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Losing weight, not money!

  I mentioned a month or so ago that I had joined a slimming club with a few work colleagues. We have a weekly weigh in, pay a pound a week and the person who has lost the most at the end of the month wins the pot. It has proved a good incentive, and I have found it easy to lose weight steadily without spending lots of money on organised slimming clubs, special diet foods or an expensive gym membership. I have lost 8lb slowly and steadily and I can really feel the difference in how my clothes fit. I am planning another 4lb and then I will be on target. Any more and my mum will start telling me I am too thin and trying to feed me up!!

   I haven’t followed a particular diet or felt deprived in anyway. I have simply stopped snacking during the day and now just eat fruit, I have reduced my portion sizes and avoided anything fatty or heavy and given up sugar and chocolate. I have allowed myself the odd glass of white wine in the evening plus maybe a Ryvita with low fat cheese or a bag of Aldi French fries, which are only 65 calories. This way I have lost 1 or 2lbs each week with no pain. I guess if I was very heavy I would be more stringent, but I only need to lose 10-12 lbs. I would like to get just under 10 stone, which is fine for my height and build.

  I have increased my exercise with a short walk most lunchtimes and a long one with Mr Shoestring at the weekend. I am also doing my usual yoga practice but trying to make time to do this more often. I feel better all round when I do.

 Yesterday we had an epic walk – longer than intended! We thought we would try the Flitch Way near Braintree, a long straight walk along a disused railway track – all the way to Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire if you do the whole thing, which would be a 30 mile trip there and back. We decided to walk about 3 miles and find a pub for lunch, a nice manageable 6 mile trek. However, a lack of preparation meant that we failed to find a pub at all – at 4 and a half miles we discovered we would need to walk another 2 to get to one in Felstead, so we turned round and headed back to Braintree.  

 We stopped at the little café in Rayne and called a few places nearby to check they were still serving food but they weren’t. At this point we gave up and stayed at the café for tea and sandwiches! It was 2.30 by this time and we were starving, so they went down a treat.

By the time we reached the car park at Braintree station we had walked over 9 miles! We had also burnt about 800 calories each so I was happy. Got blisters though!

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Using wonky veg, making extra cash and cutting back on plastic waste

It’s all go at Shoestring Cottage! I have been working my way through the veg in the Asda Wonky Box I was given to review and I have to say it has lasted all week easily. It is excellent value at £3.50.  Asda has committed to putting 10,000 boxes into a selection of stores across the country at least once a month. This is currently making the boxes quite rare – I have yet to find one in my local store. Let’s hope they commit a little further! The problem will be, I am guessing, that if they really take off it will affect sales of Asda’s unwonky vegetables! The cure for this is simple – forget about perfection and just sell all of the veg as it comes…

spanish eggs and riceThe first thing I made was Spanish eggs – so easy and really delicious. I chopped a couple of the red onions and fried it up with some garlic and two of the red peppers from the box. I added a tin of tomatoes, a pot of Oxo Herbs & More rosemary and thyme that I picked up really cheaply in Home Bargains, a glug of wine and some salt and pepper. I cooked this up in the pan for 20 minutes then made some wells and dropped a couple of eggs on the mixture. I put the lid on and cooked this gently for 10 minutes then served it with some rice. As it was only me eating that evening I used two eggs, but you could add another couple and this would be a nice supper for two people – I had the leftovers for lunch the following day.

veg from boxWe also had a chicken and vegetable curry, which used more onions and peppers, sausages and  mash, using red onions, potatoes and the cabbage, and carrot and coriander soup, using the carrots. Tonight we will have beef casserole with yellow stickered beef, frozen tomatoes from last year’s harvest and from the wonky box red onions, parsnips and leeks. We will eat this with ‘wonky’ potatoes. We have eaten most of the cucumber in sandwiches and dipped into humus for lunches. The rest of the onions and potatoes will be used next week.

It is definitely worth buying a Wonky Box if you are fortunate enough to come across one.

peace ringI have also started a little Instagram/Facebook shop, selling some nice bits of inexpensive jewellery I managed to source plus the used designer dresses that I have been selling for a while on eBay.  I have also found some very pretty scarves so will add those as soon as they arrive. I sold two pendants the day after I made my page on Facebook, so I was pretty happy! You can find me on Instagram – @janeysboutique and on Facebook with the same name. I don’t expect it to make my fortune, but every little helps!

I am trying to cut the amount of plastic I use. It seems so difficult to avoid, but I am making a start. So far I have switched from butter in a plastic pot to the old fashioned stuff in paper, given up liquid hand soap for bars of soap and gone back to washing powder in a cardboard box. Of course I can recycle plastic containers but it is better to avoid them in the first place!

Posted in Environment, General and rants, Household bills and budgets, Main Meals - Vegetarian, Making Extra Money, Recipes, War on waste | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Bring on that wonky veg!

As promised Asda have very kindly sent me one of their Wonky Veg Boxes to review. I fully support this idea. Like many people, I have been appalled to learn how many perfectly good vegetables are wasted by the farmers supplying supermarkets because they are considered the wrong size, slightly discoloured or misshapen, a peculiarly first world point of view I feel! 

Asda has certainly received a lot of very good publicity for this move so hopefully the other supermarkets will soon follow suit. I really don’t care if my food isn’t a uniform size or shape and I am quite sure most people feel the same. I just hope that Asda extend this scheme quickly as it is quite hard to get hold of the boxes. I have yet to find one in my local branch, although my daughter has spotted them there a few times. 

They are exceptionally good value at £3.50. The cynic in me says this price will go up if they become too popular as this will impact on the amount of non-wonky veg we all buy. We shall see. What would be ideal is a situation where wonky veg us the norm and none of us bar an eyelid!

I like the fact that my veg arrived in a nice recyclable cardboard box with no plastic packaging on any of its contents. I am looking to reduce the amount of plastic waste I create through my various purchases so this was a bonus.

My box contained the following:

5 carrots
A cucumber
2 parsnips
3 red peppers
3 leeks
9 potatoes
Lots of red onions

The cabbage was a little the worse for wear – probably from sitting around in a warm press office I think! I was relieved to see that the other veg was actually a little wonky as I had read other reviews saying it was fine! It was all perfectly good quality.
  So…what to do with all this lovely stuff? Tonight I will begin with Spanish eggs – a kind of ratatouille base made with peppers, garlic, onions and tinned tomatoes. That goes in a baking dish and I will make little wells in this and crack an egg in each, cover with a little cheese and bake.

A spicy carrot and parsnip soup is a possibility or a parsnip gratin. Leeks and potatoes go well together in loads of things too: soup again or maybe a leek, potato and bacon bake. There are so many onions I gave some away! I use them a lot but already had some in the fridge.

The cabbage will be stir fried with onions and whatever else needs using up and, since my daughter munches on cucumbers like sweets that will disappear pretty quickly.

What would you make? Anyone else managed to get hold of a wonky box?

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It’s the little things …

Excuse the lack of posts this week. I have felt inexplicably exhausted and seem to have spent a lot of my evenings snoring on Mr Shoestring’s shoulder on the sofa. Oh well – I guess my body needed the rest!

I was berating myself for getting so little done. Then I decided to make a list of all this week’s frugal achievements. To my surprise I did better than I thought. This proves we need to be kinder to ourselves once in a while. Writing a list proves you have accomplished something 😀.

So…what did I achieve?

Decluttered my wardrobe

I have pulled some things out to sell on eBay and have two bin bags to take to the charity shop. What’s the point of this stuff cluttering up my cupboard if I never wear it? Now I can see what I actually have!

Sold 4 things on eBay

I finally got round to listing some items that had been sitting in a cupboard for ages. I sold four and made £25 which has gone straight in the savings account. Every little helps!

Started a spending diary
I have done this before, although not for a while. This time I am following the plan in the book I am reading, Your Money or Your Life, and recording every penny that comes in or out of my life. I think this will prove a useful exercise to see if I am really in touch with my spending habits.

Repaired the dishwasher

This wasn’t really me at all – Mr S, my very own Handy Andy, came to the rescue and managed to get it working. It keeps blocking. I suspect it is on the way out as it is 15 years old. I won’t be replacing it when it does expire finally.

Dyed my own hair

I always do this. I use half a box of hair dye on my roots once a month which costs me about £2. My hairdresser charges about £30! They have to make a living but my budget won’t run to this.

Made thrift soup
  I dug out two carcasses to make stock – one was a chicken and the other the duck from Christmas! It made lovely stock. I added some frozen leftover mashed potato, pasta and veg, then chopped up an onion and celery and threw the whole lot in the pot with some lentils. It was delicious and will be lunch for about 4 days.

Repaired a hole in my jumper

My favourite blue jumper! It took three minutes to sew up the little hole that had developed. It was secondhand when I got it but I still want my money’s worth 😃😃.

Aranged to have a water meter

I have put this off for years as with three long haired daughters who spent a lot of time in the bathroom and required many loads of laundry to be done, not to mention the poor dishwasher, I knew my bills would go up with a meter. Now, with just one daughter left at home, it was time. The water company is sending an engineer in a few weeks.

Purchased lots of reduced jewellery

My new venture is an Instagram shop. I am currently on the look out for bargain bits to sell on and found some very pretty earrings and necklaces at a discount sale price. I will start a new account for this, although my current one now has over a thousand followers – I am quite pleased about this. I know it is yet another way to waste time but I enjoy looking at people’s pictures and getting a little window on their lives. Check me out: @shoestringcottage.

Wonky box

Asda have very kindly arranged for me to receive a Wonky Box to review. It should arrive this week so watch this space! In case you are living in a cave and haven’t heard, they are selling misshapen vegetables for £3.50 a box, which they claim contain enough vegetables to feed a family of four for a week. Sound excellent all round and I am very excited about this!

I am starting this week by finally starting some seeds for the veg patch. We had planned to do this last Sunday but had a day out to Pin Mill instead. So that’s my first frugal achievement for this week 😀.

Whatever you are doing, have a good week, money savers!

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A bracing Mother’s Day walk in Suffolk

pinmill1We had a lovely walk out yesterday by the coast. It was very cold in the wind but we wrapped up warm. The girls were making us dinner, so we left them to it and drove up to Pin Mill near Ipswich. It’s a lovely little place with a great pub – the Butt and Oyster – an array of bohemian looking houseboats and some lovely walk through National Trust land with some spectacular views of the River Orwell.

pin mill 3We took a flask and a picnic (frugal as usual) and had a good walk in the winter sunshine. The water was an amazing colour – a kind of glacial blue-green. We treated ourselves to a couple of drinks in the pub after. Well, it would have been rude not to!

houseboatYou can’t help but dream when you see a cosy looking house boat with piles of logs stacked neatly outside, but I bet they are actually quite cold and damp potentially, and very exposed to the elements. They also command ridiculous prices that I guess only rich Londoners looking for a second home can afford – we found one that had sold for £345,000 last year!

On the other hand, this amazing hippy bus was advertised on Facebook recently for £6500 – hugely under-priced in my view and the seller went viral and was overwhelmed with the response she had. I hope she got a bit more for it. It is a work of art!hippy bus

One day I will get my camper van and the time to go wandering in it. I doubt it will be so pretty, but as long as it gets me from A to B and is comfortable I will be happy.

We came back to a gorgeous dinner cooked by the girls: roasted vegetables on a butterbean mash, paella and a huge fruit salad with chocolate mousse. Bang goes the diet! Everybody needs a day off and it was Mother’s Day.

Back to eating sensibly this week.

Anybody else dreaming of escape on a hippy bus or an idyll on a houseboat on the river?

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Living With A Work-life Inbalance? Join The Club

I have loads of jobs to do this weekend – I really need a three day weekend (this is my long term goal; a 4 day week). I will do my best to get it all done but I always make time for some rest and recuperation. A nice walk or trip out somewhere with Mr S makes me feel like I have had a weekend and not just done chores! This Sunday is Mother’s Day, of course, and my daughters are making me Sunday dinner, which I am looking forward to. Dinner tastes better when I don’t have to cook it J. They had better wash up too!

I need to do the food shop in Aldi on Saturday. I usually do this after work in the week, but have stretched the groceries by a few days this week. I will have the usual clean through the house and sort out any bills and paperwork, and I really need to go through my wardrobe and declutter. I have a lot of clothes that I never really wear. They are mostly charity shop finds and if I don’t want them they will go back to the charity shop. If they are really good I will sell them on eBay. I have a pile of stuff I need to list but I really don’t think I will have time this weekend. I need to find a moment to do this as with no language student in the house the extra income from my eBay sales is very useful! If you have ever listed anything on eBay you will know it takes longer than you think it will.

  I have received my seed order from King’s seeds. I need to sort through and get some of those going on Sunday, and maybe persuade Mr S to get the lawnmower out as the grass is really quite long. If I have time I will do some weeding and clear some of the leaves that I didn’t get the chance to do in the autumn.

So – you see why I need the extra day at the weekend. I am a long way from my ideal work-life balance unfortunately, but I am working on it! Hopefully I will get there long before I need to retire anyway!

Following suggestions from lots of you I have purchased a copy of Your Money or your Life and it is a fascinating read so far and seems to pretty much fit my thinking. The author calls making a living ‘making a dying’ because we work too much doing work we often don’t enjoy and have too little to time to do the things that really matter to us. I totally feel that way!

Does anybody else struggle with this conundrum?

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Low Fat On A Budget?

  I made this yummy Slimming World recipe over the weekend, crustless bacon and mushroom quiche. The recipe says it will serve two but I would say  three as two of us couldn’t eat it all: recipe here.

So-called ‘slimming foods’ can be dear in my experience, but all of the ingredients for this came from Aldi and it was quite a cheap supper. We had the left over cottage cheese and bacon over the weekend, so no waste there. 

Logically if you are eating less you shouldn’t be spending more….I guess people tend to buy more healthy fruit and veg and lean meat and less of the cheap stuff like sausages and processed food when they are dieting. But if they also purchase fewer treats, less alcohol and gave up the takeaways you would think it would even itself out!

 I am encouraged at the number of nice looking veggie meals that are either low fat or can be adapted to be lower fat than usual. A meal based around pulses, vegetables and grains will generally be cheaper than eating meat. 

Another nice dish which happens to be vegetarian is vegetable paella, another Slimming World one. Delish and packed full of peppers and other veg so lots of antioxidants too. Replace the saffron with turmeric, use dried parsley and use ordinary rice instead of risotto  rice to make it a bit cheaper. I used mushrooms instead of courgettes as that was what I had. Use frozen instead of fresh peas and beans.

1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1.5 pints veg stock
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, sliced
2 courgettes, sliced
454 g tomatoes, skinned and chopped (I used a tin)
349g risotto rice
1 tsp paprika
0.5tsp saffron, soaked in 2 tvsp water
113g green beans
113g peas
salt and pepper
3tbsp chopped parsley

Put the onions and garlic in a large pan with half a pint of the stock and simmer until the onions are soft. Add the peppers, courgettes and tomatoes and cook gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and paprika. Pour in the saffron and add the peas and beans. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook very gently, adding stock as it is absorbed and stirring regularly until all the liquid is absorbed. Season to taste and add the parsley just before serving.

I will definitely be making both these again!

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My frugal journey: sources of inspiration

How did it all begin? At what point did being frugal become a lifestyle choice for me? I have been pondering and the truth is that it was foisted on me by circumstance of course. But I was brought up in a frugal household and have never liked waste, so living simply and frugally comes naturally to me. I don’t enjoy being short of money, but I do get satisfaction out of managing the money I have and using my creativity to life a life that is enjoyable. 
  The first book that gave me real inspiration was the absolute classic Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczin. It was published in the 1990s, but is totally relevant today. If you haven’t read it, it is worth buying.

There is an interesting interview with Amy here.

The second, which is aimed for a UK rather than a US market, was the Penny Pincher’s Book by John and Irma Mustoe. This is packed with useful tips and quite witty at times too. I notice it has been updated in recent years.

As I got more computer savvy and moved onto the Internet – this opened up a whole new treasure trove of inspiration and advice. was the first site that I got into. It is massive! So many good articles and great advice from forum members who have experienced awful debt and have either got themselves back on track or are working their way towards that goal.

Frugal Queen was the next. That woman is great at giving you a good motivational talking to via her blog whilst getting herself out of debt and sharing her journey. 

There are so many good sites and blogs on saving money now. One of my absolute favourites is Life After Money. Ilona, who writes it, is a great character and very inspirational. She has become something of a celebrity, even appearing recently on a radio show in Australia!

I like Ricky on Skint Dad too – nice to get a male viewpoint. 

Where do you go for frugal inspiration?

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A good use for an old sleeping bag!

I love it when I arrive for work and leave  in the daylight. I know that Spring is on its way  and the weather will start getting warmer. 
  My old car does not like winter and it is a struggle to get her started in the cold. This has been improved slightly because I have started tucking the old girl up in a sleeping bag at night. The neighbours surely think I have gone mad!

I do need to replace this car. I am still researching but will be going for something much smaller and cheaper to run.

I have been sticking to my low fat eating regime for a fortnight and have lost 4.5 lbs – a steady 2lb a week is fine for me so I am happy with this. One benefit of the diet is that my joints are much less achy. I think this might be a benefit of eating no sugar or possibly very little alcohol. Either way it is good!

Being weighed at work weekly is definitely keeping me on track and it is much cheaper than an official slimming club 😀. 

It also means I don’t need to start buying new clothes a size bigger!

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