Christmas on a budget

This year will be my first hosting a Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and since I don’t have a lot of money to spend on the food, it’s going to be a challenge. I’ve set a budget of 35£ for 5 people, which seems only reasonable and is a budget that will give me leftovers for a few days after. My guests will be my next-door neighbors and they’ve never tried traditional Finnish food before. The dinner will consist of a smorgasbord of a few selected, traditional Finnish Christmas dishes such as;

  • Finnish meatballs – pretty much the same as Swedish ones
  • Mini sausages – they’re called Prinskorv which translates to Prince sausages
  • Beet salad – a cold salad with beets, apples, pickles, carrots, red onion and cooked potatoes
  • Janssons Frestelse – a hot casserole called Jansson’s Temptation in English and is a dish with potatoes, onions, anchovies, cream and spices.
  • Mild smoked salmon – simple, tasty and very traditional.
  • Boiled potatoes – we’re a potato eating nation just like Ireland and Sweden
  • Julskinka – The Christmas Ham, cooked in the oven for a few hours before it’s coated with mustard and egg and sprinkled with breadcrumbs and then roasted at a high temperature. The ham is left to cool down and served cold in thick slices.
  • Ägg med gubbröra – hardboiled eggs with “old-man’s-mix” of anchovies, mayo, crème fraiche, chives and a few other things.
  • Morotslåda – a carrot casserole with rice and sprinkled with breadcrumbs that’s then cooked in the oven.
  • Potatislåda – it’s pretty much sweetened mash that’s cook in the oven. It’s sweetened with some treacle.
  • Peas – no words are necessary, it’s warm peas.
  • Toffee – hard toffee with chopped hazelnuts
  • Fresh fruits
  • Nuts and dried fruits
  • Aladdin – a Swedish box of mixed chocolates that’s always had after dinner
  • Twist – a bag of mixed chocolates and sweets
  • Merci – you know what this is, it’s more chocolate

All of this at a maximum cost of 35£, which isn’t that difficult really. The ham was the most expensive purchase at 25£, but that was bought a long time ago, so I’m not adding it to the cost. If you choose to do so then the total cost would rise to 60£, which would still be cheap for five people and a few days of food. Plus, the little sausages were given to me as a gift by my aunt when she visited me almost two months ago – not cost for them. A lot of the condiments – such as mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, spices – are already in my cabinets and will not be purchased which will further lower my out of pocket expenses a bit too.

I will be posting all the costs as they come up since I’m not buying everything at once. I’m very allowed to use coupons, reduced items and any other methods to save money. Reduced items can be a huge savior and it has: I’ve bought all the herbs and the smoked salmon reduced and simply put them in the freezer, with the ham, until it’s time to use them. The herbs I chopped before freezing just to ease the process a bit.

I’ll start a separate thread for the expenses of the Christmas smorgasbord.

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Lasagna

A lot of people think that lasagna is a fancy, difficult and most of all: expensive dish to make. With proper planning it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive at all, it will, however, be a bit time consuming – but it will be well worth it in the end! If you buy the ingredients while they’re on sale and/or with coupons, and adjust the vegetables in in to what’s cheap and in season, it will be a cheap but fancy meal.

 

Ingredients:

Minced meat sauce:

 

500gr minced meat

2-3tbsp flour/thickening

2 cubes of meat stock

2 cans of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce

2 tsp black pepper

0.5dcl tomato paste

1-2tbsp soy sauce

1 can of water (use the tomato can)

2 onions

1tbsp paprika powder

1tbsp oregano

4 cloves of garlic

 

Cheese sauce:

1 litre of milk or cream

3tbsps butter

3tbsps flour/thickening

300gr shredded cheese

Salt, pepper

 

1-2 packs of lasagna noodles

150gr shredded cheese (to go on top of the lasagna)

 

Recipe:

  1. Start preheating the oven to about 200C
  2. Peel and chop the onions finely
  3. Heat a frying pan until very hot and put in the butter.
  4. When the butter has stopped sizzling, put in the chopped onions and cook them until they’ve got a golden colour.
  5. Put in the minced meat and brown it with the onions. Separate and chop up the meat until its fine and make sure it’s not pink.
  6. Coat it with the thickening and stir it in
  7. Add the rest of the ingredients for the Bolognese sauce and stir well!
  8. Let it simmer for at least 15 minutes to get the flavours out and then put it aside to cool while you make the cheese sauce.
  9. Melt the butter for the cheese sauce, on a hot stove, and put in the flour or thickening. Stir well, there shouldn’t be any lumps. I always use a whisker when I make the cheese sauce.
  10. Gradually add the milk or cream and mix until it has thickened and then add more until it’s all in there.
  11. Pull the sauce pan from the heat and carefully fold the grated cheese in to the sauce, until it has melted completely.
  12. DO NOT put the cheese sauce back on the stove after you’ve put the cheese in, it’ll make it chewy and stringy.
  13. Put out lasagna noodles at the bottom of the lasagna dish. Then put a layer of the minced meat sauce & a layer of the cheese sauce in there.
  14. Putin another layer of lasagna noodles and repeat until there’s no more sauce
  15. There should be cheese sauce on top.
  16. Spread the shredded cheese on top.
  17. Cover the dish in tin foil and make sure it’s wrapped tight over the top.
  18. Bake it in the oven for 45 minutes on 200 Celsius.
  19. Turn the heat down to 175 Celsius and let it be in there for another 20 – 30 minutes.

 

Serve on its own or with a light, fresh salad. Enjoy!

Sorry for not posting!

I’m sorry for not having posted in a while, it’s just that I’ve been VERY busy the last week and a half! I just came home from London (UK) where It’s been a few crazy days.

I’ve bought a house Dover at an auction in Maidstone West and it’s an amazing feeling. It’s my first auction and I had no idea whether or not I would get what I wanted – but I did. So, I’m moving next month probably, if the paperwork and payment gets through in time.

While I was in London I managed to do all of my gift shopping for Christmas, without going over budget. Plus I had time to squeeze in two musicals too; Les Misèrables and Wicked, all in four days! 

Now I’m really tired and I’m going to bed, so that I can start cleaning the apartment here in Stockholm tomorrow and do a bit of the paperwork for my new home.

Have a nice weekend folks and happy holidays!

Today’s Christmas haul!

So this week my local ICA shop has some amazing deals on baking stuff, and so I had to take advantage with all the holidays coming up. 

  • 2x2kg flour 1.50€
  • 2x1kg butter 3€
  • 10 eggs 1€
  • Muffin forms 50c/pack
  • 4 tubes of toothpaste 4€ 
  • 2 bottles of shampoo 2€
  • 4 packs of freezer bags 2.50€

The butter, eggs and flour will come in handy when I start my Christmas baking next month!

How to save on holiday foods!

What you serve at your Christmas dinner depends on where you live, as well as when you celebrate it – on the 24th or the 25th of December. You might nog even celebrate Christmas, you might have Chanukka or some other holiday. But there will be food and it can often cost a lot of money to buy. How many of us doesn’t curse at the expenses of food during regular weeks? Imagine the costs during a major holiday. If you want to save, like I do, or can’t really afford the food – but still want to give your family a nice meal – then planning, coupons and the weekly ad will take you a long way. I’m going to give some general tips and then post some links to coupon sites.

I’m using Christmas as an example since I celebrate it, but the tips and tricks can be applied to any holiday.

 

Tips:

  • Like when you’re buying the holiday gifts, planning is everything. If you haven’t planned anything then you’re going to end up overspending, miscalculating dishes for the amount of people present, multiple and unnecessary trips to the shops.
  • Start planning any dinners/lunches where your extended family will attend at least 3-4 weeks in advance. Plan what dishes you will be serving, what the ingredients are and how much you need to make of each dish.
  • Remember to plan for the side dishes, condiments, snacks, sweets and drinks! It’s easy to remember mustard when you sit there at the dinner table and want some.
  • Lists are everything! Make lists of what you need to buy and group the ingredients after what type of food they are, for example:
    • Fruits
    • Vegetables
    • Condiments
    • Baking goods
    • Meats
  • When you make the lists, make sure to separate them buy shop chain as well! Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, Walmart, ICA, COOP, you name it!
  • Will anyone be staying be staying with you, other than your closest family (spouse and children)? They need food too!
  • Will it be a buffet, formal dinner or a regular meal? Each have their own advantage, but I’d recommend some type of buffet.
  • If you choose to have a buffet, first decide on what dishes you’re going to be serving or assign a dish to each guest (if you’re having them). If guests are bringing some of the dishes, you all save on food!
  • Shops usually start marketing their Christmas food at least 6 weeks before Christmas. Take advantage of this and start buying what you know you need. Some things we always have at Christmas, every single year, so why not buy them now and tick them off your list?
  • Always check the weekly ads in the shops closest to you! More often or not they have one or two Christmas foods on sale every week leading up to Christmas, make sure you buy them and always buy the full allowance. For example: you have a baked ham on your Christmas table and one week your shop allows you to buy 2 good sized hams for 10€. It’s one purchase per household. Buy those two hams, even if you know that you’ll only eat one. You can cook the other one too and have dinners and lunches for a rather long time after, if you freeze it.
  • Remember that manufacturers often put out a lot of coupons for their products during the holidays, since they want you to buy their products. Take a few coupons and save them. You should of course use some of them for the items that you need at the moment, if it gives you a good price, but after Christmas the shops often drops their prices to make room for new products. That means that you can score some incredible deals, and even freebies or money makers, if you took a couple of extra coupons when there were some.
  • If your shop allows overage – use it to buy the things that you can’t get coupons for
  • READ YOUR WEEKLY ADS LIKE IT’S THE BIBLE, PEOPLE!
  • Take a couple of hours to surf around for coupons and discounts and print as many coupons as you’re allowed.
  • Your shops usually have some kind of loyalty card. Make sure to sign up for that. That way you get instore coupons, deals and rebates. The instore coupons can be combined with a manufacturer’s coupon and make a product free, close to free or a money maker.

 

Links:

Coupons.com (US): https://www.coupons.com/

Grocery Coupon Network (US): https://www.grocerycouponnetwork.com/

Be frugal (US): http://www.befrugal.com/printable/restaurant/

Retail me not (US): https://www.retailmenot.com/coupons/fastfood

Coupon Mama (UK): https://couponmamauk.co.uk/

Money Saving Experts (UK): http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/supermarket-coupons

Extreme Couponing (UK): http://www.extremecouponing.co.uk/

Extreme Couponing & Deals (UK): https://excoupuk.com/

Super Savvy me (UK): https://www.supersavvyme.co.uk/offers/coupon

Hot UK deals (UK): http://www.hotukdeals.com/groceries

Hip2Save (US): http://hip2save.com/

Southern Savers (US): http://www.southernsavers.com/

Deal shopping holiday gifts

The holiday season for me, and millions of other people, can be very stressful and puts a strain on a lot of peoples’ economy – unnecessarily. Whatever holiday you celebrate in December, gifts and good food are big parts of them. Studies show that we argue, fight and feel emotionally worse during the Christmas and Chanukka seasons, for loads of reasons. But, with good planning, and a few easy tips and tricks, you can avoid a lot of tears and sleepless nights. There are good and easy ways to save money and don’t go into debt or ruin to have a nice holiday.

First I’m going to discuss how to get nice gifts for you family and friends, tips & tricks and then put out some useful links to different discount websites, price comparing sites etc. I’ll get to food in my next blog post, since I suspect that this will be a rather long post.

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Gifts

For me, buying gifts is the most stressful of all! I celebrate Christmas and I’ve already started asking my friends and family what they want for Christmas, just so I won’t be stressed the week leading up to it. There are a million things to be done anyway and spreading out your shopping is a smart move. Let me give you a few tips that you can use:

  • Start planning NOW! Sit down with your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/children (if you have either one) and plan the holiday. Let you kids be part of the plans from an early age, they’ll love it!
  • Spread out you gift shopping – you don’t have to do everything at once. Do a few every week and always bring a list with you to cross check and cross off what you’ve bought. That way you won’t buy the same thing twice. The same thing goes for food.
  • WRITE lists of what everyone wants – you WON’T remember what your family and friends want.
  • Start asking the ones you plan on buying presents for what they want already, it pays to be early. Again, if you ask late then you’ll have to stress buy everything at once and that’s not good.
  • Order of the internet or try finding what you want on clearance. That saves huge amounts of money. Take some time to surf around and compare prices at different websites. Also, many websites give you free shipping if you order over a certain amount, so if you can – collect a few presents from the same site to get over that amount, providing that all the gifts are at a relatively good price.
    • There are more often than not codes for free shipping. Hunt one down!
  • DO NOT use the deal: “Buy now – pay in 3 months”. That costs extra money and could set you into debt. Only shop with money you have NOW, or don’t buy it.
  • If you have a stockpile at home, then you can make cheap gift baskets from that. Put together a basket and wrap it in a festive crepe paper and some beautiful satin bands, and give it away to relatives, recently married friends etc.
  • A gift basket from your stockpile can contain so many combinations, for example
    • Diapers, pacifiers, baby wipes, baby clothes that were on sale, laundry detergent, baby food and a little stuffed toy for the new parents, or parents-to-be.
    • Laundry detergent, washing up liquid, soap, shampoo, cleaning supplies etc. and other household items to the friend or relative who’s just bought a home or moved away to go to college and might be a little strapped for cash.
    • Pasta, marinara sauce, baked beans, tins, gift cards to food shops, travel sized shampoos and soap, coupons and other things to the person who’s just started studying at college or the university.
  • Set a budget and stick to it. Say: “This year our budget for presents is going to be X. How can I/we stick to it?”
  • Have savings account for holiday expenses just like you have one for vacation, emergencies and pension. Put a little sum in every week/month, depending on how often you get paid, and you’ll have a good start. This account can be used for other holidays as well and not just the ones in December. Just remember to always have money there!
  • Homemade food is always appreciated. If you have a garden full of various fruits, berries and vegetables, then do something with them and give away jams, juices, pickles etc.
  • Decide on how many gifts each person is going to have, for example: each of my children will have 4 each, my spouse 3, I’m getting 3 from myself and every other relative will get 1 gift each. That limits it somewhat.
  • I like to leave a gift for the mailman and the guys who empty my garbage every week. Usually I buy a couple of nice chocolate boxes, wrap them and write a card. Then I go out when I see them and wish them a happy holiday.
  • Hunt for coupons, rebates and discount codes. There are a million of them during the holidays.
  • Be aware that some shops actually mark up their prices a lot before the 25th of December and then dump them for the sales.

 

Useful links:

Pricerunner (UK): http://www.pricerunner.co.uk/

Pricerunner (US): http://www.pricegrabber.com/

Pricerunner (SWE): http://www.pricerunner.se/

Deal Extreme: http://www.dx.com/?Utm_rid=16341893&Utm_source=affiliate

Amazon (UK); https://www.amazon.co.uk/

Amazon (US): https://www.amazon.com/

Voucher codes (UK): https://www.vouchercodes.co.uk/

My Voucher Codes (UK): https://www.myvouchercodes.co.uk/

Missguided Voucher Codes (UK): https://www.vouchercodes.co.uk/missguided.co.uk

Official Coupon Code (US): https://www.officialcouponcode.com/

Voucher Cloud (US): https://www.vouchercloud.net/

Groupon (US): https://www.groupon.com/

Groupon (UK): https://www.groupon.co.uk/

Coupons (US): https://www.coupons.com/coupon-codes/

Ashley’s money saver (UK): https://ashleighmoneysaver.co.uk/coupon-detective/

Extreme Couponing (UK): http://www.extremecouponing.co.uk/

Supermarket Coupons (UK): http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/supermarket-coupons

How to score free soap at hotels

Free tastes good and in this case – smells lovely! I travel a lot in my work, I’m a musician, and ergo: I stay in hotels ALL THE TIME that is either payed for by whoever is employing me, my business (for auditions and is deductible when you do your taxes as travel expenses), or by me (if I’m on holiday). I always take these stays as a way to save money on hygiene essentials that I need at home like: shampoo, body wash and hand soap. Sometimes the hotel put out complimentary teabags, coffee pods, sugar, a cookie and hot chocolate. These things are money makers for me and they are paid for by the price I’ve (or employer) paid to stay at the hotel. So it’s NOT like you’re stealing anything from them.

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In a lot of hotels they put complimentary soaps, little shampoo & body wash bottles and amenity kits in the bathroom and I always take them and put them in my vanity bag on the first day of my stay. I always make sure to bring a large bag and take out stuff like my normal shampoo, body wash, toothbrush and toothpaste and put them in their places. This creates more room in the vanity bag for the free stuff you’re going to get during your stay – this is especially important if you’re staying at the same place for a week or more. If you don’t make room then the things you’ve taken and put there will overflow the vanity bag which the housekeeper will see and stop giving you those daily amenities. One more reason to bring a large enough bag to not run into that problem, plus all your other things must fit in it at the end of your stay.

I usually put the free little things in one of those IKEA bags with Ziploc, and I always separate soap bars and the small bottles of shampoo just in case one of them brakes when I’m travelling home. If I hadn’t done that then all the hard soaps would be ruined, but if I separate them then I just have to clean the other bottles under the tap and throw away the one that broke. No big deal, it’s just a cheap insurance against any mishaps.

The same thing goes for teabags, free cookies, coffee and hot chocolate that some hotel gives you. I put them in a Ziploc bag of its own just so it won’t be contaminated by the soaps. For this one you must try and restrain yourself a bit. The housekeeper won’t believe that you’ve drank four teas, five coffees and two hot chocolates every single day – it’s just not credible – and they’ll stop giving you those things after two days. I’d recommend that you take two or three drinks per day and on the last day you take everything. Otherwise you’re just a cheapskate and not a savvy saver.

 

 

What do I use the soaps, shampoos and body washes for then?

The hand soaps I use in my everyday life in my bathroom, they might not last me long but I’ve got a few months’ worth of soaps – I usually use them when I’ve run out of other soaps and can’t find a good deal and coupons on the soap I usually buy at the shop. The same thing goes with the little bottles. Those I take with me when I travel and have them in my Emergency Bag. There will be a separate post about what an Emergency Bag is at a later date. Sometimes I have guests and I always tell them that they don’t need to bring shampoo and body wash if they don’t want to, I’ll provide it, or they forget to bring those things. That’s when it comes in handy to have all those extra bottles from the hotels. You can just give the guest a couple of bottles and then show where they can get more as they need them.

 

I thought that this would be a short post, but it turned out to be quite long anyway. These tips are just the basics of how I get some of my stash of free stuff, feel free to use them and to expand them with your own insights.

 

If you like you can leave a comment with any questions, your own tips and tricks, topics you’d like me to write about and products to review.

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