Saturday, 18 February 2012

20 FREE THINGS TO WITH THE KIDS!

This imaginative list of free things to do with your family might give you some fresh ideas if you've reached the end of half-term (or are about to start it) and have no cash!
Among its ideas are - becoming a tourist in your own town or village; go out with the camera and a picnic and stroll around the "sites" taking pictures of each other, visit a museum, get out all your photograph albums and spend some time looking through them and chatting about them (my kids still love doing this with the family photos and they're all in their twenties!), making sock puppets, telling stories, camping in the garden, helping to cook a "dinner party" for the family and much much more.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

FREE OR CHEAP THINGS TO DO AT HALF-TERM

Half term is already upon us and (at the moment) the weather is not too bad where I am. It's warmed up a bit and the snow's almost all melted, so we can at least get outside for a walk with the kids to the park, the woods, the playground, the beach or wherever - and that is all free.
So, without further ado here's some more ideas with their links:






If I find any more I'll keep you updated!

TAKE A LOOK AT THIS STUDENT COOKING SITE!

I've just had a quick look at Beyond Baked Beans, a foody site aimed primarily at students, it's great and it's not just for students! Anyone on a budget will love this site and its simple, practical advice.

The recipes are appetising and healthy, there are tips on the basics of cooking, budgeting and what to do with leftovers. There are recipes for breakfasts, brunch, snacks, sandwiches, soups, salads, starters, cheese, pasta, choicken, meat, sausages, fish, veggie, side dishes, desserts, cakes and baking. 

This is a real find for anyone, not just students, who is looking to eat well frugally - and not survive on just baked beans!

FRUGAL VALENTINE'S DAY MEAL WITHOUT GOING OUT!

I don't really support the commercialism that surrounds the whole Valentine's day thing, you know, where you get emails from online shops suggesting that an ipad is the ideal Valentine's Day present- yeah, right! Quick £400 and you're done (well and truly).
However, I'm a firm believer in the small things in life making the big differences. So my idea of a decent Valentine's night in, would be to lay the table with a red or white tablecloth, (or leave it bare and use placemats) grab a couple of candles - tea lights in little glass jars are nice, but essentially any couple of candles is better than nothing, a couple of flowers in a vase makes all the difference, but real flowers can be expensive in winter, so polyester is better than none (although you may say NONE is better than polyester!), polish up a couple of wine glasses, get a bottle of wine from the supermarket and think about how you can feed your beloved a frugal 3 course meal!
If you can cook a bit, a starter could be half a grapefruit sprinkled with demerara sugar and a pinch of mixed spice then warmed under a grill until the sugar melts (don't abandon it as burnt grapefruit is an aquired taste) and then served with half a glacĂ© cherry if you have any. You need to prepare the grapefruit by cutting all the way round and slicing down the side of the segements, but you can do this in advance and cover with cling film in the fridge until you are ready to sprinkle with the spice and sugar. If you think a grapefruit starter is too much cooking for you - buy a small quantity of patĂ© from the supermarket, slice in two, arrange nicely on a small plate with a couple of lettuce or rocket leaves,  and a tomato segment or two, a dab of butter and serve with toast triangles - tada! All of that can be done in advance and kept in the fridge.
Now for the main course - pasta is easy- cook 175g of any pasta shapes (easier to eat than spaghetti etc) according to pack instructions, slowly warm 100g cooked prawns through with a small jar of any pasta sauce that you like - you need to do it slowly but once it boils, stop sooking and turn off. Drain the pasta, divide between 2 pasta bowls (or a cereal bowl on a plate if you don't have the proper thing), pour over the prawn and sauce misture. garnish with halved olives, or a few basil leaves or a handful of chopped parsley- whatever you have. If this is also too much cooking, buy a ready made, filled Ravioli pasta, boil it for 2 minutes, heat up a tub of pasta sauce and pour over.
Now the dessert- this also is cold so it can be made in advance. Put a couple of slices of ready-made chocolate cake (or a choc muffing will be fine) into a sundae glass  (use short tumblers if you don't have any sundae dishes- they look just as nice), you only reall want to cover the bottom and up the sides a little. Drip some booze over the chocolate cake - whatever you have; Baileys, Tia Maria, Brandy, cooking sherry, about a dessertspoon of each should be fine, although the brandy may require slightly less! Top with a layer of fruit tinned mandarins, cherries or fresh sliced banana is fine, grate some chocolate over the fruit (plain is nice, but any will do it won't be seen, only tasted), then cover with Creme fraiche or Mascarpone. Hopefully you should have reached the top of the glass with this, then decorate with one or two pieces of fruit and/or more grated chocolate - this looks better if it's dark chocolate. Too much fiddling about? Go to the supermarket and buy a pack of two chocolate mousses or some other good dessert - they will be about £3, but will usually be tasty!Finish your meal with coffee and a couple of heart-shaped chocolates. Done!
And last but not least, if you really think you can only heat stuff up in the microwave, then get along to the supermarket quickly and buy any one of their "meal deals" most have a starter, main with side dish or two and a desseret with a bottle of wine for £20 - still much cheaper than going out!
Happy frugal Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

5 MORE UNUSUAL WAYS TO MAKE SOME CASH!

We are all so cash-strapped - and have been since the onset of the Credit Crunch that we may have run out of ways to generate some extra income- we all know about selling stuff on Amazon and Ebay, I do sell on both of those (or not, as it seems at the moment sales are drying up!) but we need to expand beyond "selling our stuff". After all, there's a limit to how much stuff we all have to sell (or who will buy it) particularly if we are all buying less anyway - we don't need to get rid of so much stuff! 
So here I've come up with some slightly more unusual ways to make some money:
  • Rent out your stuff, whether it's a carpet cleaner, ladder, lawn mower, tent, designer dress, hat or whatever, RentMyItems.com is a site set up to put those who want to rent out and those who want to hire, in touch with each other.
  • Rent out a room in your house by the night to holidaymakers using Wimdu.co.uk  or Monday to Friday for people who work near you, but live elsewhere, using MondaytoFriday.com . You can now earn up to £4250 per year tax-free under the government's Rent a Room scheme.
  • If you live in a busy working area or near a station or airport you can rent out your driveway or garage (obviously if you don't need it yourself!). Get in touch with potential renters at www.yourparkingspace.co.uk or www.parkatmyhouse.com/uk.
  • Got an empty spare room, garage, loft or secure outbuilding? Offer storage to those who have stuff to store at www.storemates.co.uk.
  • Got some garden space? Offer it to people to camp on a short term basis - you do need to offer some facilities, but it can still be worthwhile. Find camping or potential campers at CampinmyGarden.com.
Some of these ways of making extra cash may seem a bit whacky, but as we all start to run out of "stuff" to sell and even worse, people to buy it, I think this may well be next big frugal, money-making thing!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

WATER-SAVING TIPS PART TWO!

  • Don't keep "rinsing" cups etc under a running tap. Save all your washing up and (if you don't have a dishwasher) do it all once a day.
  • If you do have a dishwasher use the eco wash if you can, and don't put it on unless it's full.
  • Always fill your washing machine - half loads waste water and energy.
  • Never run your hot tap down the sink until the water is hot. Keep a litre jug by the sink and run the water into this until it runs warm - you will be amazed at how much you collect. Use this as you carry on washing to cool any too-hot water, and water your plants with any left over as before. 
  • Shower rather than bathe- a 5 minute shower uses one third less water than a shower.
  • Take less time in the shower - for every minute less, spent in the shower, you can save around 3285 litres of water per year! 
  • Water your garden with a watering can - not a hose, and invest in a water barrel or two to collect the water from your downpipes when it rains. This will save you money in the first year of use.
That's all the water saving tips I can think of - but if anyone out there has any more please leave a comment- I'd love to hear your suggestions!

RISING WATER BILLS - WHAT CAN YOU DO? PART ONE

You probably all know by now that our esteemed water companies are are all going to raise their prices by an average of 5.7%. My own water company has announced the highest rise of 8.2%! Now I know prices have to go up, but this is way, way above inflation!
So here's a few tips to help lower the cost to compensate a little for these horrendous price hikes:
  • If you don't have a water meter and your house has more bedrooms than people, it could save you money - ask to get one installed. It should be free and may save you as much as £100 per year.
  • Now if you are already on a meter -Never wash your hands or face, brush your teeth or shave under a running tap. Plug in - turn on tap!
  • Fit a Hippo device in your cistern - this makes every flush use less. I have seen a plastic 500ml bottle with a screw cap used to the same effect (fill it with water replace cap and place in cistern).
  • Don't flush the toilet with absolutely every use - if you see what I mean!
  • Check for leaks and drips. A dripping tap can waste enough water to half fill a bath in a week!
  •  Keep a washing up bowl in your sink it will help you save water.
  • Save the water you have washed fruit, vegetables and salad in and use it for watering plants, washing windows, the car or anything else that does not require absolutely clean water. If you can make the effort, I have known people who save such used water in a bucket and flushed their toilet with it!
  • In the summer I save this used water, along with any from when I've washed my hands before cooking/eating and I fill the watering cans with it, or directly pour it over very thirsty plants in the garden (roses, runner beans, rhubarb etc.)

Thursday, 2 February 2012

IT'S REALLY COLD - WRAP UP WELL!

The sub zero temperatures are starting to bite here in this little corner of England and my typing fingers are feeling the cold! Seriously though, I have come across some very good cold weather advice today from Age UK the new organisation for older people. This doesn't mean I'm a pensioner or that the information they offer is just for older folk.I'm not and it isn't!
Their advice on keeping warm in winter is useful (and frugal) for all of us and includes wearing layers, eating well, heating your house, preparing your house for winter, where to get more help and much, much more- it's worth a read and, if you can, print it out (it's a pdf file) and pass it on to your elderly relatives, neighbours and friends.

INSURANCE RENEWAL? HAGGLE!

I have to own up - I'm not the world's best haggler, in fact I'm a bit lousy at it. But actually, I've just discovered you don't actually need to haggle - better prices are often there for the taking! Here's what just happened to me last week.
Our home insurance renewal letter arrived giving us a nasty surprise - £464 pounds! Now you may think we live in a mansion or a five-bedroomed ranch house, but - no, we have a 3-bedroomed terrace house. This renewal price was £125 pounds up on last year's price and I was even more annoyed when I read down to the part that gleefully told me this included all my full no-claim's discount! Yeah-right!
So, I did the usual and went straight to a comparison site (yep, should have done more than one - I know, but after the first one was done I was suffering from serious brain fade!). So the cheapest quote was £170 and quite a few were around £200-£250. I also went to a couple of insurers' websites who don't appear on the comparison sites, notably Aviva, whose quote was around £225, but this came with the rather strange assurance that this was a 50% discounted new customer deal! I "discounted" them straight away (haha, see what I did there?).
By now I knew enough to ring my current insurer and tell them I wasn't going to renew (yes, really, that's all I was going to do). However, on hearing this, the woman on the end of the 'phone immediately offered me "another quote", which of course, confirms that even though they are a bank, in this case, they are acting as an insurance broker. Within seconds she offered me a quote of £360! So - just 'phone and say you're leaving and you can get around £100 knocked off the price. So much for an insurance broker getting us the cheapest deal. Anyway, after a long phone call and second quote, I extracted myself, phoned my new insurer gave the quote reference number and paid. Done.
Of course, I don't know how good/bad my new insurer will be. None of us know that until the unhappy day when we have to make a claim. My cover appears to be the same, and I have no doubt that this time next year my renewal figure will be at least double what I've paid this year.
I have resigned myself to the fact that as far as insurance goes, each year I will have to be a new customer!