November Frugal Goals

acers in november

So once again it’s time to set my frugal goals, and really focus on getting some funds banked in the savings account before the festive period. I can’t quite believe that here we are, already in November 2017 – two more months of the year to go, and two more months to really make 2017 the year that we got that little bit closer to where we want to be.

I feel that this time of year can be really tough if you’re living on a budget, with so many temptations to spend a bit here, and there. But with a bit of a plan, it’s entirely possible to stick to that budget and continue on your thrifty journey throughout the festive period!

Falling Back, Looking Forward

We were lucky to enjoy lots of sunny, uplifting days in October, and I hope November continues in the same vein! Although, last weekend the clocks went back once again, and my own internal body clock is still having trouble adjusting! Come 5pm, the world is once again dark and cold, and when I am unceremoniously awoken at 6am each morning, I’m still feeling my way around in the dark, not quite ready to face the day. As such, I have an inkling that this month is going to be a bit of a battle to resist the urge to a) put the heating on a lot, and b) go into winter foraging mode and eat everything. Everything!

This is partly why I think it’s useful to set monthly goals – to keep myself in check, to keep our energy usage and bills in check, and keep on a positive, frugal path that’ll see us debt-free in a few years. Otherwise I could end up centrally heating and eating my way into a heck of a lot more debt 😉

So on we go with my November Frugal Goals…

frosty garden

Introduce a pound coin saver jar
I know that some people like to do an annual challenge with saving £1 and £2 coins, but I’m an impatient type, and would rather save up my pound coins over a month, and then deposit them into my savings account regularly. I might not get a massive hit of cash, but I’m happy to top up little and often… and the urge to dip in and out will surely be less if the pot is emptied more often!

Continue skimming my bank account
I go with the ethos that no money I make can be considered disposable or as “profit” until I’m debt-free. One little trick I’ve picked up in helping to increase my savings a little each month, is to “skim” my bank account for a few pounds and pennies to get to a rounded-off number. For instance, if I have £374.38 in my account, I skim 4.38 into my savings, leaving me with a rounded £370. So no wasting money on treats and getting into the mindset that I have a spare £5 here or there… I keep chipping away when I think I have a little to spare, and into the savings account it goes. There are a few apps out there that do this automatically (ie CHIP), but I’m going to rely on my own judgement for now.

Bank another £250 in my savings
I have two short-term goals that involve making “big hit” payments. With all the skimping and saving that I’m doing, I’m hoping to make a number of “big hit” pay offs that won’t hurt my bank account. For November, I want to bank £250 in savings, to help me achieve this.

Pick sloes and make sloe gin for Christmas!
I see that sloe gin costs around £13-25 in the supermarkets at the moment. As one of my favourite festive tipples, I know I can make some seriously good, gluggable (eek! not too much!) sloe gin here at home, with a non-branded value bottle of super-cheap gin, available from your local discount supermarket for well under a tenner. Check out my sloe gin recipe here.

Spend no more than £60 a week at the supermarket
Yes, a repeat from last month. Already failed in this first week of November, but I’m determined to get there!

Enquire about getting a water meter fitted
I’m convinced that we could save a packet on water bills with a meter, and that having one fitted would make us much more aware of our water usage. Good for us, good for the environment.

books on a shelf

Send off my unwanted books to WeBuyBooks
We have a TONNE of books that we never read anymore, sitting in storage boxes in the house whilst we finish decorating the dining room, where the bookshelf used to creak under their weight. This month, I want to go through my stash and send off any books worth a few pence or pounds, and the rest can go to the charity shop. Definitely on a declutter mission this autumn/winter.

Find a frugal solution for shoe storage!
Bit of an odd one, but we seem to have a surprisingly large collection of shoes for three people. I admit, it’s mostly me not wanting to let go of old, battered Vans, or old tired Toms, as well as “what if” party shoes (I never go out to party, ever, boo, sucks to be me, NOT), so I really need to Marie Kondo the hell out of my shoes. And with what’s left, I’ve got to find a suitable shoe storage solution in our coat cupboard, that doesn’t involve a rickety old shoe shelf that falls over all the time. It annoys the hell out of me that our shoes are constantly out and on display, and E seems to enjoy pulling out the neat rows of shoes and scattering them about.

Batch cook a tonne of pies, soups and stews
I started with chilli last month, but we’re almost out! Tonight, I made a new batch of veggie curry, and over the next week I’m going to go for leek and potato soup, more veggie chilli, and some sweet potato and lentil pie portions. We’re actually starting to struggle for space in our little fridge-freezer, so I might have to look at cheap chest freezer options in the new year…

Spicy autumn soup recipe with butternut squash, sweet potato and carrot

Finish decorating the utility room
How does this fall under frugal aims, you ask? Well, it’s where I’m hoping we’ll be able to store bulk purchases of household goods, and we need to find a frugal solution for fitting the storage cupboards too. Do we refit the old, dated and wonky cupboards, or invest in new units that could last us much longer? It’s something I really want to get sorted as we’re desperate for storage space (and I also want to have a larder shelf too…)

Make a few more listings on eBay/Facebook selling pages
We have so much stuff to root through, that I’m going to try and make some bundles to sell on Facebook selling pages or eBay. I don’t mind if I don’t make a wad of cash, as it’ll be a relief to get rid of the “stuff” in our lives that we no longer want or need, without sending it to landfill!

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to end up with too many fails at the end of the month!

How about you? What are your November frugal goals? How do you think you’ll fare as the festive season approaches?

Autumn maple tree

Reflecting on October Frugal Goals

So at the beginning of the month I set myself a few frugal living aims for October, and I thought I should check in to see how I have done. In the past, I’ve been a bit of a talker and not much of a do-er, so I’m trying to be accountable to myself and stick to my goals and budgets!

Autumn leaves

This was my original list from my October Goals post, and underneath I’ve got some feedback on each frugal goal:

  1. Earn at least £200 extra on top of my normal salary
    So far I’ve got abut £120 saved up from this month, which is not bad considering that sometimes it feels as if I’m living on peanuts! But October is not over, and I’m hoping to add another £20 or £40 to the pot, so all in all although I haven’t reached my original goal, I haven’t done too badly either. 
  2. Don’t put ANYTHING on credit cards this month
    Yeahhhh, this one didn’t go too well as I ended up buying a big ecourse bundle to help with my freelance, and I’d forgotten that the Amazon Prime annual subscription was coming out this month too! Added to that, a few little shops prior to pay day meant that I added another £30 to the balance, but at least I’ll be able to pay that off straight away now that I’ve been paid. I thoroughly deserve a smack on the wrists for this one, though.
  3. At least 15 no-spend days
    I’m not actually sure, but I do know that there were many days where I didn’t spend anything! I think I shall have to get my old bujo (dotted bullet journal planner) out again and start drawing up my No Spend Day charts again so that I can track this one more closely. But I would definitely say that the spend:no spend ratio was much, much better this month. 
  4. Harvest the rest of the carrots in the veg patch
    I have harvested around 75% of all the carrots in the veg patch now, and we are eating our way through them. The Autumn King carrots have grown very well this year and are a really good size. I decided to leave the rest in as our well-draining soil is a great natural store for them. Once my supplies are getting low inside, I’ll clear the rest out and then it’s time to get the alliums in!

    Sloes for gin

  5. Make my own sloe gin in time for Christmas!
    As we’re still waiting for a frost, this one is on the back burner at the moment. Once the first frost arrives, I’ll pick the remaining sloes and into the gin they will go! 
  6. Batch cook more freezer meals
    This month I’ve been really pleased with how much more batch cooking I’ve managed to do, as it’s really made a difference with cutting down spends for lunch at work, as well as making easy, quick but healthy meals in the evening. I made a huge batch of veggie chilli which I will be making again for November, and I think I’ll also make my sweet potato and lentil pie portions too. I’m also planning on batch cooking and freezing leek and potato soup portions, as these are really lovely with crusty bread for lunch on a chilly day.
  7. Spend no more than £60 at the supermarket each week (a tough one)
    Well, no, this didn’t happen. But we have cut down our supermarket spends a lot since I’ve been concentrating on meal planning and doing the big weekly shop. I still managed to miss a few items that we had to go back for, but I noticed we have been going back far less regularly and have probably knocked £30 off our weekly spend already. I still maintain that we can get through a week with £60 for the three of us plus two cats… it’s not an easy task but definitely not impossible! 
  8. So a bit of a mixed bag on the October Frugal Aims front… I think it’s easy to slip into bad habits when the salary starts getting low before pay day, but I’m pleased that I’ve managed to put aside some extra earnings this month too to balance the bad bits. 

    How about November then? Check out my next November Frugal Goals post!

Meal Planning to Reduce Your Food Budget

I just saw on the news today that September saw the UK’s key inflation rate hit its highest for more than five years. For people like us, this means a hike in already expensive living costs. And more than likely, we’ll see a rise in the food shopping bills. Frugal, thrifty meal planning is going to become even more important than ever, if we don’t want to be out of pocket!

Spicy autumn soup recipe with butternut squash, sweet potato and carrot

Why Meal Planning is Important

Why is meal planning such a good idea? There are several reasons. Let me explain why it’s been a revelation for me.

Before I had my daughter, I was a bad shopper. I mean, I ate fairly well when I cooked my own meals, and enjoy hearty home-cooked food. And of course, I grow a little fruit and veg on the side to supplement us too. But I never really did any kind of meal planning – I just ate what I fancied or what was easiest. I didn’t budget for the weekly food shop, and didn’t really have any idea of what we were collectively spending on food shopping, takeaways and treats every month.

This meant that we often spent way more than we should have done on groceries – each “quick stop” at the supermarket led to getting “a few extras” which soon mounted up. We couldn’t seem to spend less then between £20-40 several times a week.

We were also overeating with huge portion sizes, and were indulging way too much in takeaways. It’s so easy to give in and say “let’s just get a takeaway” when you’re tired, it’s late and you’re not sure there’s anything in the cupboards that you fancy eating.

It’s a really bad attitude – bad for our wallets, and bad for our bellies!

After another month of Rich complaining about the amount of supermarket shops appearing on his bank statements, we decided to collect all the receipts from our grocery shopping and see how much we were spending. After just two weeks, it was clear to see that we were doing it all wrong. 

So I started meal planning, to help us swap to a frugal shopping budget, and encourage us to eat more healthily, more often. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Patatas a lo Pobre vegan Spanish tapas

 

Thrifty Shopping – How to Get Started with Meal Planning

Meal planning starts before you hit the shops or do your online shop. 

Do a Stock Check
My first tip is to do a “stock check” of what’s in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer. You might be surprised at what you’ve squirrelled away. When I did this, I found that I actually had a week’s worth of meals, bar a couple of bits of fresh vegetables. Consider the likes of flour, sugar and baking goodies – could you throw together a wholesome pie or make a delicious fruity crumble that’ll last you at least three days? See how many meals you make from what you’ve got, and try to organise your cupboards so that you can easily see what’s in there. No hiding tins of butterbeans at the back! 

 

Organise your cupboards, fridge and freezer
Having done a Marie Kondo declutter in my house (check her out, she’s a bit left field but amazing), I’ve learned that being able to see what I have, and have it in reach, is vital to living a thrifty but happy life. Marie Kondo is the master of finding joy from decluttering in terms of clothes, books, paperwork etc… but her philosophy applies to food too! 

Ask yourself – does this food bring me joy? Yes? Keep it. No? Give it away. No more unwanted jars, tins and boxes of food will lurk in a dark, forgotten corner of your cupboard or freezer. You’ll always have something on hand that you fancy and that you can work with. 

At this point you’ll be able to organise your cupboards so that you can see exactly what you have, and how many items you might have of a particular product. In the long run, this will help make meal planning a doddle. 

 

Vegan Shepherd's Pie Recipe

Start with meals that you know you love
It would be lovely to try a new and exciting dish every night to expand your culinary endeavours, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll have days when frankly, my dear, you don’t give a damn. You just want food in your belly, and for that food to taste good and fill you up. 

So when doing your first few meal plans, make a list of your favourite go-to meals, and just make sure you vary them throughout the week. Remember, leftovers can be used for lunch the day after next too. As I’m vegan, I’m already thinking about things like my protein, fibre and iron intake for each day, and meal planning definitely helps me to see whether I’m ticking all the nutritional boxes for both me and my non-vegan toddler each day. 

Once you’ve got the hang of meal planning and even have some bulk-made meals in the freezer (see next point), maybe it’s time to start planning for those new recipes you’ve been thinking about trying out. You can also get yourself a nifty meal planner, so that you can keep track of your daily dishes and shopping lists. 

 

Bulk/batch cook for easy, wholesome meals on busy days
I’m a huge fan of soups, stews, curries and chillies (basically, anything you can eat out of a bowl!), all of which are incredibly easy to batch cook and freeze. These have been so incredibly useful for me on busy days when I need a healthy, tasty meal for me and my daughter, and I’ve been rushed off my feet. I also like to take a frozen portion of chilli or stew into work, let it gently defrost all morning and then just ping it in the microwave for lunch. Saves me having to buy in lunch specially at work and definitely helps with the meal planning, when I know I can just whip something out of the freezer! 

Batch cooking does take planning, because you don’t want to use up all your fresh produce and ingredients for one big bulk cooking session! So best to know exactly when you’re going to make up those batch meals and plan accordingly.

This is also a great approach for when illness hits! As parents with a young daughter, we’re no strangers to a house-full of lurgy several times a year. When we don’t feel like cooking, we know there are a few meal options waiting for us in the freezer. 

 

Black bean and sweet potato spicy stew

 

Make a shopping list as you go
If I run out of something vital, I write it down straight away. This means that we don’t forget to buy things and have to make another shopping trip a day after our main shop. Inevitably this leads to less spending! I’ll also re-check the cupboards, fridge and freezer before heading out for the main shop, just to make sure I have everything I need for my planned meals.

 

Aim for one main shop a week… and stick to your list!
I aim to do one main shop a week and just stick to what’s on the list. No being swayed by treats, or offers and multi-buys… unless they’re something I was going to get anyway. 

If I know in the back of my mind I can go somewhere else and get a few extra bits a lot cheaper, I will do another shop. For instance, I find Poundstretcher and Wilko (virtually next door to each other in my local retail park) often have great half price or less deals on things like shampoo and baby products. Staples like tins of soup, sugar, tinned tomatoes and the like are also often significantly cheaper at Poundstretcher (but sometimes have short use by dates). And Aldi and Lidl are great for products like dried pasta, frozen veggie products, personal care products and more baby bits. It’s about planning and trying to do the most in the least amount of shopping trips. 

I’ve yet to see whether our local markets or farm shops are significantly cheaper than the supermarkets, but if I find that they are, I’ll combine them on the same day as my supermarket shop to ensure that I’m sticking to my budget and meal planning. Watch this space!

 

Vegetable Trug Gardening

 

Grow Your Own & Buy in Bulk
Eating seasonally is a great way to reduce your shopping budget, and will help you shake up your meal plans from time to time. We have enough space to grow a little of our own fruit and veg, so I can often add my own produce to the store cupboards and incorporate into our meal plan. For instance, in autumn I know we can batch cook lots of stew and soups as pumpkins and squashes are in abundance! These can be kept in the freezer for a good few months. 

From time to time, we also buy some items in bulk. My favourite bulk buy foods are onions, shallots and potatoes, as these work out massively cheaper when bought in bulk from local suppliers, and are great basic staples for many dishes throughout the week. And it also stops me running out of vital supplies and having to run to the shop, inevitably spending another £10 or £20 by the time I’ve finished!

 

Need to buy a meal planner?
If you want to invest in a meal planner, I would suggest going for one that incorporates a shopping list – that way, you can plan your meals and plan your shopping around your meals! You can purchase a meal planner on Amazon, or if you want to keep your budget a bit tighter, I love this custom printable PDF meal planner from Etsy. 

Got any meal planning tips to share? Let me know in the comments!