the skinflint philosopher

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


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Rub-a-dub-dub, ever feel like you are alone in your tub?

Candles seems a rather distant reminder of my possibly slightly more trendy (at the time) younger self. Or actually now I think of it, my little set were distinctly trying to be ‘un-trendy’ as far as popular culture of the 90’s went and were a little bit more into hippy-dippyness, but by rather sensible standards though of course. We didn’t get up to anything too far along on the Woodstock scale of things; we were in rural England after all.
Anyway, burning candles and joss sticks, and shopping trips to Natural Selection were all the rage, and if you didn’t own a pair of Dr Martins with coloured laces well then frankly, you might as well listen to Top of the Pops.

Digger as you know tends to be somewhat lacking in the romantic gestures- he’d rather change a punctured tyre for me, or unblock the drains, or ban me from using the superglue again, and assume that transmitted to me words of l’amour and le coeur). And so dusky candlelit dinners are not often on the cards, and that is even without taking into account the ‘Tiddler Effect’, a well-known to our household phenomenon where somebody-mentioning-no-names refuses to go to bed until past midnight on any given days that potential gourmet aphrodisiacs are found to be in the fridge.

In line with my general thriftyness, I don’t like to turn down anything that is offered for free, so I ended up last week with a free carrier bag of candle odds and ends. Lets specify that again, there were lots of ends of candles, and they were pretty much all odd-one-outs. Multicoloured, broken, a jumble of beeswax and paraffin, and completely stuck together in this heat, this was like Joseph’s technicolour dreamcoat in a bag.
Tiddler was put to task sorting them into colours, a task she will happily do for hours with any mixed up coloured items. Note to self though, don’t try it again with a bag of Jelly Beans which all got sorted into one category- Tiddler’s Tummy.
Then with no candlemaking equipment we had a shot. Not bad I feel for the frugal, make-do-and-mend side of things, but I’m also going to try and get Digger to have a conversation with me in the candlelight glow from these, even if it is only to see where to put the car-jack.

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The red ones

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The cauldron of blood

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recycled yogurt pots

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Recycled wicks

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Lollipops and blutack

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Tension on the wick, looking remarkable like the puppy’s tail

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Here’s a few I made earlier (a nod to Blue Peter)

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Waiting for it to cool

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The finished article in Digger’s handmade centrepiece candle holder (see he made that years ago for me, but we never use it!)

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They are not tiny candles, they are massive fir cones, brought all the way from the west coast of Italy in the back of Leo. 

And if this inspires you to look a little harder into the flame the next time you light a candle, these are two thoughts you might like to ponder on.

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The philosophy of Snow White

Tackling as we are, the thrifter’s life in Bulgaria, we are always trying to scrimp and save wherever possible. For example, I spent some time this week attempting to mend Tiddler’s story book and that has given me a few things to think about.

The backstory of course is that we set off from England as my good and faithful readers know last September, in Leo the campervan, though while sufficient for our basic needs on the two month journey pottering through Europe to get to Bulgaria, was rather lacking in library space. So, a swift calculation means Tiddler (i.e. me) has been reading the same twenty story books in some sort of spiraling rotation for around five months, with my nemesis the pop-up book of Hansel and Gretel appearing on a far more regular than it was due basis. Who knows why Tiddler loves this story so much. I think I made a rod for my own back when I once ad-libbed that the witch was ‘burnt up to a crisp’. Now if I don’t add that specific detail in every time I read of Gretel’s fiendish escape plan I get reprimanded by Tiddler for missing out part of the story i.e. the grusesome nasty bit.
There are a smattering of English language books in the bookshops here, but very expensive, and the town library was no help either. So Granny Westcountry kindly scoured her home for my niece and nephew’s old books and popped them in the post to us as an emergency package of books as frankly, if I have to read Hansel and Gretel one more time there are going to be consequences.  Much excitement all round! The joy of new (to us) books! Unfortunately, seems Tiddler’s cousins had been a bit heavy handed with Snow White and the seven dwarves, and a book had arrived which needed a good dose of TLC.
“Are books alive?” Tiddler asks. Inward snigger from me at the innate cuteness.
“Do books have skeletons?” Cut-off snigger as I have to answer honestly, “Well they do have spines, that much is true”.
“Are books made from lots of ingredients? Have we got the ingredients to mend this one?”
So given the circumstances, I don’t want to throw this book away, and I also believe strongly in the importance of Tiddler understanding the need to take care of her possessions. Money doesn’t grow on trees and all that. Things do still have a value, and a use, even if they are old. Why replace something if it is not broken. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. I think you catch my general drift on this theme without resorting to further proverbs. Suffice to say, this is not just about money. Rather that I want Tiddler to be happy when she grows up. I cannot make her life a luxurious one, or guarantee no sorrows or troubles, but I hope I can equip her to be content with her lot, which will foster the skills of being practical, with common sense, and the emotional stability to make wise decisions.

Question: “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”
Answer: “The one who is happy”

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Quotes to give us a few more thoughts on this theme today:
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A rose by any other name, would smell so cheap

Digger, a man who takes after my own skinflinting heart is, to be brutally honest, not very great in the romance stakes. He quite rightly knows if he turned up with the somewhat ‘traditional’ gifts of chocolates, perfume or lingerie, I would quite probably ask him how much it was and whether he still had the receipt. If asked to say something deep and meaningful he always wrangles his way out of it by using the excuse “my English isn’t good enough for that” which is a complete fib and were he Pinocchio then his nose would almost reach to Bulgaria by now on it’s own accord.

What Digger is pretty good at however, is a little bit of thrifty relocation-ing . At this time of year, many of his customers are away for long periods, and he sees the literal and metaphorical fruits of his and their labour fall dead and rotting to the ground. Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if there is no one to hear it? Does a rose bloom and delight if there is no one there to smell it’s scent? Of course not, which is why it makes perfect sense to relocate those poor unloved blooms with absentees owners to me. No garage forecourt cellophane wrapped inconsequentials for me, oh no. I arrive home today to these.

Photo on 08-07-2017 at 22.00Photo on 08-07-2017 at 22.01 #3

Romance is dead? Long live romance!


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Banking the Icelandic way

Never fear, dear readers, upon reading this post’s title, that this is going to be some financial analysis of Iceland shareholders, banking and debt, because frankly, that’s all a little bit too complicated for me. The ins and outs of the 2008-2011 crisis and economic depression are as clear to me as Pink Floyd’s meaning of their psychedelic tune and lyrics to Bike the only bit of which seems to make sense is “I’ll give you anything, everything, if you want things’ or, the Icelandic version which of course could be ” I’ll give you Althing, Thingvellir, if you want Thingskalar”. Basically, I am not clued up enough on geo-politics and global economic wizardry to dare even try comment. Suffice to say, that Iceland is, in 2017, for any sojourners to that neck of the woods, definitely not a thrifter’s paradise. It is shockingly expensive.

I’ve had the good fortune to have just taken a no-cost trip to Iceland. Free, in that I didn’t have to pay out, but not free, in that I was leading a group of students on a residential educational visit. This meant, all totted up, that I worked evenings and three additional days for no pay, but still got paid my normal salary for the other days. But let’s not split hairs, I had no outlay of costs so I’m counting it as a freebie. We must celebrate our few-and-far-between perks for this job when we can, and I will certainly not grumble about this one.

Of course, I could now go into paragraph after paragraph of wondrous sights, majestic landscapes, and exotic smells (well, eggy sulphuric tap water is unusual enough to be regarded as fascinatingly glamorous even if you have to gag slightly while taking a shower. Note to self, hold back on the herbal shower gel or you end up with skin with a lingering aura of eggs benedict) but the tourist board do such a good job here I feel I’d be wasting my time. We hired a minibus, self-catered, smuggled in our own teabags (foiled however, because even when it is a British teabag, there is no accounting for the said water and the cow juice ‘Mjolk’ producing anything that tastes like you expected) and so managed to keep costs down to make it affordable for the students. Of course, they then spent all their free time (and spending money) supping 500 kroner coffees in wooly-bohemian-hygge cushion-laden coffee houses, and devouring 800 kroner bars of chocolate. Our Brexit pound meant their wallets took a severe beating.

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However, dusting the moths out of my purse, I found a real skinflinting gem. In downtown Reykjavik, where space is not an issue and paint colour is an essential, the bank premises are large and ornate. There are comfortable chairs and little tables. There is a free coffee machine, with a jug of real mjolk.  Although entering as a bonafide customer, and therefore able to claim, nay be entitled to, a quick warming beverage, it seemed foolhardy to brave the blustery snow and negative temperatures (Gluggavedur for those of you with the Icelandic lingo off pat) just to get into a coffee shop and offload my kroner. True, there were not any Danish (the good colonial power of course) pastries there to top up my calorific intake, but I could while away a pleasant hour or two in these circumstances. Double bonus; I was avoiding the extortionately priced gift shops at the same time. These Icelanders are geniuses. I could plan my itinerary around the location and opening hours of the banks of Iceland, and keep myself up to my frugal speed in full caffeinated style. Landsbankinn (Reykjavik branch) I salute you.

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Does anyone have any other favourite, must see/must do places in Iceland?  I’m sharing this website as it made me chuckle. I guess we all need a raisin in the end of our sausage, and that’s got to be better than sour whale!

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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.

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Contemptible, moi?

“Miser, one who makes use of contemptible economy to keep money,”1700, slang; literally “kind of person who would skin a flint to save or gain something,” from skin (v.) + flint. Flay-flint in same sense is from 1670s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Translating that into more ‘frugal’ language, a person is skinning that flint by wearing it down until it is a thin as skin through use, rather than replacing it before there is the need to do so. The definition above though, does make Thrifter a little sad today.
Feel free to see thrift, minimalism and zero waste as ‘contemptible’ in your throw-away society. Fiddle while Rome burns. But not on my watch.
Embrace your skinflintery!
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