Budgeting archive

In May 2012 I had my baby son and started maternity leave for the second time, knocking my family income down by over £800 per month. Surviving on Statutory Maternity Pay taught me to budget, and how to feed a family of four on only £20 a week. Nowadays I'm back to working, but still juggling the demands of two school-aged children against the reality of self-employed income.

The costs of budgeting

In my moan about selling on eBay I touched upon something important I’ve discovered about budgeting: the time spent planning and plotting a budget is not always outweighed by money saved.

Things have been pretty hectic here lately. You know, the usual stuff: a 1 year old, 3 year old, household chores and trying to complete enough work to comfortably fill full time work hours squished into 3 productive hours a day without having a mental breakdown. As such, I’ve actively started measuring cost in terms of hours and minutes instead of pounds and pence and it’s a scary route to travel down. I don’t want to sit playing with my kids while my brain tots up how much I could be earning if I were doing something “productive” – that defeats the point of deciding to work from home.

I’ve never really understood the term “time poor” before now. I guess it’s ironic that one of the reasons most parents opt to work from home is to increase their downtime to spend it with their kids, and here’s me doing the opposite.

Time to reasses my approach, I think.

Selling on eBay: worth it? (No.)

One of the ways I was hoping that we would pay off our mortgage (let’s pretend I’ve updated that page recently) was to sell the mounds of crap I have sitting around the house on ebay. Of course by crap I mean treasure … kids clothes, old PC parts, DVDs, books, that sort of thing. Things that people will pay for because they’re useful or interesting (not actual crap, which we do get through a lot of too [insert poo joke here])

I had it in my mind that I could quickly list a bunch of stuff on ebay, make a few quid per item, stick it in the post box and be on my merry way with some extra cash towards the mortgage (or the laptop I recently invested in, whatever). Except it’s not that simple AT ALL.

For starters, it took me at least 2-3 hours to list 15 lots on ebay, and that was using the handy dandy ebay phone app which meant I didn’t have to go through the pain in the arse process of taking pictures and loading them up on my laptop / editing them / etc. Anyway, 10 of these lots sold, 5 didn’t.

I ‘made’ a total of £31.86 including postage. It cost me £26 exactly to post all of the items (to which my response was nearly “holy shit what the fuck planet are you on woman I’m sending baby clothes?!!” but fortunately I was raised better than that) leaving with me £5.86

Except eBay then took off £3.24 sellers fees so really I only made £2.62.

Oh, and then one of my buyers complained that an item listed as new was stained and so I had to offer her a partial refund to keep her sweet (because while I know she was lying out of her arse, I just can’t be bothered to get involved in a payment dispute or risk my ebay rating) so that took off another 50 pence. Subtotal now £2.12. TWO POUNDS AND TWELVE PENCE.

Nearly forgot! I also spent £6 on packaging because I’d run out of old envelopes and brown paper.

So, people of the interwebs, I actually made, all in, minus £3.88 (and that’s before we count the money I didn’t make while I wasn’t working during the 3 hours it took to list these items and the 2 hours it took to pack and post them which actually puts me at approximately minus two hundred quid. Arse.)

Am I going to pay off my mortgage selling on ebay? Only if I somehow manage to score lucky on a gullible buyer who wants to give me a few thousand for a sick stained sleepsuit. Unlikely, somehow.

Meal Plan 30th April – 6th May

There’s been a big gap between meal plan posts because discovering Oliver has issues with dairy left me feeling a bit lost and “what do I cook now?!”. I don’t know why, most of the foods I cook are either dairy-free or have ingredients that can be substituted with ‘fake’ milks like oat or almond. I even made a dairy free fish pie last week!

Anyway, after 2 bad budgeting months because of one thing and another and the lack of meal plan mojo, I’m back on the saddle to bring in May on as small a budget as possible (not least because it’s Oliver’s birthday at the end of the month). I’ve just spent the last of the money in my purse (£17.68) on a half price chicken, reduced bacon, reduced spicy sausage, value carrots/apples/bananas/tomatoes/cucumber, bread etc and I’m going to try and get that to spread over the next two weeks. Should be FINE :)

  • Tues 30th – veggie soup (root canal day, don’t want anything too tough!)
  • Weds 1st – roast chicken & homemade chips
  • Thurs 2nd – baked potatoes & salad/baked beans
  • Fri 3rd – pizza night!
  • Sat 4th – spicy sausage ‘stew’ & rice
  • Sun 5th – leek & potato soup
  • Mon 6th – chicken & bacon pasta

As usual each meal will be served with at least one portion of veg (except the soups which contain it!) and leftovers will be lunch the next day. Should have enough chicken, bacon & veg leftover to come up with some more meal next week. Nom nom nom.

50 ways we save money

I was thinking the other morning (in the shower, again) about how we save money in so many ways every day… stuff that Karl & I have been doing for that long that we don’t think about it; thus it never makes a budgeting blog entry. So, I’m challenging myself to put together a list of 50 ways we save money in and around the house. Here goes!

  1. We fitted groovy people-sensors in the bathroom and kitchen so that the lights only come on when there’s someone in there
  2. We turn sockets off overnight or when they’re not in use
  3. Vegetable offcuts are used as the bulk part of our rabbit/guinea pig’s diet
  4. Any veg that the animals can’t eat is added, with animal bedding etc, to our compost heap – no money spent on improving soil
  5. We grow our own veg (see above!) which means we have virtually no veg cost in the summer
  6. We seed-save so that we can grow next year’s veg at no further cost
  7. We have a water butt and various containers to save rain water for the garden
  8. When our kettle died, we replaced it with a fast boil ‘energy efficient’ kettle (Philips HD4671/20)
  9. We only ever boil the amount that we need
  10. We boil water in the kettle before add it to potatoes/pasta etc because it uses less energy than the cooker top
  11. We (and by which I mean I!) steam veg where possible over an existing pot being used to cook e.g. potatoes
  12. We descale the kettle weekly to keep it fast boiling and efficient (damn hard water area)
  13. We use white vinegar instead of commercial descaler which, bought in bulk, is cheaper AND more eco-friendly
  14. We also bulk buy bicarb of soda, it makes a great cooker cleaner (amongst other things) – see Summer Naturals for more info
  15. We use cloth nappies for the kids, most of which are on child 2, 3 or even 4
  16. And cloth wipes/flannels too; from faces to bums and everything in between
  17. I exclusively breastfeed my babies. Saves me upwards of £600 per year
  18. We wean on to family food straight from my plate – no expensive jars of mush here
  19. In fact, we avoid most of the baby industry altogether by co-sleeping, using a wrap sling instead of a pushchair and avoiding expensive classes and activities
  20. I don’t use any cosmetics or special shampoos on my kids. Water is an excellent cleaner.
  21. I don’t use any make-up, creams or special beauty products on myself either. Deodorant is my main extravagance ;)
  22. I cook extra at most meals so that I have some for the freezer or lunch the next day – ready meal without the horse junk
  23. I bulk out meals like spaghetti bolognese with a cup of lentils – adds an extra 2-3+ portions for just a few pence
  24. Instead of buying expensive chicken breasts, I buy a whole chicken and get 4-5 meals out of it AND stock from the carcass
  25. I make milk last longer by adding a cup full of cooled boiled water when the carton gets to half-empty
  26. I make the milk last even longer still by not buying into the idea that kids need half a pint of milk a day; it doesn’t make evolutionary sense that we need the milk of another species to meet our nutritional needs. Instead I breastfeed through the 2nd year and give a varied diet high in calcium-rich veg etc
  27. I freeze milk we’re not going to use straight away so that it doesn’t go bad before we can use it
  28. I’ve started using dried milk for sauces etc where the taste is less important
  29. I also water down my shampoo and shower gels (and I’m thinking about making my own)
  30. I time my showers, aiming to keep them under 3 minutes.
  31. I bathe the kids together
  32. I dry laundry over airers and on the bathroom towel rail to avoid using the (expensive to run) tumble drier. Even running a dehumidifier to stop the house getting damp is much cheaper than the drier
  33. I dry laundry outside in the summer, and use oval sock peg thingies to maximise drying space
  34. Most of the children’s clothes have been bought second hand or used more than once (Oliver looks fab in a pink babygro)
  35. I only generally buy myself new clothes when the old ones fall off
  36. We got rid of our TV license and stopped watching TV
  37. We ‘upgraded’ our broadband to get a lower price – regularly check on the packages that your suppliers (and their competitors!) offer to make sure you’re getting the best deal
  38. We use comparison websites every year when renewing home and car insurances
  39. We use Top CashBack for any qualifying online purchases
  40. We try not to turn the heating thermostat above 19 degrees
  41. And we’ve turned the water thermostat down to 50 degrees – we don’t need to bath the kids in boiling water!*
  42. We open up the dishwasher to avoid the expensive drying cycle
  43. If we go to one of the bigger supermarkets, I raid the discount fridge for stuff I can freeze for later
  44. I buy mostly supermarket value range stuff, with only a couple of exceptions (mayonnaise and loo roll)
  45. I buy a veg box because it’s better quality and works out cheaper than foreign out of season supermarket veg
  46. I re-use the cardboard trays in my veg box as biodegradable planters
  47. I meal plan to make the most of my veg boxes too
  48. We open the curtains as soon as the sun comes up and close them before it sets to make the most of the daylight (benefit of a south-facing house)
  49. We have thick velvet curtains on external doors
  50. I buy the cat food in bulk boxes of 48 instead of those tiddly boxes of 12

* It’s really important that if you turn your water temp down, that every now and again you turn it back up and allow the water to heat through thoroughly for a day or two, to kill any lurking bugs. Karl will probably be able to give you exact temperatures…

Kudos if you got through all that! Virtual cookies if you can suggest even more?

Financial review: February

Before I even look at the figures, I’m feeling a little more confident about this month. There were a few ‘cheats’ but I’ve mostly stuck to a £100 cash budget for everything. Let’s see what that tallies up to…

Joint account expenditure

Non-negotiable outgoings
Mortgage: £412.97
Childcare: £222.00
Energy: £99.00
Internet: £11.49
Phone: £60.61

(more…)

Meal Plans Feb 23rd-28th

Apologies for another boring meal plan entry. Drowning in work and house chores and kids and general ARGH at the moment.

As expected, I’m finding that breaking my meal plans down in to stages and basing what I serve off the veg box instead of the other way around is not only helping me stick to my self-imposed £100 budget for the month but also has decreased the wastage to pretty much zero (not that any of our veg is ever truly wasted because bits beyond human consumption end up in the guinea pig, rabbit or compost bin!)

Anyway…

  • 23rd: Shepherd’s pie
  • 24th: Chicken & leek curry
  • 25th: Swede & parsnip mash + sausages
  • 26th: Squash & sweet potato soup
  • 27th: Beef stew & dumplings
  • 28th: Spaghetti & roasted root veg sauce

DIY & meal plans 15th-22nd

We had some sunshine here in jemjabella-land today, so despite the chill in the air, everyone was wrapped up warm and shoved into the garden (and as such both kids were asleep for 6:30pm despite Oliver having late nap!) I’ve re-potted my strawberry babies from the runners last year into their allotted tyre and did some more weeding. With the garlic planted a week or so ago, I’m already on my way to a self-sufficient(ish) summer of veg :)

Karl and I also tackled a spur of the moment DIY project this morning: dragging the horrible cupboard carousel out of our big corner cupboard and replacing it with a proper shelf. It’s one of those crappo kitchen gadgets that looks ingenious but in reality takes up more space than it gives in storage. Having removed it we’ve managed to put loads more stuff away and made a heck of a lot more room for tins and bulk food bits.

Anyway, here goes, meal plan for more of the month (including the days I’d missed):

  • 15th: Pizza night
  • 16th: Toad in the hole
  • 17th: Leftover sausages, homemade chips
  • 18th: Tuna pasta bake
  • 19th: Swede & bacon pie
  • 20th: Broccoli soup & homemade bread rolls
  • 21st: Use-up-the-veg frittata
  • 22nd: Use-up-the-frittata fried rice

Financial review: January

I figured that if we’re going to be serious about this mortgage free in 5 years thing, I should be looking at where our money is going before we look at how much we can start moving over in overpayments. This is made slightly more time-consuming by the fact I have the joint account AND 2 current accounts (1 personal, 1 used for mostly business stuff).

Joint account expenditure

Non-negotiable outgoings
Mortgage: £412.97
Childcare: £309.88*
Council tax: £103.00
Energy: £99.00
Internet: £11.49

Total: £936.34

Extra planned expenses
House insurance: £134.83

Groceries
Riverford: £91.42
Tesco: £134.85
Spar: £5.89

Other
Frugi: £39.95
IKEA: £131.50
lovefilm: £4.07
Petrol: £75.92 (mostly Karl)
Pets: £44.05

Grand total: £1464.49 *faints*

* there was a mistake with this figure, our March bill will be much reduced apparently

I am really, really shocked by how much we spend on groceries especially as this is what I would consider a ‘good’ month; I always considered us fairly savvy shoppers. I’ve cancelled the lovefilm account (this was supposed to have stopped last year!) and obviously the IKEA shop doesn’t happen that often. I’ve taken the fruit bag off my Riverford order as Izz has stopped eating fruit again, and ditched the eggs in favour of my butchers who sell free rangers for about 50p less x6.

Current account #1 expenditure

Non-negotiable outgoings
none

Extra planned expenses
Birthdays: £22.79
Hosting: £420 (thank you, savings)

Groceries
Co-op: £7.25

Other
Cash: £30
Eating out: £88.08 (wtf?!!)
Petrol: £81.00 (must be something wrong here…)
Monsoon: £8.70
Mothercare: £32.00 (later refunded, didn’t fit)
Hobbycraft: £29.58

Grand total: £687.40

Not sure went wrong here… I never usually spend more than a fiver on food outside the home! Petrol too, must have let Karl use my debit card because I don’t see how my little car could have used £81 worth of fuel! Eeek.

Current account #2 expenditure

Non-negotiable outgoings
I transfer £400 p/m into the joint account but as this remains MY money (briefly) it’s not exactly an expense…
Credit card: £25

Extra planned expenses
Credit card: £75 (overpayment)

Groceries
none

Other
Business expenses: £70.76
Paypal: £76.77
Amazon: £11.98

Grand total: £259.51

What concerns me is a) the amount outgoing this month is more than the amount incoming, and b) I somehow had it in my head that apart from the IKEA spend (4×4 expedit) that we’d somehow had a good month for spends vs. income. I’ve been toying with the idea of leaving my debit cards at home when I go out, and I think that seeing the above in black and white, well there’s no two ways about it.

February WILL be a better month.

February meal plans (1st-14th)

Sorry about the cheaty back-dating of this one ;) I’ve got several posts in the works re: my new goal to pay off the mortgage etc but am poorly so not getting time / energy to finish them :(

(The chicken for the pie on the 10th was taken from the roast chicken I did last week and froze.)

As you can probably tell, I’m loving the ‘A Girl Called Jack‘ blog at the minute, and hope the recipes are as good as they sound (and as cheap!)

False Economies

One of the things I see other people fall into the trap of too often with this budgeting lark (no, not me, far too smart.. cough cough) is buying into false economies. In other words, investing in something that appears to be a bargain but doesn’t really benefit or save money in the long run.

One thing that springs to mind is this Approved Foods website (short-dated / clearance food), which I’ve actually seen popping up on my Facebook timeline quite a lot recently. With my new financial goals in mind I had a flick through, popped about £7 worth of stuff in my basket (RRP roughly £55) and went to checkout. However, they have a minimum spend of £15, which in itself is fair enough but meant I’d have had to waste £8 to go through with it. Seems counter-productive to me.

Perhaps it’s just the timing of my visit, too, but I found a lot of the stuff listed on the site to be junk food and non-essentials. Stuff like jarred sauces may seem a bargain listed at 80p or whatever, but I can make a better tasting, healthier sauce at home for much less and have it go further too.

I found the same thing applies to a ‘Baby Budgeting’ blog I flicked through recently. I don’t want to link because the author might think I’m singling her out/picking on her (I’m really not) but her posts were on things like Boden clothes, Seraphine maternity wear, frugal valentines gifts; surely all of this stuff is frivolous over-spending on brands and unnecessaries and the truly frugal thing would be to avoid them altogether?

I know, I sound like Scrooge already.

January Meal Plan 27th-31st

Last meal plan post of January, huzzah (and only slightly late). Not as tight on the veg this week because I wanted to use up leftovers and bought a cheap chicken to get February meals in for as little as possible (more on that at a later date).

  • 27th: Chilli & rice
  • 28th: Wraps with leftover chilli, veggies
  • 29th: Roast veggie pasta
  • 30th: Roast chicken & mixed veggies
  • 31st: King prawn curry (they were on offer)

I’m stalking freegle/freecycle at the moment for a slow cooker. I do have one, but it’s only a tiny single person style jobby so no use for big casseroles etc that’ll feed me & the kids. If I can find one, there may be an increase in stews, soups etc in the future.

Mortgage Free in 5 Years?

This week I was reading through Jax’s post on her new blog – The challenge – and my mortgage statement which, quite by coincidence arrived on the same day. Through Jax I also found Mortgage Free in Three. To say I was inspired is an understatement.

I’ve decided that we should be aiming to pay off our mortgage within 5 years.

Karl doesn’t think it’s possible. Karl thinks we should be aiming for 10 years. I think he’s being cynical. We have just less than £82,000 to pay off and that’s less than the lady who’s trying to pay her mortgage off in 3 years!

I see it this way: if we continue to tighten down the budget, if we continue to optimise the way we buy to reduce unnecessary spending, if I continue to push my alternative revenue streams alongside my main dev income (and get through more of that too) then we can end a month with more money leftover. More money leftover is more money to put into the mortgage.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Ebaying — I’ve got at least £300 worth of computer bits, DVDs, books, clothes etc that I could shift
  • More hardcore budgeting — going cash-only so I don’t spend a load on non-essentials using the debit card
  • Cut backs — figuring out where the money is currently going and where I can save; yes, ordering from Riverford is convenient and stops the “£20 on chocolate when all I wanted was a pint of milk” shops, but so would taking the right amount of cash…
  • Gardening — we did OK in the garden last year despite the weather. I want to get this rolling again, but also plan better this year.. what are we going to eat?
  • WAHMweb Network — if I can get a few signups on this per month this is will be a boost; I need to implement an affiliate system
  • Affiliate marketing — I’ve been dabbling with this on niche blogs for years but never got very far because I’ve not put the effort in. I reckon I can increase payouts with a little more effort (& possibly by getting Karl blogging!)
  • Delegation — outsource bits of my work to other people so I can concentrate on the harder/more intensive stuff, which in theory will increase the amount I’m getting done, increasing the income

Of course I’m also conscious that it’s counter-productive to spend 3 hours a week doing something that will save me £5 when I can charge that time out at ~£100. I need to balance the above points and see if I can make use of free time better.

I don’t know, maybe I’m insane for thinking we can do this.