Friday, 30 July 2010

I made a short, but sweet, list of my top possessions. What are yours?

I have been re-starting my de-cluttering project again recently; our house looks much better these days, but I am sure that there are still some things that we could do without.  As part of this,  and also while thinking about materialism, and home improvements, I have given some thought to what are my top ten possessions.  Not that I'm planning to get rid of everything else, but it seemed worthwhile to think about which, of my possessions, I really want to keep.   Partly, this was a useful reminder of how few of my belongings really matter to me.

Here's what I came up with - see that I didn't even get to ten:
  • My engagement ring.
  • The blue coat I had made last winter.
  • A silver christening spoon.
  • The armchair which belonged to my great-grandfather.
  • The portable writing-desk my grandfather gave me, which belonged to his aunt.
  • My Tod's handbag (a 30th birthday present)
  • My bed, with the headboard a friend made for it.
  • (Maybe) my apple laptop.
And that is actually about it.  Is that odd?  I would miss all my many books, but in a way it is not so much the physical books themselves that I need, as the memory of them, and hence the ability to find the information they contain again.  I don't value books as objects in themselves, very much.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The temptation to splurge on 'projects' - or spending money on home maintenance

I am struggling with the urge to buy things at the moment. It is all very well for me to get our day-to-day bills down to a minimum, which I've proudly done - and the process continues; yesterday J. negotiated a better deal for us for phone and internet for the next year - but that is of limited use if our one-off spending is high.  The problem for me comes in 'projects'.  Once a project is undertaken - and it can be anything, but is almost always something to do with the house - budgets and plans can go out of the window.  

Until a month or two ago, we had done very little to our house for some time.  Then, our fridge broke, and we decided to replace it with a beautiful, though expensive fridge which we will aim to keep forever. (I am very happy with this decision.)   

Next, we finally got around to getting a plumber to replace our dripping kitchen tap with one bought months' earlier.  Once that was done, we asked him to come back to fix our leaking bath, which he will do today.  He will also replace a cracked wash basin for us.   

We had to repair the fence between us and our neighbours - it is our responsibility - and while we were doing that, decided to get a quote to replace the garden gate which was rotting away. The price was reasonable, and so we went ahead.  

I am determined that we should stop here, having dealt with the main niggles, although the temptation is to carry on; we could add a sink to the washing machine area, we could build the bookshelves we have been talking about for years, we could get blackout blinds for our room to keep out the early morning sunshine which currently seeps through.  

And as I was hoovering this morning, I found myself casting a critical eye over some of our carpets, thinking that some of them could do with being replaced, and others with a professional clean.....

In my view, there are several problems.  One is the slippery slope; once a psychological barrier has been broken, it is only too easy to break it again.  Secondly, the imperfections that you get into the habit of ignoring daily - like being restricted to showers rather than baths for months at a time, or the fact that the kitchen tap drips - suddenly spring into focus when other work is done.   Finally, there's an illogical part of me which deep down feels that money spent on the house is acceptable because it is an 'investment'.  There's an element of truth in this, of course, but it is an argument to be used with caution.

Although I recognise it is bad housekeeping on my part, as well as wasteful of water, to leave dripping taps and cracked wash basins un-mended, there may be something to be said for an ability to live with less than perfect conditions.  I need to put my critical faculties away and be happy with what I have, while distinguishing between what needs to be done, and what it would be nice to do some time.  

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Cooking ingredients: where to spend and where to save

Following on from her kitchen equipment list, here are my chef sister's suggestions on how to eat well, where to economise, and where not to, when food shopping:

It is obvious and much repeated but if you only shop in season you’ll get better value for money. Buy English strawberries only in mid-season and you can eat them every day. Asparagus just coming in is expensive, but hold on a bit for the price to go down.

Investigate the end of line baskets at supermarkets, they often have interesting random vinegars etc in their fancy foreign muck sections which don’t sell, so end up going cheap. The same goes for bin-ends for wine - you can find some interesting things.

Do what peasants around the world have been doing forever – just use a little meat in a hotpot/stew/whatever as a flavouring. One of the loveliest things I ate on a very greedy holiday in Andalucia was a stew of mostly potato, onion and pepper, with just a little pork, all cooked in delicious stock. The potatoes took on all the meaty flavour as they cooked.

Do not scrimp on:

Bread – it is such a major part of our diet but most people make do with the dullest, cheapest stuff.  Don’t put up with it! Buy the nicest you can, and then ‘something on toast’ is transformed.

Pasta – don’t ask me why, but supermarket value brand stuff is just not as good as more expensive versions.

Baked beans and tomato ketchup – only Heinz will do in my opinion.

Potatoes – have realized why the value bags are cheap – they sometimes seem to be a random selection of diff varieties and all cook at different speeds, so you end up with a pan of falling-apart and rock hard. Disaster.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Kitchen equipment recommendations from a chef

As mentioned in an earlier post, I asked my sister, a Leiths' trained chef, for her suggestions on where to spend money on kitchen equipment.  Here is her, surprisingly short, list.

Kitchen Equipment List

Knives! One big chef’s knife, one small paring/office for veg cutting, and one steel for sharpening – serrated is also useful for tomatoes and fruit, but not vital.

1 big saucepan, one small, both stainless steel, not non-stick, the best quality you can afford – they will last. A handle that isn’t screwed on, is part of the pan, or it will start wobbling and fall off.

A good big chopping board, wood is good as long as you don’t worry about hygiene! Just don’t use it for raw meat, get a plastic one and keep it only for that.

A frying pan – opinion is divided on this one. I like a good, solid non-stick one which, I admit, won’t last forever unless you’re militant about no metal utensils and watch other people like a hawk if they use it…Or some serious types get e.g cast iron and just season it very carefully. Never seem to manage it myself.

A good large mixing bowl; lightweight metal is good for most things.

A nice big balloon whisk, electric hand whisk also v useful., or see below if you have the funds… 

[Digital scales: I recently had to reprimand Penny for using old-fashioned scales for baking.  They just aren't accurate enough for cake-making...]

More extravagant items include

A lovely, solid, and supposedly lifetime-lasting Le Creuset. A casserole for 6-8 people is probably your best bet, in whichever colour you won't get bored of.

A Kitchenaid or Kenwood mixer. Kitchenaid is my preference, but Kenwoods are known to be v reliable and long-lasting, though just don’t have the glamour factor.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Bill-pruning and increasing my pension contribution

Despite all my recent efforts to cut down regular bills - as part of which we've saved considerably on home and contents insurance, joined an oil-buying group, and changed our AA cover to save £137 a year, and made various other changes, there was one insurance policy that I had not thought about cancelling.  It suddenly occurred to me, a few days ago, that it was something I no longer needed, and so I decided to cancel the plan, and divert the money saved on the monthly premium to my pension.  While I was about it, I also made a change to my clothes and spending allowance which I had been contemplating for a little while, cutting it by a quarter and adding that extra money to my pension as well.  

So today I rang the pension company and informed them of my increased contributions.  The young woman I spoke to congratulated me on making the change, wondering if I had had a pay rise.   

I am pleased to have taken this action; it feels good to have immediately diverted the money saved into something specific, particularly into the pension.  It does not feel very helpful to save money, if the difference is then swallowed up in general spending.

However, as I have mentioned before, I do like spending money on clothes, so the cut in spending money may be a bit of a challenge for me. I will see it as a test of my ingenuity....We will see how I get on.

Monday, 5 July 2010

One-off actions and easy habits

I can be lazy, so I like the kind of frugality where just one initial set-up action is needed, with maybe the occasional review.

Some examples of one-off actions that I have taken:
  • Getting a water butt for the garden several years ago.  I like this because it is environmentally friendly, while also providing free water, enough for all our gardening needs. (Though my mother would say that I don't water the garden enough, so that may be why....)
  • Working out the cheapest way to pay regular bills - for most bills this is by monthly direct debit- and setting up payment accordingly. I first did this many years ago, and do now review the situation every so often.
  • Putting dryer balls (mentioned in an earlier post) in my tumble dryer.
  • Fitting water-reducing devices into our lavatories years ago, which saves a considerable amount of water.
We also have some habits which are so simple, and so ingrained, that they are now almost automatic:
  • Using second-class stamps for all non-urgent post
  • Putting the end of a loaf of bread in the freezer for later use as toast, before it goes stale
  • Using plastic carrier bags as kitchen bin liners
  • Putting vegetable matter, tea leaves, and coffee grounds onto the compost heap
  • Contributing a proportion of our income to our pensions, whenever we are paid, at the same time we save money for tax.  (This doesn't happen automatically, now that we are both self-employed.)
Many of these actions and habits won't result in large savings, but the effort involved is minimal, and over the years these small things add up.  What am I missing?  What habits or one-off actions have you taken?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Women prefer bonds

A few months' ago, I wrote a post about Japanese women and their attitude to money.  I was intrigued that Japanese women generally have control of their household's budgets, giving their husbands pocket money, and being keen, if conservative, savers.  As a follow on, I have just read an article about an advertising campaign for government bonds in Japan, in which a young Japanese woman states her preference for men who invest in government bonds. 'Playboys are no good', she says.