A little bit late, but I just wanted to repost a really splendid Austerity Christmas Dinner, which works out at £1 per person (if there’s about four of you sharing packets of vegetables and chicken legs, etc). This comes from a book called One Pound Meals by trained chef Miguel Barclay and there’s a film of how to prepare it on the BBC website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37985164
The reason I wanted to post it here is that it’s clear the high level preparation skills of Miguel have really turned the chicken leg (and the infamous sprouts!) into something remarkable here. It’s also clever how his lateral thinking has created a meal that’s highly economical, but which also has the feeling of being special. Using a chicken leg instead of turkey, and using a special stuffing instead of little sausages means the meal’s cost is minimised. His knives are really sharp, making deboning the chicken leg easier, and he fluffs open the sprouts before (I think) steaming them and possibly roasting or giving them a quick saute, which will add flavour.
This would make a tremendous Sunday lunch dish – I would stuff the deboned leg with my stale bread, egg, sage and onion stuffing (find the recipe in the Christmas section of this website) and replace the bacon wraps with a creamed swede puree for seasonal good value, and the sprouts with frozen peas cooking with a little fresh mint for variety.
If you are feeling the pinch financially after the Christmas holidays, there are a few things that you can do to raise extra funds but if you have the space, renting out a room is likely to make the most difference to the housekeeping budget, as it’s effectively cash in hand. This is because the Inland Revenue has revised the Rent a Room scheme so that you can now make £7500 a year tax free (£144 a week) from renting furnished spare rooms in your main home (i.e. you have to be living in it). The details are here: https://www.gov.uk/rent-room-in-your-home/the-rent-a-room-scheme.
In terms of preparing for your lodger, you might have a suitable room already that requires minimal expense to set up. This is ideal, but if not, start with a fresh coat of light coloured, neutral paint and some neutral, thermally lined curtains from a shop such as Dunelm. These £15.99 ones are in the sale in their shortest version http://www.dunelm.com/product/cream-toledo-thermal-pencil-pleat-curtains-1000014042 but floor-length ones always look classier (even if they do block the heat from radiators a bit).
Then you need to ensure there is sufficient good quality furniture, and here, if you can’t repurpose things from the rest of the house, or find things on Ebay or in charity shops that work, Argos is your friend, because their things can be good value for money and their customer service is so excellent it kicks IKEA into the long grass, along with their Express Delivery options. Today, the code FURN15 entered at checkout will get you a discount of 15% as well (Argos periodically runs discounts of this type, by the way). This £89.99 white, Shaker-style Aspley bed comes in different sizes and gets excellent reviews; http://www.argos.co.uk/product/4989622. There is an optional under-bed drawer for £39.99 if the bedroom is really tight for storage space. Then Argos sell good quality £189 foam mattresses, which are delivered rolled up for rapid and simply delivery – you just need to let them expand and air for 48 hours after delivery. The Dormeo Antigua hybrid single mattress is excellent and again gets rave reviews – we have one at home and were delighted with it. http://www.argos.co.uk/product/4291107 It also comes with a free pillow but we gave that away as it was a bit high. You don’t have to provide any bedding or towels if you don’t want to – that can be the responsibility of the lodger.
In addition, your lodger will need a wardrobe, so you might want to look at the new £87.99 Malibu one, which has small drawers as well as a hanging space http://www.argos.co.uk/product/5609712. Finally, a bedside table, lamp and chair will all be appreciated. If you don’t have anything that matches already, try the half price Osaka £29.99 bedside table with three drawers (extra storage) https://www.argos.co.uk/product/5488696, the reduced £4.49 ColourMatch lamp in cream http://www.argos.co.uk/product/9103056 and so your lodger can relax in the evening, this £79.99 Bentwood chair with matching footstool and integral magazine holder (extra storage again) http://www.argos.co.uk/product/5717336.
Once all these are in, your room will look very bland, but airy, and you can decide whether you want to style it more artistically with accent colours such as dark blue or wine red, or whether you prefer to leave it for your lodger to make their own mark. If your budget permits, you can also put in useful items such as a wall-mounted flat screen TV, bookcase, additional chair, coffee table, and so on, or a desk and chair if you are having students lodge with you. A large cork pinboard is also very useful in terms of discouraging Blu-tack on walls and subsequent redecoration. A row of hooks on the wall or on the back of the door is great for coats/bathrobes, and a steel towel airer on the radiator good for them to dry their towels and little bits of washing. This one is sufficiently classy http://www.argos.co.uk/product/4615604
So a budget of £500 would allow you to decorate and fit out the room in an appealing style that would look good in letting photographs and allow the lodger to enjoy the basics, leaving you to make up to £7000 from rent. (Outside expensive cities, you might only make half of this, so you might want to consider that and budget a bit less accordingly for redecorating your room, but a light, airy room means a fast let and few voids).
With a lot of sales starting today, it’s a good time to start thinking about next year’s birthday presents and parties and stocking up your supplies. This means you won’t end up spending more than you need to on a last minute present in a panic. Here are some gifts for under-fives that hopefully won’t duplicate existing toys and which only cost a couple of quid. Remember to stock up on wrapping paper and cheap cards at the same time!
One-year-olds – Card books, posting and stacking toys, balls, simple bucket and spade set for the local sandpit.
Two-year-olds – Colourful sports drinking bottles, fizzy bath tablets, character bubble bath or bath foam, flap books.
Three-year-olds – Small models of knights, princesses or animals, Lego minifigures, toy cars, bubble blowers.
Four-year-olds – Simple card games, stickers, colouring books and crayons, craft kits.
Five-year-olds – Novelty swimming goggles, fancy dress accessories, character mugs and socks.
Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
For Christmas stockings, you can do a lot worse than raid the pound shop from about October onwards, allowing the same number of presents per child to avoid arguments. Babies’ stocking fillers can be bought from school fetes or jumble sales and cleaned up in the washing machine or dishwasher (I filled a first Christmas stocking for £2 once this way). In terms of main presents for children, it’s difficult to deal with the marketisation of childhood and retain your sanity in the festive season, but it might help to chant these phrases in your head like a mantra when the going gets tough.
- Toys are not evidence of parental affection.
- Toys are not a substitute for parental time.
- There’s no sense in having so many toys to play with you can’t choose what to do.
- The more toys they have, the more we have to tidy away.
- Most children play with 20% of their toys 80% of the time.
- It’s just too expensive and that’s that.
For adults, it’s sensible to set a ceiling of £5 or £10 so the present buying doesn’t get competitive or out of hand. It’s better to have a single, thoughtfully chosen gift that makes you smile when you think about it, than a clutch of things that have been given to you for the sake of it, and which you will forget shortly afterwards.
Make or reuse gift bags, which can be fiercely expensive if bought new. For wrapping paper, use brown paper sponged with gold, bronze and silver paint, or stamped with a gold Christmas motif of some kind. Finish off with gold ribbon. Or leave the brown paper plain and use country-style tartan ribbon instead. Iron previously used tissue paper on a very low heat with the steam turned off, and use it with simple paper or raffia ribbons. This can also be a good way of packaging gifts attractively whilst keeping down your carbon footprint and costs. Finally, make your own gift tags out of coloured card cut to look like a parcel label, tied with paper ribbon, raffia or string. Or cut out motifs from old Christmas cards and stick onto plain white card for a different effect.
Home made presents
Think about producing some of the following as presents with enhanced personal involvement.
- Jams and jellies, including from foraged food as in previous posts.
- Truffles and nut crunch in cellophane bags with Christmas ribbon.
- Shortbread biscuits
- Boiled fruit cake baked in a circle and put in a festive tin.
- Home made gift vouchers for babysitting, dog grooming, car valeting, beauty treatments, cooking, or whatever you are good at.
- Christmas greens such as ivies and holly, tied decoratively with raffia.
- Create stationery kits for young children by sticking on colourful scrapbook or gift wrap paper onto the front of a basic notebook, and then adding pencils, ruler, rubbers, sharpeners and so on in matching colour, presenting in a cellophane bag with a toning ribbon.
- Canvas shopping bags (available for a euro in most of Europe) with iron on names and pictures, for children to use to store their library books, so they don’t get lost.
- For cards, buy packets of 50 plain cream cards and envelopes, and make your own stamped design. Write the greeting inside in fountain pen, very elegantly. It may not be cheaper than cards from the pound shop, but it will be more thoughtful.
It’s pretty straightforward to decorate your house so it looks welcoming and festive without going mad in the artificial environment of the Christmas displays in department stores. Try these suggestions for cheap and cheerful displays.
- Popcorn chains – Follow an air-popped popcorn recipe and thread pieces onto a long red thread. These can be draped over Christmas trees or hung in windows.
- Gingerbread ornaments – Make up a batch of gingerbread dough and cut out using Christmas cutters, making a hole at the top before baking ready for a ribbon to be threaded through later on. You can also ice them with coloured writing icing once they are cooled.
- Paper chains – Cut strips of coloured paper so they are about 15-20cm long. Make a loop of the first one, and glue closed with Pritt stick. Thread a second strip through this, and close the loop with Pritt stick once again. Carry on until the chain is long enough to hang across a room. Several of them can be used for a more elaborate effect. Children often enjoy helping to make these.
- Cinammon sticks – Tie bundles of cinnamon sticks together with ribbon and use to adorn Christmas trees, by securing with craft wire.
- Snow – Using the cheapest cotton wool you can lay your hands on, stretch in the window to create the effect of snow. This also works for cobwebs around Halloween time.
- Snowflakes – This is another good project for children. Cut white or silver paper into squares about 15cmx15cm, and then fold into quarters. Cut an arc around the edge so you get a circle, and then snip out little pieces around the edge and on the folds so that when you open it out you get a snowflake pattern. These look good on the Christmas tree.
- Wreaths – Make a loop of chicken wire, and then tie evergreens and clusters of berries from the garden onto it, until the wire is obscured. You can also use florist’s wire or a hot glue gun to secure things like apples, nuts, oven dried slices of orange, and cinnamon sticks. Spray with hairspray to preserve the wreath (which will need keeping away from fire afterwards). Then add a wide tartan ribbon at the top to make a hanging loop.
It’s quite possible to spend so much on Christmas that you are still paying for it at Easter or even by the summer. This seems a bit pointless, as it’s quite possible to rein things in so that the meaning of Christmas is there without the financial hangover afterwards. Ideally you should have been putting away 1/12 of your spare income each month with the festive season in mind. We’ll start with planning for a good but economical Christmas dinner.
Turkey – Fresh is nice, and makes it easier to avoid food poisoning as it doesn’t need defrosting, but if funds are tight, choose a frozen bird but plan ahead carefully and allow it to defrost properly (See the British Turkey website at http://www.britishturkey.co.uk/cooking/cooking-calculators.html for a clever online tool to help you calculate the time required, but you should be allowing as long as 120-144 hours to defrost a 12 pound turkey in the fridge, for example, or 36-48 hours in a cool room or garage, and 24 hours at room temperature. If you are really struggling financially, turkey joints provide a tasty alternative, as do large chickens. If you are having a cheaper turkey, add flavour by putting an onion into the cavity, as well as strips of bacon over the breast, before covering with a double layer of foil and cooking.
Vegetables – Again, if you can’t afford fresh, or haven’t got a lot of time to prepare on the day, then go for frozen, as they have all of the vitamins and fibre and the family will hardly notice.
Stuffing – Try putting the following into a blender to make your own stuffing: a few pieces of stale bread, a handful of sage leaves out of the garden, a sliced onion, some salt and pepper, an egg, a little milk if it seems quite dry. Blend on high for a minute until it is all mixed up, and then take out and place in a loaf tin, use to stuff your bird, or roll into little balls and bake on a baking sheet covered with parchment.
Sausage and bacon rolls – The frozen ones are fairly indistinguishable from fresh once cooked, and can be bought from mid-Autumn onwards when there is a special offer.
Christmas pudding – The cheaper ones are surprisingly good, and I have it on good authority that some restaurants have been known to buy these from leading supermarkets and serve them as their own. Serve with cream for minimum effort, or Sweet white sauce (see recipe elsewhere on blog) or custard.
Cranberry sauce – Again, the cheaper brands are often perfectly acceptable. A dollop of red wine or port and a bit of orange zest will bring them to life.