The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How to save money in 2008: March review

winter pansiesWe have finally broken through the barrier and saved 25% on our over the counter spending! We are delighted.

I had a lucky break. I have been drawing out cash to pay for the weekly shop. This means that I have to keep a mental tot as I circle the town. The wad of notes slims to nothing so quickly. This certainly clips one’s wings spending wise. I’ve also used my sister Sara’s trick. I’ve asked myself “Do you really need this?” The scary thing is that at least 20% of foodstuff has been returned to the shelf. One Saturday I forgot to take my bank card to town. Loathe to spend the extra petrol returning to house to fetch the card I did the weekly shop with the cash that I had in my pocket. We didn’t starve and I had cash in hand to invest in other things.

I have been buying stuff on offer (loo rolls etc.) I’ve twigged that these offers are cyclical. If you are canny and have a bit of storage space, a lot of things that we regularly use can be bought for half price and used all year round. With foresight you could never pay full price again for household items.

Part of this month’s savings have been reinvested in onion sets and vegetable seeds for our garden. Last year I bought most of my seeds from Netto, with variable results. This year I have invested much more and have bought top quality seeds. We want good yields this year. It would be satisfying to cook some of our veggie dishes using our very own dried beans and peas.

I had a busy month so haven’t tried out and tweaked any new veggie recipes. We were eating a lot of veggie dishes that I had semi precooked in February. Loads of veggie dishes take time to prepare. Precooking is a boon. Slapped together with the fresh vegetable elements these are quick and simple to bring to the table.

You can pre cook and freeze the core elements for Emma’s Vegetarian Moussaka, Delia’s Vegetarian Shepherd’s pie and probably a vast plethora of veggie dishes. You need to be organised. This has been a steep learning curve for me. When the dishes are in the freezer I have clocked exactly how I feel. Very good. I hate to admit it but I also feel a bit smug when I reach for a pack to defrost for supper. If you can remember to soak your beans and dedicate an evening or a few hours at a weekend you will be at the tip of producing great veggie food for the next month without having to return early from work or wake your household when the dish is finally ready.

This month we concentrated on cheaper dishes that included meat. Highlights include
Boston Baked Beans (slow cooker/crock pot recipe). Delia has a good version that is much quicker here. I am not a baked bean fan but love these. Spicy and nutricious. Good hot or cold.

Frittata – Having eaten cold rubbery omelettes in packed lunches 25 years ago in Majorca I have avoided making anything that will put its hand up when someone calls “Spanish omelette”. Then I sampled Anna’s delicious frittata. The first nose twitching moment had me agog. Now we eat these regularly. Quick, simple, delicious and cheap.

Coleslaw – our best recipe to date is here. I used to buy this occasionally. Now we feast on our own. It works well with every veggie dish that we make. A great way of eating a lot of vegetables without tears.

Stuffed Breast of Lamb. This is a very inexpensive, delicious option for a Sunday roast. Stuffed, rolled and cooked slowly it’s heavenly. If you want to save money and still eat well try to find an old WW2 cookbook. Add herbs, garlic and ingredients that were not available at the time you probably will produce a stunning dish for next to nothing in terms of cash.

Cutting back on spending should never mean shaving enjoyment. We are experimenting and eating better than we ever have.

Home cured bacon is our key discovery for March 2008. We searched for years for great bacon. We found it at a price, six slices often costing more than the Sunday roast.

I felt cheated when I discovered that proper old fashioned home cured smoked bacon is easy to make if you have patience and a good chimney. There are two key elements. The first is finding a good butcher (such as Fred Fitzpatrick, Exning Road, Newmarket) who will supply you with premium meat and sound advice. The second is achieving a good smoke from the logs – a small dry wood fire under a large damp log seems do the trick.

We used to just eat green (unsmoked bacon). I have since discovered that the commercially produced ‘smoked bacon’ is bacon dipped in a ‘smoky taste’ brine.

I’ve recently discovered that the smokiness from a proper smouldering wood fire adds massively to the flavour of the bacon.

I know that bacon is not at the top of the list of beneficial foods. Most people eat it in moderation. But everyone that I have met loves great bacon. If you can master the art of home curing and smoking you have a great resource for bartering. And that’s what self sufficiency is all about. Grow your own, raise some stock if you have the space but ultimately produce something delicious to swap for the things that you don’t have the space or time to nurture.

Good bacon is like gold dust. We are just beginning to build a mini market for our streaky, back and lardons. I am already looking at building an outdoor smoker for fish. It’s not rocket science. Producing our own home cured bacon is easy and fun and just makes sense.

Meanwhile from our kitchen garden we are enjoying white sprouting broccoli and Swiss Chard (great in a white sauce).

March has been a good month. We’ve saved 25%, had fun and discovered so much.

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  1. Hi Fiona
    Cawl recipe as follows.

    NB Every Welsh household has a version of the recipe, so just add or leave out things do or don™t you like. For example I™ve had a very nice version with pasta in and one with potatoes in. It™s like a vegetable broth with meat in and makes a filling one stop dinner dish.
    This takes ages to cook so you can put it on very low on the hob and leave it for hours or if you are going out it can be popped on a low heat in the oven for the day
    2 pieces of beef brisket on the bone. (this will do 4 soups depending on size but if you™re a big meat fan add another bit)
    I try to chop the veg into lumps about the same thickness or size.
    2 carrots, chopped
    1 turnip, chopped
    2 onions, chopped ( more finely)
    2 sticks celery, chopped
    Half a swede, chopped
    A knob of butter or a couple of TB olive oil
    2 good quality beef stock cubes or the equivalent of home made
    1 tb mixed herbs
    Freshly ground pepper
    Put on a kettle of water to boil

    Take a big pan and put the brisket in. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Allow it to boli gently for 5-10 mins Throw away the water and put the meat to one side. This should get rid of the scum from the meat.
    Clean out the pan and heat the oil or butter on a medium heat. Butter has a nicer taste but the oil is better for you.
    Add the veg and give a good stir. Cover the veg and cook the veg on a medium to low heat for 15 mins. Make sure the veg is cooking but not catching or burning. Stir it every now and then.
    When the veg has started to soften (the onions will start to look translucent) add the mixed herbs, stir and put the meat back in. Grind some black pepper over the top. I do about 15-20 grinds.
    Add between 2.5 and 3.5 lites of water, starting off with the hot water from the kettle. All the meat and veg should be covered with the water. Crumble in the stock cubes and bring to the boil.

    Turn down to a low heat. It should just bubble a little bit. Cover the pan and leave it for 5 hours. You can check it every now and then if it™s on the hob.

    As I said before if you want to go out put the oven on about 100C , make sure it is in a suitable casserole dish, pop it in and leave it there. The total cooking time should be at least 5 hours, we have put it in the morning and left it there until we are both home from work.
    Before serving take the meat out, remove the meat from the bones and discard the pieces of fat.
    Cut the meat into chunks and put it back in. Taste it to make sure there is enough salt and pepper and then serve it up with chunks of crusty bread and cheese.
    We like Snowdonia cheddar, a good strong cheddar. Break the cheese up into little pieces and add to the soup. As it melts it adds an extra something. This is the way it is served around here in mid West Wales.

    One other money saver – we keep all the toilet roll holders through the year and use them to plant our seeds in.


  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Gillian

    I’m all for buying at farmer’s markets too. We used to visit one once a month but it was a 45 minute drive and eventually we stopped going. Hopefully there will be something a bit more local soon.

    Clearing out the larder has had a big impact on spending as I ca actually see what we have rather than assume that we don’t have it!

    Hi Pat

    Well done, 20% is a hefty amount over a year. Thanks for dropping by.

    Hi Amanda

    If you are ill ready made meals and takeaways are a life line if you don™t have anything already made in the freezer. You were doing so well with your budget before disaster struck that I tried even harder than before.

    Hi Kate

    When I only lived here at weekends I used to squirrel cleaning materials etc just in case things ran out. We lived for years on these stocks when we moved here permanently.

    I™m having fun finding the bargains!

    If D is away the loo rolls get quite elderly before they are finished!

    Hi Magic Cochin

    I™m enjoying the challenge and also continuing the flower challenge from last year.

    Coleslaw is such a great way of eating fresh veg without tears and it seems to be fine the next day too.

    Hi Clare

    How handy to have two people nosing out the bargains for you!

    I will enjoy my seeds. Growing your own veg is such fun and hugely satisfying.

    Hi Louisa

    I love a good farmers market too. We are so lucky to have a good local butcher and the food cooperative in Cambridge has saved us pounds.

    If I had a bit more time, I™d love to source more local suppliers.
    Hi Sam

    Giving up the dreaded grog is a great way of saving cash! It™s difficult to do if you are used to opening a bottle after a hard day. Well done you. Canny to chose to do it just for a month as there is an end in sight.

    I™d love the recipe for your special Cawl “ it sounds delicious.

    We loved the stuffed breast of lamb that we cooked last week. Cheap and delicious.

  3. Hi Fiona
    We are having a dry April in order to save money and our livers!
    I don™t know if there are others out there whose wine intake has been increasing little by little over the last few years but ours has. Rarely now do we go through an evening without having a glass of the red stuff and then it™s two glasses…………
    So April is the month. The drinks cupboard contains no wine. We don™t intend to go without completely but only imbibe on those occasions when we get together for an evening with friends and have a meal. Even then one of us will drive home so that cuts it down as well.
    We™ve chosen April as, for our rather large family; there are few special occasions to get through.
    I™ve also been buying cheaper meat cuts. Out here in rural Wales we eat Cawl (it means soup) of a special sort. It™s a veg soup with beef brisket in (although you can use any meat). We serve it with crusty bread and a lump of cheese. You then break the cheese into tiny pieces, drop it in the soup and eat away.
    I can forward the recipe if anyone is interested. It makes up in bulk and freezes well.

  4. Louisa

    Well done Fiona. We’re trying to be good and save money at home too, as well as being greener! We’ve probably shaved £20 a week off our grocery bill. But Like Gillian, I love a good farmers market, haven’t been for a while but intend going this weekend. I phone my mum at least every other day and the general tone of the conversation is, whats on BOGOF or what we are having for tea complete with cooking times and lengthy descriptions.

  5. Well done Fiona!! I hope you really enjoy buying your special veg seeds, and have fun watching them grow.

    Like Kate(uk) I am also often notified of special offers at the supermarket – by both my mother and my boyfriend’s. My mum phones me up to let me know that duck/beef/salmon is on half price at sainsbury’s and Craig’s lets us know that whisky/champagne/that-red-wine-we-like-so-much is cheap at Tescos. We do pretty well from both deals that way!!

  6. magic cochin

    Well done – I’m impressed! It just goes to show how a little planning can save money and time.

    We were discussing coleslaw the other day (were you listening?) then I looked at you blog and just posted was a recipe!!!! Thank you!


  7. Kate(uk)

    Well done! Most impressive.
    My mother always rings me when loo paper is on offer at our local supermarket and we load up the car, she only buys it twice a year when it is on offer and stores it in her spare room wardrobe (just as well she rarely has visitors staying overnight)I buy it a bit more frequently, but now the teenager is away at college it is amazing how much less we use!

  8. Well done Fiona, over the year it will amount to a lovely sum of money. I think you should plan a grand celebration when you hit the 12 months – within budget of course 😉
    Our budget has gone out of the window but we’ll get back on top of it in about a month. It just shows how much it adds up when you have to rely on some convenience foods and the odd takeaway.

  9. Well done on the savings Fiona. Brian and I are doing a bit of saving here too. Have shaved at least £20.00 a week off our grocery bill this past month, for us that is excellent. Now if we can do a bit more. Like you I buy things on sale too.

  10. Gillian

    Hi- this is the first message i have left. Discovered your blog a few weeks ago and love reading about all that you have been doing. I really like your idea for managing food costs and think maybe that is something i should do as i think it is easy sometimes just to buy things because they are grown locally or are organic without always thinking whether you really ‘need’ what you are buying. We are especially bad for going a bit mad at farmers markets because there is just so much lovely stuff there and we want to support local farmers and it’s such a great way to do shopping rather than sterile supermarkets we avoid like the plague, it’s so easy to be tempted by whats on offer. But do i actually need to buy a DIY knitting pattern for mittens complete with local sheeps wool in the middle of summer in case the ice age hits early??!…….. No- probably not *blush*. Maybe this month i’l really try to just buy things i really need. And see how much money i can save too!

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