August Review

We started the 5:2 diet this month

I feel as though not a lot happened in August, mostly I think because the weather took a turn for the worse up until the Bank Holiday weekend, which was a scorcher.

Mr Simple and I started the 5:2 diet and he has lost 6lbs, whereas I’ve only lost 1lb. Fortunately I don’t need to lose weight. I think the reason for my lack of progress is that on the days where I can eat, I am eating more than usual to compensate for the fast days. Usually, when I am not dieting, I tend to eat very well in the week, avoiding carbs except at dinner. Now, the morning after fasting, I tend to have a slice of toast with breakfast, as I’m starving by that point. There are apparently other benefits to fasting apart from weight loss such as better blood sugar control, which can prevent type 2 diabetes, so hopefully it’s still doing me some good. I will keep going as it is working for Mr Simple and he is the one that needs to lose weight. Once he has achieved his ideal weight I can then decide whether to revert to my original eating habits or not. The risk is that for Mr Simple, who likes his bread, this may mean weight gain, but we will just have to wait and see.

The trainee guide dog that stayed with us during our staycation week in July returned for a long weekend at the beginning of August. One day we took him to a local country park and he got absolutely filthy. He loves the water, but at the park there were only muddy ditches, so he was very grey looking by the end of the walk. Unfortunately he also rolled in something brown and smelly (probably pooh). We had to take him to our usual walking spot near the beach so that he could go in the water and get clean.

I managed to finally get around to meal planning and it went extremely smoothly. Although I am away for a week in September I have already planned our meals for the rest of the month.

For many years now I have had a recurring ear infection. It’s not the usual type of infection, but the cold sore virus, which is living in the cartilage in my outer ear. I will never get rid of it, as those of you who suffer from the usual facial cold sores know. Unfortunately, every so often it flares up and gets infected, meaning that I have to take antibiotics, which I hate doing. After listening to a podcast about your ideal life I made some notes describing mine and included in the health category an absence of this infection. At the time I didn’t think much of it, just a pipe dream which isn’t realistic, but then I started researching cold sore prevention and came across lysine. It’s an amino acid which is believed to be effective at preventing this pesky virus. We have a great health food shop in the local town and I managed to buy a bottle of them. Unfortunately the tablets are enormous and I am not great at swallowing tablets at the best of times. I am making an effort though to take one half way through my breakfast, which helps push them down. It may be that this makes absolutely no difference at all, but I thought that it was worth ago. Before making the goal of not having any ear infections I didn’t even think it might be possible, but writing down the goal made me do some research and hey presto, a potential solution, or at least something which might reduce the frequency. I will keep you posted.

I received my pension statements in August. I will be able to draw on two of them aged 65 and the third one aged 67, when I get my state pension as well. As I’ve said before, I am fortunate enough to have a defined benefit pension, but it won’t be enormous as I’ve only been in full-time work since I was thirty-two. One pension is from my first job which I had for eight years and the other two are from my current job, as the organisation changed the scheme hence one maturing at 65 and the other two years later. At present I will get £10,500 at 65 and a further £4000 at 67. If I get the full state pension, which at the moment I don’t qualify for, not having worked enough years, that would be £23,500. In today’s money that’s not bad and as the mortgage will be long gone will be plenty to live on. As I’ve written before the problem is not the pension, but how to live between now and then without working full time.

Mr Simple and I have booked a few days away in the autumn at a nice hotel in Somerset. My budget for physio allowed for fortnightly sessions, but I haven’t gone as much as that so there is plenty of money left in that pot. I am going to use the excess to pay for this unplanned break.

On the blog I had 2707 views and 582 visitors, both numbers up from the July figures. Comments were fewer, but I am hoping that was due to visitors only having time for a quick read as they were on holiday or out enjoying the sunshine (when there was some).

As I write I am about to have my last day at work before my holiday and have been driving around listening to my Italian CDs which I got from the library. Really looking forward to this indulgent break. Although Mr Simple and I have been away even our holidays have been frugal.

So, let’s look at the figures…

Another good month on progress with the mortgage. The standard monthly payment was £528.34 and then we made an overpayment on the mortgage of £590. This leaves the balance on the mortgage standing at £76,282.58.

Savings are a grand total of £35,232,16. My Vanguard stocks and shares ISA has been mostly down this month and by the end of the month I had a total of £8577.12.  As usual I saved £185.00 to Vanguard and £250.00 to Nationwide. I had a little money left over and so invested a further £50 to my ISA at the end of the month.

Interest on Marcus account which I am using for stoozing was a grand total of £7.32. I had forgotten how long I had interest free period so rang Tesco and it is until July 2020. Loads of time to go to accrue interest for me.

General spending

The local wildlife is costing us a fortune

Food £131.56 – this included a monthly order from Tesco and a few top-up shops of mainly fruit and veg. The two freezers are bursting with produce and meals such as dahl and veggie burgers so if we need to we could live out of them for a while.

Petrol £89.17- under budget slightly.

Pilates £24.00 – managed to get to three sessions.

Toiletries £16.45 – this was two packets of hair dye which were on offer and the lysine pills.

Social £11.85 – very modest considering that my budget is £50. This was a drink out with a few neighbours and two lunches at work (the meals are very cheap, due I think to it being subsidised).

Miscellaneous £100.45 – this was mostly spent my Mr Simple on bird food and items for the garden.  Way over budget. I sometimes think that I need a separate budget just for our feathered friends as they cost us a fortune.

Expenses from bills account – expected annual/regular expenses

Physio session £32.00 – only managed to get to one. I had to cancel two sessions due work.

Somerset £85.00 – this was the deposit for our break in autumn.

Gifts – £50.00 for my nephew as it was his birthday this month.

Hair £16.00 – I go with it wet and just have it cut these days, dying it myself.

So that’s it folks. I am finishing this off just having got back from Italy and will let you know how they went in a future post. For now, how was your August? I’d love to know.

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.

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?

Monthly Meal Planning

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

Do you struggle with deciding what to eat each evening? Maybe you plan for the week, but find it hard to make time each weekend to do this. Find out why I moved to monthly meal planning…

Buying for a whole month

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.

Long use by dates

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.

The pros and cons

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.

Local veggies

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.

The move to monthly meal planning

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 change to monthly meal planning. 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? Have you tried monthly meal planning? Let me know in the comments below and if you want more ideas for simple living, saving money and being well, on your road to financial independence don’t forget to subscribe. You’ll get my ‘Frugal Tips’ sheet as a thank you for signing up.

July Review

Just a lovely summery picture as it’s July and the sun is shining

So here’s my review for July. I was thinking today about why I write reviews each month. I started doing it because it’s what FI/RE bloggers do. They review progress towards their financial goals each month, so that’s what I started doing when I launched this blog. I have to say that I really look forward to writing these posts. I find it useful looking back at the month, not only to see hopefully how little I have spent, but also to remember what we have done and how much we have achieved e.g. on the house. Do you review your progress? If you’re a blogger you probably do, but if not, do you measure your progress in any other way?

Anyway, let’s see how July went…

We had our second staycation at the beginning of the month. You may remember our first back in March. This time it didn’t quite work out as it did last time. Mr Simple’s parents planned to visit us some time over the summer and I suggested that they come during our week off, rather than come for a weekend when we’ve only got a couple of days off between busy work weeks. They said that they would come on the Thursday and so we had several days to ourselves to go out and have fun before they arrived.

A few days before the beginning of our week off we receive a call asking us to have a trainee guide dog from the Tuesday. I can’t remember whether I have mentioned this before, but we are boarders for Guide Dogs for the Blind. It’s a bit like being foster carers. We don’t do the training, but the dog lives with us and goes out Monday to Friday to do its training during the day and then is home all weekend. This time though the dog only went training one day whilst he was with us. Recently we have just had dogs for short periods of time when their usual boarders are away. We love having the dogs and so far have never refused when we have received a call asking us to have one, therefore despite our staycation we agreed. Now, I’d love to put a gorgeous picture of him up here, but unfortunately the rules are that we aren’t allowed to show the dogs on social media.

We didn’t start our staycation until the Monday, doing our usual chores on the weekend. I had arranged to have my car serviced on the Monday, having struggled to find a day when I didn’t need it during June. The weather was good and so after dropping off my car we went for a walk along the coast. Instead of taking sandwiches we stopped at a pub for lunch. Mr Simple’s mother had given us some money back in April after she received a dividend windfall and we still had £30 of this left. This just covered lunch so in terms of our budget for the week it cost us nothing. We did have an ice cream at the end of the walk, which came to £3.

On Tuesday we did a cycle ride around the local area. We discovered a café in a village where we had previously looked at a house before we decided on the one where we live now and treated ourselves to coffee and cake. Lunch was a sandwich in some woods where we have taken previous guide dogs. Our ultimate destination was a ‘castle’, though more of a mini stately home, where the gardens are open two afternoons a week and entry is free. We were the only visitors and had a wander round the somewhat weedy gardens before making our way home in order to be back for the dog arriving.

We live near the coast so can take the dogs to the beach

On Wednesday the dog stayed with us for the day and we took him for a walk on the beach in the morning and then pottered in the garden in the afternoon. Labradors and retrievers have a quite disgusting habit of eating manure and Mr Simple put down some manure pellets around some of the plants. Unfortunately, most of them were then eaten by the dog – he seemed to think that they were tasty treats put out especially for him.  

He was out on the Thursday training and we prepared for the arrival of Mr Simple’s parents. We did a bit of shopping and had lunch in a café. Mr Simple’s parents arrived late afternoon. His mother is somewhat nervous of dogs and so we hadn’t told her that one would be staying with us prior to their arrival. She had met one of our four-legged-friends one Christmas when they stayed with us and they got on well, as the dogs are usually very well-behaved. Fortunately, it was also the case this time and I think she enjoyed spending time with him.

Having researched places to go with the dog I had discovered that the botanic gardens about an hour’s drive away have doggy days twice a week. As he was a trainee guide dog we probably could have taken him in anyway as most places, although they are not obliged to do so, allow the dogs in. It was great as there was only one building that he couldn’t go in. They even had a room in the café where we could sit. On the financial side it was a cheap day as Mr Simple’s mother generously paid for petrol for the journey and entry to the garden and his father paid for tea and cake in the afternoon. For lunch I made sandwiches.

A BBQ with Mr Simple’s parents

Over the weekend we spent time walking the dog and sitting in the garden. On Sunday we had a cooked breakfast and then a late lunch, which was a BBQ, as the weather was great. Usually we would have gone out for a meal with Mr Simple’s parents, but with the dog this was more difficult and so we just ate at home. Therefore, it was a very frugal week foodwise.

The rest of the month has been fairly quiet. I had one of my get-togethers with former colleagues, which we do every other month. As always, the meal was cheap – only £10.50 and then I had a mint tea for £2.10.

So, let’s look at the figures…

Another good month on progress with the mortgage. The standard monthly payment was £532.28 and then we made an overpayment on the mortgage of £578.

This leaves the balance on the mortgage standing at £77,286.52.

Savings stand at £34,731.86. My Vanguard stocks and shares ISA has been up, up and up this month and by 31st July I had made a profit of £270.29.  As usual I saved £185.00 to Vanguard and £250.00 to Nationwide. Managed to get excel to draw me a nice little graph showing the progress on my savings so here it is – a good steady increase so far this year:

Interest on Marcus account which I am using for stoozing was a grand total of £6.14.

General spending

Food £139.93 – I ordered some dried fruit which lasts us a few months. Otherwise it was a fairly ordinary month.

Petrol £108.32 – Slightly lower than the budget.

Pilates £32.00 – Managed to get to four sessions which was great, as work doesn’t always allow me to do so. I feel so much better for going and really enjoy it. The lessons are also quite sociable as several people from the village go.

Toiletries £12.22 – Nothing exciting.

Miscellaneous £60.18 – We had to buy a new blade for the bread maker.  The non-stick was peeling off and lumps were coming out of the loaf when we took it out of the tin. I also bought a new airer to dry clothes. This was to replace a very old one belonging to Mr Simple which keeps collapsing and the plastic coating is peeling off. The new one looks much more robust and will hopefully last for years. We don’t have a tumble dryer and so our clothes are hung on an airer in a warm room over the winter months.

Expenses from bills account – expected annual expenses

Physio session £32.00 – I only managed to get to one session as I had to cancel the second due to work.

Car service £315.28 – nearly £100 more than budgeted, but unfortunately it is getting old and is likely to start costing me money over the next couple of years.

Gifts £19.98 – candles for two of my former colleagues who I met up with.

Eyebrow waxing £7.50

So that’s it folks any observations or suggestions? How was your July? I’d love you to let me know in the comments. Have a lovely August.