I’m going home!

I’m returning to my original blog! The security hazard has…not exactly gone away but is now at quite a good distance. I think they might have forgotten about my blog. In fact, I’m hoping that aren’t thinking about me very much at all.

If you know about Tales From Penny Corner then you are one of the lovely folk who came here with me when I had to ‘leave home’. I may come back here in the future – who knows? But, until further notice, I’m back on the Alley. I hope to see you there and thank you so much for staying ‘in touch’.


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The ongoing battle with the food budget

The work on the kitchen has been delayed while various tradesmen have had to get their quotes in, measure up etc. I spent a lot of our food budget earlier in the month so I cook do some batch cooking and fill up the freezer. However, we are only half way through the month and only have just over £30 left to feed the 3 of us until the 31st. I’m going to have to start taking stuff out of the freezer – grrr. The ‘big’ work should be starting next week and my kitchen will be out of commission shortly after. I’m going to see if I can batch cook anything up between now and then.

Girlie and I made 24 fairy cakes with chocolate chips in them this morning. I have kept back 6 as some friends are coming over this afternoon, we ate a few (naughty) and I have put the rest in the freezer so a) I can’t keeping eating them and b) so we have some treats to eek out during the renovation work. I’m also planning on using up a couple of packets of bread mix so I can also make rolls and freeze them (which should mean I can eek that £30 a bit further still).

I feel like I have lost – and am trying to rediscover – my food planning and budgetting skills. I used to have this nailed…now…not so much. It is also a little bit about delayed gratification and learning to wait The only way to keep within budget is to sometimes have to accept that when something runs out (like my hot chocolate) I’m just going to have to wait until next month to buy some more. I prefer coffee to tea but we haven’t got a huge amount left so I’m going to try to switch to tea a few times a day. I’ve been drinking too much coffee anyway. So many small things but it really makes a difference.

Husband has been told that his cholesterol is almost twice what it should be and is frantically trying to get it down. It means eating healthier options – particularly for his packed lunch. However, he works long hours in a physical job and usually walks to work and back. He needs enough fuel to keep going but it needs to be healthy stuff – not the cheapest option. So I’m going to have to cut back here and there. I decided to try out cheaper sliced bread. We usually have a seeded loaf but this week I decided to pick up Tescos own wholemeal bread. I compared the everyday value loaf against their more expensive option. Bizarrely the cheaper loaf has lower levels of salt and sugar than the more expensive one. Not what I would ahve expected. I’m not sure Husband is going to buy into it…I’m not going to mention the switch and see if he notices!

Has anyone else made any switches or changes to keep their food spending down?

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A home day

We (Girlie and I) haven’t left the house all day! Some family were coming to visit this morning and see our new house so I started tidying up at about 8.30. I meant to start earlier but Girlie was deeply involved in some sort of game involving her fairy treehouse and I got lost in the new John Grisham (borrowed from Mum who got it for Christmas). I ended up cleaning the entire house – porches included. Hey – once you’re on a roll. I also found time to throw some fairy cakes in the oven. Fortunately our visitors were 15 minutes late which meant that when they arrived the cakes were iced and decorated with sprinkles and we were both actually dressed! We had a great time and the cakes went down a treat. I had contemplated walking to the shops and buying biscuits instead to save time. However, I figured that a) the amount of time involved would be about the same either in baking or walking, b) we already had the cake ingredients so no spending would have to take place and c) the cakes would taste much nicer than the biscuits/ shop cake. I’m glad I made the effort.

Nap time was over an hour late after they left. Since the house was already immaculate I hammered through another section of my book. Once Girlie was up I seriously tried to summon up the motivation to go out of the house and maybe get some food. However, Girlie came up with a brilliant game which involved me laying in her bed (full size, single) under the duvet pretending to be asleep and snoring occasionally. She was the Gruffalo’s child and I was the Mummy Gruffalo (this will either mean something to you or it won’t!) and got in and out of the bed while giggling though lines from the book. Any game that involves me laying on a sofa or in a bed gets my vote. Natch, this was much more preferable option than going out to the shops. I cobbled something together from the freezer for dinner and we had fruit and yoghurt to follow.

Not a particularly special day but my favourite kind. And zero spending! Finished the book though. I literally read too fast for my own good. Now I’m off to puruse my bookshelf for something else…

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And we’re off!

So, we’re ‘into’ 2013 properly now. Husband went back to work today and I go back in for my first full day tomorrow. It’s funny how you can really miss all being at home flumping around while also really appreciate getting back into your regular routine at the same time, isn’t it? I’m hoping Girlie’s sleeping (which has gone slightly haywire since Christmas Eve) will settle down. It has all been so exciting that she’s been unable to settle for her day time nap and been getting waaaaay over tired by mid-afternoon, cue multiple tantrums, messing around at meal times and bedtime. Nothing that severe but we’ve definitely noticed the difference!

So, fully recolved to get things back on track I’ve paid a extra attention today. We went for our regular toddler session at the library and then went for coffee and cake with friends. Girlie and I always share a small slice of chocolate tiffin which, cut in half, is about the same size as a Kit Kat finger (though much more dense). Yum – and not too naughty either. I popped into Boots and used a voucher to get a gorgeous eye shadow palette for half price in the sale. It really is brilliant and will proably last me years – 16 colours all of which I like! It was reduced to £8 but I had a voucher so it was free! Thus my total spend today was £3.40 for the coffee shop outing.

Then we came home and watched ‘Room on the Broom’ which Mum recorded over Christmas for us and then she went down for her nap perfectly. I read for a bit and then made a batch of tomato soup. I’ll try to share the recipe at some point. It was a new recipe so that is that element of my NY resolution completed for this month! I’ll probably try another new one before the kitchen gets ripped out. I’m currently trying to stock up the freezer with lots of home cooking so that we don’t get scurvey when I can’t cook much while the workmen are in. We spent the afternoon writing thank you cards (I wrote – Girlie decorated using her new stamping kit, crayons and some stickers) and then we went out to post them. This was really just an excuse for her to have a little walk as she has to go in the pushchair when we go into town due to the distance. Lately she has been wanting to be picked up a lot if we go for a walk and – if I don’t – doing the whole toddler-jelly-legs thing. Anyway, we chatted and sang there and back and all was good. I must keep doing this to build her up and give her lots of practice. Then we got home and she played with her toys while I made a chicken casserole in mash. We managed to avoid any meal time meltdowns by distacting her with a magnetic storybook (also a Christmas present). It was the most stress free meal we’ve had for a week. It’s all very well to think that children should learn to concentrate on their meals without distraction but in my experience toddlers go through multiple phases which just have to be ridden out! At the moment it’s all about getting us back into our routine. So now Husband is giving her her bath and I’ve got lunches ready for tomorrow and the kitchen is cleaned down. In fact, I’m going to have to sign off to go on story telling duty!

Hope your New Year is off to a good start too!

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The opposite of a no spend month

Happy New Year! I hope you had a good one. It’s been lovely seeing everyone else’s New Years plans, goals and resolutions scattered through blogland.  I’d love to be able to kick off the New Year with a financial shut down of sorts but, as long term readers may remember, January is our next most expensive month to Christmas. It sees my birthday, Husbands birthday, my Mum’s birthday, one of my best friends birthday and also the birthday of three children (offspring of friends – not mine!). I was quite organised this year and bought presents for the three children while I was doing the Christmas shopping so they are already taken care of (though I need to take one to the Post Office and get it posted Air Mail). I’ve bought about half of Mum’s present and I managed to get a gorgeous shirt from French Connection for Husband reduced from £75 to £38. When I first met him he was really ‘into’ his clothes and still has a really instictive sense of style (one of things that first attracted me to him actually). These days he works outside and spends all day getting dirty (for work!) but I know he likes being able to scrub up every now and then. He has always liked French Connection though, like many other things, can’t afford it anymore. I have fallen into the trap of buying him a new top from there in their January sale each year. I did wonder if this was getting a bit old but, from close observation, every time we go out for the day or he wants to look nice he always go straight to the things I have bought. Shhh, don’t tell him though!

I’m having a slight quandry about my friends birthday. She has mentioned doing a Spa day for her birthday as it is a ‘big’ number. I suppose I could find the money but it would mean scrimping all month to blow it all in one day and on something that only I would benefit (not Husband or girlie). My friend works from home full time so she gets to see her kids during the day AND the benefits of a (very good) full time wage. She is a good household economist, makes everything from scratch etc but she also likes, and can afford, lots of extra luxuries that I can’t anymore, namely spa treatments, facials, mini breaks, holidays and so on. It is interesting actually because I used to earn more and now she probably earns at least twice what I do yet these are really the only perceptable differences (holidays, spa treats and more clothes. probably more savings too but that’s about it). Anyway, I don’t really want to go. I love the theory of a Spa day but actually, the reality would bore me to tears. I’d love a massage or a facial but only for about an hour. I wouldn’t enjoy spending a day in a dressing gown having treatments, going swimming and all that. And the cost! I just don’t live that way any more – haven’t for some years. But it is a special birthday for one of my very best friends. Gah. This is like when people get married and expect you spend a fortune on hen weekends though isn’t it? To be honest, Husband and I had to have a discussion about whether we could afford our traditional birthday restaurant night (remember this is not a night out for each birthday but both of us combined). We decided in the end that we would find the money as it is only once a year and we’d both feel a bit sad if we didn’t. However, we couldn’t go if I did the Spa thing which means Husband would get no birthday outing at all. He is okay with this -I am not. Also a big factor is that we are having our biggest renovations (wall knocked out, electrics, plumbing, new kitchen) carried out during January and Husband is doing a lot of it himself which means I need to be available to look after our daughter. We can’t afford to delay work because Husband is looking after Girlie while I swank around in a Spa. I should probably just say I can’t go. But it makes me feel mean. Thoughts anyone?

Other than the birthday celebrations, however, it really will be a quiet month. I’m optimist about losing weight (the diet starts today) and keeping spending down and savings up! I’ll be reporting back…

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Old year, New Year

2012 has been a funny old year. All of our saving paid off as we managed to fund all of the crazy ups and downs that went with getting rid of our flat and buying our lovely new (to us) house. And we’ve got a budget left over for renovations. I wish that, this time last year, I could have known I would really be able to write those first two sentences, The whole thing still seems impossible even though it has already happened. Even Mum commented the other day that she can’t believe it had really happened at last. My daughter has come on in leaps and bounds. This time last year she had only been walking for a month or two and could say about 50 words. Now she talks in full, complex and very entertaining sentences, can (somewhat unfortunately) scale anything, run at the speed of light and dance to any kind of music. And she’s on her fourth night with no nappy at bedtime! Wow. I won’t bang on about her endlessly but she really is the best thing that has ever happened to me. And, no she isn’t perfect – she can lose it like any other two year old but those episodes aside she is fantasic.

Parenting and moving aside it has been a pretty quiet year. I have totalled three – yes, three – nights out for the whole year. Husband and I went out for dinner in January (to our favourite localish restaurant) with some friends as part of a triple birthday celebration. In spring I went to a book reading and signing of one of my favourite authors who was over from the US on a book tour (I managed not to dribble and stutter when I got my book signed which I took as a sign that I might have fully entered adulthood/developed a small amount of poise). And I dragged Husband to the cinema with me to see The Hunger Games which I had waited for with much anticipation (he spend the first half of the film hissing ‘This is a book for kids?!’ at me and then slept for the other half). Oh, I suppose I could also count us taking Girlie out for the evening to our local Carnival. So. Four nights out – an all time low (not in a bad way though)! And no holiday either, not even our usual escape to Cornwall for a long weekend. We had lots of days out over the summer and have had a few lunches out during the year but it has all been very low key. The flat being on the market and then the buying and selling all took up a lot of time and energy. Girlie’s sleeping history has not been great (read: is appalling). She tends to stay awake for hours if try to get her to sleep anywhere new and leads us all to being exhausted which equals no fun at all. We decided it wasn’t worth going for broke on a holiday we probably wouldn’t enjoy. It was definitely the right decision. Funnily enough, once we moved and Girlie got to make the transition from cot to proper full size single ned she has slept like a charm. It took a week or two for her to stop being a monkey about staying in bed and now she sleeps all night and we often have to wake her up at 6.15am when we get up to get ready for work. This might sound early but it beats being awake from 5/5.30 every morning. I have gone from functioning on an average of 5 hours sleep a night to about 7 – maybe even 8 if I can get myself to bed early enough. There aren’t words to describe what a difference this has made. Plus a lot of recent research shows that not enough sleep can make you gain/retain weight which would explain a lot. Speaking of which, I’m nearly a stone lighter than I was this time last year which is also amazing.

So, that was the ‘old’ year – now for the ‘new’. I’ve been posting about my plans (and ran out of time to go into detail for all of them) but here is the recap:

  • Stick to £200 a month food budget (and increase it if it proves to no longer be realistic)
  • Save all Co-op, Tesco and Boots/Advantage card points, vouchers and coupons
  • Save all coppers
  • Save £1k into a joint/household fund
  • Save for additional home improvements that won’t be covered by renovations fund
  • Get necessary garden equipment
  • Grow at least 3 edible things
  • Grow/plant some flowers
  • Make plan for front garden (complicated)
  • Re-do kitchen
  • Re-do bathroom
  • Re-do our bedroom
  • Re-do Living Room
  • Learn how to use my new sewing machine
  • Cook/Bake at least one new recipe a month
  • Go to dentist (gah)
  • Take capsules for joints/bones to see if this helps with elderly hip
  • Report here with at least one example of intellectual/cultural dabbling a month (even if only a book)
  • Step it up at work (better time management/more polished appearance/do what needs to be done/get inspired)
  • Lose weight (10 pounds to be specific)
  • Walk more
  • Eat better

I can’t wait!

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Plans for 2013: The Home Front

It’s all about the domestic sphere for me really. We’ve finally moved into our wonderful house, we have some money to spend on it and I want to get on with it. I also spend more time at home than ever before what with being a Mum and working part time. My plans for 2013 are:

Home Improvements/Renovations: Re-do the kitchen, bathroom, living room and our bedroom. I’d also like to do the spare room but we’ll see.

Garden: We have zero garden equipment so we need a lawnmower a several other things. I am a TOTAL garden novice. Total. I know nothing. In 2013 I’d like to get to grips with how to maintain what is already here, have a go a growing 3 ‘eatables’ and also some flowers in containers. We also need to make a plan for the front garden which needs a whole seperate post. I’m not going to go for anything more abitious than that becayse we have some much to do inside the house.

Cooking: As previously mentioned, I’d like to try out one new recipe a month. Watch this space!

Mum stuff: Most importantly I want to make the most of my time with Girlie before she’s off to pre-school and then big school. I can’t believe how fast the time has gone and I want us both to get the most out of this one period in time when we are at home together to this extent.

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Plans for 2013: Working it

Work has been…really…weird in 2012. I don’t talk about my work here but there have been so many changes over the last few years that I have got used to a climate of constant change and disruption. It has definitely had an impact on my outlook, productivity and all the rest. And not in a good way. I am also had to make the transition from heading up a large team to working in an office on my own running my own project. In many ways it is more peaceful (and certainly fits in better with working part-time) but it also requires a different approach and a lot of self-motivation.Without divulging any specific information I am planning to: Work on time management: There are points in the month when I am going at break neck speed and other points where I am…not. I need to come up with ways to use this ‘dead’ time to improve the success of my project in the long term. Keep up appearances: When you are working in an office on your own, in a building where everyone dresses down to quite a surprising extent is easy to not bother. However, I do have a management position (compliciated to explain) and the ‘higher-ups’ can drop in anytime (admittedly rarely but still). Whether right or wrong, my experience is that if you look/dress like you don’t give a **** then you get treated as though you don’t. I don’t know why more people don’t cotton on to this but hey. I need to get back to making more of an effort every day and plan to dress like I am having a meeting every day just in case. I have already replaced my work trousers. I now have three pairs of black trousers (I go for the ‘uniform’ approach!) which all fit me well, look smart and are comfortable. I have also FINALLY managed to track down a pair of smart, flat black leather shoes that actually stay on my feet. Ironically, after trying to source much more expensive shoes I found this pair online from Matalan. They aren’t going to win any style awards but they are smart and that’s all they need to be for work. And flat. Because I need to usher a toddler up the hill to my car while carrying lots of bags every day. AND I have the beginnings of a bunion which hurts when I wear heels 😦 . Heels are now for special occasions only! The shoes were only £18 but I found a discount code and got them for £14.40 and the delivery was free. I also hereby vow to get my hair trimmed every 12/13 weeks. I’ve fallen into the trap of getting it done twice a year which is RUBBISH. Find sources of inspiration: It gets very flat, working on your own. It has been years since I have had a person resembling anything like a mentor which is a shame. I actually like learning from other people. Fortunately there are lots of good books out there as well as plenty of online resources. I need to make a bit of time each day reviewing these to keep myself fresh and motivated. Do what needs to be done: A simple phrase straight from the wonderful Gretchen Ruben. It is easy to get distracted from the most important tasks in any situation. I have a lot of things that need to be done each day/week/month and yet I need to keep focused on my key tasks. The rest will get fitted in during ‘dead’ time and shouldn’t be my main focus. Does anyone else have the same/similar issues?

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Plans for 2013: Food, fitness and new recipes

I’m not quite in as good shape healthwise as I’d like. I’ve given up on trying to follow an exercise regime of any kind. It just doesn’t fit in with my current lifestyle and I really don’t like it. I tried really hard for about 6-8 weeks last year but it was tiresome and interferred with everything else. Frankly if I’ve got a spare 40 minutes I’d rather spend it reading a good book or playing with my daughter. Or even batch cooking something useful. My hip has unaccountably started hurting when I go for a walk. I’m almost certain that I need at least one filling. I am distictly wobbly. And I still, STILL have pregnancy weight to lose. Not a pretty picture! However, I’ve got to be realistic about what I can achieve and I’ve also got to push myself outside of my all too comfortable comfirt zone. Thus:

Weight-loss: I’m bored of myself blogging about this, but I still want to lose some weight. The good news is that this is clearly not a hopeless cause. According to my (sporadic) diary entries I am about 12 pounds lighter than I was this time last year – that’s nearly a stone! Wooo! I’d like to lose 9 pounds this year) preferably before summer).

Fitness/wobble reduction: I am never going to be toned and hard bodied because I just don’t care enough and I was never built that way. However, (pre-pregnancy) I was always relatively slim (on an oridnary scale – not a TV/magazine scale) and I’d like to get somewhere in that region again. I have got a bit lazy of late so the easiest thing to do is to walk more. More walking into town from home and more short walks during my very short half hour lunch break.

Eating more healthily: This ties in with my previous post about the food budget. If I can’t get a good selection of fruit and veg and so on then I’m just going to ahve to bite the budget bullet and spend more. I want to make sure Girlie is eating a good selection of foods too.

Eating a greater variety of food and improve cooking skills: I really want to break out of the rut of making the same things again and again. One thing that is a definite ‘resolution’ is to try at least one new recipe a month. By the end of the year I’d like to be able to report back with at least 12 new things that I have tried out, even if they are disasterous and will never be attempted again! This almost had a post of its own – I’ll really be trying to focus on this during 2013.

Wish me luck!

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Plans for 2013: The finance edition

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas! I’ve been plotting away with plans for next year. I wouldn’t want to call these plans resolutions exactly though I do love this time of year for the opportunity to take a step back, re-evaluate things and either make new plans or to steer certain things in a different direction. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about a lot of different things so I think I might attempt one post for each thing. Thus, since this is a blog about budgetting as much as anything else, I’m going to kick off today with…

Finances in 2013

  • Stick to food budget: This has not been happening since we got serious about moving – I guess my attention has been elsewhere. To stay within the food budget requires more planning than I’ve had time for of late. However, we are settled in now so I can try to get back to it. For the three of us we have a budget of £200 a month. I’ve tried compromising on certain things to stay within this budget but I’m not actually happy about this as I’ve had to cut back on fresh stuff. I’m planning to pay a lot more attention and, if necessary, I’m going to have to increase the monthly food budget. I’ll report back on how I get on (this will be particularly challenging in January when our kitchen is out of action for most of the month!).
  • Save all coupons and vouchers: The main cards I use are Tesco Clubcard, Co-op Members card, Boots Advantage card and, occasionally, a Nectar card. I’m planning to save up all points/vouchers from these (apart from date sensitive ones) for the whole year apart from in Summer when Girlie will turn 3. I might use some vouchers to help out with food for the inevitable party!
  • Save coppers: Not exactly original but a good one none the less. I tried this one year with 20 pence pieces but the pot kept getting raided. Plus 20p is a lot more valuable to me now! Coppers however, I can comfortably part with so I’m going to see how many I can collect over a whole year. Husband chucks these all over the house so that should help build up a nice pile!
  • Save £1k into joint fund: I’ve mentioned this before, but I want to save up an easy access fund of £1k. I originally planned only £500 (for things like dental treatment, prescriptions, medicines, unexpected bills and so on). However, I decided to bump this up to £1k as that would also be able to take car of any unexpected car repairs and the like. Since our monthly expenses are now much higher and our income is at an all time low it is really important to make like a Brownie and Be Prepared.
  • Save for additional home improvements: Our renovations budget has now settled at just over £11k which is great. Sadly, however, it isn’t enough to everything we need to do. Some things are less critical than others so I am going to try to save for those as seperate little savings projects. But the £1k comes first.
  • Additional joint saving: Once the £1k fund is complete, if we manage to do everything we need to the house then we will start some long term joint savings (we have none of these nor any pensions etc). However this will probably have to wait until next year as we really don’t have that much wiggle room each month. I’m putting the idea out there though!

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how I have lots of little accounts for things like clothes, personal savings etc which all have small amounts of money going to each month (like £20). I’ll be planning to stick to this though I may change strategy if this doesn’t seem to work out for any reason or I need more money for something else. And that’s it! What are your financial plans for 2013?

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