Despair has set in

To tell the truth I don’t know if the £53 figure bandied around is for one person or a family. After my last blog about this when I saw in black and white how much my weekly outgoings were just on what I consider essentials (including cable and internet) I got a bit down. When I saw what our income would be if we were dependent on benefits compared to this figure the truth hit home. And I got a bit depressed because if my husband lost his job tomorrow, we would have to make some drastic changes to our lifestyle. Add to this all the Margaret Thatcher stuff in the media and I was well and truly fighting off the Black Dog. I thought it wise therefore not to attempt to blog (although I did draft some random thoughts about sausages).

Because I was in a grump, I lost the shopping receipt for Wednesday.  I know I bought peppers and some Creme Fraiche and the bill was about £5. No idea what else was purchased (which illustrates how shopping can become a mindless activity and why tracking your spending is a useful if painful exercise). I made fajitas using these ingredients plus items from the freezer and store cupboard. I use a fajita kit which is the nearest we get to a ready meal in this house, yet once you add up the cost of the ingredients it comes to about £8 for feed three people, which is not cheap. This meal may be coming off the meal plan.

Thursday we had a French student arrive to stay with us for three months, who will be sharing some meals with us. This will inevitably add to my overall shopping bill. I am still not sure how to divide the costs, but as I like spreadsheets I may have a play at dividing food, overheads, luxuries and clothing, depending on how I feel of course. You can see that I need a distraction from other more important tasks. Like sorting 30 bags of clothing and filling in tax forms.

This was my Thursday shop:

Water 1.99
broccoli 0.79
oranges 1.49
grapefruit 0.29
tomatoes 1.29
mushrooms 0.85
leeks 0.89
sweetcorn 0.32
single cream 0.69
double cream 0.85
pork steaks 2.69
12.14

I had previously noted that we seemed to be lacking in fruit in our diet and the French Boy said he liked fruit for breakfast so this seemed to be a reason to ensure there was more fruit in the house. As it was his first meal with use I did go a bit overboard with the supper making pork chops with mushrooms and cream (the first thing Delia Smith taught me to cook) with some vegetables and used up some potatoes and onions in a Pan Haggerty recipe I got from The Bearwood Pantry. It was really lovely and there are plenty of leftovers for lunches. Seven meals (as I also used up two pork steaks from the freezer). Total for the ingredients was £8.26 which is £1.18 per portion. Not bad even if I say so myself, as it really was very tasty and seemed luxurious.

What has struck me is that the seemingly luxury meal cost a lot less than the supposedly cheap and cheerful option. A bit more work went into it, I am not sure that double cream is a healthy option for every day, yet no packet was opened in the making of this supper. That is a good thing, yes?

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Declutter please, for your kids!

An empty attic. Paperwork in order. And a decluttered wardrobe.

And remember what William Morris said.

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

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This is nearly all the contents of my moms wardrobe. 5 bags of shoes. 2 Gloverall duffle coats. 3 Burberry macs, another 3 overcoats. I have bagged up 50 pairs of trousers and 40 tops and cardigans and maybe 50 dresses. There are bags inside bags, postcards from the 40’s sent by strangers. There are 80 years of photographs to go through.

I have to wash the clothes then decide what to do with them. In the meantime they are filling the floor of my dining room.

This is my promise to my children.

I will walk around the house and look at what we have in the home. I will open cupboards, go through my wardrobe, count how many shoes I have and recall the last time I wore them. I will then imagine what it will be like for my lovely children to do this when they are in mouning . I will consider what will they do with all this stuff, and think of the hard decisions they will have to make. The ones I am having to make now.Then I will ask myself  three questions. Do I really need this? Do I love it? Do I use it?

I will share and enjoy what money I have now.

I will declutter.

I will donate or sell the clothes I don’t wear.

I will make a memory box with special photos and letters, and then be truly ruthless with everything else.

I will take books I have read to a charity shop, give some to friends and have some fun and become a Book Crosser.

I will start doing this now. Today. After I have sorted my moms stuff. Just found 4 Vyella jackets and some more silk tops. The mountain is growing and my house is looking like a reality tv show where you have to move bags to walk across the room.

When mom died there was (and still is) so much to do and none of it is a pleasant task. Yet truly, the paperwork, the solicitors, insensitive bank staff and arranging the funeral was easier than the task I have ahead of me.

The April Shopping Challenge

Following on from my post yesterday, about living on a low budget, here is my spend today. All bought in Aldi. I am going to make toad in the hole, working out at £1.11 per portion including mashed potatoes and vegetables and baked beans. This again takes me over the £1 Live Below the Line budget so I can see that I need to some serious re thinking if I decide to take on that challenge.

 £       0.18 potatoes  £          1.99
broccoli  £          0.49
 £       0.31 baked beans  £          1.25
 £       0.33 Sausages  £          1.99
toothpaste  £          0.69
toilet cleaner  £          0.85
Handwash  £          0.75
 £          8.01

After all the comments about how IDS can live on £53 per week (not if he eats a £39 breakfast, he can’t) I am continuing to track my spending for a month. I am also using ingredients from my store cupboard and discovering what lurks in the freezer, and costing out all meals. At the end of April I should have a pretty good picture as to what it actually costs to feed 3 adults and to keep a house relatively clean. If we eat out, I will also add that to the spend.

And because I rant on all the time about how shopping locally is the only way to keep what is left of our high street alive, I am only using shops withing walking distance of my home. Which means shopping only in Bearwood.

Bearwood is in Smethwick, predominately in the Abbey Ward of Sandwell. It is bordered on three sides by the Harborne Ward in Birmingham. The high street like many others has a number of empty shops.  Arguably, a major contribution to the decline of this particular high street was when Morrisons took over and then closed the Safeway store, in which the post office was located, so we lost a post office as well as a large supermarket. For quite a while the lot stood vacant. Eventually Aldi and Argos took over the space and bit by bit some shoppers returned. Yet shopping habits had changed, a big retail park including a new indoor market and a huge Asda had opened at Cape Hill, and Bearwood really was never the same.

Shopping locally has it challenges due to lack of good independents or a market selling fresh produce. Bearwood has numerous charity shops, a handful of pawnbrokers and betting shops. Poundland wanted the prime space that was occupied by a green grocer and the big boys won so we lost that too. In addition to Aldi, Bearwood has a small Co Op (limited range and quite expensive), a Tesco Express at the other end of the high street and an Iceland. There are 4 butchers, yet not one supplies organic or free range meat.

International Food and Atlantic Grocers are independents that migrants have opened and are gems for ethnic food and some vegetables. Two African/Caribbean shops have also recently opened, again selling items not found in most supermarkets. There are no independent bakers, Firkins has just closed which leaves us Greggs if we want anything approaching fresh bread.

About a year ago I took part in the 4 week Shopping in Bearwood Challenge, an inspired experiment of one of the founding members of The Bearwood Pantry. We were all involved in the Portas Pilot bid and we took part, as an evidence base to find out what the local high street needed and what it already had. It was a useful and interesting experiment that led to the formation of a food cooperative, Bearwood Pantry who source meat and vegetables direct from the farm and handmade bread from Ubuntu. Membership has grown, they have recently received a pot of funding, which is marvelous news. And perhaps this is the future for people who want good quality food and want to avoid the supermarkets.

Through the Portas Pilot bid I got in touch with some of the other towns going through the process, one of which was Warwick and started to follow @WarwickTweetUp on Twitter. This week I discovered that Todd who is @WarwickTweetUp  is carrying out a similar challenge, Todd Buys Local in April. His experience in Warwick will be different to shopping in Bearwood I am sure. Nonetheless an interesting one that I will follow. His is more about what he can source in Warwick and not about how much one spends to live in the UK today. Warwick also seems that have lot of lovely independents and some good coffee shops. And a decent pub.

Coffee shops (and pubs) are a blog subject for another day. However, if you want to trawl back over past posts you will see I have written about coffee shops too. Well once you have had Melbourne coffee, the bar is set high and that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.