the skinflint philosopher

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


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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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Tidy house, tidy mind?

Seven days left until we leave the island- myself, Digger, Tiddler and a loaded up car of our final possessions. The house is currently deceptively full of things, because we have no cupboards, chests of drawers or storage units to put things in any more, and so our personal effects are like a shifting mass of tumbleweed that Tiddler moves from one room to another as the whim takes her. In reality, there is not much left here at all. The house is pleasantly empty.
‘Tidy house; tidy mind’ I tell Digger. ‘Do you feel an sort of unburdening because we don’t have stuff any more?’
‘We have stuff in abundance’ he says ‘it’s just all at your parent’s house’.
‘True’ I muse, ‘but this little taste of minimalism may be a good thing. To get us thinking about what we “actually” need? To get used to living with less before actually jettisoning off everything?’.
‘Maybe “empty house; empty mind” is also true then?’ he chuckles. ‘let me look in your earhole and see if I can see out the other side’.

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Once Digger had recovered from the withering look I sent him, we talked about how even with the worry and fraught feelings of this move, in reality we felt so much more stress free than a few weeks before. The removal of ourselves from the working environments in recent weeks (though Digger is still eking out every hour this week to bring in the last pennies either of us my earn for a while- but this time working for someone else so the responsibility and organisation is no longer his) has made a remarkable difference. I felt I had been a bit like Atlas, labouring under a heavy load for so long, it was only once it was gone I realised what it felt like to be without it.

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On top of that, despite my initial worries, we have sold over the last few days most of the remaining bits of furniture we own. I may even have to ask the village church if they can lend me a few chairs so we can sit round the 1930’s oak table (the one thing that steadfastly will not sell) in order that we are not eating off the floor.
My little desk has gone to a lady who wants to use it for a sewing machine, and keep all her threads and buttons in the little secret compartments.
The tumble dryer has been picked up by two Sri Lankan brothers who have just moved to the island.
The swivel chair is being picked up by someone who gets out of hospital tomorrow, and thinks it will help her with her movements.
The storage units, a wicker basket and a christmas cactus I gave away for free to an ex-student of mine who has just moving into her own little flat and starts her first accounting job the day we leave the island.

All of our little items, that we either didn’t need or couldn’t take with us, are going on to be part of someone else’s story.
I kind of like that feeling.

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Movin’ on up

The proverbial ‘they’ do say that the three most stressful things are weddings, a new baby and moving house. We are nearly-sort-of-not-quite hitting all three this week- so you can see why it has taken me a bit of jiggery pokery to get sat down in front of this keyboard at all recently.
Let me clarify- no new baby, though Tiddler still requires oodles of attention that means it is quite hard to pack up and move off an island while simultaneously playing ‘the monster game’ (don’t ask, please!) and taking back all the pet snails out of the house. Again.
Wedding bells are also on the horizon this weekend, when Tiddler will make her flower girl debut, and Digger and I are to be the witnesses for the signing of the register. Tiddler of course thinks she is dressing up as a King for the ceremony, as it is the only way we could persuade her to don the outfit. Well, purple is a regal colour I tell myself to dispel the guilt. And some of them did wear some glittery flowery footwear too you know- I did take in a little bit of Versailles on the good old BBC. I’m just hoping Tiddler doesn’t think her snails need to accompany this particular flower girl outing.

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But all this clearly pales into comparison in the stress stakes with the ‘van pack’.  Our long convoluted getting-of-the-island has been going on so long with a box packed here, a car boot there, another long telephone call with a government worker who can’t understand why our island doesn’t have the same rules as the rest of the UK (or heaven forbid, hasn’t actually heard of us! Quelle horreur). However, D-day for us today, in terms of decision day. Turns out Digger has far more ‘essential’ tools, boxes of small metal items, and general mahoosive machinery than I could shake a stick at. What is this monstrosity that appeared like a behemoth on my lawn last night and is apparently coming with us?

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Hang on wait, there’s another part to it?

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Folks, I’m not going to lie, there have been a few tears today. The self drive option- while cost-efficient compared to the extortionate charge that the ferry and freight were wanting to stitch us up with- sounds good in thrifty principle, but has it’s own stresses. All three of us were at the hire place at 8am, to drop off Digger. Digger returns with van. Digger loads said behemoth. Digger fits everything around it like a precarious wedged balancing act. I have seen more air space in a Jenga game. My mother telephones to advise us she has cleared out a shed but doesn’t have much storage room at the moment so she hopes we are packing light. I don’t tell her about what he is putting in there, though observe a fully fledged petrol lawn mower and what must be a tonne of metal toolage if the suspension on the van is anything to go by. I ponder where the tumble drier will go. And the bookcases that Digger made. And the quirky wooden desk I’m in the middle of restoring. And some other things…..

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We double check the ticket for the last check-in time for the ferry. We take some things out and attempt to repack, but as aforementioned, he has things rammed in there tighter than a gnat’s proverbial. There is a grim realisation that not everything will fit. It is too late to unload and take out the few things I could do without. Instead I am going to have to leave behind the furniture that I wanted.

Because of our friend’s wedding, we had always intended to stay another fortnight on the island. We had been advertising- and successfully sold- the beds and some other large pieces of furniture in advance, and folks were kind enough to pay in advance and then pick them up a couple of days before we go. Now I have a fortnight to try and sell everything else too. If it doesn’t sell, I have to dump it. Hence the tears. Not a bawling lamentation on the driveway, but rather a sorrow that these things that have been a part of our home will soon be gone, and possibly gone for nothing or just a tiny fraction that is their true and useful value to us. Digger as is his want, philosophises that with his tools he can make replacement furniture for us when we need it. That is not helpful when I’ve just seen him load up another crate of undistinguishable wiring and pointy bits while my desk stands forlornly in the yard.

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So now, by the time I sit down to write this, Digger has done his three hour ferry crossing, and faced the crazy rush hour docks, and hopefully is halfway down to the Westcountry where I am crossing my fingers my mother has underestimated how much storage space she has (she hasn’t seen his van packing skills after all). Digger’s aluminium ladders sit just as forlornly behind the shed as they too were jettisoned in the final cull. I am under instructions to google roof bars to see if we can bring the ladders down on the car when we all travel on the 15th. I’m also posting pictures and descriptions of my furniture on facebook selling sites. It is mostly old and battered, well-loved pieces. I’m not holding out much hope.

Tiddler has not yet noticed the absence of toys, and has enjoying playing with empty cardboard boxes and bubble wrap. She sleeps now, tired out by the different rhythms of the day. The house without Digger, and all those boxes we have lived cheek by jowl with for weeks, is echoing. There is a lonely melancholy here tonight.

So I am searching for some meaningful quotes and this pops up courtesy of pinterest.
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Digger, Tiddler and I are very fortunate, in that we could be the little green bubble ourselves. It would, and no doubt will be hard, as we venture off into unchartered territories for us, but as I shed a small tear over my tumble drier, I have to take the bigger picture into account.
Digger has worked hard to amass his tools of the trade, and there is of course comfort and security in that, but he can take his skills in his hands and his brain wherever he goes. My profession is my knowledge and interaction with students.
Right now we are healthy, with savings, and family in three countries who will support us if needed wherever we choose as a permanent base in the future. We have a lot to grateful for.

And if I’m feeling really miserable, I know for sure one thing I definitely don’t need any more to cheer myself up. Snails.

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Man and Van

Latest update on our plans:
Digger has booked a self drive Luton and the ferry, so definitely that is it, our worldly possessions (other than what we can cram into my car) will be heading off this island the first week of August. Poor Digger will have to do a three day turnaround- 4 hours on the ferry and 7ish hours driving time each way to get what boxes and furniture we don’t want to part with down to my parents in the Westcountry to store for us while we are off on our adventures. Tiddler and I won’t go for this first run down, but all of us in my car will be making the (non-return) journey ten days later. This means that we will be living for those last days of limbo here with only pretty much what we intend to leave behind/sell in the last minute/donate/dump.

Digger also doubts that what we have will fit in one van load. We are rethinking and may have to attempt to sell more furniture. We will have to pack and mark some boxes to go on the van, that will only make it if there is room on the day. I am having to pack up and seal boxes and make decisions about items that I may need to jettison at the last minute. Some of Tiddler’s toys are too bulky to take. I cannot justify taking all her baby clothes and artwork that I have proudly accumulated. It is unsettling.


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All full of frolics and fiddle-de-dees

A few days in and I’ve been dosed up to the eyeballs with various fb shares, memes and blog posts itemising exactly how everybody (and their dog) plan to make 2017 the very best they possibly can. Home on the ranch, we are in a slight hiatus wth potty training, so beyond the immediate necessity of asking Tiddler every fifteen minutes whether a bodily function is required, (please note she is indeed living up to the alternative meaning of her nom de guerre, and it is a good job Santa brought her plenty of pairs of knickers, say no more) I haven’t had much time to get my head round ‘improving’ things for myself.

My beekeepers course starts tomorrow evening, so I think that counts as something new and possibly challenging, although the new term also starts tomorrow and I must confess I am looking forwards to that with a downward exponential curve of enthusiasm. Suffice to say, now we have made a decision to leave our jobs this summer in search of the good life (or at least the good gap year if it doesn’t pan out) it is difficult to drum up the same level of motivation for something you know you are going to leave behind. So of course our ‘steps to happiness’ or ’17 challenges for 2017′, or however else you want to parcel up and buzz phrase the notion of change for the better, has to take into account all of that going on behind the scenes.

Interestingly enough, though modern day resolutions are usually to either get rid of bad habits (smoking and similar ilk) or to take on beneficial habits, the original resolutions from the Babylonians prove they were skinflinters (or at the very least minimalists) at heart as their focus was to pay off debts and return borrowed goods to the rightful owners. Medieval knights resolved to stick to their moral and ethical code of chivalry, and perhaps even Lent and Yom Kippur have some links to these ideas too. Makes our western world resolution to join the gym which we then give up on before February seem a little bit petty.

So my take on the best way forwards for the new year has come inspired from Tiddler’s choice of bedtime reading.

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Julia Donaldson’s ‘A squash and a squeeze’ documents (in rhyming couplets of course, for toddler satisfaction) the sorry tale of a little old lady complaining her house is too small, and on taking the advice of a wise old man (dressed rather like a 1930’s Jesuit for some reason), introduces the hen, then the goat, a pig and finally a cow into her doily-laden house, and as you can imagine, this farmyard menagerie play merry havoc till she implores the wise man to help her again. His advice this time is to take all the animals out, and lo and behold, she discovers her house that was ‘weeny for five, was gigantic for one’. So happy is she in this new state of enlightenment that she is ‘full of frolics and fiddle-de-dees, it isn’t a squash or a squeeze’.

 

Reading this on a grown-up level, my thoughts are:

  1. Be happy with what you have in the first place. This reminds me of that (probably terribly misquoted proverb) “I cried because I didn’t have any shoes, and then I met a girl who didn’t have any feet”.
  2. Small is beautiful.
  3. Less is more.
  4. Do we make our own lives a squash and a squeeze, and if so, why?
  5. Are our stresses of our own making?
  6. Bring on the frolics and fiddle-de-dees!

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Teaching the right lessons

Tiddler is going to be, whether she likes it or not, brought up in a prudently frugal household. We will see what events unfold as she gets older, when the ‘pink for girls’ commercialism is more likely to set in, but in the meantime, when she is blissfully unaware of anything different I can move her smartly away from the sweet and toy aisles with nothing more taxing than ‘we don’t need those today’.  We’ll try and teach her, as best as we can, the ABC of skinflintery- Abstinence, Budget and Carefulness.

However, she has to also learn that while thrift begins at home, charity needs to reach to the community. With that in mind, her lesson for today, a harvest bucket craft (from a recycled yoghurt pot- recycling habits die hard!), which will later be replaced with real goods for the local food bank.
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I think the attached image below from quoteaddicts sums up why this is a worthy post for the Skinflint Philosophy, with its echoes of minimalism, unburdening and altruism.
(Harvest) food for thought indeed.

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Beans, Death and Taxes

Seeing as Tiddler is temporarily snoring away in the Land of Nod, the Skinflint philosopher has just been (not quite but still feeling a bit smug) ultra-efficient and finally got my tax return sorted, a week before the due date. Living as we do on this little rock, I’m not too worried by cutting it so fine, as can confidently breeze by Government House to drop the paperwork off later in the week when popping into town. I’m really searching hard here to find a joy in taxes somewhere, but at least small scale countries and having the bean-counters sort of on your doorstep might be one of them? Anyway, I’m not expecting too big a hit this year thankfully, as earnings as still down as a result of maternity leave and then going back to work part time.

It has got me thinking again though, about the ebbing and flowing of our monies. I blogged at the end of August see blog post here that I was going to try and keep track of my food spending for a month, just to see if I was being a good Thrifter really or was I falsely blowing my own trumpet. The target was that given that the average family of four in the UK spends £81.40 on their groceries per week, we three (Thrifter, Digger and Tiddler) had to definitely hit lower than that. So I started keeping hold of receipts, and chose to forgo my lunchtime coffee at work (I’m not sure the princely sum of 60p per day for a vending machine latte is going to make me a millionaire one day but I felt inspired, and dutifully took in teabags from home instead). Then I started keeping track of all my spending for the month up till today, which worked out at…

Food spending for the month £187
Food spending out (coffee and cakes, a lunch out with Tiddler) £13.40
Entrance fees for Tiddler activities £11.50
Health club membership one month trial to take Tiddler swimming 3 times per week  £29.50
My new watch- see post here and so no cost to me!
Tiddler’s birthday party £56
Stamps and postage £13.30
Pharmacy supplies/ nappies £13.85
Diesel £76
Mobile phone credit £5
Birthday presents for friends £38
Rent £750 and childcare £296, both costs split between Digger and I
Wifi £12
Water, electric, gas- unknown for the months usage

and that’s it out of my wallet, though Digger will have had some of his own expenses too. I’m quite pleased with proving myself right. We supplemented our food with the following- tomatoes, rhubarb and courgettes from our garden, green beans and red cabbage from a neighbour, and Digger went scrumping and came home with two bowls of beautiful Victoria plums. Thrifter and Tiddler picked blackberries, although Tiddler fed herself more than actually ended up in the freezer. We are still eating the honey and drinking the rakia that were gifts from Digger’s parents. I don’t feel that we are in anyway denying ourselves sustenance- in actual fact Digger has been complaining recently that I serve him giant sized portions and that his belt is getting too tight.
We choose I suppose, to not buy (food or otherwise) that we don’t need. Tiddler and I both had birthdays this month so we were gifted new things, rather than going out to buy ourselves. Are Digger and I simply not very materialistic, that we don’t need things,  or is it all about the satisfaction in putting that spare, not-spent money away at the end of each month, knowing it is going to be part of the skinflint masterplan?

Look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves said my mother. I say, count your beans, and eventually you’ll have enough to plant a whole beanfield.

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