Thursday, 4 October 2012

Tesco syndrome

The Tesco Syndrome
6 weeks ago I went into Tesco to return a dented tin of tomatoes which cost me 29p (45c) and also to buy 3 things – decaffeinated coffee, a stain removal bar and some wheat free rolls, for which I thought I had a money off voucher.
I got my 29p/45cents back but managed to spend £40.50/$60 while I was there.  It went as follows:
·         Half a salmon that was on offer at half price
·         A dress that was in the sale for £7/$10.50
·         2 heads of broccoli – because they were on a buy one get one half price offer
·         Peaches – they were a bargain at 5 for 59p/90c but this was more than neutralised by the other impulse buys, and actually Lidl had 9 for £1/$1.50
·         I cannot remember what else I bought.  I go into Tesco and I get hypnotised, rarely getting out without spending £40/$60.  I try to avoid going there but every so often there is something I need that the other supermarkets don’t stock

1.       We have a freezer full of lovely, delicious trout.
2.       I have enough dresses and don’t really wear them. This one looked like a corporate bank or shop uniform and was uncomfortable.  Why didn’t I try it on?
3.       I have unpicked Kale and spinach in the garden and 2 packets of broccoli in the freezer.
4.       It turns out my voucher for wheat free rolls was for a different brand and I narrowly escaped without buying another wheat free product that I did not need.
5.       Then I went to the cafĂ© and spent another £3.50/$4.75.  if I hadn’t gone to Tesco I would have cooked my own baked potato with baked beans, using the potatoes from the garden and bargain baked beans with home grown salad for a total of 50p/75c.  what’s more the Tesco one was not very nice and the salad was tasteless.
6.       I could have spent the time out in the garden instead of in Tesco.

Inflation of our needs, wants and desires
Our food bill had crept to £200/$300 per month for two of us when this happened.

Probably not excessive to a lot of people but I know I can feed us for a lot less – a maximum £100/$150 a month even taking inflationary food prices into account. 
Not all food has gone up actually, though some has, and bananas have gone down.  It depends what you want to buy and I suspect much though not all of the food price inflation is really inflation of our needs, wants and desires as the good old book Your Money or Your life calls it.

So how do you reduce the food bill?
many (all?) of us buy bagged salad and rocket (arugula) instead of a loose lettuce, vine tomatoes instead of ordinary tomatoes and fancy mash from the chill cabinet  or ‘specially selected’ baking potatoes instead of an ordinary bag of spuds. 
You can still get a sack of spuds for £5-7/$7.50-10.50 and it makes an awful lot of mashed potato, chips or baked potatoes. 
You can make a lot of soup with a humble £1/$1.50 bag of lentils, a few spuds, stock cube and an onion.   Or you can buy a 1 litre carton of ready-made lentil soup – no doubt special, luxury soup in some way – for £2.50/$3.75.
 And rocket is just about the easiest thing to grow.

Marrows Free to Good Home please help yourself.
The other day on the way home, I passed this sign at the side of the road.  Next to it was a veritable mountain of marrows.
I gratefully gave two of them a good home but once I got them home, they were getting ignored and I couldn’t quite bear to cut into them.  In fact they were in danger of never being used.

After the Tesco debacle that had to change. 
The left over curry and pasta sauce in the fridge were duly transformed into stuffed marrow, marrow soup and marrow and potato curry and we had several effectively free and very tasty meals as a result.  I was inspired and back on track!

The leftover tub
This is a plastic tub that you keep in the freezer.  All those little bits of things that go off in the fridge get put into the tub and frozen instead.  Not stuff off people’s plates, just the bits left in the saucepan etc.  This idea came from the Tightwad Gazette many years ago and we have used it ever since. 
When the tub is full, I make a curry or stuff pasties with whatever is in it, plus a few herbs and spices.
No matter what goes in there it is always delicious. 
However, the recent tub had been full for ages and because it was full, little bits of leftovers were going off in the fridge again.

So Hubby made leftover curry which was yummy and I made leftover pasties, with the remaining curry, adding some grated cheese and a slice of tomato to each pasty.

And Tesco?
Well to be fair I was impulse buying in other supermarkets too, Tesco just tempted me more.  For the last 6 weeks I have had a rule of one impulse buy of up to 50p/75c per shopping trip, and stuck to it.  What fun I have had spending that 50p/75c.

And the dress went back and was exchanged for 2 large packs of nappies (2 for 1 offer) as a gift for a new baby.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


Just try it …
As you may know from previous entries, I enjoyed the cd recording of the book No Impact Man very much. 
Sometimes when you read a book you pick up just one tip that makes it worth buying the whole book, even if you learn nothing else. 
In this case, the tip was to use bicarbonate of soda as a deodorant.

No Impact Man was using bicarb as a deodorant in an attempt to reduce his impact on the planet and therefore cut down on his use of chemicals.  He just happened to mention that bicarb is the ‘world’s most effective deodorant so I decided to try it. 

Well it is.  Bicarbonate of soda is more effective than any deodorant I have ever used.  Two friends tried it and found the same.  Totally smell free all day, except when it was really hot and I was on a train or something. WOW!  Just carry a little pot and top it up in really sweaty conditions, or do what I do and carry a little Weleda pump action deodorant just for such a purpose.  These are the next best deodorant I have ever tried by the way.  They do a hand bag size but it works out more expensive so I bought it once and now refill it from the larger size.  (I used to get through a lot more of them before discovering bicarb!)

Well the bicarb thing got me thinking.  What is happening here?   How come we spend all that money and put a cocktail of chemicals and perfume onto our skin when bicarb works better?   (At least for some people - I wouldn’t like to say this was universal on the basis of the three of us plus No Impact Man.)

How to use bicarb deodorant
Just tip a bit onto your fingers and rub onto a freshly washed arm pit.  Voila.  Do not use too much though, or you will get a tide mark on black clothes.  It will wash (or even rub) out if you do.  Use just a little and it is as effective as a larger quantity and there is no tide mark.  As a side benefit there is no staining on white clothes under the arms either.  Turns out it is the deodorant that causes that not the sweat.
So no worries about aluminium or any chemicals in the deodorant any more and more money in my pocket. 
Just a wee note here.  The solid crystal deodorants I looked at in the health shop are crystallised alum.  In other words aluminium.  They didn’t work for me at all, along with every other deodorant I have ever bought in a health shop apart from the Weleda one which is alcohol based.  I am quite a sweaty person and always have been, so was amazed when the bicarb actually worked. 

It made me think about the nature of marketing – which is after all designed to make us want to buy things, and not necessarily about finding out what works best. 
If there is little profit in it who is going to market it to us?  A 250g packet of bicarb cost me £1/$1.50 and lasts for over a year. I bought it in the local Pound Shop (discount store).  It is increasingly available in this larger quantity as opposed to the wee tubs for baking which are also good value but more expensive if you are going to use it long term. 
 One year on I am not even half way through the packet and have been using it in baking as well. 
Other uses for Bicarb
Bicarb was what my Mum used to get rid of the smell in things like thermos flasks, and hopefully some of you already know about that. 
But just in case…Bicarb gets rid of the coffee smell out of a thermos flask, plastic smell out of your lunch box and just about any other smell.  Just half fill with warm or hot water, add a teaspoon of bicarb and top up with some more water.  Leave it for a couple of hours and the smell is gone. 

Why didn’t I try this before?. 
Marketing is such a subtle art and I believe it affects us all, often without us even registering that it is happening.  Just remember that ANY product is on the market simply because the folks selling it WANT TO MAKE MONEY.  So how do you make money when the world’s most effective deodorant costs no more than 50p/75c per person per year?  Maybe you make a new product.

It made me wonder if we forget what we once knew was good, just because something else has a higher profile.

Well, washing powder/laundry detergent. I have to make an admission here.  I have never really believed those things about vinegar and lemon juice etc being better cleaners. 
But I am carrying out my own experiments and finding that I am wrong. 
Mainly the things our great grannies used to use but have now been superseded by so-called better ones.  The thing is that for us, quite a few are not better - not even as good, cost more money and are full of chemicals that we would rather not have in our bodies, food chain and water supply.  (Yeah if you flush them down the loo that is where they may end up.)  You may disagree of course, we are all different.

Washing soda.
I always wondered what this was for and had a vague notion it would help unblock drains.  (That is caustic soda actually and is a different thing).
Turns out it is for doing laundry – hence the name, huh.  There is nothing in it except washing soda.  No additives, colours or other chemicals.  Great if you have babies or sensitive skin and better for the environment. 
It costs £1/$1.50 per packet and is easy to buy.  It works better than many laundry products we had tried and does not bring hubby’s sensitive skin out in a rash.  We had been using an eco friendly laundry detergent – washing soda is much cheaper and has no additives - and even the eco friendly ones have some.  It is fine for our automatic washing machine as it does not froth up.  If you are unsure about your machine be sensible and try a small quantity first to make sure but we have had no problems at all.
An added bonus?  All our whites got whiter.

Incidentally if I had a dishwasher I would try it in that too.  I don’t though.  So if you have one and want to try it do give feed back.

And the smell…
You get used to the smell of your own laundry detergent.  What we have come to realise now we use the washing soda is that to us, laundry detergent now has a strong  smell and i a highly scented product.

Fabric conditioner?
Turns out that if you do not use a commercial washing powder, there is no need for fabric conditioner.  The clothes just do not feel stiff and rough any more. 
20 years ago hardly anyone used it. 

If you do use laundry detergent and fabric conditioner or dishwasher detergent get the cheapest ‘form’ of it.
Loose laundry and dishwasher powder works out the cheapest.  Cheaper than the liquid, the tablet and most of all cheaper than the little sachets.  it is all the same stuff, why pay more for fancy packaging?  Try the cheaper version and see if you can tell the difference…

Liquid fabric conditioner added to the wash tends to work out less expensive than tumble dryer fabric conditioner sheets. And anyway you can dry the laundry outside or on a clothes horse or pulley most of the time…

What about wipes?  There seems to be a wipe for everything.  Maybe marketing geniuses had sessions to think of how many different wipes could be marketed so that we all buy lots of them.  They do not break down, being polypropylene or something like that and many get washed up on the beach or swallowed by sea life because people flush them down the toilet.
When our kids were small we just used tissues or paper towel when we were out if they got sticky.  It worked fine and at least it was biodegradable.  My mum used to carry a damp flannel (face cloth) in a plastic bag.  Now you have a packet of wipes. 
So the humble duster is now a disposable wipe. The mop has a wipe to attach to it.  The dog no longer has an old towel to dry its feet with but has special doggy wipes.
The thing is the paper towel just had water on it.   The wipes have all sorts of things on them.  Just look at the ingredients.  Then decide whether some paper towel or cotton wool and water would do the job.

And so to Borax
This comes as a powder and yes, you guessed it, costs £1/$1.50 a packet. It is anti bacterial and is amazing at getting marks off things.  We make it up with water in a spray bottle and use it as we used to use commercially available anti bacterial spray.  
 If we had a highly infectious disease in the house I may buy the other kind as a one off – but there is probably no need. And anyway, household bleach is the most effective thing against bacteria like the Noro virus and ordinary, thin household bleach costs about 30p/50c a litre so I would probably dilute that and use it instead. 
NB bleach can be damaging to the waterways.  If you want to use it, use it sparingly.  There is, for instance no point in bleaching a floor which does not need to be sterile and will not stay so for more than a minute anyway.  And do not mix it with detergent as it can cause a chemical reaction that gives off chlorine gas. Just stick to a simple floor soap - or of course washing soda.

Want to get the stains or stuck-on crud off the inside of the toilet?  Leave vinegar in it overnight.  Works a treat.  And then use the borax solution to clean it in future. We bought a commercial eco friendly toilet cleaner but it rusted the bolts that held the loo seat on.  Guess it was vinegar based, but it was a lot more expensive than vinegar. 
Do not use the vinegar to clean the seat or outside of the toilet though for the same reason.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The £11 Christmas dinner - plan now for 2012.

I know Christmas is past but in order to have a relaxed, organised and cheap Christmas now is the time to plan it.  
We watched a programme on iplayer (as we very occasionally do) about how to make a Christmas dinner for eight people for ‘only’ £50.  To us, that seemed like an awful lot of money for just one meal.  But then we don’t want to work full time to pay for all that stuff.  so I decided to cost our Christmas dinner.  It is always more than you think, once the extras are added in.

Admittedly the family concerned had been spending £1200 on just that one meal. It was big shift for them and very well done.  It got me thinking though because £50 for one meal seemed so extravagant and there are people in the world who are starving.

The same meal can be done for a lot less and no one would even notice the difference.  Just take out the impulse buys that you thought would make it perfect they will probably only sit in the cupboard anyway. 
You would be hard pressed to know which meal was the £50 one and which was our £11 one.  Yes, really.
Judging by the amount left on people’s plates after their £50 meal on that TV programme there was still way too much food.  There was lots left in the serving dishes too.   I hope they had a cook in and made lots more dishes out of it.  By that I mean the veg, stuffing and everything else not just the turkey.  It would provide meals for weeks to come.
Actually our £11 Christmas dinner is providing meals for weeks to come too.

With a food budget of £50 we could easily provide open house and feel whoever came along for a week.  And feed them well. 

Before Christmas some of us are groaning ‘let’s just get this over with’ and others are saying ‘I love Christmas’. 
My First question is this:  Are you religious and if not, what do you love about it?  Shopping?  Cooking?  All the family in one place? Turkey?  Those things are all fine but only the first one needs to cost a lot of money.   Analyse what you really love and focus the spending there rather than trying to do it all.
My second question is: Do you still love it in January when the credit card bill comes in? 

There is certainly lots of marketing and advertising to make us think that presents, decorations, too much food and the ideal family is what Christmas is about.  Without spending money, the story goes you cannot have a good Christmas.

The family in the mythical ad we have all seen has:
·         A large enough living room for that jumbo sized Dobbies pre-decorated £500 (now reduced to £250) Christmas tree without having to sit round it. 
·         The ideal gift every time – not for them the gift that results from no one knowing what to buy each other.
·         The perfect family who all want to do the same thing at Christmas and never get bored or stuck in an airport.
·         Lots of money and a large house.  Money is no object here they just buy what they like.

the main course
The £11 Christmas dinner
It is different each year, but it is always cheap, always good and always opportunistic. 
Christmas dinner cost us around £11 this year for four people.  Last year it was a bit more and the year before it was a lot less.  The amount of food we had would have easily fed 8 people so the aforementioned £50 Christmas dinner on the TV programme would have cost much the same as our 4 person dinner did.   
The large bags of veg were such good value that I  bought them anyway and froze the surplus.  There was enough turkey left over for several more meals.

 In those years when it has cost  us more – say £20 because of buying  a full sized turkey – that turkey and any other associated leftovers will make many, many meals for months to come.  In fact we just had the last 2 slices of turkey breast from last year’s turkey the week before Christmas.  Sometimes we have kept half of the turkey in the freezer for the following Christmas. 

How I did the costings
In the costings below I have included the full purchase cost even if there was quite a bit of the item left.  If I just costed what we actually used the true cost would be about £5 I reckon.
If something came out of the cupboard and was half eaten (eg the oatcakes and Bombay mix) I have still included the whole cost (with the exception of the custard.)  even if we already had it and did not use it all.
Using what you have saves a lot of money for  a meal like this of course but costing it anyway means I know I am not cheating.

It’s all in the planning
The trick is to think ahead.  Think of Christmas (or any other ‘big meal’ event such as a wedding or birthday) all year.  Just keep it in mind and keep your eyes open.

Make sure it has your favourite foods in it.
Adapt any suggestions to encompass everyone’s favourite foods and the meal will be a hit.  We love veg and smoked salmon and like to eat healthily – hence the simple starter below. 

Think over all cost
It is the overall cost of your weekly food budget that is important not just the cost of this one meal.  So if for instance you get a turkey the size of a house reduced to £10, that may be better value than a small one for £5.  The ‘cost’ of Christmas dinner may seem more on the face of it but you are actually saving money.
My daughter got an absolutely huge turkey reduced to £7 last year.  We reckon it was just too big for most people – and most ovens.  Just cut it in half and cook it in two pieces. 
If you cook both halves, keep one half for next Christmas.  Or slice it up and freeze the slices in bags (put just a few slices in each bag) to use for other meals or sandwiches.

The Turkey
We bought this year’s turkey on Boxing Day last year.  It was a fresh, humanely reared turkey crown and suddenly was not worth very much.  The frozen ones did not go down in price but the fresh ones sure did and we got it for £2/$3.  The thing is, the planning takes very little time – just pause to think once in a while, and keep your eyes open when out shopping throughout the year.

The nibbles and starter.
Smoked salmon at £2.50/$3.75 a packet along with oatcakes at 79p/$1.20.  Served with the remaining carrot sticks and raw broccoli florets.  Very tasty, healthy and got a big thumbs up.  You can pay a lot more for very special smoked salmon but this was on offer and tasted fine.

To nibble on before dinner there was half a packet of Bombay Mix (1.20 a packet) and crudites - chopped up raw carrot and broccoli florets with a few chopped raw brussel sprouts because I am partial to them like that even if no one else was!
There were lots of oatcakes left and the veg is costed in the main meal.  No Bombay Mix left because I ate it all – that’ll teach me.
Total starter and nibbles cost £4.49

the veg was good gravy on this one too
The veg
The parsnips and leeks were grown in the garden.  We dug them up in advance just in case the ground was frozen at Christmas.  There is lots of other veg in the freezer.  We would normally eat what  we have so it might be broad beans and cabbage instead of brussel sprouts.  The potatoes cost £1 for a bag and we used about half of them. 
We had roasted and boiled potatoes.  the gravy was made from the stock in the turkey tray.
This year we were taking dinner to my daughter’s house so I decided to buy brussel sprouts and be traditional.  They cost £1/$1.50 for a very large packet on special offer.
Guess what - they don’t like brussel sprouts and we don’t eat them often (nice shredded in salads though) so I needn’t have bothered.  The carrots were 40p/60c a kilo and we used about a quarter of them.  The quantity of veg could have have easily fed 10 people so lots left for the freezer.  (And we eat a lot of veg.)  The broccoli was also £1/$1.50. 
There seemed to be some really good last minute offers on veg this year for Christmas. 
Total veg cost £3.40/$5.10 with lots left over, both cooked and uncooked.

A bargain Christmas pud
The 20p/30c Christmas puddings
In July we bought ten Christmas puddings for 20p each and gave quite a few away.  They were ‘extra special’ ones with a best before date of Nov 2012.  Not that it would have mattered if the date was past, a ‘best before’ just means it might not taste quite so good and we could have kept them in the freezer.  We added custard made from a tin at about 40p cost including the milk. 
Total pudding cost 40p/60c

And the cake? 
We usually start it on Boxing Day as there is more than enough food on Christmas Day without it.  A friend gave us a lovely dumpling when we had a recent get together.  Hardly any was eaten but she generously gave us the rest as a gift. A Scottish dumpling is a wonderful moist fruit cake rather than something you eat with stew and hers are legendary. 
I had some marzipan in the freezer that was also bought last year at a reduced price.  I think it was 50p but cannot quite remember.  I looked at icing sugar and it was twice the price of ordinary sugar for half as much. 

So I made my own with granulated sugar which is very simple.

How to make icing sugar
Put the sugar in a blender or food processor and process until it turns into a powder.   Takes about 2 minutes.  Cost about 30p. lots left over.

The cake was delicious and no one could tell the difference.   In fact it was voted better than ‘normal’ Christmas cake.
Total cost for cake 80p/$1.20

Christmascrackers on the table
Christmas crackers
We bought a box of 12 last year but not everyone wanted one and only four got used.  This year there were only four of us anyway so another four got used.  There are now four left for next year.
A couple of tips here:
1.  I put a note in my diary in November and another in December saying ‘do not buy crackers there are some in the loft.’  Do the same with anything else you buy as a bargain and you will not forget and end up buying more.

2.  Get the crackers out of the loft a couple of weeks early and keep them in a warm room to make sure they are not damp – or no bang when you pull them!
3.  Make your own crackers or just give little party bags – do they really need to go bang anyway?
Total cost Zero – these were costed in last year’s dinner.

What was left over
There was masses of food left over.  We gave my daughter and her boyfriend lots of turkey slices to keep them going and put a load in our own freezer too.  There was half a bag of brussel sprouts and another of carrots left.  There were also cooked carrots, sprouts  and broccoli which were made into soup (carrots) and bubble and squeak (sprouts, potatoes and broccoli). Most of the box of oatcakes was also left but we ate all the smoked salmon.  (mostly me actually)
And as usual the cake kept going for another week even though it had not seemed very large to start with. And I only used half of it.  I just got the other half out of the freezer today.  We could have had a larger Christmas cake but the small one felt nice and was loads.

Its different every year
Now its easy to think ‘But I didn’t get given a dumpling/find a bargain turkey etc so I can’t do it for the same price.’
It is different every year but keep an eye out and be creative and something will come up.
Here are some ideas:
·        Buy a turkey and keep half in the freezer for next year.
·         Freeze any left over veg so that it is not wasted.  Remember it is the overall cost of eating that is important not just the cost of that one meal.
·         Get a chicken or other meat instead of a turkey
·         If you are vegetarian ignore the Christmas dinner conventions altogether and just have a nice meal.  Do not feel honour bound to replicate what is actually a rather simple meat and two veg meal anyway. 
·         If you are a meat eater, ignore the Christmas dinner convention and just cook a nice meal too!
·         Use what you have.  We had a pheasant one year because we got given one.  Another year we had trout.  We were given some fish by a friend and one was huge.  So we kept if for Christmas dinner.
·         Keep a look out in the shops all year round.