Getting resourceful in the kitchen

I hate throwing perfectly fine food away. So my store cupboards end up pretty full of things I don’t know what to do with. A couple of examples: some really cheap budget brown sauce that turned out to be too watery, and a bottle of Brennivin (fermented potato schnapps) I brought back from a trip to Iceland, but I don’t really like. No offence to Icelanders, but it is fermented potato schnapps. It’s not for everyone.

I also had a glut of sour cherries from the garden, and all the ingredients for a stir-fry but no instant stir-fry sauce.

I’m no chef, but I’m pretty pleased with the makeshift ‘recipes’ I came up with:

Stir-fry sauce:

Mix 1 part soy sauce with three parts cheap brown sauce. Done.

Cherry liqueur:

Find a clean, empty bottle. Half-fill with cherries (take the stones out first).
Add enough sugar to fill in the gaps around the cherries, so the bottle is still half-full.
Fill the rest up with an unwanted spirit of your choice (such as vodka, gin, brandy, or in my case, Brennivin).
Optional: add a cinnamon stick.
Seal the bottle and leave to steep for 1-2 weeks, shaking every now and again.
Strain the contents and pour the strained liquid into a clean bottle.
Refrigerate and drink within 3 months.

I can testify the stir-fry sauce was pretty good. Somewhere between black bean and teriyaki in flavour. As for the cherry liqueur, I’ll report back when it’s done!

It also means creating these money-saving recipes from unwanted food has been one of those golden opportunities to be both frugal and minimalist at the same time. Love those.

Frugal vs Minimal


Frugality and minimalism – they go hand in hand, right? Wrong.

Sure, both will teach you valuable lessons that spending your cash on material possessions will not make you happy. Both will help you get out of debt and live within your means. And both will help you justify it to yourself when you re-gift that necklace you never liked.

But for those trying to be frugal and minimalist, there are a heap of scenarios where the two simply clash. Minimalist You is whispering in one ear and Frugal You in the other.

Here are seven ‘frugal vs minimalist’ conundrums I’ve personally wrestled with:

1. Bulk-buying
It’s one of those simple rules of shopping – you buy more, you pay less. If you head over to the cash-and-carry you can pick up 30 tins of tomatoes for something ridiculous like £2.20. Frugal You’s in heaven, Minimalist You is quietly weeping into the giant crate of man-size tissues.

2. Buying on sale
A similar, and equally tough, dilemma. The supermarket has your brand of shampoo on half price. How many do you buy? Minimalist You says one – it’s a bit of good fortune that you’ll pay less for it, but it’s one you need, so it’s one you’ll get. Frugal You has already gone to get another shopping trolley.

3. Chucking out those ‘just in case’ items
You have a little box full of buttons. Really, really cute spare buttons that might just save you from a wardrobe malfunction one day. Minimalist You says the collection has been sat there for months or years, and some of the buttons go with clothing you don’t even own any more. Frugal You wants to keep the buttons; they might come in handy for a craft project. It’s just one example of a wider dilemma – many of the ‘just in case’ items that Minimalist You is hankering to bin would cost quite a bit more to replace than a button if it turned out you’d acted in haste.

4. Digitising your possessions
Photographs, music collections, documents – so many items which once took up loads of space in people’s homes are now just stored as ones and zeros on minuscule data sticks or floating in the ether of ‘the cloud’. Streaming services like Spotify and Netflix mean you don’t even have to own films or albums any more to enjoy them any time you want. There’s never been an easier time to be a minimalist – as long as you have the cash. Minimalist You would happily buy fancy ultra-fast scanners to scan in all your bank statements before you shred them for good. Minimalist You would purchase a new digital photo frame and bin your old photo albums. Minimalist You would buy an e-reader so you can ditch your paperbacks, or an extra-capacity MP3 player so you can jettison your CDs. But Frugal You is horrified by this idea. Spending so much cash on the latest gadgets, so you can live some kind of sleek, clutter-free, aspirational, ‘minimalist’ lifestyle? Signing up to streaming services so you can pay monthly to listen to songs you once owned on vinyl? No thank you.

5. Getting rid of items you will use…eventually
Here’s the conundrum – you’ve somehow ended up with too much of something. Thirty candles, fourteen soaps, whatever. You’ll end up using them eventually but for now, they’re just taking up space. Minimalist You says to keep your favourite ones and donate the rest. After all, it’s better to give them to someone who needs them right now than hang on to them for months or years. Frugal You says, ‘Woah there tiger, if you sling them now, you’ll only have to buy more when you run out. What are you thinking?’

6. Repurposing junk
An empty yoghurt pot isn’t just an empty yoghurt pot to Frugal You. It’s a plant pot for a seedling tomato plant, a handy receptacle for paperclips, or an awesome body part for that robot fancy-dress costume you’re crafting. Minimalist You is disgusted by Frugal You right now.

7. Getting rid of items you’d forgotten about
You’re all fired up to have a clear-out. You open that drawer, that cupboard, that attic, determined to get rid of all the stuff you haven’t been using. When was the last time you used the cow-print sandwich toaster that makes a moo sound when your toastie is done? Minimalist You says most of this crap can definitely go; it’s been gathering dust for years. But for Frugal You, this is like a shopping trip without the bill. Look at all this amazing stuff you’d forgotten about! Let’s have toasted sandwiches for dinner. Moooooooooooo. How can Minimalist You think about throwing this out?

So, what do you do when the mental tug-of-war starts? In many ways, it will depend on what state your finances are in. If you’re wanting to pay down debts, live within your means or save up for something worthwhile, it might make sense to prioritise frugality. If your finances aren’t your top concern but you’re feeling weighed down by your possessions, maybe Minimalist You should win the day.

But seriously, get shot of that toastie maker. You can make much better toasted sandwiches under the grill anyway.

The beginning

Hillside in sepiaSomewhere down the line, things got messed up. I’d gone to university, got a good job, found someone to settle down with and somewhere to do the settling.

But by my late twenties, I was deep in debt living a lifestyle I simply couldn’t afford. What mystified me was that I couldn’t see where my money had gone. No wardrobe full of designer clothes, no flash car, no big house.

What I did have was mountains of stress. I’d taken a promotion to pay my bills, but ended up in a job which gave me panic attacks. In my precious leisure time, I wound down by idling away hours online or drinking with colleagues. Spare cash went on holidays to ‘de-stress’ in the few weeks off I had a year. Contributing to wider society meant sending cash once a month to a charity.

Eventually, I realised something had to change. I didn’t just need to cut back my spending and pay down my debts. I had to look at the lifestyle I’d been living and work out what was going so wrong.

I’ve made some changes in the past year or two but my journey is only really beginning.

Along the way, I’ve been reading up on a lot of different ideas which claim to give the answer to one or more of these problems. Minimalism, financial planning, simple living, mindfulness, old-style frugality and escaping the rat-race through super-early retirement.

But a common thread seems to be emerging: question ‘normal’. Question your consumption, question what makes you happy, question how you spend your time, how you earn your money and what you do with it.

The demands of 21st-century consumer living aren’t serving us. The jobs aren’t allowing us time to live our lives, and the trinkets we buy to cheer ourselves up only really force us into working for the next pay cheque.

It’s time to break free. It’s time to want less.