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Homemade Christmas Gifts…

This week I have been busy again.  I started the week by making another batch of laundry liquid.  It still amazes me how much I save by making my own liquid and it only takes about fifteen minutes to make approximately three months worth (and I wash a full load every day).

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I also made some more dishwasher liquid too, using soap nuts:

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And I topped up my homemade multipurpose kitchen spray too, using white vinegar and a few drops of teatree oil.  The vinegar cuts easily through grease and dirt and the teatree oil turns it into an antibacterial spray.

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All of the above things help me to save money around the home and I don’t use any nasty chemicals either.

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In the garden:

I also managed to buy another bag of woodchip to complete my the paths in the new area in my kitchen garden:

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I then brought a couple of bags of soil conditioner to spread over two of my beds (I will buy some for the other beds another day):

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I have left the soil conditioner on the top of the soil so the worms can do the hard work for me over winter.  I have also covered the two beds with weed suppressant to prevent weeds from growing and to also prevent the winter rain from leaching the nutrients out of the soil:

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I am already looking forward to growing crops in this area next Spring.

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Preparations For Christmas:

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Well Christmas is nearly here and this week I have been turning my attention to Christmas presents.

On Saturday I talked to BBC Radio Leicester about Christmas presents on a budget:

You can listen to the interview here if anyone is interested.  The interview starts 11 mins into the show.

I love chatting to Radio Leicester and they always make me feel very welcome.  I hope this comes across in the interview.

One of the things I talked about was homemade presents.  I love homemade presents as I always say they are “from the heart and not just the bank account”.  I took in three homemade presents to show (and taste) and explained that they are far cheaper to make than buy and by making them yourself you can have far nicer presents for far less money:

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The present on the right looks like a Christmas pudding and my daughter made these for all her friends and teachers last year and kindly made this one for me to take to the radio show.  It is a chocolate orange with maltesers stuck on with melted chocolate and she melted white chocolate over the top (to look like cream) and she put a little bit of plastic holly on the top.  She wrapped it in cellophane and it looked fantastic.

The box in the middle had homemade truffles in.  I love homemade truffles as they are so easy to make and look and taste really good:

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I also took in a present of which contained cubes of chocolate with cranberries and sultana’s and this is how I made it:

First I melted a bar of my favourite chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water stirring all the time…

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When the chocolate had melted I added some cranberries and sultana’s and mixed them until they were fully coated in the chocolate (you can use anything you enjoy e.g. smarties, maltesers etc)…

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I then poured the mixture into a tin / container that was lined with clingfilm (you can use silicone bakeware too if you have it)….

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I then left the chocolate mixture to set (don’t put it in the fridge).

When it was set I took it out of the mould and removed the clingfilm….

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I drizzle some melted white chocolate over the top and again left it to set…

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When it was set I chopped the chocolate into cubes and wrapped it in cellophane….

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Top chefs will tell you that the chocolate should be ‘tempered’ to keep the shine on the chocolate, but if you slowly melt the chocolate and keep it away from the fridge whilst setting, I don’t think you need to for this.

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This week, as Christmas is near I turned my attention to my Christmas hampers.  I started by covering my homemade jars of jams and chutneys with a pretty pieces of tissue paper, tied with a bow:

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And then I wrapped a few surprises (including my homemade wine) to also go into my hampers too and then I started to put them altogether:

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I am very pleased with the result, though I do still have two hampers to do.

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I also made three mini Christmas cakes this week and a full sized cake too.  The Christmas cake recipe I use is very easy and can be eaten straight away, without having to continually ‘top it up’ with brandy.  The recipe is here.

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I like to give the mini Christamas cakes to our parents, as they are just the right size for them to enjoy.

I decorated the mini cakes and wrapped them in cellophane and I think they look great and I would be very pleased to receive one….so lets hope they like them:

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Just incase you are wondering, I brought my roll of cellophane approximately three years ago on-line and I still have loads left.

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  I checked this week and you can buy a 100 meter roll of clear cellophane for about £12 (incl. delivery).

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Before I finish today I wanted to show you a lovely couple of chocolate logs that my daughter made last week for her friends at school…..apparently they all enjoyed it.   The recipe is here.

Each chocolate log costs approximately £1.50 to make and tastes delicious……to buy a supermarket ‘finest’ chocolate log it costs £3 and I bet it wouldn’t be as nice!

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I also want to show you some wonderful cakes that one of my daughters friends made to take into school too this week:

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I think the cakes look wonderful and it just shows what you can do with a little bit of imagination!

“Homemade really is from the heart and not just the bank account”

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Thank you for reading my blog today.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a great week!

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£300 Saved And 19 Sleeps Until Santa

Yes, I’m sorry to bring this news to you (just in case you didn’t know it already), but there are only nineteen sleeps until Santa visits.

As always I plan ahead as this saves money and avoids a last minute panic. I do my Christmas shopping throughout the year, picking up bargains etc in the sales, so I can get more for my money.  This does take some planning as obviously we needed the money in the first place to be able to buy the presents.  So in the ‘Thrift’ household we actually save for birthdays and Christmas presents each and every month throughout the year, so I can buy something that will be just perfect for someone, when I see it.

I carry a list in my handbag of exactly who I need to buy presents for and an exact budget for each present.  This way I never duplicate presents or go over budget.

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One of the final things I have bought, came in the post this week and I thought I would show you as I am really pleased with what I have received:

I found an offer for a calender from an on-line company called ‘Photoworld’. I down-loaded some of my allotment photographs and they produced a calender with them on.  I managed to get three calenders for £13.74, which I think is a bargain!

I must say though, I didn’t think they would be up to much as they were so cheap, but they were brilliant.  I even managed to get my ‘Notjustgreenfingers’ logo on the front.  A few years ago we made calenders by printing off our photographs and I’m sure they cost us more money to make after buying the photopaper and ink etc.

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Family Traditions

One of our family traditions is to put the Christmas tree up on the 1st December.  Unfortunately due to building work, our Christmas tree isn’t up yet and I have two teenage daughters complaining about this daily.

  Our builders are coming back shortly to install our old gas fire from the old back room, into our front room.  We only bought the fire and fire surround approximately four years ago, so we wanted to reuse it as the fire we have in the front room was installed in 1975!

As the builders need to knock a larger hole into the chimney breast, we think it would be daft to put the tree up now as it would get covered in dust.  So we will all have to wait a little bit longer here.

Our tree last year

Our tree last year

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Another tradition we usually do on the 1st December (which I’m pleased to say we have done this year), is to hang our Advent calender up.

When I grew up, we had just one calendar that we used year after year.  It didn’t have chocolates, it just had a different ‘window’ that you opened each day, but my sisters and I loved that calender.  On the 15th December it had a large ‘barrel’ that opened and revealed Santa telling us it was only ten days until Christmas and every Christmas we would argue about who would open this door…I can’t imagine children would even bother with an advent calender without chocolates these days!

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When my first daughter was born, one my sisters made an Advent calendar as a present for us.  She stitched little pockets on it so we could pop a sweet into it each day for the children.  It really is beautiful and still looks as good as new today.

At first we would put a chocolate in each pocket, which they opened each day leading up to Christmas, but as they became a little older, we put a piece of paper in each pocket instead.  The paper had a really easy ‘clue’ written on it, which helped them to find where I had hidden the chocolates each day.  The children had such fun finding them, in fact when they had their friends to play, they too would join in with the clues.  I would buy chocolate coins and put them in a ‘Treasure Chest’ for them to find.

As my daughters got older, the clues got harder to reflect their age and now instead, I put a brainteaser in each pocket that they have to solve before they can have a chocolate.  I now also use dairy free chocolates for my youngest daughter.

My teenagers still love our advent calender.

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This Week In The Thrift Household:

I wanted to tell you about something I made this week that I am very proud of.  Last month, we searched high and low for some curtains to fit our french doors in our new kitchen.  Unfortunately, we discovered you can’t buy ready made curtains quite that large.

We visited various shops and found that the curtain material was very expensive, but we did find it wasn’t too much more money to have the shops make the curtains up for you.  We looked at lots of different materials at different shops and found that with lining, they would be approximately £300!….this amazed me…do people really pay this amount for curtains?

I decided to visit the market for material and make the curtains myself, but after working out how much material I needed, ensuring I had enough for the pattern repeats, lining and header tape,  it still would have worked out approximately £200 to make!

So I hit the charity shops in desperation.  I spent the morning looking at old, faded curtains which just wouldn’t do for my new kitchen and I was beginning to feel like we had no choice but to save up for the material off the market……until I went into the last charity shop I could think of and found this….

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Six meters of unused gold material, lining and header tape for just £10…I thought I was seeing things.  I knew this wasn’t enough material to make the curtains, but I remembered I still had my cream curtains from my old backroom window which are still perfect (even though they are 11 years old) and I decided I could maybe do something with both the gold material and the old cream curtains.

As an extra bonus when I went to pay, the lady in the shop came out with another four meters of the gold material from the back of the shop.  Obviously someone was going to make curtains and then changed their mind. So I got ten meters of brand new gold material (in two pieces), lining material and header tape all for £16…now I think that is a real bargain!

When I matched my old cream curtains with the new gold material I was really pleased to see that the patterns on both are very similar as they are both quite regal:

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I have worked out that I have enough material for the curtains, cushion covers, roman blind for the window over my sink and I think I have enough for a table cloth as well.

What a lucky find it was!

I looked at two toned curtain images on the internet, just to make sure my idea would look ok and then I sent my old curtains to the drycleaners (courtesy of Tesco vouchers) .  I then nervously set to work.

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I am lucky as I have an old sewing machine which I use from time to time.  I learnt a small amount about sewing a school, but mostly I make things up as I go a long.

I scutinised my old cream curtains to see how they were made (as they were good quality when I bought them) and made sure I worked in the same way….and here is the result.

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Let me know what you think?  I’m really pleased as they match my kitchen and I’ve saved us nearly £300….Mr Thrift is very pleased with this.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

How To Beat Christmas Financial Stress

At the end of last week, the weather turned rather chilly and my coat came out again after a long, warm summer.  My daughters started to complain it was cold without the central heating on (while sitting at home wearing only T-shirts) and I noticed that the nights are drawing in.

Autumn is really here and I know this, as it’s my birthday today and Mr Thrift and I usually spend a couple of hours walking in the park.  Unfortunately today, it’s been wet and miserable so we didn’t go.  There are such beautiful views to be found at this time of year, when the leaves turn a wonderful array of autumn colours and then begin to fall to the ground, we will definately go another day instead, when it is dry.

I didn’t have a cake today due to the building work, but I thought I would remember the cake my girls made for me last year which tasted lovely:

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Unfortunately, at this time of year the shops start to turn their attentions to…dare I say it?….Christmas.

Every high street shop you visit has the beginnings of their Christmas displays, enticing you to spend, spend, spend.  They give the impression that the ‘more you spend, the more you love your family’.

 There are also strategically placed images of smiling friends in big woolly jumpers, exchanging gifts in front of an open fire with glasses of mulled wine in their hands.  It’s lovely to be with friends at Christmas and the image reminds me that I also need to buy them expensive presents?  After all, if I don’t they just won’t socialise with me anymore and they will gossip behind my back.

Is this true?…….NO!  This is just what the shops want us to believe so they sell more and make a bigger profit, it’s as simple as that.

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It’s not just the shops that put pressure on us to spend more money near to Christmas.  Listening to other people talking about what presents they are buying, where they are going, what they are even cooking on Christmas day, makes you feel like rushing out and buying the same.  It’s very easy to feel inadequate at this time of year as the biggest problem with Christmas is people get caught up in the social expectations of the whole thing.  It is too easy to purchase everything on your credit card and then have a miserable new year when your bill arrives.

A Homemade Christmas Pudding

A Homemade Christmas Pudding

This is why I plan for Christmas throughout the year and when everyone is rushing about feeling stressed, I am enjoying the festivities.

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How I do My Christmas Shopping:

We have a Christmas present budget and we stick to it. We save the money for Christmas presents the year before we need to buy them.  This way, we know exactly what our Christmas budget is, when we plan our present list on the 1st January each year.

I have a list of names that I carry in my handbag, which I update each time I buy a present.  I know exactly how much money I have to spend on each person and who I have or have not already bought for.  This way I can buy presents in the January and summer sales and get more for my money, or buy a special gift that I know will be loved, when I see it.

Some people may think this is excessive and feel that they couldn’t do this, but it works for us.  We have two large families and this year alone, we have 36 family members and close friends to buy for.  A few years ago it was more than this, but we decided to stop buying for children when they reached 18 years old, as it was costing far too much money.  We felt terrible at first telling our friends and relatives this and yes, we did get one or two people that didn’t understand, but I think that said more about them than us.

Homemade Gifts are so special as alot of time and thought have gone into making them.

Homemade Gifts are so special as a lot of time and thought has gone into making them.

If you aren’t as organised as me, you can still write at list and work out a budget, after all, there is still October, November and December to save towards it and next year you could budget from January so you can spread the cost over twelve months.

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I love Christmas as it a great time to ‘catch up’ with friends and spend time together as a family.  It’s about having family traditions that are special, as they only happen once a year.

Our decorations are also special.  Even though they come out year after year, they have so many memories attached to them.  I also love beautiful decorations that have been made, by spending next to nothing using materials from the garden.

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I love to see my family enjoying a Christmas dinner, knowing that everything has been cooked from scratch and all the vegetables have been home grown.

It’s the simple things that make Christmas special to me, not how expensive a present is.

Handmade dishcloths

Handmade dishcloths

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So if you are worrying about the cost of Christmas 2013, please remember the time you spend together with family and friends is far more important than the amount of money you pay for their present.

Presents are used or tossed aside within a few months, but memories of times spent together will last forever.

Homemade Mince Pies

Homemade Mince Pies

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday.

 

Christmas Countdown – 35 ‘Sleeps’ Till Santa

I’m sorry to mention the ‘C’ word, but yes, Christmas is just around the corner.  In fact there is only 35 nights sleep until Santa comes.

At this time of year, people seem to be in a bit of a whirl, as there are so many things to do or buy and places to go.  I firmly believe that if you take time to sit and plan, you not only save money, but you can save time and all the Christmas stress.  Christmas should be a lovely time to enjoy, but too many people spend Christmas worrying about spending money that they just haven’t got.

Over the next month, leading up to Christmas, I will try and write something  regularly, to show you how we celebrate Christmas in this house.  I will write about how I prepare, plan and how we enjoy Christmas on a budget.  I will also cook Christmas recipes, that not only taste nicer than the shop bought versions, but are far less expensive to make and I will write as many useful bits of information and Christmas tips that I can think of, to help you on your way. Today I thought I’d talk about the biggest subject:

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Presents.

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We have a Christmas present budget and we stick to it. We save the money for Christmas presents the year before we need to buy them.  This way, we know exactly what our Christmas budget is, when we plan our present list on the 1st January each year.  I have a list of names that I carry in my handbag.  I know exactly how much I have to spend on people and who I have or have not already bought for.  This way I can buy presents in the January and summer sales and get more for my money, or buy a special gift that I know will be loved, when I see it.

Some people may think this is excessive and feel that they couldn’t do this, but it works for us.  We have two large families and this year alone, we have 35 family members and close friends to buy for.  A few years ago it was more than this, but we decided to stop buying for children when they reached 18 years old, as it was costing far too much money.  We felt terrible at first telling our friends and relatives this and yes, we did get one or two people that didn’t understand, but I think that said more about them than us.

Christmas is especially hard with the pressures that we parents have to face, when other children are having hundreds of pounds spent on them at Christmas. However, before you spend lots of money on your children’s presents, ask yourself why you feel the need to do this?  Is it because it makes you feel like you are a good parent by keeping up with the ‘Jones’, or is it just to see their faces on Christmas day?  I bet you still won’t feel the same when your credit card bill comes in January and they have forgotten the expensive present you bought for them.

Personally, I actually think smaller children just like lots of presents, regardless of the price.  When my children were little, I quite often bought charity shop toys throughout the year for hardly any money and cleaned them up and they looked like new.  Nobody knew, it was our secret and my daughters loved them.

However, teenagers are a different story altogether.  You can’t get away with ‘charity’ or cheap presents with them.  In fact there is so much pressure on these kids to have designer ‘this’ and designer ‘that’, I do feel for them.  I try to teach my teenagers that ‘designer’ is for  people who can’t see past labels, however, this message just isn’t getting through.  They are being brainwashed by their peers and they think that ‘designer’ is best.  Let me give you just one example:

‘Vans’ are approximately £45 to buy.  I’m sorry but in my eyes they are a pair of plimsolls , sometimes in a bright colour or with a pretty pattern on.  However, ‘Vans’ do have something that plimsolls don’t have….they have a little label that sticks out and says the word “Vans” and this is why the teenagers want them. When I look at the label, what it actually reads to me is:

“I am an ordinary pair of plimsolls that fool teenagers and young adults into lining my pocket with money”

So teenagers want to fit in and they have expensive tastes.  You can argue with them until you are blue in the face, or you can compromise, which to me is the easier solution.  Set your budget and tell them that this is all you are spending on them and let them decide what they want.  You may get a few ‘huff’ and ‘puffs’ but that’s fine, as  it will be out the way before Christmas day.

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Consumer Rights

As we make a lot of purchases at Christmas, I thought it would be beneficial to have a look at some of your consumer rights when you purchase products in the UK.  Below is some good advice taken from the Martin Lewis website, which you can find here:

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  • You have more rights when you buy things online or by telephone, due to the Distance Selling Regulations.  This gives you the legal right to return goods back within one week for a full refund EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT FAULTY.   This covers the ‘Buy it now’ option on eBay provided you are buying from an actual trader.  You do usually have to pay for the return of the goods though.  If you have proof that you agreed a delivery date when you purchased your goods and don’t receive it by this date, you have a right to a refund.  If you don’t have proof then they can argue it was delivered in a reasonable time.
  • Goods bought MUST BE of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time.  This is a quote from the Sale of Goods Act 1979.
  • If there isn’t a fault then you have no legal right to return the item, though some shops will allow you to do this, so it’s always worth asking.
  • Receipts aren’t vital to have when you return faulty goods, you simply need to prove the purchase, a bank statement should be fine.

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 Thank you for reading my blog today.