September spending review, cheese & a cold

It was a spendy September! We didn’t save any money, but it’s fine because most of it was costs that aggregate out over the coming 12 months. The good news is our food and drink spend has reduced compared to the last few months:

Food and drink: £14.08 per day
Transport: Annual MOT & service, car tax, two tyres, a windscreen wiper, two fills of petrol and a bus season ticket. We also found out our annual mileage has gone down from 8,000 to 6,000
Home: LED lightbulb, a tarpaulin, a storage box, tea light candles and a little vintage £1 milk jug!
Domestic: Toothbrushes, toothpaste, throat sweets, hair conditioner, soap
Clothes: A rare shopping month. We both bought trousers, Lucy bought two tops, a sports bra and a replacement pair of trainers
Misc: Birthday gifts, music downloads (3 songs)

We may have spent a bit less on food but we certainly didn’t enjoy it any less. For one thing, we rediscovered halloumi, and the tomatoes we grew this year make a perfect tomato and herb sauce mix to go with it, plus mushrooms and broccoli. For Lucy this goes with vegetarian sausages, while Brian also has some bacon.

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Halloumi Sunday

This Autumn we’re likely to buy a storage heater for our living room, for background heat and also with a convector for a boost when needed. For the time being, it’s not very cold and using our open fire on chillier evenings will be enough. We had our first fire on Tuesday night and Brian has prepared and stacked plenty of wood for the coming winter.

 

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First fire, with black poplar on the top

 

Last week we celebrated the fact Lucy hadn’t had a cold for almost a year. We’re not superstitious, so the fact she had a big stinky cold this week means simply that one was obviously due! It was treated with a sensible sick day off work, lots of sleep, a session of watching classic cartoons online and the invention of a new drink: a red berry fruit tea plus half a squeezed lemon. Works extra well when drunk in the bath.

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Home-made cold remedy as served in our funky pink 1960s bath

 

Lucy’s Book & Music Club

SEPTEMBER SOUNDTRACK:
The 1975 – Love Me
Gallant – Weight in Gold
Christine & The Queens – The Loving Cup
Perfume Genius – Fool
Paloma Faith – Ready For The Good Life

BOOKS READ:
Ann Patchett – The Magician’s Assistant
Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life
Gretchen Rubin – Better Than Before
I also abandoned two short story collections, just couldn’t get into them so I gave up, because life’s too short!

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The evolution of breakfast

A while ago we posted the recipe for Lucy’s breakfast flapjacks, which at the time were a healthier improvement on cereal. Now we’d like to update the recipe, as since then they have got significantly better in two main ways:
– Nearly all the sugar has been removed
– They are now set in the fridge rather than baked in the oven! (An idea we had when our oven went through a phase of tripping the electrics a few months ago.)

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Seedy Fridge Flapjacks
You will need:
A big tray and some greaseproof paper
250g block of unsalted butter
About 75g of molasses sugar or other really dark brown sugar
Up to 500g of basic porridge oats
4 tablespoons of fair trade cocoa powder
As much as you want of seeds, we use sunflower, brown linseed (flax) and hemp

Melt the butter completely in a saucepan. Take off the heat. Add the molasses sugar and squash it with a spoon to remove lumps, then mix. Add the cocoa, mix again, then add the seeds, and then keep adding oats until you get to the point where the chocolate mix can’t coat any more oats.

Line the tray with baking paper and pour in the mixture. Squash it down well with a spoon. Pop into the fridge! It feels so good to bake something without using the oven at all. It must be saving us a bit on our energy bill, as these are made at least once a week. Once they have set, cut through them with a knife (this below tray makes 12 squares) and store them in an airtight box in the fridge, with the clean bits of the greaseproof paper torn off and separating the layers.

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Lucy has two of these each day for breakfast, in a bowl with a serving of summer fruits, or kiwi fruits, or both, and a big handful of walnuts of almonds. Basically, there should be enough fruit and nuts to totally cover up the flapjacks, as demonstrated by this morning’s helping, below. On workdays, it all fits into a little pot which has separate compartments for the flapjacks and fruit, then you put it all together when ready to eat.

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This breakfast might be why Lucy hasn’t had a cold for a year, coupled of course with the reduced stress from simplifying our lives with Brian becoming a house-spouse!

This week we also:
– Sorted out our car for the year: MOT, new tyres, tax. It’s now 7 years old & doing fine.
– Embellished our cheap wall lights with some copper wire artistry (the glass Christmas decorations stay there all year round)
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– Had afternoon tea and cake for Lucy’s Dad’s birthday sitting in the garden
– Discovered Gallant on Later With Jools Holland. Singers should leap about more.
Strictly Come Dancing started, so it must be autumn. Fabulous!

Simple Living Review: May 2016

Today we enter the final quarter of our first single income year and we’re starting to think about how we might budget differently in the future given how this first year has gone. May has been a really good month and we have saved 10% of our income.

What did we spend and do this month?
An average £13.44 on food an drink per day. We think next year’s target will be £12 per day instead of the very difficult £10 we set ourselves this year!
– Bicycle oil, biodegradable cleaner and an inner tube
– One fill of petrol
– Driving licence renewal
– A few bus journeys
– One choir attendance, one Open Garden day out
– Library loan of Game of Thrones box set
– Garden axe
– 20 bags of gravel for our new seating area (not all used)
– Dental floss, toothpaste, sunblock, soap, deodorant
– Birthday gifts

Brian completed the transformation of part of our garden. It started as a shady and neglected flowerbed and concrete path, and is now a gravel seating area with a flinty feature around the remaining area of soil which has our gooseberry bush in it. The wall at the end is made of the concrete blocks that were under the flowerbed which he dug out.

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We recently enjoyed our first proper sit out there together with cheese sandwiches and crisps, very sophisticated!

05 28 Cheese and crisps in our seating area

We also enjoyed lots of fun and leisure time this month, such as the Eurovision Song Contest which was the perfect opportunity for Lucy to start work on her decorate-it-yourself garden gnome which she got for her birthday. Here is his journey so far:

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Stage one: hat and beard

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Stage two: Well on the way to gnome perfection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did we learn?
This month has involved slowing right down and letting go of many of our self-imposed schedules and deadlines, to prioritise wellbeing. Our seating area is brilliant but was very physically draining to get done. We’ve realised that nothing in the house or garden is that urgent if we are safe, warm and dry – it can all slow down now.

It has been good for us to rethink a lot of things and talk to each other about it. For Lucy, doing a bit of the cooking and cleaning again has been pretty fun, as its an excuse to listen to music, sing and dance around a bit while achieving something productive!  So, we think we are getting better all the time at being able to adjust and compromise, which feels like a really powerful strength to have.

Goals for next month:
Next month we would like to stay slow and simple in our goals, and just take each day as it comes rather than set ourselves up with a list of things we must achieve. So, if we can relax and enjoy watching Wimbledon at the end of June untroubled by thoughts of what we should have got done, then it will have been a successful month!

05 05 Our oak

Lucy’s Books & Music Corner:

Music
Song of the month:
 Beach House – Lazuli
Penny & The Quarters – You and Me
Christine & The Queens – Half Ladies
Nao – Girlfriend
And Bonnie Raitt on Jools Holland’s show doing a cover of ‘Need You Tonight’ by INXS!

Books 
Book of the month: Anna Gavalda – Consolation
(There was a lot about this book I liked, and a lot I didn’t like, but it was the one which resonated most with me when I was enjoying it, so that’s why it had to be number one.)
Stephen Chbosky – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Tove Jansson – Travelling Light
Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project

Two Exciting Weeks: taking things to the next level

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We haven’t blogged for a little while, but it’s not because we haven’t been doing anything relevant to the theme of our blog – quite the opposite. We’ve been going through a big decision making process that has taken our lives to the next level.

On 3rd September Brian handed in his notice at work. We’re going to be living the super-simple life we’ve thought about for years and read about on so many other blogs and channels. With one of us doing paid employment and the other doing cost-reduction by being more self sufficient, we will be living a much more balanced life and both have so much more time for the things we love.

It’s been a scary process too, but we’ve been noticing simple, abundant things all around us, giving us confidence and excitement about taking things to the next level. Life already feels more real, vibrant, necessary and rich.

Here are some of the things we’ll be doing and blogging about:

Reducing our food costs by cooking more resourcefully and growing more food
We looked back at what we’ve been buying over recent months, and had to admit that a lot of it was unnecessary, bought because of being tired or stressed. We’re already shopping and cooking very differently, having ‘no spend days’ often, yet still having plenty of food to eat. We’ve also had some of our best ever dinners, because we’ve been more creative and resourceful.

Brian's amazing leftovers bake

Brian’s amazing leftovers bake

In the future we’ll grow more of our own food too, but as a lovely surprise this autumn we noticed that one of last year’s runner beans had overwintered (as they are perennials) and is providing us with bonus beans!

Bonus beans!

Bonus beans!

Providing more of our own services
With two of us at work, the idea of there being the time or, especially, energy to tackle any significant home/vehicle maintenance, garden development and making our own gifts or products was not realistic. Some people might be able to do all this, but not us. Now, we can look forward to seeing just how creative we can be, while taking our time, doing things in the right season or weather conditions, and actually enjoying it.

Finding a mindful way
By working as a team, we can reduce both our levels of stress, getting away from endless ‘to-do’ lists going round our heads, and instead slowing down, sharing things out and creating a clear space for both of us to be mindful in what we do. At this time of year, how often we’ve failed to notice the wonderful quality of light, or the chill on a sunny day that means autumn. These things matter more than earning more money to spend beyond what we actually need.

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Being healthier in every way
Everything we’re planning has a bonus health benefit, whether physical, mental or both. Brian will be cycling to the shops, the food we make will be healthier, engaging with real physical things like the garden soil and the firewood also has a positive impact. We won’t feel the need to rush through everything with tension in our bodies.

Reducing our impact and only taking our fair share
We’re excited about a life which moves even further away from excess and waste. Things which have never meant much to us – clothes, gadgets, etc – feel increasingly irrelevant. When we do need to buy something, we’ll know it is purely a matter of meeting our needs and not being consumers.

Thank you to everyone who reads and comments on our blog. Knowing we are not on our own with our thoughts and plans is such an amazing thing, and we’re looking forward to writing about the changes to come.

A weekend of rest and relaxation

This weekend we both had three days off together and the plan was to get ahead with some home tasks, especially firewood for the winter. However, our bodies had other ideas, Brian was having particularly bad sciatica and hayfever, and on Friday evening Lucy’s shoulder locked into a painful strain which lasted for the whole three days.

So, manual jobs were off the agenda, and instead we had a more relaxing weekend.

On Saturday we visited some open gardens in a nearby village, and we were glad we did that because we weren’t able to visit the open gardens in our own village on Sunday – it was rainy, and we were too tired and achey. Instead, Brian made oat cookies which we ate while watching a film on DVD:

Ready for delicious cookies

Ready for delicious cookies

And then we went out for an evening walk in the village, ending up in the churchyard where we looked in awe at the huge variety of clouds including these ones with shapes that reminded us of dolphin or whales’ tails:

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And when we got home, we had chips from the Chinese take-away with veggie burgers and the first of our home-grown kale while watching Shed of The Year – can any restaurant experience beat that?

Today we got the lawn mowing done, and then went on two exciting trips. First, to the library where Lucy picked up two novels, which one will she read first? No shopping trip in memory has ever resulted in bringing home anything as exciting as library books are, and the cost is £NOTHING!

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And then we had a wonderful afternoon walking around a nearby nature reserve, with a picnic in the woods. We saw many kinds of damsel and dragonflies, a hobby and some baby pheasants, and so many orchids – it was very inspiring.

We spent a lot of time in the garden over the weekend – pottering, sky-watching, reading and taking photos. The garden is entering it’s summer lushness right now and so many things make us want to stop and savour it.

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We were also thrilled to be listed as ‘Very Inspiring Bloggers’ this week – we’ve added our own 10 nominations to this page. Thank you, Tiny Trail!

Lessons in Living Simply

This week has been packed full of little lessons in living simply. We’ve been swinging from losing ourselves in everyday stress, to returning and residing in a calmer place with appreciation of life’s wonders…before going down the hole of stress again, and so it goes on! Perspective can be really hard to hold on to sometimes. This is partly because we are due a holiday – we will be on staycation in a week, and we’re just tired. This is also traditionally Lucy’s busiest time at work.

One thing we never lose sight of is our privilege and the ‘first world problem’ nature of many of our worries. We are not struggling to survive, house, feed or clothe ourselves. Therefore it is even more important that we value simple pleasures, so that we are less likely to be wasteful or to buy and consume unnecessary things.

Here are some of our simple moments from this week:

Ducks know how to live

Ducks know how to live

On a day out yesterday Lucy and her mum watched this beautiful male mallard duck having a very thorough and exuberant wash, with lots of head-dunking, flapping and feather-smoothing. If you need a boost, seek out a duck!

White chocolate strawberries

White chocolate strawberries

Brian made these white lemon chocolate strawberries as a Sunday treat last weekend – simple and perfect!

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This week the smell of blossom has been very powerful. Every time we pass some and are hit by the wall of scent we know it’s Spring. On Lucy’s bicycle commutes, a regular blast of blossom aroma keeps her mind in the present moment.

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Lucy has been remembering to check out the moon every day. At the moment it’s a daytime and evening moon, and is looking down on us for most of the day.

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After the rushed breakfasts of working week days we always try to have some good long weekend breakfasts with radio and magazines. There’s something very relaxing about watching the steam coming off a nice cup of tea!

Weekday fuel

06 04 Summer cycling

by Lucy

I love cycling to work. If I managed it 5 days a week I would be riding for 7.5 hours. I think I average about 5 hours a week. What I am sure of is that the more I cycle, the more I eat!

Over the last few months I’ve managed to find my perfect cycling workday diet. I am not perfect at sticking to it, but I know that when I do, I feel better.

Breakfast: I have tried eating breakfast before I leave the house, but I can’t do it. My body is not relaxed enough to digest it while cycling. It works better for me to set off early and have breakfast in the office before work (or in the summer I often stop by a bench on my route and eat it in the great outdoors).

My perfect breakfast: One home-made oaty cocoa flapjack, 2 kiwi fruits and a small mango or large banana, all chopped up in a bowl, maybe with some nuts. A few variations have included summer fruits, and fruit salad made by Brian’s son at school!

04 04 Perfect breakfast

10 08 Fruit salad breakfast

Mid Morning Snack: A banana or apple and some almonds or walnuts

Lunch: The aim is to bring my own lunch to work every day. In the past I was much more disorganised and would end up eating things like sausage rolls and pasties and chips.  I’ve realised now that it’s better for me to spend a bit more and get something healthy like a falafel wrap or soup if I haven’t managed to bring anything, as long as it’s not more than a couple of times a month. When I bring my own lunch to work, it is usually home-made hummus (garlic-free) sandwiches, or last night’s leftovers.

I would usually have wholemeal bread!

(I would usually have wholemeal bread, this must have been quite a disorganised day!)

After that I have my second flapjack of the day.

Mid-afternoon (pre-cycling home) snack: Banana and walnuts or almonds. I sometimes forget to eat my afternoon snack, and then feel very hungry on the way home!

Great things about these foods:

  • They are pretty healthy for the calories they provide
  • There is hardly any packaging but things are easy to transport. I carry a LOT of Tupperware around every day!
  • Very low cost compared to more processed stuff

(On top of this I sometimes have other treats such as office birthday cakes, a pub lunch  and the occasional ice cream in the summertime! But these don’t really help in fuelling my cycle rides…)

More of What Matters: Spending Review Month 10

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Welcome to the end of our Money Month 10, which we’re celebrating because we’ve saved more this month than in any other. Having some time off over the Christmas & New Year period meant we enjoyed pottering about and not spending much money, plus the fact we had edible, watchable and wearable Christmas gifts to enjoy!

Here’s where our money went this month:

Food and drink: An average £14.09 per day, including some Christmas food and a New Years Day takeaway
Travel:
A few fills of petrol
Coal: 4 bags
Toiletries: 1 deodorant, 2 soaps (we have reduced the range of things we use, and seem to now be buying hardly anything)
Domestic: 1 glass tumbler, 3 reindeer design plates (all in January sales), kitchen scale to replace one which Lucy dropped, laundry liquid, a lunchbox
Health / dental:
A few of the usual items
Clothes:
A winter coat, tights, socks
Luxuries: 1 song download
Gifts: A few Christmas bits and pieces

We’ve been settling into more simple and frugal habits and ideas over the winter, such as:

  • Taking packed lunches and snacks to work. There’s not been many days where either of us has bought something on the day
  • Eating lots of fruit and vegetables so we have less room for the more expensive stuff
  • Replacing bought pizzas with home-made toast pizza, as shown in the picture (with the day before’s veggie leftovers on the top). It’s toast topped with tomato puree, cheese, herbs and whatever else you fancy. We all prefer these, so that’s another convenience food eliminated…
  • Using a prepaid discount season ticket for bus journeys
  • Using up old toiletries and not automatically replacing them
  • Enjoying free hobbies, indoor and outdoor: looking at wildlife and the moon & sky with binoculars, going to the library, and knitting with yarn that was already in the house
  • Sticking to regular cycle maintenance routines, to reduce the chance of needing professional help to keep it in good working order

The coming month should see us having our roof fixed up, which is one of the things we’ve been saving for, and will be a weight off our minds to get done.

Happy winter!

09 13 Amazing sunset landscape

Feeling lighter by casting off unwanted stuff…

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..that is the aim of de-cluttering, which is something we’ve been missing since our big years of de-cluttering in 2012-13. We tried to write down everything we got rid of over many months, hoping to achieve the one item per day target of the 365 Less Things blog, and in the end we got rid of more than that.

It couldn’t go on forever, because at the same time we were reducing our spending habits and bringing less new items into the house, and so for the last couple of years we have not been able to find much to get rid of.

Over recent weeks, we caught up with lots of other blogs such as What I Shed Today, and Be More with Less, and reminded ourselves that it isn’t only material items which you can cast off for a simpler, lighter life. It can also be digital clutter such as not-very-good photos and music, and perhaps most importantly, it can be mental or lifestyle clutter – ideas, thoughts and burdens that weigh you down.

A look around the house also revealed that there are now some more materials items we can get rid of.

So: Its time for a new de-cluttering mission. In the last week we’ve got rid of some more books, clothes and shoes, and deleted lots of bad songs: Lucy is listening to our digital record collection A-Z doing quality control. We’re currently on C. Brian is trying to cast off his sugar cravings too. Every day we can ask ourselves: what can I cast off today?

These are not really new year’s resolutions, as the timing was coincidental. We are always trying to simplify our lives and are these are just our latest pledges.

Finally, a further thing was reduced this week: Lucy’s hair, during the first (and very successful) home haircut by Brian! Evidence below:

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Time for sunset walks & moon watching

One of our sunset walks

One of our sunset walks

Over the last few days we’ve been heading outdoors as much as we can. We did do the conventional thing on Saturday and had a look in the sales, but within a few minutes we’d remembered what a waste of our lives it is, and all we bought was one glass tumbler for £3.50.

Every other day, we’ve headed out for a local walk, either in our village or very nearby. No long drives, no unfamiliar routes, just pure leisure! We’ve seen all sorts of birds including a male bullfinch, a flock of long-tailed tits and a little grebe diving on a frosty mill pond, and four graceful deer running across a field very close to us.

Long-tailed tit taking off from the hedgerow

Long-tailed tit taking off from the hedgerow

Because our whole days have been pretty leisurely, we haven’t been heading out until the afternoon, so we’ve caught some spectacular sunsets. And then on the way home, we get to see people’s Christmas lights and trees in the dark! We’ve also been much more aware of the moon and how it changes from day to day.

Today we made an earlier start and had breakfast in the woods and enjoyed a full day’s sunshine and light through the trees. A friendly robin visited us to see what we were doing.

This is what the Christmas break means to us – time to appreciate everything around us.

Sunset walk with rooks and jackdaws

Sunset walk with rooks and jackdaws

Taking the time to notice the moon

Taking the time to notice how the moon changes from day to day