Saturday, 23 November 2013

Make do and munch

A recent change in circumstances has prompted me to look afresh at our weekly budgets - and particularly the amount of money we spend on food.

I've always considered myself to be pretty shopping savvy; I follow all the usual tips of making a list, not going to the supermarket when I'm ravenous and shopping around for the best offers.  That said, I've still felt recently that our weekly outgoings are gradually creeping up and - despite having a menu plan for the week - I am ashamed to admit that we are guilty of wasting food by failing to use it while fresh.

How could I reverse these discouraging trends? I decided to combine some advice from one of my favourite financial websites MoneySavingExpert, along with the ethos of a blog I've recently discovered by Elaine Colliar, Mortgage Free in Three.

Over the weekend, I now discipline myself to withdraw a stated amount of hard cash that I feel should cover our family's food supplies for the week.  By the time I get to Thursday (when, let's face it, we're all tired and feel we deserve a treat), I am resisting the temptation to trundle off to M&S for a 'Dine in for Two' special. Instead, I am trying to make do with what's already in my fridge and store cupboard.

Sounds a bit bleak and boring? The more I do it the easier it gets. Honest! And I have to confess to a certain degree of self-satisfaction when I resist the lure of the M&S special or takeaway option and stick to my own resources.  They say necessity is the mother of invention and the upside to my new regime is that I'm becoming a little more creative in the kitchen.   Last weekend when all the 'usual' breakfast options had been depleted - and it wasn't quite time for my weekly cash withdrawal - I discovered after a quick internet trawl and a rummage through the cupboards that I had the ingredients to make Nigella's American style pancakes instead.

Come to think of it, I could get used to these new family 'traditions'.  Every cloud and all that...

Emergency breakfast pancakes: A more than palatable standby

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Thursday, 14 November 2013

Celebrations, catch ups and cash flows

I've had a few blog free days as it's been busier than, well, average over the past week. The main event was hubby's 40th birthday, the celebrations for which have been spread out over more than one day (surprise surprise).  In among all the fun and frolics, I was determined to make his birthday cake myself but knew that I needed something fool proof, yet impressive, to fit my average cake making skills.  The resultant choice was Nigella's chocolate Guinness cake, which a neighbour had let me (and hubby) sample several weeks ago.  It seemed like quite a manly selection (!) and hubby, who does not like "overly chocolatey" cake (what's not to like?) had made positive noises about his sample slice. The result, pictured below, was a resounding success and I was quietly chuffed with my wee self (and it's not often that happens to me in the kitchen department).

Chocolate Guinness Cake: Manly and more-ish

Tonight some of hubby's friends are coming to our place for pizza and beer, while on Friday it's my turn to have the girls over.  As so frequently happens, we're doing more socialising within a fortnight than we've done for the past four months - everything seems to come together, particularly since both of our birthdays fall within the same month (right after the family double whammy of Halloween and Guy Fawkes' night).  While we both absolutely love entertaining, there's no denying that it comes at a cost and in the run-up to YOU KNOW WHAT, we do need to be careful with our pennies.  For this reason, I was delighted to come across this 31 Days of Simple Hospitality series on one of my favourite blogs, The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking.

For those who love spending time with friends and family but are held back by cost concerns or other hosting insecurities this blog is definitely worth a read.

Time to start planning that next get together?

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Thursday, 7 November 2013

How to make your home office work for you: Three golden rules

I've recently been working mostly from home - and I also did so for around eight years when my children were very young. Thanks to all the lovely technology that we now have at our fingertips, many people find it feasible to handle at least part - and sometimes all - of their job from home.  It's not for everyone, however, and over the years I've discovered that the following principles of home office management are essential to making the arrangement work for me. None of it's rocket science - and my self-devised rules might not suit your circumstances - but I hope there is something in here that might just be of help...

1. Keep your workspace tidy. (I told you it wasn't rocket science!) Even if it is "your mess" and you're a natural hoarder, chances are that you'll be more productive if you can add a semblance of order to the chaos.  Personally, if I let my filing trays get beyond a certain point, just looking at them makes me feel defeated before I even start work. Hardly a productive beginning to the day...

2. Make your workspace your own.  This may sound obvious but in many cases (including my own), the home office is also a spare room, which means that it may double up as a guest bedroom, family gym, children's playroom, general dumping ground etc.  I'm not suggesting that you never invite anyone to stay or deprive your children of their play space; the reality of the situation is that most of us don't have endless extra rooms for all the activities our family members enjoy.  What I am suggesting is that you make your area of the room - desk, work station, craft bench, whatever - your own. Organise it to meet your needs - personalise it with your favourite photos or trinkets if that gets your creative juices flowing or keep it purely functional if that's the way you work best.  Enjoy beavering away to music? Invest in a portable radio or docking station. Once you've arranged things to suit, keep them that way. Which brings me to my next point...

3. Agree access arrangements. If home working is to work for you, then you need to actually put in the hours. For most of us, that means you have to be left in peace to get on with it.  Yes, it's lovely to know that you can share your tea break with your nearest and dearest but it's also best to let them know when you're in the midst of a big project and can't be interrupted. Set the ground rules from the outset and you'll avoid tears and resentment later on.

Happy home working!

Related posts: Would self employment suit you?

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Monday, 4 November 2013

Driving down the cost of the weekly shop - Lidl by Lidl

Yesterday the weather was just, well, pants so I had no other choice but to knuckle down and get some of the boring stuff out of the way - like the supermarket shop.

Many people I know do their grocery shop online as a means to save money and avoid impulse buys.  I've done so myself in the past but never seem to get my "big shop" quite right.  Now that I'm working from home again and have a little more flexibility in my schedule, I've been getting back out there, trying to spot the best offers and giving my fruit and bread a good old sniff and a squeeze (that latter part sounds a little like a Julia Donaldson story book, n'est-ce pas?).

I'm fortunate in that the thriving market town where we live not only has great independent shops but also a choice of larger stores.  Recently, I've been turning increasingly to Lidl and it's amazing how many other mums I've been bumping into there! Unsurprisingly, we're all looking for ways to cut our weekly outgoings and Lidl seems to gain universal praise for its fruit and veg and - erm - Prosecco.

It used to be the case that I could only get certain items from Lidl, then off I'd trot to supermarkets two and three to get the other elusive bits and pieces.  While this still happens to some extent, I think Lidl is continuing to up its game...

Today, our nine year old has a friend coming for tea post gymnastics.  They're bound to be a) very hungry and b) expecting something fun to eat.  (Even though it's Monday night, the unwritten rules of having friends for tea mean that I'm not allowed to trot out boring old leftovers.)  Pizza tends to be a general crowd pleaser and I always feel a little better about it if there is some kind of home made aspect to the whole production.  How happy was I then to find in Lidl both some new 'ready to roll and bake' pizza dough packs for the freezer, along with some cute little mozzarella balls? It may not have Nigella et al quaking in their boots but I think the nine year olds will be more than happy....

Home made pizza: The ultimate small people pleaser

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Brrrrrrr! Bring on the bargain base layer....

Cold. Dark. Wet. Miserable.  A not unjust description of the weather in the north-east of Scotland today. The other word that folk round here tend to use is "dreich". Even if you don't normally speak Doric, it really does sum up this type of day perfectly.   I felt a pang for all the organisers of bonfire nights and fireworks displays, though judging by the online buzz many of the local events still went off with a (fully supervised and therefore safe) bang!

I always feel as though it was an accident of birth that I was born in this part of the world as, although I love our scenery, I'm reaaaallllly not a happy bunny in the cold (just ask my long suffering husband). As such, from October to March, the layers come out in force.

This autumn, I was tipped off by one of my money savvy friends that Costco was selling base layers for children (top and matching leggings) for a bargain fiver.  Naturally, I hot footed it there to pick up a couple of sets for my own two.  Scrutinising the packaging for size guides, I then realised that the XL girls' set would most likely fit me. (Yup, I'm a shortie.)  What's more, it was half the price of the ladies' small set on the next shelf.

Today was the perfect day to dig out my purchase. So, it may be purple with pink polka dots rather than demure grey but a) it's designed to be worn underneath other clothes and b) purple is one of my fave colours!

For all those petite ladies out there suffering from poor circulation, plummeting temperatures and a limited clothing budget, it's definitely worth a try....

Keep warm!

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Friday, 1 November 2013

Celebrating Friday with fresh air (and chocolate cake)

Even when you're a part-time homeworker (as I am at present), you definitely still get that Friday feeling!

In our little corner of the world, it was one of those fantastic crisp, clear autumn days. After quickly shifting a couple of jobs on the laptop, I decided to bunk off from work and go out for a run. I didn't go very far - or very fast - but both mind and body felt better afterwards.  I have a lovely group of local ladies that I sometimes go running with in the evenings but this was a spur-of-the-moment outing. It was nice just to choose my own pace, listen to some great tunes and enjoy both the scenery and the weather.  I've recently treated myself to funky little lilac iPod Shuffle and I have to say I'm not missing the chafing associated with the whole armband/bulky mobile phone debacle that I used to sport...

Knuckled down to some more work and chores in the afternoon (does anyone else find that they  are actually more productive after some physical exertion?). In a rare fit of organisation yesterday, I had pre-prepared some chowder for dinner tonight, so the afternoon was mine for the taking.  With most of the to-do list ticked (another rarity), I was even able to surprise both the children and my husband with a chocolate cake for pudding.  This quickie recipe, which was flagged up on Mumsnet as being failsafe, is one that even average bakers like me can manage.  A few of my foodie chums are not too keen on microwave usage at the best of times.  If you fall into this camp, look away now.  Everyone else: go fetch!

Chocolate cake in a matter of minutes: What's not to love?

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