Monday, 8 February 2016

How to be a Frugal Living Expert 02

2016's frugal living challenge budget here is, once again, £4,000 for the year. This is a comfortable amount and allows for every other available penny to be saved, spent or invested elsewhere. How it is done is no mystery and nobody ever died from saving too much, nor from sharing such knowledge freely, did they? So let's go...
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When it comes to budgeting, there are easier options than becoming a frugal living expert.
  • You could bury your head in the sand and just spend blindly, while worrying yourself sick about how to afford A, B or C.
  • You could make yourself ill trying to work all the hours you can, just to make ends meet.
  • You could torture yourself working in a sole-destroying job that you hate, just to pay bills and take 4 weeks off a year worrying about going back to work again.
  • You could take the even easier option of living on the wings of a prayer (while skint) while hoping that you win the lottery. It is a possibility if you afford yourself the luxury of buying a ticket, but then anything is possible. So grasp every opportunity that you can if it's absolutely free.
I use "searchlotto" to get free entries every week and this is my gratuitous referral link, in the hope of getting another free entry when a fellow frugal living expert signs up and does likewise. 

Some people spend many hours clicking, searching, doing surveys and filling up their blogs with paid advertising... this blog post is a little bit like that. It's what happens when costs need to be met but it seldom works out that way. So, please excuse the banners and links, but they are here for a reason. Do feel free to sign up and start sharing them on your own blogs, as it's basically free advertising for the companies they represent, combined with the opportunity for some freebies for us.

Free Racing Tips

Another easy option while trying to get out of debt - and one I am all too familiar with, but let's not go there - is outright gambling. (Yes, I know buying scratch cards and lottery tickets is similar, but some people don't recognise that fact.) Living in hope of the dream 100/1 shot romping home with a tonne of your money on its nose.

But let's face it, how many people do you know who earn their money from racetracks who aren't actually in the employment of the track, trainers, owners or bookies? This is just another gratuitous link, but if you want to follow free tips for the fun of it, just to practise your number-crunching skills, then this is an ideal place. Other than that, just follow my horses galore blog, which helps pay to keep Frugaldom and the frugal forums, blogs and chat room operational.

National Minimum Wage in UK for an adult over 25 years of age is approximately £13,100 per year. After tax and insurance, it's a net income of about £12,000 per year, or £1,000 per month. This equates to almost £230 per week, which is a huge amount, compared to the £4,000 that I budget for annually.

Now we hear that the UK Living Wage is coming into force in April this year - a whopping great £7.20 per hour. That's £270 gross per week for each adult over the age of 25 who works a 37.5 hour week. As a trainee nurse in the 80's, I didn't even earn this in a month and back then, I thought I was on a phenomenal salary as a trainee! So you see, wealth and frugal living are not just about numbers and amounts, they are also about perception and priorities.

Please note that I do not earn National Minimum Wage - this is for budgeting examples only.

I appreciate that living in rural Scotland is about as far removed from living in the big city as it gets, but it's all relevant. If you're earning £40,000 a year while paying £25,000 a year on rent, plus work associated costs and general household bills, then your disposable income can turn out to be a fraction of your earnings - if there's anything left at all! In saying that, you can still buy a house in parts of the UK for less than £50k, so it's all about location and lifestyle.

Personally, I prefer quite a simple life that's affordable and fairly stress free. Put it this way - if my household costs only £4,000 to run for 2 of us and we're happy with our chosen way of life, then the reality of it is that we need only work about 6 paid hours each per week, doing minimum wage work, to cover all our costs. Now you can see that working 75 hours between two, even on the living wage, leaves 63 hours worth of income free to do with as we please.

Yes, I am in a very fortunate situation in that I have zero debts and the house is bought and paid for, but that's why all those years of scrimping and saving were implemented. They paid off! It took hard work, a single-mindedness that many found far too extreme and complete and utter dedication to the job I decided to do - live a frugal life in pursuit of financial freedom.

Looking at the 'real' cost of living, the following are the absolute essentials, rounded to the nearest £100:

Groceries - £700
Cleaning & Toiletries - £100
Heat and light - £1,000
Essential insurance - £200
Council tax - £1,000

Food is fairly cheap in the grand scale of things - it's waste that costs the most.

The food and drink budget here averages just under £1 per person per day for everything and we don't exactly starve, as my less than perfect body mass will testify!

Based on the above, it shows how easily we could 'live' on £3,000 a year. It more than adequately shows me that it's the roof over our heads that costs us most of our working lives, once we get past the false belief that we 'need' anything else in this very materialistic world of ours. Staying warm, dry, fed, watered and healthy are our top priorities - you would think!

Many people have rent or mortgages to pay so these costs must always be factored into the equation. Interest rates can divide and conquer even the best budget, as they fluctuate over the years. Right now, they are at an all time low, which is no good whatsoever for savers looking to gain interest on their cash, but for mortgage holders the opportunity to pay off lump sums has never been better. In my time as a house-owner, I have witnessed base rates ranging from the current low of 0.5% to as high as 15%

In my opinion, you should always, always, always make hay while the sun shines.

Money is an absolute necessity no matter what way we look at it, so there are no illusions or delusions here about wanting to go down the cashless route - it simply cannot work. Self sustainability has to embrace sustaining yourself financially as well as physically, mentally and spiritually, in whichever way you believe is right for you, while also contributing to society, as a whole.

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Personally, I would love to be able to offer every single one of you regulars who read my frugal blog, participate in the frugal forums and join us in the chat room the opportunity to come and experience Frugaldom for yourselves, at no cost to you, but that remains part of the dream, as only a massive windfall would afford me that luxury. I do still enter a few free competitions now and again.

Now to get the non-essential spending prioritised... this is the pet monster of each household that feeds on disposable income. For those of you who have jobs to attend (we are fortunate in that we work from home) then the cost of having those jobs can be eye-watering, so think carefully about how much you are prepared to spend on doing the 'right' job.

And finally, for this section of our series about how to become a frugal living expert, time really is money - the less time you spend working at running the household you really want, the more money it's going to cost you to compensate for any short-comings. This is a serious lifestyle choice - it isn't simply a 'get out of debt free' card where personal solvency suddenly ends the game.

In part 3, I'll look at priorities within the non-essentials list, as society is trying to dictate that several of these 'wants' have become 'needs' when they, in fact, haven't.

NB: I have chosen only advertisers who offer free options - nothing on this page should cost anyone anything, other than myself, of course, who gets charged for commercial web services.

Life as a Frugal Entrepreneur Revisited

The Frugaldom understanding of self-sufficiency is one of self-sustainability. It's about earning your own living and then spending accordingly, living within your means, regardless of how great or how meagre these may be. It's a lifestyle choice. Frugaldom is freedom from debt by way of living and working in frugal ways.
This is an old post, first published in 2011 (original can be seen here) that I thought I would share here before doing the follow-up, now 5 years further down the line.
Over the past few years we have organised various challenges relevant to money saving, clearing any debts and building a lifestyle that fits in with the whole ethos of sustainability. With a little bit of planning, this lifestyle can embrace greener living or a more environmentally-friendly way of conducting business within the household and workplace. Frugaldom is about taking on the responsibility of providing for yourself and, hopefully, being able to share skills, goods and services in a way that can both benefit others and cover all associated costs.
True, cash free self-sufficiency, in my opinion, isn't legally possible within the UK. In order to live and work, we need shelter and that shelter incurs a tax. In order to live we need food and water - we could attempt to rear and grow all of our own food and pump our water from a well, but in order to do so there are welfare issues and legislation to be considered - these things cost money. We still need to earn and, as long as we earn, we need to pay taxes where and when due. Some might trade and barter or move around but, at the end of the day, everyone needs an income and earning that income costs money.
True Frugaldom means the ability to provide all things for the household in order to sustain a chosen lifestyle and afford everything that it entails. There should be no need for State hand outs but neither should there be an aversion to seeking financial help where and when genuinely needed.  In this respect, it is time to start building our self-sustainable business in order to help secure our future.  We are our own employers, without working (for ourselves) we can neither pay ourselves nor keep a business running.
On the surface, it's always handy to grow whatever fruit and vegetables you can, as everything you can produce from home is one less thing you need to spend money on, allowing you to focus your hard-earned cash elsewhere. Over the past few years we have documented the costs involved in setting up a garden to produce as much as possible, including eggs from the assorted poultry. We can make each micro-project self sustaining or cash-neutral; hens lay eggs, selling the surplus can pay for their keep. Quail lay eggs and are quickly hatched and reared - the sales of surplus birds and eggs can cover the costs.
Cash generated from any source can be used to neutralise each of these individual budgets, each of these projects can be built up to combine into one business. It's what microholding is about - all these small, self-financing pieces of the jigsaw fitting together to form a much bigger picture - that picture is your business of the future.
Christmas and all the festivities have now passed and we're halfway through the first month of the new year. For those who are still relying on other people's money, the credit card and bank statements will be arriving, reminding you of the dire state of your finances. But not for all of us. For the debt free, each statement is a reminder that there is an alternative route, one that can and should be followed carefully if Frugaldom is to be achieved.
I have estimated that for every £1,000 it costs you to exist each year, you NEED to save £2.75 each and every day that you're not earning. So, if life is costing you £12,000 a year, you need to save £33 for every day that you won't be earning, weekends included. The figures are simple - the less life costs you, the less pressure you are under to earn or save extra.
Building a business isn't so different. Everything has to pay for itself, some things need to pay more to cover the inanimate objects that house them, some need to cover the cost of storage and distribution. In the case of gardening, plants need to cover the cost of the patch of land they take up each and every day it takes them to grow - fertiliser, protection from pests, time in planting, tending and harvesting... consider all costs, don't ever assume that because you did it that your time is completely free.
Any legislation governing what you do needs to be accounted for, just like the costs involved in owning a car to enable you to go about your daily life. If that car costs you £500 to have it parked in the driveway for 365 days of the year then that's almost £1.37 that needs to be earned every single day without even driving the car. (The figures get much bigger when you factor in the percentage that's needed to cover tax and National Insurance etc.) Only by analysing the true costs of living and working can we begin to understand the basic principles of self-sustainability and self-sufficiency. After 10+ years of lifestyle planning, 2011 is my year of Frugaldom business planning.
All of the above was first published over 5 years ago and it's good to look back and see progress. Between then and now, we have bought a small house without the need for a mortgage and have been chipping away at the renovation. Then, in 2014, we managed to buy about 5 hectares of land and a lovely wooden barn - again without the need for credit each project is scheduled over the long term, so the 5 years duration for renovating this house should end this year, but it won't, because we chose to grasp the opportunity to invest in the land project.
With hard work, planning and the usual frugal budget, I hope to complete the house in 2017, which will then give us a further 2 years to complete all our plans for the land - now known as the Frugaldom project - which we hope to have open by 2020.
Stick with the plan. It may take several detours and incorporate a few extra stops along the way, but you will get there. As they say, 'seeing is believing' and if you can see it in your imagination , then it is there, just waiting to be made a reality.
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Saturday, 6 February 2016

How to Become a Frugal Living Expert 01

The first in a series of articles about how to become a frugal living expert.

The Frugal Living Challenge is an adaptation of my original 'Living on £4,000 for a Year' challenge, which has been running online since 2007. Join our frugal living experts now.

 Learn more about BBE and short dated food
Learn how to save money on food shopping

Our money saving and frugal living challenges date back to the late 1990's so many of us have gathered a considerable amount of experience along the way. Whether it is balancing our own books, controlling the household budget or simply living within our own means, we have managed to gather together a fair team of frugal living experts who can offer free online help and moral support to help solve personal money problems. Everything here is done as economically as possible and much has been achieved on what some considered to be near impossible budgets.

I can say with confidence that living free from debt while earning a small income is 100% possible. You do, however, need to exercise will power and keep yourself focussed on your plans in order to achieve these otherwise impossible goals. Waste not, want not... if you take care of the pennies then the pounds will take care of themselves as long as you avoid the trap of becoming penny wise and pound foolish!

We have seen many changes over the years, so each stage in the development of our frugal living and working adventure takes us a step closer to self sustainability and financial freedom.

A budget is personal to you, it should fit in with your personal financial situation and it should result in something you are happy to achieve. If you can reach the point at which you spend less than you earn, then you are halfway there. Getting to the point that you are spending less than you are earning while also  becoming absolutely free from debt is very liberating. Having enough cash left over after that to carefully, conscientiously and successfully save for your own future is the ultimate goal. You just need to believe it is possible and stick to your plan, no matter what.

There are no sure-fire winners in investments but a combination of small savings can amass small fortunes - and these will continue to grow as you continue to save after any debts have gone.

Learn how to be a frugal living expert free in the Frugal forums
Have you got what it takes to join the quest for financial freedom?

This is not about self-deprivation or self-imposed poverty just for the sake of it, it is about providing genuine, mutual support for those who are prepared to take on the challenge of making a real difference to their own lives while sorting out nasic money problems or even serious financial situations. Don't quit - get financially fit!

Once debts are gone and you are in full control of your own spending (or not spending, as the case may be), the world is your oyster. Whether you choose to invest, donate, explore, plant a forest, see the world or lead a comfortable life knowing you are financially secure is entirely up to you.

It's never too late to learn how to become a frugal living expert!

Newcomers, let's get started right now. Old hands, let's put in a bit more practise until we really are expert money savers who can afford to spend free time sharing hints and tips with fellow frugal folks.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

How to make bread without bread flour

Now You Know how to make bread without any bread flour!

I got through January spending less than £30 on groceries for the household but ran out of bread and bread flour. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, so let's get inventive.

How to make pancakes
Running out of bread and bread flour is normally unheard of in this household but it can happen to the best of us, especially when trying to empty cupboards and stick to a grocery challenge budget of £1 per person per day, so I spent less than half my allocated budget just cooking from what is already here.
As long as you have ordinary flour, eggs and milk then you can make pancakes.
If you have just the flour and milk, you can make flour tortillas.
Better still, as long as you have yeast and good old-fashioned, all purpose, plain flour then you can make your own budget bread.

 Buy cheap groceries online
Brown Bread and Roll Mix only £1 for 3.5kg*

Here's how to make bread without bread flour

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (approx.)
  • 2 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 4 cups plain flour
I added a scoop of wheatgerm to mine, so it needed another spoonful of water, then made the loaf in my breadmaker. You do not need a breadmaking machine, this recipe will work equally well by hand in the usual way - knead the dough well for 5 minutes, rest/prove for an hour, knead for another 5 minutes, rest/prove for another hour, then shape and bake as normal, either in a lightly greased loaf tin or on a tray.

Making bread without bread flour
I was quite sceptical about whether or not this loaf would rise, as I have never learned the actual differences between each of the various flour types other than the obvious differences between grain types like wheat and corn but as you can see, the loaf rose as it normally would had I been using proper bread flour.

Freshly baked bread made without strong flour
The load was baked as normal white bread on the 1.5lb setting and this did it perfectly. The loaf turned out the tin without a problem and sounded hollow when tapped on the bottom. It got wrapped in a clean, cotton tea towel until it cooled enough to slice. Don't get me wrong, this isn't the first time I have baked bread with plain flour, as I do tend to dilute bread flour with plain flour to save money when handbaking or if the bread mixes aren't available on offer, but this was the first time I had tried baking a full loaf in the breadmaker without having any strong bread flour in the recipe.

Slice of freshly baked bread
Once cooled, the load sliced as any other bread would slice - so we had to sample it with some homemade blackcurrant and bramble jam. It tasted delicious!

From now on, I will not be paying extra for strong bread flour - I'll sit back and wait for the bargains to appear and, in the meantime, keep a better stock of cheap, all purpose plain flour, which currently costs 45p per 1.5kg bag from most big supermarkets. I have, however, managed to order 3 x 3.5kg of cheap bread and roll mix from Approved Food to replenish stock and I'll add on an extra couple of bags of plain flour next time I get the chance of it. I'm guessing that I'll can dilute the bread mix in similar fashion as long as I add an extra sprinkle of dried yeast.

You can add herbs, spices, garlic, sultanas, seeds, grains, nuts or whatever else takes your fancy - play about with it to find what you like best and don't forget to share your results and photos with fellow followers of frugal living in Frugaldom's forums.

* My affiliated link

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Money Challenges in January

It's almost the end of the first month into our 2016 frugal living challenge - how are you doing?
Herbs in the garden
My garden is a shambles with nothing more than the last remnants of the perennial herbs and none of them looking like the photo above - lush, green and colourful. No, instead they are looking sparse, woody, twiggy and in bad need of some care and attention. Elsewhere in the garden, some of the garlic cloves have sprouted and I found a few rogue potatoes when scrounging for some spinach the other day I was out there.
Every new year brings us new challenges but it still never ceases to amaze my how others perceive 'our lifestyle' as we pursue our frugal living goals. I don't even think of it as a peculiar life of deprivation or self-imposed poverty. We live in times of austerity that have been brought on by what would appear to be a complete and utter lack of ability for some people to add, subtract, multiply and divide! Simple arithmetic should surely provide just reason for living within one's own means after working so hard to achieve total freedom from debt. What I see, I own - it is mine. It doesn't belong to the bank, it doesn't belong to a credit company, hire purchase, lease or finance company, it is mine to do with exactly as I please - so I do! Shame on anyone who can't 'get' why they have overdrafts, credit card bills, bank loans, long-running contracts, mortgages and insufficient (if any) savings if it's down to their money-spending priorities being at odds with their household incomes. Putting you own wants before the security of home and family is, in my opinion, a very selfish thing to do.
Back to the finances - we had a debate in the frugal forums about whether or not there were any benefits to paying BT's annual linesaver this year, as prices had, once again, increased. In my situation, where every penny counts, I found that the 10% savings made by paying in full at the start of the year led me to having an extra £21.54 at the end of the year, along with the added £1.94 that represents the 1% cashback I'll accrue from paying by credit card and clearing the balance before any interest is added. For those of you who have been with Egg card since we began our cash-back savings, we still get up to 1% cash back each year from a fee-free card, we just no longer get paid interest on any credit balances - more's the pity.
So how is the annual challenge budget looking? From a starting point of £4,000, I have already spent £500, with £194 of this going to BT and my usual 50p per day into the savings pot. Telephone and Internet account for a huge proportion of the budget but let's not overlook the fact that these are luxuries that most of us prefer to have. It now costs around £10 per week for personal communications equipment of whatever description you use - landline, Internet, mobile phone - and that has to act as part of our social activities, as we are all so busy communicating that some of us have no time left to actually interact with real people outside of work or home.
The other big burden on budgets is energy costs - these account for about 25% of my annual budget, or 20% if I include council tax. Has anyone else noticed how similar in amounts council tax and energy use have become, or is that just in my old stone cottage with it's single glazing and no loft to insulate? It's like the price of petrol - it used to always run about parallel with that of cigarettes with much of those costs being tax of one form or another - anyone know if it is still possible to buy a pack of cigarettes for the price of a gallon of petrol?
Many thanks to all my regular frugal friends for continuing to pursue a life of frugality and for setting a good example to those around them - living in frugal debt freedom IS the new rich - like it, live it, love it! For those who disagree, you can lump it! smiley
Feel free to join any of our many money challenges free in the New for 2016, we have the THISTLE POT CHALLENGE,  a brand new challenge to save those pennies into pounds and come to our Frugaldom meet-up in May 2017. It's going to be our first ever frugalfest!