Monday, 20 February 2012

To Market, To Market

Ooh it must be a good couple of years now since I’ve stopped regularly buying fresh fruit and vegetables from the supermarket. Except in the direst of emergencies (such as plugging a screaming toddler with a face-full of grapes). Not only is the produce expensive, it is also generally horribly unripe and seems to go straight to mouldy or shrivelled without ever passing anything amounting to edible. For several years now I’ve tried to grow as many of our vegetables as possible (we don’t have flower beds, we have vegetable beds) and some fruit (strawberries and raspberries) but there is always a need to supplement this - either to fill the hungry gap in late winter, because a crop has been ravaged by some wee beastie, or because my growing family consumes faster that I can produce.

For a few years now I’ve been doing our weekly fruit and veg shop at our town’s high street market held every Friday and Saturday. It’s handy that I have a buggy to hang all my shopping bags on and push home, but I even used to shop there when I was at work – popping down the high street on my Friday lunch break and picking up a treat or two at the bakery stall at the
same time.

The fruit and veg stall is massive and run by a bunch of delightfully flirtatious cockney lads and lasses who are always good for a bit of banter and occasionally slip my eldest son the odd apple or banana as a freebie. In the deep winter months when the garden is pretty bare, for under a tenner a week I get enough produce to feed three hungry mouths (Baby Belatedly is still on milk). And boy do we like our fruit and veg. The fruit is always perfectly ripe and appropriately juicy or crispy and lasts a lot better than the supermarket stuff. I also come home with plastic carrier bags to line my waste paper baskets and lovely brown paper bags – the larger of which line my compost caddy and the smaller of which are used to wrap up Mr Belatedly’s sandwiches for work. Now that’s what I call a fruitful shop. (Sorry).

Sunday, 19 February 2012

In the beginning…

In the beginning a Girl created a whole lot of debt.

And the debt was large, burdensome and ever-growing.

And the Girl looked at the debt and saw that it was bad.

And She said let there be savings and it was so.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, that is me Prudence. And this is my blog. Why am I writing one? Well I’ll let you into a secret. I wasn’t always called Prudence. There was a time when I was known as Penny Golightly. Then one day I woke up, smelt the financial coffee and changed my name by Deed Poll to Prudence Belatedly. It seemed a fitting moniker. As a reformed spendthrift trying to negotiate the trials and tribulations of raising a family on one income in these current challenging financial times, I am constantly on the lookout for scrimping and saving inspiration and ideas. It seems there are quite a lot of us out there, and I’m not sure any of us would say you can ever have too many hints and tips. So for what it’s worth, here begins an on-going account of my journey. I reckon I’ve come a pretty long way so far, and I don’t imagine it’s a road I’ll ever stop travelling. Sometimes I skip along at a chipper pace, loving it as I go. At other times it seems like an uphill plod. But like trudging up most hills, it’s great to look back at how far you’ve come
and to admire the vistas ahead.

Where did it all begin? Do I start at the point I realised things had to change, or when things started to go wrong? Do I start when I moved to London and started living the city life, or when I started university and lived on money that wasn’t mine, or earlier still at my parents’ generous knee? Who knows when my slippery slide into debt actually began, but suffice to say by the beginning of 2008 my then fiancĂ© (now husband) and I found ourselves in £30,000 of debt (aside from our mortgage and my Student Loan). This was made up of car finance, personal loans, loans from parents, overdrafts and a number of maxed out credit cards – much of which was a hangover from student days.

Four years later and (again aside from the mortgage and my Student Loan*) we are now several thousand pounds in the black. Not bad considering we’ve been down to one salary for two of those four years and now have two extra mouths to feed. What gave me the metaphorical slap round the chops I needed? I honestly think it was the prospect of marriage. Being an old-fashioned kinda gal, I really saw it as cutting the apron – or rather the purse strings from my long-suffering Dad who had baled me out for years, and the beginning of my independent life (though some might say I am rather now dependant on another chap, although this one fares a lot better on the financial front) I determined that his payment (on his insistence) for much of our wedding was his last act of “enabling” to use a psycho-babble turn of phrase. From there on in, it was just going to be Mr Belatedly and I and our own wit. The ridiculous thing is we are now far better off on one salary then when we had two! All that money wasted! What was I thinking? Sadly, I don’t think I’m an isolated case. In fact, worryingly, I reckon I’m in the majority here. Years and years of thinking credit was a licence to spend indiscriminately on clothes, haircuts, manicures, makeup, meals out, nights out, trips, furniture, gifts… eventually it comes back and bites you on the bum.

So it was out with the credit cards and in with spread sheets, budget apps, ingenuity and will power. I now get my kicks from knowing I’ve saved x amount of money here, grabbed a bargain there, will have a nice little nest egg for our family and will be able to pass on some pearls of financial wisdom that I wish I’d learnt a long time ago. I have also, rather gratifyingly, learnt to increasingly rely on my slowly expanding arsenal of skills including vegetable growing, cooking, preserving, sewing and DIY.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not some hairy-legged, fleece-wearing, granola-munching new-age bumpkin (although I am actually quite partial to a bit of granola, shh…) I am however, a woman with a dilemma - to illustrate: my favourite TV programmes include River Cottage and Sex and The City. You see my point.

So what can you expect from my blog? Well, probably a lot of drivel about my triumphs and failures attempting to coax forth edible life from our garden, cook up a storm, stop the house from falling down around our ears, entertain two small children without breaking the bank and generally maintain a decent standard of living for as little as possible. Hey, a girl can dream. Hopefully however, there’ll be some useful tips and inspiration I’ve picked up along the way… I hope you enjoy discovering them as much as I do.


*I discount my Student Loan in this instance as I am not earning, therefore not required to make repayments and in fact by the time I am likely to be earning enough to do so again, I will have reached the age where the debt will be written off. Don’t get me started on university debt…!