Thrifty Finds

This week’s Thrifty Finds


This Week's Thrifty Finds via secondhandtales.wordpress.comHow are you getting on with your Thrifty Finds? With the festive season drawing ever closer are there some things you are choosing to buy, or not buy?

Did you shop last Friday or did you boycott the shops on Black Friday? I have to say I did buy something on Black Friday but it was a couple of birthday presents and I picked them up from the local independent bookshop. I did need to go to Argos, as well, but was determined not to do this on Friday and even changed my plans so that I went on Saturday – stupid I know but I really didn’t want to be doing my Christmas shopping on that day!

Anyway these are last weeks Thrifty Finds:

  1. We invited my mother-in-law for a meal to celebrate her birthday. The younger two girls made a cake for her (from scratch, I was very impressed as they’re only 8 and 10). I also made a couple of quiches, using pastry scraps that I had previously frozen. We also had enough food left over for a meal the next day.
  2. Over the festive season we plan a few family outings. These normally include a theatre or cinema trip. We all wanted to see the new film ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’.  So I booked  tickets for our local cinema which I really try to support. Plus they were almost half the price of the Odeon chain. We all enjoyed the film.
  3. While I didn’t go to Argos on Black Friday I did take advantage of a gift voucher we had and picked up a Christmas present for one of my daughters.
  4. I finally defrosted my freezer (having not done it for two years!). The freezer  is nearly 20 years old but still works. However the top level has been frozen up for a while. By defrosting and cleaning it I now have more space to store food, and hopefully it will be more energy efficient.
  5. Finally, not a Thrifty Find I’m afraid. My online supermarket delivery, due for Friday night, broke down! So it didn’t arrive until the next morning. As I had meal planned from Friday we had absolutely nothing in the (newly defrosted) freezer or cupboards. I’m afraid I had to pick up an easy to make dinner from the local corner shop, which wasn’t part of the budget 😦


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Saving for Christmas….Part Two

Saving for Christmas Part Two

In my previous post here I talked about how I was going to fund Christmas this year. In this post I wanted to talk more about what I plan to spend the money on – and a couple of issues I’m struggling with.


simple christmas wrapping

Who am I buying for?

Over the past few years we have gradually reduced the number of people whom we buy presents for. The shopping list now consists of:

our children,

nephews and niece,

our parents,

and a couple of aunts, uncles and cousins.

We decided a while ago not to buy presents for our siblings (and vice versa). Depending on what money is left in the budget, my husband and I tend to buy just a small item for each other – or put the money towards a shared item.

I am struggling with buying presents for aunts, uncles and cousins (6 in total) whom I haven’t seen for years. So, this year, I’m going to send a card instead, stating that we don’t need presents and a donation to charity would be wonderful instead.

I’m also putting a call out to a couple of close friends/children’s godparents  to suggest we only buy birthday presents and forego the gift giving at Christmas. My children don’t really need that many presents anyway. Speaking of which, we have asked one set of grandparents to buy an experience for the girls this year. These grandparents, generous though they are, do buy a lot of throwaway plastic for the kids. But paying for the amazing day out (which I daren’t share with you yet!) will be far more memorable.

The other issue I am struggling with is Teacher’s Thankyou presents. I have written here and here on my past experiences. It is really nice to thank teaching staff for all that they do for my daughters but the shopping list can really grow. I’m thinking of getting the girls to make something simple this year, but still need to budget for materials.

homemade for Christmas: bath salts


Where am I getting the presents from?

This is a hard one…I mentioned in my previous post I have collected points from the Quidco/cashback site. While it is not as much as I previously thought the amount I will have for Christmas will be £73.82, which will help to buy a few presents.I can claim this as cash, Paypal credit or… gain a 5% increase by transferring to Amazon gift vouchers.

Last year I didn’t use Amazon at all for Christmas presents but I’m not sure that I can afford to do that this year. I suspect I will give in to the higher financial reward of taking my Quidco vouchers as Amazon credit instead 😦

However I am also determined to spend some of my money locally and, as always, shop second-hand for some of the Christmas gifts. I met a lovely lady a couple of months ago who said she was determined to only buy presents from local sellers and second-hand sources.

I’ve already started by buying one small decoration from a great local craft fair that happens every month. I also picked up a couple of Christmas cards from an exhibition held in our village by resident artists.

Food and Drink


credit: katielips

Now this category can really mount up. While I have a strict budget for presents I tend to lose it a bit when it comes to food and drink. This year we are eating at my parents so that should reduce some of the food bill. We do tend to meal plan over the Christmas season. However it’s the sneaky extras that always get us. This year I’m going to stick to:

my usual online supermarket delivery (so that I can’t be tempted by the whole supermarket experience),

order an organic veg box

Pick up a couple of pieces of meat from the local butcher.

I’ve also got a few vouchers that I can buy our Christmas wine with as well.

I’ll keep you updated on what I actually spend and I will also write another post on how we plan to enjoy Christmas as a family – without spending too much!

How is your Christmas planning going? Do you try to shop local or, like me this year, end up using Amazon?


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Saving for Christmas…Part One

saving for Christmas via


Okay so I’m sorry for mentioning that word when November has just started!

But I’ve been thinking lately about how to finance Christmas this year. We had an unexpected bill to pay last month which has had a knock on effect for the next few months. Suffice to say I am determined to keep the coming festive season as simple, low key and cost effective as possible. With money slightly tighter it’s also a good excuse to re-evaluate what we spend our money on at Christmas and why.

This year I have decided to fund all our Christmas spending (food, drink, presents, trips to family) from a few sources:

  • Dedicated Savings Fund (I put a little money away every month to fund Christmas, family birthdays and a bit of our summer holiday spending. Of course it’s never enough!) £180
  • Tesco Clubcard vouchers. Actually we don’t have any this year as I haven’t shopped there for ages. Normally I turn the points into a voucher for eating out so we can have a family meal at Pizza Express, or somewhere similar. Not this year, though. £0
  • Nectar points. I do have a few points but not more than £10. They will probably go towards food shopping. £10
  • Boots Advantage Points. Every year I save all my points and, with some thoughtful ‘three for two’ purchases can pick up the girls’ stocking fillers from here. £15
  • Quidco rewards. I signed up to the Quidco cashback site last year and, through some careful online purchasing, have made nearly £100 in cashback. I now have a dilemma: do I get these rewards paid into my Paypal account or exchange them (for a higher rate) for Amazon vouchers?  £96.40 £73.82
  • Loose change. I collect all the coppers during the year and, apart from a splurge on the 2p slot machines on holiday, keep the rest. I can then exchange them for a supermarket voucher in the ‘Coinstar’ machine. It may amount to a couple of quid. £3ish
  • Usual food & drink budget. I will try to use part of our usual monthly food budget to buy most of the seasonal food and drink. £150
  • Facebook Sales. I have set myself a target of £50 to earn from selling equipment, clothing, toys and games we no longer need. This also helps to de-clutter the house before the next onslaught of presents from relatives. £50

I have begun to de-clutter and take stock of what I can sell for the latter project. And I have come across an interesting dilemma. You may remember a while ago I wrote this post about whether it’s right to make money from things that were given for free?

It is still something I feel strongly about.

However when a family friend gave us a lot of costume jewellery a few weeks ago I was very tempted to sell it on. The jewellery comes from places like Accessorize, Pilgrim, M&S and Claire’s Accessories and some of it has never been worn. I began to sort through it last week, detailing and pricing it.

But something felt wrong.I know the friend had given it for my girls to wear but they already have a lot of necklaces and bracelets. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I sold it for profit but I still felt uncomfortable.

So, after some serious thinking, I have decided to sell it online but pass all the funds onto Save the Children. Anything I don’t sell I will donate to the new-look store in Bath when I visit next week.

I’m going to write another post on what I’m going to spend my money on for Christmas this year. I’m also going to use this Christmas as an opportunity to slim down the list of whom we buy presents for (and who buys presents for us, when we don’t really need them).

How are you saving for Christmas? Is there anything you are going to do differently this year?

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Teacher’s gifts: this time I’ve failed….


Looking back to my 2015 posts I realise it was this time last year that I wrote about my own struggle with teacher’s thank you gifts (see here). In the past we have hand made gifts, carefully sourced plastic free ones and also bought a bulk hamper for all teachers and staff to share.

But this year due to a lack of time and money I have put the brakes on and we will not be giving out thank you gifts. Although my eldest is now at secondary school and doesn’t hand out thank yous, my younger two still have nine teachers and teaching assistants between them.

While I have bought some simple cards for each member of staff, and the girls have personally written in them,I just can’t manage the time (or commit the money) to either making or buying gifts.

Which is something I feel really bad about. Quite a few of the teachers and assistants are personal friends and I know how hard they work to create a very special, caring school environment.

But if I can’t afford to buy the gifts, or even the time to make them, then I’m afraid this is one thing on my ‘Summer to do’ list that will have to slip by. I’ll try and be better organised for Christmas….


What do you think? Do you make, or buy thank you gifts to hand out at the end of the year? Are you a teacher or TA and do you really appreciate these gifts?

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Last year I posted here about my love of orange and yellow (in particular my second-hand orange coat). As we are approaching the end of Spring and everything is lush and verdant I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts about the colour green.

green tea caddy and tea cup

Many many years ago I picked up this Liptons tea caddy in a jumble sale. It came with me to university, lived in four houses and, nearly thirty years later, is still a much used household item. I can’t imagine putting my teabags in anything else! Pictured alongside is a cute second-hand teacup and saucer that my best friend bought for me a couple of years ago.

I do, of course, have some green clothing – but not as much as I’d like. This jumper was picked up from the school jumble sale earlier this year.

green jumper

I really loved this skirt but it is now too tight for me and, as I write, is being used to make a new upcycled skirt (made from an old pair of jeans)

green skirt

I also have these two gorgeous fifties dresses. They were bought from jumble sales when I was in my teens but, alas, don’t fit me any more.

But my absolute favourite item of green clothing is this dress that I bought from the Julian House charity shop in Bath two years ago. It’s a 1970s original, is warm and comfy and I just love it!

Green 1970s dress

children’s sewing kit and other second-hand, and handmade, Christmas gifts.

Homemade Christmas biscuits

Well, we had a lovely family-centred Christmas weekend here: just the five of us. We took part in many of our family and village traditions: children’s Crib Service at church on Christmas Eve, followed by party at a friend’s house. On Christmas Day we met friends for a drink in the village pub and returned home to a (not so traditional) Christmas lunch of beef, and Mushroom Wellington for our vegetarian. Yesterday (Boxing Day) we went on a family walk and saw some non-traditional daffodils and daisies in bloom!

One of our other Christmas traditions seems to be the giving of second-hand gifts. This is the pile of books I bought my immediate family:

second-hand books for Christmas

I picked up some good as new books specifically for the girls, ranging from teen fiction (the ‘Shiver’ series and ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) to a classic from my childhood (‘Theatre Shoes’) and a second ‘Judy Moody’ book for my youngest. I also picked up a second-hand copy of the Usborne Pocket Guide to Ancient Rome as she will be studying the Romans next term at school.

second-hand book pile

I also bought these two books for my husband, as well as two second-hand shirts which seem to have gone down well:

The Ancient Paths by Graham Robb; Wildwood by Roger Deakin

I had planned to make a small gift of sewing supplies for my eldest daughter who will be studying Textiles next year at school. I went to a wonderful fabric shop, The Makery, and picked out some fabric squares and buttons and ribbon. From a market stall I also bought some small scissors, needles and pins. Then, by complete chance, I came across this small sewing box in the Dorothy House shop:


Although it was slightly stained I gave it a clean and added the supplies to it:

sewing kit

second-hand sewing box

She was delighted with it!

As for me – I received a few special gifts, although ironically none of them were second-hand (there wasn’t really much that I wanted as I’ve only just celebrated my birthday). We were also lucky enough to be given some lovely homemade goodies from friends and family including the beautiful Christmas cookies seen above.

This Christmas I have failed to make anything and – having gone over budget on a few presents – I’m determined to cut down and make more for Christmas 2016.

Hope your festive break has been as relaxing and enjoyable as ours.

Upcycling candles for Christmas

upcycled Christmas candle

You know how sometimes you have the best intentions to take on a project but, somehow, you never get round to it? Last Christmas I pinned a load of tips on my pinterest boards on how to upcycle old candles. I have some beautiful scented candles but, unfortunately, the wicks have all but disappeared, leaving me with gorgeous smelling wax that I can no longer burn.


upcycling old candles

So last year I decided I was going to re-make these candles using tips from here and here. I dutifully ordered some new wicks from the web and then left them in my sewing box for a whole year.

So this Christmas I decided to spend a pleasant afternoon re-making new candles from old.

All of my candles came in heat proof glasses. I gently boiled a saucepan of water and placed the candle in it.


upcycling old candles

The wax took about 20 minutes to melt (depends on how much wax you have left). I was able to scrape out the old wick before melting it.

When the wax had become liquid I poured it into a new glass container, with the new wick standing in the middle. Some instructions suggest wrapping the excess wick around a pencil to keep it in position but I found I only needed to hold the wick upright with my finger and thumb for a couple of minutes.

upcycling old candles

I then let the wax cool down and, voila, new candles from old! I used a white chalkboard pen to write the names on the glass jars.

new candles from old

I used jars and old candle holders for the new candles. Some recipes I had seen suggested layering different scented candle wax to create new perfumes. However I had enough wax left from each individual candle to re-make them on their own.

I also found a good use for some of the older candle jars and – after a scrub – turned them into drinking glasses. (Pictured here alongside another upcycled tumbler which was originally a Nutella jar from Italy)

re-used candle jar

The plus side of melting scented candles all afternoon was that my house smelt of a gorgeous mix of vanilla, berries and rose perfumes. These upcycled candles make a great gift idea and I’ve seen some clever tips using old teacups. However I’m far too selfish to let these candles go …. I’m just cross with myself that they have been sitting around gathering dust all year when I could have re-made them with such little effort!

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Have yourself a second-hand Christmas

second-hand gift buying for Christmas

There has been quite a lot of talk on blogs, twitter and other social media, about cutting down on presents for Christmas.

Jen Gale from my make do and mend life blog wrote this article for the Daily Mail about why she is not buying anything new for Christmas this year.

A new study from the Money Advice Service  showed that, in Yorkshire, 36% of people will go into debt this season in order to buy presents.

I know how hard it is to avoid going over budget at Christmas. Although we have three children it is actually the spending on other people (distant family relatives, teacher’s presents etc) that I find can break the bank. It’s silly really because we’re just buying things that other people don’t really need. Yet it takes a brave soul to say they are not giving presents this year, and it’s something I know I need to work on.

In the meantime these are my present-giving resolutions for this Christmas:

  1. Make a budget. Stick to a budget. This is something I’ve got better at as I always budget for Christmas. The money is saved into a separate account and I try to withdraw this and spend as cash as I find this is easier to budget with. I have strict limits on the amount of money I spend on people. With the girls this is fine but, as I said, it’s the damn gifts for distant relatives, teachers etc that I struggle with.
  2. Don’t give. Gosh this makes me sound like Scrooge! Over the past few years my husband and I have come to an agreement with our siblings that we only buy for each other’s children. This has saved such a lot of stress and money. I now need to work on this for those cousins, aunts and uncles that we rarely see.
  3. Do Give. It’s really important for us as a family to donate some funds to a local cause (usually the Julian House charity based in Bath).
  4. Make. This year I bought £2 bath bombs from Lush for teachers and assistants to say thank you. However in previous years the girls and I have made gifts such as bath salts, tree ornaments, chocolate biscuits and homemade hot chocolate sachets to give. The girls also tend to make small presents for their friends.
  5. Buy local. This is a new resolution for me. I will not be buying from Amazon this year but instead will be physically walking into shops and buying from as many local suppliers as possible. Ironically this will make sticking to a budget harder as I know prices for books etc will be higher. But I feel Christmas is the time of the year when we should support local businesses.
  6. Buy second-hand. Of course! Last year I wrote here and here about our second-hand Christmas. This year I bought some new fairy lights (not strictly for Christmas as we’ll use them all year) and for the first time in ten years we will be buying a new, real Christmas Tree from the village (to go with our new look lounge). However all the old charity shop and homemade decorations will be on display:

I will also be scouring the charity shops for presents, in good condition, to give to close family members. The girls always get a selection of second-hand books for Christmas (and never notice the difference).

second-hand books for Christmas

For us playing board games is an important family tradition. We picked up this mint condition game of Risk for £4 a couple of years ago:

second-hand board game

I would like to find a second-hand ‘Mastermind’ game as my youngest enjoyed playing it over the summer. I am also ‘re-gifting’ some presents, i.e. saving unwanted gifts and passing them on to someone whom I think will appreciate them more.

What plans do you have for cutting costs and ‘thinking outside the box’ when it comes to Christmas gift giving?

Do you write Thank Yous?

It must be the back to school vibe that we are currently experiencing in our home that’s making me think about putting pen to paper. The washing and unpacking from holiday is finally finished (blog post to come soon on our amazing car free travels) and the kids are back at school. So in a scholarly way I, too, have put out the pens and paper this morning and have decided to write to a few friends.

Writing Thank Yous

I picked up some gorgeous cards from bookshops in Bath and Corsham to write:

  • A ‘Thank You’ to a lovely friend and her family who let us stay with them at the beginning of our holiday.
  • Another ‘Thank You’ to some dear friends in Holland whom we visited at the end of our trip. After nearly four days of travelling it was lovely to stay in their house and, as my eldest was unwell with a migraine, even better to have a comfy bed to rest in. My friend also presented us with one of the best gifts ever: she had rented a small holiday cottage across the road just for me and hubby to stay in while she had the kids!
  • A ‘Thank You’ to an old school friend and her family.They stayed in our house for a few days while we were away. They left the house even cleaner, she had brought me a gorgeous charity shop dress AND they gave us a gift voucher to eat out at our local favourite pub!

Having had a run of birthdays last month (and my middle daughter’s birthday this weekend) I have also been stockpiling Thank You cards for them to write.

Spending the time hand writing thank you cards this morning has really made me think about the people who have given me something over this past month – be it their time, their hospitality or something more material. I often text people to thank them for doing something for me, ie picking up the kids, hosting a meal or a party, organising a day out. However putting pen to paper somehow has more meaning  and when a friend has looked after us, bought us a gift etc it seems only fitting to spend the time sourcing a card, writing and then posting it.

This term I will really try harder to write more ‘thank you’ notes to friends and family. I may even think about handwriting letters again (!)

Do you still write letters and how do you say ‘thank you’?

(On another related note: I must add to my ‘to do’ list some reviews on TripAdvisor of some of the places we stayed, visited, ate at on holiday – another way of saying ‘thank you’)

A Charlie & The Chocolate Factory Scrapstore Birthday Party

Today was my youngest daughter’s seventh birthday. She had requested a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory theme as they had been reading the book in class.

In my usual cheap way I decided to make use of what we already had at home, while also taking a trip to the wonderful Wiltshire Scrapstore. I have blogged about this great resource before. We are very fortunate to have the scrapstore (and its High Street shop) only twenty minutes’ away in the beautiful village of Lacock. At the beginning of the school holidays we took a trip the scrapstore – a great holiday activity  in itself. For just £7 I got this massive bag of scrap paper, foam, ribbon, cellophane wrapping and other odds and ends:

Wiltshire Scrapstore bag: ideal for party decorations!


At home we got creative, making large liquorice allsorts from black and orange foam. We also blew up some balloons to make giant jelly beans, and then hung them all from ribbon to make a sweet-themed entranceway.

oversized sweets made from Scrapstore materials

Having scoured Pinterest (of course!) for other decoration ideas I stole this idea for balloon lollipops. They were wrapped in cellophane (some scoured from the scrapstore, other sheets left over from floral bouquets) and then attached to the inner tubes of wrapping paper:

Not pictured is the purple bunting that I picked up from the rubbish bin at Cock and Bull festival last weekend. Having given it a good wash and iron it was as good as new.

We also used the bag of Scrapstore materials, and other ‘junk’ to make a couple of party games. Imagine our delight at finding the sheet of gold card, which was perfect to turn into golden tickets for both a treasure hunt, and party thank you notes.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: golden ticket game

I also used my ‘art’ skills to recreate this Willy Wonka for party guests to pin the hat on (apologies to Quentin Blake!):

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory party

The Scrapstore also supplied us with a craft set as a prize for pass the parcel:

Wiltshire Scrapstore craft set

Finally, as I may have ranted on about before I HATE party bags and all the plastic tat and waste that they create. I haven’t given out party bags for years and, instead, tend to hand out birthday cake and a craft item that the children have made during the party. This time I scoured local charity shops for second-hand Roald Dahl books. These were wrapped in the plain brown paper from an Amazon delivery, and a golden ticket thank you and small bar of chocolate was attached.

The party was small scale but everyone seemed to have fun. We’ve also got loads of scrapstore materials left over which will keep us all occupied over the summer – and I’m sure provide decorations for the next birthday party in our household.




second hand books as party thank yous