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.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Using Vouchers

I've been doing some saving at Tesco lately that I'm really thrilled about. First I joined and received a club points card. Good move on my part. They've started sending me vouchers that are hand chosen (well, I'm sure it's computer chosen) for me. They send vouchers for money off or extra points for products I use often. I like that.

Last week my favourite crisps went on offer: Walkers Sensations - 99p a bag. They are usually £1.89 a bag. Tesco had sent me a voucher for £1 off if I bought two. So I saved the voucher for a while until the crisps went on offer last week. I bought two bags for 98p - each were 99p but with my £1 off voucher they only cost me the mere 98p. What a great savings! I normally never buy them anymore because it's an indulgence, but this was worth it.

This week I got the circular out of the Sunday paper and made my list. I had vouchers for 35p off Philadelphia cream cheese - they are currently on sale for £1.16 - so I'm buying it. Carol loves soft cheese and jam sandwiches. I also have saving vouchers for butter, beans and chocolate eggs. I have several points coupons for an extra 200 points plus I have a double points coupons for one transaction. If I play my cards right I should save £11 and receive 460 points.

With the points I have already accumulated thus far I will buy three entry tickets to Legoland - which we are going to next week. So entry will be free (X is under 3 so he goes free).

I think I'm starting to get the hang of this! I'm delighted in saving so much and it's actually an interesting challenge for me. I've got to spend more time following up with other bloggers to see how they are faring.

I understand that if I head to the butcher this Sunday I should find some great bargains as they try to get rid of the overstock. I'm guessing lamb in various cuts should be at the ready. I'm heading there at 4pm right before they close to check it out.

Any other hints?

Monday, 19 March 2012

Spring Cleaning

I've been on the go for the past month which included a trip back to the US by myself. It was heavenly and I bought the ticket with miles. It was a much needed shot in the arm.

But I'm back now and trying to reorganize my life. Since this is the first spring in over three years that I haven't had an impending house move, I've decided to settle in a little. First thing - clean everything from top to bottom. I started with the bathroom - ick. Loathesome job, but someone has to do it. The rest will come later this week.

We decided to stay put over the term break and redo the kids room as well as the bathroom. The bathroom has left me in a state of dismay since we moved it. There is NOTHING wrong with it - I just find it dull - ugly, putty coloured walls, old-grandpa-esque tub, horrible, clunky wash basin and the huge, unattractive cabinet that houses the boiler. It's all old, icky and just not pretty and posh enough for Her Majesty (that being me).

In order to fund this I wrote an article for a magazine here in the UK - it paid enough to buy the paint. And I sold our double buggy, the buggy board, some of my fancy Tory Burch shoes, a few designer handbags I have absolutely no use for anymore and a few other odds and ends. that was enough to buy bunk beds for the kids (new ones, not second hand - I'm not keen on buying used beds), rugs, a plant, baskets and lamps. A lot is coming from Ikea, but I have picked up the bath rug from Sainsbury's using my Nectar points and lamps from Argos.

I have to say it is really nice to just get rid of things I hang onto for no discernible reason.I do not work in an office anymore so I don't need 24 handbags. I don't need the many, many fancy shoes either. So I'm gearing up for another round of eBay sales to fund our two day trips. One trip is to Brighton for the day, the other is to Windsor for an over night.

Mind you, this is all 'found' money and not coming out of our strict budget. The groceries are still a major effort and I've been watching the Discovery Channel show Extreme Couponing. This is NOT helping me. The people on that show are mad - but they are effective. There are two things that are prohibitive from utilizing their methods: the UK does not do coupons/vouchers like the US and I do not buy many prepackaged goods like instant mashed potatoes, packaged noodle/rice mixtures and such. I like things fresh (which does not help the money situation as organic = £££)

However, I press on.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


I've been reading up on how to save money and came across a few American sites that are very  much into extreme couponing. First, when did the word 'coupon' (that's voucher to the UK folks) become a verb? Ridiculous, but I digress. These men and women are serious, serious money savers - most started out of necessity, many now are so addicted to a bargain they won't shop full retail again. Good for them.

While couponing is not really an option here, although I have been doing a little, they have taught me one valuable lesson: stockpiling. One major source, a woman named Joni Meyer Crothers is challenging people to stockpile enough food to last three months. There's more to it on her blog, but this is my takeaway: when items I use daily or often go on offer - snap them up. Store them, and wait for the next sale to buy them again.

Granted I cannot stockpile three months worth of groceries in this flat, but I can certainly try! So Morrisons has had half off all baby products for over a week - and it continues until next week. My husband works next door to a huge Morrisons and twice a week he has gone in a picked up diapers at half off. Wipes too. We have enough for three months (or thereabouts). yay!

Right now Tesco has Cheerios on sale for £1 a box. It's usually £2.16 a box - that's more than half off. We have bought 8 boxes and will buy at least two more. That will last at least two months! Best part - all have been paid for with Tesco vouchers that I have been saving. So they have essentially cost us nothing. Double yay!

I'm so inspired now to do more. We still have not used the credit cards and I have just paid the second big payment on them. They are almost paid off now. Three more months and we're in the clear.

I've been keeping well within my £50 a week grocery bill. I think I'm getting the hang of it!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

'Swiss' Steak Slow-cooker Recipe - Yummy and Inexpensive!

I stumbled upon this recipe while watching the Paula Deen show about four years ago. Usually I'm not keen on her cooking because of the high-fat content (which has caused her a lot of grief lately with her Diabetes announcment). This looked so simple and delicious I had to try it myself, with a few modifications. I don't have the original recipe anymore - just my version, which we all love in this house!

I start with 320grams of beef frying steaks which I got at Sainsbury's marked down to £3.50. I take each steak and pound it thin with my meat mallet (or meat tenderiser hammer). I beat it to look like a Swiss steak which costs just a little more and makes the meat go further. The onions I buy for 6 for 75p at Morrisons, the bell pepper (green pepper) I bought for 60p. The diced tomatoes, and I use two tins, instead of one to stretch the meal further, cost 2 for £1. The rest I had in my larder. The whole meal cost around £5.35. And it made dinner for us all for one night as well as two packed lunches for Eddie.

I have served it over rice, potato jackets, couscous and grits (an American thing and oh, so good).

Here is the recipe. If you try it, please let me know.


320g frying steaks
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and Pepper
All-purpose flour for dusting
1/3 cup Vegetable oil
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, cut into strips
1 medium bell pepper, cut into strips

Cut steak into serving-size pieces. Season to taste with garlic powder and salt and pepper. Dust meat with flour. In heavy skillet, brown both sides of meat in vegetable oil. Transfer to slow cooker. Set cooker on high. Combine garlic, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper and 1 can full of water. Pour over steak and simmer for 1 hour until bubbling nicely. If you keep the cooker on high - it will be ready within 2 hours. If you turn it to slow it will be ready in 4. The trick is to cook and cook and cook. The meat will be nice and tender.

Here's the beef frying up. Yummy!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Easy Yorkshire Pudding Recipe

In my quest for frugality, I have had to stop buying things ready made. One thing I have fallen in love with here in Britain is the marvellous Yorkshire Pudding! A friend turned me onto Aunt Bessies which are fantastic but I can't afford to keep buying things like this when I can just make them myself.

Every Sunday I made a roast or a slow-cooked meal. Right now in my slow cooker is a divine 'Swiss' Steak stew bubbling away. Recipe tomorrow - it's marvellous and SO easy and cheap. But I digress, most times I make a roast beef or chicken. I've been trying out recipes for Yorkshire puddings and in December came across the simpliest, foolproof recipe.

The best part is you probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen now! They cost next to nothing to make and go far. I freeze them and reheat them and they still taste great.

As you can see above, I make them in muffin tins. The first few attempts I put in far too much mixture and they blew up to massive sizes, colliding with each other and creating a wild looking, unearthly sculpture. But, boy, did they taste great. I've since learned that 1/3 full is more than plenty to create the ideal Yorkshire Pudding.

I use vegetable oil instead of lard or beef drippings/fat. This can make upwards of 18 puddings if you spread it out.

These turned out amazing the first try - even though they were sky-high and bizarre looking! Now they come out beautifully and are far better than Aunt Bessies. Any restaurant could serve them (if I may say so myself!)

Here is the recipe. Give it a whirl and if you do, please let me know how you made out.


Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: Depends on size of tin used.


  • 4 large, fresh eggs, measured in a jug
  • Equal quantity of milk to eggs
  • Equal quantity of all purpose/plain flour to eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp lard, beef dripping or vegetable oil


Serves 6
  • Heat the oven to the highest temperature possible, however, do not exceed 450F/230C or the fat may burn.
  • Pour the eggs and milk into a large mixing bowl and add the pinch of salt. Whisk thoroughly with an electric hand beater or hand whisk. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.
  • Gradually sieve the same volume of flour (as the eggs) into the milk and egg mixture, again using an electric hand beater or hand-whisk to create a lump free batter resembling thick cream, if there are any lumps pass the batter through a fine sieve.
  • Leave the batter to rest in the kitchen for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer if possible - up to several hours.
  • Place a pea-sized piece of lard, dripping or ½tsp vegetable oil into your 12-hole muffin tin and heat in the oven until the fat is smoking. Give the batter another good whisk adding 2 tbsps of cold water and fill a third of each section of the tin with batter and return quickly to the oven.
  • Leave to cook until golden brown approx 20 minutes. Repeat the last step again until all the batter is used up.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Making it work

First, thank you to everyone who has posted and emailed with tips. I've found them SO valuable. This is so much more overwhelming that I first imagined. Poring over circulars, looking on line, etc. has been daunting. One thing is clear - I need more direction. Another thing is clear - I won't buy full retail price ever again. No way!

Perhaps I am over thinking it. but  here's what I've managed:

I started digging around in Sainsburys, Tesco and Morrisons for the 3 for a tenner deals and bought enough meat for three weeks with £36! I planned out my meals for the three weeks using the meat I bought which included beef, mince, chicken, bacon, sausages, pork chops and two whole chickens. I have Claire from The Little Pom to thank for that! I still have to check out Approved Foods. My meal plan will be posted later this week.

I went to Martin Lewis's site and have been studying the best ways to cut back and save. Thank you Never Too Old!

My slow cooker has been dusted off and I used it to make a delish beef stew the other day. So many thanks to Green Flag (who's blog is fantastic and shockingly has the same background as mine! Lookin' good Green Flag!)

Unfortunately, Lidl and Aldi are too far away from me and we do not have a car. But when we do rent a car again I'm going to check them out post haste. So thanks for Keshling and Twiggy.

I've been really busy, busy with my life lately, school, PTA, and I'm working to try and get a job here in the UK - part time, perhaps write a few articles, etc. If I can. Every little, as Tesco says.

I truly appreciate all the help and promise to get this blog up and running properly.

But just to record my progress: at £50 a week for the past two weeks I have managed to only spend £35 week one, $42 week two and I have already bought all the basics for week 3 (meat, pasta, veg, diapers, wipes, TP, etc.) If I keep this up by the end of January - month 1 in our conquest I will have saved £35. If I do it - we will not spend it on frivolities or a 'splurge'. It will go into savings to be used in case of an emergency.

So far - so good! And I still don't even feel like I know what I'm doing.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The 2012 Frugal Challenge Begins!

And so we begin. My husband, Eddie, is paid on the 15th of each month. This makes things harder, I feel. We MUST be frugal or we'll run out of money by the 10th and have to eat pasta night and day if I don't get this right.

After bugging Eddie for the budget - what I can spend after ALL the bills: Carol's afterschool activities (ballet, swimming and afterschool fun club), Al's nanny, the rent, household bills (water, electric, TV/internet, heat, TV license, council tax), money to pay the credit card down and the other little incidentals (Oyster cards, etc.) it doesn't leave a lot of money for anything else. We've budgeted

£50 a week for groceries is what I'm going to try and do. This must include all meat, milk, diapers, wipes, snacks, eggs, cereal, bread, etc. for four people a week. We have been spending around $90 a week since we moved here. That means all sweets, fancy coffee, crisps, giant cuts of high choice meats (farewell rack of lamb and big steaks) and all the little things I have been splurging on have got to go.

I'm seriously impressed with a few bloggers. Look at what A Want Not A Need found! Astounding! All that for seriously reduced prices.   Also, Frugal Wife in Fife did a nice round up of the rising costs of Value products. I've seen some other bargain hunters and I'm absolutely determined to find roasts marked down from £10 to £2. I won't rest until I do.

How I plan to achieve this until I am savvy enough to 'wing' it, is planning. My meal plans don't always include meat and if they do - they include less expensive cuts with more inventive cooking. Since my month runs from the 15th instead of the 1st. I'm gearing up for my first plan. Wish me luck.

I would seriously love to hear how people manage to find bargains here. I belong to all the saving clubs at the different stores. I gather all the vouchers from Sainsburies and Tesco as well. Not sure what to do with all my points/savings yet. I have so much to learn I feel completely overwhelmed. Any help or thoughts is VERY appreciated.

Stay tuned for my struggles and successes (or failures).