The No Spend Year by Michelle McGagh.

I picked this book up in my local library because the bright green cover stood out to me and I’m really glad I did. I don’t really know what I was expecting but based on the title and the supposed emphasis on ‘no spend’ I guess I assumed it would be like the lead protagonist of the Shopaholic series going cold turkey for a year.

Au contraire, my problematic biases!

Michelle is a financial journalist and decided that, for one year, apart from absolute necessities, she is not going to spend any money. She initially wrote it as part of a column for the Guardian before it was a book, so you can get a bit of a peep there if you like.

Something that struck me was that, because she has a bike and cycles most places, she decided to not allow herself the ‘luxury’ of the bus or cabs.

Now think about that for a minute – trying to visit your friends or family or constantly commuting and even going on holiday (yes she does, for free, seriously) purely by bike. What the heck! Only by bike?! I thought as I read. Never mind Man vs Food, this is like Woman vs Life.

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Wedding Guest Shenanigans

This year, we’ve had ten wedding events between us, most of them weddings. And like I’ve said, I frigging love weddings.

I also read an article that said that the average cost of being a wedding guest in 2019 was £391, so the maths says we should have spend over £3,000 on attending other people’s weddings this year.

Unsurprisingly, the maths is wrong and not just because it didn’t occur to me to not take my chipped nails to someone else’s event and my make up is older than my first born.

Speaking of which, attending a wedding with a baby makes things…interesting financially.

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My favourite thrifty fitness activities

A person wearing red athletic shoes and a yellow and black striped tracksuit.

As a teacher, I happily put my hands up and admit that summer is my off season. I can put my feet up and relaaaax. Quite often this involves ice cream and cake and a table but sometimes, I relax by…well, working out.

I find it gives me more energy (to do less), my mood is lifted and I generally tend to have more patience with other human beings.
A sedentary Draig is a pretty miserable Draig indeed. Plus, there are a whole load of preventable diseases that run in my family for which exercise seems to be the number 1 solution.

But I resist the siren call of leisure centres and gyms trying to lure me with summer deals and an impressive puns on the word ‘sizzling’. Nope, unless it’s for a swimming pool, I’m not going in.

Rather, I’m trying to make the most of the sunshine, warmth and free Vitamin D I have access to before winter comes a-knocking to stay for what seems like forever…

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Money After Marriage: Lessons I learnt from my Aunties

My mum was (is?) a social butterfly in her community. She was the friend her friends called when life got messy because she’s sympathetic and supportive without being abrasive. As the daughter of such a woman, this meant I got to have a peek into the lives of many of my ‘Aunties’ and – unwittingly – how they navigated their money and lives. What I’ve saw definitely impacted my money moves.

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Why I Pay My ‘Baby’ Cousins to Babysit

After I was awarded my very first teaching class, I threw my all into developing my teaching. And after a month, I received my payslip.

My eyes widened.

“Wow! I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”

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Yes, those words actually left my mouth. In public.

You see, I was grateful. I was grateful to have a full time job but most importantly, I was grateful that I was getting paid to do something I loved – to pursue a burning passion. So I didn’t question or check or compare the numbers.

Which meant I didn’t realise that my tax code was wrong and I was getting taxed an extra £200 a month until my friend looked at my payslip and screwed up her face and said:
“We should be getting paid the same. Why does yours look like that?”

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5 free places to go with a baby

(Please read this intro in as noir-genre-American-New-Yawk-gangsta-from-the- 1920/30s-accent as you can. Many thanks in advance. You’re the best).

So you got time off work. For up to a year max. Yay you.

You also got a baby and the need to entertain yourself whilst keeping your little human being alive.

You need places to go that don’t mind your kid when they squawk in indignation or hunger and also turn a blind eye when you attempt a not so subtle nappy change but can’t be bothered with trudging to the loos.

Friends, have I got the list for you.

Before we being, one thing to note is I haven’t taken into account travel costs – under 2’s don’t get charged on the bus but adults definitely do and the cost of that travel (to and from home) may vary.

Also, I know the summer holidays are coming up so I tried to think of places you could go at any time of the year, even during the half term or school holidays, whether you were on maternity leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave, grandparent duty or you just had a free day or so with the baby.

Yes, the park is there but I get kind listless walking around with nowhere to go, the benches tend to be damp and/or bird poop covered and the Hatchling is not yet of the size where they can use the equipment effectively. Plus, the heavens in the UK have a tendency to open even in the midst of summer and I don’t do rain. It makes me super miserable.

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Recipe Round Up – Summer Heatwave Edition

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Every thing on this list I have made myself! And I’m recommending them because I think they’re tasty or easy and quick(ish) and fairly inexpensive. Your mileage may vary, obviously.

I confess, when summer rolls around, I nibble. I graze. I pick.
I hope fitfully that my other half will somehow suddenly read my mind, pick up the slack and start making all my favourite foods in the searing heat.
So my main aim is to feed myself as simply, quickly and nutritionally viable as possible without blowing up my food budget.

Some of the recipe below are links to actual full blown recipes.
Some are more ideas for chucking ingredients together till you have a meal.
Some are nebulous, abstract food maths things – this plus this plus this equal dinner.
There’s also a lot of overlap between the categories – drinks you can also take with you to BBQs and picnics etc etc. Plus, you have my running commentary most of the way through too, so ignore as you wish! Although this is being published at the beginning of June, I’ll probably still add more recipes if I try and like them, so it’s an ongoing piece.

V – Vegetarian
VE – Vegan
GF – Gluten-Free
HL – Halal
KR – Kosher.
Feel free to correct me if I’ve made an error (like, is mayonnaise GF? I assumed you can buy GF mayo, so….)

The ‘Oh crap, we’re going to a picnic, what do we take?’ recipes.

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Falafel [we have ’em baked instead of fried – less messy and faffy] with fried halloumi in pittas with an excess of grated carrot, quartered cucumber and mint yoghurt spread [a tsp of mint sauce stirred into a tablespoon of plain yoghurt; I like Greek] (V, HL)
Coleslaw (V, HL) I skip the onion and just make it up as I go along now, to my taste.
Meat pies/Patties I don’t really do sandwiches….
Strawberries (or blueberries. Or both), washed and plain or sprinkled with sugar or to dip into sweetened single cream balsamic vinegar (V, VE, GF, KR, HL). If you use dairy cream, it’s not vegan and may not be kosher. My partner tends to get quite cross if I fuss too much with strawberries: “They’re perfect as they arrrre.” Yeah, so’m I babes but I still get dressed in the mornings…

Cups and cutlery and napkins.
Take some draaaanks with you too. Go all Blyton with some homemade lemonade [see below] and fermented ginger beer if you like.

The ‘Oh crap, we’re going to a BBQ, what do we take?’

Anything from the picnic recipe section above works too!
Beefburgers (KR, HL) I like the addition of stuffing that Nadia Sawalha & Kaye Adams added in their version in the Disaster Chef series. I linked to the google books version but if you’re reading this in a dystopian future where the link doesn’t work, this is equally as simple ingredient wise but talks you through the steps and techniques more thoroughly. I don’t have a meat pounder, so struggled to squash the patties with my spatula. Still tasty though.
Carrot, cumin and kidney bean burgers: “Is that all that’s in them?” “Yeah, basically.”
Watermelon, chopped (V, VE, GF, KR, HL) Yes, seriously. And it’s one of your five a day. Thank me later.
Halloumi, sliced (V, GF) Easily cooked slapped on the BBQ, or even just plain pan fried ’till brown on both sides of the slice. My sister and I are both lactose intolerant and still eat this salty, crisp on the outside, chewy yet pillowy on the inside stuffs on the regular. Also great on a stick.

Other Things on sticks a.k.a kebabs:

Special little sub category right here for when you want to eat with your hands but not really. Yep, sitting on the fence really is lavish as heck.

  • Peaches + chicken thighs + rosemary + black pepper.
  • Jerk seasoning + fish/chicken thighs + red bell pepper + pineapple
  • Beef meatballs + garlic + mushrooms + cherry tomatoes/courgettes + oregano/basil/italian seasoning.
  • Prawns + lime + coriander + onion + chili/paprika + cherry tomatoes
  • Lamb meatballs/koftas + nectarines + mint and yoghurt dressing [see ‘Falafel’]
  • Red onion + Paneer + red pepper + garam masala + cumin + ginger + garlic

The ‘It is too damn hot to cook!’ recipes

Also known as recipes for those who hate ‘salad’. The salads I’ve been served previously, in restaurants especially, is tantamount to nothing more than vicious punishment. Limp, bitter, pale leaves sitting miserably on the side, no dressing or love? Uh, no thank you!

West African/Nigerian style salad (V, HL) – I use salad cream as the dressing and skip the cabbage. Also, baby spinach, lamb’s lettuce or watercress are my leafy green go-tos. Sod iceberg outside of burgers.
Tabbouleh (V, VE, KR, HL) Traditionally made with bulgur wheat, which is cheaper and makes me worry less about food gentrification. Easily simplified too!
Radish Fattoush (V, KR, HL) I’m sure the original recipe was by Jack Monroe but I can’t find it anywhere. I like this for using up salady leftovers. Finely chopped radish, cucumber, spring onion of some kind and grated carrot. Stale pitta toasted in a pan or chucked in the oven with some oil and salt til crisp. Then the mint dressing with a squeeze of lemon and some sunflower oil to make it runnier. Chuck together and devour.
Coronation chicken (HL, GF) Mayonnaise + curry powder + roasted/cooked chicken. I add sultanas but have been denounced as a heathen for doing so. Brilliant stuffed into a carb of some kind.
Potato salad (V, GF, HL) Cooked or tinned potatoes +

The ‘Ice Lollies’

Yer gonna need ice lolly moulds first: traditional lolly, rocket lolly, star lolly and popsicle shapes – whichever. Knock yourself out! I’ll be waltzing around the kitchen table singing my summer anthem super obnoxiously.
Peach Melba ice lollies/popsicles (V, VE, GF)

The ‘DRAAAAANK’ recipes.

I need to remember to make looooads of ice!
Mint Lemonade (V, VE, GF) However much mint you think you need, double it. Was too lazy to make sugar syrup and just put 6tbsps of straight sugar in an attracted ALLADABEEZ. May now also have diabetes, I drank so much. So good).
Strawberry milkshake (Strawberries with strawberry ice cream, optional ice and some milk. Whizz in a blender. Inhale)
Golden sunshine smoothie (Same amount of frozen mango and frozen (or tinned!) pineapple, a banana and some orange juice till you’re happy with the thickness. Feel free to swap the banana out for some passion fruit if you’re fancy)
Grapefruit Citrus I do this with peach juice instead. And then speak with a drawl till the sun sets.
Tea lemonade Good for using up that fancy pants tea in my cupboard that I have lost all interest in now that it’s summer.
Also, Sparkling water = upgrading most summer drinks. Seriously. I always thought people who drank it straight were weird (still do, if’m honest) but added to squash/cordial it is an instant fancypants boost that I’m here for.

Have you got any recipes you reach for when it gets super hot? Share any links or ideas below!