Night Owl: Extravagance at Number Nine

When I first moved to this city, I knew I didn’t want to fall into the eat, sleep, work, repeat rhythm that sucks all of the joy out of life. One of the reasons I am determined to branch out on my own is because it ensures I get to stay geographically close to the people who matter most to me. I went out with my friends on Saturday night, not, as one might expect, to a rowdy nightclub in the centre of town, but instead, to a nearby apartment block, for a dinner party.

Terribly, I did not get one picture of the marvellous spread our hostess laid on for us. She did a wonderful job at catering for my gluten-free needs. There was special bread, houmous, vegetables, roast peppers and sweet potatoes, roast tomatoes, cheeses and plenty more for us all to share. The evening was made complete with flowing wine and this delight:

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Our hostess is a talented chef and this pavlova was to die for. I did have seconds and I don’t even care about admitting that. She had foraged for the blackberries that were grown locally and whipped yoghurt into the topping to give it a tang. A wonderful time was had by all who were present.

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But after having an evening away from rationed food, I did notice more of a bloating sensation than I have been experiencing lately. It was a treat to have a meal with friends, don’t get me wrong, but I am becoming more and more convinced that rationed food is the way forward. I’ve also lost three pounds in the last week and a half. Now, I do have a fairly active job, but still, I think my shift in diet has played a role in that weight loss. I know I will have other blow-out dinners in the future, but for day to day eating, rationing wins for me.

A simple mantra

Cos love is free and life is cheap

As long as I’ve got me a place to sleep,

Clothes on my back and some food to eat

Well I can’t ask for anything more.

The lyrics from this gorgeous Frank Turner song have been buzzing around in my head for the past couple of days. As I get ever closer to the next stage in my life, I like to keep this positive, simple belief in my mind. Everything will be ok. People move home and get new jobs every single day, there is no valid reason why I should be any different. I just keep plugging away at all the tasks that need completing before the end of the month. It makes sense to be productive, and it makes perfect sense to be frugal throughout this transition period. I’m needing to pay out for travel and various fees so that I can apply for jobs and visit potential homes. This means spending in other areas needs to be tightly controlled. Any money that can be saved is a bonus.

I’ve actually earned money this past week by hamster-sitting for my sister. I made £50 and my sister even bought me this darling gift from the Guinness Factory in Dublin. The retro print is perfect!

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It’s the perfect mug for winter time; hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with marshmallows. I don’t know why that sumptuous image is in my head during a time of glorious heat. The weather is beautiful in Winchester today. The sun is high in the sky and a breeze is sweeping through. It makes it a lot easier to type up endless CVs when the weather is so grand. It’s the little things that lift my spirits and remind me what I’m working towards.

A new frugal challenge

Oh boy, I’m excited about this one! It feels great to have a distinct purpose, a tangible goal to work towards. This is much preferable to my previous state of anxiety about the future.

Leaving University will be cutting the final string. My balloon will float away and it terrified me that I had no control over its path. But then I spoke to some friends. And then I cried my heart out to my family. And then I had a little chat with myself. I now have something to aim at, the anchor I’ve been looking for.

I have applied for my dream job. I hesitate to expand on the details, in case it all falls through. But this job would help all other areas in my life slot into place. It would be close to The Chap, which would allow us to spend more time in each other’s company. I could start looking for a suitable apartment to set up home. This is the career that would make me happy, which is what everyone keeps telling me to do.

But, if I do get this job, it will incur unavoidable expenses. Not just big things like rent deposits and furniture, but commuting costs from Winchester before I am able to move closer. Yes, I will be earning, but there will be a void between starting work and my first pay day. The bottom line is simple; I’m going to need money, for this year, and beyond. There is talk of more travelling and a whisper about Asia. For me, this is worth being thrifty for.

So, for the month of May, hopefully my last month in limbo, I will be spending as little as possible. No extras or treats, just the basics for healthy living. I learnt my lesson on my last attempt at a budget lifestyle that cutting fresh fruit and vegetables is not an option. They are essential. But I can purchase cheaper options, such as frozen berries and loose carrots. I want all my meals to be as healthy and as cost efficient as today’s lunch.

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Salad sandwich; two slices of GF bread (reduced bargain!), spread with red pepper houmous (currently on offer for £1), carrots, cucumber and spinach.

            Since the start of the challenge, I have spent only £9.60 on food. I was lucky enough to come back with a few supplies from Glastonbury, so the stocks are good at the moment. You can bet I’ll be stretching every last penny because I’ve got a major incentive for doing so. My future happiness depends on budgeting successfully, and I don’t believe that’s an over exaggeration.

Big mouth

I must admit, recently I’ve fallen out of love with blogging. I felt like I had nothing new to contribute to The Domestic Storyteller. My writing confidence was ebbing away. My ideas for articles seemed insignificant. My poor camera has been on its last legs and my heart wasn’t in posts with no pictures.

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But alas, there is a new dawn on the horizon, a new age approaching with a newcomer. Thanks to the marvellous Mr Argos, I am now the proud owner of this stunning camera. It’s the fanciest electrical item I’ve ever been lucky enough to own. I’m not one for the latest phone or other such gadgets, but not having a fully functional camera was like losing a limb. I would normally take so many photos, both for blog purposes and otherwise. I consider photos to be a real treasure, either kept electronically on a laptop, or printed out in a physical copy. It’s a joy to be able to indulge my passion for photography once more. I hope to show you the products of my new camera, as soon as the cable arrives to connect it with the laptop.

With my trusty sidekick, I feel more secure in posting to my blog. I find myself conjuring ideas about the various topics previously discussed, and some shiny new ones thrown in to boot. I’m entering such a transitional stage in my life that I would really like to record it in order to reminisce in the future. I want to get back into regular posting because ultimately, I’ve still got so much more to say.

And so we keep on writing

I have attended my last formal class at University. In truth, it was a tad disappointing. My lecturer was forced to cover another class, so we were permitted to leave after only half an hour. A shame, but I did spend the next couple of hours chatting with dear friends.

Although classes have finished, my University experience isn’t over yet. I have two assignments to be submitted after the Easter break. This period after Easter will also be filled with lots of social events. Graduation takes place in October, so it will be autumn by the time I close this particular chapter.

But, until then, I have plenty to be getting on with. Now we are on holidays, I can increase the intensity of my job search. I need to have the guarantee of secure employment before I can commit to a new home. I can admit, I’m very much looking forward to living by myself for awhile. As much as I adore my housemates, the thought of having an entire kitchen to myself can only be compared to paradise. I cannot comment on long term plans, as there are too many ifs and buts to contend with. As it stands currently, I’m seeking a suitable job and flat to allow me to remain close to the chap. Yes, moving to the parental home is the most lucrative option, financially. But I know in my heart of hearts that such living arrangements would make me miserable.

So I’m taking the difficult route, but this path isn’t foreign to me. I know I can take all of the knowledge I’ve gathered at University, academic and domestic, and employ it correctly during the next stage. The margins and budget might be smaller, but hopefully, my happiness should be greater. I plan on making the next chapter just as successful as its predecessor.

Frugal Fridays #18 – Online Grocery Shopping

I would deem my recent online shop with Asda to have been a success. I stayed within my budget, I selected a range of good value products and everything arrived without a hitch. After this experience, I would say that a large, online shop at the start of each month is beneficial to those of us living a thrifty lifestyle. I’ve compiled a post featuring my top five reasons for this. I do hope someone out there finds it useful.

Efficiency; You get what you need and only what you need. As long as you can resist clicking onto certain sections, the lure of temptation is far less. It’s a lot easier to ignore the siren song of unnecessary products when there are out of sight, compared to being blindingly apparent throughout conventional supermarkets.

Sticking to a budget; When I did my Asda shop, I was pleased to see a running total as I added each item into my electronic trolley. After I factored in the delivery cost, I had a clear view of my budget and how close I was to reaching it with each purchase. It was also easy to remove any items I no longer required, instead of walking across the store to return them.

Comparing items; I always want to get the best deals possible. By seeing the items on screen, I could judge which ones where the best value. I didn’t have to traipse up and down the aisles, squinting to see the £ per kg labels. For me, it also helps that I could see the ingredients list at a glance, rather than scouring the packet for the information I need.

Time-saving; All of the above points help to save time. Now, I’m normally willing to sacrifice a couple of hours to get a good job done. But by having access to all of the information, alongside a running total, my shop took less time than browsing a supermarket with a calculator in hand.

Also, it would have taken me two trips to my local supermarket to buy the same amount of groceries I did online. I don’t drive and I couldn’t physically carry £30 worth of produce. No time was spent travelling to and from the supermarket.

Variety; Like I mentioned, I don’t drive, so I’m somewhat limited to my choice of supermarkets. There is the big Sainsbury’s and . . . well, that’s it in practical walking distance. I could get a bus to get to Waitrose or Tesco, but by the time I’ve paid for a return bus fare, it’s more than the delivery cost from Asda.

By shopping online, I was able to get a variety of products. I’ve mostly relied on Sainsbury’s for the past two years, so it was pleasant to get some different items. I was delighted to see how reasonable Asda’s vast range of Free From products is. I’ve never had gluten-free cous cous before!

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There are, naturally, downsides to online shopping.

  • At Asda, you have to spend a minimum of £25 plus delivery, which is a considerable outlay.
  • You don’t get to browse reduced stock.
  • You don’t get to choose your own loose fruit or veg, so you are reliant on the integrity of the shopper.
  • Substitutions are offered in place of certain unavailable items. I was lucky this week, receiving 4 pints of milk instead of the 2 I ordered. But I have seen this go the other way.

Overall, I think a substantial top-up shop at the beginning of the month is a good idea. It gives you a chance to fill the cupboards with supplies you can fall back on towards the end of the month. Shopping online every week is out of my price range and my needs. I don’t get through £25 groceries every week. But I can see how this would be a valid option for families.

What do you think of online shopping? Yay, or nay?

Less is more

Blog reading is one of my favourite past times. It’s entertaining to be allowed an insight into previously unknown realms. I follow a variety of blogs, many of which are a fountain of knowledge on a broad range of subjects. I know my cookery skills have developed after picking up hints and tips from different sites. I’ve also been inspired to try new craft projects after seeing the results posted online. But I’ve not had my outlook on life altered by a blog before. It has been an enlightening experience.

I clicked through to Just a Little Less from another blog. A post on minimalist food first caught my attention. But after further delving into a back catalogue of posts, I begun to appreciate the message the writer conveys. I know that I have too much stuff. There are moments where I wish I could pack my essentials into a suitcase and everything surplus would just disappear. It’s not that simple, and living with less does require some effort. At least I could give it a go.

I started with my jewellery collection. Most of it was unworn or basically tat that I had accumulated. I spent about an hour or so sifting through the good, the bad and the ugly. I re-packed my chosen pieces into one, single jewellery box. It was incredible to see the amount of stuff I’d willingly separated myself from. Why had I been hanging on to it all?

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I decided to take a step up for my next de-cluttering endeavour and opened the door to my wardrobe. I don’t think I’m the worst for hoarding clothes, but I am aware I have too many. And yet I only regularly wear a handful of them. I emptied the wardrobe and laid the garments on my bed. I decided only 40 items would be returned to the closet. I will admit, I started with 33 in my mind, inspired by Project 333, but couldn’t quite stick to that. Still, after the clothing cull, I had filled up two generous carrier bags. They, alongside a bag of jewellery and a few other unwanted oddities, are ready for the charity shop.

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I have re-discovered forgotten treasures in my wardrobe. I now get to conjure up new outfit ideas to get the best from my 40 items. I would encourage this method to anyone trying to downsize their own wardrobe.

Thank you, Just a Little Less, for furthering my desire for a simple, minimalist lifestyle.

The art of eating

I’ve been really impressed with the latest series of Food and Drink. It’s the only cookery show extolling the virtues of budget cuisine. And they mean what they say. Not declaring a meal as purse-friendly, and then pulling out crabmeat or sirloin or the like. Too many TV chefs do this, in my opinion. But Food and Drink has been refreshingly different so far this series. For example, guest chef Tom Kerridge served a lamb dish that was accompanied by broccoli stalks. Frugal cookery at its finest.

Later on in Episode 2, Arabella Weir raised an interesting debate about poverty and healthy eating. She made some very matter-of-fact points that I personally agree with. On the other hand, Kerridge came across as out of touch. He said, regardless of budget, we all care about where our food comes from. I’m not making a personal comment when I say that this sounds like the chef has never felt true hunger. If you’re only having one meal of the day, I doubt you give two hoots about where in the world your supper came from. Naturally, we’d all like to make the right choices, but if it’s a decision between dinner on the table or not, there is ultimately one answer. As Arabella argued, what keeps you full for longest at the cheapest price? The sad truth is junk food. But education and knowledge is pivotal, and I think Food and Drink is doing a grand job at providing such information.

One of the best ways, I think, to eat well on a budget is to bulk buy. Thanks to my recent boost of funds, I have ventured down a new path. For the very first time, I’ve completed an online shop. And I must say, it was awfully exciting. ASDA provided some competitive prices where their gluten-free produce was concerned. It was also nice to get some variety after being mostly dependant on Sainsbury’s for these past three years. £30 worth of groceries will be whizzing its way to me on Monday. I shall inform you what I bought and my first experience of online shopping then. It will be wonderful to have the cupboards full once more.

The other side of the world

Much of this week has been dedicated to intensive study. After two weeks in a work placement, I’ve had to pull my focus back to my University work. As I adore my degree course, this has prompted no hardship. But it has made me think.

One of my modules this year is Creative Visions. It looks at utopian and dystopian texts, as well as related issues in our world today. After going through the list of online resources that were made available, my mind was a whir. I’ve been forced to contemplate and reassess my view on many areas of life that were once a norm for me.

Like eating meat. I’ve been eating meat for as long as I have been able to. When I once asked my mother if I could become vegetarian, she refused, on the grounds that such a diet wouldn’t help me grow. I know which animals produce which meat, like we all do. But I’ve never been confronted with the sheer, unadulterated facts before. There were some truly horrendous sources about the meat industry. Some of them I couldn’t stand to watch the whole way through. After gathering knowledge, I am questioning the unsustainable meat industry for the first time. I am but one person, but this person will not be eating meat for the foreseeable future. I will not fund such irrational behaviour.

I already consider myself to be an environmentally friendly consumer, but this research has reinforced those values so much. To only purchase what I need. To cut down on waste. To constantly re-use and recycle. To use ethics as a guide when shopping, not greed.

Treading lightly on the earth has become my ultimate goal. It would be too easy to let anger overcome you, to lash out and rant about the unfairness of it all. But instead, my actions will become my words. I plan to focus on my own actions and strive to do everything I can to, at the very least, slow down the demise of the planet.

Mind blown.

It all started when I was browsing The Body Shop website. The sister had requested more body butter for Christmas and I was weighing up the options. Being a curious devil with time on my hands, I began reading their “About” tab. That led me on a journey of discovery into the realm of Fairtrade and ethical shopping.

As I followed the path, link after link, questions flew up in my mind. Why is this not the default option? Why is it not standard to pay the right cost for a product? Why is it unusual to run schemes to help poverty-stricken nations?

Do you know, I felt guilty. I felt truly guilty for having so much, or at least having access to so much. When you stop and think how your shopping habits can affect people, real people, not numbers or statistics, on the other side of the world, it opens your eyes.

Greed. That’s what forces us to get as much as we can for as little money as possible. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a wardrobe full of clothes, far exceeding the amount I need. Greed drives us towards the bargains, the offers, the deals, regardless of the cost of human life.

Apologies if I am conveying myself too strongly. I am no saint with regards to bargain hunting, indeed, the majority of this very blog is about making the most of money. But after feeding myself this information, I am feeling inclined to change. I do little clothes shopping anyways, but any further purchases I make will be second-hand, from charity shops preferably or eBay. Any garment I can save from landfill will be a step in the green direction.

Just having enough if what I need will help me to lead a more ethical life. We don’t need excess, we just think we do. I have much more to learn and more to engage with surrounding this topic. Food is another minefield of ethical questioning, but more on that in a later post. I hope you will follow my quest towards a sustainable lifestyle.