Thursday, 14 January 2016

Chocolate triangles (in the round)

There are so many thrifty recipes for flapjacks and crumble squares and brownies out there - and I just don't like many of them. Apart from this one - behold, the mighty chocolate triangle:

OK, I'm between brownie pans and had to improvise with a muffin pan. These are normally tray baked and iced  before being divided into squares, which are cut in half diagonally to make long triangles. They look and taste better in triangular form, but needs must.

These seem to have been a specialty unique to my school's dinner ladies, i've never met anoyone else who has eaten them. I remember being in sixth form and discussing with my friends how we would ever live without eating two of these things a day for rest of our lives, though it turns out that moving away to university offers plenty of other interesting distractions. I didn't give them a second thought, until I was thrust into proper adulting with a family and baking duties.

Thankfully some enterprising soul got the recipe from a retired dinner lady and it periodically does the rounds on my Facebook feed - complete with catering quantity measurements. Its a nice thrifty treat - and its very good for school bake sales. The original recipe uses butter, I use vegan margarine or coconut oil. I've also cut the quantities down to household size.

* * * * * 

Chocolate Triangles

makes 12

250g margarine
175g porridge oats
175g plain flour
125g caster sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder 
1 1/4 tsp baking powder

175g icing sugar
2 1/4 tbsp cocoa powder
Boiling water

Preheat oven to 180 and bottom line a 9" x 9" brownie pan.
Cream the margarine in a large mixing bowl.

Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa and baking powder into the margarine and add the oats.  

Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the margarine.

Spread mixture into the brownie tray and bake for 30-40 mins until top is firm to touch.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tray before icing. Some collapse on cooling is normal.

To ice:

Sift together the icing sugar and cocoa. Stir in the boiling water tablespoon by tablespoon until the consistency is a little thicker than single cream.

Spread the icing over the cooled traybake and allow to set.

Cut into squares, and then diagonally into triangles.

* * * * *

Wednesday, 13 January 2016


I'm giving up. I've had my fill of managing multiple google accounts and I've had enough of some disastrous blog technical issues this past 12 months. I'm rolling everything - gardening, simple, thrifty topics - into one again.

I'm not getting much gardening done, so at least I will have something else to talk about!

Monday, 11 January 2016

Preparing for next Christmas

Yes, already - there are just 348 days to go after all!

Our 'Christmas' actually starts with the Winter Solstice and peters out around January 2nd - which means a lot of food and drink is consumed.

Each January we set up a sealed pot, into which we collect as many twenty pence pieces as we can. Come the start of December we had almost £130 for the week or so of festivities. This seems pretty generous to us, our usual food budget in good times is around £40 per week for two adults and three hollow legged children. I know to many it's downright miserly; and to yet others it's downright  extravagant.

As we both had to work over Christmas itself, we treated ourselves to roast dinner at a local cafe on the winter solstice. The rest of the budget was spent on nibbles, some wine and Prosecco.  I made a pie and roast for new year; and that was the end of festivities. Without treating ourselves to the cafe, a lot of last years budget would have rolled over into this years pot.

This is my preferred way to save for Christmas - we barely notice it but always end up with a good pot at the end of the year.

Some supermarkets offer Christmas savings schemes, whereby you save a little each week, and they add a bonus come December. It makes sense if you are in a rural area and are limited to a single store; but living in the city it rarely pays to be loyal. The bonus they give you probably doesn't offset the savings you would have made if you shopped around - particularly in the 'budget' supermarkets that don't offer such schemes; and local greengrocers. If you plan to invest in one, MSE has a great article about the risks and benefits of these schemes.

Instead I prefer to use my legs - my shop this year took in my local greengrocer, Lidl, a local wholefood shop and finally Tesco. I took the youngest in her pushchair, donned a backpack and made like the nativity donkey until I had everything on my list. I pre-burned a few festive calories too.

This years sealed pot was up and running from Boxing Day. Roll on December.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Thrifty successes of the week

This week:
  1. First Group (the bus company) are offering buy once, travel twice offer on day tickets in my city, every weekend in January - which meant I halved my travel costs this weekend. If you use public transport, follow their social media accounts - I wouldn't have known about this at all if I wasn't following them on Facebook.
    TOTAL SAVED: £4.20.

  2.  We were given an almost full box of red wine - it's OK to drink, but I'm freezing most of it into silicon cup cake moulds ready for use in recipes - a splash on wine makes the most of otherwise budget recipes.
    TOTAL GAINED: A £10 box of wine.

  3. I cut my own hair and it came out really well. It's the second time I've tried it, the hair-cutting  scissors paid for themselves with the first cut. I'll write up a post with links later this week.
    TOTAL SAVED: £25 average.
In the bad old days when we were in debt, these savings would have immediately gone towards paying that down. These days I put the cash aside in a separate jar. It can be used for treats, or towards long term savings, or for unexpected household costs. Either way, its always useful to have some cold hard cash in the house; and its a nice reminder of your skills at managing your resources wisely. 

    Wednesday, 6 January 2016


    Yesterday we nipped into Poundland for some batteries; and I came out with several other things on my 'need' list (and no extras, happily), coming in significantly under budget:

    Lee Stafford hair products are £5.99 each in Boots (not that I would have ever paid that much!) and vegan to boot. £2 under my budget for decent shampoo and conditioner.

    Nair facial hair removal strips cost £6.00 in Boots. Some shops do their own version but they are cellophane backed and don't seem to work very well. Another £5.00 under budget.

    My favourite toothpaste - £1.80 under budget.

    The new LED lightbulb is for the hallway. £3.00 under budget - and more economical to use too.

    Insoles - £1.50 under budget.

    3 9V batteries for the smoke alarms - £3.00 each in B&Q, £2.00 in the local 'cheap shop'. You can't put a price on safety, but it sure is nice to cut it by two-thirds - £4.00 under budget.

    All in all we saved a spectacular £17.30 today. Poundland is not automatically going to be the cheapest for anything; which is why I stick to my list and don't browse for 'bargains' that I don't actually need.

    Having a longterm 'need to buy' list keeps me focused; and keeping track of which stores are good value for certain things keeps me under budget. Being loyal to one convenient supermarket - and shopping off-liste - on the other hand, rarely pay.

    Planning the new year

    Happy New Year!

    A few days ago I sat down and made a rough financial plan for 2016. In columns representing each month, I placed all the major expenditures that I could remember in each column. This is a rough draft:

    The plan is a nice reminder of what's coming up when. At least a few times a year I get a horrible surprise when I realise there is an 'unexpected' hole in our account - usually a car related expense that 'I could have sworn was done just a few months ago'.

    Most importantly, its allowed me to plan our cash flow across the year. At the bottom of each column I've pencilled in a rough figure for expected outgoings. The summer and winter months are looking to be particularly expensive, but knowing this in advance,  I have time to put money aside accordingly. I hope to use some thrifty ingenuity to reduce the figures a little too.

    An annual budget plan can be as elaborate and detailed as you like - scribbled on an envelope or typed into a spreadsheet. You can even break out the parchment and calligraphy ink if you really want. As long as you look at it frequently and use it to plan accordingly, then its doing its job.  Some things that you might want to include:

    • Annual renewals for insurance, warranties etc.
    • Vehicle maintenance - MOTs, insurance renewals, service.
    • Medical - dental, opticians, vet checkups. 
    • Christmas, birthdays and other expensive celebrations.
    • School expenses - back to school expenses, club subs, trips, bench fees. 
    • Dates for tax returns, account switching,  utility switch dates, tax credit renewals etc.
    • Holidays and booking dates.
    • Planned house maintenance - new roof/kitchen/extension/window.
    • Increased general spending ie. high energy bills in winter months.
    Your plan may look a little daunting, or even terrifying, but don't despair. Knowing where you are is the first step to making it better, even if the second step is a good cry.

    I hope 2016 brings better than 2015 for us and for everyone, but wishful thinking won't pay the bills or make dreams come true. A can-do attitude and a plan to make the most of it, whatever it may bring, is a much better way to begin a new year.

    Monday, 4 January 2016


    Oh look! Ye Olde Blog! It's still here. A bit of a fixer upper, but then, that is the thrifty way isn't it?

    After quite a few months break (and several years from this particular one) I want to return to blogging. I have some goals I'm working towards, and blogging about thrifty topics really helped with that once upon a time.

    And I'm still all about the simplifying and streamlining and concentrating on what is important in life. I've simplified my online life massively the past few months. I've sacked of social media accounts, deleted my other blogs, and I've had a nice long rest.

    And then I logged into my old account to see what was what. It was nice to rediscover some of the blogs from my old sidebar that I haven't visited in a few years, too.  And then the nostalgia kicked in.

    And now I am back where I began. Home.


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