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

malvern avenue second go01

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

bakery-1868396_1920

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

Strathdearn day (2)

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!

 

 

 

23 Spanish campsites and aires

09.30.2018 Ordesa walk (19)
The stunning Ordesa Valley

We spent over two months in Spain this autumn and stayed mostly on campsites where we could use our ACSI discount card.  We had an occasional night staying on an aire.  These were all good and as we are trying to save money we could have done more.  Most campsites were a reasonable price but the one in Toledo was exceptionally expensive.  The list is below with my notes on how we found each spot.

Campsite name Comments Cost
Bakio Motorhome Parking near Bilbao Sloping parking area near the beach popular with surfers and peaceful enough, public toilets nearby £0.00
Camping Etxarri, Etxarri Aranatz, Navarra Hedged camping pitches & lots of bungalows & permanent caravans, some pitches very shaded, facilities reasonably clean, showers cramped & push button were only warm.  ACSI €19.00
Camping El Molino, Mendigorria Large organised site with some shade & some grass, clean facilities & powerful showers with adjustable temperature & hot, nice walk by river, ACSI €19.00
Camping Valle de Hecho, Hecho Terraced site with trees, near to village, scruffy year-round caravans, facilities clean, showers cramped but mostly hot, wash-up out of doors, no bread out of season €21.27
Aire, Jaca Tarmac car park with reasonable size bays near to the town, very popular, quiet by 23.00, bells & neighbouring buses noisy in the morning €0.00
Camping Ordesa, Torla Terraced site with fantastic views of mountains, facilities dated but roomy and good hot showers €21.20
Camping Rio Ara, Torla Terraced site, grassy with trees and tidy, steep access road, lovely modern facilities and good hot showers, adjustable & free flowing, supermarket & bar, good size pitches €22.60
Camping Pena Montanesa, Ainsa Large site with open views to mountains, information about walks, 2 kms from Ainsa, a lovely old town, facilities a bit scruffy but good hot showers & bread, ACSI & bottle of wine on leaving! (Ainsa has an excellent aire too) €19.00
Alquezar Camping, Alquezar Terraced sandy camping site with narrow access routes & trees for shade, small shop & cafe, some good facilities, near to lovely town & good walking, ACSI €17.00
Camping El Roble, Valderrobres Small gravel site by the road, pleasant & helpful owner, modern facilities, good hot showers, marked good-size pitches, cycle routes from site, ACSI €15.00
Camping Els Ports, Arnes Large site with marked pitches, 1 km from town on main road & some noise, facilities clean & okay ACSI €19.00
Celler El Masroig Flat parking by the wine producer with emptying point, quiet village, car park used by staff from around 07.30 €0.00
L’Orangeraie, Calig Nicely laid out small site with marked pitches, facilities clean & showers okay, friendly welcome & peaceful, ACSI €17.00
Los Pinos, Peñíscola Gravel marked sunny pitches with narrow access roads, 1.5 kms from the town, clean facilities, good hot showers & good value €12.00
Aire at Morella Pleasant gravel aire by picnic site with views to hilltop castle and town, popular €0.00
Camping Altomira, Navajas near Segorbe A terraced campsite by a small village, views from higher levels, English at reception, underfloor heating in toilets but facilities a bit dated & showers only warm, cycling nearby, ACSI €17.00
Camping Ciudad de Albarracin Terraced ACSI site with gravel pitches about 1.5 kms from old town, some in full sun, clean facilities & excellent hot continuous showers, great views & walking €17.00
Aranjuez Camping Large organised site about 1.5 kms from lovely town, English at reception, facilities dated but clean & good hot continuous showers & heated, supermarket, trains to Madrid, ACSI €19.00
Camping El Greco, Toledo Level site with marked pitches 3 km from the city, hourly bus service, 30 mins walk from town, clean facilities & good hot adjustable & continuous showers €27.90
Camping El Escorial, El Escorial Level ACSI site with lots of tree cover & some frames to give shade, scruffy, busy reception, no heating in toilets, showers hot, disco can be noisy €19.00
Camping Riaza, Riaza Level site with grassy & sunny pitches, some road noise but mountain views, near to pleasant town, facilities clean, showers continuous & very hot ACSI €19.00
Camping Fuentes Blancas, Burgos Level grassy site, some trees, 4 buses a day to Burgos, some road noise, shower block 3 is heated with good continuous hot shower, block 4 is unheated, wash-up is outdoor, ACSI €19.00
Port at Bilbao Flat tarmac area with toilets, cafe only open in the morning this time €0.00

Wing mirror jousting!

09.23.2018 Visit to Artajona (9)
The Blue Bus parked at Artajona in northern Spain – a perfect place for jousting!

The mishap came as a bit of a surprise.  The road from Torla to Aínsa in Aragon is a secondary road but a good one and we were pottering along in the sunshine, enjoying the views over the Rio Ara and of the villages perched on hilltops.  The road has a white line down the centre but the carriageways are on the narrow side and the light traffic was driving considerately giving enough space to oncoming traffic.

Coming towards us were two massive white motorhomes in convoy.  The leading motorhome was taking up more than his fair share of the road and we moved over to the edge of the road to ensure everyone could pass by safely.  We assumed the big guy would do the same but it seemed he too had been watching Game of Thrones and fancied a bit of wing mirror jousting with our Blue Bus.  Bang!  We both cursed him as our passenger side wing mirror was slammed inwards and the glass broke.

We know this isn’t a tragedy, it is really just one of those things that will happen to lots of people in campervans.  Those big wing mirrors are a perfect target after all and this is the first time we have broken a wing mirror in our 13 years of having a ‘van.  The idiot in the motorhome didn’t stop – to be honest there wasn’t really anywhere safe to stop – and we limped along for a couple of kilometres until we found a lay-by to pull in to.  Shaken we gave each other a hug and investigated the damage.  The glass of the main mirror was shattered but fortunately the small blind spot mirror at the bottom was still intact.  The mirror no longer responded to being moved.  Our only consolation was that the big white motorhome would most likely have the same damage to his wing mirror and we hoped his replacement mirror was even more expensive than ours.

Our Renault has no internal central mirror, so the wing mirrors are essential.  We had a go at fixing a shaving mirror we carry in to the housing of the wing mirror to help the driver see behind but we couldn’t get this to work.  We have since found that you can buy temporary ‘mirrors’ and may invest in one or two of these.  After some thought and consideration we felt it was safe to drive using just the blind spot mirror for the remaining 25 kms to Aínsa.  Although this mirror is small it functioned pretty well.

A call to our breakdown sorted out a garage that was expecting us and the mechanics there spent some time ensuring they were ordering the correct mirror for our Renault.  The next day it took them 15 minutes to fit the new wing mirror and it cost us around £200!  An expensive jousting session.

2018 Oct Carol Kubicki wing mirror (1)
Fixing the mirror in the garage