Magical and almost glamorous shoe cleaning?

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To get even a mention on this blog products have to be exceptionally good value; that is they are either really cheap or they hit all corners of the BOTRA-trinity of being affordable, high quality and long-lasting.  The wonderful Leather Genie shoe polish pushes these buttons and works better than any shoe cleaning product we have every used before.

When it comes to shoe cleaning Mr BOTRA and I don’t generally get over-excited but we have found this fantastic product saves us both money and time … a win-win in anyone’s books.

We found this super merchandise in an unlikely place.  We were strolling around the Caravan and Motorhome Show in Manchester last year, admiring ‘vans we couldn’t afford / didn’t need and looking at accessories we didn’t want when we spotted a shoe cleaning stall.  As usual my shoes needed some TLC and so I stopped to see what the fuss was about.  In just a few minutes the salesperson bought my shamefully scruffy walking shoes up to such a lovely shine I was astonished.  And yet, we don’t make snap purchasing decisions in the BOTRA household and so we had to do a few circuits of the venue mulling over the spending of £13 before we returned to the stall and came away with our very own pot of Leather Genie.

Leather Genie uses jo joba oil to give a shine to your leather, be it shoes, furniture or clothing.  The polish is quickly applied with a sponge in a no-mess fashion and shining your shoes takes only a minute or two and gives a grease-free lustre to leather in any colour.

No one would call me a smartly-dressed individual, my preferred look is comfy walking gear and that includes my shoes.  That said, I don’t like to waste money and throw shoes away just because they are scuffed.  I had a pair of burgundy leather shoes whose soles still had plenty of wear but which all sorts of cleaning products had failed to bring back to any sort of sheen and even I had become too ashamed to wear them for anything beyond going out to the bins.  A quick rub with the Leather Genie and these shoes were once again presentable, now that is a result.

I am not an enthusiastic shoe cleaner, as you can probably guess, and generally grab a pair of shoes just before I head through the door and as I put them on realise how shabby they look.  Because the Leather Genie is colourless and smells pleasant it is possible to quickly shine up my shoes without getting messy black / brown polish over my clothes and still get out of the house on time; this may not be glamorous but it is pretty cool.

We have had our tub of this magical shoe cleaning polish for over twelve months now and it looks like it will last a few more years, so £13 from the family budget well spent.

 

Giving thanks for our [affordable] daily bread

 

Germany Part Two (12)This magnificent sign over a German bakery suggests that bread gives life meaning and this is a sentiment I heartily agree with.

When we returned from our twelve months of travelling around southern Europe in our campervan Mr BOTRA and I had a dilemma regarding bread.  Although there were many things we enjoyed about being back home, we got no enjoyment from eating sliced English bread that had no taste or substance; we had become accustomed to having a bakery within walking distance of any campsite that sold a range of tasty local loaves and rolls.  It seemed in urban Salford the only options for bread were a supermarket or chain bakery and in both the bread was flavourless and insubstantial and didn’t hit the spot at all.

Don’t get me wrong, there are good traditional bakeries in Greater Manchester but these sit alongside a deli, a specialist cheese shop and an independent wine seller in the more expensive parts of the city and were a bus ride away, so didn’t tick any frugal boxes.  One of the downsides of living in the cheap end of town is the limitations of the local shops.

So what to do to get our daily bread?  When we lived in a larger house with a normal-size kitchen I baked bread regularly but in our diminutive kitchen finding the space to knead dough and leave it proving over a few hours is challenging … so my answer was to buy a bread maker.  I was apprehensive about the outlay for something we might not use and to save money bought a compact Morphy Richards model that was half the price of the most popular model; however, I needn’t have worried, I have been using this bread maker at least twice a week for almost six years now and it hasn’t missed a beat (touch wood) and just the paddle and baking tin have been replaced.  This bread maker makes a decent loaf that is flavourful with a good crust in three hours.  Morphy Richards no longer make the model we bought but I would certainly consider their bread makers when / if we have to replace our bread maker.

Of course, Salford has changed in the last few years following the creation of media city and many Eastern Europeans moving here.  I do now supplement our home-made bread with excellent Polish rye bread from the nearby Polski Sklep [an advantage to living in the unfashionable part of town) and we now have a Booths supermarket down the road where we can buy reasonable bread.  Of course, the frugal woman in me knows that it continues to be cheaper to make my own.

 

The turn of the year in the north-east

We opted to see the year out in County Durham and Cleveland in the north-east of England.  We followed the river Tees from the wild open country of the Pennines to the North Sea.  After the heavy rain we had experienced in the north of England over Christmas, High Force and Low Force were spectacular and on a sunny afternoon there were plenty of people around to marvel at the spectacle.  We found a quieter spot for contemplation at Summerhill Force and Gibson’s Cave, although just a few minutes’ walk from the Bowlees car park.

Low Force on the river Tees after heavy rain
Low Force on the river Tees after heavy rain

At this time of year we like to tour around in the van and make the most of the seven hours or so of daylight.  We followed the river through the lovely town of Barnard Castle, spending some time exploring the castle and the blue plaque trail and moved on to Darlington.  This once thriving engineering town still had a lovely buzz about it in the December drizzle.  We visited the Head of Steam Railway Museum and looked in wonder at the amazing Locomotion No. 1, the first passenger steam train.

From Darlington the Tees flows through industrial and urban areas but we still found plenty that is beautiful.

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About as much fun as you can have on a bridge: the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough

The Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough is a stunning  piece of engineering from 100 years ago.  The ‘bridge’ carries cars and pedestrians over the Tees in a cradle that is wound on cables across the river.  Ducks, geese and hordes of lapwings entertained us while we explored the National Nature Reserve on the north side of the river and at the excellent Saltholme RSPB reserve.

The mouth of the river Tees is a National Nature Reserve
The mouth of the river Tees is a National Nature Reserve

We finished our trip on the fantastic stretch of sand at Saltburn-by-the-Sea.  From the attractive and recently restored pier we watched the hardy surfers and we wandered around the pretty streets window shopping.

We stayed at:

The Crown at Mickleton in Teesdale – this is a small Caravan Club CL with a bathroom and all hard-standing.  It was £20/night.

White Water Park Caravan Club Site in Stockton-On-Tees is about 20 minutes walk from Stockton town centre and 30 minutes walk to Thornaby railway station for trains to Darlington, Bishop Aukland and Saltburn and Redcar.  We paid just short of £25/night.

We also had one night free camping to help the budget.

 

Saving for early retirement

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Instructions on the wall of our campervan

Having read plenty of other blogs by fantastic people working towards financial independence and early retirement, all I have really learnt is that everyone has different priorities for their spending.

So our spending for 2015 is below and is offered up humbly for blog readers to pick at as you see fit.  I don’t claim to be a model of frugality, Mr BOTRA and I are just doing our best but hopefully you will think that managing to save 40% of our income isn’t at all bad.

We save by looking for the cheapest deals for utilities where we can, shopping in the discount stores (mostly Lidl as I like to support them for paying the living wage ahead of other supermarkets) and Mr BOTRA does all the bicycle maintenance.  As you can see we have a weakness for rock concerts … they do make us happy … and a lot of our socialising with friends involves eating in restaurants.

2015 spending £ %
Utilities 4966.59 13%
Holidays 3374.58 9%
Vehicle costs 1460.00 4%
Diesel 957.90 3%
Food & groceries 2788.84 8%
Other household items (inc furniture & bikes) 2399.18 6%
Restaurants, cafes and bars 1249.32 3%
Public transport 357.70 1%
Gifts 822.92 2%
Concerts / theatre and other attractions 1034.36 3%
Healthcare (dentist, specs & prescriptions) 500.78 1%
Clothes, shoes & accessories 394.69 1%
Unidentified spending (cash) 2080.00 6%
Savings 14734.00 40%
TOTAL 36857.30 100%