It’s not often I venture into Poundland. Not because of any snobbish reason, purely because it’s located at the bottom of town and a little bit of a trek to get there. But as my sister wanted to pick up bags of crisps on our shopping day, I had a wander in the notorious store.
I was impressed that there were so many branded products for the cost of a one pound coin. To be honest, I didn’t realise the extent of the stock Poundland now has. I was pleased to come away with Pampers baby wipes, Wrigley’s gum and Colgate toothpaste. These were all cheaper in this store compared to the supermarkets. It may have a stigma as being, well, cheap and nasty, but I found that to not be the case at all. My sister tells me they change their stock depending on supply, so I shall have to visit another time and see what bargains I can snare.
In less than a fortnight’s time, this very backpack will be accompanying me to various foreign lands. I am spending three weeks Interrailing with the chap, and it’s thrilling!
The backpack is my new best friend, but it’s not exactly the largest of companions. I need to be minimal in order to lighten my load. It is very revealing how little you actually require when you need to pack it all up in a single backpack. Aside from the obvious clothing and toiletries, here are some things I cannot live without.
My notebooks: Notebooks are not light, they are positively cumbersome. But to go off travelling without a journal of some kind is unthinkable. I have kept diaries and journals for many years, they are therapeutic to me. Plus, I can pretend to be a cultured travel writer when I’m noting down my adventures.
Miniature hair straightners: I don’t wear a lot of make-up, I’ve never worn foundation. I don’t buy expensive, labelled clothing, except items I can get cheap at CK. I don’t spend large amount of money on personal grooming. But my vanity is associated with my hair. I like using decent products, but I only purchase them when they’re on offer. Herbal Essences and Pantene are two of my favourite brands. I have additional serums and sprays that I douse my locks with. I have a lot of time for my hair, often enjoying the ritual of washing, drying and straightening. If I returned from my trip with hundreds of photos featuring a frizzy-haired mess, I’m not sure I would want to display them. We all have superficial pride in something, for me, it’s my hair.
Cross stitch kit: Cross stitching has been my main hobby since 2004. It is mostly a pointless activity, as many of the projects I complete end up languishing in a drawer. But I’ve got a couple decorating my walls and I’ve donated a few as gifts. Although I have little room in my backpack, there will always be space for cross stitching. For me, it’s a relaxing way to pass the time, ideal for long train journeys.
Even though we are away for three weeks, we don’t need much to get by. We have the basics to have a comfortable journey. And I’m travelling with the most important person in my life. This is a dream of mine that is slowly shifting into reality. What more could I need?
The fact that this is my first blog post for this entire week is an appalling statistic. There wasn’t much to report on the domestic front, and even less in the storytelling sphere. Apologies.
I’ve also been preoccupied with a visit from my mother. Despite our clashing past, I actually get on quite well with my mum, now that we live apart. I was brilliant to prepare a feast at lunch time for her, help carry shopping bags as we wandered around town and talk over wine and pizza at ASK in the evening. It was wonderful that she was able to stay overnight too. I waved her off cheerfully on Saturday morning, but our discussion topics have sown seeds in my mind. My mother scattered the acorns, but they are hastily erupting into enormous questions.
What do I want to do with my life?
I know I want to write children’s books. But does that mean I live in a shack, living off nothing and writing the days away? Or do I strive to get a high-paying publishing job, working my fingers to the bone until I get my big break? At this moment, I have no idea what option I would prefer. It seems too easy to divide life choices in this way. Penniless – but happy. Rich, yet miserable. Can I find the elusive in between point?
Chase your dreams, follow them, reach, climb. All of the associated phrases involved some kind of activity. Maybe staying put is not the best option for the career I have in mind, but I am desperate to put down some roots. It’s getting closer to the time where I have to weigh up all of the individual consequences, but they are all so heavy. Right now, it’s so easy to ignore the responsibility that will attack before I can build up defences.
But ultimately, my decisions affect my life. It’s me that will eventually decide what kind of life I want to lead and how best to go about achieving it. Thinking in that sense is quite empowering. I am in the enviable position of still being able to be anything I want to be. I am a firm believer of hard work reaping rewards. I do believe it’s time to get some work done. Then my future will feel more like a challenging rope ladder, rather than a pressing noose.
Life can make a hash out of the most carefully thought through plans. I have already failed the rationing plan, a mere two weeks into the experiment.
I have gone so far over the allocated sweets ration, it’s laughable. My will power has failed me and I continued to nibble on sweets at work and chocolate offered by housemates. After a particularly tiring shift, I purchased a chocolate bar myself after work. It was only after I clutched an empty wrapper that I remembered my rationing challenge. A convenient slip of the mind perhaps? My sweet tooth knows no limits.
The other rationing staple I have found hard to manage was packaged groceries. This past fortnight has shown me how much I rely on tinned fruit and vegetables, as well as bagged pulses, nuts and grains. Another thing I’ve learnt during this time is that I don’t consume much meat. I do eat meat and I always have. But I didn’t buy the entire allocated meat ration, and I still have portions left in the freezer. It could be argued that if I ate the meat available, I wouldn’t have room for black market chocolate. I don’t think my sweet tooth would see it that way though.
The original purpose of the experiment was to see if I could save money. On one hand, it ensured I had plenty of food in the house to create balanced meals. If I had been able to rigidly stick to the guidelines, I would not have gone hungry. But day to day life made it difficult to stay within those guidelines. And life doesn’t need to be made any more difficult. I think a key reason why I couldn’t stay with rationing solidly is selfish pride. It is snobbish pride that refuses to allow myself to serve up rationing inspired meals to anyone else but myself. If the chap came for a visit, it was an excuse for a meal outside restrictions.
For myself, I’ll cheerfully enjoy budget meals, but I cannot bring myself to inflict my personal frugality on others. Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe, if I’m not careful, I soon won’t have a choice about being frugal. It will be necessary for survival. I think this fortnight has taught me valuable lessons on living on less.
To conclude, I think following a ration based diet is good if you naturally eat in a “meat and two veg” style regardless. But for me, I think there might be a cheaper way to do things, a notion I will be putting into practice in the future.
Out of all the items I bought during my big shop at the start of the month, I have been most impressed with the versatility of a bag of Basics frozen mixed vegetables. I paid 75p for a 1kg bag of diced carrot, peas, cauliflower and broccoli. I’ve had some mixed with brown rice and drizzled with a little sesame oil and chilli sauce to create a yummy cold packed lunch. I’ve had some boiled in stock with a diced potato to make a very filling soup.
It’s been a wonderful side dish, steamed in the microwave and then tossed with a little butter.
But my best recipe was combining a large portion of veg with a can of Basics red kidney beans, a carton of Basics chopped tomatoes, a diced sweet potato and some Cajun spice. This veggie chilli was a very cheap dish, but it made a lot. It’s colourful and healthy, and above all, yummy! I shall be making this dish again. And I will be buying Basics frozen mixed veg again. No need to yet though, I’ve still got half a bag in the freezer. I wonder what I can make with that . . .
Sometimes niceties fall into one’s lap, a delightful surprise from out of the blue. Other times, bombs detonate right in front of you, and there is nothing you can do about it.
One pleasant event for me recently was gaining extra hours at work. The more money I can earn the better. But my good fortune was the aftermath of a colleague suffering with a family grievance. I’m sure we can all relate to this kind of sadness.
It can be hard to stay strong when the seas get rough, just as it can be hard to truly appreciate the calm waters. I think by celebrating every day, the two balance out. Sometimes, I grumble about having to go to work. And then I stop. I rephrase my mindset and the day looks a lot better. I am lucky to go out to work. I have a lovely job in a beautiful store where I am treated with kindness and allowed so many privileges. I think by noticing the good in every day, it makes it a little bit easier when the bad explodes into view.
I like to smile at the little things in life. Even though I was tired during my walk home from work, I still stopped to admire the sun rays pouring through the trees. And I enjoyed a mammoth baking session this evening. A huge batch of banana cake batter yielded 6 muffins, 12 cupcakes and a little loaf made with the spare. Bananas are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a wartime ingredient. But when your housemate hands you a bunch of very ripe bananas, throwing them away is the last things on your mind. This will keep my freezer happy for a nice long time.
And I am happy too. I have a job. I have a passion. I have support. I believe this is what they call contentment.
This week has been good and bad for frugality. On one hand, I’ve already used up my entire sweets ration for the month! Deary me, I have a terrible sweet tooth.
But, onto the good. I’ve succeeded in becoming imaginative with my cooking. I’ve made a red lentil loaf using lentils from my stores, donated feta cheese and other ingredients I already had. I’ve been rather inventive with pork mince, making a Bolognese, pork burgers and a lovely cottage pie using my charity shop pot and adding some bacon. The chap approved of this one!
Red lentil loaf
Pork burgers with sweet potato mash, mixed vegetables, grilled onions and gravy.
Pork mince cottage pie with carrots and onions, topped with potato, Red Leicester cheese and a little parmesan (using up what I’ve got!)
I went for a lovely meal out with two friends. Eating out is not always best when saving pennies, but I had a curry dish with rice and poppadoms, a glass of wine, an apple, pear and raspberry crumble with custard and a pint of lemonade – for under £10! It was money well spent for a truly enjoyable evening.
My pudding at the restaurant – what a treat!
I also used my Amazon gift card to get money off a gift for Father’s Day, as well as two books for me. I love using Amazon’s Marketplace, you can find such good deals. I got these two titles for £6, including p&p. And they will both aide future frugal adventures!