Thursday, October 31, 2013

STOP-tober 31st: Totting Up

The end of the STOP-tober challenge from Elaine at Mortgage Free In Three and I there's good news and bad news.

Good news: I spent 600nis (over 100GBP) less on food and household goods than I've been spending for the last few months. On the other hand, we were away for a week eating out of my mother's fridge so it should have been less anyway. I also lost the plot a little bit on our return and with the general frenzy of  catching up and getting back into the daily routines.

Bad news: I Spent 300nis more on travel because we had to get to and from the airport with lugguage, and this month was 300nis more expensive as my building dues went out as they do quarterly. So that's my 600nis accounted for.

Good news: I kept incidental spending to under the 1000nis (about 178GBP) I'd budgeted - 954nis to be exact.

Bad news: I haven't accounted for the travel insurance, 172nis that will be added to my health care bill next month or the emergency mobile phone usage in London, 231nis, that will also be billed next month. That's 406nis (73GBP) extra already going out next month.

Good news: I lost 3kg (6 1/2 lbs) in weight by eating from the store cupboard rather than processed or ready-made food. The challenge of making the food I had in the house last longer and stretch to more meals also helped with this.

Bad news: I've not internalized the basic lessons of store cupboard economics yet. Today I did a big shop (with a delivery) to stock up for November during which I intend to continue and improve on STOP-tober. I bought all the basics but also found lots of crackers, biscuits, and chocolates (for gifts of course) on special offers at very good prices. It would have been cheaper to use my basics to make a cake and a batch of biscuits once a week to last for the duration. It's a learning curve.

This afternoon we were invited to friends for lunch on Shabbat. I asked what I can contribute to the meal and my host said, "dessert, something for the kids." My first thought was that as I don't bake so I'll have to go back to the shops and buy a cake. I didn't even consider that I have flour, sugar, eggs and butter in the house with which to shop for a cake out of my own pantry (it'd have to be a lemon cake as I've no other flavours in the house except coffee - not good for kids). I also have oats which could go to make biscuits, pasta for a lokshen kugel (noodle pudding), bread and butter for one of those puddings, and apples for an apple pie or apple crumble. Why did I even consider going back to buy a cake?

Verdict: I didn't save any money this month but it could have been much worse. In a month with a week's holiday I managed not to spend any more than usual and lose 3kg in weight. I'll definitely be continuing in November and let you know how we do next month. Big thank you to Elaine Colliar for setting the challenge and being my mentor (even if she didn't know that she was mentoring me via her blog).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

STOP-tober 29th: Gifts

There's no getting away from the fact that there are places you cannot go empty handed. I bet you were expecting a post about giving homemade jam and knitting hat/scarf/glove sets. If so, you were wrong. I know I'm still on the STOP-tober Challenge but in our society when you need to buy a gift you need to buy a gift and this month required a few more gifts than is usually the case.

a. A birthday party. The same five children celebrate their birthdays together because the mummies are good friends. For each birthday the other four mums chip in to buy something the birthday child really wants. So no foraging around for a toy or game that we've not opened, nor picking up something cheap (but substantial) from the market. I paid my 50nis along with the best of them but saved 10nis as I'd actually budgeted 60nis for this.

b. Various invitations to Shabbat meals. I said here that I had enough leftover gifts of wine and chocolate from the Jewish Holidays in September to see us through Shabbat meal gifts. However, we were blessed with more invitations than anticipated so a few boxes of jellybeans were required to make up the numbers.

30 of these babies took five months and lots of television.
Six years ago the colour scheme was blue.

c. My nephew's Bar Mitzvah. As for his two older brothers Theo got a religious item from Israel which I have no idea if you can even get it in England or how much it costs if you can. It's not expensive here. However, as for his older brothers, I made a set of skullcaps for the men to wear to the ceremony and the party. Small outlay for cotton and hours of crocheting. (Btw, I knew this invitation was coming so the gifts were sorted months ago).

Middle nephew chose red, yellow, orange, and black for his Bar Mitzvah.
d. A wedding. It's usual these days to give the couple a cheque. I hate this. Not only does it mean you have to announce the monetary value of your gift but you also don't have the pleasure of choosing something you think they'll like. Ok, and you don't have the pleasure of finding it at a bargain price. I gave up on the present giving when I finally went to a wedding where my gift was the only wrapped parcel. All the others were envelopes posted into a box. However, on this occasion I found I had a gift voucher for a chain of shops. By adding to it I was able to buy a more expensive gift than my cheque would have been and the couple can exchange the gift for the full amount. They got more and I spent less. Win-win.

e. A dinner party. Again, I could have foraged around for something suitable from my stock of gifts but my host didn't need anything like that. It's not dinner with the in-laws or my partner's boss, it's a knees up with close friends and all she wanted from me was a bottle of plonk to help lubricate the evening. Done, and I added a great book that I've just finished and she will appreciate.

Very nice, not too expensive and I feel exceptionally blessed to have been invited to so many celebrations. But this post isn't just a brag about how popular I am. I wouldn't leave you without a list of money saving gift ideas....

1. If you are Women's Institute material by all means go ahead and make your own jam, bake batches of biscuits, knit sets of warm things, and/or sew pretty kitchen accessories. You could also re-pot cuttings from your own plants and herbs. Remember, it's not just for Christmas - always keep a stock of these things for unexpected invitations. I'm just saying as I don't do any of these things myself.

2. Want not waste not. There are things we don't need anymore that we can pass on. I'm not talking about old stuff that's past its best. I mean good quality clothes that DD has grown out of, some of it hardly worn. A few select items that will be greatly appreciated by someone with a younger girl is a fine gift.

3. Books I've read. People don't mind getting second-hand books. It's almost reverse snobbery. It's an especially nice gift if you say, "I loved this and thought you'd enjoy it too." Of course you must have loved it and think they'll enjoy it. Rubbish books go to the second-hand book shop.

4. Embellishing. A small glass vase that someone gave me was the wrong shape and the wrong colour. I filled it with jellybeans and gave it as gift to friends with lots of children. As a vase it was a naff gift but as a bounty of jellybeans it was inspired.

5. Gift cupboards. Like craft cupboards that you can draw from when you feel creative (I imagine as I'm not a crafter), a gift cupboard is full of gifts that you have received, are perfectly nice gifts, but you don't need them. This is also called re-gifting. I have a drawer full of baby clothes that we never wore, some still with labels on. However a gift cupboard can also be stocked when you see a 1+1 offer or bogof of something giftful. As a teacher, I often get toiletries and candles at the end of the year. I try to use as many as possible but even I don't shower in the dark that often.

6. Less is more. Don't cobble together a job lot of different items because you think your gift isn't enough. It's the thought that counts. If you give an adorable little jotter, don't fret about the fact that they came in a packet of 12 for a pound (I'm exaggerating to make my point), hold your head up and give the jotter, beautifully wrapped, with enthusiasm. The recipient will think, what an exquisite little notebook, so handy for my purse. If you panic and add a bar of chocolate and a key ring to the jotter, the recipient will see three cheap shmonskies thrown together and wonder why you bothered.

7. Think ahead. You know Christmas is coming obviously, but you also know that your child will be invited to x number of birthday parties this year, there will always be a colleague having a baby, and last minute invitations to dinner. Buy in bulk or at least whenever you see a good deal, and keep it in your gift cupboard.

8. Something personal. When many of my friends were getting married many years ago, I used to take photos at the wedding and compile a Not The Wedding album with candid shots and funny captions. Like the skullcaps for my nephews' Bar Mitzvahs, they were labours of love, loads of fun to do, and greatly appreciated.

So there you have my gift philosophy in a nutshell. What are your best gift ideas that don't break the bank?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits - The Travel Edition

1. At the airport
DD: I know why they have to check us before we can go in.
Me: Why?
DD: They have to check if we're wearing proper winter clothes for London. If you haven't got proper winter clothes for London then they don't let you go.

2. Boarding the plane
Me: Here are our seats. You're in 21A  by the window and I'm in 21B.
DD: What's this one?
Me: That's 21C
(Later, leaning over me to look at the man sitting next to me)
DD: 21C's asleep.

3. On the plane
DD: We're flying over a pond.
Me: It's the sea.
DD: Has it got bread in it?
Me: What?
DD: I can see bread in it for feeding the ducks.

4. Doing a sticker book together
DD: Can you get that one out for me?
Me: OK. Woops, sorry, I tore it a bit on the side.
DD: Doesn't matter, I'll always love you.

5. At the Bar Mitzva of the youngest of my three nephews
DD: Did you know I've got a girl cousin?
Me: Have you? Who is she?
DD: She's my girl cousin. I'll show you.
(Runs off and comes back pulling a 12yo girl behind her)
DD: This is my girl cousin.
Me: Hello, who are you?
Turns out, one of my second cousins who was at the Bar Mitzva as she's friends with my sister, came with her daughter who is with my nephew in school. DD had found her third cousin and she was thrilled.

6. At the Bar Mitzva Party
Me: Do you want to sit with me and have something to eat?
DD: No I'm sitting with my girl cousin!

7. Back home
Me: What are you going to tell your friends and your teacher about your holiday?
DD: I'm going to tell them I was sick in the car coming back from the airport.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

STOP-tober 12th: Food Bill Update

Half way through food shopping for the STOP-tober Challenge from Mortgage Free in Three. Here's the food bill lowdown so far.

The first week we spent 173nis (new Israeli shekels, about 31GBP). It was only the 3rd of the month so we were still eating food on last month's bill as well as planning to use the store cupboard to full effect. The second week only came to 137nis (about 24.50GBP).

However, this was not a typical shop.
1. I spent a bit more by going to the smaller supermarket around the corner rather than walking down to the cheaper Mega where I have a loyalty card. Sometimes lack of time wins out.
2. We bought some snacks for the journey when we go away and these are more expensive than what I would usually buy or eat.
3. This is only for half a week as we are going away for a week, eating mostly at my parents and sister.

On the other hand, I added three 500g packets of dried pasta to the store cupboard - 3 for 10nis on sale instead of over 5nis each. And I made four coffee jars of tomato soup to freeze using the leftover vegetables in the fridge, tomato puree and seasonings from the store cupboard - no cost.

I've only spent 310nis (55.50GBP) so far this month out of the 500 (just under 90GBP) goal I set myself. It's only for 3 weeks' worth of food remember. Even if we eat out or buy snacks when we're away I'll include it in the holiday spending money which was already saved up and put aside.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

STOP-tober 8th: Store Cupboard Tips

There's no getting around the fact that if you have a house filled with enough food to last you a few months, you will need more willpower in order to not to just overeat for a shorter length of time. This affects anyone who even does a big monthly shop. How do you make those economy bags of crisps, nuts and biscuits last the whole month? How do you stop yourself eating all the cheese in the first week? And what about that chocolate that was on sale and good for cooking or allowing yourself the occasional square for a treat?

Much of the store cupboard is dried goods that need soaking and cooking. Even pasta or rice which is relatively quick to cook, isn't going to tempt you for a quick snack in its dried state. Other stuff is more problematic. Tins of tuna and olives become delicious on toast (bread taken from 3 loaves of bread in the freezer because they were on offer) in about two minutes.

My store cupboard - yes I know you've seen it before. 

The big problem starts when you cook it up into ready meals. A big part of the store cupboard philosophy is cooking in batches and filling your freezer. Whilst I'm not going to defrost a whole cottage pie because I feel like a nibble, one or two (or more) pastries, a slice of pizza, a muffin, can all be zapped in the microwave in the blink of an eyelid.

Most of my store cupboard know-how comes from my store cupboard guru Elaine Colliar from Mortgage Free in Three. As I wrote two days ago, Elaine's store cupboard is far superior to any other I've seen. Here are a few tips I've picked up from Elaine and other bloggers who are trying to budget and eat well at the same time.

1. Store large quantities of food in portions according to what you need for one meal or recipe. For example, a cake can be sliced and bagged separately for one slice to be taken out for tea, a dessert, or for a packed lunch. Cheese can be divided into portions suitable for various planned recipes and meals before freezing it in baggies. If something is assigned it is less likely to disappear in a peckish moment.

2. Plan your weekly menus including breakfast and afternoon tea so that each of your portions in the freezer are accounted for. If you take three slices of pizza  or three muffins from the freezer one night in an uncontrollable binge, that's three suppers for your child or three packed lunches that you will have to replace.

3. Don't cook too much. Make double or even treble portions to stock the freezer certainly, but don't feed the freezer with no end in sight. If you have enough cooked and frozen food for a half-year menu plan, stop cooking and eat out of your freezer for a while. Freshly cooked is much nicer and it's about having all the ingredients in the house, not about saving time in the kitchen. This does not apply when you can get a load of fresh produce very cheaply and it will go off. In this case cook it all up and fill the freezer.

4. Don't buy too much 1. Even if food is on offer, you don't have to buy enough for the year. This doesn't fit in with the store cupboard philosophy anyway. The directive is to buy one item each time you shop that you can put in the store cupboard and to buy that one item at a reduced price. That way you are constantly re-stocking at very little extra expense. 3 for 2 or bogofs are excellent for this.

The weekly shop at 173nis (about 31GBP)

5. Don't buy too much 2. Even though the 10 small packets of crisps packaged together are better value than individual packets, you only need to buy one package of 10 at a time. These are not on special offer they are economy packed. You can buy them at this price whenever you run out. 50 packets of crisps under the stairs is just asking for trouble. (My weakness is crisps, you can substitute biscuits or chocolate or whatever your poison.)

6. Get into the spirit (the zone?) of the frugal living challenge. I'm much more excited about the thought of decimating my food bills than I am by a slice of  re-heated pizza at 11pm.  It also helps to have some coping strategies in place like a good book on the go to entice me into bed early. Another trick I have is to sip soda water all evening. I have 1.5 litre bottles in the fridge and I can get through a whole bottle in an evening with twists of lemon or fresh mint added. It feels like a cocktail (of sorts) and a bit of a treat.

7. Health. Nothing tastes as good as losing weight (if you need to) and having your meals planned and your food budget accounted for is a sure way to do this. And even if you don't need/want to lose weight, you eat better and more healthily by cooking from scratch.

8. Other benefits. 1. There is nothing so satisfying as a store cupboard you know will feed you and your family through strikes, shortages, illness, temporary unemployment, etc... 2. I lied, there is one thing even more satisfying... a weekly food bill no one will believe. Not only for the smugness of it but also the increased spending power in other areas.

9. Gifts. You may have enough jars of home made jam and chutneys to cover all your Christmas presents. Well your children will probably want something else but you know what I mean.

Do you have an amazing store cupboard? Leave a comment below or blog about it and tweet me @midlifesinglem .

Sunday, October 6, 2013

STOP-tober 6th: Snippets

Today I'm joining in with Saturday Snippets on Making It Up as well as continuing my STOP-tober Challenge with Mortgage Free In Three. No need to explain, you'll pick it up as you go along.

[Trying] not to eat my way through the entire store cupboard all in one night. It's meant to save me money by supplementing our food throughout the week/month/year. This is the flip side of buying and storing. It's called eating and eating.

[Inspired] by this store cupboard home by Allegra at Theory Of Boots.

[Wondering] how to up my own store cupboard practice.

[Succeeding] in sticking to the STOP-tober budget so far. I've spent nothing since the supermarket shop last Thursday. Really, absolutely nothing.

[Procrastinating] with fb and blogging when I should be working. On the other hand, it's almost 9pm - why should I be working after teaching for six hours straight today?

[Tired]. See above.

[Waiting] for one little girl to fall asleep so I can go in and switch off her little light. - I think she may be asleep actually but don't want to risk going to look in case she's not yet.

[Reading] Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman and finding it hilarious. I'm surprised at myself as I don't usually like too much description about sex and other bodily functions.


Just because we're not arts and craftsy, doesn't mean we're not creative. We just prefer clean creativity.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

STOP-tober 5th: Entertainment

Long gone are the days when I had subscriptions to The Cinematique (art-house films) and the Camerati Orchestra. Nowadays my cultural outings are limited. And in STOP-tober especially so.

On Thursday evening my friend Emma hosted a musical soiree in a private salon. That's a fancy way of saying it was in someone's living room but if it's already a soiree it deserves a salon don't you think?

When she told me about it last week I was hesitant as I explained to her that I've no spare cash for babysitting this month. "Oh bring DD with," she enthused, "my children will be there." So it was sorted, DD and I went to a concert where the audience were all friends from the neighbourhood and entrance was a bottle of wine (volunteered as I had one in stock).

There were about seven children there and they sat mesmerized throughout by the accordion player (Emil Aybinder), the percussionist (Chen Zimbalista), and the singer (Nadia Kucher). The music was Russian Gypsy music - lively and clap-along. The atmosphere was warm and informal. The wine flowed and... and... and ... it was simply a lovely lovely evening.

L-R Nadia Kucher, Chen Zimbalista, Emil Aybinder (Photo by Matthew Morgenstern)

You can see DD at the bottom left of the photo (with the plait). We walked home in the dark afterwards, giggling and chatting like two teenagers returning from a night out on the town.

Thanks Emma, please let's do it again soon!

For Israeli readers, the trio are managed by Ruth ( ) and will be doing a number of concerts in Jerusalem and around Israel in the coming months.

Friday, October 4, 2013

STOP-tober 4th: All Hands On Deck

Ok, this one's a bit tongue in cheek and I've never actually had a cleaner. But all hands on deck would be a good way to cut down on the expense of various services that we pay for.

Elaine (The STOP-tober Challenge on Mortgage Free In Three) advises that one of the best ways to save money is to learn to do things yourself. She checks her own car, builds and decorates in her house, grows her own vegetables, knits and sews, cooks almost everything from scratch..... I clean my own home and do a bit of cooking.

However, it's never too early to delegate. :)

And relax.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

STOP-tober 3rd: The Food Bill

Day three of the STOP-tober challenge created by Elaine Colliar of Mortgage Free in Three, and I did our weekly shop.

It came to 173 shekels (about 31GBP). This is nothing short of amazing since over the summer and Jewish Festivals I've been spending 1,600 shekels/month in the supermarket and eating out (about 287GBP). Although this includes all household cleaning stuff and toiletries, it's an outrageous amount even accounting for the fact that food is more expensive here than in the UK. It was all to do with heat fatigue and boredom - I bought too much, we ate out too much, and I ate too much even when we didn't go out.

Here is today's shopping. The blue bags contain tomatoes, 3 avocados, apples, and a cabbage. The strawberry yogurts go in the freezer with a plastic spoon inserted for frozen yogurt lollies. One of the cottage cheeses is to take to kindergarten tomorrow for their 'New Moon' breakfast party. The blue pots are gil (leben or fermented milk with 3% fat) - delicious with granola. They are only 1.56 shekels a pot, a third of the price of natural yogurt and just as nutritious. I think they are cheap as milk is sold with only up to 3% fat so the leben is a by-product.

The flip side of the overspending mentioned above is that I do have a store cupboard with enough staples to last us probably until 2014 - LOL no kidding. 8 coffee-jars of cooked foods like pasta sauce, curry, soup, and casseroles in the freezer along with packets of frozen vegetables and some more bread and pittas. Seasonings, spices, condiments and back up bottles of tehina paste, olive oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice.

Here is the store cupboard. I have pasta, rice, polenta, dried chickpeas (for humus), tuna, sardines, rice crackers, barley, dried soy beans, cashew nuts, porridge oats, sugar, coffee, tea, soup powder, jam, tinned olives, granola, soup nuts, and lentils. In the tins are dried yeast and baking powder. There are eggs, flour, ground flaxseed, tomato puree, and 7 1.5l bottles of soda water in the fridge. Also a big box of Cheerios on the side.

I also have enough toilet paper (pardon me for mentioning it), cleaning and washing soaps and detergents for all purposes, and toiletries for both of us, to last well into November.

Watch me keep this month's supermarket bills under 500 shekels (about 89GBP)! It's only for 3 weeks as we are going to Grandma's for one week and eating her food for free, so my aim is for about 30GBP a week for two of us. (Btw - Elaine regularly spends only 20GBP or less for three of them and they eat meat! Such is the superiority of my Guru's store cupboard.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

STOP-tober 2nd: Incidentals

If you read my STOP-tober post from yesterday, you will know that I have accepted the STOP-tober challenge created by Elaine Colliar at Mortgage Free in Three.

Elaine is doing a money diet. I'm doing an everything diet but let's talk about the money today.

Elaine has budgeted her month, taken out the money she needs in cash (with no extras), and put it into envelopes clearly labeled for their purpose. She then locked her credit cards away. If she doesn't have the cash she can't buy it.

I need about 3,600 shekels/month for fixed expenses that are paid by automatic direct debit (and aren't actually fixed as they tend to creep up regularly and without warning). Another (about) 500 shekels goes on utility bills which vary from month to month (up to 800 in the winter when we need heating, but thankfully this is only Dec/Jan/Feb, payable in Jan/Feb/Mar).

Other expenses include travel (buses and taxis) - about 200 shekels/month, household goods (food, toiletries, cleaning - mostly from the supermarket) - lately we've been spending about 1,600 shekels/month (far too much), and incidentals (babysitting, kindergarten payments, dentist, presents, etc...) - about 1,000 shekels/month. Luckily we've not yet started with after school activities.

It all comes to about 6,900 shekels/month. At current exchange rates this is about 1,232 GBP but it changes every month. Bear in mind that this is bare essentials. In order to have a life I'd need about 8,000 shekels/month (about 1,428 GBP) and to save anything I'd need a bit more.

The general wisdom is to put aside a certain amount each month for the incidental expenses. Each month has its big incidentals: Passover holiday (April) Summer Camp (July), school holidays (August), Jewish festivals (September), the beginning of school with dues and supplies (October), and Hanuka and DD's birthday (both in December). Some months may seem like good months to save money except that there is the added heating bills in Jan/Feb/Mar and you can bet your life I'll need some dental work (May?) or new glasses (June?) or the fridge will break down (November?).

So I budget 1,000 shekels for incidentals. This month the incidentals are as follows:

2nd payment of 3 kindergarten dues - 300
A wedding present - 200 (This is considered cheap but it's all I can manage.)
Babysitting for the wedding - 100
Expected 1st payment of 3 for school lunches - about 300 but they've not told us yet.
A birthday present - about 60
Specific washing up sponges my mum ordered from Israel - 40
I have some gifts left over from the Jewish Festivals if we are invited out for meals on Shabbat - 0
Total: 1,000 shekels. - let's hope no one in the kindergarten has a birthday this month ;)

On the other hand, we are going to London for a week so that's one week without food bills and spending money in London is already saved and waiting for us there.

On the other hand, travel to and from the airport this end will be 260 shekels, which effectively doubles the travel expenses.

Q: So where are the savings coming from this STOP-tober month?
A: Food and household - big time! More about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Only two blog posts for the whole of September. I've never written so little in the almost three years I've been blogging.

As of this morning I weigh almost as much as I did when I was nine months pregnant. I've never been this big except when I was two of us.

I don't have the lodger that we changed our whole living arrangements in order to accommodate. I don't have all the work I thought I was getting for this year. I've never been this close to no money in all my adult years (and most of my childhood years as well).

But hey, it's October 1st, the school year has started in earnest (after the long summer break and all the Jewish holidays following), the weather is noticeably cooler, we have returned to routine! In addition to all that, God has sent me a sign via His angel Elaine Colliar.

Elaine writes Mortgage Free In Three. She is my heroine and guru on all matters to do with affording a good life with very little income. Today, on the very day I made the commitment to, as Elaine always says, pull up my big girls' knickers and get on with it, she published STOP-tober: The Money Diet. I knew instantly that by the powers of cosmic synchronicity and/or a divine hand, this post was written especially for me.

This month I am going to stop too because sometimes you need to stop in order to start. That's all for now. More tomorrow.