Monday, August 31, 2009

Blank Holiday

Being self-sufficient can cut down expenditure dramatically, but we still have to face the fact that we often have to pay money to 'get started'. Chickens may produce 'free' eggs, but the cost of first buying and housing them, plus later their feed will start by costing more than the price of the eggs if bought. Old chickens could end up in the pot, but would be 'old boilers' and not as tender as the ones we buy. A greenhouse costs money, bags of compost cost money, plants and seeds cost money. What we have to do is work out how long it will be before everything really can begin to save us money.

Yet it is not as bad as it sounds. As mentioned yesterday, it takes only £20 saved a week to amount to £1,000 over twelve months, so we could start a challenge to work within this amount to buy what we need, and start saving from today onwards. By spring we could have at least amassed enough money to buy seeds and plants to grow on and help save even more money. Again. remembering that anyone with birthdays - and of course Xmas on the horizon - could ask for a present that really will help to save money, rather than receive another box of chocolates, bar of soap or pretty scarf.

There are many ways of getting things without having to spend money and sometime back a comment was send regarding a site - think it was called (or similar) - where people give away useful items they don't want to others in their locality, and have themselves the opportunity of obtaining something free they would normally expect to buy.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Making It My Own Way

The way my mind works is that if any large amount of money is spent, then my aim is to get it back into my purse by way of 'deliberate savings'. So yesterday, having spent quite a lot of my money, began planning to try to save between £10 and£20 a week (yes I could have bought a cheaper scooter, but none of the cheaper ones hold my weight not all of those that did were comfortable so had limited choice).

So as soon as I got home immediately got to work and yesterday saw the start of 'Shirley's Scooter Savings', beginning with lemon curd. Using best butter and organic free-range eggs this was more expensive to make than it need have been (cheaper butter and much cheaper eggs on sale at the supermarket), but was using the same ingredients as given on the label of the bought jar - the cost of that being £2.25p). Even so, for £1.30p worth of ingredients, this made twice the amount of lemon curd (comparison pricing the bought would have cost me £4.50) with an egg white left over (have plans for using that) making a saving of £3.20p.

Also decided to whizz granulated sugar in the blender to turn it into caster sugar, so ended up with 3lbs of caster which was tipped into a Tupperware container holding several (old but still working) vanilla pods. Yet on checking the comparison price of caster v gran. on Tesco's site saw that large packs of both are sold at the same price so might just as well have bought it. On the other hand vanilla sugar is much dearer. Caster sugar used to be dearer, maybe it will be again. So grinding it myself made no real saving that day, much to my displeasure.

Still needed to put more money back into my purse, so decided to make some piccalilli from oddments of veggies in the fridge. Here it is difficult to assess the amount of money that has been saved. Most of the ingredients used were not planned to be used in any specific way, many being taken from the store cupboard. The veggies used were a courgette that Gill had brought (she loves them, I don't mind them, B can't stand them), there was bit of cauliflower left that was beginning to look sad, and yes it could have been turned into soup, others would throw it out (one trimmed was usable).
There was a thick chunk of cucumber sliced from the one bought recently. The problem with cucumber is that if not used fairly rapidly it can start going soggy and have to be chucked in the waste bin (must start a compost bin), so as it was a very large half cucumber, it did need using. With some string beans from the freezer (taken with us when we moved and not really liked by either of us as a veg so a good way to use them up), an onion from the rack cut into small pieces (having no small onions), there was no need to go out and 'buy' any of the produce to make the pickle (as eggs, butter and lemons were bought to make the curd). So could the piccallilli be counted as is 'free' or not? I like to think it can be.

The veggies were diced and lightly salted, left to stand overnight, and after rinsing well, will today be cooked with ginger, mustard, vinegar, sugar and turmeric ( all taken from stores). Estimating the amount am sure it will fill three good-sized jars (that originally held mayo and Branston etc), probably equivalent to the 99p jars on sale. So that's £3 to add to the £3.20p saved by making the curd.

Trying to save £20 a week by way of kitchen activity is not going to be easy if it means 'deliberately working' to save nearly £3 a day, at the time of writing feels a bit like hard labour. But it can be done in other ways for money saved does not always have to be kitchen work. My purse is already lined with 2 x £10 notes because I have not had the hairdresser do my hair for two weeks (one week Gill was here, the next my hairdresser was on holiday). By having my hair done alternate weeks might be the easy way to replenish my coffers.

With enough food in store now, it would be simple enough to not buy anything at all except milk and eggs for several weeks. So might even take the easy route and just adjust my weekly budget down by £20, so that less is spent on food. Really, all that needs to be done is just replace the fresh produce, with enough money left over to save for meat, fish, butter etc. This way I would not necessarily need to 'make' so much. Just 'make' the most of what there is. That way appeals to me the most.

From now on my 'deliberate' and other savings will be noted down daily in a little book and by taking a professional book keeping approach will allow myself a set 'income' by way of a normal food budget, then write down what is spent and each week carry over the balance. Another book will cover gardening expenses, and money saved by growing our own, so by next year it will be interesting to see how much will have been saved overall.

Maybe 'earning' the money to pay for the scooter by being more frugal and working harder in the kitchen and garden is not really necessary. But my twisted mind likes to believe that when savings are deliberately made (that would otherwise not be normally done) in this instance to cover my cost of the scooter, and eventually enough saved to cover B's half (although would not give him back his money - my need being greater than his, and he must learn to be generous), then the scooter will end up a 'freebie'. It is this sense of achievement that makes me feel good. Well, OK call me sad if you like, but this is just the way I am. Life would be very boring if we could afford everything we want and never have to lift a finger to pay for it. People have been known to commit suicide because they have more than enough money to provide for all their needs, the only thing lacking in their life is happiness and that is something money can never buy. Happiness is something we all seek, and the good news is that it can be free - as long as we know where to look.

Weather a bit unpredicatable today, sun is out one minute, in the next, and a fair breeze blowing. May make a trip down to the prom on my 'wheels' - now christened 'Norris' (B fancied 'Doris' but I am always happier accompanied by a man and we have already called our fridge/freezer 'Boris'). 'Norris' is very sturdy, almost built like a Rugby player, and a lovely shiny black. Even Beloved likes him and insists on driving him into the garage at night. Bet it won't be long before B suddenly gets an aching back and asks to use him to go to the post box "hardly worth taking the car that short distance". Norris and Boris. We have now to find something to call 'Horace'. Maybe the car?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Keeping Track

Thankfully nowadays there is now no need to count every seed in a packet for the amount is shown on the back (also gives the price). Not every seed need be sown of course, and many will keep viable for at least 5 years, probably longer if they are kept in the fridge or freezer. But if we know we have 100 seeds, then we know they should grow into 100 plants, and if we can be bothered to sow them all, each edible that is home-grown will save us a heck of a lot of money.
One pack with many seeds can last for years and we can also save seeds from our own plants. Heritage seeds are a good idea as they have far more flavour than the ones the EEC (is it?) that allow to be sold.

Even shop-bought produce can have seeds that can be sown. A fairly ripe red bell pepper, or butternut squash has many seeds and when sown each seed will produce a plant that will bear many fruit (I usually allow four to a plant to allow them to grow to full size). If plants are grown on the windowsill, the flowers are helped to 'set' by pollinating with a small (art-type) paint brush.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Generation Gap?

My 'costing' out thing stemmed from trying to find a way to make cooking interesting. Initially I couldn't cook 'properly' at all, so meals were basically plain meat and two veg, or beans on toast sort of thing. Nothing to set my pulse racing. Running out of money meant I was forced to cook just about everything from scratch and this I found extremely hard work at first and not all that interesting, so it was necessary for me to find a reason to keep on cooking once the money flowed (or rather trickled) back in again. For some reason decided to turn it all into a game and began to 'play' at "how much can I make for 50p" or "make a 3 course meal to feed six for £1.50. To do this I needed to find the cost of every ingredient, and then use the cheapest possible for the dishes being made. This turned out to become a real obsession once I realised how cheap some basic ingredients were, and also realising we had begun to eat far better meals of high quality yet it worked out at half the housekeeping money previously spent. Since then, never looked back.

A Victoria sponge cake would be bought from the supermarket, and ingredients to make that cake were weighed and costed out out to the price paid for the original cake. When the cake batter was made/cooked this not only made the same sized cake, but one dozen fairy cakes and a Swiss Roll. When I bought 6 Scotch Pancakes (aka Drop Scones), the money paid for those made 36!

And so it went on, the more I costed the more I discovered how much cheaper it is to cook from scratch, and still I get a thrill discovering how much money can be saved making items that most of us still prefer to buy.
Admittedly I began to be very selective in what I made. How I felt about using convenience foods depended upon the price. Sometimes it really did work out cheaper to use a packet mix than make something from scratch, but to discover this was by trial, error and always costing. In 99% cases it is better to make from scratch rather than use a packet mix, but there are times when it is more convenient, and especially when every penny counts we need to know both the best way and also the cheapest way to make something and they are not always the same thing.. Even now I often use a packet mix, but usually only half a packet if that is all I need (closing the part-used packet tightly and, if not needing it for some weeks will then store in the freezer).

If cooking isn't the be all and end all of our lives, and we have another hobby we prefer to stick with, we can still turn this into a money-making concern on the 'make something then sell it for a profit' basis. This money can then be spent on more materials to use which will bring in even more money.

An example, written about previously and now again, describes the time when I wanted (actually really NEEDED) a knitting machine so that I could keep our four teenagers, not to mention my Beloved, in 'woollies'. Previously I used to knit by hand and it took AGES.

Not having any spare cash other than 5/- (25p in today's money), it was not possible to pay a down-payment on a knitting machine to be bought through a catalogue, although could afford the much smaller weekly payments once the depost had been paid.
So I spent the 5/- on fine knitting wool and knitted a lacy christening shawl (took me all of four days/evenings furiously knitting between other chores). This I sold to a craft shop in the Dales who asked for more, so with the profit bought more wool and knitted more shawls. Very soon I had the down payment for the machine and enough money left over to buy wool/yarn. It was a punch-card machine so I could design my own patterns and immediately it arrived set about using it. Within a week I had mastered the beast and set about knitting up tank-tops (in fashion at that time and I could knit several a day) and these were taken by the craft shop that had sold my shawls.
Throughout the week, when time allowed, the machine would be usde to knit all sorts of things for the family and also for sale. Every week enough money was earned for the the weekly payment and for more yarn and once the machine had been paid for and I had plenty of wool and yarn in stock, I stopped selling and knitted only for the family. After several years, when the family had left home, the knitting machine was sold, so I really ended up with a profit.

Some well-known man (might have been Jeffrey Archer) - when a young lad - used to go round waste bins in the street taking out the empty cigarette packets and removing vouchers that were in them at that time. When vouchers were returned to the manufacturer they would send back a free ball-point pen (these being fairly new at that time so sought after). Over time this lad collected a goodly amount of vouchers and so gained many pens. These were then sold to the boys at his school and so a budding business man began to sprout. Believe Alan Sugar took a similar route. Like cooking, it is not just what you do with what you've got, but also see the potential.

In today's world, almost any skill is worth its weight in gold. In the past, home-made was looked upon as second best working on the assumption anything home-made was only for the poor as they couldn't afford to buy the same thing 'ready-made'. Now it seems all things 'home-made' (usually foods) and 'hand-made' (term given to non-foods) command the highest prices. We should take advantage of this when we can but need to be careful about what we make. With the credit crunch, things that sell well will be 'useful' products not something pretty to sit on a shelf (although there are fairly rich people that will still buy these - and these are best sold through a London store).

A good way to sell things is to make up samples then take them to a shop on a 'sell or return' basis. This way the shop lays out no money, you can agree the selling price and the amount of commission you will pay them. After an arranged amount of time, unsold items will be returned, but they can always be taken to a different shop. If certain products sell well, then almost certainly the shop will order more and pay for these - at the original price - but may sell them for a higher price to make more profit. The way I see it, any sale brings in money, so beware of over-pricing. As long as the money earned covers the cost of materials, and to a certain extent the labour (although if a hobby, it is more a labour of love than anything else), if money is what you need, then try to be satisified with a smaller amount that you should, as I always work on the basis that ten things sold at a fairly low price will bring in more money than one sold at a higher price. Otherwise you are left with nine things unsold and probably remaining unsold unless the price is dropped considerabl. . It was a fact I did under-price my craft-work, but did need the money so badly at that time, and as 'craft-work' was never intended to be a 'business' it served its purpose.

Because cost-cutting seems to be my 'reason to be', it remains important enough for me still keep within a budget, and the lower the better, just to see if I can keep control. There are, it has to be said, better things to do than spend all our time thinking and writing about food, but then food is not just to keep us alive (although I suppose this is the cheapest way to look at it), meals also help to keep the family 'togetherness' when eating around a table, and when life is bleak, a good meal makes us feel so much better. I could just fancy an ice-cream as I write.

Come next week should see me back on the cost-cutting trail again. Not quite sure what will be learned from it, maybe how many pancakes can be made for 50p. That could be worth knowing. There are those who will say it is so much easier to buy pancakes, and the pennies saved by making them ourselves will not be worth the effort. My suggestion might then be - find a way to double the money saved, double it again, then you will find out whether it is worth it or not.

Too often we become a bit half-hearted about what we do. We may manage to cut corners and save a bit, but that seems to be all we want to do. Keep throwing yourself a challenge now and again. Maybe save £1 (doing this 'deliberately' is more fun), and (just one suggestion) with this £1 buy a pack of lettuce seeds. Maybe there will be a hundred lettuce seeds in one pack and over the years each could grow to a full-size lettuce. And how much would they cost to buy? Even small boxes of assorted baby salad leaves cost a lot when bought them over the counter. It has now become the fashion to eat the young shoots of a wide variety of salad plants to pick and scatter over salads so producers are making money out of this. Young pea-shoots are another 'fashionable food', and chefs seem to delight in scattering a few 'micro-shoots' over many dishes shown on TV.

The best way is to get a book (maybe an old unused diary) and write down the money you save on one page, and on the opposite what you have spent it on. If the money spent is on vegetable seeds or plants, then leave as space to write down how much money has been saved through growing your own (check the retail prices in the supermarkets). Whenever possible write things down, for this spurs us on to keep making improvements, saving more money, having proof that making a small amount of cash actually WORKS to our advantage.

A kitchen 'diary' can be begun at any time of the year, any day of the week, any time of the day. Just get your book, keep a pen with it (tie it to the book if your pen starts to wander - as mine do), then write it all down. You will begin to feel far more professional. and learning how to budget and control expense can stand everyone in good stead when they are seeking new employment, for every boss wants someone who can help with ideas to control expenditure. What better place to learn than in our own kitchens.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Counting the Cost...

The reason I now cost in such great detail is mainly to pass on 'useful' information to readers, acknowledging that it is only useful to some.
Learning how to cut costs is rather like any other skill. Once we have learned it, we often don't wish to continue, maybe moving on to learn another skill. Many people earn enough money to be able to buy the food that they wish, and really see no need to cut corners after that. or maybe even realise just how much money can be saved if they did. Others are finding as food prices rise they have less and less to spend and unless they have taken in what I call 'the knowledge', then meals will not be as good as they could be. Myself feel the need to learn as many skills as possible (not necessarily cooking), then if the crunch comes, life will then not be so hard.

For many months now we are all encouraged to be as self-sufficient as possible, many town gardens have chickens. The next creature in the garden we are told we should have - is a pig. Should have thought a goat might have been better, it would keep the grass short and also give us milk, and from the milk we can make cheese...

Or why not keep a turkey, or is a turkey for life, not just for Christmas? With that thought, will leave you until my next free 'me-time'.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Comparing Costs

Needing to start a new jar of instant coffee (Nescafe Original), decided to count out how many teaspoonfuls there were in the jar. Only a bare teaspoon I may add as I like my coffee fairly weak with just a splash of milk and a couple of sweeteners. But made in a mug, not a teacup. Twere 140 spoons of coffee in the 200g jar. How much this works out depends on the size of the jar purchased. The price per 100g seems to fluctuate so be careful when buying, as a larger jar does not necessarily work out the cheapest way to buy. Comparison pricing below (from Tesco’s online ‘Express Shopper’) shows we can save 8p if we buy 2 x 100g jars rather than one 200g jar.
Buy a 100g jar and we pay £2.18 per 100g
A 200g jar was shown as £2.22p per 100g
A 300g jar worked out at £2.06p per 100g
And a 500g tin was cheapest of all at £1.97 per 100g.
Other stores may sell the same coffee for higher or lower prices, and with all stores, It is always worth waiting until the ‘reduced’ or ‘offer’ prices comes round again, then buy several jars to see us through until the next time.
Anyway, the spoon of coffee averaged around 3p. If you like your coffee stronger, it would probably work out at around 5p Can’t really grumble at that, can we?
You can see now why I complain at the prices charged for a cup of coffee in some places. And yes I know, it is probably made with freshly ground beans using an expensive machine that makes even more expensive noises, but a weak coffee with a dash of milk suits me, so see no reason why I have to fork out a good amount of dosh (especially when the coffee is made with instant) just because they like to call it a ‘latte’. Which - when translated – just means coffee with milk.

Most kitchen appliances, used wisely, can save us money rather than encouraging us to spend more (an electric slicing machine pays for itself after a couple of joints have been cooked and sliced)..On the other hand a shop will suggests we take out an insurance for a fridge or washing machine (and stupidly I have done this with both) “in case it breaks down” ( is it that we just don’t trust manufacturers any more?). In the old days, things rarely broke down and probably repaired free if they did. The manufacturer has his pride.

Now ‘breaking down’ is built in as part of the package of at least some cars and some household appliances. All I can say is – take out the insurance and it almost guarantees it will NOT break down. Don’t take the insurance and it surely will. Usually the day after the warranty finishes.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Cutting Corners

Have been inspired again to think 'cost-cutting' again with a vengeance. Since moving, although re-stocking my cupboards in the normal way, have not kept account of the money spent, and have been a bit generous buying quality meat from the butcher (although most is still in the freezer), and quite a bit of fish from the Smokehouse (ditto). Even doing this, a 'bulk buy' of assorted and quality meats and fish can still fit into a 'mean cuisine' diet. This was proved in the very early months of this blog where - with a budget of £250 - a stock of food was purchased in one go and lasted 10 weeks (feeding two and guests- and modestly admitting we did eat very good meals) with a little food still left over. Worked out at less than £25 a week to feed two. Worth checking it out. The 'shopping list' was given around November/December 2006, and the actual 'challenge' began after Christmas was over, and probably on January 1st.
Now it would probably cost more, but even if doubled, still not as much as some of us might be now spending - and the more to feed the cheaper per head it will work out. It might be worth having another go at a similar or other challenge. Once 'stocked' up, can easily use my larder and 'Boris' as my personal supermarket, and 'buy' from myself. At least then can find out exactly how much it does cost to feed ourselves (well) for a week.

Buying quality food really IS a good idea, for it has immense flavour so we can get away with using less, which is another way of cutting costs. Here I am thinking more about protein foods such as meat, fish and even eggs, using veggies to fill the gaps. Fresh fruit and veggies also taste better for in greengrocers and especially Farm Stores and Farmer's Markets it is possible to buy different varieties than those sold in supermarkets, purely because these superstores only sell produce with perfect shapes and grow like clones, losing any flavour in the process. Old-fashioned, oddly shaped produce usually has a lot more to offer when it comes to flavour, so whenever possible, buy the best - even better, grow our own.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


Do you throw away all your out-of-date items away from your fridge ? Or are you more selective? Myself rarely discard when the 'use-by' date has arrived. In fact a couple of days ago started a new pack of sliced, smoked, streaky bacon that had a date that ran out two weeks ago. Still perfect. Once the pack is opened, the bacon then tends to dry out rather than go off, perhaps lasts longer due to the smoking. Butcher's or other bacon sold in slices unpacked does not keep as well.

Yogurts, creme fraiche, even fresh cream when unopened keep longer than the date shown. and after opening (lid placed back on) still holds up well, but then rely on the 'sniff and test' to find out if still usable. Eggs keep for months. Fats also.
Have noticed that on one of B's meat pies the date on it was shown as a dual "display until/use by", so that seems to give the impression that it is would be unfit to eat after the last day it has been on the shelf. and this has to be nonsense. There is always a safety margin when it comes to 'use-by' foods, for much depends upon how quickly it is taken from a chilled shelf in the shop to the chilled shelf in the fridge. Left in a hot car all day it wouldn't keep too well, and this has to be allowed for.