September 30

Thrifty Things To Do This Week – Make Candles And Cake

Week 1 – September 4th, 2017

It’s the first week of the month: if you can make the time, Put Cash In Marked Purses and Make Something.

I love September And October. They are new pencils and new plans. Crisp mornings foraging for free fruit and fragrant afternoons turning them into jams and jellies. Cosy nights indoors, with the slight threat of winter but none of the wet or the chill.

To be honest, I like November too – bonfires and fireworks and making plans for Christmas. And I am fond of December with it’s twinkles and parcels and sociable feasting…

(In the spirit of total honesty I have to point out that the above is a very edited picture of my autumns and early winters. It’s not nearly as calm, ordered, or reflective as that in Tartan Towers. Still, a woman can dream…)

What I love about this time of year is the anticipation of cosy times ahead. So, with that in mind, my Make Something  project this week is going to be Luxury Scented Candles. Something to give away but also something to enjoy at home.

I first made candles when I was about 7 – which tells you how easy they are to make – and can still remember the fascination I felt watching hard wax transform to liquid and back again. So you could treat this as a fun family activity AND a cheap way to treat yourself to a fragrant and twinkly home.

If you want inspiration to batch-cook a freezer-friendly snack try Apple And Custard Cakes. These are so easy a child could make them – no scales or beaters required. I will be back next week with a fresh thrifty habits planner and some suggestions for enjoying time outdoors before winter sets in.

Free, Downloadable Thrifty Habits Planner To Keep You On Track

Click here to download your copy of this week’s free Thrifty Habits Planner.

So, you want to get into the habit of spending less without putting in more effort? You need something to remind you what to do and when, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it. The Thrifty Habits Planner is a simple tool to help you do just that. Use it to pencil in which thrifty things you plan to do this week and to pin yourself down to when you plan to do them. If you take control this way at the start of the week, you are far more likely to have stuck to your plan by the end of the week. Sticking your plan up somewhere you will see it every day helps you to stay on track too.

Take time at the end of the week to give yourself a little treat as a reward for your thrifty efforts. Little splurges will actually help you to stay thrifty – read this to find out how.

January 29

Lemon And Poppy Seed Muffins

Batch A Thrifty Snack: Lemon And Poppy Seed Muffins

IMG_2287These lemon and poppy seed muffins are easy and cheap to make – in fact a dozen will cost you less to throw together than a single cake in a cafe.  Tartan Boy loves them as a school-break snack and I like to think that the protein in the seeds slows down his digestion of the sugar and flour, so that they keep him going all the way to lunch time.

A Word About Equipment

IMG_9335The basic unit of measurement for these muffins is 125ml – everything except the eggs is a multiple of that.  So I never bother with the scales or even a proper measuring cup – I just use one of these Ikea tumblers which happens to hold about 125ml.  Other than that you will need a spoon, a bowl, 12 muffin papers and a muffin baking tray to pop them in.

lemon and poppy seed muffins


IMG_9378Grab a mixing bowl and a spoon and you are good to go.   Tip the sugar into the bowl with the eggs…


Add the oil and lemon oil or zest…IMG_9381

IMG_9385… and the yogurt.

IMG_9393Now stir all the ingredients until they are completely combined.

IMG_9394Tip in the flour and the poppy seeds.  Stir gently until all trace of white flour has vanished.


IMG_2298When it is all combined spoon it into the muffin cases.  Tiny Tartan likes to use a teaspoon to make tiny ones for himself. Pop them into a preheated oven (160C or 140C if you have a fan oven).  The timing will vary depending on the size of muffins you make – full size ones need 35 minutes and tiny ones need 15 minutes.

IMG_2309Let the muffins cool before eating.  If you are batching these to freeze for snacks to see you through the month pop them into individual freezer bags once completely cooled.


January 24

Money-Saving Tastes Amazing Chocolate Prune Mug Cake

Mug Cakes In The Microwave


mug cakes bookTartan Boy got this book for his Christmas.  I had heard of cooking cakes in the microwave and was, frankly, a bit sceptical.  Tartan Boy did not share my cynicism and so on Boxing Day set out to make his first mug cake.   What can I say?  After two minutes of slightly volcanic activity in the microwave, one minute of sweet, vanilla-scented impatience and a slightly burnt tongue, I am a convert.

In less than five minutes, with minimal washing up created and almost zero risk of personal injury, Tartan Boy can now rustle up a delicious cake for himself, his brother, and his grateful mother. When we all stumbled in from an afternoon’s sledging last weekend and I realised I had nothing but breakfast cereal to offer as a snack he made four mini-mug cakes in the same amount of time it took Tiny Tartan to get his boots off. Which is a lot thriftier than stopping at a cafe on the way home.

Mug cakes are too good to be true – pop the ingredients in a mug, stir, cook, eat.  They are not beautiful enough to win prizes in the Great British Bake Off, but if greed and speed are your driving aesthetics, they are perfect.  They are almost instant – but they don’t last.  If you don’t eat them hot, within a few hours they will dry out.  (Which is nature’s way of telling you to pour on sherry, custard and cream and call it a mug trifle in my opinion.)

Lunch Box Mug Cake

IMG_2898With the zeal of the convert I started tinkering with the recipes and with the receptacle.  If it can bake in a mug, I reasoned, it can bake in a Tupperware cup.  And then, with its lid on, the cup of cake can go in the freezer for lunches or snacks.  And so Choc Prune Mug Cake was born.  It’s not quite cake: it has an oozy gooeyness somewhere between a brownie and a pudding.  Topped with a simple cream cheese frosting it makes a welcome treat in a winter lunch box.  And so far, Tartan Boy has not worked out that it contains  two prunes a portion. Which practically makes it health food…

(It is not a health food though.  While dried fruit can give you one of your 5-a-day, the high sugar content here means this is a treat and needs to be offset by a lower amount of sugar in the kids’ diet the rest of the day.  It would be much healthier for me just to give them a couple if prunes to munch.  Except that they wouldn’t…)

How To Make A Batch Of Chocolate Prune Cakes

  • Choc Prune Cake Igredients - New PageMake your topping. Put the syrup and cream cheese in a food processor and blitz till smooth. Pour into a jug and put aside.
  • Now put the prunes in the food processor with the sugar, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla essence and process until smooth. Add the flour, cocoa and baking powder and whizz until no white flour remains visible. Stop as soon as this stage is reached. Spoon the mixture into 18 little tubs. I used a mixture of mini plastic jelly moulds, individual silicone cupcake moulds with lids and plastic food storage tubs – they all worked fine. Microwave them on High, six at a time, for 2 minutes each batch.
  • That’s the baking done. When they are completely cooled, pour in the cream cheese topping, stick on the lids and pop in the freezer.

If You Want To Eat Chocolate Prune Cake Right Now

Omit the cream cheese topping. Divide all the quantities by 3.  Pour the batter into two mugs and microwave on High for 2 minutes.  Leave to stand for 1 minute.  Eat.  Give the other mug to someone special… or eat that too.

HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyClick here to download this week’s Thrifty Habits Planner.


Affiliate Links:  please note that this post contains affiliate links to products at Amazon UK.  This means that if you click on my link and buy the product, a small percentage gets paid back to me. Alternatively, you can look up the same product on Amazon independently and none of your payment comes to me.  Or you can find a similar product elsewhere.  Or win maximum Thrifty Points by not buying anything at all….  It’s your money, your choice.

April 24

Batch a Thrifty Snack – Simple Chocolate Chip And Berry Cake

IMG_9428Baking is not my super-power. This is probably down to bloody-mindedness in the face of strict instructions.  I am, however, excellent at eating home-baking, as are all of the Tartan Family.  So I am glad to have this – a delicious cake recipe that freezes well and is so simple even a child could make it.  In fact, Tiny Tartan frequently does.
IMG_9335A Word About Equipment  You need no scales or measuring spoons for this recipe.  You need a mixing bowl and a tumbler.  If you don’t have a small tumbler, a small yogurt carton will do.   You will use this to measure all the ingredients except the eggs.  I have lots of little tumblers.  I wantonly use them all without a thought for the washing up so that Tiny Tartan doesn’t have to wait while I measure out each ingredient.  Living on the edge…


  • IMG_9348three eggs
  • 2 tumblers of sugar
  • one tumbler of oil (I have used rapeseed oil for its lovely golden colour and mildly nutty flavour but sunflower works fine
  • one tumbler of natural yoghurt
  • a splash of vanilla extract
  • three tumblers of self-raising flour.  I happen to know that my large Ikea tumblers hold three little tumblersful of flour
  • some dried mixed berries and mixed colours of chocolate chips.  It’s up to you how many although if it takes up more space than all the other ingredients you might be overdoing it.

IMG_9378Grab a mixing bowl and a spoon and you are good to go.   Tip the sugar into the bowl with the eggs…


Add the oil…IMG_9381

IMG_9385… and the yogurt.  It makes it much easier if you use the same tumbler you used for the oil.  Easier, but less enjoyably messy.  Splash in some vanilla extract.

IMG_9393Now stir all the ingredients until they are completely combined.

IMG_9394IMG_9404Tip in the flour and add the berries and chocolate chips.  Stir gently until all trace of white flour has vanished.

IMG_9405IMG_9419When it is all combined tip it into a baking tin.  What size of tin?  Take your pick!  We have baked it in square tins, round tins, loaf tins and muffin tins.  All good.  Pop it into a preheated oven (160C or 140C if you have a fan oven).  The timing will vary depending on the size of tin you use.  If you bake it as muffins, keep an eye on it after 25  minutes.  For a loaf or cake, start paying attention after 40 minutes.

When the top is turning golden all the way to the centre open the door of the oven and quickly give it a shoogle.  (This is a technical Scottish term.  It is measured accurately with a shoogleometer but if you don’t have one, just watch for the wobble.)  If the centre of the cake still wobbles slightly, it’s not done yet.  Shut the door IMMEDIATELY and back carefully out of the kitchen on tiptoe.   If it is wobble-free, stick in a skewer:  if that comes out clean, you are done.

IMG_9421Take the cake out the oven and leave to cool before turning out.  Cut into slices and eat with indecent haste.  If any is left, it freezes well and makes an excellent snack for the middle of a school-day morning.  You can choose to lament the presence of the sugar, or pat yourself on the back for sneaking an extra portion of fruit into your child’s diet.


February 23

My Big Fat Chocolate, Ginger and Prune Cookies

These thrifty-as-they-are-tasty cookies are not really mine: they are Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’sretro-baking-vintageimage-Graphics-FairyI have adulterated them to make them slightly healthier.  To be honest, I have succeeded in putting in some more fibre, and one of your five-a-day, but I have removed none of the sugar and saturated fat.  Healthy depends on your viewpoint…  Still, if you want a treat for the kids (or you?) that stills lobs one of their five-a-day into them, these deeply, darkly, chocolaty cookies are simple and quick, freeze well, and never fail to please the Tartanweans.  I have been known to eat one or two myself.  (HWF’s original recipe, topped with smarties, is also very, very tasty.)

  1. Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C/Gas Mark 5.  Line two baking trays with baking sheets or remove the metal racks from your oven and place silicone baking sheets on top of them.  (Silicone baking sheets have made my life so much less fiddly – you can get them in Lakeland, etc., but, for the thrifty record, I got mine in Aldi and have no complaints about them!)
  2. Making short work of chopping the fruitRoughly chop 6 chunks of crystallised ginger and then more finely chop 15 prunes.  Scissors work fine for the ginger.  If disguising the prunes is not an issue, scissors work fine here too.  I use a demi-lune but you could also puree them in a food processor.  If ginger is not your thing, leave it out and add 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon with the flour later.
  3. Melt 125g butter, but don’t let it bubble.  The microwave is perfect for this but you can do it on the hob.  Put 100g caster sugar and 75g dark brown sugar into a mixing bowl, add the melted butter and stir until they are well combined.  Beat in 1 large egg, 15ml milk and 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence.
  4. Tip in 25g cocoa powder, and 125g plain flour, along with 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt and the ginger and prunes.  Mix it all together gently until no trace of the flour is visible.
  5. dollops of cookie mixDollop dessert spoonfuls onto two baking sheets, five to a sheet.  Leave a good gap between them because they will spread.  Pop them into the oven and leave for 12 minutes tops.  Check them at 10 minutes just in case.  When ready they will have spread and flattened and the surfaces will be cracked.  The insides will be soft as putty though so leave them on their baking sheets for five minutes to firm up.  Transfer them to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.   If you can.
January 23

Humiliating Scones

When Tartan Boy began school he liked the experience but missed his mum.  So, for his snack we used to sometimes bake cheese scones together, cutting them out with a heart-shaped cutter.  I would butter some and pop them in the freezer and send him with one in his bag for break.  The heart-shape was to remind him that Mum loved him, even when she wasn’t there with him.  He liked this a lot.  We all liked the scones a lot.  Two years later he quietly took me aside and suggested that heart-shaped snacks were now a bit… humiliating.  I paused to admire the way his teachers had expanded his vocabulary and to stifle a wee tear.  I stopped making the scones.

Apron-lady-GraphicsFairy2Several weeks later he took me aside and suggested rather more pointedly that he liked the cheese scones, would like to still take one to school and that I might, perhaps, like to investigate the wide world of other cutter shapes.  Traditional cutters he vetoed because they looked like something a granny might take to school (how long does he think the school system goes on for?) but after some experimentation he settled on  a very inoffensive rectangular cutter.  The Non-Humiliating Scone was back on his menu.  Plus I now have a new threat if he misbehaves:  stop that at once or I will…. send you to school with a Humiliating Scone!

Anyway, I have been using the magnificent Sue Lawrence’s cheese scone recipe, clipped from the newspaper, for nine years.  It is getting a bit tatty now.  You can get a lovely spanking new copy here.  The only thing I would add is half a teaspoonful of mustard powder and a good twist of black pepper.  And a suggestion that you nip into Aldi for their Dark Smoked Orkney Cheddar, which gives a lovely, deep smoky flavour and a strong cheesy hit at low cost.  If you don’t have a non-humiliating cutter to hand, just cut the dough into wedges for scones that look slightly rugged, and not at all humiliating.  Happy baking!



January 17

Thrifty and Delicious Double Chocolate And Orange Pancakes

double choc pancakes

Fast, Tasty ,Thrifty – And Very Easy To Make

retro-baking-vintageimage-Graphics-FairyPancakes are cheap, quick, easy and delicious. You can increase the quantities easily to turn out enough frugal snacks for a whole houseful of hungry kids or simply make a batch to freeze for other snack times. Today I didn’t finish up with the stash of frozen pancakes I planned, though:  the Tartan Boys ate them as fast as I could turn them out so I had to start over when they had finally eaten their fill.  I have now doubled the quantities to leave enough for now and some for later.  Tartan Boy has recently discovered jars of white chocolate spread. Chocolate pancakes sandwiched together with white chocolate spread and raspberry jam are now his snacking heaven. He does have a point. The chocolate pancakes and the spread both freeze and defrost perfectly, so that’s what we now has stashed in the freezer for future snacking.

How To Make Double Chocolate And Orange Pancakes

  1. DSCN0403Put a frying pan to heat over a medium heat and add about 15ml of oil.
  2. In a good-sized bowl mix together 250g self-raising flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 3 teaspoons of cocoa powder and 2 teaspoons of caster sugar. If you have no cocoa but do have hot chocolate that works fine too – but use a 70/30 mix of milk/water to allow for the powdered milk in the hot chocolate powder.
  3. Make a well in the middle and add 2 eggs, 200ml of milk and a few drops of orange oil.  (If you can’t find orange oil in your local supermarket just use the grated zest of one orange.  In the absence of even one orange, try vanilla essence.)  Gently whisk these together and gradually start to incorporate the flour mixture.  Keep whisking until it is all mixed in. It should be quite a dark brown colour.
  4. Now take a couple of sheets of kitchen roll, place them one on top of the other and fold them into quarters.  Use this pad to wipe the oil from your frying pan.  Keep it to hand and use it to wipe some of the oil back onto the pan between batches of pancakes.
  5. pancakes ready to flipUsing a serving spoon drop a few spoonfuls into the pan.  Let your mind wander happily as you wait for bubbles to form on the surface of the pancakes but DO NOT WANDER OUT OF THE KITCHEN.  I speak from unhappy experience here.
  6. Once the surface of each pancake is covered in bubbles, use a fish-slice to flip them over and cook for approximately 1 minute on the other side.  It’s not an exact science – lift one carefully after 30 seconds and see how it’s getting on.
  7. Lay a clean dish towel out and lay your lovely pancakes in a line across the middle and then fold one half of the towel over them, as though you are tucking them in for the night.  I have no idea what purpose this serves, but it’s what my mum always did and that’s good enough for me.
  8. If your first batch were a little burned, adjust the heat.  If they weren’t, pause and bask in the smug glow of your own culinary genius.  Wipe the pan with the oily paper and repeat steps 5-7.
  9. DSCN0408Keep going until you are finished.  The pancakes are very good warm with just butter, or jam, or chocolate spread (or all three!).  If you want to keep some to freeze then keep the towel over them and let them cool before you sandwich them together with chocolate spread, pop them into little freezer bags and stash them away.


January 10

Cook,Eat, Save, Repeat – How To Save Money By Freezing Thrifty Meals

Next to the mortgage, our biggest monthly expense is food, so it makes sense to try to reduce how much we spend on that.  It’s not rocket science:  buy cheap ingredients, cook them yourself, don’t eat more than you need to.  But…

utencil-knife-vintage-GraphicsFairy2utencil-fork-vintage-GraphicsFairyI don’t want to cook every day; I don’t want to cook any evening (which is when a hot meal is most welcome in our house) and I don’t always have time for cooking in the morning.  As for cooking breakfast every day, or standing making packed lunches in the pre-school-run chaos – not my superpower. The solution I am going to embrace each week is to cook meals, pack lunches, and bake snacks, but only once a week, in bulk.  That  way we can eat one helping now, save the rest in the freezer and eat it again (and again, and again) on other days.

Let’s start with lunches and snacks:  these seem an easy first step.  Heck, lunches don’t even require any actual cooking!  At the moment for us, lunch is a sandwich at home for Tiny Tartan and me (good and cheap), a sandwich from the M&S round the corner from the office for Tartandad (good – not cheap) and a school meal for Tartanboy (cheap – not so good).  The two bought meals cost around £5:  that’s £25 a week!  I know the two homemade lunches don’t even come close to that, so clearly there are savings to be made – potentially over £50 a month – by making sandwiches for everyone.  Tartandad and I are not big snackers but the boys get through ninety little snacks a month – more if they have friends over.  Even bulk-buying snacks from supermarket basic ranges adds up – and I do worry about the salt, sugar, trans-fats and almost total lack of any actual nutrition in them.  Again, room for improvement.

So that’s this week’s new habits – batch prepare one packed lunch and one snack each week.  The aim is to make five times as many lunches and ten times as many snacks as we need for one day.   As I get into this habit, by the fifth week I will have five different lunches a week stashed in the freezer, and five different snacks to eat twice a week.  And no more 8am panics about where to find change for Tartanboy’s school lunch.  Unless I forget to defrost them…