Tuesday, 11 February 2020

How I Budget

11 February 2020
"Money grows on the tree of persistence"
(Japanese proverb)

If you are anything like me, you will know that, without a budget, expenditure can quickly spiral out of control (think summer holidays or Christmas shopping!)

As I like to be organized, I use the same method every month to keep track of what I am spending. Firstly, I deal with all the essential bills, such as mortgage payments and utility bills. I make sure that all of my regular monthly bills are magically direct-debited out of my account at the beginning of each month, to coincide with when I get paid. I call these payments my 'fixed expenses' and they include things like my pension, mortgage, gas/electric and water, car payments and my utility bills. These do not include food, petrol or any expenses that could fluctuate from week to week.

I always make sure that I slightly overstate my fixed expenses and round each one up (rather than down - from say £158.20 to £160). By doing this, it means that your bank account will never go overdrawn and slowly builds up a little buffer to any unexpected expenses. So the first thing you need to do is make a list of these fixed expenses and arrange for them to be paid the day after you receive your money, which, for me, is monthly.

Make sure you include every item of expense you will have in a typical year, such as house insurance, membership fees etc. Don't worry if these include some annual expenses that you can't set up to pay each month. Just work out the monthly cost and set up your own savings account for this  monthly amount to be paid into. You can then draw money out of the savings account once a year, as soon as you need to pay these expenses.

As part of my fixed expenses, I always make sure I include an amount for savings, which I transfer to my savings account as soon as I get paid. At the end of the month, I also add to this account with any money left over,  before I start the process again the next month. These small savings can add up to quite a bit by the end of the year!

You should keep this fixed expense list to hand and cross out when payments have been made in a month, so you know at all times what you have still got left to pay. Add up the total, take it away from your income, and you will know how much money you have left each month for the second - more flexible - part of your budget.

I am currently using an envelope method of budgeting for any of my expenses that are not fixed. I have an envelope for petrol, one for food, one for entertainment and one for clothing. I allocate an amount of money to each one and withdraw the cash. I will only spend the money that is in the envelope and once it has gone I will not spend any more until the next month. The only exception to this is food and petrol envelopes where I only withdraw enough money for the week and put in the appropriate envelope. This is because if I withdraw a monthly amount, I will go and blow it buying whatever I think I need in the first week and then spend the rest of the month regretting it, staying in and being hungry! I will also switch money between envelopes for food and petrol when I need to 'borrow' if I need to. I don't do this with any other envelope.

I am hoping that this year will be the year of good habits and setting a budget is definitely a step in the right direction.

Happy saving everyone!

Monday, 18 February 2019

Looking back over 2018 and forward to 2019

2 January 2019
"And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been"
(Rainer Maria Rilke)


Well its been mad, but we are mostly 'kitchen-in' and we are starting this 2019 infinitely more organised that we left 2018! Last year was much harder work than we ever expected. Every step of the way seemed filled with more challenges than we had bargained for and seemed to take an indordinately long time. What was going to be just a basic extension has transformed into a totally new ground floor space.

I managed to achieve the reading goal and finished the year with a grand total of 34 books.

The weight loss, although not a stone and a half, has been a steady 10lbs...However, exercise went out of the window as soon as the extension started and no-one has been able to reach any of the fitness equipment at the back of the garage since August!

We travelled as a family to Kent, Bournemouth, Scotland and Liverpool (and managed to squeeze in a relaxing day in Lichfield).

Although the extension is not finished, for the first time ever, I managed to fit two Christmas trees in the house, so we are definitely ending on a high. The main shell is up and we have started to decorate. We still have plastering work to finish, doors to fit between the lounge and the kitchen and skirting boards to paint and fit.

This blog has not had as much time devoted to it as I would like, but hopefully this will be changing this year.

The time has now come to set some new aspirations for the year ahead. Some of these are simply a continuation of the last year's challenges and some are brand new:

1. Complete extension/ get all the building regulations signed off and tackle the garden.
2. Continue weight loss and aim for another 10lbs.
3. Exercise at least once as week.
4. Plan for the future by drawing up a budget and stick it to it. Try and grow some savings.
5. And last, but not least, be generally kinder.




Monday, 5 November 2018

Extension progress

6 September 2018

"You've seen my descent. Now watch my rising"
So, essentially we are more than mid-way through our extension project. When we started our garden looked like this:        (please ignore the foot in the photo!)

And now it looks like this....

I don't want this post to sound like a lot of moaning, but this has definitely been much harder and more involved than we originally bargained. We have been working on it after finishing our main jobs...which is tough when we don't get home until after 6pm in the evening. Unfortunately, our house is terraced (and the neighbours either side both have little children) which means that we are having to finish work by 8pm at the latest to minimise any disturbances. This is not a huge time span and progress has been a little slow.

Last night we reached a bit of a low point. We had to replace the window in Harry's room and it took over two hours just to get the old window out, which meant that we had run out of time to do any work anyway. We then found that the new window doesn't fit no matter how much you try to shove it in and the brickwork on one side is not level. The floor of the extension, which had been carefully cleaned and ready for the top layer of latex, became daubed with mortar whilst trying to replace brickwork (incidentally splats of mortar also graced the lounge walls, the sides of the fish tank, the floor and up the stairs). In the space of one night, the plain carpet became patterned with new marks, the walls are look like we throw tea and coffee over them on a regular basis and a layer of dust is now coating the kitchen, bathroom and both bedrooms. It at least took us a good six months to wreck the garden!

We have left for the work today having just covered the hole in the side of the house with a piece of plastic and are currently praying that we will not have been burgled by the time we get home tonight.

Still to do this week, we have to fit the new window and all the roof trusses must be up and finished by Saturday, when a roofer is arriving to fit the tiles. I also have about 30 plastic edges to clean so they can go on the roof.

I cannot talk to my better half  about the mess because I think he will literally murder me. He is stomping around the house muttering "I am so tired" to anyone that stops for a minute in his earshot.
Because I cannot talk to anyone else about this, just posting this will be therapy.

Here’s to happier times....I’m off to pour a big gin...I'm sure it will all be fine.


Saturday, 1 September 2018

Liverpool and the Terracotta Army

25 August 2018

"the key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering"
(Bruce Lee)

When I heard that some of the Terracotta soldiers were coming to the UK at the beginning of the year, I thought that this was too good an opportunity to miss and immediately booked to go to Liverpool’s World Museum during the summer holidays.

The tickets give you a timed entry slot and ours was not until 4.00pm, so this gave us plenty of time to explore in the city centre. We visited the Cavern Club (which was packed) and had a very circular stroll around the shops, following Googlemaps. I was amazed at how many street entertainers we saw (and was also a little sad at the numbers of those begging and homeless).

We strolled down to the docks and where was plenty to look at; including a sea shanty stage, several pop up gin bars and woodfired pizza caravan! We could have easily spent much longer there than the quick hour we did.

We whizzed to the museum because we didn't want to miss our slot and were just in time to have a quick look at some of the other exhibits; particularly the Egyptian room and the aquariums.

The actual exhibition was a little smaller than I was expecting and there was a crowd of people around the main displays, which was a little disappointing. It would have been better for everyone to have formed an orderly queue and filed past the soldiers taking photos, so everyone got a good look at them, rather than trying to peer around tall people who push in front (but that's just my opinion!)

I am really glad I got to see them..I particularly liked the way the soldiers were all made differently, depending on their role/job. It is certainly worth a trip to visit.

Although the first Emperor may not have quite achieved immortality the way he had envisioned, the fact that we are coming to see his soldiers and learn about him over 2000 years later means that he  has certainly succeeded in being remembered.

Following the exhibition, we sojourned to a nearby Costa. Harry had a drink the size of his head that I'm sure was served in a soup bowl, before pushing on to Dumfries overnight for our next day in Edinburgh.


Friday, 24 August 2018

The best fruitcake

"my policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it."
(Boris Johnson)


It really needs no introduction...Its spicy and moist and everything a good fruit cake should be. Serve with a cup of tea, to achieve perfection!


4 medium eggs
1 tsp mixed spice
1 pinch dried ginger
1 tbsp black treacle
1 tsp golden syrup
120 ml strong Earl Grey tea (made with approximately 4 tea bags)
8 oz butter
8 oz dark brown sugar
10 oz self raising flour
8 oz dried mixed fruit (eg 2 oz sultanas, 2 oz raisins, 2 oz dried apricots, 2 oz dried currents)
3 oz glace cherries
Caster sugar (for sprinkling on top)


1.   Make up a strong mixture of Earl Grey tea. Soak the fruit and the cherries overnight in the tea.

2.   Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade. Cream the butter and sugar together.

3.   Add the black treacle and golden syrup and mix well.

4.   Sieve the flour. Add the eggs one at a time with a small amount of flour and mix well. Add the rest of the flour, the mixed spice and ginger and mix until everything is combined.

5.   Fold in the fruit.

6.   Transfer the mixture into a prepared cake tin. Bake for 1 hour and then reduce temperature to 140 degrees centigrade and bake for another 25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

7.   Allow to cool a little, remove from tin and transfer to cooling rack. When cool, sprinkle with caster sugar and serve.


Sunday, 12 August 2018


25 July 2018

"a day away from Chartwell is a day wasted"
(Winston Churchill)
Having seen a letter from Winston Churchill on display at Hever Castle just the day before, we decided to call in at his family home, Chartwell, when we found out just how close it was to Hever. It is a National Trust property and, as members, it doubly appealed as a 'free' day out!

You can spot the house from the road, just by its distinctive brick wall. Despite its countryside aspect, Chartwell has a functional and slightly utilitarian look to the exterior. Rather than a traditional wall-flowered country cottage, you can imagine it standing up to a bombing...so it probably suited Churchill to a tee! You can in fact admire some of Churchill's own brickwork in the garden.
Again, it was a fantastically hot day, which did not make overly comfortable garden exploring weather. There is plenty of parking, a shop and a café. The location of Chartwell is stunning. Churchill was involved in the design of the gardens, pools and water garden as well as the re-modelling of the house (with the help of an architect).

The house has been set out as it would have been in the 1930's. It is comfortable without being showy, with many personal items on display and you feel as though you truly get an air of how he may have lived.

The photo below shows Lady Chartwell's desk with his last framed photo and a picture of one of their daughters, who sadly died as a young child.
Churchill has been voted the greatest Briton and, indeed there does not seem to be very much he was not very good at...You can see his paintings on display, and the letters and the exhibitions about his life are fascinating. I saw my first Monet at close quarters in his sitting room and found out that he was fond of bezique - which is a card game we play a lot on holiday. There is a display of all of his clothing in some of the rooms upstairs (including his famous velvet boiler suit) and various items and awards which had been given to him and Lady Churchill.


As you leave the house, there's a video running of his state funeral, which strikes a really poignant note in his much more humble home. You really get a sense that he was a very intelligent, down to earth man, who achieved amazing things (and was probably quite difficult to live with!).

The only disappointment was that the house does not include visiting Churchill's own bedroom (for which the National Trust organise private tours at a cost - which I think was around £45 when I visited). If I had known this beforehand, I might have booked one of these before visiting. The house does include the downstairs rooms, the dining room, Lady Chartwell's bedroom and the study and sitting rooms.

My favourite spot at Chartwell actually turned out to be one of Churchill's own favourites, which is next to a small pool near the house. His chair is set by the pool, which you reach with stepping stones (the stone are now unfortunately closed off to visitors) where he used to sit to think and feed the fish. It is a really lovely quiet spot, the pool is teeming with small fish and you can easily imagine losing a few hours sitting there. Unfortunately, this was the one place I forgot to take a photo.

After looking around the house, we went to the café and sampled a fruit cake made by a recipe from his own cook, Georgina Landemere. I have to say that this cemented my impression that Churchill knew what a good cake would taste like. I have now ordered her book and got the recipe and am hoping to re-create this at home. It was easily the best fruit cake I have ever eaten.



Saturday, 4 August 2018

Hever Castle

24 July 2018
"Le Temps Viendra"
(Anne Boleyn)

Having a lifelong interest in Anne Boleyn meant that I have always wanted to visit Hever Castle, which was her childhood home. I went with high hopes of a fascinating day of history and, boy, it did not disappoint!

I picked a day to go during the recent heatwave, and the temperature was approaching 35 degrees! Although it was lovely seeing the Castle in the sunshine, this did mean that outside you were rather moving from one patch of shade to hunt immediately for another. One (of several things I didn't realise before visiting) was exactly quite how magnificent the surrounding grounds and gardens were... I am reliably informed in the guidebook that the Castle and land were bought by William Waldorf Astor in 1903. He had moved from America in 1890 with his wealth of what would have been about a billion dollars today, so he was able to afford quite an acreage, which included the Castle. He set about a grand re-design of the landscape - installing a lake (which, incidentally, took 800 men, two years to dig out!), an Italian garden and grotto and a rose garden. The gardens are easily the most stunning I have ever seen and well worth a visit just for these alone.

In the Castle, I was amazed at how close you are allowed to the treasures that are on display, many of which are not behind cabinets. Every room had fascinating pieces from the James III (1745) rhyming sword:

(inscribed  "with this sword thy cause I will maintain; And for they sake (sake) O James breath (break) each vein"), the (1540) oak bed, huge tapestries, paintings, instruments of torture - who would have thought that you would have needed a separate blade to remove hands as well as heads!

The highlight upstairs was Anne Boleyn's prayer book which she took to her execution and was annotated by her "Remember me when you do pray that hope doth lead from day to day."

I did not expect to find the family history of the Astor family particularly interesting, but it was...I found out that Churchill was a regular visitor to Hever from his letter, spotted upstairs.

The only downside of the day was that it did get rather crowded in some of the rooms, as there was no timed entry to the Castle. You need to be able to get down a small spiral staircase to leave, which would not be possible for the less mobile. Sadly, the heat did not allow us to explore all of the grounds...We managed to squeeze in the small military museum, but after that collapsed in the cafe! 

We had already booked a room in the Hever Hotel and had decided to eat at the Henry VIII pub at Edenbridge. Both of these choices could not have been better, as they were literally a two minute drive from the Castle. We had not pre-booked a table at the pub, but if you plan on eating there I would certainly recommend ringing ahead as it was fully booked by the time we got there at 6pm.

I am so glad I went to Hever...it fulfilled a lifelong dream. It is a wonderful day out and, given the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to go again. I could not rate the day highly enough!

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