the skinflint philosopher

Attempting to thrift our way to a better life, with a toddler in tow!

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Introducing Thrifter

Thrifter, aka The Skinflint Philosopher, has clearly been postponing writing this post for a while. Digger is chuntering away that I’m too busy talking about him, which he believes is not very interesting for your average reader. He wasn’t very keen on the ‘umbrella’ photo either. To readdress the balance, I must commit to the below.

Aliases: Thrifter, Skinflint Philosopher, Mama, Miss (and on occasion ‘mum’ by students who forget where they are- oh the embarrassment in front of their peers), Merlin, Kirk.
Age: the right side of forty.
Unusual jobs held: courgette picker, embassy dog walker, frisker, Didi Moni, teacher, bat detectorist.
Common phrases used: Meanwhile back in the classroom, the plan of action is, no you can’t take the (insert random item e.g. saucepan in this space)  to bed with you.
Current status: Thwarted backwoodsman
Off grid survival skills: Scouting for girls, kayaker, general skinflintage

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A old picture surveying flood damage- Thrifter and Tiddler aged 1

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The deep heart’s core

We have had a quiet sitting-around-in-bed kind of day as Tiddler was up most of last night with undiagnosed but weird and wonderful symptoms that ranged from high temperature and ice-block feet, to an elusive moment when I seriously thought she was talking in tongues.
The weather outside is consistently damp, grey and windy, so I am happy to snuggle in and take time out from the real world with her. In the quiet lassitude I think of Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree, for it is worth recalling on a regular basis, and I think about Tiddler’s warm milk and biscuity smell, the soft tickle of her hair against my cheek, the clasp of her hand in mine. Love and yearning can be a person, a place, a state of mind.
Make sure you Arise, and Go.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

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Luddites on the loose

The scenario at 8am today saw me sticking an envelope with cash in, on the pavement under a locked rusty green metal gate and grill system, and heading off to work with the vain hope it might still be there for the person it was intended for. Explanation is as follows. I’ve signed Tiddler up for a crafty activity day just before christmas, and as places are restricted it is a case of get your money in before the place goes to another child with a more ready cash flow. I booked through facebook, a level of technology I am au fait with,  but then was asked to settle the bill by PayPal. Now for most of you, that wouldn’t be too much of a bother, but for me that is akin to peddling in some sort of necromancy. I don’t have a PayPal account, and I don’t want one, Ta very much. The ‘old school’ solution is of course that I drop the money in an envelope with my name on at an address that the lady will be doing an activity this morning, yet she and I get our timings wrong and the hall is locked up when I get there. Bizarrely, even the letter box is inside this Fort Knox level of security so I can’t even drop it in there. How do the Post office manage I wonder? Hence having to get on my knees in the morning gloom no doubt to the hilarity of passing traffic so I can wedge my hard earned pennies as far under the gate as possible. Not even a stick to hand to poke it in further. Clearly this isn’t a typical skinflintery thing to do- effectively leaving money out in the open for any passer-by to take a fancy to, but thankfully it did indeed get picked up by the intended party after a few hours of me feeling distinctly ill at ease. My solution worked.

So this gets me thinking about how as we say on one hand the world is shrinking, as globalisation and communication enables incredible multi-faceted, high speed interactions, but for some of us the world seems to get more complicated and distant if we choose to opt out. We find it more difficult to do what we want to do, as our ‘technology’ becomes old-fangled and we get potentially sidelined in our ability to be part of those interactions.
I joke sometimes we are Luddites in this household, as being anti-technology and fairly inept, but that is not what the followers of the invented Ned Ludd intended. They were not against the machines per se, but rather how they were being used, as  this article explains. The changing conditions in the cotton mill counties and the sweep of industrial advancement was creating an inequality, and that is what fired up those Yorkshire lads to take matters into their own hands.  For us though, with our interest in thrift and a more simple way of life,  we do not protest and rage against the machine, but instead show a rather disinterested air of nonchalance towards the whole gambit.

Our home therefore doesn’t use PayPal, credit cards, internet banking, no Tv, no smart phones, no Sat Nav, no….. I can’t really go on with this list as I don’t even know what gadgets and gizmos are out there that other folks are clearly using on a daily basis. I don’t have the terminology, let alone the technology. I still like to pay with a cheque book, or a chip and pin. I stopped buying lunch in the work canteen last year when they went over to cashless catering, even though I know it is a simple case of putting money onto a swipe card in advance. I never bothered learning how to use itunes as I have plenty of music on CDs (and a few dusty cassettes). I complained to customer service in Tesco when they put in the new hand-held scanner system. My father has a sticker on his library card that gives him permission to use the actual desk with real people to get his books issued, rather than the self service machines. He jokes this black circle is the black spot of Blind Pew that signifies he is a marked man- in terms of age or infirmity I am not sure.

The point I suppose with this is that in my small acts of defiance or non-conformity I am, without smashing any spinning jennies or putting the fear into fatcat factory owners of the 19th century, staking my own little Luddite interference in this great sweep of modernity. Not everyone has access or skills for this advanced level of high-tech wizardry, and while we celebrate the great and the good, we should not let advancement leave behind the little man- there should be room for all.


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Skimming pebbles

The three of us have had a breath of fresh air and a welcome escape to the beach. The harsh buffeting winds of the last few days have dropped and we find we can amble, rather than fight our way, through the weather today.
Tiddler clambers over rockpools, and giggles at the brown flapping seaweed that sticks to her fingers. Someone walks a dog over to our far right, the beach reclaimed by the dog walkers for the winter months, but enigmatically distant. The sky is a brooding grey, and the sea is the same chalky colour, but we are content.

Digger hunts for stones for skimming, and philosophises on his criteria. Thrifter asks if there is a perfect stone.
‘It needs to be smooth and balanced, small enough yet weighty enough, and you need to tip your fingers up as you throw it to keep it flat’. Thrifter attempts to heed this advice, whilst Tiddler simply goes for the biggest rocks she can carry and dumps them in the surf simply wanting to hear the ‘plop’.
No matter how suitable the stone, no matter how you throw it, the ebbing and rolling flowing of the waves can change just as that expected ‘home-run’ pebble leaves your hand. A twist of fate perhaps, whether you get a bouncing three or four, or a single plunge into the depths. ‘A bit like life’, muses Digger.

We can’t control the forces of the sea, that is true, as Canute himself failed to do so. But we can perhaps take the time to practice our throws, and to hunt for the right pebble, amongst the thousands, that just might work for us.


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Introducing Digger

Poor Digger only gets to read these posts after Thrifter has already published them, and usually squirms with a faint bemusement that other bloggers might possibly be interested in reading anything as random as his love of eggs or his preference for outdoorsy working jumpers. Sorry Digger, this might make you feel even more self-conscious.

Appearance: Rugged, in a Heathcliff meets Andy Garcia kind of way. Has recently been scouted as an extra for a movie playing an inter-war Eastern European gypsy, so the apple not really falling far from that particular tree.
Age: Rugged. Sun-kissed, wind-battered thirty something.
Education: Silviculture expert.
Working life: Replanting Bulgarian forests for the government, cultivating seedlings for national parks in Oregon, working like a dog as an immigrant in the British Isles for minimum wage doing manual jobs that British folk turn their noses up at.
Current status: Official British Citizen (passed the language test with flying colours, and beat Thrifter in the general knowledge question section).
Most likely to say:  I’ll just get something from my tool box and I can fix that for you.
Least likely to say: No eggs for me please.
Aspirations: To work less.
Special skills:  Providing piggy-back rides for dinosaurs.


A rare occasion when Digger was not clad in his customary PPE garb.



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Introducing Tiddler (A Baby Bio)


Age: 2 and a bit
Description: glossy haired, chubby cheeked,rag-rug rat.
Skinflint credentials: finding bits of cereal previously dropped on the carpet for an extra snack, not being bothered about brands and fashion (although showing a random preference for a pair of Spiderman socks that are a few sizes too big), when asked how many of something she wants then ‘two’ is always her answer even when I could have given her more.
Most likely to be found: dressed up as a cat, bouncing on the now very squished Rosie the Bear, making a picnic with the toy food.
Least likely to be found: ordering a frappe whilst holding onto her Gucci bag.
Languages: English, Bulgarian, Dinosaur.
Aspirations: To get up on to the worktop.
Skills for off grid survival: good at helping Mama peg out the washing, own plastic spade and bucket, ability to snooze on demand, willingness to wear wellie boots at all times if Mama would just let me get into bed with them onIMG_1613 copy.jpg



Skinflintery of the week

Sometimes Thrifter spends (lol) too longer philosophising to actually get round to tell you about her thrifting. So this week, despite blowing the GNP of a small independent state on two Teas and Cakes out with friends, the frugal headlines of this week are:

Homemade Halloween outfit for Tiddler: Cost £0.00
Black leggings that she has anyway, a black flight sock of mine stuffed with other socks and tucked in the waist band of the leggings, a faux fur lined little jacket she has turned inside out to give a furry coat, a headband wrapped in a strip of black material with two cardboard triangles glued on, my kohl eyeliner for facepaint whiskers and nose.
This was such a roaring success that it has been worn three other times this week, and even this morning while she has not bothered with the rest of the outfit, she is currently running around the house with a flight sock tail.

Christmas gift materials (hair bands): Cost £1.20
Thrifter belongs to a couple of book groups, and we always have a ‘just before Christmas’ get-together where we exchange gifts. As many of them are crafters through and through, a tradition has developed that we each make (or buy) a gift for all the other book groupers. The stipulation is that each gift is roughly £1-2 maximum cost per person, and we make a copy of the same gift for every member. This way, rather than receiving a single larger ‘secret santa’ gift, instead you get to unwrap multiple teeny tiny bundles of joy. So this year we have purchased some elastic hair bands for my crafty idea, but I can’t post what it is yet as some of the book group read this blog!
In actual fact, we unexpectedly made money while standing in the queue to buy these. Tiddler managed to charm the two ladies waiting behind us (based on I think a combination of Granny’s homeknit hat and cardigan and a lovely rendition of the alphabet song, which together must have pulled on the heartstrings) and so she ended up with a shiny pound in her hand to put in her moneybox.

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Shoe polish: cost £0.00
A thrifter’s tip- I have a pair of shoes which I rub a little bit of cooking oil into every now and again to keep the leather from drying out. It works a treat.

Tannin stains: Cost £0.00
Given that cups of tea often sit around this house to go cold before they are drunk (Digger seems to prefer his cold (eh?) and Thrifter gets waylaid with a chore or a Tiddler and forgets about them till too late), our mugs are prone to build up a very unattractive brown lining. This week it was time to do a deep clean of them again, so a small quantity of clothes washing powder in each, poor on boiling water, allow to sit for five minutes, and the tannin peels of all by itself. No scrubbing necessary.

Slide and climbing frame: Cost £0.00
How to save yourself £250? This little gem was spotted at our civic amenity site. Otherwise known as ‘the dump’ where people take their garden waste and household rubbish that is not collected from your doorstep, it can be a great hunting ground for the savvy thrifter, as one section is set aside for things that other people may wish to reuse or recycle. It is of course, hit and miss. Sometimes when I stop by there is nothing, but other times you hit the jackpot. Following a frantic call to Digger who was luckily working nearby, I managed to stake a claim on this great pile of plastic till he could come and collect it in his van.  Not quite sure what it was, or what on earth it was supposed to look like, Google came to our aid to tell us how to jigsaw puzzle it together but also the original cost. Seems not everyone is as thrifty as we are when it comes to simply getting rid or something they don’t want anymore. I can’t complain of course, and neither can Tiddler. Look closely and you can spot Tiddler with her cat tail making good use of it already.

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Now as so much of our lives are by now automatically ‘thrifty’ there are so many other little things we do without thinking everyday that could have made this list, but I’ll leave you just with these for now. Who knows what next week will bring! Happy thrifting!

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Home (is where the blog is)

I think it is high time the Skinflint Philosopher tries to set down in writing a little bit more in the ‘home’ section of this blog, as a way to try and stave off the oft misquoted ‘road paved with good intentions’. I see nothing overtly ironic that I plan to do just that, albeit by wordpressing some intentions instead (these are of course, times of modernity, and paving slabs and stonemason’s tools are just a teensy bit passe these days).

We’ve reached a point in our lives where the thought of the day job doesn’t really get us fired up in the morning. We find house prices in our area beyond our means. We find ourselves bickering with each other because we are tired. We pay someone else to look after Tiddler. We are, to summarise, slightly worried we are slowly but surely metamorphosing into a cross somewhere between Eeyore and Marvin. We need to stop the rot.

Digger and Thrifter have concocted a cunning plan. If we tighten the belt a little now, and save our pennies for the next year, then we are heading off to Bulgaria. No sabbatical for us, we might just attempt to jump ship. Digger hails from those Slavic parts, so language won’t be a problem for him, and we intend to immerse Tiddler for a year or so to forge bonds with her extended family and learn most importantly how to speak with them. Thrifter does not hold her breath with her own confidence with the Cyrillic alphabet, but when you are not out all hours earning your daily crust then who knows what you have the will and the energy to turn your mind to. Digger plans to buy a property, and work the hours he feels and the way he wants. As the black sheep or poor relation in Europe, Bulgarian houses are half-started, part-boarded, completely possible idylls that have simply been abandoned by their owners who see more lucrative gains in searching for something more tangible to them across the borders and into the west. The peaches on the trees grow ripe and fall uneaten to the ground.

So many ifs though. Does Digger really want to go back to a country he himself jettisoned away from so many years before? Can Digger sell his business, and give us a small financial pot to tide us over? Can we save enough before we go? How long can we stay for? What will we do with all our possessions here, which to take with us would involve crossing two seas and a whole continent. Can Thrifter give up her career and position that she committed so much to establishing? Will Tiddler thank us for it? What we do know, is we won’t know until we try.

We know for sure we have to cut back, and go a little off grid. We are not swanning off to the Black Sea for some expat jolly. The cost of living will be less, but with no income coming in for that time period,  we cannot fritter away Tiddler’s future. And so we plan, and think, and consider, and thrift. We don’t want to reach retirement age, with Tiddler off making a life of her own, and regret not doing this now. Bring on the stonemason tools I say, and carve our destiny by making all our intentions good.