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Back To Basics & Making My Own Cleaning Products.

This weekend I spent a happy hour checking our finances were in order.  I regularly make sure that I have entered every little purchase to make sure we know exactly where every penny has gone to.  This helps us to save money in the long term as we can see if there are any problem areas that we need to concentrate on.

Unfortunately we are not perfect and one thing I noticed this time, is we are starting to visit the shops more and more often.  Each time is for something I have forgotten to buy on my ‘big’ shop at the beginning of the month.  This wouldn’t be quite so bad if we just bought what I needed, but the supermarkets are clever and we nearly always come out with an extra something that we don’t really need and it uses up more of our food budget.

Recently, I have been working so hard on my allotment (due to being poorly in Autumn) that I have started to take shortcuts when I come home and I have been making ‘easier’ meals and not sticking to my meal plans.  So I know this is at the root of the problem and this has got to stop and it’s back to strictly keeping to a meal plan for us.  Luckily I have just about ‘caught up’ with my winter jobs at my allotment, so hopefully I can get back to normal now.

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Regular visitors to my blog will know that one thing I do regularly to save money, is to make laundry liquid.  On Saturday I ran out of my last batch of liquid, so I made some more.

I prefer to wash our clothes using homemade laundry liquid, as I know what goes into it….I suffer quite badly with excema and I used to find that shop-bought powers and liquids always made my excema worse.  My homemade laundry liquid doesn’t seem to affect me all, which is great and it is really really easy to make.

The laundry liquid only takes 10-15 minutes to make and it lasts for weeks.  It is great for every day washing and the last time I worked it out a few months ago, it cost me approximately £1.75 to make and I managed to get 71 washes out of it.  This works out at a staggering 2.5p per wash….the supermarkets can’t beat that!

The recipe for the liquid is here.

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I use old ‘pop’ bottles to store the liquid in, which I label and keep under my sink.

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This weekend I also made some more dishwasher liquid using ‘soapnuts’:

I know there will be people reading my blog today who use them regularly for washing clothes, but unfortunately I didn’t think they washed our clothes very well even though I followed the instructions to the letter and I did try using them various times before I decided to give up.

So my soap nuts sat unused for ages, but I couldn’t bare to throw them away as I had paid good money for them.

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In January I discovered that you can use soapnuts to make a dishwasher liquid and this is something I have been trialing since January and I have found it works really well.  When my stash of soap nuts finally run out, I will definately buy some more.

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  I find that if I use the liquid in my dishwasher every wash, then grease builds up inside my dishwasher, so I have found that it works best if I use it for two washes and then wash once with a shop-bought dishwasher tablet once and then use the dishwasher liquid twice etc.  This way it still saves me quite a bit of money.

You can find how to make it here.

My Dishwasher Liquid

My Dishwasher Liquid

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Incidentally,  I also topped up the rinse aid compartment in my dishwasher this week.  Again I don’t buy a shop-bought rinse aid, I use white distilled vinegar which is very cheap to buy from your local supermarket and works just as well.

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Another thing I did at the weekend was to make some more ‘multi-purpose vinegar spray’.  I use this to clean down my work surfaces in my kitchen, our table mats, my cooker hob etc.  Again it is really cheap to make and it lasts ages, but more importantly I know what goes into it.

All it is made of is distilled white vinegar (which most supermarkets sell), with a few drops of ‘Tea Tree Oil’ (which I buy from Wilkinsons).

Distilled white vinegar is great as it’s cheap to buy and cuts through grease and dirt and is antibacterial too, so it kills most germs.  It does smell when you first spray it, but the smell doesn’t linger and no one will know you have used it.  White vinegar is milder than malt vinegar and dries odourless.

I mix the vinegar with a few drops of Tea Tree Oil which has anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties too.

This makes a fantastic natural multi-purpose cleaner and it lasts for ages:

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I use a lot of ‘old fashioned’ cleaning methods as I like the thought of not using chemicals and saving money at the same time.  I wrote about all the ‘old fashioned cleaning methods’ I could think of here if anyone is interested.

I find that I feel rather smug now when I see people with expensive chemical cleaners and washing powders in their trollies, knowing that I wash and clean for a faction of what they are paying.

My cleaning cupboard consists of only a few things that clean eveything in my house…and that’s the way I like it..

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

Struggling To Make Ends Meet?

(*** Don’t forget I will be back on Monday 11th November 2013. ***)

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On Wednesday the BBC reported:

“The number of people relying on food banks to survive has tripled over the last year, according to new figures.  The Trussell Trust, which runs 400 food banks across the UK, said it handed out supplies to more than 350,000 people between April and September this year”.

“The Trussell Trust said the problem was so severe that some people using food banks have started to hand back items that need cooking, as they cannot afford to use the energy.  It also forecast that rising energy prices this winter are likely to see more people choosing between heating and eating.”

“However the government has taken issue with the report and says – The Trussell Trust itself says it is opening three new food banks every week, so it’s not surprising more people are using them,- said a government spokesperson”.

You can read the whole article here.

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On Wednesday, Radio Leicester also asked me to give my views on the situation.  There were lots of people calling in and texting.  Quite a few people were saying that they think food banks were being used when they didn’t need to be, so that people can continue to drink, smoke, have Sky TV, holidays etc. instead of buying the food they needed.  I really don’t know if this is true or not, but I should imagine that there are always going to be some people that take advantage of a situation.

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The whole discussion made me think back to a 2012 survey where the ‘Save The Children’ charity estimated that there were 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK and predicted a steep rise in the numbers in years to come.

At the time the figures surprised me and I looked further into this and found that when my children were younger, we were actually classed as ‘living in poverty’ with the household income that we had.   Looking back I would never have classed ourselves as living in poverty and our children never went without food or clothes.

We chose for me to stay at home to look after our children, but we never realised this put us under the so called ‘poverty line’.

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So what did we do when we were struggling to make ends meet?

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When we decided that things had to change, we were lucky as we didn’t have debts to clear.  We desperately wanted another child and we knew we couldn’t afford this and carry on the way we were living, so we made changes.

We looked at the luxuries that we had (rather than the necessities) and decided if we could possibly cut back on them or give them up completely.  In those days there wasn’t mobile phones, laptops etc, so we chose to give up our car, as this saved us the most money.  I can’t say it was easy at first, but we managed it, thanks to shopping deliveries from Iceland and Somerfield (things would have been different now, as you can get deliveries from most of the major supermarkets).

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Over the years that followed, I made changes to how I shopped, prepared food, cleaned etc. and began to meal plan. I went from a ‘packet mix queen’ to cooking from scratch.  I took on my first allotment and began to grow our own fruit and vegetables and as you know, I now have four allotments.

All the above things developed over time.  Unfortunately, the common sense things that ‘grandma’ knew just weren’t passed down to my generation, as the 80’s and 90’s were affluent times. It took me a long time to work out how to cook things from scratch, with no one to tell me what to do, but I did it and I’m proud of myself.

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We are lucky to have the internet these days and that is why I am so passionate about writing my blog.  I want people to know that cooking from scratch and growing your own vegetables IS easy when you have someone to show you, which is why I try and include as many photographs in my recipes and when I write about what to do in the kitchen garden each month.

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There are still things that I want to explore to save more money and I am always looking for new ideas.  This is never a chore now, as I find it such a challenge.

What I have learnt along the way will stay with me for a lifetime, as I now enjoy our lifestyle.  I have found that simple living  is a ‘lifestyle change’ rather than a way to cut back ‘when the chips are down’ and I actually love living this way.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I am going to take a break from blogging for three weeks, as my daughters are off school next week and I want to spend some time sorting my house again, after the builders have finished.

So I will be back on Monday 11th November 2013.

 

  

CanTeenagers Budget With Their Own Money?

Well it’s official, I now have two teenage girls in the house.

If you have time, have a look at this clip from the ‘Harry Enfield’ series, called Kevin becomes a teenager:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLuEY6jN6gY

I love this clip as he picks up so many traits of a teenager.

As parents, there is no ‘book of rules’ or ‘good parenting guides for teenagers’ and we muddle through as best as we can.

Life is hard for a teenager, they are at that stage where their hormones are on fire, so their emotions tend to be out of proportion.  They also have to contend with higher expectations from school and from society and the world in general.  There are so many issues that are around today, that weren’t around when I was a child, e.g. drugs, date rape, on-line grooming, cyber bullying etc.  As a parent it makes you want to tell your child that they must never go out again, but we can’t do that.

As a parent, I feel the best I can do, is to make sure my children are aware of all these things, without scaring them.  At least then they will have the knowledge to avoid these situations or at least know where to get help.

Everyday life can have many pitfalls too.  If they manage to get a job, they need to be able to budget their money.  It’s easy when they live at home with their parents, but when they leave home they will have bills to pay.

Over the last two or three decades, credit cards and loans have become a way of life for many.  Purchases are made on the ‘never, never’, just so houses looks trendy and beautiful, with two or three cars sitting outside.  Also, holidays are taken when people need one, rather than when they can afford one and unfortunately our children are learning that keeping up with the ‘Jones’, is the way to live.

The only problem with this way of life, is it usually catches up with people.  In February this year, the  PwC’s Precious Plastic report predicted that UK consumers will owe around £7,500 each by 2013 and this doesn’t include mortgages.

So one thing I feel I can do for my teenagers, is to teach them how to budget and talk to them about the tricks that advertisers and shops use, to pretend people are getting a bargain or a ‘must have essential item’.

So last month, we sat both my daughters down and discussed our plan with them.  We had decided to give them an ‘allowance’ once a month.  We had previously worked out exactly how much the allowance was going to be, by firstly making a list of exactly what their money was to be used for and how much we usually budget for them.  This is our list:

Clothes / underwear / P.J’s

Shoes

Haircuts / Hair Accessories / Make up / Jewelry

Presents for friends at birthday / Xmas 

School uniforms

School trips

School expenses / Stationary

Sweets.

We will still buy the basic items e.g. shampoo, conditioner etc. but if they want more expensive brands they will have to buy it themselves.  Also, I will supply them with a packed lunch every day, but if they want a school dinner as a treat, then they need to pay for it themselves.

This all may sound a little harsh to you, but we have worked out exactly how much we spend on average for the above list of things and we have actually given them a bit more money on top.

At first my daughters eyes nearly popped out when I showed them how much money we were giving them each month, but when we sat and talked through how much we spend monthly on each area, we did start to get a few moans and the usual teenage “that’s not fair” from them.

We have helped each daughter to set up a spreadsheet that contains a budget for each item and explained to them how to go about saving for things like school uniform, shoes and hair.

Before they get their each months new allowance, we tell them we need to see their spreadsheet, to make sure they are spending wisely and it is working well.  We want to ensure that they are not overspending.  We feel this will teach them how to budget well and how to save up to buy items they need.

We have just given them their second months allowance and we have already noticed that they have stopped asking for money from the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’.  However, one hard lesson we have had to swallow is their priorities are not the same as ours.  My eldest daughter loves ‘designer’ things and the first thing she did was buy some ‘Vans’ (the designer plimsoles that I so hate), but she did learn from it, as she had to cut down on everything else she wanted for the rest of the month.  So even though we hated to see her spend money on these, she has learnt a valuable lesson.

I hope my daughters will learn alot from handling their own money and I hope we don’t have too many problems.  It’s early days at the moment, but we will give it a good go and I will let you know how we get on.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

Budgeting Can Save You Money

Every month, without fail, I work out our money to make sure that we are budgeting correctly.

Some people think that budgeting means that they are going to have to stop spending money on all the good things they do in life.

In fact it can be the opposite, as it quite often can increase the money you have to spend on the good things in life, as it stops you from wasting money on the things you don’t need.

For example, if you buy a £2.50 takeaway coffee, on your way to work each morning, this adds up to approximately £587 per year!  I’m sure this money could be well spent on something better than cups of coffee.  You could quite easily get up a little bit earlier and have a cup of coffee before you leave the house, or even when you first get to work?

Looking at where your money goes to each month is a good way to stop you from overspending.

If you do overspend each month, then you can find yourself very quickly spiralling into debt and paying more and more interest every month on credit cards, bank loans, store cards etc.

There is no right or wrong way to budget and it’s important to find a way that suits you, but this is how we do it:

At the very beginning, when I first started to budget, I listed down all our outgoings.

Here is a list of the things we budget for monthly:

Mortgage

Council tax

Water rates

Gas and electricity

Buildings and contents insurance

TV licence

Food, toiletries, cleaning products, prescription charges

Mobile phone charges

Car expenses (incl petrol, breakdown service, MOT, services etc.)

School transport costs

Allotment expenses

Dental charges

Hair cuts

Clothes and shoes (incl. school uniforms)

Girl’s karate expenses

Christmas and birthday presents

Holidays

Spending money (for odds and sods, outings, etc.)

Absolutely everything above is budgeted for.

When I first made a list of outgoings, I hadn’t a clue what we spent on some of these things.  For some things, I needed to look back at old bank or credit card statements and other things I had to check old receipts if I still had them.   For example, I needed to look back at my last three months’ worth of food shopping receipts, so I could work out our average monthly spend.

I was lucky as I could work most of our expenditure out, but If you haven’t kept your receipts or statements, then it is a good idea to write down a list of every little thing you spend your money on for a whole month, so you know exactly where your money goes to.

This really is an eye opener and sometimes, even when you have been budgeting for years, it’s a worthwhile exercise to do again.

Afterwards, my husband and I looked at each of the things we spend money on and set a budget for them.  Some things we knew exactly how much we pay for each month e.g. gas and electricity and other things were harder to work out e.g. christmas and birthday presents.

We then looked at our monthly income and took it away from our monthly budget, we found out exactly why we were overspending every month, as our income was far less than the amount we were actually spending.

At this time, I had just had my eldest daughter and I didn’t want to go back to work, so things really had to change.  We sat down and scrutinised each and every category to see if the budget for that area could be reduced further.  It’s amazing what you can do if you try hard enough.

We switched gas and electricity suppliers, cancelled magazine subscriptions, re-looked at our food purchases, stopped having takeaways etc. and eventually managed to bring our outgoings down.

One of the areas we did struggle on, was reducing our spending on christmas and birthday presents.  Strangely enough, we did find it easy to spend less on each other and even the kids, but we have two large families and a large circle of friends and we did find it hard to reduce the amount of money we spent on presents for other people.

We did try and explain to people that we just couldn’t spend the same amount on people anymore and most people were fine about this and understood, but not all did, which hurt at the time.  Since then I’ve realised the opinion of the people concerned, really didn’t matter anyway.

I’m not saying it was easy at the beginning, as it wasn’t.  In fact, it is hard to cut back on your spending when you are used to buying whatever you want to, whenever you want, but in time your attitude towards money does change.  It can actually become a challenge each time you need to buy something and to spend less on it than you are expecting to pay.

Since we first made a budget, we have always kept a close eye on it and we have made changes along the way.  For instance, shortly after my first daughter was born, we worked out that we couldn’t afford another baby on the budget we had, so we needed to find something quite substantial to cut back on.  We decided our car was not a necessity, but a luxury, so we sold it!  It was hard to adjust at first, but after a while it didn’t seem so bad and I went on to have another beautiful baby girl.

Today, my daughters are nearly 15 and 13 years old, so budgeting is a normal way of life for us now.  We have our ups and downs with money still, but we are certainly more prepared for emergencies now than we were before we budgeted years ago.

I will be writing about our birthday and christmas money saving, in the future.  For the moment, you can read about ways to reduce your food shopping bills here and ways to reduce holiday spending here.

You really can still enjoy life on a small budget, you just need to look at things from a different perspective.  You don’t have to be the same as everyone else and keep up with the ‘Jones’, in fact it can be more fun to actually do things differently.

Finally, if you are struggling with debt in the UK, please do not contact a debt specialist that charges to help you to solve your debt problems.  There is a wonderful free website with all the information you need to know when you are in debt.  It gives details of people that will give you advice, free of charge.  It is called ‘The Money Saving Expert’ and you can find it here.

Thank you for reading my blog today.