Meet Fern: her green stems are packed with memories

Fern
Hello Fern!

Meet Fern.  She is one of my older acquaintances.  As a youngster she lived with my grandma, growing into the fine specimen you now see.  Her exact birth date is lost in the mists of time but could be sometime in the 1970s as she was always there when I visited my lovely grandma.  When my grandma died in the early 1980s, no one else in the family wanted Fern and she was in danger of being abandoned so I happily adopted her.

My grandma lived next door to my childhood home and her house was a haven of calm.  She always seemed pleased to see me, always had a full biscuit tin and always had interesting stories to tell.  It was my grandma who bought me my first comics, tried to show me how to crochet, took me on my first trip to the Lake District and, when I had a house of my own, taught me my first lessons about growing flowers.  Fern was always there, thriving in the sunny hallway of her bungalow next to the kitchen door.

I took Fern to the cottage I lived in when my grandma died and since then she has moved with us to all the different houses we have owned.  When we had a garden she would spend some time outside during the summer and she regularly gets a haircut, otherwise she would take over the living room!  Occasionally she gets transferred into a new pot.

When we were away for 12 months travelling in our campervan I worried about who would look after Fern.  Our son and daughter-in-law happily stepped up to the mark and fostered her and now she has her own holidays at their house every time we take a long break.  She gets bed and board in their sunny dining room and only occasionally gets harassed by their cat.  She always returns looking bigger and shinier than ever.

It might be a little fanciful but I sometimes imagine all the memories of different window sills and different people that are held in Fern’s bushy green stems.

Fern is an asparagus fern which are renowned for being tough and so, despite being around 50-years old, she isn’t a demanding lodger.  She gets fed when I remember, watered irregularly and mostly she just watches the world go by from her current post, an east-facing window that catches the morning sunshine.  I am pretty certain now that Fern will outlive us both.  My plans for her long-term care are that she will go and live with our son and daughter-in-law permanently and I like to think of them having a link back to my loving grandma that neither of them ever met.

Frugal win and plastic-free fail

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Delicious vegetarian food

After the panic halfway through 2018 because our spending seemed out of control we changed our shopping habits with a plan to get things back on track and frugal.  We continue to purchase consciously, rather than conspicuously, only buy what we need and use the think-about-it-for-a-month method for expensive purchases or for something new.   We also continue to make do, wearing clothing until it is only fit for scraps and fixing things rather than replacing them.

Given that we are not prepared to give up our holidays, one of our bigger budget lines is food and grocery shopping.  This represented 14% of our spending in 2018.  We decided we would target this area of our budget and make some changes.  The main alteration we made last summer was to switch pretty much all of our shopping while we are in the UK to Aldi, the German discount supermarket, rather than a combination of Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

Since last summer we were away during September and October but it is now four months since we returned from this trip to mainland Europe and I have been able to review what we have spent in supermarkets during that period [which includes Christmas].

The savings are clear.  We have saved an average of around £50 a month [£600 a year is not an insignificant amount in our budget]  As we all know, in terms of staying frugal shopping in Aldi is a win-win.  This has certainly helped with our budget and although it is really too early to say, at the moment this year’s spending is on track [there I did say it].

I am less happy with the amount of plastic packaging we come home with from Aldi and this was the main reason we hadn’t shopped in Aldi previously.  I do try and buy as much plastic-free fresh fruit and vegetables as I can from the store but this seriously limits our diet.  Baking potatoes, spring onions, aubergines, peppers and celeriac are all favourites that are plastic-free.  Fantastic, there are good things here that make great meals.  But we also like to include carrots, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and mushrooms in our diet and these generally come wrapped in plastic, whereas in other supermarkets I could find them loose.

Being frugal and taking care of our planet are both important in my life and at the moment it feels challenging to balance these two principles.  I have been an environmental campaigner for most of my adult life and this is very much a part of who I am.  Travelling in our campervan is also something that is close to my heart.  Spending more than our budget [the amount of savings we have are pretty much fixed] isn’t really optional.  The only way we can live the life we want to is by keeping our spending in control.

If we squander all our savings before our pensions kick in we will have to go back to work!  Not the end of the world I know [and don’t get me wrong I am not complaining and I know how privileged we are] … and yet I do wonder who would want to employ either of us in our mid-60s?  And so our shopping continues to compromise our environmental credibility until Aldi start to reduce their packaging.  Hopefully that is only a matter of time.

 

 

 

Silver Cinema – a frugal thing to do in retirement in Greater Manchester

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I’ve chatted before about the fun of going to a cinema matinee now we are retired and the thrill of this simple pleasure that feels almost illicit hasn’t worn off despite it being two years since we last went out to work!  But an 11.00 showing at the cinema, that felt like a whole different experience.  We had never been to the cinema so early before, would this feel even more sinful than watching daytime TV?  Would the people of Salford and Manchester judge us harshly?  It turns out it doesn’t really matter what time of day I go to the cinema, once those house lights are down I am immersed in the world of the film with no distractions and the hour is pretty irrelevant.

The Odeon Cinema in Manchester has a Silver Cinema deal on a Tuesday morning.  For just £3 you get to see a film, get a free cup of tea or coffee and a couple of custard creams!  What’s not to like.  The only hurdle is that you have to be there at 11.00.  On their website the Odeon note that these showings are for over 55s and we were somewhat disappointed when no one checked our ID!  I reckon anyone in their 50s could sneak in and enjoy an affordable cinema trip.

It was a wet and blustery Tuesday morning when we turned up to see Bohemian Rhapsody.  We had intended to see this film anyway but hadn’t got round to it and spotting that we could get to see it for £3 each was a real frugal bonus.  It turns out we aren’t the only retired people in Greater Manchester that can get their act together by 11.00 in the morning and there were a few of us shaking the rain off our raincoats and queuing up for the drinks and biscuits as the staff members woke up the cinema for another day.

Of course, we knew this film was never going to have a happy ending but a few hours later we emerged red-eyed from so much weeping into lunchtime Manchester.  The movie was occasionally uplifting and funny but ultimately sad and, of course, is packed with good songs.

 

 

One Rug, Four Houses: A Story

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This Lansdowne Wilton 7′ 11″ x 8′ 7″ rug was bought from the fantastically named Connoisseur’s Corner in 1984.  This carpet shop was something from another era and a shopping experience like no other.  Two young newly weds, we nervously browsed the piles of rugs in Connoisseur’s Corner, discussing the merits of each one, admiring the different colour schemes and patterns.  This was an old fashioned sort of shop, even then, and we were made welcome with relaxed and courteous customer service.  Once we had made a choice we sat with the salesmen having tea in china cups while he completed the sale, how often does that happen today?  It was a civilised and special shopping experience.

This rug cost £120 which was more than our household weekly income at the time and a massive purchase for two people with little money who had just started paying their first mortgage.  This is a hard wearing wool rug from Wilton in Wiltshire and with a traditional design with a floral centre.  We bought it because we knew we wouldn’t be staying in the house we were living in for many years [less than two as it turned out] but wanted something to cover the worn living room carpet we had inherited from the previous owners.  We decided a large rug would cover the awfulness of this carpet while we needed it to and we could take it with us when we moved, therefore not wasting the money.  A good call as it turned out!

Our next house had new carpets, thanks to a generous re-location grant, but we still used the rug in the living room.  In our next house the rug looked great on the old wooden floors that we tirelessly striped with a hired industrial sander and varnished.  The rug was really in its element here on the honey-coloured boards.  Today the rug is under my feet as I type.  It sits on cork floor tiles that always remind me of Portugal and keeps our dining room / study cosy and warm.

This cherished rug has moved with us to four houses, each time it has fitted in and has been something consistent among the change.  Nowadays the fringe looks somewhat bedraggled but I’m pretty sure this rug is something that we will be using until we die!

Here’s why Making your own Bread is Tasty & Frugal

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I have baked my own bread for a long time, mainly at home, although in the campervan I occasionally knock up some pitta bread.  I became a bread maker in the days when we lived in a semi-detached house with a good-sized kitchen and I had room to leave a worktop covered in flour for a few hours while the dough proved.  When we moved to our flat I still wanted fresh homemade bread but there was hardly enough space for kneading dough on the worktops of our tiny kitchen.  We don’t have a good bakery nearby and shop-bought bread was so awful, buying a compact bread maker was an option that has worked well for us.

We have owned our Morphy Richards compact bread maker for nine years now.  We have had to buy a new pan and paddle over the years but it has given good service, is easy to use and makes affordable fresh and tasty bread that we love.  I particularly like knowing exactly what has gone in to our bread and just love the smell of bread baking.

We use the bread maker two or three times a week while we are at home.  I would estimate before we retired we used it around 100 times a year and now we are away on campervan trips more we use it around 70 times a year.  In nine years that is a lot of bread-making cycles!

WHAT DOES MAKING BREAD AT HOME COST?

  • Morphy Richards compact bread maker £46.50
  • Replacement bread pan £25.99
  • Replacement kneading paddle £8.99
  • TOTAL £81.48 [£9.05 per year / approx £0.10 per use]

BREAD INGREDIENTS [for one loaf]

  • 500 gms of mixed strong white and wholemeal flour £0.28
  • Allinsons Easy Bake Yeast £0.08
  • Olive oil, salt and water cost pennies
  • Electricity approximately £0.12
  • TOTAL INGREDIENTS [for one loaf] £0.48

These calculations are rough and ready [our bread maker might last a few more years for a start] but show that the cost of a loaf and the bread maker over nine years comes to around £0.60.  While you can get a sliced white loaf in a supermarket for around this price, the taste of this is no match for homemade bread.  Buying a good loaf from a bakery would cost much more, so a frugal and tasty win!

 

 

 

 

 

Achieving frugal minimalism? 2018 finances reviewed

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In 2017 I was feeling a trifle smug.  We had spent around £24,000 in our first year of retirement, way below budget.  That smug smile was wiped off my face earlier in the year when I reported that things were not looking so positive in 2018 and I was feeling a frugal failure.  With inflation I could have expected our spending to increase to around £25,000 in the year, instead it seems we were just saving up all our big financial hits for 2018.  In 2018 we were just average [2017 UK average household spending was £28,818).  This isn’t much comfort when we’re supposed to be being frugal and minimalist.  In our spending you won’t find any costs for haircuts, party frocks, frippery or pay TV, so what went wrong?  I’ve divided our spending this year in to essentials, stuff, experiences and giving.  The graph gives a summary.

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Essentials – total £9,654 [34% of total spending]

Food – £3,870 – We are two vegetarian who like to drink red wine and gin & mostly use the discount supermarkets.  I do know that wine and gin are not essential but we haven’t separated the costs of these from our supermarket shops during the year and together these probably represent about £400 of the total.   [2017 £3,612] 

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 58 sq mtrs [624 sq feet] flat – £4,841 – This year we have changed supplier for our gas and electric and moved to a cheaper mobile phone contract to save money.  The increase is only because we payed up-front for the gas boiler servicing to receive a discount  [2017 £4,621 mis-reported last year!]

Our health [including tai chi classes [?essential?]] – £943 – An expensive year thanks to some dental work [£235] and both of us needing new specs [£503] [2017 £376]

Stuff (electronics, newspapers and other kit) – £3,333 [11% of total spending]

Household items [including parts for the bikes] –  £2,364 – Although this category does include a multitude of things, including postage, one newspaper a week, books [often second-hand] and bits and bobs for repairs, it also includes stuff.  In 2018 we decided to buy a new laptop [£450] and one new mobile phone [£115], replace our ageing head torches [£70] and cycle helmets [£50]; although all replacing old and well-used items these are purchases that we don’t make easily and we had been putting off for some time.  [2017 £1,668]

Clothes & accessories – £969 – Whenever we can we buy second-hand clothing.  The almost £1,000 we have spent is mostly for replacements for walking gear that has worn out.  Even with the best quality clothing things don’t last forever and this year we have bought new walking shoes, trousers and rucksacks.  It is true that about £100 of this spending is for a couple of things that were bought because of a want, rather than a need.  [2017 £525]

Experiences – £14,095 [51% of total spending]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £4,681 – Despite being away on holiday for even longer, around 40% of the year [155 nights in the campervan, plus a couple of other holidays in self-catering cottages] we have spent less on this budget line in 2018.  Result!  The spending is mostly on accommodation and ferries and also includes £380 for a 2019 holiday.  [2017 £5,285]

Restaurants & cafes – £2,963 – Only a tad more than last year [2017 £2,864]

Running the campervan [servicing, insurance & parts] – £2,578  – a big increase on last year [2017 £1,636] all due to replacing brakes and tyres, failures in the air conditioning and power steering and a bit of wing mirror jousting.  What a year!  Readers might not agree that the costs for our campervan come under experiences but for us this is an important part of our lifestyle and so this is where it fits best.  Friends might be surprised that I didn’t put it under essential spending!

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,937 – the price of diesel has increased and we drove more miles in the Blue Bus this year, particularly on our trip to Croatia [2017 £1,641]

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £1,114 – Wow!  We must have been to a lot of events this year!  Tickets for the football have increased in price and in Croatia we visited more paying attractions than we might have as we’re unsure whether we will travel so far again.  Although this is experiences, rather than stuff, this is definitely an area we could try and make savings in 2019. [2017 £633]

Public transport – £670 – We don’t use the campervan around Manchester and cycle and walk to do things or visit friends but sometimes [if it is raining/cold/too far] we take the tram, the bus or the train [2017 £517]

Unknown spending – £152  – [2017 £81]

Giving – £1,025 [4% of total spending]

Gifts & donations – £1,025 – we buy our family and friends birthday presents and buy Christmas presents for a shorter list [2017 £1,173]

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2018 – £28,107 [2017 £24,196]

I’m pleased to see how much our spending is weighted towards doing things, rather than buying stuff so perhaps a tick for being minimalist if not uber-frugal.  Despite having a year that has still been a bit heavy on replacing things 51% of our spending has been on our own version of enjoying life.  We have a plan to cut down our spending on stuff in 2019 and I hope spending only 4% on giving make us look frugal rather than mean as I’d like this to remain this low.

It is impossible to make any conclusions from one year and averaged over two years our spending of £26,152 a year still seems fairly low.  This year has shown us how important over-saving or over-estimating budgets is for planning to live without any earned income.  After this expensive year my travel writing income is becoming essential, rather than extra cash.

Having spent more than our original budget of £27,000 our future annual budgets have been increased to reflect this.  We’ll see what 2019 will bring and try hard to have a low-spending year but at the moment we have no need or plans to go back to the nine-to-five!

What did we spend during our 7 week campervan trip to Spain?

09.23.2018 Sierra de Urbassa walk (2)
A shepherd in the lovely Sierra d’Urbasa

You might recall we’re trying to keep within a budget and that this year achieving this has proved to be tough going with our spending feeling somewhat out of control.  I was therefore keen to keep costs low on our fantastic autumn trip to Spain from September to November.  So how did this plan go and what did we spend?

Diesel – £390 (we avoided the temptation to visit all of Spain and travelled 2,430 miles)

Supermarket / food shopping – £536 (around £100 less than we would have spent at home and we returned with dozens of bottles of wine for the cellar!)

Cafes & meals out – £326 (Coffee in a cafe is inexpensive in Spain and we do this much more on holiday than at home but we ate out in the evening less and so spent almost £100 less than we would have spent at home so a small gold star to us)

Campsites – £708 (we had a few nights wild camping to keep costs down but could have done more)

Public transport – £51 (we stayed off the motorways with tolls in Spain and managed to spend a little less than we would if we’d stayed home)

Entrance fees – £98 (similar to when we are at home)

Miscellaneous – £80 (new sunglasses, maps, washing machines, occasional wi-fi)

Ferry Portsmouth to Bilbao – £895 (ouch!  A lot of money to suffer the high seas of the Bay of Biscay)

Fixing the power steering & a new wing mirror for our van – £377 [power steering electrical fault]

Total spent £3,461

I’m feeling reasonably pleased with this total.  It really is not that much more than we would have spent if we’d stayed at home so hasn’t had a massive impact on our budget.  The lesson is that there are really no excuses not to go away again!