Meal planning and budget

Its the end of the month for us and so the budget has been done ready to go into August. This means that there’s one big thing left for me to do- our meal planning!

I am trying to be a lot stricter with this in terms of budget and also look for more ways to save. Roughly a year ago I did a big over haul of our eating and food spending habits. At that point I cut down our monthly food budget from around £210 per month to on average £130 (that’s for 2 adults, 3 meals a day). After that initial cut I feel I’ve plateaued, the saving was great but I still feel like there has to be so many other ways I can cut the budget even more. So that’s what I’m trying to plan for and do!

My mantra for this year is definitely ‘can I make it myself’. Therefore every meal we make, if we’ve had to buy any ready made ingredients, I want to know if I can do it instead.

The first thing to go was shop bought pasta sauces- this one for me was purely a laziness factor. It initially felt a lot easier to just open a jar than to make one up. I have now stopped being lazy though and started making my own (FYI it takes roughly 1 minute more to make my own basic tomato sauce). This has saved me from spending up to £2 on jarred sauce and instead only costs me 60p for my home sauce ingredients. The eventual dream is that I’ll get good at growing tomatoes and be able to make my own passata base as well.  The next thing that has saved us some money is that I am now mainly vegetarian – much to husbands disgust! It means that our meat order goes twice as far because its just husband eating the meat and I use pulses or meat substitutes instead which are a lot cheaper.

The other area where we’ve saved a lot of money is by me getting a good pizza base recipe. We committed in June that we would stop getting takeout. It was our Saturday night treat to order in pizza. A treat for me that I didn’t have to Cook and a treat for husband cause he loves pizza. However, because he dislikes sharing pizza, it was costing us around £60/£70 per month just on 4 meals. That 50% of our entire months food budget. An absolutely ridiculous waste of money when we’re trying to clear debt. So instead I’ve been making the bases and we’re having delicious cheesy pizza for pennies instead.

Aside from this we also chose a cheaper supermarket to shop in which has helped as well. Although due to the nature of that shop it doesn’t always have everything we need so we do still go to another store once a month for bits and pieces!

How I actually meal plan is simple. I take an inventory of the freezer and pantry first of all. I have a good rough idea so its really just firming up that I have what I think I have. Then I print out a blank monthly calendar and write in all my shifts that I know. That then just leaves me to match food to days. We have a basic ‘bank’ of meals that we eat with the occasional experiment meal thrown in so I try to cycle through them as I go. I usually start with the nights I won’t be in for dinner as these have to be meals husband can make himself which limits the possibilities. Then I choose what days I want lazy meals so ones I can quickly prep or shove in the oven. That just leaves my days off when I have time to make more elaborate meals so they go in as well. That gives me my full months dinners and I make my shopping list on a weekly basis for the fill in ingredients from the planner. The calendar gets stuck up on the fridge and that’s it all done =)

TOP TIPS

– don’t be swayed by brands: own brand is normally just as good. There’s only one or two things we still prefer branded.

– plan round how tired you think you’ll be: I used to be terrible for not taking into account what I was working. I would plan in a meal that took time to prepare and then be to tired and hangry to cook. When that happened we would end up buying takeaway…

– always label the extra portions that go into the freezer. I have too many mystery boxes in the freezer that I was convinced at the time I’d remember what they were.

– weigh your ingredients. I weigh out our pasta and rice portions and cheese etc. Its good for a not being fat point of view but also saves on waste.

– make use of your freezer. I buy frozen instead of fresh for what I don’t grow generally. For mushrooms and peppers I buy, chop and freeze on the day.  For our big meat order I spend a couple of hours on delivery day portioning and wrapping it and then put it in the freezer.

– plan in advance to use any leftovers from dinner and change them into something for lunch the next day.

 

 

Debt journey …

Its been a long while once I wrote about our debt journey. We have still been working on it but have been having various amounts of success and setbacks.

As I’d previously said in November we very stupidly booked to go to Florida again which we did in June. This cost us a lot of money and we did put money on a credit card while out there so that was the biggest setback…we have made good inroads since coming back though and we’re really determined to still get this done by the start of next year. 

Our debt as it stands is a loan for £6695 and the credit card with £1135 so combined debt total of £7830 excluding our mortgage. 

We sat down and did a paper budget this month. As we’ve been decorating then the computer is dismantled so no spreadsheets! It was actually good to sit and write everything down although it is slightly depressing to realise that currently i work purely to pay our debt. However that won’t change till we get rid of it! Since we came back from holiday mid June we have so far managed to pay £1210 back off the debt. If we could continue this then we would make our final debt payment in February 2018. That’s against a final payment projection of September 2020 if we had continued with just our standard payments. So really it is good but its not good enough! My absolute ideal is to make our final payment in December of this year but unless one of us has an unexpected pay increase or bonus then I don’t think that’s realistic.

I get paid this week so we still have one final overpayment to make. It should be for £243 if I get paid what I expect too. Then based on our predicted monies for next month we should pay another £1100 to debt which would put us to just over £6700 left to pay. The figures are definitely going in the right direction.

I am also in the mood to sell everything (or a lot of things anyway) to try and make December a more feasible target for clearing debt. I’m currently just trying to figure out the best way to do it. I’m using marketplace and shpock app because they’re free to list but not having much success yet. So the next option is car boot sales I think, looking around for the best value ones to go to. I have also tried ebay but again nothing seems to be selling yet. 

That’s where we are just now, we both need to try and use our other skills to get it cleared faster and stay focused!

Beeswrap 

The phenomenon of beeswrap is one that I’ve only come across very recently. Over the past few years I’ve been trying to become a more ethical buyer and more environmental as well.I have a passion for marine mammals and this has led me to research more and see the damage that is done to them through our waste. I have noticed more and more the abundance of single use plastics and have started to cringe when I need to throwaway clingfilm.

Up until recently I, perhaps stupidly, didn’t realise there was a simple alternative. I heard about beeswrap and wanted to get my hands on some! As with most areas if you buy it pre made then it seems to be expensive but you can make your own for a reasonable cost. 

I’ve followed a very basic ‘recipe’ for my first attempt which is made just using beeswax and cloth. When I’ve looked into it further a lot of recipes seem to add pine resin and jojoba oil. From what I can discern this is to give added flexibility and anti-fungicidal. However plain beeswrap seems to work just as well but is perhaps slightly less long wearing.

I bought myself some fat quarters of cotton (mainly because I wanted pretty patterns) and had previously purchased beeswax. You are best to use pinking shears to cut the fabric as this stops it fraying. I couldn’t find mine so scissors it was! For my first lot I followed online and grated my beeswax. That does though take a long time and a lot of arm power. I made a second lot and for that I just cut the beeswax into small thin strips to lay it on. Just lay your fabric on a baking sheet, sprinkle with beeswax and put in a low heat oven. You wait a few minutes till the beeswax melts and then use a clean paintbrush to ensure the wax has coated the cotton evenly. Then just hand it up for another 5/10 minutes and voilà you have beeswrap! 

I will continue to experiment as I am sure there is a more efficient way to wax my cloth. I’m trying to figure out the best way to just melt the beeswax and spread it on with the paintbrush. This would make it far easier to achieve a uniform coating and also to make larger sheets of the wrap. 

I have been using it successfully since making it though and want to make myself a bigger stockpile. If anyone has made it and can give me tips then I’m all ears!
K xx

Old skills, new skills, lost skills…

This year I’ve been dwelling on skills that I would like to have that I don’t. Now that encompasses a very wide array- from metal working to speaking another language- there’s loads of things I would like to be able to do. My problem is always just picking one thing. When I get in the mood to learn something new then I start trying to do it all! As you can imagine this very quickly descends into me learning nothing.

I’m also fairly terrible at teaching myself anything. I’m not one of these glorious people who can turn their hand to anything. In fact I’ve yet to find a single thing in my life that I have been able to quickly pick up. Anything I learn is hard won and normally encompasses endless hours of extra practice compared to anyone else and a book or five on the subject to understand the theory of what I’m doing. This means that when I’m trying to pick up something I have to try and find a teacher. For me a YouTube tutorial just won’t cut it, I need someone there to hold my hand.

Now that’s not to say that I’m stupid or that I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be doing. However in reality I like to be able to ask many many incessant questions and write notes (on paper as well, I don’t do well with typed notes) on the steps I should be taking. As well as being able to watch them do the thing first and then copy it.

This is in complete contrast to the wonderful husband. I have never met someone more hands on and practically minded than he is. Also he is one of these blessedly annoying people who picks everything up quickly and makes it look damn easy doing it! In fact this idea of him is so ingrained in me that I now find it difficult to believe if I ask him to do something practical and he tells me he can’t. (On occasion I do think this is just because he doesn’t want to do what I’m asking…). This is a man who taught himself to wire our house, plumb in our bathroom and heating system, has built garages and kit cars and many other jobs mainly by watching a couple of videos on it and then getting started. It’s a skill I envy and admire and one that I definitely do not have!

I’ve also found that the older I get the more I feel I should have a certain skill level. I can do the basics of life: cook, clean, washing etc but I want to be able to do more.

Based on all that, I wanted to pick a skill for this year to get to grips with. To me, out of my long list, the most useful skill I could acquire was how to use a sewing machine. This is a totally foreign area to me. I was ill for most of my childhood so I didn’t do home economics classes and have never been near a sewing machine in my house either. I do however love the idea of being able to make and alter things. The opportunity to take it up seemed like a good choice when I saw a Singer machine on offer in the local supermarket. So I bought it and went from there.

Now for the teaching part. As I said I can’t teach myself so I needed to rope someone in to teach me the basics. That’s where my mother in law comes in. I’m extremely lucky and I get along really well with my MIL. I’m also lucky that she has all the skills of a perfect 1950’s housewife and is willing to pass them onto me! So we’ve currently started lessons- just basic using my machine, threading it, different stitches, adjusting tension etc. I was duped by her into making a cushion cover as well. (This was stressful as it’s to go in her room, I thought I was working on a practice one with spare material, it turned out that it was the good one- not impressed!). It’s now time for me to try and make an actual legitimate item from start to end though…

Yesterday was a day of shopping. For the first time I bought a pattern and fabric- yay. This was a myriad of complications though that I didn’t know about. For a start I didn’t realise that you look through a pattern book and then take a number up to the counter to actually get the pattern. I had assumed that you would just have all the patterns hanging on a wall and pick from there. That’s not the case I see! Then there’s all the numbers on the pattern- I still don’t know what they mean. Due to my MIL knowledge we seem to have come away with the right pattern but who knows?! I also got far too overexcited in the fabric shop. I’m just making a basic pair of jogging bottoms but that involves boring coloured, plain jersey fabric. Whereas what I actually want to make clothes out off is all the material with tiny pirates, fabric that is super soft and looks like dragon scales or is off a completely lurid pattern involving giant flowers or little stars…  I got dark grey jersey material though as is appropriate for the moment! So now I just have to get on and make it. I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going once I get started.

When I was looking at skills though it did make me think a lot about the potential for skills to be lost. I don’t know many people my age who can use a sewing machine, knit, make jam, make home remedies, grow their own food or re-purpose and re-use what they own. It could be that I just don’t know the right subset of people for this but I do have a broad range of friends. To them I am viewed as a practical person and someone who can do a lot and has a lot of ‘old’ housewife-esque skills. This is blatantly untrue but it’s because they buy everything and would never consider making their own. It makes me even more determined to master what skills I start, I want to help carry these on for new generations. Hopefully that’ll give me enough incentive to learn new things each year.

Are there any skills that are in danger of dying that you know? I’d love to hear about them.

Kimmy x

Sewing Machine

Debt update- March

Another month has flown by and it’s payday again (yay!). This meant we had our final budget meeting of the month last night. We learned a couple of lessons from the month as there were some unexpected monies that we had to pay out and silly things we hadn’t considered.

The first of which was because our hoover packed in. Not ideal when you’re decorating and have an extremely fluffy dog who sheds everywhere! So we had to buy a new one. Now we do put aside money for the house each month as we’re still in the middle of decorating it. However we have that currently earmarked for finishing the downstairs. So we decided to use our ‘spare’ council tax money for the month instead and buy a new hoover. This took away some of the over-payment we’d been intending to make to the debt.

The second lesson we learned (which realistically we should have thought off before) is to take into account the number of weeks in a month. As husband gets paid on the last day of the month, it does make a difference to our monthly budgeting. March was a 5 week month for us and this means that we should have increased our food and petrol allowance. We didn’t so that of course meant we overspent. It was a good lesson to learn and will help us going forward.

We’ve also spent a bit of time organising all our paperwork that just seems to pile up… I was horrified to realise that off the 5K a year we pay to our mortgage, only 1.5K off that actually gets removed from the capital amount. That’s a depressingly small amount! We’ve discussed it and the aim is for us to be debt free by the time we’re both 30 and mortgage free by the time we’re 40. That means that we need to make a massive change or we’ll never achieve it. So… In order to do that and also to help with the debt we’ve cancelled our last sharesave. That gave us a couple of grand back in cash to pay to debt and also frees up £110 per month. That £110 is now going to be an overpayment to the mortgage each month. That’ll start from the beginning of April. One of the reasons for that is we’ll have a lower LTV ratio when it comes time to re-mortgage next year at the end of our fixed rate term. In order to achieve being mortgage free by 40 we will need to start paying 1K a month to our mortgage so we are even more desperate to get rid of this debt so we can do that!

Ok now debt figures… We started the month at £9918, our standard payment of £300 has come off so now to figure out the over-payment! It turns out that we were slightly over enthusiastic last month when it came to paying extra money, we actually put our holiday money to the debt as we’d forgotten it was holiday money… Nevermind! It does mean that we can’t pay as much as we’d thought we could this month though. Our extra payment this month will be £1600. This will take us to £8018. We’ve also managed to sell my old car and I have a couple of makeup jobs which will bring in an extra £400 that can go straight to debt. Also in April my pay rise starts so we will have another £100 per month that can again go to debt each month.

The last thing we have in favour of our debt is that 1K of it isn’t actually our debt. When we were consolidating our debt into a loan we included £1500 to give to one of our friends. (There was a very good reason for doing it). This is paid off at £50 per month and will continue to be. So if we don’t include it then we are down to £6618 that we have left to pay. That works out at just £735 per month for the rest of this year and we’d be done! It is an amazing thought that we could finally be rid of this by 2018. I am desperate for it to become a reality…

Love, Kimmy x

Sourdough and mushrooms update…

Its been a while since I posted, just a lot of things going on at once! That doesn’t mean we haven’t been working on our projects though.

First up our sourdough… Our wholemeal starter has taken off nicely, it has that recognisable sour smell and is very bubbly when we feed it. We also used a bit of this starter to make a white flour sourdough as it is usually all white bread we eat. 

Now these are photos from this morning when I fed them. (Top photo wholemeal and bottom photo white flour). You would think from looking at them that the white is the better off the two, or I would anyway, but that’s not the case. No matter how I adjust the feeding our white one always seems on the edge of too watery  and doesn’t give our bread the rise we want. It also doesn’t make nearly as tasty a loaf in my opinion. 

The wholemeal on the other hand seems to be getting better as the weeks go on. Its given us tasty bread but only when mixed with white flour for baking. I am currently sitting waiting to put a full wholemeal loaf in my oven but as it has barely risen, I’m not expecting great things!

Here’s how our loaves have differed from the first attempt to the most recent.

Our first attempts. We followed an online recipe meant to give you two free form cobs. Mine is the top loaf which I think looks like some sort off weak clawed wolverine has attacked it after sitting on it..  Lovely husband’s is the bottom and he clearly has a much better slashing method than me! (Should I be worried?! Lol). Both were incredibly tasty but almost as flat as a pancake. You also needed more upper arm strength than I possess to saw through the crust which felt like it was made from brick. I managed to saw my fingers as my loaf went flying over the kitchen worktop, no bread tastes better with added blood… Minor injury only though, I still thankfully have all my digits.

Week two could have been our piece de resistance if only we’d known a few things. As you can see we abandoned the idea of free forming our bread. That’s a level of creativity that we’re just not ready for clearly! Instead we used the same recipe but whacked the full mixture into a loaf tin. Now this had the advantage of stopping the loaf being a pancake but it did mean I just had to guess as to the baking time- problem one. Husband (having been designated official bread slasher) performed his job admirably as you can see and gave the bread room to rise. That’s when I encountered problem two- my oven shelf was too high. Our poor loaf was doing as asked and rising up magnificently only to be stunted as it hit the top of my oven. I had to take it out ten minutes earlier than I wanted too as it was starting to burn from contact with the hot metal. This meant that the middle wasn’t as cooked as it should have been. It was a hundred times better than the previous week though.

Then our first loaf using the white flour starter. It just didn’t rise as much as it should have, there was also a big gap in the side where it decided to split in the oven. It was alright but in both looks and flavour I found it a bit lacking.

Finally today’s loaf-  I don’t know how that is going to turn out yet so will keep you apprised of the situation! Overall im currently counting our starters as a success but our bread making skills a work in progress.

Then we have our mushroom kits. We bought three of them and all three have produced some mushrooms for us. I’ve been amazed at how quickly they go from little pinheads to full blown mushies. One night they completely exploded up!

After the initial harvest though most of the growing seems to have stopped. We’ve also found that our mushrooms are only growing at the uncovered edges of the kit and not all over even though the mycellium is everywhere. I’m currently looking for methods to transfer the spores to a more sustainable habitat and hopefully get them growing again. There’s a glut of information online but I’m struggling to wade through all of it to see what’s best.. All advice as always is welcome!
Kimmy x

Debt update- January/ February 

Its payday for me today which means that we had our budget meeting last night. I thought I’d write down all the things that have happened in the last few months with our money to try and see the progress! 
First up confession time… In a time of weakness near the end of last year we booked to go to Florida on holiday. I was fed up with trying to clear our debt and getting nowhere, we’d also been trying unsuccessfully to start a family for a while and just wanted a break. So the long and the short is we agreed to go on this very expensive holiday. Since that point its caused some stress because we don’t have all the money to pay for it and we actually don’t want to increase our credit card or loan debt.

So we sat down to discuss what we wanted to do about it all. At the moment we pay £300 a month to our loan. The idea has always to make overpayments but this never seems to happen. We also had around £200 on a credit card. This was the sum of our debt excluding our mortgage as we said in our original post at the start of January: 12.5k 

After much discussion we’ve reassessed the moneys we hold and where best to use it. I think we have it in our heads that we want to have savings which is all well and good but why have all this debt and savings?! So we’ve decided to wipe out pretty much everything cash wise apart from our emergency and sinking funds. There are still some areas we’re contributing and keeping money in. Both of us have pensions with our companies and we’re continuing with those. Husband also has sharesaves with his company that we put money too every month. This means we still have some long term security. What we’re ‘cashing in’ is my shares options and extra money that we had put in our emergency fund. 

By doing all that it amounted to us having the 2.5k we needed to pay for the rest of our holiday, we were also able to make a January overpayment to the loan of £1600. Now at the end of February we’ve been able to make another overpayment of £350. Including our regular payments that means we’ve paid just over 2.5k to debt and takes us to £9913 left to go. Assuming that we never pay another overpayment them that makes our debt free date December 2019. Far too long away for my liking! 

Now we have been blessed with a few things that make it more and more likely we can make overpayments each month. The first great thing about February and March every year is we don’t pay council tax. That immediately means we have almost £400 that should go straight to debt. The second thing is I’ve been able to increase my hours at work. So instead of 20 hrs per week I now get 32 hrs per week which is amazing. The last thing came happily just a couple of days after NY contract increase and that was a pay increase starting in April. This means that taking my extra hours and extra pay into account that we should be £400 better off each month. Now not all of that can go to debt- we weren’t making enough with me on 20 hrs to really cover everything- but we should be able to pay at least a couple of hundred pounds over each month. 

Last thing (sorry this is such a mammoth post!) is I’ve changed what supermarket we use, altered our meal plan to a healthier one and gone back to making meticulous shopping lists. This meant that I actually stuck to our food budget this month for the first time in a long time.

I’m exceptionally happy that we’re now under 10k debt, it does finally feel like we’re making progress. If everything goes to plan then we should actually be able to hit under 9k debt by this time next month..  We’ll see if that actually pans out though as we’ve been here before and always ended up with more debt…fingers crossed! 

Kimmy x