Saturday, 31 July 2010

Use Your Voucher Wisely!

I don’t like offers that aren’t really offers at all. A WHSmith £5 off voucher when you spend over £10 is a good deal if you’re always buying books – but doesn’t save you any money if you fall into the trap of spending £10 that you wouldn’t normally do just to get the deal.

The same could be said about the £5 off at Tesco voucher that was in the Daily Mail this past Sunday, but I do spend a lot of money at Tesco so it would be a good deal for me (and I like the free magazines that come with Sunday papers – I sometimes find good pictures in there to put up on my Inspiration Board).

However, the offer runs out today so we had to make the most of it and I will spend that fiver on a bottle of wine, or a bottle of Gin (but probably the wine) and it will do me nicely! As we have to spend £40 to get this deal – we might as well use it wisely (ie. not buy lots of chocolate and wine just because we have an excuse to) and get some meat in. We always make the mistake of buying lots of pork chops (probably because they are always on offer) but I will not fall into that trap because all you can make with pork chops is a variation on pork chops. No, this time I am getting chicken, turkey and bacon. No mince beef – no no, that’s a winter meat (apart from burgers and I have nothing to cook them on) and even though I have some I can’t find anything summery to make out of mince.

And with most of that save in the freezer to help me along this next month, this week I will be making:

Salmon & Purple Sprouting Broccoli (not sure why it's in Tesco now - but I am not complaining)
Lemon and Garlic Turkey & Sauteed Potatoes
Gnocchi & Homemade Pesto
Tomato & Balsamic Pasta
Courgette Carbonara

Friday, 30 July 2010

In the Black

Today is Friday. Not only is it Friday but it's the last working day of the month and that can only mean one thing...


For the first time in almost a year, I am now up to date with my outgoings and just as well really, as today is also the last day that I have my student overdraft.

When I moved to Brighton last year I had a fair bit. I spent a lot moving down here, on deposits and such, but I had some money in the bank and I was satisfied that it was there and we were spending what we were earning. Then, after 3 months a little disaster struck and I was unable to work for 2 months. That was a massive problem as I was the one paying most of the bills and Christmas was coming up - my first Christmas without my family - and I didn't want to have to cut back just because I was out of work. If anything, I needed Christmas to go well so I had something to take my mind off being ill.

Of course with no money coming in, and lots going out (not to mention the winter heating bill) I had to go into my savings. Something I really didn't want to do, but something I was glad I could do because it enabled me to carry on living down here and we didn't get forced out of our apartment.

The day before Christmas Eve I was offered a job with the company I am now with. It was a huge relief to know that we would soon be on our feet again. And 3 months later when we were getting there, we got more bad news. We were being evicted. Being evicted not because of anything we'd done - but because the apartments were being renevated and would no longer be within our budget. We had to start house hunting again and pay hundreds in admin fees - along with an increase in rent, and a bigger deposit.

We moved in 3 months ago and today marks the day that I have finally sorted my money out. I am no longer dipping into the student overdraft to pay this bill, or that bill, and it comes as such a huge relief.

I am telling this little story because I want to show how important it is to have savings. Next month, nearly everything I have left over is going into another account. And so it will continue. Just because I have money there, it doesn't mean I have to spend it recklessly. And the same tips I am using now are the same as they would be if I were paying off debt. Slowly but surely that sum of money will get larger and sooner or later you'll have something to show for it - whether it be a nice amount in your bank, or that wonderful '0' figure, no longer in the red.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

My Inspiration Board

When I started university in 2005 I did everything in my power to make my room in halls the nicest it could be. I had a lovely duvet set, bought some children’s rugs from Argos, and decorated my door with bright pink hanging beads. In fact, the duvet was pink, the rugs were pink, and the rest of the room was pink and black.

It wasn’t sophisticated in the least, but I was ‘cool and alternative’ in some sort of way. And to show my fellow students that I really was cool and alternative, I covered the giant notice board in my room with black paper and filled it with concert tickets, photos, wristbands, letters and cards (and my timetable, of course).

(I have searched everywhere to find a picture of this room and notice board – but I got a new computer in 2008 and they must be on the old one – must search that one when I go back to my parent’s in September!!)

But after my first year I took an 18 month sabbatical and when I went back I was 20 and much more mature. I wasn’t in Halls of Residence this time – I was in a flat of my own. No sharing with other students – just me and my one bed flat. And this time it was going to be a ‘grown up’ flat. Not a place filled with teenage angst and loud, heavy music.

I loved the notice board that I had last time, but I wanted a board that was filled with inspiration instead of memories – and so I created my little masterpiece (if I do say so myself).

The first thing I needed was a background. None of this bare cork rubbish – it needed something pretty so that even when it didn’t have anything inspirational on it – it still looked nice. So I put on a nice outfit, and wandered on down to Laura Ashley. I had so much fun there pretending to be decorating my bedroom and searching for wallpaper. I asked for samples of quite a few of their designs and was very enthusiastic when they showed me matching curtains and duvet sets. It was my time to pretend to have an ounce of money while still leaving with plenty of goodies and not having spent a single penny.

I then did the same at B&Q in their wallpaper department but it wasn’t quite as glamorous…

And when I got home I placed all my ripped wallpaper samples together and pinned them to the board! Beautiful! Decoration without having costing a thing and the chance to play the little rich girl in the Laura Ashley shop!

This inspiration board grew over time. It’s all made from articles from magazines. Some magazines that I have bought myself, some than I have taken from magazines in dentist receptions (shh) and others that my mother has sent me in the post because she thought I’d like it!

(I wish I could have this kitchen, but some how I don't think the other half would allow it)

I have this inspiration board in my bedroom. I have used it for inspiration when moving home, and I use it to help develop my daydreams of owning a wonderful house in the country with a big back garden and wreaths on the front door.

Unfortunately my kitchen is not big enough to allow me to have another in there – but when it does, I will, and it will be a recipe inspiration board of dreams and I may get fat even by just looking at it!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Summer Sausage, Sage and Potato Bake

In the summer months I am always trying to think of ‘summer dishes’ that are light enough to not weigh me down in the heat, but filling enough so that Matthew doesn’t get grumpy. Unfortunately, I tend to find that the best looking summer recipes are either salads (with so many fresh ingredients that I’d have to eat it every day for a week in order to not waste anything), fish dishes (which tend to be quite expensive) or meals to be served at a barbeque (that I do not have, along with not having a garden, or a vast amount of friends to invite round).

So I find myself in a bit of a pickle in the summer. Winter is easy. I can make stews and shepherd’s pies that I can freeze and eat at a later date. You can’t do that with a salad. I wish you could – but you can’t.

So I was over the moon when I made a Sausage Potato Bake and it was everything I could ever ask for. And with only 4 ingredients, it's a no nonsense cheap dish (which also requires absolute minimum effort).

(Serves 2-3)

6-8 sausages (I like tesco finest sausages with red pepper in this)
500g baby new potatoes
3 red onions
12 sage leaves (or however many you fancy)

Pop the sausages in a baking dish and drizzle over some olive oil. Put in an oven preheated at 200 C and bake for 10 minutes until slightly golden. Half some of the bigger potatoes and cut the red onions into chunks. Add them, along with the sage leaves, to the dish and put back in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the onions are soft, the potatoes are browning and the sausages look beautiful.

Chuck some salad leaves in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serve alongside the dish of summer goodness.

The salad makes the meal much lighter, and the potatoes happily satisfy the hunger needs of growing men. Perfect!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Joys of a Tesco Clubcard

When I was 18 and started driving, I got a Tesco Clubcard to collect points when I bought petrol. But the first time I got a letter through, all I saw were vouchers for 30p off toilet roll or something as equally uninteresting for a teenager living with parents.

For some reason, I started talking to my mum about Clubcard points when Matt and I moved in together a year ago. She told me that your points were converted into vouchers that you could spend on whatever you wanted. I was shocked. How did I not know this?? How much money had I thrown away in the last 5 years because I didn't read a stupid letter properly when I was 18??

So on my first Tesco shop in Brighton, I applied for a card. Since then we've received a lot of Clubcard points. Some to help us at Christmas, some to give us super cheap tickets to Thorpe Park for Matt's birthday, and now some that bought us a weekly shop before we get paid next week.

I also signed up to E:ON for my gas and electric because you get points when you use energy so I thought it made perfect sense to get Clubcard points for something that I had to use anyway.

My mum saves them up all year to uses them at Christmas to lessen the dint in the purse that is generally spent at that time of the year. I am definitely going to start that, but think it's probably a better idea to save them for Christmas when I'm the one putting on the Christmas Entertainment - until then, the last 6 months of the year will go on Christmas, and the first 6 months will go on treats or a weekly shop.

Yay for Tesco! Free money!

The same system applies to Boots Advantage Cards and Nectar Points. I don't have a Nectar Card so not 100% sure what the deal is with that one, but my Advantage Card often buys me a spot of lunch, or some hair dye. I'm not patient enough to save it up to buy a bottle of Channel!

So! The menu for this week is as follows:

Homemade Tortilla Pizza's with Sweet Potato Chips
Lemon Roasted Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Red Pepper
Chicken Fried Rice
Sausage & Potato Bake with a Green Salad
Courgette Carbonara
Chicken Korma with Jasmine Rice

All bought for a whopping... wait for it... 8p.

Monday, 26 July 2010


I have just been on my first holiday in 3 years. For Matt, his first holiday abroad (with the exception of a school trip) ever.

It couldn't have come at a better time. Matt had just finished his uni exams, I'd been working almost constantly since January, and we've already moved house once this year. I 2 week break was very much needed.

We are incredibly fortunate to have a place to stay in Spain. My parents have had a villa out there for the past 5 years and with such a short drive away from the airport, the only things we had to pay for were the flights and food.

The flights were booked back in February. Coming in at just under £250 for the two of us, they weren't the cheapest flights available, but as Matt is still at uni we could only get flights after term had finished. Still, I could hardly complain. We booked train tickets to Gatwick in advance (£2.70 each!) and I also checked online to find the best deals on foreign currency. I went with the Post Office as they didn't charge commission. Daily expenditure would be budgeted for a meal and a treat at a restaurant (either pudding or alcohol) and we set aside money for the supermarket to buy cereal and milk for breakfast, and meats, cheeses and bread for lunch.

The first week was spent sunning it by the pool. Reading, tanning (albeit, not much - I'm very pale), learning to swim (something I didn't know about Matt - despite having lived with him for a year). Evenings started at 9pm due to the hot weather, but that really helped financially - less time to get drunk = less tempted to spend money on drinks. And we were so relaxed that we fell asleep not long after midnight and slept well through until late morning.

In the second week my parents my little sister arrived. To be honest, if the holiday had ended at this point I think we had relaxed so much that our bodies had already recharged, and we would have felt refreshed enough to go back to work. But this next week was full of activities. Swimming in waterfalls (the coldest water I have ever put my foot in), boat trips across the Mar Menor, drinking Chocolate Granizados (the most delicious thing in the world... ever), seeing Roman Ampitheatres and splashing about in the water with Matt and Lisa (who became BFF's by the end of this holiday).

Being away for two weeks has done me the world of good and I cannot stress how much better it is to go away to a foreign country when you go away on holiday. If you can find the money to do it - do it. Even if it's only for a week in a hotel with a pool. No phones, no internet, no newspapers. Just you, the sun, and the water. Matt suffers from insomnia yet slept solid while we were away. The complete lack of distraction and total switch off not only helps your body physically, but mentally, it makes you feel as though you're living a bit better. And that, I think, is key when it comes to feeling more positive about living on a low budget.
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