Yesterday I hopped on a train and spent the day in York with some lovely folk I used to work with.
It was a grey day, and you can't tell from my pictures that I was even in York, as they were pretty much all taken inside cafes.
We had a tiny jigsaw race in an old pub, and I was delighted by these tiny postcard-sized wooden puzzles with their 'whimsy pieces'. Most fetching (and much harder than you'd think).
We did, of course, venture outside for a while (between cafes), and found ourselves walking up on the city walls.
I love it up there, but on a Saturday afternoon it's a bit like standing in a queue, everyone shuffling forwards in lines, and with the grey skies it just wasn't very inspiring. We persisted for a while though, and it was good to look out over the city. But eventually we caved in and headed back to another cafe.
I love days like this, and I don't get them very often. No purpose other than to catch up with friends. No deadline, no particular plans (but not so many people that you end up traipsing trying to find somewhere with a big enough table). Definitely something I should do more of.
I've only done this cycling-in-the-woods-before-work thing twice now but it's already starting to feel like a habit.
The first three miles are on the road - a main road, but most of the traffic is heading into town so I sail past the queues in the opposite direction. After a mile or so downhill it flattens out, and then slowly starts to creep upwards. I admit this bit is quite tedious, but in just twenty minutes I'm faced with this.
This reservoir marks the start of the path into the woods. On Monday I saw a deer here, peeking through the trees.
It also marks the start of the mud.
This was the worst of it actually, and even this wasn't too bad. I don't have a mountain bike, and just have to hold my nerve and hope I don't fall off (while realising that if I do, nothing really bad is going to happen as I'm heading uphill so there's no chance of a high speed topple). There was no wind on Monday morning, and the trees were reflected in the puddles.
The path diverges here. To the left, through a gate, is a rocky stream, which wends its way upwards by a steep path, impossible to cycle up even on a mountain bike (for me, at least). To the right is the old carriage track, which takes a slightly longer, less steep route to the top.
The path is rocky here and not so muddy, which makes it easier to ride on, although it can be a bit tricky navigating round the stones. It feels like a good core workout though.
The path winds through the woods, turning left at the end there and going up the slope to the side.
It feels more dramatic up here, and you get a good view as the bank drops away to the left to join the rocky stream below.
Near the top, rocky outcrops line the path.
These woods are a local nature reserve, and are part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and I feel privileged to be able to wander through them at will on my way (kind of) to work. I really must get up there and walk along the path by the brook again soon.
After two or three miles through the woods I reached the road again. A quiet road for the first mile or two, and mostly downhill, so I stood up on my pedals and sailed along singing to myself as I headed towards the city. Not a bad start to the day at all.
I've taken to making these delicious chocolate brownies in fairy cake cases. Ostensibly I make them for work - I freeze them and take two with me each day - but this weekend I couldn't pretend they were for work, as I made them on Saturday afternoon and all 24 of them were gone by Sunday evening.
In our defence (kind of) it's important to have something to keep you going while you're doing DIY (although the fact that I've adopted this attitude for a good couple of years now may have something to do with why many of my clothes don't fit...). This was my view for much of the rest of the weekend.
Yes, I'm mixing sand with paint in a margerine tub - an activity that should be outlawed after you leave school (although it was kind of fun). It's not one of my 'hot decorating tips' (in fact I'm not sure I have any of those) - it's an attempt to match the rest of the oddly-surfaced wall in the spare room after we mended a large hole.
I admit it was quite fun to paint, and it looks pretty unobtrusive now it's the same colour as the rest of the wall. Phew.
Slightly less fun was this polystyrene ceiling.
I believe these have been banned now (something to do with not meeting fire regulations) but this one's been here for 30 years and I'm not taking it down now. It was, however, disgustingly grubby, and I spent much of Sunday covering the grubbiness with white emulsion. A satisfying job, if a bit tough on the neck.
You might not believe it (I'm not sure I believe it) but the spare room is actually starting to feel somewhat like a bedroom now, rather than the workshop it's been for the last 27 years. The ceiling is (nearly) painted, the walls are painted, we've acquired a single bed and some other furniture. Just need to get rid of this mess (to where?) and get the floor painted. A job for next weekend I think...
Are you sick of my cycling posts yet? Because I'm nowhere near the end of my enthusiasm so you might have to bear with them for a little while longer I'm afraid.
This weekend's inspired plan was to drive out to somewhere flat, and get in my last (er, and first) long ride before the 62 mile race, which is now in less than three weeks. The day didn't start well when I got lost on the way to the car park, and it took me nearly two hours to drive 45 miles. I paid for four hours of parking, and set off along the trail, only to be faced with a hill - small, but definitely not flat by my reckoning.
Fortunately this was the only major incline, and cyclists were advised to dismount (which I did, of course).
This was an out and back route for me, and I'd one my homework and started at the bottom of the very gentle (but very long) climb, thinking I'd put in the effort on the way out, and coast all the way home.
Fat chance. 'Flat' takes on a different meaning when you're on a bike, and when wind is involved, flat almost becomes irrelevant. I stopped after about six miles to take stock.
It had taken me a good 45 minutes to get to this point, and I confess I was tempted to turn round. But this was meant to be a long ride, which meant it had to be a decent proportion of the 62 miles of the race. Thirteen miles just wasn't going to cut it.
Where to turn round though? After twelve miles there was a signpost advising of a cafe two miles ahead. If I stopped there, that would mean a 28 mile round trip. When I got to the cafe though, there was a picnic spot signed another mile ahead - which would mean a 30 mile round trip. But 30 miles was tantilisingly close to half way through the race, and I decided that psychologically it would feel good to have broken the half way barrier....
At sixteen miles I stopped. Just stopped, in the middle of the path, to the slight bemusement of a family who I'd just overtaken (and would have to overtake again a few moments later). I had a fleeting thought of 'I'll just get to that bridge...' but no, some sense took hold and I turned round to head back to the car, by now wise to the fact that my nice downhill coast home wasn't going to be any such thing.
You see, it was windy. I laughed when I stopped, as the wind was almost imperceptible when I was still, but on the bike I was having to lean sideways to avoid being blown off. Some of the trail is within deep cuttings which are a bit more sheltered, but the open sections are very exposed, and, as I discovered (contrary to the laws of physics) the wind was blowing in both directions.
By this point I was that odd combination of grouchy and enjoying myself that I often get on a long bike ride or run, and amused myself by making a short video, which I'm not even going to show you because it's so dull, and illustrates nothing except how slowly I was going.
After 19 miles I arrived back at the cafe, and managed to get my fingers working enough to buy a Double Decker and drink some more of my (tepid) flask of tea. My grouchiness increased when I came across this sign - my car was in Ashbourne...
Still, if you've done 19 miles you can do another 13, right? Right. I admit the trail was getting rather repetitive by this point, and as it was getting close to lunchtime I was having to slow down to navigate around an increasing number of amblers, children and excitable dogs.
And, as I mentioned, I seemed to be going uphill again.
However, there is a perverse pleasure in discomfort brought on by exercise. Yes, I was getting tired, but look! I'd cycled 20 miles, 21, 22, and I was still going! Think of where I'd have got to if I'd set out from home and gone in a straight line! (Doncaster, probably, which is why I didn't). I started doing odd mental arithmetic, trying to work out how long the race would take me if I kept up my current speed ('all day' was the answer).
Eventually I did feel a slight downward slant in the trail, although I never got to the stage of freewheeling once in 32 miles, as the surface was too rough and the wind too strong. I passed my initial picnic spot (only six miles to go) then eventually reached the 'steep slope - cyclists dismount' sign again.
Yay - snacks, just 200 yards ahead! An excellent sign (although I wasn't in the market for an ice cream). My legs weren't too impressed at having to push up the other side of that hill mind you. But I was extremely glad of that kiosk, and inhaled yet another chocolate bar before performing a comedy manoeuvre trying to lift my utterly filthy (and slippery) bike into a car with a broken hydraulic arm which means I have to hold the back door open with my head.
Oddly enough nobody offered to help, and I'm far too stubborn to ask.
With six minutes left of my four hour parking ticket, I finally made it out of the car park. Thirty two miles, bike caked in grime, and one pair of worryingly muddy hand-knitted socks (whose idea was it to wear those??)
Two days later I'm not feeling it at all, which I'm taking as a good sign. I cycled to work today and neither my backside nor my knees objected once. Maybe all this cycling is actually making me a little fitter?
Talk to me about that again in three weeks...
Hmm, it seems I've not updated my list of reading since November. I haven't stopped reading, although I do seem to have slowed down a bit after my initial flush of enthusiasm.
It's a bit of an odd (and not very long) list this time, a combination of Christmas presents, a library book, and a charity shop find. I've not felt that inspired by any of them really, for different reasons, and I think I need a good long trip to the main city library to shake me up a bit. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow. So, what I've been reading since November...
The Year of Living Danishly (Helen Russell)
This was a Christmas present, and a fairly jolly quick read, although I did get quite irritated by the author's magaziney style, emphasising how odd everything was (when really it wasn't). It did make me think a lot about being outdoors more . Not one to add to my list of favourites though.
Flight Behaviour (Barbara Kingsolver)
Another Christmas present, and one I already have a copy of, although it's buried deep in the cellar and has been for some time. I love reading the same books over and over, and this is on my list of favourites (although not as much as some of her other books). I love losing myself in the story of someone else's life, and this is a vivid portrait of stuckness and spreading of wings that pulls me in every time.
Jazz (Toni Morrison)
This I found in a charity shop for 50p, and it's sat on a shelf for several months before migrating to the side of the bed. I read a paragraph or two then fall asleep with my face in the pages. It's not gripping me - I do want to get to the end but I have to keep going back to the beginning to make sense of what happened as I was falling asleep.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)
I wasn't sure whether to include this on the list as it doesn't really feel like the type of book you put on a list of books you've read... But it's a book, and I've read it, so here it is. As it happens, I've read it before, possibly more than once. I love the idea of being 'highly effective' (whatever that means), and one of my shameful secrets is this type of 'do this and your life will be great' book. There's a bit too much of an air of smugness about this for my liking, but there are some good suggestions - being proactive, differentiating between what is urgent and what is important (and making sure you do more of the important stuff), and 'sharpening the saw' (taking time to step back and renew your strength, whether physically or emotionally). It's not a read-in-bed book, but it's a good one for the bathroom shelf I think.
So there we are. Two I've read before, one I didn't enjoy very much and another I'm struggling to get past the first chapter of. I don't think I'm going to turn literary critic any time soon...
It's been a here-and-there few weeks. Decorating, of course, and an unexpected trip to a permaculture gathering which made me think differently about a lot of things. And I've been cycling, in preparation for a 62 mile bike ride that's sneaking up on me faster than seems fair.
I've been trying to fit more cycling into my life without taking up too much time at the weekends. Cycling to work and back is good, but the round trip is less than three miles. I've been cycling to other places too, but haven't done more than six miles in a day for months now. I keep intending to take a detour on the way home from work, but it's dark and cold, and I'm usually tired and well in need of my tea (I know, excuses!)
This week I had a brilliant idea - why not take a detour on the way to work? I don't know why it didn't occur to me before. I've been trying to limit the amount of time I spend wading through social media posts in bed in the morning, and a happy outcome of that is that I get up and about earlier - and what better to fill that time with than cycling!
By happy chance I've stumbled on the perfect route - one I often run when I'm training for a longer race, but usually in the opposite direction. And so bright and early (well, early anyway) on Monday morning, I wrapped up and set off, whizzing down and then up along the road for the first three miles, then turning into this local Site of Special Scientific Interest.
I love it in here. It's a valley, so the path winds upwards, but I was cycling along an old carriage track so it's relatively flat (it made up for it with mud and cobbles though). There's a steep drop to the side of the track, which looks down on a small stream running over boulders with a steep rocky path alongside it, lovely to walk but for braver cyclists than me.
I reached the top eventually (as usual, it would have been quicker if I hadn't kept stopping to take pictures) and whizzed the final few miles downhill to work.
Nearly ten miles done before half 9, and it was glorious to be out in the sunshine and feel I'd done something weekendy before work. It's amazing what a difference it makes when you feel like the day isn't just work and dark. I'd not do it on a day I had an early meeting, but I'm normally pretty flexible about what time I start, and I was at my desk and ready by 9.30 which is no worse than usual.
This is definitely going to be a regular feature of my week, even when the ludicrous bike race is a distant memory...
No, this was not my lunch on the last day of January (although I did add these sorry looking vegetables to a tasty stew - no food waste on my watch!) Actually we felt remarkably un-deprived during Uber Frugal January. Would you like to see how we did?
In this post I outlined what we wanted to achieve:
Tea and cake (just me and my friends, not Peter)
Spent in December: £44
Average monthly spend over last year: £45
January spend: £24.95
Clothes (just me)
Spent in December: £0
Average monthly spend over last year £27
January spend: £0
Travel (taxis, bus fares, not things that can be claimed back, just me)
Spent in December: £23
Average monthly spend over last year: £21
January spend: £0
'Other' (a dangerous category... this is my personal 'unnecessary' spends)
Spent in December: £52
Average monthly spend over last year £89 (crikey!)
January spend: £9.43
Joint treats budget (covers both of us for takeaways, breakfast at the farm etc)
Spent in December: £71
Average monthly spend over last year £76
January spend: £24.26
That's £199.01 right there over the monthly averages. Goodness me. We spent roughly £120 on food, when we normally spend around £160-180, so altogether Uber Frugal January saved us around £250. Gosh.
How did we do it?
Clearly we'd drifted into quite spendy habits, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to save that much. Here are the main things we did differently this month.
We made a meal plan and a shopping list every week, and stuck to both. We've never done this before but both quite enjoyed the lack of decision making on week nights. I took lunch and snacks to work every day, and anywhere else I went. I didn't buy a single bar of chocolate, cup of tea or any kind of snack while out and about by myself. We had no takeaways at all. I did a lot of baking. Read more about our food planning here.
I started cycling to work, and other places, which I wrote about here. I normally walk to work, so in itself that didn't save anything, but because I already had my bike, I cycled to places I would normally have got the bus to, or a taxi, and even one or two places I would have driven. It already feels easier to get up those hills. The other advantage of cycling is that it's not as easy to wander idly into a shop for a treat or 'something for tea'. I've not bought a single thing on the way to or from work all month.
Avoiding charity shops
I never thought of myself as a 'leisure shopper' but charity shops are, it seems, the source of a lot of my discretionary spending. We have a lot round here, and I've often just wandered in on the way past, looking for nothing-in-particular, and coming out with a book, or a candle, or a new skirt. Fifty pence here, two pounds there, it all adds up. We went in one that had a 'fill a bag for £5' sale and were sorely tempted, but decided there was nothing that we truly wanted, so left empty handed.
Making different choices
Sometimes we did spend money. I met friends in cafes, and a pub, and we bought beer and the occasional treat to take to someone's house (although I tried to make treats when possible). I wrote here how I just had tea, rather than tea and cake, or had tea and cake rather than lunch. That made quite a bit of difference too.
What happens next?
We were both surprised at just how much we managed to save, and we plan to continue many of our new (or rather old) habits into February. However, we will likely relax a few things. We've missed going to the farm for brunch at the weekend. I hate to admit it, but we've even missed the odd takeaway. And I'm not promising I'll never go in another charity shop (although I'll certainly be more mindful at what I come out with).
But we'll certainly keep meal planning, and doing one weekly shop rather than endless 'picking something up for tea'. I'll continue taking food and flasks of tea everywhere, and baking our own treats.
We've enjoyed Uber Frugal January, although it's difficult not to berate myself for just how spendy I've been (and yes, the main culprit is me - Peter barely spends anything). I'm almost inclined to plan to do it every few months just to keep spendy habits in check...
This is my view a lot of the time. Tea (of course). Bags of plaster littering the kitchen. And my trusty decorating suit (as worn by 'scene of crime' officers, apparently). This suit has lasted through months of plastering and painting, but is finally on its last legs and I have ordered some Proper Overalls which (I hope) will give the impression that I know what I'm doing.
A lot of the DIY time this week as been taken sorting out these teensy internal windows. They look fine from the landing, but the view from the other room was, er, rather less finished.
There was also the small matter of the hole that they replaced.
Oh dear. Still, it looks a lot better now, even if it's not *quite* finished (depending on who you talk to).
This is the spare room, which has never been a bedroom as long as we've lived here, but I hope will do a passable impression of one for our house-selling photos. The light in there is lovely at certain times of day. Once this wall is sorted out, it'll be time to paint the floorboards, and then we can start moving furniture in.
There's also been a fair bit going on in the rest of the house - re-sealing round the bath (don't ask), and today I'm painting the kitchen ceiling, which I confess is not my favourite job so far.
But my pictures from the last week or so show that I've also found time for a few other things. See if you can spot a theme.
Yep, home made scones, home made heart-shaped carrot cake muffins, home made bread with home made damson jam, and a sneaky breakfast at the Women's Institute cafe yesterday, Uber Frugal January be damned (actually, it cost £3.05 for two cups of tea, two slices of toast, a piece of cake, and a flapjack, which seems pretty frugal to me).
So January, it seems, has been a mix of DIY and tea and cake. Not a bad combination (although less of the DIY in the future please, my enthusiasm is wearing rather thin).
Round up of Uber Frugal January in a few days!
I've started cycling again. I used to cycle a lot, when I lived somewhere flatter and didn't own a car, but convenience and idleness caught up with me and cycling became mostly something I did for fun, not for transport.
Not any more though! My bike has been retrieved from the cellar, panniers retrieved from the box they were packed in, and I'm now cycling to work every day, as well as further away places at the weekend.
All this cycling has prompted me to think more about how I travel around, which fits nicely with the Uber Frugal January theme of questioning all of your expenses.
Cycling: panniers are the key
Right now, cycling to work feels ridiculous - it's less than two miles away so it takes me ten minutes to get there, and longer to cycle home than to walk as it's so uphill. But I'm hoping I'll be fitter soon, and I'm planning to add more miles to the journey home once the evenings start getting lighter.
For me, panniers are the key to cycling. Without them, you have to use a rucksack, which makes for hot, sweaty cycling and squashed chocolate brownies (in my experience). With them, you can carry many things in comfort and safety. Mine are lovely, they're enormous, and waterproof, and easily to remove. They weren't cheap (about £50 I think) but so far they've lasted fifteen years and are still going strong.
This bike folds in half, which is (in my opinion) a useless feature as it then takes up far more space. But the handlebars and pedals fold in too - very useful for storing in a hallway without bits sticking out to trip you up.
I also have a 'proper' folding bike - a Brompton. This was expensive (about £600 I think, although now the cheapest seem to be £950) but again, it's lasted about seventeen years and I adore it. It folds up so small you can take it on the train without booking in advance, and you can even get it onto a bus. Perfect for my old bike-train-bike commute, and for slinging in the car to take on holidays (we have one each). Peter bought me a pannier to go on the front a couple of years ago and now it is the very pinnacle of bicycling perfection.
I will say something about hills and traffic, as those are the reasons that people seem to give for not cycling more often. I've used hills as an excuse myself plenty of times but it is just that - an excuse. Yes, I have to get off and push sometimes, but the more I cycle, the fitter I get, and I can now get all the way home from work without getting off, which two weeks ago seemed like it would never happen. Learn how to use those gears and get cycling!
As for traffic, yes, it can be daunting. But the routes I drive are rarely the routes I cycle. I use cycle lanes where I can, quieter roads when I can't, make sure I'm lit up like a Christmas tree (no Stealth Cycling) and most importantly, I remain vigilant. I make eye contact with people turning out of side roads (to make sure they've noticed me) and I am always prepared to slow down if in a car is being unpredictable.
Walking: sensible shoes and bags at all times
My bicycling enthusiasm has only recently been rekindled, in part because I've been conned into entering a 62 mile bike race in March. Before that, I walked (and drove, but we'll get to that in a minute). I love walking. I'll happily walk from one side of the city to another to meet a friend for a cup of tea (and often do).
I'll walk to work in whatever shoes I'm wearing, but for longer walks, comfy shoes are best. And for walking, a rucksack (although now I think about it, panniers around the waist might not be a bad idea). Preferably no carrier bags dangling from wrists, and if I'm going to be longer than an hour, I find it best to have a drink and snack as it's very easy to pop into a shop for a bar of chocolate when you're walking.
Walking is slower than cycling, but I often natter on the phone, listen to a podcast, or take picture of my own feet. You can look around more when you're walking, and I've seen many parts of the city I never would have seen from a car.
For both cycling and walking you need to plan ahead. Cycling needs a bike pump, spare tyre, a few tools (or someone at home with a car who can rescue you), panniers, lights, reflective jacket. Walking needs less preparation, but for both you need enough time. I've had to run before now, and with a rucksack and walking boots it's not pleasant. You don't want to be cycling in a rush either.
But I find that there is usually time if you pay attention, it's just a matter of getting into the right habits, and factoring in the benefits of fresh air, exercise and general wellbeing you get alongside.
I live in a large city, so there are plenty of buses. They're great for getting into town and back, but across town usually requires two, and at that point I often either walk or get in the car. Our local bus now charges £1.80 for a single journey to town (just over two miles) so I've usually walked in and got the bus home, although these days I'm cycling both ways which makes it free. We also have trams here, but sadly I rarely need to be anywhere along the route.
I love trains though, and managed a train commute for nearly six years without too much fussing.
The main thing I love about trains is that you can do other things while you're travelling - very difficult on a bike or while driving.
They're not automatically the frugal option though, but it's always worth checking. It doesn't necessarily follow that because you have a car, it's never worth considering public transport. In my old job, I commuted to another city 60 miles away. Yes, I could have driven - but it was on small, windy roads so would have taken an hour and a half, I would have had to pay for parking, and it would have meant leaving Peter with no car, as we only have one. The train cost £20 a day (I travelled two days a week) but I could read (or sleep, it was quite early) on the train, and walking or cycling to or from the stations at each end (about 2 miles each way in each city) gave me plenty of fresh air and exercise.
For longer train journeys, I've always managed to get tickets cheaper than the 'standard' price by booking in advance, travelling at odd times, or committing to a specific train. I usually use the Red Spotted Hanky website and always check the fabulously-named Tickety Split site to see if it's worth buying separate tickets for different stages of the journey.
We have one car between the two of us. It's thirteen years old (although we've only had it for three years) and we found it through Gumtree. It does around 45 miles per gallon, and so far (touch wood) hasn't had anything go too wrong. We deliberately bought one that was (just about) big enough to sleep in the back of. It's a bit cramped with two of us, so I wouldn't want to stay in it for more than one night, but I've been away in it on my own for several days and it's been fine, and it's great for sleeping outside friend's houses after parties, or a cheap night away in another city.
I've fallen into the habit of hopping into the car for small journeys over the last few years - even to the local shops, which are only ten minutes walk away. I usually justify this because I'm running late, or I'm in the middle of something and don't want to take half an hour out.
But Uber Frugal January is making me question those justifications and see what I can do to get rid of them. Planning ahead always helps - if I know we're running low on milk, I can get some while I'm out anyway, instead of having to make an emergency dash when we run out. If I allow plenty of time to get ready, I can be on time, rather than having to take the car because I'm late. This is working so far this month, and I've barely got in the car except for longer journeys or to ferry large pieces of wood or furniture (I don't yet have a bike trailer...).
Still, we spend roughly £60 a month on diesel, and even though that includes days out and trips to see family, neither of us drive to work so this still seems quite high.
I like being able to get about under my own steam, and I prefer it when I create enough time and space to be able to cycle and walk to places. I've never been reliant on a car to get to work and I'd like to keep it that way if possible although there may be some compromise if we move somewhere rural. We'll see.
Up til now I've always made decisions about where to live and work as if I didn't have a car, so the addition of one is a bonus to be used for longer trips, rather than a necessity. I've still found it far too easy to hop in for short trips though and that's something I've started to change this month.
More bicycling, I say!
I'I have a confession. Before we even got to the end of the first week of Uber Frugal January, I'd met friends in cafes twice.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Outrageous! This is not frugal behaviour At All! You're right, of course, and I'm not going to make excuses, but sometimes you have to spend something, and on those occasions I like to make sure I'm getting the best deal I can.
Good value tea and cake
On my first cafe trip, for example, I could have had a super-duper deluxe parsnip and maple syrup cake, or a giant scone, or an enormous piece of victoria sponge, but instead I chose a 50p oat cookie, and very nice it was too. For lunch my friend and I had the cheapest thing on the menu - Welsh rarebit for £3 each. Our morning out, which lasted well into the afternoon, cost £6.30 for tea, enormous biscuit, lunch, and parking. Not too shabby at all.
My second cafe trip was to Waitrose, and I have a My Waitrose card which means a free cup of tea when you buy something else in the cafe. I believe that even a 25p banana counts as 'something else' but on this occasion I bought my friend a cup of tea, making mine free (or making both 90p each I suppose).
Slightly less interesting: household appliances
This week we also had to replace our vacuum cleaner. We've ruined two cheap ones in the last year or so, hoovering up plaster dust and DIY rubbish and goodness knows what else. Peter is confident that he can repair at least one of them, so if he manages we'll keep that for DIY, but in the meantime I wanted a new one. I'm not particularly houseproud, but even I like to vacuum more than once a month.
After a bit of investigation, thanks to a suggestion from a friend, we looked on Gumtree. We've bought loads of stuff from there, but it just didn't occur to me to look for a vacuum cleaner, so I was delighted when I found a second hand, refurbished Dyson for £30. My floors have never been so clean! And cheaper than our 'cheap' new ones were. Second hand pretty much always wins for me.
Gumtree is my new favourite thing (apart from Freegle, of course - I did check that first...). Our microwave came from Freegle too - always worth a check when something breaks.
Even less interesting: utilities and insurance (yawn)
This month we've also had to renew the house insurance (yes, it's been a thrilling month). Each year I (reluctantly - it really isn't very interesting) follow these instructions from Money Saving Expert. It usually takes about an hour, including finding last year's paperwork, remembering if we've bought anything expensive (usually not), and entering details in various comparison sites (handily, these usually save your details from one year to the next so you just need to check them).
The first time I did this, after the insurance had been automatically renewing with the same company for years, we reduced our annual payment by £650. This year I didn't manage to find anything cheaper than our renewal quote but it's always worth checking. We'll do the same for car insurance - I've always found a cheaper deal for that.
I had to check the gas and electricity deal this month too, as we had a fixed price deal which had come to an end (see, I told you, January has been a hoot from start to finish). There are instructions for comparing suppliers here, which I've done in the past, and you can compare only green electricity suppliers here.
This year we chose to stay with the same supplier - we have a smart meter, and I don't want to faff about changing that (and risking the gas being shut off - again - by someone who doesn't understand that ancient boilers don't have to meet current safety requirements). We're also very happy with our current supplier, Ovo, who have a 100% green electricity tarrif, and pay 3% interest on credit balances, which is higher than our savings account.
Phew, need a cuppa now
I confess that I do find price comparison, particularly of insurance, extraordinarily tedious, and I was most vexed this year when it didn't even yield a saving. But really, what else would I have been doing with that hour? Poking around the internet looking at nothing-in-particular, I imagine. Well worth a bit of concentration, I reckon.
Do you compare prices or buy second hand? What's your favourite bargain?