to Cal Newport on a couple of podcasts talk about his book ‘Deep Work’. Although I am yet to read the book, the basics that I gleaned from the interviews were that in this world of instant responses and the temptation of social media, in order to be able to be productive you need to disconnect yourself from all of that. He recommends turning off your email alerts, putting your phone in another room and basically reducing distractions as much as possible. All of this may be very difficult if you work in an open plan office, of which Cal is not a fan. If you can reduce distractions, he then recommends practising ‘deep work’ by setting a timer for say 30 minutes and trying to immerse yourself in the work you need to do for that period of time. After 30 minutes you can check your emails or your phone. It might be a good idea to get up from your computer. You could make a cup of tea, or if like me you are at home, hang out the washing. I have tried this recently and I can only do so many 30-minute slots in a row before I feel exhausted and I need to do something less taxing. I have found it to be very effective though. I am hoping that when I get around to reading his book (which is on my bedside table) I will learn how to get better at this.

Now, I don’t want to sound as though I am perfect as there are times when I have worked on the weekend, but they are few and far between. Usually they are before or after annual leave. Unfortunately, in my job, there is no one else to pick up your tasks whilst you are off, therefore if you have a deadline for a report in the middle of your holiday that report needs to get written before you go away. Apart from that, as I said, life is simple. Work happens on weekdays and rarely extends past 6pm. That way I can enjoy my early mornings, my evenings and my weekends. Work feels just a part of my life and I have time for plenty of other activities.

So, how do you plan your working life? What do you struggle with at work? What tips do you have for others who have a busy schedule? Let me know if you want more information about anything that I have written.