Sunday, 3 May 2009

Decorating on a budget

I've just had a loft extension put in. It's a lovely space, full of light, but now it's there, I have to decorate. Which means spending money.

None the less, I found out I could spend less by being clever.

  • Start off, whatever colour you want, with white paint. It's cheap. And laying two coats of white under another colour will make it nice and bright when you add it on top.
  • Dilute your first coat nearly 50-50 paint and water. It makes the paint go further, and makes it go on easier.
  • It doesn't all have to be the same colour. I'm probably going to leave most of the walls white and just paint one, and the ceiling, in warm golden yellow. That cuts down on the cost.
  • Use a roller. Much easier to apply the paint smoothly.
  • Wear your t shirt and shorts INSIDE OUT. Then, paint only goes on the inside, and you have saved the shirt for wearing right-way-out when you want to.
  • If you're using brushes, this is the one place it is worth spending money for good ones - cheap brushes have bristles which fall out and spoil the finish.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Old knitwear - new tricks

A piece in the Guardian suggests making an old jumper into legwarmers.

There are other tricks you can try, too. I successfully cut up a large old sweater and converted the 'body' part into a knitted skirt - really quite simple with one big piece of elastic used for the waist.

If the arms have gone (quite often happens at the elbows), you have a tank top / gilet if you can carefully detach them.

Sweater 'bodies' also convert easily to knitted bags. Not really robust enough to use for carting your shopping around, but very useful for organising stuff at home. I have one for all my shoe brushes, polish, etc, and another that holds teatowels and dishwipes. (You could also make cushion covers.)

A rather specialised use for the arms, and also for old socks, is not going to be useful to many people. But if you play bagpipes, flute, whistle, or bassoon, a knitted instrument cover can be useful. At least you know your instrument is going to be nice and warm! I have a lovely set of bamboo flutes by Patrick Olwell and each of them now has a different knitted bag made out of an old jumper arm.

With hand knits (less so with machine knits) you can also unravel the garment and reuse the wool in your own knitting. However, it will be much more unruly than 'new' wool, often curling up in funny ways. Still, if you enjoy knitting, why not extend your stash of yarn rather than simply throw a garment away?

Monday, 23 February 2009

"Sides to middle"

Sheets tend to get very thin in the centre, where you've been lying on them. Most people throw their sheets away - or send them to the charity shop - once this happens.

But if you're smart you can give them another lease of life. It's very simple, though it does need a sewing machine (unless you have very good, and fast, hand stitching).

Simply cut the sheet all the way down the middle.

Now reverse each half, so that what was the outside hem is running down the middle, and the threadbare bits are down the outside. Stitch the seam together and voila! An almost good as new sheet!

(It helps if you unpick the outside hems first, so you don't end up with a rigid seam down the middle.)

This works with blankets too.

Other uses of holey or threadbare sheets - if they're good quality cotton:
  • If you're canny, you can make pillow cases out of the bits that aren't holey.
  • Reuse parts for tea towels or napkins.
  • Use for lining baskets or bags.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Don't get silly

I like to keep things frugal. But I don't like to be silly.

For instance; 'Don't use conditioner on your hair, use mayonnaise.'

Apart from the fact that I don't want to go around all day stinking like a badly made burger, I don't think it works.

And actually mayonnaise is not noticeably cheaper than the supermarket own-brand conditioner, unless you're buying a catering size tub.

Frugality and abundance is not about 101 things to do with a dead teabag. It's about having some fun while saving your money. It's about the low hanging fruit - the easy savings. The savings that don't mess your life up.

So don't be silly, be smart.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Leftover bread recipes

Some interesting thoughts on what to do with old bread at the Daily Telegraph.

Sightly stale bread is easy to rescue. Just toast it! Or even just warm it over in a low oven. It also makes excellent garlic bread - slice it down the middle, mix up crushed garlic and butter and spread this inside, and then bake the bread for ten minutes or so in the oven.

That's before you get to the hard old bread that makes breadcrumbs!

My favourite use of breadcrumbs is with butter, parsley and garlic, to make a delicious topping for stuffed mushrooms - or aubergines - or indeed tomatoes. Add a bit of grated cheese if you fancy something more filling. It also makes a nice crust for slowly roast lamb.

And of course there is always bread and butter pudding. I prefer mine with dried apricots rather than raisins, and a little cream added as justifiable luxury. It's also a great way to use up old croissants should you have any left over from breakfast.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

What to grow in your garden

It's hard to think about spring at the moment. The -20 C temperatures and thick snow of a couple of weeks ago have been replaced by gusty strong winds and torrential rain.

But spring will, I hope, be here fairly soon and I'm beginning to think of what to put in the garden to help out the food bills.

My strategy is to grow things which have two characteristics -

  1. they're easy to grow and undemanding. I prefer perennials.
  2. they're expensive in the shops. If I'm going to spend my time labouring in the garden, I'm not going to do it to grow five quid's worth of cabbage - but growing thirty quid's worth of cherry tomatoes or figs is worth my while. Or I can't get them in the shops - which is the case with some varieties of salad leaf.
So my top fruit and veg are going to be:
  • strawberries. They're not difficult, particularly if you grow them through black plastic to prevent weeds coming through.
  • raspberries. Need a bit of pruning and staking, but otherwise you can just leave them. We are training to train our friendly, fluffy beasts as attack cats, and we do have a half-tame owl, but we've found either netting the raspberries or hanging up CDs is still needed to stop the birds making off with our crop.
  • figs. Believe it or not, these will grow well as far north as Norwich, though it can take time for your tree to get established. Look for a south facing brick wall and it will reflect heat on to your fig tree. They positively hate being cossetted; the worse you treat them the happier they are.
  • Tomatoes. I have no luck with seeds and seedlings so I buy six or twelve plants from the local nursery, and we don't have to buy tomatoes in summer at all. I don't bother with beef tomatoes like Marmande any more - I just grow cherry tomatoes, which give you a longer harvest rather than nothing for ages and then a sudden glut. Get some yellow and pear varieties for a classy effect in your salads.
  • Salad leaves. We grow cress, lettuces of various types, chicory, and rocket. Rocket in particular grows like a weed and is incredibly cheap. Mustard is another 'weed' that grows well, and you might like to try asian vegetables like mizuna and pak choi -though I've found pak choi is a bit tricky.
  • Salad potatoes. There's no point growing great big spuds for roasting or baking, but grow your own 'ratte', 'charlotte' or 'belle de fontenay' and you'll have lovely new potatoes.
  • Green beans. I actually loathe runner beans, so I grow little French haricot varieties - there's one called 'haricot beurre' which has a soft buttery taste and is such light green it's almost yellow. Three or four short rows will feed two people for most of the summer. Plant more if you want to can your own haricots for next year. (You can also leave the last crop to ripen if you want to dry the beans for winter use.)
  • Chard. I can't get this anywhere in the shops, and it's a lovely leaf, makes great soup as well as being good in stir fries. The stems are particularly edible.
  • Spinach. You have no idea how good it is to be able to go and get spinach fresh, off the plant, whenever we want it. And the variety we use self-seeds, just like a weed.
  • Plum and cherry trees. Very little maintenance once they're established, and we make tons of jam. Having fresh fruit in autumn is marvellous - I have a sticky face for weeks after the plums are ready! One tip if you have a large garden is to buy some early, some middle harvest, and some late varieties, to spread your harvest a little longer.
  • Artichokes, both jerusalem and globe artichokes. They grow readily, and are great vegetables not often available in the shops. The globe artichoke also looks gorgeous in the garden, with its spiky leaves. Jerusalem artichokes, with their little sunflower-like blossoms, are good for bees and other beneficial insects.
  • Lovage. I've given up growing celery - this lovely leaf is much easier to grow, tastes great, will keep going all summer, and produces seeds you can use in soups and curries for a tart celery-like taste as well as stems and leaves that you can use just like celery. The Romans used a lot of lovage in their recipes - and conquered most of the known world!
What don't I bother with? Cabbage, which is cheap in the shops. And I don't like it that much anyway. Peas, which always seem to get maggots and need lots of care, chemicals, nurturing and netting - altogether too much effort (though I might try a pest-resistant variety next year). Brussels sprouts. Every gardener I have ever known who grew these would spend two months of every year trying to give his surplus away to his friends (and the next ten months wondering why he didn't have any friends).

The other thing we have to do this spring is to visit our equine friends in the field next door. Two white (at the moment, mud-coloured) and one brown horse (okay, grey and bay for those of you who are in the know) produce large amounts of manure for us. We need a couple more wheelbarrows to add to our pile, now last year's manure is well rotted down and ready to use on the garden. This is something you need to plan - as good manure needs to have rotted for about a year before you let it anywhere near your fruit and veg.

More kitchen budget tips

A good article in the Times this morning shows how to economise in the kitchen.

Rather stupidly, though, this is presented as a woman's problem.

You're telling me that my male friend who spend a hundred pounds a week on prepared meals couldn't learn something too?!!

Single men are probably the worst at wasting money in the kitchen. Most of the ones I know were never taught to cook by their parents and haven't done much learning since then. I still remember when my father, newly single, proudly told me he'd just microwaved an egg... and spent two hours cleaning the resultant explosion out of his microwave!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Travelling for less

Here's a link to a site I love - Martin Lewis's As train fares in the UK go up, he's found out how to save money on fares. Split ticketing can help - because strangely enough, it can be cheaper to buy a ticket from London to Swindon and Swindon to Penzance than to buy a through ticket.

This does make me wonder whether the train companies are (a) mad, or just (b) very, very evil.

New e-Book out

I've just released a new e-book on saving money in the kitchen, entitled "Cooking on a budget - eating well to save money."

It includes advice on smart buying - including details of how supermarkets try to trick you into spending more, where they put the cheap things they don't want you to buy, and when they reduce their prices on food that's going to be out of date the next day.

I've also included a set of 'recipes you can adapt'. Rather than being 'proper' recipes with lists of ingredients and quantities, they're more like inspirations for cooking - suggestions for ways to use particular kinds of food.

My guess is that depending on how clever you're being already, you can probably save from ten to forty percent of your budget after you've read the book and put the basic principles into practice.

But one alarming article I read while I was researching it suggests that many people could save a lot more. Apparently, most households are wasting up to half of the food they buy. If you're one of the worst, cut your waste and without changing the brands you buy, or the way you cook, you'd be halving your food budget! That's amazing.

The book is available through Payloadz and costs £3.99.

Using your leftovers

A nice post here on the Cheap Eats blog suggests ways of using leftover turkey. I appreciate that this is a bit late in the day for all those of you who had extra-large turkeys this Christmas... but the turkey hash and open-faced turkey sandwich do look rather appetising.

I also enjoyed his suggestion on how to steal a slice of pumpkin pie. It had me in stitches!