Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Credit Crunch Tips for the cashflow challenged

You can take a person out of poverty, but never poverty out of a person. Discuss.

No doubt, having had to struggle financially in life has long-lasting effects on spending and saving behaviour. We all know of two types of ex-poor: those who can't help splurging to fill the yawning, aching gap (and attendant feeling of inferiority) caused by past penury; and those who make stock and darn socks.

My mother is one of the latter. My grandmother, too. I'll tell you a story.

My Grandmother came from what was deemed a 'good background'. She married into a large family with several sons. She married the youngest, weakest, most consumptive son. The one with coughs, faints. The one who didn't want to go 'into the city' or some such profession. The one who wanted to be an apple farmer.

He used up all his inheritance to buy an apple farm in Norfolk. The fresh air and farm work did him good, but the risk wasn't paying off. There was no money left, and no more support from his family. He had a young wife of a year or so and a newborn daughter. They did all the work themselves. The apple trees were blighted. Times, as they say, were hard-hitting. He began to have fits, black-outs. But he had to support his new family. He persisted. He stretched himself to breaking point.

One Christmas eve he came back from a dance with his wife and they readied themselves for bed, turned in for the night. He leant over the pillows to kiss her goodnight, the twenty-two year old wife he loved dearly. And had a heart attack. And died. In bed, beside her. His daughter (my mother) was barely two years old.

My Grandmother tried her best to keep the farm. She rose at dawn and worked the orchards herself, my mother in a cradle beside her. But she couldn't afford to pay the few farm-hands and just as the trees her dead husband had lovingly tended flowered, she was forced to extinguish the dream and sell off the farm, at a loss. The harvest which ripened just after the sale was to be one of the biggest and most fruitful ever.

The young widow, destitute, moved in with her mother-in-law. Her own parents couldn't help. As a child, her father and uncles' jewellery shop had gone bust and, tainted with bankruptcy and shame, they both took a pact, and a rifle to their brains. She'd lost father, uncle, and husband. At her mother-in-law's house, they accepted lodgers to pay the bills. My Grandmother's job was to kneel in the soot and sweep out the fireplaces and coal-scuttles every day at dawn. There was no time to mourn. Just enough time to get on with daily life.

The women in my maternal bloodline have always had to make do and show initiative, never rely on a man to provide. Which perhaps is where I come in (as 'frustrated', and a wannabe entrepreneur!) It's hard to drop a couple of generations of girl-power. Even if they didn't know it as such in the 1930s.

So: here are my 10 Credit Crunch money-savers (which have been working for me for years, incidentally!)

(1) It is never necessary to throw away food. What you don't eat or drink you can quickly freeze raw (fruit juice; bread; all cakes/pastry/bakery products) or cooked (stew leftover fruit and freeze; make vegetable soups and freeze; cooked pasta and rice freezes too, wouldyabelieveit). If you pop spices in the freezer they'll last long beyond their expiry date. Same with fresh herbs, just crumble into cooking. If you boil milk nearing its date it will last for a couple of days past it (and be good for coffee, tea, cooking etc). Blackened bananas are great for smoothies. Soured wine for keeping by the cooker and adding to stews. I've even successfully made fresh cream cheese from 6 pints of milk that curdled when my fridge conked out, but that's real old-fashioned business with cheesecloth, etc.. and perhaps not for the faint hearted (I'm proud to say not a drop was wasted). And this from someone, who in my heyday pre-Credit crunch, happily ate at Ramsey's and The Fat Duck, and who considers herself a bit of a 'foodie'...

(2) Use-by dates and best-before are simply that - best before. And the use-by's have litigation margins built in. You won't get sick if you eat anything past its date unless it smells or looks 'off', has mould or is fermenting. Sue me if you will, but I've always survived! And you can cut mould off cheese (which you are paying good money for in gorgonzola or stilton anyway) and it'll be quite edible underneath. You NEVER need to throw away an egg - printed date or not - unless you crack it and it's obviously 'bad egg!'. And by the way use-by dates on anything sugary are just a joke: raisins, jams, etc: the sugar is a natural preservative! Any biscuits etc which might have gone a touch 'stale' can easily be shoved in the oven and warmed then cooled to regain their original crispiness. Trust me!
Our mothers and grand-mothers never had sell-by, best-before or use-by dates. They just used common sense (if we don't, we'll gradually lose all the domestic wisdom they've spend generations accumulating: throwing away an egg which smells fine is just one example. A friend of mine used to do just that.)

(3) Again, food related - use roast carcasses to boil up and make stock. 15 mins in the pressure cooker with water, a cube, an onion and a carrot. And Bob's your auntie! (sorry, uncle...)

(4) Anything branded costs more. Anything packaged costs more. Anything 'convenience-related' costs more. It's not rocket-science, but you can save a lot. A LOT!

(5) Children love the old-fashioned pursuit of baking. It costs very little in money or work to make your own bread, with flour, those little dried yeast packets, and some tasty additions (raisins? walnuts? chilli flakes for the big people?) And kudos with your guests. Everyone loves a home-made loaf!

(6) Manicures, Pedicures, and eye-brow trims can be done at home. Just look up top tips on the internet if you're not sure. You save a LOT of money and the results are just as good.

(7) Waste not, want not. What goes around comes around. If you are generous with your time and your possessions, others will be generous to you. I pass all my daughter's clothes on to a friend, and in return another friend passes me her (older) daughter's clothes. There's some great stuff going. It's a lovely merry-go-round of saved money. And the satisfaction of giving children's clothes the wearing-in they otherwise rarely get. If not, ebay has mountains of kids' stuff. Designer, even, if that's your cup of tea ( I find Tesco's to be just as good if you choose judiciously).

(8) Don't be afraid to be cheeky. Who doesn't ask, doesn't get. I 'phoned my household insurer and told them my neighbours were paying much less with other names. They promptly cut my yearly premium by almost 50%...FIFTY PERCENT, you scream?! I asked them why they'd hike it up so much in the first place if only to slash it down. "We don't want to lose your custom!" they said. Yeah right. More like daylight robbery to begin with... similarly our builders just cut 15% off a quote for filling in a fireplace. Just because we told them it was a discount or no job. Simple.

(9) Check your bills and reconcile your statements. Computers aren't human. And do make mistakes. We've been over-charged or mis-charged or ripped-off needlessly, at least 4 times over the past 5 years!

(10) Before you rush out for that cup of coffee, invite friends home instead. Before you rush out for a meal, cook your own treat! Before you rush out to the movies, rent your own, or read, or get the kids to stage a show. Before you impulse buy... STOP!... and think. Do you really NEED what you are buying or can you find a (nicer, simpler) alternative? Or are you trying to fill another type of hole with the purchase: boredom, dissatisfaction, greed, habit???

Happy saving! A friend of mine's saving £500 a month just by doing the above, paying attention, being aware, and NOT being ashamed. After all, saving's the new black...


  1. If people try even a couple of the things in this post they will find a huge difference. In my own experience the two things that have really helped out are - cooking at home vs. eating out, and asking myself the 'do I really need this' question every time I wonder about buying something.

  2. Thanks Bloodymirova (nice name!), nice to be of assistance. I forgot to note that I'd even frozen my leftover turkey (plus sausage plus gravy plus stuffing plus bacon roll) on 27th December, and enjoyed a christmas dinner on a cold rainy February lunchtime - super!!