Tuesday 31 December 2013

Goodbye 2013

I spent some time reading old posts last night to remind me what happened in 2013.  It's amazing to read about the things you'd kinda forgotten you'd done!  Here's a quick round up of my year.

The start of the year was a snowy one.  My last winter in Money Pit Towers although at the time I didn't know that.  The sale of the house was always hanging over me.  In between lots of decorating and de cluttering I managed to complete my counselling course.  I then decided after all that work I didn't want to become a counsellor as it was pulling me in a direction I didn't want.  So the decision to return to teaching was made.

I also went on a corset making course which I loved.  This is definitely something I will be developing in 2014.

I attended a few craft fairs with mixed success.  Everyone loved my tartan stuff but no one was buying my larger pieces.  I decided not to sell at fairs as the costs were more than any profits and set up a Facebook page for The Tartan Tower. 

Thanks to The Great British Sewing Bee my sewing mojo was firmly in place and as well as sewing from scratch my refashioning habit took off big time.

I took in dresses that were too big, dyed jackets and blouses and turned dresses into tops.  I made flower brooches from belts and even glued ribbons to shoes.  Feeling brave I approached The Refashion Co op and to my amazement they let me join!!

At the start of the summer holidays I finally sold my house after almost 3 years.  It was filmed to be featured on the BBC programme Escape to the Country.  I think this pushed my buyer into finally making an offer!! Although the house wasn't used in the end it was fun being part of the filming process.

Although I had been working towards selling the house for so long, when it happened it was a time of sadness and relief mixed with excitement of creating a new life for myself and the Teenager.  At the same time I interviewed for a job supply teaching and was successful.

It was a summer of short breaks away, combined with family visits including a wedding. My favourite outfit of the year was this wedding outfit put together for £10!

After a busy summer that included visiting family in Vienna and the isle of Lewis, I finally moved house. A wee ordinary house in a nice area of Stirling.  It needs lots of work but it's all mine :-)

The end of the year saw us celebrating my Dad's 70th birthday.  We managed to get all 6 grandchildren together for the first time in years.  That was pretty special.

And finally to end the year, I'm back teaching full time!  I love it but it's very time consuming.  I've yet to balance work/home life but I'm working on it.

It's been a good year.  Here's to 2014, may it be even better :-)

Monday 30 December 2013

2014 Budget - bills

I've been brave and have dived into the paperwork to work out how much my monthly outgoings are to the penny.  I had a rough idea of what they were *insert embarrassed face here* but when I looked at each bill I got a wee shock from some of them.

I'm now paperless for most of them and confess that sometimes I don't look at them online.  But yesterday I looked at my December BT bill in detail.  I get free evening and weekend calls yet this month I only made 3 free calls.  I looked at my statement and discovered that apart from 2 official calls nearly all the other calls were to my MUM!!!! Total cost of calls £23.54!  On closer inspection of the fine print I've discovered that my free evening calls are from 7pm to 7am, not 6pm as I had assumed. DOH!!!

So, each month I automatically pay for

landline/broadband (BT)
mobile phone (Vodaphone)
pet insurance for Emma
bank charge
TV license
TKD fees (the Teenager)
NTS (National Trust for Scotland)
contact lenses (the Teenager)

I haven't set up a DD for electricity and gas yet but I will at the end of March after the next quarterly bill.  I'm going to send in my meter readings on the first of each month so I get an accurate bill and not an estimate.

I've paid my 2013/2014 council tax bill until April then the new financial year starts and I'll get my next bill.  I haven't decided yet whether to pay that monthly or in one lump sum.  Depends if I'm working full time and can save my earnings.

I've also just paid my car tax (6 months) and car insurance/breakdown cover.  I paid my house insurance in September when I moved in.  It's cheaper to pay insurance in one lump sum.

Next year the big bills look like this -

April - Council Tax
May - Car tax
August - gym membership
September - House Insurance
October - OU course (LAST ONE!!!!)
November - Car tax (unless I've paid for 12 months in May)
December - Car insurance/breakdown cover

I realise this isn't entertaining reading (LOL!!!) but writing it down reminds me what I need to pay.  And hopefully it might jog someone's memory.

Looking at the numbers closely clarifies a lot of things for me.  I've decided that while I'm earning from teaching I will save at least 50% of my salary each month.  This will ensure I have enough to pay the bills when they come round and can live on the other 50% each month.

I'm still aiming to save that £40k by the time I'm 50 :-)

Edited to add gym membership in August, perhaps a luxury but there are health issues in my family and I have a real fear of becoming overweight and inactive in old age

Sunday 29 December 2013

2014 Budget - food and essentials

I've finally worked out my food and essentials budget for next year.  It will be £50 per week. That's for the 2 of us plus 2 dogs and OH popping in and out for some meals.  Hopefully I'll be able to trim that down as the year goes on especially when I get my garden growing.

I've done an audit of my cupboards and worked out these are the essentials we use.  With a few fresh ingredients bought weekly I can rustle up a variety of meals.  I keep a decent supply of frozen veg and other essentials in my freezer and will keep stocking it up with my stickered bargains.

If there's any obvious gaps or suggestions you have please feel free to comment.
Storecupboard essentials


Rice – brown, risotto

Egg noodles


Taco shells

Tea bags

Coffee – instant, ground

Peppermint tea


Split peas



Flour – plain, bread

Baking powder




Sugar – caster, granulated, brown


Golden syrup

Vanilla extract


Custard powder

Marigold stock powder

Lea and Perrins sauce

Soy sauce

Vinegar – cider, balsamic

Oil – olive, sunflower, sesame

Salt – table, sea



Chopped tomatoes


Evaporated milk


BBQ sauce

Tomato ketchup

Diluting juice – blackcurrant, apple


UHT milk

Juice – apple, orange

Household essentials

Washing up liquid

Soap powder

Liquid soap

Bleach spray

Cream cleaner

Scouring sponges


Tea towels

Toilet paper

Kitchen roll

Glass cleaner

Rubber gloves

Disposable gloves

Furniture polish

Dog food

Dog biscuits

Poop bags

Tin foil

Cling film

Food bags – small, medium

Black bags

Batteries – AA, AAA

Medicine box


Cold and flu tablets


Nux vom

Multi vitamins

Rosehip tablets

Vitamin D tablets



Head and shoulders shampoo

Shower gel




Face pads

Face wash

Oil of Olay

Eye make-up remover


Deodorant – me (Sure), Gordon (Lynx)



Styling wax


Shaving foam

Saturday 28 December 2013

2014 Budget - Clothes

I've decided to stick to my £120 per year clothing budget.  I made a few mistakes this year with impulsive buying of fabric but it means I do have lots of fabric to use in 2014.  Since I'm back working I'll be focussing more on work clothes.  So far I've remembered that teaching infants can be messy (paint, glitter etc on clothes!!) so perhaps dry clean only trousers are more suitable for working with the older kids! I think I have enough running/gym stuff to last the year although I may need new trainers at some point. 

A recent visit to my mum (remember she has 2 full wardrobes of clothes!!!) came up with a few goodies to refashion for work.  I especially love the blouse with the cats!!

I just love this green jacket although it's a bit big for me.  I may need to alter it slightly but look how lovely it looks over my bargain Laura Ashley dress :-)

Then there's this lovely silk blouse, again a bit loose but with a wee bit of tweaking will be perfect for a warmer day.
I still have a lot of clothing to sort out.  I MUST get that done before the end of the year so I'm starting fresh.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas

I nearly didn't put up a tree  this year but OH and the boys helped clear away some boxes and re arranged the furniture  so I could fit one in.  I normally have a real one but this one was reduced to £20 in the supermarket (down from £50!!!) so I bought it to take into the classroom.  The kids decorated it with their handmade decorations which they then took home.
Since I had it I thought I'd use it (real ones are pretty costly anyway)  It's a pre lit one so no faffing about with lights!! It's decorated just with my wee Santa collection.  I've been collecting them for over 10 years now, nothing expensive or even tasteful but they make me smile :-)
I had to show you this!  This was my gift in a forum swap.  It's a handmade wreath with lots of wee balls of yarn and spools of thread.  The photo really doesn't do it justice.  It came all the way from Denmark and I just love it!

This is what I'm wearing tomorrow.  An Ebay bargain, lovely linen Laura Ashley dress that fits me perfectly.

Whatever you're doing tomorrow and whoever you're spending it with have a very Merry Christmas.

Lots of love

Ali xxx

Sunday 22 December 2013

My Christmas dinner

Last year I set myself a Christmas Meal Challenge where I bought and cooked a Christmas day dinner from scratch for free (except for the turkey which was a gift) by only using my points from the supermarket I use most frequently.  I wanted to try it again.  Last year I had £52 worth of points, this year I had £42.07. That's a tenner less.
I did the big shop today and spent £42.24 so was 17p over budget!!! BUT some of the food will be used in other meals.  The potatoes will last all week, the soup will do Boxing Day as well and the turkey will no doubt provide many meals.
This year's menu is
  • Carrot and coriander soup or melon cocktail
  • Turkey, stuffing, bacon wrapped chipolatas, gravy, roast potatoes, carrots, sprouts, sweetcorn or veggie option (undecided atm)
  • Black cherry trifle or Christmas pudding with custard or cherries in Greek yoghurt
Since only 2 of us like pudding (and they're not cheap to make!!) I've cheated by buying 2 individual ones that re heat in the microwave. 
The nitty gritty:
2 bottles of Schloer (BOGOF)     £2.25
1 bottle Appletiser                        £1.49
2 packs frozen cherries                 £4.40
3.5kg potatoes                               £3.50
Cranberry sauce                            £1.15
Pork sausagemeat (frozen)           £1.00
Greek yoghurt                              £2.50
2 x double cream                          £3.40
Chipolatas                                     £2.30
Streaky bacon                               £3.00
Fresh custard                                £1.50
2 Christmas puddings                   £3.00
Coriander pot                                £1.25
Black grapes                                 £2.50
Melon                                           £2.00
Oranges                                        £1.00
2 kg carrots                                   £2.00
12 crackers                                    £4.00
There will be 5 adults, 1 teen and 1 pre teen.  My menu is simpler than last year so maybe that's why I've spent less on it.  But on the whole I'm pretty pleased with it.  I was given a present of a bottle of Prosecco by a child in my class and the turkey is a gift from OH's butcher friend so not paying for wine or turkey makes this challenge doable for us. If I still wanted a bird for the main meal I would follow A girl called Jack's example and buy a large chicken.  I just wouldn't pay the money for a turkey.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Fruit n veg

I had to pop into the supermarket for my eldest DS and had fruit n veg on my list for myself.  I never go in with a clear idea of what I what want as I like to see what they've got on offer.  I know this can be dangerous if you're on a tight budget cos all the advice says make a list and stick to it but I've worked out how they mark stuff down in my local Sainsbury's.  If it's a cold miserable night they start stickying stuff around 6pm.  If it's nice they wait till about 8pm. 

It's a wet cold miserable night tonight so I got some great bargains;.  But I'm especially pleased with my 5p bag of apple slices and grapes!!!

Brussels sprouts 20p (was £1), 2 bags of ready prepped broccoli/carrots/asparagus spears 30p (was £1.50), pomegranate seeds 30p (was £1.50) and black olives 24p (was £1.05).  Total £1.39 instead of £7.20 :-)

Sprouts will go freezer for Christmas dinner, apples/grapes/pomegranate seeds for breakfast, olives in a salad with some feta cheese for lunch tomorrow and veg in a stir fry tonight

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Mulling things over

I've been mulling things over for a few days reflecting on the comments on my previous post.  I might be working full time, I might need to change my 'ideal lifestyle' to suit my current circumstances but I'm happy with the way things are working out right now.  I hadn't realised that financial independence and security were so important to me.  But living a non wasteful lifestyle is also important to me so the 2 things CAN and WILL work together.
As I popped into the supermarket tonight on yet another errand to pick up soap powder as I'd totally run out (on Friday it was teabags and before that it was washing up liquid!!) I picked up a reduced curry.  Of course I could make a batch of curry sauce and fill my freezer for a fraction of the cost, but right now a reduced ready meal for tonight's tea is ok. 

Over the 2 week holiday I'll get myself organised and get this lovely new fridge freezer filled up with nutritious home made 'ready meals' (suspect they may be turkey based as OH has ordered a biggie again!!) I'm rather pleased with this purchase as it was a total bargain and unusually has a bigger freezer than fridge which suits my purpose.  It needs to sit overnight then I'll unpack it and switch it on tomorrow.  Did I mention it's black??? Lol!

Sunday 15 December 2013

Time v Money

Thanks to some external school politics and someone's unprofessionalism it looks like I could be in this teaching job for up to a year!  Normally teachers on the supply list get allocated to a school for short term supply by HR with longer term cover (like a maternity leave) going to a full interview process by the Head Teacher.  Luckily for me the HT seems to like what I'm doing and wants me to stay.  Whether I'll be allowed to by HR is another matter.

BUT in the meantime I get paid at my full rate instead of the supply rate which is 2/3 of the full rate.

So I find myself in the position of earning decent money but don't have any time (or energy) to do anything with it.  A few months of teaching will be enough to fit a whole new kitchen or upgrade my ancient car.  Or replace the drafty front window and rotten back door.

I'm finding myself spending more money in the supermarket as I don't have time to cook from scratch (although I did score 4 avocados for 80p yesterday!!)

I now pay someone to walk my dogs every day.

Yesterday my ancient Dyson blew up. Instead of researching the best price for its replacement I got one that was the quickest delivery (John Lewis next day delivery to my Waitrose) By shopping around I could have saved some money but I didn't have the luxury of time.  And with 2 dogs I really need to hoover daily!!

So it was a bit of an aha! moment for me.

Being cash rich/time poor is the opposite of the real me but I need a steady income. The aim of this blog was to save £40k in 4 years.  So I'm giving myself a period of adjustment and will use the Christmas holidays to get myself organised in the ways of frugal living again.  I've ordered a new fridge freezer ( I did the research on that weeks ago so it's a good deal!!) so hope to get it filled over the holidays.

I must admit I'm loving being back teaching.  It's hard work during the day plus I'm bringing home work every night.  I'm sure this will settle down once I get things organised but there's only one week left of term.  And it's a lovely one with Nativity performances, church service and party.

Life throws stuff at you.  It's how you deal with it that's important.  3 years ago I would never have imagined this was how my life would be.  But I wouldn't change a thing :-)

Saturday 30 November 2013

Sad St Andrews Day


Today is St Andrews Day here in Scotland but we're waking up to news of a major incident in Glasgow last night.  A police helicopter crashed into a pub killing 8 people and injuring many more.  Instead of a day and night of celebrations it will be spent in quiet reflection and pride at the quick and brave response of our emergency services and the people of Glasgow who on hearing the crash ran TOWARDS the scene to help.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Back to work

In just a few short hours my life has flipped around.  Before I moved house I applied to join the local supply teachers list.  I get regular emails telling me what temporary jobs (ie around a month) are available and until now I haven't replied to any of them. 

At lunchtime today I got one about a P1 class in a local school (that's 4 and 5 yos here in Scotland) It was for a month until the end of term.  On impulse I pinged a brief email back and within an hour I had spoken to the Headteacher and was offered the position starting Monday!!!! Eeeeek!

Turns out it's actually a maternity cover that was advertised but they got no response.  So initially it's for a month but could be extended to a year if I fit into their ethos!  Double eeeek!!!

So, I can call myself a teacher again!  Now the practicalities need to be dealt with :-)

Clothing Budget

At the start of the year I set myself a clothing budget of £10 per month.  I had good intentions of making more clothes from scratch as well as refashioning things already in my wardrobe.  With one month to go I confess I've blown the budget (£127.01 plus £50 on a pair of winter boots) but as I look carefully at my purchases I've come to realise a few things.

1.  I bought 2 dresses and 1 blouse.  I've never worn the blouse or pink and black dress (on the left above) but I did wear the rose dress to a wedding and Dad's 70th party. I love this dress!

2.  I've worn the tights endlessly.  Essential as an extra layer under leggings and jeans to keep warm

3.  I've never used the handbag as it's more of an orangey colour than the red I was expecting (perils of buying on Ebay I guess)

4.  I bought a dress pattern, more than 10m of fabric, 30m of knicker elastic and 5 invisible zips I haven't used.  I did cut out a dress to wear to the wedding but time/motivation and unexpectedly selling the house around the same time put paid to that.

So what have I learned from this? 

A £120 annual budget is absolutely do able but I need to shop smarter and plan better.  I bought the fabric with good intentions but clearly didn't need it at that moment in time as I already had more wearable clothes than I thought.  I've also realised that fabric buying online can be hit and miss as you can't judge the quality.

I still haven't unpacked all my clothes yet which would suggest I have more than I need!  So my task between now and the new year is to sort through them and see if I actually have any gaps in my wardrobe. Then I can decide if I need to make something from scratch or refashion something I already have.

Wednesday 27 November 2013


I was lucky and scored a good haul of yellow stickered reductions tonight!

I got -

2 packs of root vegetables, each containing 3 carrots, an onion, a small swede and a parsnip for 20p each (down from £1.20 each). 

A small organic Savoy cabbage 20p (£1.40).

A pack of sliced leeks and cabbage 20p (£1.10).

Organic unsmoked back bacon 99p (£3.99).

Ready prepared carrots, broccoli and asparagus 20p (£1.50)

6 Scotch pancakes 40p (80p)

Total cost £2.39, should have been £11.19. Saving £8.80

The root veg will be made into lentil and split pea soup, root rosti  and root mash to top a pie.  The sliced leeks and cabbage will be made into a creamy sauce with bacon strips and served with pasta.  The Savoy cabbage will be shredded and stir fried with chicken and veg already in the freezer.  The carrots/broccoli and asparagus were served with tonight's turkey and sweet potato bake.  And the pancakes will be the Teenager's supper after TKD training tonight and probably breakfast tomorrow :-)

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Playing with denim

I've got my crafting mojo back too!  I've been playing with denim (ie old jeans!) and mixing it with felted tartan.  The above cushions have denim backs.  Both are for sale on my FB page.  Just search for The Tartan Tower.

I've also been playing with Harris Tweed and made some brooches with it as well as denim ones.

I picked up these red frames after Christmas last year for peanuts so made a few tartan and denim pics.

These ones are Harris Tweed and denim

I've also been busy working on the house and spend lots of time in DIY superstores looking at lighting, paint shades and other boring but essential things.  Whilst there last week I found this Jamie Oliver salad kit reduced.  So I'll have fresh salad leaves growing on my kitchen window sill soon :-)

Friday 8 November 2013

Got my mojo back!!

My cooking mojo that is!  I've discovered a new magazine called the Healthy Eating Guide which is full of normal recipes slightly tweaked to be more healthy.  In the past few weeks I've lost 2.5kg(5.5lbs) just following their eating tips.

My favourite recipe so far.  Macaroni and cheese with peppers and roast pumpkin with salad.  It was rather delicious and even the Teenager loved it although he did add extra cheese to his!!

Our Halloween pumpkin has so far made soup and the above mac n cheese!  I didn't get a huge one this year but there's still a lot of flesh to get through.

Some yellow stickered goodies.  The cheesecake was served with some defrosted blueberries.
And finally Elaine's recipe over at MFin3 for tattie scones.  The Teenager has discovered he loves them so I knocked up a batch and froze them.  Very easy and frugal to make.  Best way to serve them IMHO is with a runny fried egg!!

Sunday 3 November 2013

It's November!

How did that happen?? Sorry for being MIA. I just needed a little time to re group myself and work out a few things.  As much as I would have liked to stay in bed and pull the duvet over my head for a few days when you've got kids (and dogs!!) you have to just Get On With It!!
So quick round up of a few things.

It's suddenly become winter so that means soup.  I had a few leeks and half a bunch of celery lurking in the bottom fridge drawer so they were chopped up with a token carrot, added to some veg stock, simmered then blitzed to become Leek and Celery soup.  Even the Teenager declared it delicious served with a wee spot of crème fraiche!

My latest frugal find in the supermarket.  This pack made 3 meals for me.  First meal simply fried in a little butter, second was baked with spinach and then lastly it was fishcakes. Very nice!

I've also discovered that I have a Lidl within walking distance :-) I've been testing the quality of their meat (it's all Scottish!!), fruit and veg.  So far I'm impressed with quality and obviously the price.

3 more kilts (ladies ones) were treated to the boil wash treatment and felted ready for use in The Tartan Tower.  I still haven't set up a proper sewing area so that's a priority.

I've been having a smashing time in the kitchen.  Ugly tiles are now removed so the walls are ready for re plastering.  I don't have a date for that yet so I'm cooking in a half madeover kitchen *rolls eyes*

Yesterday was my dad's 70th birthday.  All he wanted was his family together for the day so we pulled that off for him.  For the first time in many years all 6 grandchildren (ages 26 to 13) were together in one place.  He was a happy Grampa :-)

And finally a rare pic of me and my 3 boys.  I also got a rare pic of me and OH with all our 5 kids.  Precious!!

Monday 14 October 2013


It's now 6 weeks since I moved into my house.  Lots of little things are getting done but I'm really struggling with motivation and a post op wound I thought would be a minor blip that could be sorted out in a day or 2.  I've also developed sciatica so that's making life fun.  NOT!!!

But I'm keeping on keeping on, simply because there's no other option.  I'm being careful and letting the Teenager take the strain.  That's him posing in the garden after getting his black tags in TKD.  This means he can sit his black belt grading next summer.  He only took the sport up 2 years ago but seems to have a talent for it.  Proud mum here :-)

Those hideous trees (leylandii) in the background have been felled ready for a secure fence between me and my neighbour's property.  That's my biggest expense so far but a necessary one to stop Emma escaping!!

I've got my kitchen tiles ready and waiting to be put up. I've got my paint to paint the kitchen cupboards.  Just need the energy and motivation to get started now!

Monday 30 September 2013

Being creative

This really sums me up.  I've been so busy with the practical stuff for the last 4 weeks (yes, I moved house 4 weeks ago today!!) that I've had no time to be creative.  And I've really missed it.  So much that I actually bought pink and cream yarn to make a throw for my living room instead of trying to find my yarn stash.

It doesn't look very pink in the pic but in real life it's a soft vintage shade.  I've also made some curtains for the Teenager's bedroom as the venetian blinds were letting in light.  They were free (my favourite price!) as I found a bag of stuff from middle son's old flat.  They're just Ikea basic ones but I doubled them so they're lined.  Should also keep the heat in and light out.

And I won some Harris Tweed oddments on eBay.  I have some new ideas for The Tartan Tower so look out for a relaunch very soon :-)

I can't believe September has been and gone.  In a few weeks the clocks will go back and winter will be well on the way.  And then I'll need to think about the C word!!

Sunday 22 September 2013

More demolition

I had my power tools back out to remove the wall cupboards above the cooker.  Looks nice in the photo but they were covered in grease!!  I think everything was coated in 30 years worth of chip pan grease.  It was so bad I was actually retching.  And my hands were covered in the stuff.

I took the doors off first.  The hinged one on the right of the photo was hung by a single screw (which I didn't know) so as I unscrewed one hinge the door fell off.  Missed my head by centimetres and left a huge dent in my kitchen sink.  Since I'm not replacing the sink it'll be a reminder of the day I nearly brained myself!!!

I was so pleased to see that the wooden ceiling continued above the cupboards after all.  No faffing about trying to replace bits to match.  It's all being painted white so the difference in colour doesn't matter.

When it comes to the electrical stuff I know my limits so OH got stuck in with his kit.  Another retching exercise for both of us as the cooker hood was removed.

Ta da!!! My tiny north facing kitchen looks bigger and brighter already.  The tiles will be next, the new cooker gets fitted this week and then I get a plasterer in to skim the walls ready for decorating.  I'll be putting up some shelves and re tiling it hopefully within the next few weeks.

My lovely mum helped me take all the disgusting units to the waste recycling centre so it's all gone from the house.  Slowly getting there and making it all mine :-)