the skinflint philosopher

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


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Solidarity with Baba Marta

That cantankerous Baba Marta (Bulgarian Grandmother March, see post here for an explanation)  has clearly been appeased with all her martenitsa offerings that she mellowed beautifully in conjunction with International Women’s Day (March 8th) and the UK Mothering Sunday on the 11th. I like to think she felt the vibe.

Gone are the snows and the -15 temperatures of last week, as early Spring has suddenly descended on us in all it’s glory.

Diado has begun his garden regime early, and we are already gaining the first of the salad crops.

Digger and Tiddler set out for a jaunt around the village in her Bulgarian version of a palanquin, waving like royalty to little old grannies sat out on wooden benches, and families eating their lunches under the bare stems of their vines. A flock of sheep wander up past the houses until Tiddler shouts a random string of gibberish with the clear intention of a ‘Tally Ho!’ and they high tail it out into the fields beyond.

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Women’s Day is a big thing here in Bulgaria, and is to all intents and purposes a Mother’s Day. People in the street go about their business laden with bouquets, either for the giving, or the getting, depending on the gender.  I’m invited to a presentation at Tiddler’s nursery to receive flower crafts and gifts, and Tiddler even manages to astound us all by getting into an actual dress for the occasion and handing out her yellow paper flowers that we have made in return. The mums and grandmothers all are sporting bright red lipstick and discussing going out for celebratory drinks after work. Clearly, the menfolk of Bulgaria are in charge of childcare tonight.


Digger disappears after breakfast and returns with a wooden flower pot ornament he has made as my token for Mother’s Day. I cynically wonder is this a romantic gesture, or a chance to go and play in the workshop with the power tools, but I love it all the same.
Tiddler’s plucked primroses in a tiny rakia shot glass bring the spring into the apartment with her.
It is the simple things.
I am blessed.

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Notice of termination of life as we know it

Formal notice to end my employment handed in today at work. No going back now!

Latest plans:

Busy selling some of Digger’s power tool collection on line, and sorting other things for potential car boots when the weather improves.

Investigating options how best to get our possessions off the island and down to the Westcountry where we hope to store them in two shepherds huts in my parent’s back garden. Space is limited.

Beginning to make queries into various necessary admin tasks- Tax? Citizenship? Pensions? Child benefit? Car insurance? Will Tiddler need any other vaccinations or checks? (she was given a TB jab at less than 24 hours old, given the ‘risk’ of Digger’s country of origin. I mourn immensely over the scar she still carries as a result)

Digger still chasing up potential leads for people to buy the business. Lots of interest, though no-one willing to pay for ‘goodwill’.

Considering going overland to Bulgaria, so we can take more things with us. Digger pouring over European road maps and plotting routes and campsites, when he is not online finding little houses for sale, tucked away in the mountains, with a stream, and fruit trees, and a veranda, and a log burner.

The plot thickens……

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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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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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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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Time and Tide…

I posed a seemingly simple question to a few friends and bloggers a while back, asking them ‘Do you wear a watch?’. Most people didn’t want to answer with only an easy yes or no, but rather wanted to explain their decision making to me. I wonder now if that was because they expected me to leap to some random philosophical conclusions, and felt they had better spare me the (possibly wrong) analysis, or does the ethereal concept of time really prey heavy on all our minds? A quick google of ‘time’ and quotes’ seems to show many with far greater minds than me certainly seem to think so.

This all started with my watch, going strong for around fifteen years by my reckoning (and an Argos purchase at that can you believe) recently needing a new strap and a new battery at the same time. To be fair, in that time period this watch has gone through so many re-incarnations that only by peering through the scratched window glass and angling my wrist just so, can I even discern it is still the same original face. It is still therefore, my watch, just not exactly the same as it started out. I damage watch straps. I get them wet in the sink, and stretch them with weighty carrier bags of shopping down over my wrist, and I occasionally forget to take it off when kayaking. There is clearly no point buying an even moderately expensive watch as I cannot be trusted.

With a healthy dose of skinflintery, the realisation set in that for the cost of a new strap and battery, I might as well buy a new watch instead (and actually be able to read the time easily for a change rather than having strangers ask me if I am OK every time I have to stop and spend five minutes squinting up my sleeve). But then I thought, do I actually need a watch? Digger never wears one, as impractical for his work, and as he says, if he needs to know the time he looks at his phone. A realisation now, that Tiddler is growing up a little bit behind the generation of kids that won’t have watches, or need to learn to tell the time with a movable hand clock face book, because of the latest iphone in their pockets. I thought I had it easy growing up in the 80’s with a digital Casio, but this is a whole new ball game.

So for six weeks, I trialled being without a watch. True, I had a phone in my bag if I needed to check, and most rooms in the house have a clock for those unexpected time emergencies, but I managed just fine. I managed more than fine in actual fact, going away on holiday, a state of affairs where normally I’m obsessed with being in the right place at the right time, of having to wait, or being delayed, and watching those battered watch hands go round either faster or slower than you need them to. Instead of this expected stress, I found a real revelation. I didn’t worry. Not having a watch meant I couldn’t monitor time. I was no longer responsible. I would find out the time when needed, but I wasn’t constantly checking in on myself. I began to enjoy not knowing exactly what the time is. What does is matter? If we felt hungry we ate, if we felt Tiddler was getting tired we went home. I felt free (of my own auditing of my days).

I’d like to end this blog on a happy note, saying that the watch and myself have parted company for good, but unfortunately, I did have to bite the bullet and bought a new model (with birthday money as a good Thrifter should) as the day job means I need to be very precise with timings- like Pavlov’s dog responding to a bell. What I have learnt though, is to take that watch off as soon as I get home at the end of the day, and not put it on for the days I don’t work or at the weekends. And when we do ‘get the time’ to go a little bit off grid ourselves, then I think that watch can only come out on special occasions. Who knows, I might get even more than fifteen years out of this one.

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Creeeeyeeeyeeak-thud (is it the sound of falling trees?)

We all have heard, contemplated or indeed scoffed at the famous philosophical question as to whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound if there is no-one there to hear it. Now the details to explain the ins-and-outs of that old chestnut (pun intended, I chuckle to myself) are far better explained elsewhere on the web, for example here at the OUPblog, so read through that to your heart’s content if you need a refresher course.
The Skinflint philosopher has been dwelling on this lately when considering the ideas of noise, sounds and silence. With Tiddler on constant yabber-dabber-doo overdrive, learning new words every day, our waking hours are filled with a whole range of sounds and words, and there is of course a true joy in witnessing this. But sometimes Thrifter longs for a few minutes of sound minimalism, aka, the sound of silence. Paul and Art clearly knew what they were singing about: in our multi-communication society do we really ever switch off? For so many of us our working days are all about talk and interaction, followed by ‘relaxation time’ where we continue to pipe music, noise and all-around-sound into our heads as well.
We tend to think of ‘Eastern cultures’ being aware of the consequences of this, and hence have perfected ways to listen to the silence and in essence act as noise minimalists. Tai-chi, yoga, and Japanese tea ceremonies are amongst many examples, but you could argue the sharing a smoking pipe by Native americans, or the Australian aborigines walkabout has exactly the same concept. It is not therefore about location, but perhaps about time. Down time, quiet time and think time. In a typical rat-race society, so many of us no longer designate time to do nothing, and therefore we are never able to hear nothing. Perhaps we would all benefit therefore from going back to our roots (slipped another tree reference in again there in case you were wondering) and think about giving ourselves some sound head-space.
Now those of you who want to go and live as a solitary hermit in a cave, or join a silent community, you may have the opportunity to reduce your personal soundscape. I can’t go to that extreme, but I will consider the vibrancy of sound, with those crashing creaking timbers of the tree twisting and falling, the disrupted fluttering sputter and calls as roosting birds take to the air, and the soft whump as it returns to the earth.  And I’ll enjoy the silence that follows it even more as a result. Yin and yang, my friends.