Owning a Campervan Tips the Scales: Plastic-free update #5

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Market shopping makes being plastic-free easy

After 40 years I am beginning to realise I can’t save the planet on my own.  I have been really pleased to see ditching plastic and meat becoming more mainstream in the UK and I am glad that people are starting to talk more seriously about reducing flights and car use.  But as we reach the climate change crisis and I continue on my personal struggle to be better at caring for the environment it is hard to feel content with how the world is progressing.  Much of the current discussion has been about plastic pollution and the immediate negative impact this has on our wildlife and environment.  Plastic also has a massive impact on climate change from the moment the fossil fuels are extracted, through production and recycling or disposal.   With our current dependence on fossil fuels and plastic there seems little chance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A lot needs to change but ditching single-use plastic would be a start.  And yet movement in reducing supermarket packaging is painfully slow and although there are small changes most continue to use plastic to prevent food being damaged in transit and to keep it fresh.  Zero-plastic shopping and avoiding throwing away colossal amounts of packaging after a shopping trip is now possible in specialist shops but this is not mainstream.  This reminds me of the days when vegetarians had to shop in local health food shops for essentials.  It wasn’t until supermarkets spotted this market that shopping got easier for vegetarians.

As a couple we are trying to be frugal as well as kind to the environment and we are in a losing battle.  Short of going back to work, the frugality isn’t an option; we are living on our savings and can’t fritter them away.  Much as I would like to support small zero-waste shops these are generally more expensive than supermarkets and not local and make staying on budget difficult.  Just at the moment it feels impossible to be both frugal and environmentally friendly and I am trying to accept that we have made changes where we can and it will never be perfect.

In the UK the average person apparently accounts for 6.3 tonnes of CO2 per year all of which contribute to climate change.  Despite my best efforts at small things, having a diesel-fuelled campervan means that my own environmental balance sheet is far from balanced.

Climate Change Wins

  1. Housing – We live in a small flat that is efficient to heat, we switch off lights, keep the temperature fairly low and put on jumpers when it is cold.  We wash everything at 30C and dry most things naturally [although we use the shared on-site tumble drier for towels to stop the flat getting damp].  We take short showers that last about two minutes, switching the shower off while we lather up to save water and energy.  [I used this carbon calculator to find out that our home has a carbon footprint of about 0.9 tonnes of CO2].  With energy and water use it is easy to match up our twin aims of frugality and saving the planet.
  2. Shopping – We buy soap and solid shampoo and use shaving cream and body lotion from Lush, not plastic free but they take the tubs back when you have five to return for recycling.  We don’t buy any make up.  Cotton handkerchiefs deal with our daily nose blowing rather than tissues.  Our washing powder comes in a cardboard box, we buy loose tea for home, rather than teabags, but this is still packaged in plastic inside the cardboard and our favourite Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages are packaged in cardboard.  We make our own hummus and bread and cook most things from scratch.  A few of these purchases are more expensive options but they fit with our budget.
  3. Eating out – We eat out but never buy lunch-to-go sort of items or plastic bottles of water or pop and don’t buy coffee-to-go.  These certainly save us money.
  4. Diet – We don’t eat meat but do eat dairy [a vegetarian diet emits around 1.7 tonnes of CO2 per year, much less than a meat-based diet] and we try and buy in season and local food as much as we can and a veggie diet is cheaper.
  5. Cleaning – We use scraps of old clothes and towels for mopping up in the kitchen and bathroom instead of paper towels and we buy toilet rolls from Cut The Crap which are wonderful and plastic-free.  We use a bar of Sunlight soap for cleaning.  On balance we probably save money here.
  6. Stuff – Being frugal we don’t buy lots of stuff, whether made from plastic or not.  We mostly buy second-hand furniture and clothes, with the exception of technical gear and shoes.  We don’t worry about being fashionable and make do and mend as much as we can.
  7. Getting around – Walking or cycling around Salford and Manchester is our default, whether going to the supermarket, the doctors or friends and this is free or cheap.  If we have to go further across Manchester we take the tram or bus.  We don’t fly long-haul and rarely fly anywhere at all [the last time we flew was to Milan in early 2017].
  8. Pets – Although we love cats, we don’t have a pet and instead I just watch them on social media and try and stroke any cat I meet, much cheaper options.
  9. Family – We had a child but only one [saving around 58.6 tonnes of CO2 a year].

Climate Change Fails

  1. Fruit and veg  – Our fruit and vegetables come mostly from Aldi and we come home with lots of plastic but our finances stay on track!  Our meals do focus heavily on things they don’t wrap in plastic but there are always items I want / need that come wrapped up.
  2. Milk  – Although not vegan we prefer soya milk.  This comes in tetra paks which are a mixture of plastic and paper and the small amount of cows milk we buy comes in plastic bottles [no milk deliveries to our flat].  The BBC told us that oat milk has the lowest impact on the environment and I did try making my own once!
  3. Food – Plenty of other food items we eat come in plastic; margarine, cheese, tofu, crisps, washing up liquid, nuts, pasta and rice and more and I have a weakness for Warburtons crumpets that come wrapped in plastic.  We aim to spend less than £300 / month on food and drink in supermarkets, cycling across Greater Manchester to buy zero-plastic rice and couscous could be done but something else would have to give.
  4. Toothpaste – I have looked at toothpaste tablets and haven’t found one that contains potassium nitrate to ease my elderly sensitive teeth.  There are ones with fluoride and the price is reasonable [£2.40 for 60 tablets] so I alternate tablets with tubes.
  5. Clothing – We remain fans of technical quick-drying and hard-wearing clothing and wouldn’t really want to go back to wool or cotton for our hill walking and outdoor lifestyle.  We buy quality items that will last, only wash them when we must, mend them and wear them as long as we can but I am sure some of them probably contain micro-beads.
  6. Scouring – For stubborn cooked-on food we have a wooden pot brush but also buy cheap plastic scourers as we don’t have a dishwasher and need to get things clean by hand.
  7. Clingfilm – I admit that we have a roll of clingfilm!  We have owned this particular roll for around 15 years.  Occasionally this is useful but we might not buy anymore when it eventually runs out.
  8. Campervan – We drive a diesel campervan about 10,000 miles a year; after our flat this is the most expensive thing we own.  We only drive it for long distances and it can sit around for a couple of weeks not moving in the winter.  According to the carbon calculator this van accounts for around a massive 4 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Sell the campervan you say!  Do I really need a campervan?  Could I do without the fun of travelling to beautiful places and eating and sleeping in my own home?  It is clear that owning a campervan has a massive impact on both our budget and the environment.  It negates all the small wins, they are just tinkering around the edges.  Until we get rid of our campervan we’ll always be part of the problem and buying loose courgettes or giving up Warburtons crumpets will not shift the balance in favour of the planet.  And so for the moment I accept I am a failure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 ferries in 2 months: What did our campervan trip to Scotland cost & how does it compare with mainland Europe?

From April to June we were touring around Scotland, from Loch Lomond to Shetland, we spent two months pottering around this beautiful country.  In previous years we have visited mainland Europe in the spring … it was orcas that drew me to Shetland.  I thought it would be interesting to compare what it cost on our campervan trip in Scotland with our previous holidays around mainland Europe.  Of course, every trip is different but I’ve had a go at looking at the costs across different spending lines, comparing it with our trip to Croatia, Italy and France for the same length of time last spring and a slightly shorter trip to Spain last autumn.  How did Scotland stack up?

Diesel – UK higher

We travelled 2,520 miles and spent £460.   [Diesel is cheaper in Europe so although our Scottish mileage is similar to our mileage in Spain last year that trip cost £389 for diesel.  If we take the Blue Bus to the southern areas of Europe the mileage is higher and the cost more].

Food for two hungry vegetarians – UK lower

In Scotland we spent £719.15 in supermarkets.  [In Croatia, Italy and France last spring we spent £958 in supermarkets, despite the wine being cheaper!]

Cafes and restaurants – UK higher

It is hard to compare like-for-like for this spending.  Sometimes in Scotland there is no tea shop for miles and when you are out walking for the day on a mountain there is no chance for a coffee, whereas in Spain and Italy we would often stop for coffee as it is good and cheap.  In Scotland we spent £527.56 during the trip.  [Eating out is often cheaper in Europe.  In Croatia, Italy and France last spring we spent £467 in cafes and restaurants]

Campsites – UK lower

We stayed on campsites for 47 of the 67 nights of our Scotland trip, the cost per night ranged from £5 to £28 – we spent £778.40 .  On Shetland we didn’t wild camp as much as we expected because a) it was cold and we wanted EHU for the heating as there is no LPG available on the island b) we like to support the community and all but one campsite we used was community run and reasonably priced, it would have been rude not to stay on these sites.  [We tend to think UK campsites are expensive but we spent £983 on campsites for the same number of nights away last year, staying mostly in Croatia, Italy and France and using our ACSI card.  Camping in Spain and Portugal is much cheaper.]

Ferries and parking – UK lower

We spent a total of £644.13 on ferries and parking – £525 of this is the return ferry to Shetland, most of the rest is Shetland inter-island ferries and ferries to Bute and Kintyre.  [The Hull to Zeebrugge ferry was £489 last year plus we spent £218 on tolls and parking]

Entrance charges and attractions – UK somewhat lower

In Scotland we spent £234.50, this included two boat trips on Shetland and a pine marten watching trip.  [Last spring we spent £279 on the same budget line]

Other spending £173.57 [includes £25 for a deep tissue massage after Ben Nevis, washing machines, maps, gifts for friends and a pair of warm trousers].

The bottom line – £3,012.10 spent in Scotland [We spent the equivalent of £4,240 [£1,228 more!] on a holiday of the same length last spring that took us to Croatia, Italy and France with a higher mileage and consequently £610 spent on diesel]

For 67 days away our average spending was £44.96 a day in Scotland.

This total isn’t much more than our average in Spain last year of £42.93 / day and the ferry to Shetland was much cheaper than Portsmouth to Bilbao.  Of course, the weather is warmer in Spain!

Our trip to Croatia, Italy and France last spring was considerably more expensive and averaged £61/day due to the longer distances, high prices of Italian campsites and supermarket shopping costing more.

If we hadn’t taken the ferry to Shetland [and missed all the wonderful sights in these photographs – I don’t think so] we would have been quids in … but Shetland’s wonderful campsites were certainly the cheapest.

 

An Eye-opening Guide to Wearing Glasses with some Iconic Spectacle Wearers

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For as long as I can remember I have been visiting opticians.  I have worn specs since I was a small child and these days I am at the opticians every couple of years to have my eyes checked out.  I was born with a right eye that was called a ‘lazy eye’ [amblyopia] something around 1:50 children develop.  This right eye never opened fully and despite treatment as a child [a plaster over the ‘good’ eye and drops to encourage the left eye to do a decent day’s work] all I can see through that eye is a blur.  Because I really only have one working eye I make sure I take good care of it and I blame it for my inability to play tennis!

These days I love buying new specs.  As they are something I wear all the time it is a treat to get new ones and I choose different styles every time in the hope that someone will notice.  Over the years I must have worn every style of glasses,  rainbow-coloured plastic frames with large lenses in the 1980s,  turquoise narrow metal specs and chic black designer frames.

As I was choosing my last new specs [two pairs one for sunglasses and one for cloudy days] I got chatting to the helpful member of staff.  I had chosen a pair of metal frames that had round lenses and I asked the assistant, ‘Do they make me look like John Lennon or are you too young to remember John Lennon?’  He laughed and politely said they looked good, adding, ‘John Lennon is one of the most popular spectacle wearers customers mention, along with Harry Potter.’  Slightly put out that I hadn’t been more original, I tried on another pair with large lenses that reminded me of another famous spec wearer, Deirdre Barlow.  We are in Salford so despite the assistant’s tender years this was another familiar name; Deirdre was well known for the big glasses she wore in the popular soap, Coronation Street.

As Mr BOTRA and I walked home we mulled over other iconic spectacle wearers, perhaps I could have come up with fresher examples.  We considered how Woody Allen would seem undressed without his black Moscot specs.  Mahatma Ghandi is familiar in his round metal-rimmed glasses, similar to those of John Lennon and perhaps a more creative suggestion next time I am at the optician.  Other famous spec wearers came to mind.  It is reported that Elton John owns thousands of pairs of specs in a rainbow of colours; Dame Edna Everage sported stunning ornate frames or ‘face furniture;’ Bono is a man many of you will think of wearing shades; and [even though she changes her glasses frequently] I always picture Billie Jean King in a pair of thick plastic specs.

In the 1970s wearing glasses wasn’t at all cool, although they always made you look more intelligent!  As a child I hated being the only one among my friends that had to wear specs and for a short time as a teenager I stopped wearing them at all.  I pretty much had little idea what was going on around me during that period as the world went by in a blur but it was a time when I didn’t really care to engage with the world.  Contact lenses aren’t really a good idea when you only have the one functioning eye and specs were my only option.

Fortunately, my first job was working in an optician’s shop and the only perk was free specs; at last I could buy something more up-to-date that I was prepared to be seen wearing!  My enthusiasm for the variety of spectacle frame design began here.  Today I am happy wearing my specs and I am grateful to all these iconic spec wearers for making it fun and even trendy.

 

 

Is hitch hiking dead?

A glorious day in Glencoe

When did you last see a hitch hiker?  And if you do see one do you stop and give them a lift?  We recently tried our hand at hitch hiking for the first time for many years.  We had perfect weather while we were in Glencoe, sunny with pretty much wall-to-wall blue skies. We were camping at The Glencoe Mountain Resort and I was keen to walk the section of the West Highland Way from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven that goes over the dramatically named Devil’s Staircase.  This is a steep section of one of General Wade’s military roads and it was the soldiers who built it who gave the path this dark name. This was continued by the workers from Blackwater Dam who used it to reach the hotel at Kingshouse for a pay-day drink and unfortunately some of them never made it back.

We planned a linear walk, starting from our campsite, we suffered no mishaps and enjoyed a fantastic 16 km walk up Devil’s Staircase and along the high path that rewards walkers with tremendous mountain views. We could see Ben Nevis in the distance and looked down on the expanse of Blackwater Reservoir, built for Kinlochleven’s aluminium smelter.

In Kinlochleven we had time for drinks in the climbing centre before catching the bus to Glencoe. We then had a four hour wait for a bus to take us back the 20 km to our campervan. Unbelievably there is no regular bus service through Glencoe, one of Scotland’s most popular walking areas.  Linear walkers just have to wait for one of the infrequent buses linking Skye and Fort William with Glasgow.

We considered sitting the wait out in The Glencoe Inn (not a dreadful way to spend a few hours) or ringing for a taxi but decided to firstly try the frugal option and stuck out our thumbs without much hope of success. ‘No one hitch hikes these days and anyway who would pick up two folk loaded up with rucksacks and walking poles,’ I said as another car sped by.  Then, a miracle happened, after just 15 minutes of hitching a car slowed down and pulled in.

As every hitch hiker knows chatting to people on the road is a big part of the enjoyment of hitch hiking. Our knight in shining armour was on a solo road trip and welcomed some company.  He not only took us right up to our van, he also told us all about his plans to plant thousands of trees on the farm land that had belonged to his parents, shared his thoughts on the short comings of tourism services in Scotland (Glencoe’s lack of bus service giving us a good starting point for that topic) and told us about the ailing aunt in the south he was on his way to visit.

Of course, there were two of us and we felt safe. As a teenager with little money I did hitch hike alone and without a thought.  These days although the risk is low I would think carefully before hitching on my own. We do pick up hitch hikers when we can, although only having one travel seat in our campervan limits us.  Every time we have picked up a hitch hiker we have met interesting people with a story to share.

I’m pleased to report that hitch hiking isn’t quite dead in the UK, although since our own experience in Glencoe we’ve not seen another hitch hiker to have the chance to help keep frugal travelling alive.

How to Apply Marginal Thinking to Financial Independence and Frugality

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A Portuguese cat looking down on us

Maybe in 2018 I took my eye off our financial ball.  Maybe I thought I had got the hang of being frugal, I was complacent and we ended up with a higher spending year than our budget allowed.  I thought we were in the frugal groove, I relaxed and wasn’t frugal 100% of the time.  Some people suggest you can’t take time out and that it is better to be frugal every minute of every day, staying in control and never allowing any marginal spending that will be the start of the path to profligacy!

Clayton Christensen tells his readers:

“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.” 

He argues that if you follow your rules 98% of the time and make the assumption that doing something ‘just this once’ is a marginal action and negligible in the bigger picture, in the long run you will pay a higher cost.

An example … There are times when – in some particular extenuating circumstances – you might think of breaking the law with a small-time low-level crime that doesn’t hurt anyone.  Analysing your action based on the marginal cost, you figure the chances of being caught and going to jail are low.  But then small lies or wrong-doings can lead to further covering up and more lies, quickly snowballing and very soon the price doesn’t seem so low.  Hold your moral boundaries 100% of the time and you can be happy with who you are.

It is only human to use this marginal-cost analysis.  I am certainly guilty of occasionally buying just this one thing on the spur of the moment, rather than following our think-about-it-for-a-month policy.  Is this a slippery slope?  Will that one purchase snowball and lead to extravagance?

I am not totally convinced with this argument and think I might be happy with achieving frugality 98% of the time; however, I recognise that being aware of what is happening is a useful first step in considering your action, acknowledging it and finding strategies to avoid it in the future.

And yet … If I do buy something on the spur of the moment it is something I do with a full picture of our finances.  Everything we spend is noted, a manual process I find gives me time to thoroughly examine our outgoings.  It gives me the opportunity to question if any spur-of-the-moment purchase, however marginal, really did bring contentment or meet a need.  The process also means I will spot trends early enough to make changes.  A small just-because purchase doesn’t necessarily throw everything out of kilter.

I don’t think I did take my eye off the ball in 2018, my own way through a frugal life continues.  In 2018 one of the main reasons we over-spent was because of maintenance and repairs on our campervan.  These were in no way marginal costs, they weren’t negotiable and I don’t see them as an extravagant trend.

We all have our own ways of being frugal, some people continue to enjoy restaurant meals, others still want to spend money on looking good or have expensive holidays.  Everyone works it out for themselves.  Being frugal 100% of the time, avoiding unnecessary purchases and avoiding any marginal spending might be an ideal … but then again I am only human!

 

Meet Fern: her green stems are packed with memories

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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.