Monthly Archives: September 2016

Do’s and Don’t’s for Thrifty Travellers

This weekend we undertook our first non Google-based, actual research and went to The Glamping Show in Coventry. I know, who knew there was such a thing?! It was great, we looked at real life things that you glamp in, like shepherds huts, eco pods and plastic igloos. Obviously it wouldn’t have been much of a glamping show if there weren’t about 500 different kinds of yurt/bell/tipi/safari/nomad tents. Not forgetting every type of composting loo under the sun. Glamorous. We even did the grown-up thing and went to actual seminars, rather than just cruise round for all the free things, have an overpriced hotdog, then leave. Mr. B listened to a talk on planning permissions and processes (snore) while mine was basically ‘Glamping for Dummies’. I really enjoyed it, probably due to the fact that it was 50 minutes of child-free time and I was allowed to sit down.

Does what it says on the tin.

Does what it says on the tin.

This all took place in Coventry, which is not very local. It took us three hours of nighttime motorway driving, a personal best, with one loo stop. Mr. B’s family is scattered to the four corners of the lower half of the UK so we have undertaken many a long car journey over the years, and previously regarded ourselves as rather proficient at long distance over-indulgence. Let me explain; as a family we look forward to these treks as they are the one time we cram ourselves with fast food, chocolate and anything else which will rot our teeth in a suitably short period of time. This sort of fuel has been even more necessary since becoming parents, as sugar goes some way to counter sleep deprivation. Now however, we have encountered a problem. Buying overpriced sugary foodstuffs from service stations is not going to save us money! Eating at McDonalds falls under the forbidden ‘meals out’ category! Shock horror! How are we going to stay awake on the motorway now???

The Scouts have the answer ‘Be Prepared!’ Having realised that a lot of parenting is just dishing out snacks from a nappy bag, I decided that this is what we would have to adopt for long car journeys. Hot drinks are also our weakness when travelling, which is OK for Mr. B as good coffee is readily available on the go. I, however, can’t survive without tea for an extended period of time, but am constantly disappointed by the standard of take away brews from service stations. The solution? Take it all from home!

I have compiled a handy list of Dos and Don’ts for anybody wishing to travel long distances with (or without) kids on the cheap.

Do: Make a cake or biscuits to take with you in the car. Unhealthy sugary snacks – tick, cheaper than service stations – tick. Obvs you don’t have to eat it all, or you could make something healthier (who am I kidding!). Don’t: Make the one cake that you just can’t seem to get right no matter how many times you try. Don’t only remember this when you take the burnt and raw result out of the oven, and don’t run out of ingredients and time to make something else.
Do: Be organised and pack in good time, allowing for potential cake related emergencies. Don’t: Wait until the last hour before leaving to try and pack, while your mental, over tired and over excited children execute a two pronged attack to trip you up and unpack everything as you flounder on the floor.
Do: Take a thermos of boiling water and appropriate tea/coffee making ingredients to make said beverages in the car parks of service stations. Don’t: Attract odd looks from other occupants of car parks as you make your drinks out of the boot of the car in the dark, and try to fish out scalding tea bags with your fingers. Also, don’t spill boiling water over your thighs. The looks just get odder as you do the accompanying ‘arrrggghhh that’s HOT’ dance.
Do: Resist the temptations of service stations by stopping in the attached petrol station. Run into the loos, not making eye contact with the chocolate which calls to you like sirens to Odysseus, luring you to your doom of unnecessary expenditure. Don’t: Forget to go the petrol station. Walking to the loos while fighting a sudden craving for McDonalds and regretting leaving your money in the car (good intentions) so you can’t cave even if you wanted to, is VERY annoying.
Do: Remember to pack all foodstuffs on the return journey. Especially the jam and cheese which are the only things the three year old eats for lunch. Don’t: Forget the jam and cheese. This leads to buying the most expensive jam and cheese in the land because it’s too late for normal shops to be open, and the three year old needs a packed lunch for pre-school the next morning.
Do: Fill up with petrol. Don’t: Think you can drive 68 miles home when you have only 75 miles until the tank runs dry. That, Mr. B, is stupidity, not frugality.

There you have it. We had enough provisions to survive any length of M25 tailback. Luckily the kids slept all the way otherwise we would have eaten the lot within the first hour. Just remember, the return journey is always when your willpower is at its’ weakest. Be Prepared for any travel hunger pains you can foresee and money will be saved!

Camping with kids is in tents.

Camping with kids is in tents.

 

What’s The Blogging Point?

I’ve written this post as a reminder to myself more than anything else. Basically, you know when you walk into a room and totally forget what on earth you are there for? Yeah like that.

So, why am I blogging? The reasons are threefold:

  1. I have always wanted to write. Simple as that really. Apart from some rather cringy fan-fiction at 17, I have never got around to it. So what made me finally bite the bullet? The idea for a blog came about at the same time as our decision to shake things up, and subsequently got caught up with the same mentality that started us down this path of saving money and reaching our goal: Just do it. Get on with it for goodness sake or I’ll always be day dreaming about it rather than flipping doing it. If I applied the same thinking to the washing pile or to the inch of dust covering every surface, I would have an immaculate house!
  1. Accountability. We realised early on in our ‘journey’ (urgh hate that word but can’t think of a better one) that we needed to publicise what we are doing and aiming for. If we kept it to ourselves then it would be way too easy to slide back into normal habits. If no one knows you have failed, does it count as failing? Deep. We need all the help we can get. If people know what we are up to then the thought of questions like, ‘hey I thought you guys were going to move to the woods and live like hippies and use acorns as money? How come you still haven’t done it?’, is not a nice one. Essentially, you are helping us to get where we want to be, whether you want to or not! Its also good to have a record of our endeavour (that’s a better word). Then we can look back and say, smugly, ‘look how far we have come!’, as our future selves sip frugally sourced blackberry wine from the sanctuary of our country idyl.
  1. Finally, it is to counter the effects of two doses of baby brain. I have felt my brain cells dying as I try to string a coherent sentence together, about something other than night feeds and dirty nappies. Baby induced exhaustion and brain power do not coexist happily. Writing this on and off, as I have been doing for the last month or so, has been extraordinarily beneficial for my poor burnt out neurons.
How most of the posts are written....

How most of the posts are written….

Those were the reasons for entering the blogosphere in the first place. However, to be perfectly honest the number one reason for carrying on is that I have come to enjoy it. That should be sufficient enough reason to do anything, surely (actually, I don’t think that’s strictly true. For instance an enjoyment of arson…).

And why ‘Blackberry Mummy’? I hear you ask (a total of one person has actually asked me that). Well, I was faffing around, procrastinating about not having a name or a title for the blog and Mr. B. got fed up. He said, in an exasperated tone, ‘just call it mummy blackberry or something’. We had been blackberrying that afternoon and I was covered in blackberry juice that the youngest had oozed all over me, so I thought, yeah that fits. Obviously I couldn’t let him have the last word though, so I swapped it around.

It’s lucky we had been out blackberrying, or I would have ended up with something like ‘Snot/Baked Beans/This Mornings’ Weetabix Mummy’, which is what I’m normally covered with.

Frugality Does Weird Things To You

I think I have super (market) issues. I went into Sainsbury’s yesterday for the first time in a long time. It felt like I was visiting an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I was even a bit offended that they had put in new self service tills without telling me. I was after a few essential bits and pieces that Asda doesn’t do, like mushroom ketchup and own brand toothbrushes. This is one thing that really bugs me about Asda. Unfortunately I can’t deny that they are significantly cheaper than Sainsbury’s (about £20 a shop), and their stuff is alrightish quality wise, but there are some things that I know I can get cheaper at Sainsbury’s. Toothbrushes, sugar and tins of butter beans to name a few. To top it all off, Asda is on the other side of town and the traffic renders it almost inaccessible for most of the day. Sainsbury’s is just around the corner. grrr.

Hang on a sec, what’s that? Mushroom ketchup doesn’t sound like a necessity? Oh come on, anyone who is anyone surely knows that it is the most essential ingredient for cottage pie! Other people must get in a stew (see what I did there?!) about the price of a tin of butter beans as well. No? Just me then. #firstworldproblems.

Yes, yes, I know I am lucky to have a choice of places to shop. And who gets worked up about supermarkets anyway?!? *deep breath* I am just venting. I have just got in from an Asda shop and it always gets my blood pressure up. Especially as I now have to go and get the three year old from pre-school and I don’t have time to drink my tea. That makes me sad.

Another weird thing that frugality has done to me is that I now have an acute longing for a chest freezer. Yes I do. Just think of all the money I’d save by cooking meals in bulk then freezing. All the blackberries I could have frozen if only I hadn’t sensibly limited the amount we picked to the amount of available space in my dull, ordinary freezer. *sigh* one can only dream.

Well I have successfully procrastinated for long enough to be able to drink my tea, hooray! Now I will have to push the buggy up the hill at a dead run to get to pre-school on time. Ah well. You win some, you lose some.

A Bedtime Story

I stare down through the gloom at the sleeping figures on the bed, two small and one looming larger. So peaceful looking, half moon eyelashes dark against pale cheeks. They look so little, I think, so innocent and vulnerable. My babies. My eyes fill up, I blink quickly. The largest one stirs. He snorts, grunts, rolls over and starts snoring. These elephantine noises bring me back to reality. I’m so tired, time to sleep.

…..Hang on. This is my bed I’m sitting on. Once again there are three people in it (one of which is a snoring elephant). If I shoved the three year old over, I could just about get some mattress space. Okay, now that leaves me about six inches on the pillow for my head. Hows that? Nope, if I relax I’ll be off. And I have a nose full of scraggly hair. Too tickly. Oh hang it all, I’m off. I poke the elephant in the ribs, it twitches and half opens its eyes. Don’t roll on the baby, I say.

Hello small single bed with a mountain of teddies at one end. I get in, kicking the heavier teddies off. I sleep. For 45 minutes. The three year old staggers in “Mummy!” she sobs, “that’s my bed!”.

……

No idea why we bothered to buy a three bedroomed house. Should downsize to a one bed and stash the cash that’s left, after buying one massive bed. Then at the very least I might get some sleep. zzzz
The End

We Survived Austerity Month!

Well, we did it. And it wasn’t half bad. Learnt a whole heap of things and saved more than we have in a long time. I know you must be dying (probably an exaggeration) to know how it went so here you go.

We saved 25% of our total income. Hurrah! That means that not only have we ended the month in the black, but we have paid in to our savings account for the first time in ages. Great!

Now if you remember, I said we were aiming for as close to 50% saved as we could get. Obviously there is room for improvement here, but we are okay with that. There are a couple of very obvious places where we spent money that was unforeseen and, at the time, necessary. Additionally there was the purchasing of a domain name where somebody didn’t read the Ts&Cs closely enough……….

Yeah didn’t think that one through.

Anyway, moving swiftly on. We also went on holiday at the end of August. Anyone could guess that’s not the best thing to do in a designated Austerity Month. Ordinarily this would have been fine but it was a week in a self catered cottage and Mr. B. has a massive (…..) family. There were 17 of us and we had to supply an evening meal on the day we arrived. Obviously this had an impact on the food shop. We managed to do a pretty decent job of it, while keeping AM (bored of typing it out..) in mind. There was food. 17 people ate it. 17 people are still around today….success! I won’t bore you with what was on the menu, but let’s just say it included homemade meringues and homemade blackberry (naturally) coulis, using self-picked (is that a thing??) blackberries. Very yummy and inexpensive.

holiday

Pretty awesome holiday view.

All in all I don’t think we did too badly on our first Austerity Month. First? Are you going to put yourselves through it all again? (awkward pause…) Errr, yes. Actually we have decided to keep this up. It has worked so well this last month, and we can clearly see the improvements we could make, that we are going to alternate AMs with ‘normal’ months. This won’t mean that every other month we can splurge our cash, quite the contrary. We are going to operate on a ‘budget’ of £0* each and every month from now on, but in AMs we shall make a concerted effort to save a certain % of that month’s salary. Non AMs will also involve saving but in a less targeted way. Clear as mud? Well, we’ll see how it goes.

Things are looking up….We have taken the first very small (very, very, very minuscule) step towards our dream. And it feels good to have made a tiny (very, very…alright we get it…) contribution. Long term goals are hard.

*I know, I know, this doesn’t make any sense. Essentially, we are not going to spend money unless we have to. Every pound spent above £0 takes us further away from our goal. I couldn’t think of another word other than budget though.

Anybody care to share their tips on how to save money? We need all the help we can get!

How to Make Exfoliating Soap At Home

I thought I’d share my foolproof recipe for making your own exfoliating soap. Its very kid friendly so one to do with the whole family….

  1. Have kids
  2. Give them a sand pit
  3. Find nice new bar soap you didn’t know you had in a draw
  4. Place nice new soap in nice clean bathroom
  5. Call kids in to wash their hands
  6. Marvel that they did what you asked
  7. Realise with a sudden panic that they’ve been in there for ages
  8. Find sink full of bubbles with what’s left of the bar soap at the bottom
  9. Clear the bathroom of sand, bubbles and kids
  10. Realise nice new soap has shrunk by 50% and is embedded with sand

Ta da! Fully functioning exfoliating soap in ten easy steps. It just shows you don’t need to shell out for expensive skincare products. It doesn’t include micro beads so its even eco-friendly. Afterwards you may notice that the floor (all floors) has also taken on exfoliating qualities….. Every cloud and all that!

My Nemesis

My Nemesis

Hopes, Dreams and Crunching Numbers

Now to divulge a bit about what our actual plan is, and what we decided to work towards in that fateful caffeine fuelled car journey. If you have been following the story so far you will know that we are a family of four on a single income, currently experimenting with Austerity Month; a month of extreme saving whereby we try to save as much money as possible by spending as little money as possible. Simples. Having decided to follow our dreams instead of just talking about them, we needed to formulate a plan. Or more specifically, an end goal and some idea of how on earth we were going to get there (otherwise called a plan of action….).

End Goal

In the weeks following our stay in Devon, we ruminated and cogitated and generally had a good old think about where we would like to be in the future. The plan was to change our lifestyle to solve all the problems we currently perceive in our day to day existence. Namely, Mr. B’s two-hour plus commute and him missing out on family time due to long working hours. His ideal is to be able to eat supper at home with all of us everyday and do his share of the school runs in the future. For me, my ultimate dream state is being at home but earning money at the same time. Easy. pfft. I know my time at home is limited, since once the youngest starts school, or even pre-school, my usefulness at home has come to its natural conclusion. My plan has always been to find a job once that happened, but since I seem to have a lazy streak and am definitely a home bird by nature, I don’t really want to. I will go back to work as I miss the money and it makes sense, but I have attached several conditions, such as; needs to be term time only and I must be able to do school drop off and pick up. So you see I have made it super easy to find something when the time comes…..I refuse to go into teaching, though.

Great, so it sounds like you plan to skive work for as long as possible? Yes! Although fortunately, I am not an idiot so I will work when the time comes. However, if I can find something that allows me to be at home while still earning an income – perfect! Which brings me back to the point. Our dream is to be running our own business on our own land. For example, we would have some land on which would be our house, two or three (or more, we are flexible!) holiday cottages, land for a glamping site and outbuildings for a cafe/farm shop/workshops/studios. Basically, we want to move into the tourist industry and live on site. This would eliminate any commute and achieve both mine and MRs ideal working conditions; making money at home.  We are both outdoorsy and like being hands on, so the rural locations we’ve been looking at and nature of the work really appeals. This ‘End Goal’ would see us realising the whimsical farm-B&B type daydreams to which we keep returning at various points in our lives. That is primarily why we have chosen this sort of business to start. I know there are other ways of making money from home but, for us, this will bring about the change of lifestyle we hanker after.

2016-06-26 11.12.04

Lets run away to the woods

I do feel like I need to make the point that we are not doing this for the money. We are aware that it is not going to make us millions and is likely to be hard graft, especially at the start. For us it’s all about the lifestyle change and readdressing the balance. Me earning (shock horror) and him being at home. We are also aware that in the short term Mr. B is probably going to need to continue to work in London. Hopefully, he will be able to work from home or only commute for three days a week until we are more established. Whatever, it’s all in the plan.      

How On Earth We Are Going To Get There? (aka The Plan of Action)

Here we come to the crux of the matter. After the come down from the caffeine high and initial excitement surrounding the Nike-inspired epiphany (‘Just Do It’ in case you’re wondering what I’m going on about), we were brought back to reality with a bump. What’s stopping us doing it now? Hello Rightmove, let’s get on with it and go new house/business shopping! Oh right, I remember…..new stuff costs money. Ah. Mr. B did some number crunching and we saw the reality of what we didn’t have minus the cost of what we wanted, equaled the fact that we need more money.

Ok, let’s get more money then. Easy. I’ll just go back to work (yes I know I said I didn’t want to, but I also said I’m not an idiot, remember?). Mr. B crunches more numbers. No. Not financially viable when any income I may make would have to pay for childcare. Right. Let’s sell things! Well, as much as decluttering and putting things on gumtree or Facebook sites is good for the overall state of our home, we are unlikely to make the tens of thousands we need. Got it, we’ll win the Lottery!!!….Well alright, we’ll call that Plan B. Hang on. Mr. B has a good salary, we don’t live extravagantly, only have one car, the kids don’t cost much food wise yet, where is all the money? Ah yes Ok, this is probably a better place to start. Cue Mr. B crunching the hell out of all the numbers.

We cancelled all the random Direct Debits that were lurking in the background. Things like subscriptions to the Museum Association (me. All part of the Dream Job quest while I was doing my MA) and Playstation payments allowing Mr. B. to play FIFA online with Paedophile Pete and Stalker Steve (not their real names (hopefully), my own allocations for the people who are also online!). We made the decision to stop using the Credit Card even though we always paid it off each month, we realised it was lulling us into spending more than necessary since actually paying the money was delayed. Sneaky thing. Finally, we averaged all our weekly shops to get an idea of how much money we eat a month and I did a drastic re think of how I do our weekly food shop. I had thought I did pretty well at food shopping, but once I looked at it I actually managed to save us about £15 a week without skimping on the things we regularly get. I won’t go into to that now, although I’m sure I’ll bore you with it at some point in the future.  Having recently switched energy suppliers that was one job we didn’t need to do (although we will be reviewing it again soon, it’s on the list.).

Essentially in the three months between April and August, we streamlined our finances and cut out anything we deemed unnecessary. Pretty good. Should have done it months ago, it’s so obvious. We realised we could actually start saving again despite only having one income – Fantastic! Then we discovered Frugalwoods. MR had been sending me random links to various articles and sites all related to saving and our grand plan. He had found this blog post about how they were trying to save 70% of their income that month. I read it, so did he, you should too. We both thought ‘well why not?’. Our situations are quite different so we sat down and pulverised those poor numbers again to see how it would work for us. We found that after paying all the necessary monies to ensure we don’t get kicked out of our house, still have electricity, can still wash (pffft who needs showers? That’s not normal? Oh. Moving on then…..) and get our bins collected, we had about 50% left each month. Well, what is there to lose? Surely any saving is better than none and we will learn a lot about what we are capable of by trying. Since we still needed to eat I radicalised the food shop and (reluctantly) decided to go to ASDA as opposed to Sainsburys for the month, nominally to see if it was worth the (major) sacrifice. We reckoned on trying to save as close to 50% as we could, topping any deficit up by finally selling a few things from the ‘should put on gumtree when we have time’ pile. Barring top ups of milk, bread and petrol (that is NOT a recipe) we planned not to spend any extra money. Thus Austerity Month was born.
Now I’m off to bed as that is FREE and I am TIRED.