2012 seeds

This year’s seed order arrived on Saturday – one packet of Black Forest climbing courgette seeds from Thompson and Morgan. Which cost just short of a fiver including postage. So is that expensive or cheap? It’s certainly a lot of money for six seeds, but, all being well, one plant will supply me with all the courgettes I can eat (and more) in the summer and autumn. In my experience the seeds remain viable for several years, so that’s two or three years worth of all-the-courgettes-I-want. And lastly, I didn’t need anything else from T&M and I resisted the temptation to add things to my basket because I was paying the postage anyway…

Which adds up a to a sensible budgeting decision in my book! I could have waited for a free postage offer, but the Black Forest variety is becoming very popular and last year I couldn’t get any seed at all, so I snapped them up as soon as I saw them in the catalogue.

My seed sowing plans for the year are pretty modest compared to many of my friends, but I’ve already made a start! I have basil growing indoors from seed given to me by a local friend and, inspired by Veg Plotting and Esculent et cetera via Twitter, I’ve also set some alfalfa seeds to sprout. The weather is so mild the sprouts should do OK even in my erratically heated and generally cool house, though I do sometimes wonder whether I should rinse them in tepid water rather than straight from the tap. It must give them a nasty shock being chilled twice a day.

Apart from more batches of alfalfa and maybe some indoor garlic chives and rocket, I probably won’t sow anything else for at least two if not three months. As I grow everything out of doors I tend to sow later rather than earlier – late sown seed soon catches up and is less likely to be set back by changeable weather. In addition to the courgettes I’ll be growing runner beans (the remains of last year’s seeds), salad stuff (old and saved seed), parsley (saved seed) and, if I can find space for them, some King Richard leeks. If I grow tomatoes I’ll just buy a couple of plants if I’m not given any, but I’m a bit tired of tomato failures, so I might give them a miss this year and ensure a fabulous growing season for everyone else.


Laptop 1958 style

From The Countryman magazine Winter 1958. The equivalent cost today would be £522.22 according to this calculator, which would buy a PC laptop package more than adequate for most people’s needs.

I suspect that far fewer people would have aspired to a portable typewriter as a Christmas gift in 1958 than will be hoping for a new laptop under the tree in 2011. Not only would the cost have been out of most people’s reach, but it’s not quite as interesting as a computer is it?

Energy usage

I’m still reading my gas and electricity meters every four weeks. Given the very mild weather we’ve had in November I wasn’t surprised that yesterday’s readings were considerably lower than the same period last year. The electricity could have been lower still, but I must confess that I’ve slackened my vigilance a bit on that front lately. Oven-baked spuds are so much nicer than microwaved, aren’t they?

Unless December is very cold (or I am very wasteful) my total usage for this year should be well down on 2010 and 2009. I don’t think I’ve saved a bean in cash, but my bills aren’t increasing despite price rises, so that’s a gain of sorts.

November 2011
Electricity: 173.50 Gas: 23.24 (weather unusually mild)
November 2010
Electricity: 199.50 Gas: 60.90 (weather extremely cold)
November 2009
Electricity: 204.40 Gas: 48.41 (first year of monitoring)

Gas: central heating and hot water
Electricity: everything else

Still reading the meters regularly

It was meter reading day on Saturday and thanks to the recent warm weather my usage for the past four weeks was only marginally up on the previous four. And way down on the same period last year. Which is good news. The electricity increase is expected as I need lights on more as the days shorten. Gas increase is due to a bit of carelessness with hot water I suspect, as I haven’t had the heating on at all.

Even with recent gas and electricity price increases I think I might just manage to save a little money on that expense over the whole year. Naturally that doesn’t begin to compensate for the rocketing cost of food and other essentials, but it’s still nice to make a small gain on something. It doesn’t take too much effort – mostly just remembering to turn appliances off when not in use and wearing more clothes rather than turning the heating on.

Other than that I’ve rather lost the plot lately when it comes to budgeting – too much stress on various fronts leaving me without time or energy to shop wisely. But things are improving slowly and I must get back to meal-planning, batch cooking and seeking out bargains instead of grabbing what’s quickest and easiest.

Budgeting challenge ends

I could have held out until Friday before doing a “big shop” for groceries, but it would have been quite stressful and I didn’t have to do it (thank goodness!). So I went to Sainsbury’s this morning to restock the fridge and freezer – I feel a lot less anxious when the fridge is full. It’s been an interesting exercise – even though I was only artificially short of money it made me feel anxious and it gave me an idea of how dull life must be when you have literally no money at all to spare for those little purchases that make life pleasurable. It’s true that lots of lovely things is life are free, but it’s pretty restricting if you can only do things that are free and within walking distance of home. Going for a walk on the beach doesn’t have to involve buying ice-cream, but not being able to have a choc-ice is quite a different matter to choosing not to have one.

Apparently it’s a good thing I got my Ocado £20 off £40 spend voucher order in early as they withdrew the offer before some applicants could take advantage of it. I expect many people, like me, applied for the voucher opportunistically, glad to be able save a bit on their shopping bills, but with no intention of becoming a regular online shopper or succumbing to the allure of overspending. On that basis the offer was a bit of a failure as a marketing ploy from Ocado’s point of view, especially with the subsequent bad publicity about the abrupt termination of the offer. My order arrived half an hour early today, with everything I ordered present and correct, so I can’t fault the service I got. But I do think it’s a bit off that they didn’t honour all the vouchers. Hopefully they have learned a lesson about viral marketing!

I’ve set myself a new budget for July – I think my main challenge will be resolutely ignoring any special offers that come up to tempt me to add to my store-cupboard. I have plenty of non-perishables in store, so I really don’t need to bust the budget by adding to them during the next month. Perhaps I should make eating a bit less my main challenge for the month – I’ve been talking about losing half a stone since this time last year…

Budgeting dilemma

If I really only had £4.80 left to last until the end of June I couldn’t have taken advantage of the Ocado £20 off £40 spend voucher that MSE waved under my nose on Wednesday. I did think hard about whether I should stick strictly to my challenge, then decided that it was too good an offer to turn down.

Even taking into account the delivery charge and Ocado’s slightly higher prices, I saved around 40% on my basket of store-cupboard items. I’ve restocked with my favourite brand of tinned tomatoes (which were on special offer before applying the voucher code, so a double saving there!) and have enough washing up liquid and bathroom cleaner to last a year as well as various other non-perishable goods.

The delivery will be on Tuesday lunchtime, but it doesn’t contain anything that I will actually use this month, so technically I’m still within budget for June. I spent £3.09 yesterday on veggies and milk from the Co-Op – some items were marked down, so overall it was fairly good value for money. Lidl might have been cheaper, but would have required a special journey. So I have £1.71 left, which should be enough to last until next Friday – one pint of milk and some broccoli or cabbage.

I suspect that I’ll “give in” and do a proper shop before the end of the month, mainly because running the freezer stores right down is unwise if I have a bad patch health-wise. It’s very important for me in terms of managing my health to ensure that I always have plenty of quick and easy healthy food available for times when I don’t have the energy to cook. Luckily I can make that choice – heaven help those who can’t…

Down to £4.80 now

Over the last few days I have depleted my tenner to less than a fiver – I bought bird food, a couple of cards and paid a library fee. The cards weren’t strictly necessary, but one will be used immediately for a friend’s birthday and the other will remind me of a pleasant afternoon out. I suppose the bird food wasn’t really necessary either, but they are used to being fed and I don’t see why they should go short because of my personal challenge. It’s not as if I actually only had £10 to the end of the month, that’s just the figure I set bearing in mind my commitments. The library fee was incurred before I thought of the challenge, but I won’t be requesting any more books until the end of the month or I have finished reading all the books I have out already, whichever comes later.

The real challenge for me is feeding myself until the end of the month with only a small top up of veg and a pint of milk, and going without any incidental purchases such as charity shop bargains, the occasional newspaper or paid parking. On the food front I’m having actually cook and eat some of those theoretical cheap meals that I have the ingredients for, but tend to ignore in favour of quicker (and meatier) alternatives. I made lentil dal for lunch yesterday, with enough left over for two or three more portions. Cold dal makes a nice toast/sandwich spread, thinned a bit it becomes soup, and if you mix with some yoghurt it’s good as a dip. Plenty of variety from one cooking session.

It’s one thing choosing to challenge yourself to a limited budget for a limited period of time, but it must be grim to literally only have a few quid in your purse until your next wage, pension or benefit payment is made. And to know that whatever you receive will only cover absolute essentials and nothing more. I pretty much know I won’t actually get to the end of the month without succumbing to the lure of the supermarket and even if I do, I know I can fully replenish my food stores and go back to buying the occasional book, plant or other “luxury” when the challenge is over. It’s only a temporary, chosen deprivation for me at the moment, but for many people on a low income the relentless grind of making a little stretch a long way must be a challenge they could do without.

In case you are remotely interested, I find brushing my teeth with bicarbonate of soda or salt is effective, but very unpleasant! Still, I have a little toothpaste left and using occasionally it has become quite a treat in between the salty brushings.