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.

 

 

 

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!