What to do with a faulty fire alarm…

When you’re renting you learn a few things about what should and should not be in a house. For example it is a legal requirement for a landlord to make sure the heating works, that the rain stays out the house and that the property comes supplied with a fire alarm.

Whilst in The Flat, The Hubby and I learnt to deal with a broken boiler and poor installation (we bought extra duvets) and when the rain decided to make a shower out of our toilet (we worked around a carefully positioned bucket over a year), but at least we had a working fire alarm.

If you’ve read this blog before you will have probably gathered that we had a string of problems at our old flat, so when we moved it was like breath of fresh air so much so that, for a time, we were prepared to ignore one small little issue…

*Beep*

It didn’t start straightaway… Like anything when you go somewhere new it takes a while to recognise quirks. To begin with I suspect we were too busy moving boxes, making cups of tea, unpacking bags and building furniture to pay much attention to our unwelcome guest (*beep*). But as soon as the background noise died down we noticed it. And we have spent the last three weeks wishing we could un-notice.

*Beep*

Our new landlord seems interested in her property (certainly a lot more of than our previous landlord at The Flat) and as a responsible landlord had installed a “Fire Angel”, a charmingly named device aimed at saving lives. Sadly it looked like the cherubic device was going to drive us mad before it had had the chance.

The “Fire Angel” hung happily from the lightbulb in our corridor, contentedly recharging itself from our mains electricity whenever the light was switched on. Unfortunately for us this angelic tenant had a rather un-restful habit of reminding us that it was there. Every single minute. It was enough to drive anyone insane.

Do you know how many minutes there are in a hour? How many hours there are a day? “Fire Angel” does… Day or night for the past three weeks “Fire Angel” has beeped. It’s amazing how much you can sleep through even when it’s setting your teeth on edge and all you want to do is smother it, throw it out the window, or set it on fire. In fact, we soon reached the stage where we were fantasising about stuffing it into a sock and smashing it with a wrench. We endured 30240 beeps (yes, we counted) until our landlord finally caved in and agreed for us to throw the damn thing in the bin…

We knew it wouldn’t go quietly.

I remember seeing an episode of Friends where Phoebe has an issue with her firearm. The incessant beeping keeps her up all night even when she tries to rid herself of it. There was no way that was going to happen to us.

They say that two is company and three is a crowd, but when The Hubby and I went for a weekend away our Fire Angel joined us. And we knew that for the Fire Angel, it would be a one-way trip…

 

 

Ah.  Peace at last.

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Recipe: No Butter Apple Cake

You’re never completely moved into a new house until you’ve put the oven through its paces.

So, to mark our first week in our new home I thought The Hubby and I should celebrate with cake!

Sadly, I didn’t think about that until after I’d returned from the weekly shop so I didn’t have any butter.

Really, I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t think about making a cake earlier, otherwise I could have come back from Tescos with bags full of  completely unnecessary ingredients (that’s hardly frugal).   You may have seen my Honeycomb and Chocolate Cupcakes that I made a few weeks ago before our big move… but even though I hadn’t bought anything new to make those cakes, at least for them I’d found some butter lurking at the back of the fridge.  Baking without it was very new to me.

But even with that in mind I challenged myself once again to come up with a cake using only the items I already had in my cupboard.  A cake without butter… that makes it almost healthy, right?

No Butter Apple Cake

130gms plain flour

150gms caster sugar

2 medium-sized apples

5 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 tablespoon of baking powder

4 eggs (beaten)

70gms chopped/milled nuts/seeds (optional)  – I used some Linwoods milled flaxseed, almonds, brazil nuts and walnuts mix that I had in my cupboard to give my cake an extra healthy kick.

  1. Whilst The Hubby settled down in front of the TV to watch the Six Nations I started chopping two of the apples that hadn’t quite made it into my lunchbox during the previous week.  It may just be me, but I always find that dicing anything takes longer than expected – so when the half-time whistle had blown I’d only just finished chopping up my two apples into little squares.
  2. In order to give my cake extra flavour, I popped the diced apples into a bowl, and mixed in two teaspoons of cinnamon and a teaspoon of flour before setting aside to work on the rest of the cake.
  3. I popped the sugar and the eggs into a large mixing bowl and mixed them together until well combined, smooth and pale yellow.  I used a whisk for this, but I’m sure that you could use a spoon.
  4. Next I added the remaining flour and cinnamon to the large bowl, along with the tablespoon of baking powder, and then mixed until it was smooth and looked pretty much like any other cake mixture – who needs butter eh?
  5. The final stage was adding my cinnamon covered apple pieces, and adding my milled nuts/seeds to my cake mix.  The Linwoods selection I used really added to the texture of the cake, but I’d imagine that chopped nuts would work well too if you prefer more definition in your puddings.
  6. Once combined, I popped the whole mix into a greaseproof-paper-lined cake tin and popped it into the oven at 200 C for about 40 minutes.

I’m really rubbish when it comes to lining cake tins.  I know you should be careful and flatten out the paper in order to get a smooth finish, but I’m much more at home with the stuff-in-and-go method of lining tins… it doesn’t make the prettiest of cakes I’ll admit, but it looks so much more rustic.  That’s my excuse anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Your cake may need slightly longer than the 40 minutes to cook, if it does reduce the temperature to 150 degrees so not to burn the top of your cake (I learnt the hard way…), but only remove from the oven when you stick a knife in and it comes out clean.

By the time my cake was out of the oven The Hubby had finished watching Wales beat England and had come out into the kitchen to investigate what the nice smells were all about.  That’s how I know that this cake tastes great just out of the oven – lovely and moist and warm and comforting, like a very stodgy apple pie – but, if you can wait for the cake to cool it also tastes great cold with a nice cup of tea, and also covered with custard.

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The Frugal Flat Hunter’s House Hunting Tips!

You may have noticed that I’ve been a little quiet for the last few weeks… Well, I have some great news: the reason for my blogging silence is that I have been busy moving house!

We moved into our new home on Friday, and I actually woke up at 4am on Saturday morning because I was too hot!  In The Flat that would never have happened; waking up violently shivering was a much more familiar start to the morning!

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I’m still surrounded by boxes and bags, and currently don’t have an internet connection (thank goodness for smart phones) so this blog is going to be a short one, but I wanted to share my top house hunting renting tips.

Decide on your budget – know what you can afford to pay and know what you could stretch to for the perfect property.  But focus your hunt slightly lower than what you’d be comfortable paying, you might find something that surprises you.

Don’t view too many properties in one day – you can get viewing overload and it can be really tricky to remember one from the other and to assess each one fairly.

Don’t be afraid to make notes – take pictures, do a floor plan, anything that will help you remember the property. Don’t forget to check out where the sockets are too, because it would be awful to move in to discover your TV cable won’t reach.

If you find somewhere you like, move quickly – rental properties can move very quickly, so if you find a place you like don’t spend too long weighing up your options, otherwise you might miss out.  But be careful to think everything through before you put any money down.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – if the current tenant is there whilst you’re viewing, and its appropriate, why not ask them dome questions. Finding out why they’re moving out could be very enlightening!

Remember to negotiate! If you feel the property isn’t worth the asking price don’t chicken out of trying to get it knocked down. The letting agent will probably be able to give you a good idea of whether other people have been interested, and whether they think the landlord might go for a reduced rent.

No matter your reason for moving make sure you think everything through. Moving can be really stressful, but its also a great excuse for nosey people like me to have a look around other people’s houses!

Happy hunting!

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Frugal February – How to remove rust from carpet

Very few people like cleaning, but when you have beige carpets it seems to be an endless battle.

Even if we make sure everyone takes their shoes off at the front door you end up with little dark tufts appearing on the floor – and usually from The Hubby’s black work socks.

So when I woke up one morning and discovered that a hole in the roof (oh yes, really) had allowed water to seep in and rust a set of shelves, I was not impressed…

And then I notice the carpet and felt sick.

Bright orange stains stared up at me – even from the other side of the room there was no missing them.  They we almost lurid against the pale floor.  It seemed that not only had the water rusted the shelves, but it had also carried the rust straight onto the carpet.

I very nearly crumbled at that second.  Every atom of me was screaming at me to grab my purse, dash to the supermarket and buy every type of floor cleaner they had.

But I knew that at nearly £4 a pop that would add up considerably.  With one arm still reaching for my handbag I tried to think about alternatives…  After some quick thinking, I determined that most cleaners are abrasive, and have a slight bleach element to them – obviously I wasn’t going to risk putting bleach on a beige carpet (I shudder to think of the white stains I could have been left with), but I decided I’d try some old-school remedies first.  So taking a step away from the front door, I instead went to explore my kitchen cupboard.

I grabbed some salt as my abrasive, some lemon juice (I’d remembered my school science lessons when we’d used lemon to bleach paper) snatched an old tooth-brush from the bathroom and set to work.

First I tried to loosen the rust stains, by giving them a quick rub with a clean cloth – not sure whether that helped… it just seemed to make the stains bigger.  Next, I poured a pile of salt onto each rust stain (part of me just wanting to hide the mess that I’d made), and poured lemon juice liberally over each pile.

Then, figuring that the lemon juice would need a little while to soak through the pile of salt, I left it.  For the next hour I paced around The Flat, still fighting the urge to give up my frugal ways and find some Mr Muscle, some Vanish… anything with a nice comforting brand name attached and some pretty sparkles on the label.

Eventually I decided that I’d had enough.  I filled up a bowl with warm water and grabbed the toothbrush and set to work on each pile of salt.

I used the toothbrush to scoop up the excess salt and lemon juice slush from the carpet, and then used a bit of warm water and elbow grease to scrub away at the remainder of the pile.  The rust stain was still there, but as I stubbed with the toothbrush, I could see it fading.  I kept the brush clean by regularly rinsing it in warm water and amazingly soon the rust was gone.

I patted the area dry with a clean teatowel and sat back feeling a little bit dazed.

I hadn’t really expected my frugal cleaning plan to work – but it did.  An that’s an extra £4 I’ve saved towards moving into a property that doesn’t have a hole in the roof…

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Using up sugar: Homemade Honeycomb and Chocolate Cupcakes

With heavy snow forecast, and the fact that The Flat seems incapable of keeping heat in, I figured that The Hubby and I could do with a bit of comfort.

So, with my shopping ban front of mind I knew I was going to have to cook up something purely from the contents of my larder, and after a few minutes gazing into it’s depths I knew that my starting point had to be sugar…

I love baking, but I have a sugar problem.  It’s like a compulsion; when I go to supermarket for ingredients I always pick up an extra bag… As a result, my larder is bulging with half-used packets.

So what comforting treat could I make that was mostly sugar? After a bit of pondering, I came up with the answer: Honeycomb. 

And then I got extra creative: Homemade Honeycomb and Chocolate cupcakes.  They’re super sweet, and very indulgent, and if you have them slightly warm they’re perfect for a frosty evening.

Homemade Honeycomb and Chocolate cupcakes

For honeycomb
1 cup of caster sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup
3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

For cupcakes
175gms butter
175gms caster sugar
175gms self raising flour
3 eggs
3 tablespoons of drinking chocolate
1 teaspoon golden syrup
Honeycomb
Chocolate chips

1. Now when I made my honeycomb I started by lining a tray with greaseproof paper – this worked okay, but the honeycomb did stick to it, I’d suggest using a silicone tray if you have one – if not, you’ll have to be careful peeling off the paper!

2. Put the sugar and golden syrup into large saucepan and warm on a low heat. The trick is to try not to stir the mix too muchas it melts together – this can cause the sugar to crystallize.  This can take some time, but be patient.

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The sugar and syrup mix will melt eventually... promise!

3. When the sugar and syrup have completely liquified turn up the heat and boil the mix rapidly until it gains a golden brown colour.

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It's very tempting, but DON'T STIR!

4. Remove from heat, quickly add the bicarbonate of soda and (This is the best bit!) mix!

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The syrup mix will dramatically expand and will become pale. When you’ve got a big puffy pale pile of honeycomb in your saucepan pour it into your lined/silicone container, and leave to cool!

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Honeycomb!

Top tip: Don’t put your saucepan under a tap of running water. On a cold night even the contents of the hot tap is really nippy, and the cold water will set the honeycomb mix – right onto your saucepan… I may have learnt the hard way…

5. Time to make the cake part! Put the honeycomb somewhere cool (in The Flat that can be pretty much anywhere…), and then grab a mixing bowl. Pop the flour, sugar, butter and eggs into the bowl and mix well.  Once combined add in the chocolate powder and mix again.

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It's your basic cake mix - nothing fancy...

6. Now I knew these cakes would be sweet, but at this stage I added in a spoonful of golden syrup into the mix. You don’t need to. (Whilst trying to get the set honeycomb remains out of the saucepan I noticed that The Flat had another gift for us: a leaky sink. So really, the golden syrup was only added in as an excuse for me to lick the spoon…)

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Adding in golden syrup

Oh, and here’s the leaky sink:

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7. Next I added in some chocolate for some real treat value.  I didn’t have chocolate chips in my cupboard, but I did have some chocolate coins left over from Christmas… So I broke those into bits.

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Next I got The Hubby to smash up the now cool honeycomb, and I sprinkled some of that into the mix. We went for a good handful.

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Yes, I really mean smash...

8. I mixed it all together and put the mix into muffin cases. They then need to go into a 200 degree oven for 15 -20 minutes or until they spring back when touched. As they cool sprinkle some more of the smashed-to-a-powder honeycomb on top – it will stick to the cupcake tops and create a rustic topping.

And there you go.  Yum yum yum!

A sugar rush waiting to happen.

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Welcoming in Frugal February!

I’ve been being frugal for a whole month now – scrimping and save as best as I can in order to gather those pennies into pounds.  And I’ve not done half bad.  It’s difficult to keep track of all the savings I’ve made, but whilst I’m still saving away quite happily, the thing that I’ve let slide is my blogging.

When I set myself this challenge I was focused on blogging about my progress, and sharing the fact that trimming away at your spend can have a dramatic difference on your savings, but it doesn’t have to impact on your lifestyle.  Which is why I’m proud to announce the fact that I have agreed to take part in Gemma of Big Girls Browse’s second annual #FrugalFeb.

When I first signed up to be part of the blogging event I thought that by the time February came round I might be needing the moral support – I mean I’d be a month in!  But actually January wasn’t half bad – I’ve not missed the occasional chocolate bar from the corner shop, hunting around the supermarket for the best bargain is actually quite addictive, and I’m actually having a lot of fun… However it’s going to be nice to know that I’m not the only one going without magazines and shoes!

To follow the Frugal February progress, check out the dedicated page on Big Girls Browse and the #FrugalFeb hashtag on Twitter.  And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to get some more money-saving challenges from the other bloggers…?

A rude awakening…

It’s 5am.

I’m not ill. I don’t have a newborn to attend. I should not be awake.

The reason I’m not sound asleep is that instead of the merry tune from my bedside clock, my alarm this morning was the sound of water dripping on to carpet.

Smack… Smack…

Smack…

Not a loud noise, but my sleep filled brain honed in on the irregular beat and as soon [smack] as I was lucid enough to recognize the sound I couldn’t leave it. [smack] I had to [smack] get out of bed and assess [smack] the damage [smack] [smack].

We’re good tenants. We try to fix any issue The Flat throws at us the best we can, but in this case the only thing Hubby and I could do to solve this problem would be to stop breathing… Our “double glazed” windows are so poorly fitted, that our sleep fueled breath condenses on the glass in such volumes that it ends up running down the pane, pooling on the sill, until eventually it cascades over the edge and starts dripping onto the carpet…

That’s why at 4:30am this morning, a casual onlooker could have seen me, curtains thrown aside, frantically wiping down the bedroom windows in the faint hope that it might stem the tide of dripping liquid.

When we moved into The Flat a year ago, we moved into a flat that had brand new carpets – every inch of the place was bedecked in beige.  I thought at the time that it was just so they could say the flat was freshly decorated, but now I wonder whether they had to replace the carpet… I hate to think how an unloved carpet could easily go moldy and rot in these conditions.  But if that was the case… Why pick beige? Black would surely be better at hiding any future blemishes.

Either way, we’ve now got old towels forming a border around our bedroom. I figure that, hopefully, they will catch the worst of the drips.  I just have to hope they don’t get too damp.

In the meantime I just need to try to get a little more sleep…

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Spicy Bean Burgers – Making a change

Sometimes just a small change can make a big difference.

I could never be vegetarian, I love a bit of meat.  There’s nothing quite like a juicy steak to get my taste buds going.  However  when you’re looking to trim money off your shopping bill the pricey beef, lamb and chicken is often the first to go.

The Hubby and I often make homemade burgers – it’s a real treat – but over the years the meat we’ve chosen has changed depending on what is cheapest.  We originally started with beef, before moving on to making our patties out of pork mince, and then finally turkey, each time trimming away at the expense.  However when we decided to seriously look at our spending, we decided to make one more change – if at all possible cut out the pricey meat all together.

So I got creative with a few items that had been gathering dust in our pantry and created a burger alternative that reduced the cost of our weekly treat from £1.23 per burger to just 48p each – and it’s really tasty too!

The Frugal Flat Hunter’s Spicy Bean Burgers

Makes 4 burgers.  Serves 2 -4 people

200g potatoes, finely chopped

1 x pepper, finely chopped

50g of dried red lentils

1 x onion finely chopped

240g canned mixed beans, drained

2 eggs

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp dried chillies (I like things spicy!)

1 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp cumin seeds, crushed

Salt and pepper for seasoning

  1. Soak lentils in boiling water until tender (I help them on their way by carefully zapping them in the microwave for 20 seconds).
  2. Place all the raw chopped vegetables into a bowl, add the canned beans and, when they are ready, the tender lentils.  Using a potato masher, a large spoon or a food processor, mash the mix until well combined.  Add all the spices, chillies, seasoning and eggs and mix again.  You should by this stage have a strange greyish mushy “porridge.”

    It doesn't look hugely tasty at this point... but hang in there...

  3. Cover the bowl containing the mix loosely, and place in the fridge for three hours (or ideally overnight).  This will allow the mix to become slightly less sloppy.
  4. When you are ready to actually make the burgers pre-heat oven to 180 degrees (Gas mark 4) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.  Remove the mix from the fridge and divide roughly into quarters.
  5. Using you hands (just a warning, the mix will be very cold!), shape each quarter of the mix into  burger shaped patties, and place on the lined baking tray.  The mix will still be wetter and slightly less sticky than a traditional burger meat mix, but the patties should roughly hold together.

    Bean Burgers

    Bean burger patties before being put in the oven

  6. Either brush with oil or spray with low-calorie spray oil, before putting the burgers into the hot oven for 15-20 minutes until they have gone golden, and are firm to touch.  Serve immediately.

I popped our burgers into buns with a little sprinkling of cheese and a squirt of tomato sauce – and even The Hubby who wasn’t convinced by the lack of meat, wolfed them down.  They have a similar texture to burgers, but taste more like falafels or samosas.

We still prefer meat in our burgers, but whilst we’re looking for money-saving alternatives I think we’ll give this one another go  – and besides, not only is it cheap, but it’s really low in fat too.

Saving: £3.63 over four burgers

FFH Savings Running Total: £16.12

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Beware the Bargain

We all love a bargain.  And when you’re saving  every penny really can count.

But even if you’re being strict with the creation of your shopping list, that doesn’t mean that you’re so focused that you’re blind to the options around you.  Everyone is struggling financially at the moment, and so shops and supermarkets make a big deal about special offers – you just need to glance around the aisles to find big red splashes of Buy One Get One Free offers, Multibuys and Roll Backs, and it’s really important when being frugal to maximise on these.

So when The Hubby and I were doing our weekly shop this week we made sure we got best value for money – and in this instance, we looked beyond the offers.

Our shopping list this week required some Low Fat Cheese, and we were delighted to notice that Asda’s own brand Lighter Cheddar was Rolled Back to just £1.80, meaning a 20p saving on our usual spend.  Normally we would have been delighted by this saving, popped a packet into our trolley and moved to the next item on the list.  But we’re focused on maximizing every penny we spend – so we tore our eyes away from the big red and yellow reduction, and considered other items on the shelf.

Our normal buy on the left, and the cheese we bought on the right

 

Whilst the I Can’t Believe it’s Not Cheddar was a slightly smaller bag,  after a little mental arithmetic and some price comparison gram for gram the branded cheese was actually cheaper than the stores own brand – even with it being on special offer.

Visual merchandising (trying to control what a customer thinks of a product by how/where it is positioned) is big business – and reductions and special offers can be a big part of that.  Just because a product is reduced doesn’t mean that it is the best value for money.  Of course in a lot of instances that is the case, but remember to check the price against the size and weight of the item.  Sometimes something less promotional might actually be where you should be spending your money.  It’s important to remember that the pretty colours and promises of money off don’t always constitute savings.

Saving: 50p (based on normal £2 cheese spend)

FFH Savings Running Total: £12.49

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Three ways to save money on your weekly shop

I’m pleased to say that I have managed a whole week without purchasing anything unnecessary.  Last Saturday I got £20 from the cash point  and where as a fortnight ago I would have broken into notes and the change frittered away on odds and ends, this week the money is still there.

But yesterday was the first real spending challenge that The Hubby and I had to face:  The Weekly Shop.

We’re lucky where we live, there’s a couple of small shops near The Flat which means we can pick up anything that we want very easily, however in recent months we’ve become too reliant on the convenience, and our spending has really gone out of control…  We’d do a weekly shop at a big supermarket, but if we fancied something extra with our dinner, no problem, we’d just pop over the road with no thought to the value for money.

So in order to save some money we’ve agreed to stick to a few key areas in order to over come the hurdle of food shopping:

  1. Shop once a week for food (unless something unexpected comes up) – by shopping only once a week we’ll be able to keep track of our spending.  We can make sure the money we’re parting with is being spent wisely, and not simply driven by convenience
  2. Create a week-long meal plan – by creating a pre-planned list of meals you can ensure that no food is wasted.  We don’t have a freezer at the moment, so we need to maximise efficiency.
  3. Use a structured shopping list – once you have a set of meals agreed, it’s easy to create a targeting shopping list.  Before you leave for the shops check your cupboards for the relevant ingredients, and make a note of any that your missing.  That means that you can keep focused as you wander up and down the supermarket aisles.  We’re all to familiar with the call of temptation; something that you see that you just want to try out, or wander whether you have enough of.  Before you know it, if you don’t remain focused you’re supermarket trolley is bulging with things you want but don’t need, and things you think you might need but haven’t actually checked beforehand.

As the weeks go on I’ll be sharing some more of my top tips and I’ll compare how much my spending habits have changed – and whether that’s helped us move any closer to our goal.

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