Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Failage Update

About 18 months ago I made a post in which I confessed the ways I fail. Every now and then I read back through my blog, and luckily for you, today I'm revisiting some of my human failures and where I'm at with them. (After all, Frugality is an ongoing process, not a one-off.)

#1 - Meal Preparations. I used to say that I rarely prepare anything from scratch. This is now hit-and-miss. I often eat at work for free, and when I'm home, I do prepare a lot more salad from scratch and eat more fruit - I'm definitely healthier, and I feel it. But I now live alone, and I must admit, after cooking all day at work, I often lack the motivation to cook for one person once I'm home. So I'm eating ready meals about twice a week, but they're generally the frugal versions of ready meals.

#2 - Eating Takeaway. Zero takeaway meals purchased in the past three months. I have bought a couple of "gourmet" ready meals as a treat but it's quite rare.

#3 - My Coffee Addiction. Snapped, broken, gone. This was bad and I was drinking coffee all day before, but it's now no longer something I do on autopilot. I generally sit down with a vanilla latté when I first arrive at work - it's free, and it's my chill-out, calming preparation for tackling my work day. When I'm at home, I drink one coffee a day in the mornings.

#4 - Soft Drinks. I no longer drink them at all. I haven't bought any in the past three months. In the beginning I drank the odd one at work (free), but now all I have is water or fruit juice at work (still free).

#5 - Electricity and Water use. This has changed to become a fixed cost as it's included in my rent now, but good habits have stuck and I am conscious of saving as much energy and water as I can.

#6 - My Toys. I've just bought a new laptop and I'm getting rid of the desktop computer. It was an expensive swap, but I got it half-price by using a buyback deal and choosing a model that's just been discontinued (thanks, husband-detective!). On the plus side, laptops do use less power. I have also just bought a fitness gadget, not strictly necessary but something I wanted so that I could track my fitness a little. It's a very inexpensive one.

#7 - Movies and Games. I no longer pay for Netflix and I'm taking advantage of local tv programmes, since my tv licence is paid for and I can view them on my laptop. I haven't bought any games recently and I'm revisiting my old favourites one by one. I do still play the one that burns a hole in my pocket but I'm trying to be more conscious of what I spend there.

#8 - Bottled Water. Ugh. This one is new, and I hate it. The tap water in my new city is, quite frankly, foul-tasting. In the beginning I was downing lime cordial just to mask the taste, but all that sugar and acid would have killed my teeth. I now buy bottled water. It bothers me that I'm adding to waste, so I have found a very inexpensive one in a huge bottle, to limit the overall amount of plastic. I also get small bottles for free at work so I'm bringing them home and I'm recycling them all (work's bottles are made of recycled plastic, too).

#9 - Driving. Well, not yet. But I've been evaluating the time I spend on public transport, and as much as I love its frugality and reliability, it is eating into my time more than I'm comfortable with on weekends and bank holidays - I'm simply not being fair to myself commuting for three hours a day, and I work every weekend and most holidays. Getting home at midnight can also be a concern in terms of safety, since I'm a solo female and walking well away from the main street. So I'll shortly be thinking more seriously about car ownership. It will be delayed until I move house to a place which has free parking available.

#10 - Clothing. In my new city I did check out the charity shops - and there are a lot of them! Unfortunately, I'm a Lady Of Size™ and there's very little in my sort of dimensions. There are a couple of good places to shop for new clothes though, and I'm making the most of sales items. I am losing weight, slowly but steadily, and as I do so I expect to have more options when it comes to buying used clothing. On the flip side I'm already having to buy new clothes as the old ones are too big. But I'm ok with this, since my health is more important than my money.

#11 - My Rent. I got a great deal on my apartment, or so I thought, as the landlord knocked the price down right as I signed the lease. Unfortunately, I've just received notice that the rent will go up by almost 10%, and when I check out what else is vacant around here, there are now way too many similar places vacant for him to justify charging me that much. I have about a month to figure out my next move, as locking myself into another fixed term lease didn't fit into my medium-term plans (ie possibly needing to move cities if I see an interesting job with a sister store of my workplace). I may need to move into another apartment locally and delay my Career Progression™ hopes, which will cost me a bit. We shall see.

So that's where I'm at in terms of major spending. If I think of any more, I'll update.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

A spring update I suppose?

I am still quite the newbie when it comes to navigating spending in the UK. It's still a work in progress to know where I should be shopping when I need particular items. Quite a few things have been stumbled-upon in the pound shops. :)

I have limited storage space here, not to mention limited capacity to use up certain food items before they expire. I still have a good amount of fruit and veg in my crisper that I bought a month ago (!!) and the used-by dates are mostly hogwash. It's not like things sprout on a tree with a used-by date. These are not processed or cooked foods and aren't high protein or high-risk foods, so use your eyes and fingers to make sure they look and feel how they should, and they're fine.

Anyway where was I? Oh yes. As I'm walking and bussing wherever I go, I split my shopping between Tesco (near home), Sainsbury's (near work) and the pound shops near my bus stop. I finally signed up for both rewards cards, and I can see on my phone or laptop that a few cents rack up each time I shop. That's a definite win.

A new way to save money on shopping - Zeek

And on my travels today I came across another site named Zeek, which sells discounted gift cards. Signing up is easy, you can use your Facebook, Twitter or Google account to join in seconds. I just bought a Sainsbury's gift card for £8 off the face value, with free postage (!!!) very frugal, I mean who wouldn't say no to knocking £8 quid off their bill, right? Once you sign up, entering the promo code 2Y6T8FLF will give you £5 free credit*. I saw gift cards in there from £10 up to £200 and they're for all kinds of places, Tesco, Curry's PC World, Starbucks, iTunes, Primark, Thomson Holidays, you name it, it's probably there. So if it's a place you shop anyway, it's an easy saving.

One tiny unfrugal note for me personally. In my quest to live healthier, I'm trying to limit my intake of starchy foods (rice, breads & cereals, potatoes) and stick mostly to fruit, veg and protein. Unfortunately that makes a fair few of the free work meals off-limits. Boo. On the plus side they always have free fruit and salad, so I do try to eat that.

Stay frugal people... and let's keep more rubbish out of landfill while we're at it :)

* yes, it gets me some sort of bonus too.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Success?

Frugality: destroyed! I'm about to do something that kills it, because plane trips are not frugal. But I'll do it as frugally as I can...

About 20 applications in, I got 4 interviews and 3 of them wanted me. Gobsmacked. I got to choose where I work. Amaze. Perk: free meals from my work (frugal!) Perk: paying better than minimum wage. Perk: free uniform (frugal!). Perk: great bus services in the place I'll be living and working (frugal!). Perk: excellent leave policies mean I'll be able to visit Finland pretty regularly to see everyone.

I have booked my flight back over to England (the third time in a month - this time a one-way ticket). I've started applying for apartments. Tiny apartments (frugal!). Two showings later this week (please cross your fingers the landlords like me).

I start work in a week. Petrified, of course, but also excited to sort of build an Elisa life from scratch, something I've felt like I've been missing for, I don't know, 21 years. That, for anyone wondering, was the reason I sort of went on this odyssey, I have felt increasingly stifled and wanted to "be" something, which I'm sure sounds really pretentious to those who'd have liked the luxury of barely working for the past ten years. For years I've struggled with not having any goals or feeling like I could ever achieve anything other than treading water - incredibly depressing - but about a year ago I figured out what it is I want, and it's to forge my own life, to have an identity. Totally taboo subject to admit that you feel like you've lost yourself when you become a parent, and if I'm honest, I also sort of lost more of myself when I came to Finland, even though it's a beautiful country. I don't belong here. I'm not going to belong here.

It's like a holiday that never ends. People love holidays but anyone will tell you it's miserable to live out of a suitcase. Finland has been a long, extended holiday for me. The gloss of it faded in the second year. The misery began in the third. Then came the boredom, then the frustration, then a small wave as I started doing tourist lets, bought a lovely investment apartment, and then - and then - it still wasn't enough. So here we are.

Visiting England confirmed what I felt. How ridiculous to find a supermarket soothing, but it was. I could find the food I wanted. I didn't need to embarrass myself with a shopkeeper or go home with the wrong product or with none at all. I could comprehend every packet. Understand shopkeepers. Read street signs. Speak to bus drivers. Go where I wanted, be out as late as I wanted, hog the shower, live on crackers and fruit all day, not cook dinner. How pathetically juvenile to revel in being a grownup and making my own decisions all by my big self. But it was too huge to ignore and affirmed that it's what I absolutely, positively need to do.

It has been too long and it's too overdue; I'm already furious at myself for not having had the courage to do this a year ago. I'm frustrated that I couldn't do this in Finland; it would have been a lot cheaper and far, far nicer not to have to be apart from my husband for several weeks at a time.

But it is what it is and I'm going to make what I can of it, starting now.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Lately #2

Of a decidedly frugally-unrelated nature, I am presently looking for work in the UK.

Reasons are varied, but suffice to say, I will be living super-frugally while there - by necessity, as there will be the regular flights back to Finland. Plus, while I took this office/dungeon on so I could write, it turns out that it's a good exercise in practicing solo frugality.

Fridge accidentally turned down to lowest setting = milk, cheese, leftovers and ham into the bin. :(

Small fridge & no freezer = inability to buy perishables in bulk. I have to admit, I was peripherally aware that singletons have it tougher when it comes to shopping (small portions cost more) and don't necessarily have the time for frugal food prep. But wow. This tiny box fridge (40L) has forced me to confront it head-on, and it's not pretty.

I stay here for 2 or 3 days at a time, and I can't buy a loaf of bread here! Of all the simple things that are now inaccessible, this one hurts the most. People on drastically low incomes - of which there are many - being unable to buy a loaf of bread unless it goes into the freezer. One of the most frugal, versatile foods there is.

Bread rolls - triple the price of two slices of bread
Baguette - six lunches, but goes stale in two days

Fortunately, flour tortillas keep in the fridge, so I now eat wraps for lunch quite religiously. Salad ingredients are fine too (lettuce takes up a lot of room). So does two kilos of carrots (sounds like a stupid purchase until I tell you it was cheaper than buying three single carrots). But every meal now has to include carrot or I'll never use them up.

It's the first time that I've had to assess every item in my basket for its shelf life and how much space it will take up. On the plus side, no freezer, so vegetables are always prepared fresh and I'm eating a lot more salad. That's good, I suppose?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

What Lately?

I have an office now, sometimes referred to as My Dungeon, and said dungeon came without a kitchen (just a sink in what had been used as a cleaning room). My duty, should I choose to accept it: convert said cleaning room into a kitchen. Naturally, I strapped my fists to my back and set off in search of adventure.

Side question: how is it that cleaning rooms are so disgustingly dirty?

Fun part 1: dirty. Etc. Cleaning, etc.
Fun part 2: sink only sort of attached to wall. Also, as I was cleaning it, I felt the joy of water seeping into my sock. Look down and there's lovely foul water on the floor where the drain had overflowed. Overflown. Er, filled with water and then kept going.
Fun part 3: it was all cruddy and crusted over and I didn't have a plunger. (Trip to the hardware shop.)
Fun part 4: plunging sink did nothing. That was draining just fine... straight into the floor drain beneath it, which was overflowing onto the floor.

Well an entertaining afternoon was had involving me pulling a sink entirely off the wall and disassembling all the parts. It was not fun cleaning out that foul floor drain or despairing mightily when the plunger at first did not work. Ultimate success though and it's now all reassembled with the sink even on the wall properly.

Was it frugal? Well not really since it cost me a bus ride, a plunger and plumbing tape, and the landlord really should have had to send a plumber. But I gather he's not a very hands-on guy and I'd prefer not to annoy him with expensive things if I can do them myself for a lot less.

Along side the sink shenanigans I bought a sideboard to become the "kitchen". I also bought a small trolley for the microwave to sit on, and a faux-leather computer chair. Delivery hurt a bit but the total was probably a quarter of new price (thanks, Recycle Centre). Also went to Ikea and found a table top which had been on display (three euro, cheers) plus four table legs (two silver, two white... not matching but who cares). Total cost eight euro. Not bad. I even managed to get it back to the dungeon on the free Ikea bus. Frugal.

I had an hour to kill waiting for that bus so I had a plate of Swedish meatballs. Not frugal. I'm an Ikea Family member so my coffee was free. Frugal. Dungeon in general: costs money (not frugal) but is an adapted basement so is inexpensive (frugal). I bought a laptop for it (not frugal) but it was an insanely cheap new laptop (frugal).

One might say I have been a bit hit and miss with the frugality of late!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Ironing board score

Not for the first time, I peeked into the skip bins and saw an item I had been planning to buy anyway.

A mini tabletop ironing board - nothing wrong with it except that now that someone had thrown it into the bin, the cover was dirty. I brought it home and washed the cover, added a layer of blanket to thicken up the padding, and it's now hanging in my rental unit, with the old and awkward full-size wooden one stashed away in the attic.

PEOPLE! What is wrong with people just throwing things away? Why on earth can't people leave stuff out where it will be clean, and taken by someone who needs it?

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Cooking in bulk

Since my daughter left home, I've gained a sort of apathy for the kitchen. I think what's happening is that I'm drifting back to my previous existence of grazing rather than wanting big meals. In the seven years I've been here I've put on a lot of weight :( It's mostly to do with cooking too much. I grew up in a family where your plate was handed to you already served. I came here and saw that life was "serve yourself"; so I started doing that, and since my husband always took seconds I made sure there were always seconds to be taken.

Ending with me taking seconds.

But now with only three of us and me preferring to eat small things instead of two plates for dinner, I get lazy and don't always feel like cooking at all. End result is too many takeaways and tv-dinners.

I'm trying to address that by making my cooking time more efficient, so this week I made six meals of chicken in sweet and sour sauce. I served three bowls and put three bowls into the fridge. No seconds allowed, the second three are for later this week. Truth be told none of us need seconds, and if people get hungry there are plenty of snack items available. I also did the same with a huge batch of spaghetti bolognese.

So today I'm feeling pretty chuffed with myself and my fridge full of "ready dinners". We'll see whether it's a habit I can keep up. I think this might be tough.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Boo!

They had a skip bin at our investment flat today - something a lot of apartment blocks do every couple of years. Ours was full of the old furniture from the cafĂ© downstairs and someone's entire flat furniture. Loft bed and mattress, shelves etc. I'm so disappointed in lazy people. The recycle centre would have collected all those items for sale. What a waste to throw perfectly useful furniture into landfill. Disgusting. I wish I had had a use for the tables and bed.

Among it all was a large near-new Ikea floor rug, soaking wet from the rain but now merrily drying out in my attic space. Silver lining!

Friday, 25 December 2015

Time Flies

I must confess, I have had a few weeks of wondering what to post here. Not that I stop being frugal (it is an ongoing habit) but because I'm so used to doing these things, I forget not everyone is! On top of that has been the usual end-of-year festivities. But really, they should have been inspiration for me to post. So, better late than never.

I've lived in Finland eight Christmases now, and every year I have given my Australian family gift cards and charity donations in their names. I buy them online from Australian shops, saving oodles on postage. When I look at what they spend in posting traditional gifts to me... (shudder) they are definitely making the postal services rich.

As for local gifting we have also eschewed most physical items. None of our family are desperately poor, meaning we all have what we need for the most part, meaning that most of the "things" we hand over aren't needed. Obviously it's important to show someone you thought about them, but for the most part we do gift cards here as well, perhaps with a small practical gift. It has the added bonus of limiting what we need to wrap and carry to the festivities on the bus. I received almost nothing which can't be experienced or used up this year - I cannot tell you how thrilled I am about this! My family has really begun to understand how much I appreciate not receiving more "stuff". As a bonus I have lovely things to enjoy which will not take up space in my cupboards.

Speaking of wrapping, we used less than one roll this year. For our own household, we used recycled gift bags. Somehow we have a stash of these received from others. I just flatten them and put them into our "wrapping stuff" and they get re-used. It's amazing how many people would just throw these out. I may just pop my head into the paper recycling bins later today and see how many of them are in there from the 57 other apartments in our block!

Did I mention leftovers? I'm sure everyone knows about Christmas leftovers, and I get to not cook for a few days. Score!

What things do you do to save cash over the holidays?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

We Walk. We Ride.

Now this one needs an important disclosure. I am not a very fit person in general, I am not a biking & hiking fanatic and I don't really do much exercise at all. And not everyone can make the complete jump that we have, but it's still possible to go half-way.

We walk or we ride. We don't own a car.

I can feel the horror on many faces right now. There are so many people (in so many locations) for whom being car-free is an alien idea that belongs to hippies who eat organic gluten-free raw wheatgrass pancakes. We don't do anything revolutionary, though. We are fortunate enough to live in a place with good public transport, so we use it. For us, not owning a car was a conscious decision. We are a 2 minute walk to the supermarket, so we walk. I'll admit that carrying too many bags of groceries home isn't nice, so it has an added benefit that we spend less in order to avoid carrying so much home! :)

But you don't need to have wonderful transport in order to use a car less. I used to drive a lot, and one thing that car ownership does is make people rely on it - I would have laughed at the idea of walking anywhere, why would I, when I had a car?! But isn't that terribly sad, that I wouldn't walk around the corner, even... think about it.

We always jumped in the car without planning. We acted as if the five minutes saved was too precious to waste. Realistically, if my day is so jam-packed that I cannot afford five minutes of walking, then it is time for a serious think about what's going on in my life, to reassess how I spend my time. We only live once, life is too short to have it crammed that badly.

One way to limit the costs of running the car is to compromise - drive to the train station for instance, if it's not in walking distance. Become a single-car family and coordinate with your spouse on who'll need it on which days. Another idea is to go shopping while you're already in the car for another reason. It will save you fuel if you shop on the way home.

Despite our great transport, we still sometimes bike to a friend's place on the weekends. It's quite surprising how fulfilling that can be, to arrive at the other end without dropping dead of exhaustion :)

What about you - do you use the car without thinking? Or do you plan how it gets used?

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Tuna Cakes

This a simple budget-buster meal you can make when there's nothing cookable in your fridge. The basic recipe is versatile and easy for you to add sauces or spices according to taste.

Tuna Cakes (makes 8 cakes)
2 tins tuna, drained (180g ish tins)
5 pieces of bread torn/cut into tiny pieces
2 eggs
optional mustard, salt/pepper, curry, or chili sauce etc
optional sliced cheese & tomato

Mix the drained tuna, bread and any sauces or spices really well. Squash it down a bit so that the bread soaks up any remaining liquids from the tuna.

Add the eggs and mix them in thoroughly.

Squeeze handfuls into patties and cook them in some oil or butter on a medium frypan (not too hot!). When the bottom is browned, turn it over.

If they're eaten plain and without sauce or spices, they're a bit like eating plain tuna toast, that is, not very interesting. These work best as a base. I definitely recommend spices or toppings to make them more exciting. You can lay a slice of cheese then tomato on top after the first flip. Or break out your sriracha sauce, or mayonnaise.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Acknowledgement of Privilege

I see posts all the time in tumblr-esque hyperbole: CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE! Some kind of ranting from someone who feels ripped off by the world, directed at someone they think has everything handed to them on a plate. But it's actually a very negative statement, and it gets people offside immediately, because it's not interpreted in a way that's at all useful.

Here is my interpretation of how we should examine privilege, in terms of living our lives as successes (in whatever capacity we think success is: education, happiness, financial independence, whatever). Hint: you're not supposed to feel guilty, so you don't need to get angry and refuse to feel guilt. But it's nice to be grateful, so read on.

Most of the things we want out of life aren't handed to us for free. We see what we want, and we evaluate it (a new car... scoring top of the class in the exam...). We decide if it's worth it. If we want it, then we make it our goal. We figure out what we need to do in order to achieve that.

Perhaps we have to save money, get a promotion. Perhaps we have to study hard. Life can still spring things up in our way to foil our attempts, but by and large, getting it requires personal effort.

So when we get that something (the house we saved ten years for, the scholarship we worked towards) then we are justifiably proud that we did it. If you put some hard work into the widget machine, out pop the widgets.

Except that we often forget that it wasn't always hard work alone. Particularly in things that require competition against others (we got the job, we bought the house, we landed a scholarship). We tend to think about these things in a vacuum, as if nobody else had to LOSE so that we could WIN.

Someone had to lose. We had to tread on heads to overtake people on that ladder.

Big deal! - you say. They should have worked as hard as I did.

Well sunshine, perhaps they did.

Perhaps they studied longer, but couldn't get proper sleep because they were cold. Maybe their parents couldn't send them to college. Maybe they didn't get a scholarship because it's hard to study with five small siblings in the house with you. Maybe they were too hungry to concentrate in class. Maybe they skipped middle school any time their mother's babysitter cancelled. Maybe the girl missed out, because the scholarship went to a boy who was more confident on the debating team. Maybe she was late to exams because of her crutches. Maybe his accent ruined his marks in English class.

Maybe it's far simpler than all this: "people who start with a disadvantage still have options to succeed, they'll just have to try harder." It is amazing how often this comes up. "Sure, you can't afford college, but you can still get a scholarship!" These sorts of things. Stop and think about it for a moment. The underprivileged kid has to try so much harder. The privileged kid can just sail in on average marks because there is a way for them to pay their own way through if the scholarship doesn't happen (their parents' savings, etc). Stop and think about it. Life is very unfair for the kid who has no other choice but to go after that scholarship. It's their only shot. And they're up against middle-class kids who just don't WANT to pay for school. Even more unfairly, the middle-class kids will still get to go, even if they fail to get the scholarship...

Now this does not mean that your success wasn't earned. You worked for it. Your hard work got you over the line. But for most people, hard work was not the only thing that got them there.

If you are still not convinced (hey life's not fair, suck it up) then let's go to working life. You got to be successful in your job because you worked hard. You have put hard work into the widget machine, and a good job came out. You earned it.

Or maybe the other guy didn't get that promotion because they're black and your boss gave the job to you. Maybe she quit because the baby's coming. Maybe he couldn't work while on dialysis. Maybe the power was disconnected, maybe they didn't have a phone, maybe they didn't look as good as you at interview because their clothes had a hole. Maybe the car broke down and they didn't have savings to repair it, because they had student debts.

So now you're thinking about their poor planning? Well maybe you had student debts too! But when their fridge broke, their dad didn't loan them the money. Nobody in your house stole your wallet to pay for a drug habit. You're probably not disabled. You're probably not transgender. You're probably healthy - or if not, you can probably go to a doctor.

The thing with having disadvantages is that they often breed more disadvantages. Things that the happy graduate or worker usually hasn't even considered. Car breaks down, it's inconvenient! But imagine there was no money to fix it, so you spent the rent to get it repaired. Then the rent will have late fees so you won't have grocery money. So you take a payday loan.

Then you can't pay it back. So they take the car, so you lose your job. And you can't pay rent. So you're evicted.

Perhaps at this point you're "lucky" enough that a friend takes you in.

How long will it take to try and save the deposit for a new flat while living on a friend's living room floor with no job? Oh and furniture too - you didn't have any money for a U-haul, so the landlord threw it all out.

Homeless and jobless - all because of a $100 repair on the car. Things that would never have happened to someone who had just $100 in the bank.

So the next time someone says to you, "Check your privilege" - they're not saying that you haven't earned your success. They're reminding you that perhaps you forgot about the people who lose. You forgot that some people work just as hard as you - maybe harder - and are not lazy just because they haven't achieved what you did.

They just haven't had all your privileges.

Say a word of thanks.

And if you are a hair's breadth away from being that someone who could be ruined by a $100 unexpected bill, don't sit idle for even a second. Every spare second should be used to figure out how to save one spare dollar, earn one spare dollar, from somewhere, anywhere. If that means eating nothing but rice for a week, doing surveys for 20c on the internet, then so be it - you never, ever want to learn the "hundred-dollar terror" the hard way, and it might mean all the difference to things in a years' time - it may even be an opportunity to hone the frugality which frees you from it.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Nine-To-Five Never-Ending Treadmill

The title is a misnomer; many of the people I know are working All. The. Time. And not particularly enjoying it. I feel sad every time they tell me (again) that the hours are killing them. Because I know they will fall exhausted into bed tonight, but get up tomorrow and do it all again. And the next day.

They all have the same reason (if you ask them). They have no choice. They have to keep doing this because there are bills to pay. These are intelligent people; they can balance the chequebook; they have carefully tallied their expenses and know exactly what is needed to offset them. And what is needed is that they continue to drive themselves into an early grave by slaving away at a job that doesn't appreciate their hard work and doesn't reward them in an emotional sense. Worse yet, it deprives them of much of their free time as well, and stresses them to tears, and demands that they schedule time to eat.

The part that drives me crazy is that they are missing half of the equation. How can such intelligent people not see what is staring them in the face?

Answer: when you look at the same scenery for years, you don't notice the detail.

They work their thankless, stressful job in return for that pay, and then throw that pay at a fancy coffee. Bam. That's another day you'll have to work. Or a movie ticket. Or a takeaway meal. I am no saint, that takeaway meal is sometimes seen as a saviour after a tough day. But make no mistake, that Starbucks or McDonalds run just enslaved you to another day, another week of working at shitty nine-to-five drudgery because you have forever lost the chance to invest that money and have it work for you.

And once the movie is over, the $5 popcorn eaten, do we still enjoy what it did for us? No. The reward is fleeting and gone. We go back to feeling empty, tired and overworked. Compare that with purposefully saving the money and thinking about what the money will do for us. We can watch that balance go up and enjoy THAT reward many times. We can look forward to handing in the resignation letter. We can congratulate ourselves on moving forwards. Many times.

Pay tv. Fashion. Fast food. Hair Salon. New clothes. Second cars. College debts. Credit Cards. All totally normal. Everyone else does it, right? So it can't be so awful. Surely if there was a way to not work until 65, then everyone would be doing it. (Wrong. It's just that most of them think in the same way, and figure there is no alternative.)

Is your nine-to-five slavery so tiring, so all-encompassing, that you don't even have time to try and figure out how to get out? Maybe. Or maybe - realistically - you have just accepted what you think is the truth, and you have never questioned it.

Start questioning things. There is a way out.

Spend Less. Every cent counts.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Watching Property Shows On TV

Now hubby hates to make decisions of any sort, but when it came to borrowing for an investment apartment he was adamant. No. Not even a tiny shop. Just in case it needed massive repairs in future.

For once in my life my financial boundaries were very strict and it made me kinda desperate. I just obsessed over property, even a car space or a storage space, anything to get on the ladder.

Every now and then I indulge my habit of watching videos about houses. I have tons of them saved on my hard drive. I have fond memories of watching Property Ladder with my mum and sister when I sold my first place and moved back home. We would camp out in the living room that had the pay-tv, and anyone else who entered the room would be told to shut up because Sarah Beeny was about to tell some idiot property developer that they were being stupid. Then my sister and I would both pull serious faces and say, "and I think that's a mistake" and crack up laughing. Then we'd make fun of my mum's favourite show, Antiques Roadshow, by telling each other that it's a beautiful example of a period georgian vase with lovely filigree pattern of gold lace, I don't know whether you can see at home but the handles are made of the carved bones of slaves! Isn't it just extraordinary the lovely detail that's gone into the handiwork on this vase, this would have belonged to the landed gentry or possibly even to a royal family and passed down though the generations. These kind of vases sometimes go at AWK-tion for up to seventy thousand pounds (oh, really? me grandmuvva just kept it in a mop bucket or sumfink an' I 'ad no idea!) but that if you look carefully under the mahogany and glass section you can see a crack where it has been repaired, which is a shame because now it's only worth fifty pounds, but never mind, it is just delightful, and thank you ever so much for bringing it in and sharing it with us today.

So every now and then I indulge my habit of watching videos about houses.

I just wrote that first paragraph snickering at myself. I get distracted easily.

So every now and then I indulge my habit of watching videos about houses. I watched one where there was this guy who had nothing, borrowed a few thousand pounds, used it as deposit to start buying flats to let out and became a millionaire in five years. But apart from some sales spin and a really sterile bio, there wasn't much I could find online to learn about how he did it. Which inspired me to write a blog saying how I did it. (I don't have the million yet but one can dream.)

Incidentally, the way that I got onto that ladder was to use a bedroom in my daughter's flat, to host guests on AirBnB, which was a pain in terms of the shared bathroom and kitchen, but did actually provide the profit figures to back up the investment potential, and from there, we bought a place.

I figure that it's unlikely I will get to millionaire status (and I really don't need that much money, being quite happily frugal) but it might be interesting to see how long it takes me to own a Property Portfolio (capital Ps) which can actually support us.

We shall see.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Latest hauls

Dumpster diving at home:

 - two laptops (circa ten years old; one works ok, one works but the battery is dead)

- a working PlayStation 2

- a table lamp

- a Harry Potter movie DVD

- a dead Xbox (we're going to see if the hard drive is salvageable)

- a light jacket (mine! thank you)

- several sets of thermals to fit a tween boy - which my 20yo daughter is going to nab once I sew up the peekaboo fly :)

- four shirts, two skirts, two t-shirts

- two tablecloths

- sandbag leg weights, which we dragged out and left in view for someone

- an ironing board, which I think we'll do the same with

Apparently someone moved out. Can I just add that while I'm thrilled with the freebies, I'm frustrated that they didn't walk a few minutes to the corner of the street and donate the clothing to charity?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Real Estate Baby Steps

I've mentioned before the beginnings of my love of real estate, but you're probably assuming I just wanted a property or five to rent out for the income. Or even that I wanted MORE income by renting for short-term lets, which pay better. I do. But I'm still not content with that. Add another adjective to the description of me: not just smart and lazy, but also greedy.

Where we are right now is in our first year of owning an apartment which we rent out to tourists. It took me about a year of research, sweat and tears and sub-letting on AirBnB, to gather the evidence and experience to get my husband on board. Which is understandable, because my approach is unorthodox, and as I've noted before, 99% of people go through life in the conventional way: get an education, get a job, work hard, take out a normal mortgage, buy a normal car on finance, commute for 40 years, retire with the house paid off but not much more, do all of this while spending every spare cent and being a slave to the grind of the working week.

I did a lot of reading in the lead-up to buying, and came to love real estate as a subject in general. Specifically, if it's done in the right way, it's one of the best (almost) passive income sources around. (What's passive income? It's money you earn while not doing anything at all.) Sitting around getting rich with little effort sounds like heaven to me.

I've mentioned before that I don't actually need to be rich (I just joke about it a lot) but it is absolutely no joke that if anyone can earn money without effort, then it will be ME who figures out how or dies trying. There is no end to how many hours I could spend daydreaming on these things. Ahem. Anyway, passive income. Seems to me that many ordinary families invest in ordinary real estate for the ordinary rental income. That's a drop in the ocean and a daydreamer like me dreams far bigger than "ordinary". Rental's not enough, AirBnB's not enough. The serious money in real estate is in the capital gain. In simple terms this is the value of the property going up over time.

Every country has different laws in terms of taxes and income for property, but (amazingly) in many places you can earn more money by buying a modest property and sitting on it and doing nothing, than by working and saving and saving some more. The difficulty is that most of us don't have spare money lying around to buy a place and can't afford to pay the bills for 20 years while the value increases. The tourist lets were how I got around that part, by proving it could pay its own way and make the borrowing worthwhile while we wait.

My second big joke is that it's only the beginning of my tycoon career. I say that, and people laugh, because one tiny apartment does not a "tycoon" make. But it's part of my bigger picture, and in my mind's eye there will be more of them later on, you see. :)

(Husband is not keen on the idea of buying another one. But I've dealt with the "I'm not keen" thing before. Leave it with me, I'll get back to you one day.)

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Leftovers

I am the first to admit that I am a continual "work in progress" when it comes to saving money in the food department. I am quite embarrassed to admit that we discovered a big piece of untouched watermelon recently, in the back of the fridge, inedible :( It's frustrating to know that we paid four euro for it and it's now going into the bin.

But I digress, I thought I'd post what we ate for dinner. It was ugly, so no photos - use your imagination.

I mashed up leftover vegies and potatoes, skins and all. I then cooked it with a stock cube, a little bit of french onion soup mix, and enough water to make it look & taste like soup. We each got a mug of this and it was acceptable tasting even!

Then there was the second course (hahaha, sounds classy but it's not). I cooked one egg each in the microwave in the bottom of mini ramekin dishes. We each then had a half a tin of baked beans on top and a piece of toast.

Dinner was perfectly adequate, it was even vaguely healthy, and of course I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy in serving that up, as if it's not "proper" enough. I need to get over that. Shopping and making a new dinner from scratch while we have stuff in the fridge... it's wasteful.

Here's a slogan for us all:

"Embrace the leftovers!"

Friday, 2 October 2015

Comfy Cushions

We all like comfy cushions.

Ok, that was a broad and sweeping assumption but really, I'm talking about not having to worry about unexpected bills. Here is a terrifying statistic for you: 62% of people in a recent survey are one paycheque away from homelessness. What this means is that if some disaster strikes (car breaks down, refrigerator bites the dust) they would need to spend their rent or mortgage money to deal with it because they have nothing in their savings.

These people are truly the definition of living hand-to-mouth. Is that also you - all the bills are paid each month, but there is nothing left over to save?

My daughter is moving house at the end of this year - barely three months away - and as she has so far saved very little because she earns very little, she confessed to me last night that she is tired of never having any money and never knowing what will pop up to randomly demand all the cash she has left. Last month she had a wisdom tooth pulled out, which fortunately in Finland is a very cheap thing to deal with, but it still took a bite out of the money she does have. It was merely one small example of things not-planned-for, but causing financial anguish.

Totally out of the blue I found myself explaining my own financial setup. My husband is the main wage earner, but we are way under the national average household income (actually we earn about a third of average for four adults). And in fact we would be considered to be living below poverty level if only the euros and cents are taken into account.

Yet we never have to worry about an unexpected bill. Even a big one. There is money in the savings if something comes up. We won't be happy of course, but we can just pay it and move on. We can do this because we simply don't buy much. We spend less than the amount coming in, so it just naturally grows, slowly but surely.

Here is where the knee-jerk reaction comes in that people "simply cannot save" anything. Yes I know; but that is the wrong focus in my opinion. We have not set out to grow our savings and neither should you. The better aim is to stop spending. There is also an assumption out there that small amounts are insignificant. They're not! Every cent matters.

If you can't do more than pay the bills each month, there are two approaches - either earn more or spend less. The first one is tough, but in my daughter's case it's what she needs to do. Freelance work is too unpredictable and scant, so she needs a boring daytime income so that her immediate needs no longer cause stress.

For all the regular people who already work and for whom second jobs and promotions aren't on the cards, it comes down to spending less. This isn't a newsflash to most but it's staggering how many people try convoluted measures to do it when it could be far more simple. One dollar a day? Can you look at everything you spend and just identify one dollar a day? Can you delay one clothing purchase until next month? One small thing? One weekday cheeseburger? Fridays have a packed lunch instead? One Tuesday vegetarian dinner? One fewer fizzy drink and slurping a glass of water instead?

Try something small for just one month... keep the extra money in the bank. If you make it a habit you will find it no longer seems like an enormous sacrifice. Perhaps next month you won't get an overdraft fee or late bill payment fee: that's like doubling your money! Pat yourself on the back for having your bills covered and taking back a little bit of control. And then look again to find one more dollar a day - the next step of the challenge.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Epic List of Fail

In my reading of multiple other Frugal blogs it occurs to me how often they seem to be living a life of perfection. While I utterly admire what many of them are doing to achieve their own personal version of financial freedom, I'm also struck by how unattainable some standards seem to be.

Get this - they seem so perfect that I occasionally rebel and sneer inwardly. It's unfair of me, and it's jealousy rearing its head, so I want to make it crystal clear that I am absolutely imperfect, and I screw it up quite often. In fact, there are some areas in which I am unashamedly a money-waster. I will eternally be a work-in-progress at this frugality thing.

With this in mind I have a few imperfections terrible habits and I am going to own up to them here and now.

#1 - Meal Preparations. I've said I'm lazy before, but for perspective, I am tonight cooking schnitzel and oven wedges, both of which arrived in my house pre-prepared. Yes, I am wielding the frypan and the oven tray, and they will be accompanied by my home-made coleslaw, but (a) the mayo in the coleslaw was not home-made, (b) I made no effort to prepare or crumb the schnitzel myself, (c) I didn't cut potatoes to make the wedges. As you can gather, I would have had the time and capability of saving more money on this meal. This makes us only partly frugal in regards to eating at home on the cheap.

#2 - We Still Eat Takeaway. Not all that often, but more often than just for special occasions. Sometimes fast food comes home with my husband simply because I can't be bothered cooking. This is bad, especially since I barely work, and I want to try and work on this. I hope my determination wins out.

#3 - My Coffee Addiction. I say addiction, but more than actual addiction it's part of a ritual when I sit down to catch up with my online friends and play games on the computer. This is one expense I'm really not tackling and if I'm honest, I probably won't in future.

#4 - Soft Drinks. Actually, at home I drink almost none, because I drink a lot of water. It's when I do my work that I tend to "reward myself". One or two cans of drink in a week is hardly breaking the bank, but it's still money I don't need to spend and rewarding myself is just another way of saying I want to waste money. Update June 2016: Habit mostly gone. I no longer drink anything at work at all and buy far fewer of them to take home. 

#5 - Electricity and Water use. We're fortunate that our heating and hot water is at a fixed price, shared throughout our apartment block. Living in Helsinki there's also no need for air conditioning (saves big bucks). But even so I could be doing more to limit my usage of utilities - I've noticed that the tv seems to be on despite nobody really paying any attention to it, for example. Update March 2016: Habit broken! The tv is now almost always left off. We rarely use it AT ALL, my son turns it on some evenings while he eats dinner but he turns it off when he leaves the room. At first the apartment seemed "too quiet", but we've quickly become used to it and it's no longer strange living with an absence of mindless tv. Small victories :)

#6 - My Toys. By this I mean my computer because there's very little else that I spend majorly on. Another area I won't be changing anytime soon, because it supports pretty much all of my entertainment, with a couple of exceptions.

#7 - Movies and Games. I am not a movie fan really, but Netflix also gives us access to a bunch of TV shows. More irony since I don't watch much tv, but I do have a penchant for a good British comedy or three. The Netflix subscription easily trumps the cost of pay tv (seriously, who pays for that anymore?) and the bonus is that all four of us can use it to watch shows on our computers. As for games, there's one particular online game that burns a hole in my pocket. It also forms the bulk of my social life but even so I'm aware of the predatory nature of such game developers. I really should spend less on it and it's something I'm working on, but I won't be stopping playing completely.

What's your biggest spending indulgence?

Friday, 25 September 2015

On my travels

I came across a blog which is rather interesting. http://earlyretirementextreme.com/

I am currently wading through the bowels of their archives, but even way back then it contained some thought-provoking things, like alerting me to the existence of retirement calculators. And if you find a decent one it can tell you when you can afford to retire.

Now basing it on my current income levels is kind of laughable because I am actually supported quite a bit by my husband's wage. So for the purposes of research for you, dear reader, I based it on my income alone. And I found, to my surprise, that based on what I (alone) bring in from my unemployment benefit and part time hobby-job, that if I continue to save as I do now (50%-ish), I will have saved enough to retire when I am 54 and will have that income streaming in until I am 90, provided I'm content with three-quarters as much cash each month once I retire.

For context, my income is approximately the amount of income that the Finnish government considers the bare minimum to survive and which it demands of EU immigrants coming here (unemployment benefit pays half of the "survival" amount).

Those who earn even an average wage, I cannot imagine why they shouldn't be able to save far more and retire even faster. Actually I can, but it has to do with spending on things that will slow down retirement horribly.

For those who are interested to see their own numbers in action, here's the calculator I used.

https://www.calcxml.com/do/ret31?ctry=ca