Saturday, 15 December 2012

A New Idea for Stocking Stuffers

This year we're still budgeting. Our 'no credit card' policy has worked so well, we're extending it into next year and hopefully making it a way of life. We're almost out of the woods now, debt wise, which is the best gift of all.

While we're still budgeting tightly I had to become more creative with Christmas gifts and stockings this year. I came across a great idea somewhere - I think in a book someone gave me. The idea is to keep a pieces of paper and a pen at hand for the whole family to use. Every now and again, we jot down a note for one member of the  family: telling them how much we love them, how we admire them, or just pointing out something special about them.

The kids are small, only Carol can write but they are really into it. Our stockings are filling with little notes to one another. On Christmas day we'll open our notes and read them out loud. I cannot wait.

I haven't skimped completely for the kids. I have been collecting little items for them since early October: Pez dispensers, giant Smarties tubes, electric toothbrushes (Cinderella and Spiderman, of course), hair ribbons and clips, little match cars, etc. Nothing has cost over £2. The toothbrushes are usually £4.99 in Sainsbury's but they had a 2 for £4 a few weeks ago and I snapped them up.

Just about everything they are receiving is second hand, bought from my fancy ex-pat friends with older children. Everything is in excellent shape and just needing a good wipe down. But there is no way I could have bought these really expensive toys brand new and at full price! My kids won't care and they are going to have the best Christmas ever. The toys ROCK!

My entire Christmas - with gifts for everyone including Eddie will be just under £200. I had to splurge for Eddie to get him something he really wanted for his bicycle (which was necessary but not urgent).

We're even hosting a small Christmas eve gathering at our place for 6 friends. Everything being served from the liquor to the nibbles is being bought on points from Sainsbury's. We saved them all year and are using a portion to bankroll the party. Totally worth it. Won't cost us a penny out of pocket.

I have a few Christmas recipes coming up soon. Stay tuned!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Easy and inexpensive Pad Thai

I love finding easy and inexpensive new recipes. When I saw this I thought, I can SO make this. And I tried it. What a joy this was. My husband loves it, I've served it for dinner guests, and I've made it just for a few girlfriends for lunch. It's easy and I usually have all the ingredients for the basic recipe at home!

I mix it up a little, adding prawns, chicken or vegetables to fill it out a little But the combination of coriander and lime is always a winner in my house! I often substitute the rice noodles for thin udon noodles or plain old spaghetti/fettucini - and it's still delicious!

Give it a go and let me know what you think.

Easy Pad Thai

Serves 4
8 ounces dried, wide and flat rice noodles
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 scallions (green onions), white and green parts, separated and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large eggs, light beaten (optional)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
  1. Soak noodles according to package instructions. Drain.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, lime juice, and soy sauce.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.
  4. Add scallion whites and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add eggs and cook, scraping skillet with spatula until eggs are almost set (about 30 seconds). Transfer eggs to a plate.
  5. Add noodles, scallion greens, and sauce to skillet. Cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are soft (about 1 minute). Add egg mixture and toss to coat, breaking eggs up gently.
  6. Serve noodles with lime wedges, topped with cilantro and peanuts.

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Year of Saving

We're eleven months in with our savings year and it's been incredibly difficult. We haven't used the credit card since March (we had to buy tickets) but we've paid it off. Being credit free is a serious challenge. But it is making me into a much more money conscience person - which is a good thing.

What is the most difficult is seeing something I want, not need, but not buying it because I do not have the cash. another reason is not wanting to spend good money on something I do not need. It's cut down my impulse buying considerably.

I've also become a huge fan of the pound shop and charity shops. I've had some great finds at both of these. I belong to a women's social club and I've bought many things from other members who've advertised on our website. I've even sold a bunch of things through it and eBay.

Another thing that has changed dramatically for me is cleaning. I never cleaned. I hated it. I had a housecleaner who came once a week and cost a fortunre. I cut that expense out and just got down to it. I have different rooms/tasks for each day of the week. Here's a small sample:

Monday: clean bathroom and kitchen counters: mop both floors. Do all laundry
Tuesday: vaccum entire flat and dust all shelves in lounge, clean kitchen appliances
Wednesday: Clean bedrooms and wipe down all bedroom furniture
Thursday: Walk house cleaning fingerprints off everything vaccum entire flat
Friday: Windows and mirrors! mop kitchen and bathroom.
Saturday: relax
Sunday: maintenance on whatever needs doing.

It really works for me. And I have developed a love of cleaning. Well, maybe not a love, but the feeling of really going at something and making it sparkle is truly satisfying. I attack my oven (cooker) with toothbrushes, microcloths, toothpicks and scrub brushes. It gleams! I really love that. Before I never even noticed if it was clean or not!

My next battle is organisation. I need to wrangle the toys in this place. They are out of control. Any tips?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Easy, Fast, Cheap and Low-Fat Fettucinni Alfredo

I found this recipe a few months ago online but I can't find the original post to give credit. Sorry about that. However, this recipe has made my life much, much happier. It's for rich creamy fettucini alfredo - the kids love it, my husband loves it and most of all, it's really low in fat. As an added bonus - it's really easy and cheap.

You need a blender or food processor (or a strong arm for whisking) but other than that, it's a snap.

Guiltless Alfredo Sauce

2 C low-fat milk
1/3 C ) low fat cream cheese (soft cheese like Philadelphia cream cheese)
2-3 T flour
1 t salt
1 T butter
3 garlic cloves
1 C grated Parmesan cheese

Place milk, cream cheese, flour, and salt in a blender/food processor and blend until smooth.  This is key! If you skip the sauce can come out grainy or chunky.

In a non-stick sauce pan, melt butter on med-high heat and add garlic. Let the garlic saute for about 30 seconds, you don’t want to burn it.

Then add milk mixture to the pan. Stir constantly for about 3 or 4 minutes or until it just comes to a simmer. Keep stirring and let it cook for a few minutes more. It should be much thicker now.
When it’s nice and thickened remove the pan from the heat. Add the cheese, stir it up and then cover immediately. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before using. It will continue to thicken upon standing. Also, if you have leftovers in the fridge, the sauce will thicken almost into a solid. Just re-heat and add a little milk and it will be back to normal again.

I like to add sliced ham and peas to the mix before I pour over pasta.

It is a serious crowd pleaser.

Also, you can use it for the following:

-Over pasta (obviously)
-As a dip for
breadsticks, crackers, vegetable crudite
-As a sauce on pizza
-Mix it with pesto for a creamy pesto sauce (YUMMY)
-Mix it with marinara for a creamy marinara sauce

Its' really versatile. Give it a go and let me know your thoughts.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Bad Blogger

I've been an awful blogger! Awful. I wanted to document this year of frugality and have failed miserably. Part of the reason is Al wasn't in school. I've got him in nursery now which frees up some of my time - finally. So I thought I could get back into the blog.

I'm sure I've lost all my followers but if you're still interested, let me know. I'll get back on track this week! Have much to share!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Great no-sew scarves you can make today without buying anything!

I saw this scarf on Pinterest which is my new obsession. Honestly, I look at this site and pick things I love, pin them on a board and then go revisit to dream and bask in their loveliness! It calms me and inspires. I've picked out my dream home and I'm in the process of picking the perfect rooms to go inside. I'll probably never own it, but I'm certainly having fun with it.

Regardless, I digress. I saw this scarf and wanted it. Then I noticed the url below for The DIY Dish - a great website I am now also addicted to! It's all crafty things that I love.

I watched the video on how to make this scarf and two other scarves without sewing, without buying anything. It takes seconds, is simple and I'm totally charmed. Here is the video to learn how to create this and other scarves from old T-shirts!! WITHOUT sewing - you could make one, or two, or three today. They make great gifts and are just beautiful

Here's another version that I'm making. I have to buy the little pom=pom rick-rack but then I'm golden. I already have fabric glue so The blue one is currently drying and waiting for me to wear it!

Try it and let me know what you think.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Little Effort - BIG payoff

It was time to buy bunk beds for the kids. I had to get rid of the toddler bed for Carol and the baby cot for Al. He is 2 1/2 and was itching for a big-boy bed. They share a room, which is not large so bunks were really my only option.

Bunks are expensive. Ikea seemed like it was going to be my only option but I didn't like any of the beds. I had to have rails on top and bottom bunks on all four sides. Al is still a little guy and not used to sleeping in a bed at all - I was worried he'd fall out or get wedged between the mattress and the wall (hey, I'm a mom - I'm paranoid).

We went and priced bunks around town - astronomical. But I saw a bunk set I really, really loved at John Lewis. The price tag: £875 without mattresses (they are startling expensive as well £80+) and not including shipping. No way was I going to pay that. I looked at the name brand, wrote down the model number and went home.

I googled it and found out who the manufacturer was - they are out of Poland. So I emailed to see if they sell the beds, perhaps under a different brand name than the John Lewis version and they do. They have an online store on eBay.

I went to the eBay store and there were the same bunks WITH foam mattresses for £270 INCLUDING shipping. They came with a 2 year warranty and a guarantee that they would take them back if damaged, etc. We ordered them. They came, it took Eddie a little while to assemble them. The kids were in heaven. They look amazing and everyone is very, very happy.

So instead of shelling out over £1,000 for a set of new, quality, good looking bunks, I got them under a third of the price at £270. Just because I did a little research (which cost nothing).

What do you think? Aren't they lovely  - they are not our actual bunks but the exact same - including the two drawers underneath.