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

Bowl of tomato stew
Make easy meals that you can put in the freezer
do a monthly shop

As you know from this previous post, in an effort to help with the food budget and meal planning I am ordering our staples once a month from Tesco. This includes items such as butter, cheese, juice, milk, flour, oil, beer and crisps. Then I top up each week with perishables.

When I first started doing this I was still buying foods such as milk and juice every week. I have since realised that juice lasts for about a month and milk is perfectly fine even after its been frozen. My weekly shop is therefore pretty much confined to fruit and veg, along with cold meats for Mr Simple. I have to say that this arrangement is going really well and has completely taken the stress-factor out of the weekly shop. I usually whizz around the supermarket in about 15 minutes every week.

meal plan for a whole month

The second tactic that I am using to reduce the food budget is by meal planning for a whole month. Almost all of the articles that I read about meal planning recommend doing it on a weekly basis, but I think that it only takes a little longer to plan meals for a month as it does for a week.

Having a plan for dinner is 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 include recipes where I can make double the quantity and freeze the left overs. If you want some ideas of the type of meals that I freeze you can find a few here.

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, so when you shop this way it can feel like you’ve spent all of the food budget at the beginning of the month. There’s no need to panic though, because if you’ve planned well, all the meals you have in the freezer will carry you through until the end of the month.

pot of ice cream in an empty freezer
You should have more than this in your freezer
making the most of your freezer

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. During the first half of the month I spend time filling the freezer with the meals that I cook. Most recipes are for four people and so I cook the whole amount and then as we are only two people, half of the meal gets put in the freezer. I used to use freezer bags, but now I mainly put food into old spreadable butter tubs. This is a trick that my mother uses, which I stupidly ignored until I discovered frugality.

repeating meals

Although I say that I meal plan for a whole month at a time, really you only have to think up ideas for half the month. This is because you will cook double the amount that you need and put the rest in the freezer. You therefore have to be prepared to eat something twice in a month. Not all meals lend themselves to being frozen, so you’ll probably need to come up with recipes for slightly more than half the month. 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.

maximise your freezer space

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. 

Hopefully has given you some ideas. How do you organize your shopping and meal planning? Please let me know your ideas for reducing your food budget, meal planning and taking the stress out of cooking and shopping.

How to find a balance in your life

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.’

Do you spend too much time doing this?
moderate habits

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.

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. Unsuccessful people eat too much, drink too much, overreact to events. They have wild swings in their moods. They live pay day to pay day.

If you only save moderately it will take a long time to reach financial independenc
where not to be moderate

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%.

Not eating fish saves us money, but I do miss it
choose when to spend and when to save

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.

a pile of books, sunglasses, on a beach
We all love holidays, but they can be expensive
making difficult choices

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. In 2019 we holidayed in the UK and had two staycations.

Trying to control your emotions can be a real challenge
Shape your life

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.

Try listening to podcasts to help give you some ideas
ideas on where to start

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 to be More Organised

desk with computer which is very tidy
Learn how to be more organised at work

For me ‘a simple life’ extends to keeping work simple, to limiting it to between Monday and Friday and between approximately 9am and 5pm. Unfortunately I know that this is easier said than done, but in this article I want to give you some ideas about how you can achieve this. I believe that the key to managing your time is to be more organised.

It seems that we are all expected to be busy nowadays. If you’re like me, when you bump into someone you haven’t seen in a while, the first thing they ask you is, ‘Are you busy?’ In this situation 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 am very organised. I have systems in place to manage my workload 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. How does this compare to your average working day? Feeling stressed and overstretched? Want to be more organised? Here’s how…

cup of tea and note book
Try to start your day with a plan
Daily planning

How do you plan your days? Do you even plan them at all or do they just happen? 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 checklist that I go through and I have that checklist written down. It includes tasks such as:

  • complete timesheet
  • reflect on previous day and note tasks arising
  • check voicemails
  • check emails
  • allocate tasks a slot on my calendar

On 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.

What are the tasks that you need to do every day? Do you sometimes forget them and find yourself trying to catch up later on? Take a few minutes to make a checklist of those daily tasks that you can refer to every day. It really will help you to be more organised.

Make all your phone calls at once
How to keep track of your tasks

So, how do you remember all your tasks? Thanks to the book ‘Getting Things Done’ 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.

What tasks do you have to do on a regular basis? Do you make your lists on scrappy bits of paper that you can’t find when you need them. If you want to be more organised develop a task list with sections for each type of task. You can either print your lists out and throw them away once you’re done with them or keep it electronically and keep updating it.

Open diary on a desk with a yellow pencil
Forward planning is priceless if you want to be more organised
Weekly and monthly planning

Years ago, I went on a training course about planning. It was a two-day course, with day one and day two being 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.

Want to put this into practice and be more organised? Are there tasks that you know will be coming up over the next few months, even though you don’t know exactly when? Allocate time in your diary for them. Even if you have to move them around it will give you an idea of how much work you’ll have on over that period of time. Attend regular meetings for which you need to prepare? Put an hour aside several days before each meeting to do so. Make a monthly mileage claim? Again, schedule this into your diary so that you don’t end up waiting months for that money you’re owed.

The word email on white tiles with a grey background
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? For some ideas I would suggest having a read of my two posts on Cal Newport’s book ‘Deep Work’:

You could also listen to him being interviewed by Paula Pant on the ‘Afford Anything Podcast:

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.

Now, I don’t want to sound as though I am perfect as there are times when I think that I could be more organised, 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, if you want to be more organised, have a think about how to plan your working life better. 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. I’d be happy to help.