Make Every Day Exciting

I was recently persuaded to go into the city centre on a Saturday night for a colleague’s leaving do. By the time that I arrived at 6pm she and several others had been out all afternoon drinking. I was just there for something to eat. My days of going out to bars and clubs are long behind me and mainly happened in my late teens and early twenties. Now I sit and watch aghast at what goes on and how much money people are parting with.

The venue for the meet up was a cocktail bar which was serving various concoctions at  extortionate prices. I got a lift there from a colleague who shares the same views about going out drinking at the weekend and we had an interesting debate about the need to get plastered on a regular basis. Both of us are middle-aged and happily settled in relationships. We have nice homes that we enjoy spending time in and partners who we love and want to spend time with. Our theory about those who wish to dull their senses with alcohol on a regular basis was that maybe they aren’t as lucky as we are and therefore want to escape from the real world.

This habit of living just for the weekend is something that I encounter on a regular basis. There seems to be an expectation that Monday mornings are something to be endured and going back to work after a period of leave something to be dreaded.

The village hall is going to be host to a film night once a month

As you know I have recently returned from a holiday in Italy and actually I was quite looking forward to coming home. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my holiday, but there were plenty of nice things happening back at home. For a start, one of the trainee guide dogs we have looked after a couple of times was coming back to stay for the week and he was going to be with Mr Simple when he picked us up at the airport. Secondly, I was going to meet up with some ex-colleagues for food and then later that week I had an invite for drinks at a neighbour’s house. She has what looks like a lovely property and I was excited to see inside for the first time (I am ever so nosey). There seem to be more social events than ever going on in the village – I had booked to see a play in the village hall later in September and then whilst I was away I also had a message about a film club starting in the village.

Maybe I’m lucky that  I enjoy my day to day life. Like everyone I have good and bad days, but on the whole I have a nice life. Yes, it involves going to work, which can sometimes be stressful, as well as doing chores on the evenings and weekends, but everyday there are things to enjoy. That first cup of tea in bed in the morning whilst I’m reading my latest  self-help book, sitting down to breakfast with Mr Simple on some days, watching FI/RE videos on YouTube whilst I am jogging on the treadmill. In the evening I get to spend time with Mr Simple, even if it’s just watching a bit of TV together. I get excited about seeing how many people have read my posts that day and enjoy planning and writing new posts. Even my daily commutes provide an opportunity for pleasure as I decide which podcasts to download ready to listen to the next day on the way to work.

If you just live for the weekend or your holidays, my homework for you today is to have a think about how much time you spend planning your holidays or your weekend nights out, as opposed to making your ordinary days more enjoyable.  Instead of just living weekend to weekend or holiday to holiday could you put more effort in to creating that same anticipation when you wake up each morning? How could you make your days more enjoyable by adding little bits of pleasure?

Lessons from the older generation

The view from our balcony

For regular readers of this blog you will know that I have just returned from a week away in Italy with my mum. We stayed on Lake Maggiore, which was fabulous and I would recommend it to anyone, but it is certainly not a frugal holiday destination. We saw luxurious hotels (although unfortunately weren’t staying in one) and a classic car show, sponsored by a Swiss bank. Amidst all this excess Mum and I found a couple of ways to save a bit of money.

Monte Rosa in the Italian Alps

Firstly, as is usually the case on the continent, tea and coffee wasn’t provided in the room and you had to buy it in the bar. In order to save money Mum brought a small kettle, two cups and some tea bags with her. As well as enabling us to retire to our balcony overlooking the lake of an evening and have a mint tea, it also allowed us to have a cup of tea in bed in the morning, something which us Brits can’t live without. There was a fridge in the room and so we could keep a carton of milk in there for the morning cuppa.

Secondly, the restaurant in the hotel refused to provide tap water at dinner. When I asked for it I was told that they don’t have tap water (I am not sure how they washed the dishes or boiled the potatoes). I didn’t bother arguing with them and after the first night we just brought our own. Mum had a small plastic bottle which she could fill and take down in her handbag. My water bottle is rather large and wouldn’t fit in my handbag, so she suggested keeping the small wine bottle we had from dinner, which had a screw top, and then I filled that with water from the bathroom tap and took it down to dinner with me. Other guests were spending €4 a time on a bottle of water. Strangely, the couple who we shared a table with were under the impression that the water in Italy is not safe to drink, which is evidently not the case.

As well as saving money on drinks I think that we also resisted buying things for the sake of it. We went to a market one morning and whereas previously I would have bought something just if I liked the look of it, as I didn’t need of anything I didn’t spend a penny. Mum bought two wooden spoons for cooking, for a grand total of €5.

We did spend a lot of money on food, partly because the evening meals in the hotel weren’t very special and as Mum said, we wanted to sample real Italian food. I feel that we spent money on experiences, which included all of the optional trips of the holiday, and a nice lunch everyday, rather than buying more possessions.

This is the first occasion that Mum and I have spent time together since I discovered FI/RE. We live 180 miles apart and although we speak on the phone once a fortnight, we only see each other a couple of times a year. One of those is always a week’s holiday together. Often we go away in the UK, but as it was my 50th birthday this year we thought that we would do something special, hence the Italy trip.

Spending time with my mum this year has made me realise that she is a fabulous example of how to be frugal. Firstly, she is a great fan of charity shops and whenever we are away in the UK she always wants to go into charity shops and will often tell me that what she is wearing was bought in a charity shop. In respect of food, she grows fruit and veg in her garden, she cooks from scratch and she and my father rarely go out to eat. She can sew, so makes her own curtains, tablecloths and in the past, her children’s clothes, when we were young.

As well as her thriftiness, she is also a great example of how to set up a side hustle. My mum is not very academic and never had a career. When my siblings and I were young she stayed at home to look after us, doing part time work from home so that she and my dad could make ends meet. When she was 50, her father died and left her some money. It wasn’t a fortune, but she used it wisely. She bought two rundown properties and renovated them, doing a lot of the decorating herself. The rental income provides her with a pension so that she doesn’t have to rely solely on the state pension.

Thinking about all of this has made me wonder what we could all learn from our parents. Although my mum never went out to work until I was a teenager I never felt that we were poor. We always had food on the table, my parents owned their own house, we had two cars, albeit second hand ones and we went on holiday every year, although sometimes this was camping and we always stayed in Britain. I find it strange nowadays that both parents often seem to work full time and an oft-used phrase is that ‘she had to go back to work’. I am certainly not advocating for women to stay at home, as I am a feminist and glad that society has moved on from that view, but to me it seems that both parents only need to work full time nowadays to fund the extravagant lifestyles that we lead. New cars, the latest iphone, a TV in every room, weekly takeaways and meals out, designer handbags and clothes. The desire for all of these takes parents away from their children. I had a great childhood, but it didn’t feature any of these things and I realise that my mum gave us a great life because she found ways to make the best of what we had. I do feel that today’s generation could learn a lot from their parents and grandparents about what is actually important in life and instead of working just to keep up with the Joneses, choose to work less and enjoy more time with their family

So if you’re reading this and you’re middle-aged, what could you learn from your parents and if you’re in your twenties, maybe you need to have a chat with grandma and granddad and see how they have managed their money over the years.

What are your views? As someone who doesn’t have children am I being harsh? Do you feel pressured to work full time so that your kids don’t miss out on possessions when really you would like to be at home more?

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.

Monthly Meal Planning

Last month I mainly bought tins of tomatoes, beer and crisps in my online order

In my June review I mentioned that I had been reading ‘The Complete Tightwad Gazette’ by Amy Dacyczyn and that as a result I had decided to make a monthly online grocery order for July. I have to say that went well. I mainly ordered tins, beer and crisps in bulk.

I decided that I would do the same thing for August and started questioning whether I could actually buy more than beer and tinned tomatoes in bulk. Being mainly a vegetarian household we eat quite a lot of cheese, such as paneer, feta and halloumi. I then wondered what the use by dates might be on those and when I looked at the ones we had in the fridge the shortest date was in two months’ time, with paneer lasting for four months and halloumi for a year. Why then do I buy them a couple of times a month when I go to the store? I therefore added them to the monthly order – two halloumi, two paneer and three feta. We are unlikely to eat these all this month, but they will last into next month and I can then just top up next month.

Our juice will last for a month

As well as cheese I found that the orange juice that we buy, which is in the fridge section and not long life, will last for a month. We only drink juice at the weekends so I bought just two cartons. I was a bit worried about the space in the fridge, but in fact it wasn’t too bad as we do have a large one. If we run out of juice this month I will buy three next month.

So far, the benefits of a monthly online order are spending less time in the supermarket and not having to carry several large bags of heavy shopping when I do have to go to the store. The downsides are that they charge for delivery, although I only spent £1.50 on this. The arrangement they have may not suit everyone as in order to get such a cheap slot I had to choose a long window during which they might deliver. Then, on the day of the delivery, they sent a text message giving details of the actual hour during which they would arrive. As Mr Simple is home a lot of the time this is fine for us, but may not work for everyone. For some reason they also charged us 40p for bags. For my July order the items just came loose in the large plastic crates and we had to empty them and give the crates back to the delivery driver. This time the food was all in plastic bags in the plastic crates. This isn’t great for the environment and when I do the shopping myself I take reusable bags with me. Apparently you can give the bags back to the driver and I have kept them and plan to do this for our next delivery. I need to look into why we had so many bags this time as I wouldn’t want it to be a regular thing.

We are fortunate to have lots of vegetables growing in the garden and at the moment we have lots of courgettes, some green beans, cucumbers and the tomatoes are just starting to go red. Therefore, when it comes to the weekly shop I only need to buy a few veggies and then fruit, milk and ham and chicken for Mr Simple. I think I’ve said before that a woman in the village has a small market garden where she grows vegetables. Every week she sends out a text message letting you know what she has, you order what you want and then collect it from her on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Along with our veg from the garden, this means that we aren’t buying too much from the supermarket at the moment. At this time of year our food miles for veggies are nearly zero.

For quite a while now I have struggled with meal planning. I read all of those frugal blogs saying that you need to do a weekly plan and go to the supermarket knowing what you want i.e. with a list. Now, I am good at that, as I always make a list, but I am not good at planning what we are going to eat before I go. I just buy a variety of vegetables and then our usual staples. The trouble with this method is that some recipes call for ingredients that we don’t ordinarily have and so I end up popping out to the local shops for it or just not cooking what could be a really nice recipe.

A bullet journal is a really adaptable planner

This month, having done a monthly shop, I just thought to myself, why not do a month-long meal plan. So that’s what I did. I think that it partly came about as Mr Simple and I have started the 5:2 diet this week and I had to plan what we were going to eat on those days. I also have a lovely bullet journal which lends itself readily to drawing out a nice table. I knew that we would have a lot of courgettes over the month, so I searched in my cookery books for as many courgette recipes as I could find and sprinkled them throughout the month. Even if you don’t have veggies growing in the garden you may want to think about what is in season as that may be on offer in the supermarket. I then added the fasting day recipes and a few curry ones, some from a new book that I found in the library by Dan Toombs, called ‘The Curry Guy Veggie’, and that was it. Surprisingly it didn’t take me much longer than doing a weekly meal plan.

Now, just because we have a plan we don’t have to stick to it rigidly, but use it as a guide. I have already swapped some of the recipes from one day to another, but I have to say I feel so much less stressed about what we are going to eat every evening. When it comes to the weekly shopping list, I can look at what I’ve put down for us to eat over the next week and buy the extra ingredients that we wouldn’t usually have.

So, how do you do your shopping? Do you meal plan? Let me know in the comments below.

Treat Yourself

Photo by Viktoria Alipatova on Pexels.com

We had some friends for lunch yesterday. They were passing through on their way to a week’s holiday with family and stopped by to say hello. Their suggestion was to go out for lunch, but I kept to our current frugal principles and offered to make lunch at home. We have a lovely house and a fairly nice, albeit very much ‘in progress’, garden. A much better place to eat than a dark pub on a bright spring day, and much cheaper.

During lunch Mr Simple surprised me. When I talk about FI/RE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) I don’t always think that he is listening, but yesterday he mentioned it to our friends and asked me to explain it to them. We talked about our staycation in March and how we had found pleasure in being at home. We also talked about changes that we have made to save money. One of them being that since we have become more frugal we are cooking much less fish (I am pescatarian and Mr Simple is a meat eater), so our meals are mainly vegetarian.

Our friends, who live in London, invited us down to stay and we talked about the great variety of restaurants there are in the capital, as compared to where we live. As well as economising on our home cooked food, we don’t go out to eat very often and that is when Mr Simple gets to eat meat. One would expect that he has been missing it, as now he only gets ham or chicken sandwiches, but never meat for a main meal. Some months, we don’t go out to eat at all, therefore his meat consumption at dinner is zero.  Surprisingly, Mr Simple shared than going out less often means that he enjoys it more when we do. He said that it feels like a treat.

So how do you define a treat? According to my little Oxford dictionary it is something that gives great pleasure. So, what makes it a ‘great’ pleasure? Back to the dictionary and one possible definition of ‘great’ is ‘more than ordinary’.

And that’s it isn’t it? It’s not something that you have every day. It is something that is out of the ordinary or extraordinary – unusual or remarkable; out of the usual course of everyday life. When you have your treat every day, or at least several times a week, that event doesn’t stand out anymore and therefore it’s not something to look forward to with anticipation.

Pleasures have become the mundane, the every day.

Having things less often means that you take more pleasure in them. In this day and age, we have forgotten what a treat is, as we treat ourselves every day.

In some ways I feel sorry for those who treat themselves every day. Their pleasures have lost their sparkle, their thrill. Maybe they have to spend more and more money to get that same feeling that I get when I buy a latte from a coffee shop once a month.

So, what treats do you have in your life? Or are there things that used to be treats, but aren’t anymore? How about giving them up for a bit and then just letting yourself have them occasionally? Try it for a little while and see how you feel when you do finally get that treat. You might just enjoy it all the more.