Monday, 16 November 2009

tightening the belt

I rang a close friend last night: disconcertingly, she answered with a distinctly suspicious voice.
It turns out she just didn't recognise the number as mine - it's so long since I've actually been at home enough to ring anyone from a landline rather than a mobile (usually while simultaneously doing something else). Landlines for me were some 1950s thing to which only my parents are still inexplicably attached.
Now I'm paying my own mobile bill, instead of having it provided by work: let's just say, I've quickly rediscovered the landline. The last cheque from my Proper Job is due next week, and so it's time to start with the economising.
We bit the biggest bullet before I resigned, and sold our much-loved family home in London: we're now buying a smaller, cheaper wreck in the country.
Next bullet: trading in the car for something older and duller. I can't tell the difference between a porsche and a tractor (NB: it wasn't a porsche) so am not much bothered but my husband is mourning.
My new thing is the supermarket bill. Value labels instead of brands all the way, faintly stalinist menu planning, and no more out of season blueberries: I've discovered (there's also a US version, and am cooking a lot more from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries (entirely seasonal cooking) and The Kitchen Revolution (big on leftovers).
Some things in the country are cheaper than the city: insurance (home and car), playgroups, bar prices, and temptation - I don't buy lattes on the way to work or cabs when running late, and I don't get sucked into Selfridges.
But more of my old habits now look hard to justify. If forced at gunpoint, I would admit:
1) I am not naturally blonde. I am expensively blonde.
2) I seem to have rather a lot of shoes
3) We have more books than we will ever have bookshelves
Something has to give.....


  1. My advice would be to get a big freezer, or even two and put one in the garage. I've done it both ways - cooking everything seasonally from scratch, and buying the lot in M&S food hall. It seems to work best to do a bit of both as even though you're not earning, your time is still valuable and the reason we stopped work is to be with our families, not to cook up a storm in the kitchen every day. If you buy the "wise buys" in M&S you can stock your freezer with lots of lovely standbys and if you go on a Monday you often get the dine-ins from the previous Thursday heavily reduced, so they can go in the freezer too for posh days. I colour my own hair of course, and have radically cut back on things like books but we have some amazing charity shops around here where I can get 4 paperbacks for £1 so my reading range has been greatly extended because I simply have to read what's available to me. Good luck with it all. No matter how tough it gets, it's got to be better than the morning rush hour commute.

  2. I like the idea of "faintly Stalinist menu planning." Is it beetroot soup every night? Are you forcing your family to queue up for it? Maybe when someone doesn't clear their plate, instead of talking about the starving children in Africa, you could threaten them with being sent to a Siberian gulag.

    Actually, cooking from scratch is a good way to keep yourself occupied for an hour or so every day. Boredom is the enemy of the stay-at-home parent. It's only when you're not at work anymore that you realise quite how much time you used to spend either at work, on your way to or from work, or attending some other work-related event (yes that means you cheeky after-work pint). Suddenly having all this time in which to do things can be a bit daunting.

  3. And what's wrong with (3)...? Though of course I never understand (2) :-)

  4. As a SAHM myself, I don't get the boredom comment. There's tons to do, who has time to be bored? I don't need an externally-imposed schedule to keep myself busy; I can do that all on my own. I can see where the sudden transition will be daunting, but anyone with a mind will realize that there's more interesting and worthwhile stuff to do than can ever be done.

    Anyway, I'm also a librarian so I recommend the library. If I bought everything I read I'd be broke and living in a shelter made of books. Do you have Inter-Library Loan in the UK? ILL is your friend.

    Frugality is very stylish at the moment, so you'll find zillions of blogs and books about making a pound stretch. I read the Simple Dollar blog and admire the Prudent Homemaker ( myself. (She lives in Las Vegas, so how does her garden look like that??)

  5. Gaby, I'm sure you won't regret your decision to give up full time work; I love being a mum. Just remember when you move into the country, do not to upset the locals like Liz Jones did by complaining about them, and moaning about country life. Good luck with your new life.

  6. mark, have probably spent more on 3) than i have on 2), that's what's wrong with it, even though one is a lot less guilt-inducing than the other! jean you're right - i have got to use my library ticket (and thanks for the frugality blogs btw - if anybody else has any favourites, please add, i shall do a rollcall)
    i am taking mental notes and will be storing all my beetroot soup in a bloody big freezer.
    and ellee yes, liz jones is like a large neon warning sign in my head! am aiming not to get any bullets through my letterbox. cunningly, we don't have a letterbox - that's a start....

  7. I can't help you on the books thing since our answer seems to buy a new set of bookshelves once a year (hardly a frugal way round it) - although a book swap night might be a way to get to know your new neighbours? (Projecting, probably; if someone moved in near me and suggested a book swap night they'd be an instant friend!).

    With regard to the shopping: something I've discovered which might sound counterintuitive is that online shopping works out more cheaply (for me, at least). There's less distracted wandering off the beaten-shopping-list-path into irrelevant purchases, to say nothing of the fact that shopping without my small boys means fewer "OK, I'll buy it if you just stay in the damn trolley" items at the checkout. Obviously, everyone's different, but it worked for me.

  8. Does your library have storytimes for kids? As long as you're going, you should definitely check out storytime! :)

  9. My tips are rather similar to those already mentioned (and they work not only for SAHM but for anyone trying to cope with recession):

    - On-line supermarket (it avoids temptations);
    - On-line buys are also a great idea for clothes;
    - Family visits to the Library (at least here in Spain you can also borrow DVDs, CDs and lots of books for the kids);
    - I did the "two freezers" thing; if you are not becoming the mad beetroot soup cook, at least it is great to have cold drinks and beers for the weekend visitors - this is another option: instead of ultra expensive dinners in fancy restaurants, have people come home to share some spaghetti and some wine;
    - Baking, home-made pizzas and the like are great plans with the kids and much cheaper options, even as presents (if you manage to master them, which is not my case so far...).

    And I copy the "book swap night" idea, it is great!!!

  10. Take care you freezer-holics, we're supposed to be moving to a low carbon economy remember, it's much cheaper not to run two large freezers and cook fresh, stuff keeps ages in the fridge anyway. We're still eating lefovers from last Friday. Sad I know but I do find one of the joys of being at home is being able to hoover up any leftovers for next days lunch,up with any old-ish veg, thus saving all that money you would have spent on an expensive sandwich and coffee when you were working. And I know what you mean Gaby about the looser clothes, I'm 12lbs lighter than I was in September, finally getting some exercise which there was no time for before. Maybe start a list of positives about being at home, which you can drag out when times are hard, the toddler is getting you down, or it's party conference season and you're not there with "everyone else".