Oh Bugger (Budgeting Fail)

I made a terrible, terrible mistake in June.

I ignored my budget, forgot to check my online banking statements regularly, and made a big ‘luxury’ purchase (last minute half week “glamping” break) in the same month as a big necessary purchase (car tax). What with that, bills, childcare, mortgage, new shoes for Isabel etc my bank balance was officially lower yesterday than the day before pay day. I am in my overdraft at the beginning of the month for the first time ever.

I’m telling you this because a) it proves that even the most frugal of us make stupid, stupid mistakes sometimes, and b) because I need the accountability and the kick up the arse to motivate myself to go back into mega-frugal mode… the kind of frugal I rocked when I was on maternity leave. Meal plans, packed lunches, budgets, spreadsheets: you name it, I’m on it.

It’s too late to cancel the glamping break and get my money back but I’ve (sadly) dropped 2 ongoing payments to WAHMs for work on WAHMweb, put a crapload of maternity clothes and shoes up for sale, and resolved to cancel a bunch more domains. It’s not going to make me any money — that’s another topic altogether — but it’s a start. August WILL start better than this.

Starting Project £20k

After having a good moan about my financial / housing situation post-split from Karl, which ended on a jokey note about a project £15k, I thought well… actually, why don’t I start a new project? And why aim for £15,000 — that would mean I’d still need £5k from the bank — why not aim for the full £20k? And so Project £20k was born.

I need to raise £20,000 in a short a time span as possible so that I can buy Karl out of the mortgage without having to take on any extra debt.

Looking back at my original Mortgage Free in 5 Years? post I had the following money-making ideas:

  • Selling stuff on ebay/preloved/whatever
  • Increasing sign-ups on the WAHM web hosting network
  • Get back into affiliate marketing

On top of that I know I need to:

  • Finish my WAHM website ebook and release it (£)
  • Make better use of advertising on my non-personal websites so that they actually make me money (if nothing else but to cover hosting!)
  • Step up my game with my freelance shit and get a dual income thing going on
  • Finish & release my “Jem’s mail form” form generator (£)

Beyond that, going back to basics with the budgeting, meal planning, and not wasting money on crap would be a good start. And if anyone has £20,000 lying around they don’t need…

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?

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.

3 ways I’ve saved money in September

Part of my ongoing mission to save money this year, these things have saved me money this month (unfortunately I could only come up with 3 things)

1. Moved hosting

I moved away from Site5 in 2009 after they botched a routine server upgrade. Clook, my host of choice have been fantastic since then but are pricier than most. In an effort to save money long term I’ve moved my less important sites back to Site5 so that I can downgrade my Clook account but keep any “vital” bits as-is. When cashflow increases I’ll probably reverse this unless Site5 gives me reason not to (not looking good so far, had 2 lots of downtime in a month).

2. Been flexible with my meal plan

I am fairly good at sticking to my monthly meal plan, but last month whilst in Tesco I spotted 2.5kg of lamb shoulder on a half price offer (£20 down to £10) but, because it was short-dated, was also reduced again down to £5. That’s a crazy amount of meat for a fiver! Slow roasted til it fell off the bone, I was able to do several main meals with it and have a weeks worth of sandwiches (and picking at it every time I opened the fridge door, ha).

As I’d have spent £5 on a chicken the weekend I went in, it saved me the cost of the ‘missed’ main meals for no extra money.

3. Bought frozen desserts

Last month was CAKE-FEST, a yearly(ish) event in which my bestest friends from t’interwebs invade my house and eat cheesecake, cake, crisps etc. I’d normally buy premade cheesecakes for the event from the fridges in Tesco/Co-op which are a few quid each. This time I was a cheapskate and bought frozen desserts for £1-£2 instead. Nobody complained!

Did you see the 5 ways I saved money in August? You’re going to need to give me tips for saving money this month, as I’m running out of ideas!

5 ways I’ve saved money in August

Part of my ongoing mission to save money this year, these things have saved me money this month…

1. Bought tinned beans

Like most parents of small children, we buy baked beans. They’re good for emergency meals when Isabel is so wiped out from nursery or is feeling under the weather and we need to get something into her before bed. For the convenience factor, we have been buying the ‘snap pots’ which you just bung in the microwave. However, I recently realised that the snap pots are not only more expensive than tins, but contain less too.

I could make my own baked beans for the ultimate in cheapness but that would add significant prep time so is not ideal.

2. Timed my showers

We have an electric shower. It’s the biggest drain on electricity we have, second only to the tumble drier (the shower uses more but the drier runs for longer). I’ve been really careful to keep my showers to 2 minutes this month, as well as not turning it on until I actually want to get in (I have a habit of turning it on then going to the loo, sorting clothes etc).

Now just to persuade Karl he doesn’t need 15 minute showers…

3. Recycled envelopes

I’ve been selling off old nappies and books etc because I’m poor now. To save me money on post and packing, I’ve been saving jiffy bags and packets from parcels etc that have been delivered recently (hence why I’m poor now). Jiffy bags are quite expensive; this is a simple step that saves pounds!

4. Chose paint on offer

You may be aware that we’ve been decorating the front room. Well, it turns out that decorating/paint is expensive. How handy, then, that the weekend we decide to go look at paint colours we notice that the Homebase own brand one coat paint is on buy 1 get 1 free. We found the closest matching shade in the paint on offer and went with that. And not a bad colour, too.

5. Volunteered to review some Ecover Zero samples

More on this in another post, but short story: I agreed to review some Ecover Zero range samples expecting some mini packets of soap powder or something. They sent me a big box with full size bottles of washing up liquid, laundry liquid, fabric conditioner etc. Bargain.

Did you see the 5 ways I saved money in July?

5 ways I’ve saved money in July

Part of my ongoing mission to save money this year, these things have saved me money this month…

1. Cancelled our lovefilm membership

I’ve fallen in and out of love with lovefilm over the years because of billing issues, scratched DVDs etc but having been fine with them for a while it’s come to the point where I’m just forgetting to send DVDs back so not getting replacements. This is a waste and has had to be cut (saving £4.07 a month)

2. Used shorter program on the dishwasher

I found a neat idea on another frugal blog about letting the dishwasher run until it’s finished the wash cycle then opening the doors and letting the dishes air dry to cut out the most expensive(?) part of the cycle (drying). Unfortunately I don’t have the patience to sit next to the dishwasher to wait for the wash part to finish so instead I’ve just dropped it down to a shorter, colder cycle. I’m not noticing a difference in dish cleanliness.

3. Changed my veg box

I love my veg boxes but at this time of year the potatoes are always new potatoes and I’m the only one of us that’ll eat them (Karl hates skin on his spuds, Izz pays too much attention to what her Dad eats). I refuse to stand and peel tons of tiny spuds to make mash etc so the potatoes have been going bad sat in the cupboard. Instead, I have swapped to a potato-free box and am buying bigger spuds at the supermarket. This may not seem like money saved, but it’s certainly less waste.

4. Watered down milk

Came across this tip accidentally via the Money Saving Expert forums. When my carton of milk gets down to about half-way, I add one cup of cooled boiled water (important to boil it first otherwise the bacteria decreases the life) to the milk. Little shake and voila. I’ve managed to drop down from 3 x 2ltr bottles to 2 by doing this (and being a tiny bit more stingy with milk on my cereal). As I buy organic milk, it’s a saving of around £7 a month.

5. Did my big shop ‘on offer’

I discovered a Sainsbury’s coupon — £15 off a £75 online grocery shop — for new customers (coupon code: 3646-KLQ7-VDK9) so did my regular big shop there. I saved the obvious £15, but have discovered some of the stuff I bought was cheaper than equivalents at Tesco so may have saved more than that overall.

Did you see the 5 ways I saved money in June?

5 ways I’ve saved money in June

I’m on a mission to reduce our outgoings over the next 12 months. We’re not massive consumers anyway, which I think makes it harder to make significant cuts. Nonetheless, these are things I’ve done this month which I know has saved us money.

1. Cooking thrifty eats

I don’t recall who shared the link to The Resourceful Cook, but using the Frugal Favourites and Super Cheap Eats I’ve been able to knock up batches of meals like the Chorizo, Sausage & Bean Stew which have lasted us several days. I’m going to use the site when I set out my meal plans for next month.

2. Air drying

Common sense one: we’ve had some dry days, so the clothes and nappies have been on the washing line.

nappies on washing line

Days like today when it’s peeing down with rain I’m using indoor airers propped over the bath.

3. Cloth wipes

It’s so easy to spend a fortune on baby wipes when you’ve got kids; wiping bums, faces, sticky hands… then of course you get into the trap of using them to wipe up spills and even for dusting and before you know it you need another packet.

I have enforced a no-baby-wipe zone and for the past few weeks we’ve relied on a stack of cheeky wipes bought when Izz was in nappies and cheap flannels. IKEA do a 4 pack of wash cloths for 79p.

4. Watering down my orange juice

I started doing this when I was pregnant because I missed the taste of OJ but couldn’t handle the acidity with my constant heartburn. Watering down a glass of juice — approx 2 thirds juice to 1 third water — saves me over 1 litre a week which can add up to ~£12 by the end of a month (I drink quite a bit of orange juice)

5. Bought through a cashback website

We had reason to buy a new TV this month (you may find this odd, given that we don’t watch TV in itself but I’ll explain some other time); after having searched high and low for something that met our needs Karl discovered a cheapy Technika on Tesco Direct. It was already on sale, down £20 to £80, but clearing cookies and navigating to Tesco via Top Cashback meant we got back £3.23 too. I’ve made over £200 using TCB:

How have you saved money this month? I’m going to need all the tips I can get if we’re to survive on one income for the next 12 months…

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