Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Planning for Christmas...

The expense of Christmas is pretty much in hand this year.  We've been saving Tesco Clubcard vouchers in anticipation of a "Clubcard Exchange" and sure enough, double-up of vouchers to spend on toys is included in the offer.  This will turn our £50 of Clubcard vouchers into £100 to spend on toys for the children; that will take care of a big chunk of what we're spending on our kids and our nephews.  Boots Advantage Card points will be used to buy gift sets for the Aunties.  Charity shop finds have been tucked away along with a couple of charity raffle wins earlier in the year.  Changing broadband provider a couple of months ago earned us a £60 Tesco voucher - this hasn't arrived yet, but I'm fairly sure we'll get this before Christmas to put towards the cost of festive tasty treats.  I won a £20 Toys R Us voucher in a competition which we'll spend on the children.  In addition, I've been putting away £25 a month through my employer's Christmas savings scheme; this £250 is returned to me in my next salary payment in November and should more than cover everything else.  I've got plenty of wrapping paper, gift bags and cards left over from previous years so no need to buy any of that. I'm working on a couple of handmade projects to give as gifts too.

This week I'm going to work out a budget and a list of what I need to make, buy and organise.  The countdown to the festive season has commenced and I'm determined to be on track and to have a great time without spending a lot of money at all!

Are you on track with your Christmas preparations?

Preparing Christmas dinner 2010

Monday, 7 November 2011

A hotel stay... for free!

A few months ago, Mr Frugal and I took advantage of a Groupon offer to spend an overnight stay in a Scottish castle hotel.  We'd really looked forward to it, and I'd gone to great lengths to ensure that the hotel could cater for my gluten-free dietary needs by liaising with them well in advance and in the run-up to our stay.

Well, we had a lovely time in the most beautiful surroundings - but the food, what a disappointment!  We had to wait for our lunch whilst the chef "went to the shops" to buy gluten-free bread; the "selection" of sandwiches featured just grated cheese; my "selection of cakes" was substituted with fruit salad.  At dinner, not a single thing on the dessert menu could be adapted to provide a gluten-free option; they didn't even have ice cream that was suitable!  What was I offered - you guessed it - fruit salad!  At breakfast the following morning, no gluten-free sausages or toast - mushrooms, scrambled egg and bacon for me!  Not the full Scottish breakfast I'd expected!

Of course all of these failings you'd expect if just turning up off the cuff for dinner in a restaurant.  However, I'd contacted the hotel on several occasions (including before I even bought the Groupon) and was assured that they prepared meals for coeliacs all the time and that accommodating my needs wouldn't be a problem at all.  I was disappointed - and hungry!

So, on our return home I wrote an email to the hotel manager expressing my dissatisfaction; I'd raised this with the head waiter at the time, and although he was apologetic he was unable to help.  The manager wrote back and apologised profusely for the service I'd received, offering me the opportunity to return the castle for a complimentary stay to experience what their service should be like.

We've had lots on in the last few months and as you can imagine, sorting out a night away and arranging work cover, babysitters and so on is like mission impossible!  This weekend however is our return visit and we're really looking forward to our free hotel stay!

(I'll be taking the toiletries home, of course...)

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Meal planning for 10 days - with a £20 budget...

I've set myself the target of keeping the family going until payday using up everything in the freezer and spending no more than £20 at the supermarket.  Here's how I've worked things out:

Saturday 5th: Chilli and rice
Sunday 6th: Homemade pizza with chips
Monday 7th: Pasta with ham and mascarpone, with garlic bread
Tuesday 8th: Chicken tikka masala and rice
Wednesday 9th: Omelettes
Thursday 10th: Baked potatoes with beans
Friday 11th: Chilli and rice
Saturday 12th: No dinner required - away overnight
Sunday 13th: Homemade pizza and chips
Monday 14th: Lamb curry and rice
Tuesday 15th: PAY DAY!

For lunch, my daughter takes a tuna mayonnaise sandwich to school every day along with a yoghurt, packet of crisps and a mix-up for lunchtime.  My husband also takes a sandwich each day and his filling depends on whatever is on offer (for example last week he had corned beef because it was £1 a pack).  My gluten-free lunches consist of a selection from mini quiches, cup-a-soups, crackers with spreading cheese, yoghurts and apples.  At the weekend the children will have eggs/spaghetti/beans on toast for lunch, and we'll have homemade soup.  This weekend we consumed the last lot of potato and leek soup from the freezer - gasp!  I very rarely let the freezer run dry of portioned-up homemade soup.  So a batch is in order for next weekend!

Breakfast is cereal for my daughter and husband, and gluten-free toast for me.  Both we have enough of in stock to see us through until pay day.

So, the shopping list:

Curry sauce
Bacon pieces
Tinned tuna x 4
Fromage frais x 18
Milk x 2
Diluting juice
Bread x 2

Fairly sure I can get this well under the £20 threshold and to ensure I do, I'm sending Mr Frugal to the supermarket.  His shopping blinkers are more effective than mine (I'm a sucker for a bargain or yellow sticker!) - Mr Frugal doesn't deviate from the list under any circumstances!

Following this I'm going to need a "big shop" to get our stocks back up.  I'm concious that the weather might turn too, so I'll be batch cooking and re-stocking the freezer to see us through to Christmas time.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

In the frugal kitchen this week...

Individual lasagnes - prepared and ready to go in the freezer
Back to work and back to school means that convenience is central to my meal planning for during the week.  In preparation for our return, I bought a pack of individual foil dishes from Poundland and spent an afternoon batch cooking and preparing meals for the freezer.  This week's delights included lasagne and shepherd's pie - both went down a treat.

I pull our dish of choice out the freezer and leave in the fridge to defrost during the day.  A quick half hour in the oven and voila - a home-cooked meal in next to no time at all, with minimum effort.  I usually prepare the garlic bread and portion and freeze that too - easy to re-heat from frozen and bulks out meals.  It's rare we get the chance to eat as a family during the week, arriving home at different times - so it means I can have a home-cooked meal on the table for my husband getting home too, without cooking two separate dinners or leaving a plateful in the microwave for Mr Frugal to re-heat later.

It's not been all savoury - my daughter and I managed to squeeze some effort into making cupcakes and rocky road too.  Neither lasted long!

Gluten free cupcakes
Rocky road - made with Tesco Value milk chocolate
I now need to turn my thoughts to meal planning for the next 10 days until pay day - I'm hoping to stretch the contents of the freezer to last that long with a minimal budget for top-up shopping - no more than £20.

Edited to add:  The Rocky Road recipe is a Glutafin recipe; I used glace cherries in place of cranberries and milk chocolate in place of dark chocolate.  You could easily substitute the biscuits with any kind of digestives or rich tea biscuits if you don't need to follow a gluten-free diet!  Enjoy!