August 8

5 Lessons I Learned The Hard Way About Getting Your Money’s Worth At PYO Fruit Farms

Picking Fruit At A Formative Age

eastyondertonWhen I was four my family spent a week working as fruit pickers in East Anglia – partly for the free camping en-route to Europe, partly to give my teenage brothers a chance to make some spending money for the rest of the holiday. One morning they took me with them. (I am guessing that child labour laws were a little more lax then.) I picked strawberries alongside my mum all morning and earned a few pennies for my haul. I used them to buy a purse to keep them in. It was remarkably tasteless – orange and pink with sparkles –  and left me with about three pennies to put in it. But I was very proud of that purse. Thinking about it still makes me smile.

labelled jars of strawberry glam jamThere was an old lady on the site, who told my mother that she spent every summer on the camp. She liked to supplement her pension with her earnings from fruit picking, and she loved having company from daybreak to dusk. As a bonus, she bought a little of each day’s pickings at cost and spent her evenings sitting outside her tent boiling the fruit up over a precarious gas-burner to make a few jars of fragrant jam. By the summer’s end she had enough jars to see her through a year of teatimes and hostess gifts, for only a few pounds. I think of that old lady every time I make jam, forty-odd years later, and wish I could have told her what a lasting impression she made.

I learned several important lessons on that trip.

1.  A strawberry picked and eaten in the sunshine will taste better than any you have ever eaten straight from the fridge.

2.  Making a few jars of jam regularly can save you money and bring you pleasure – and doesn’t require lots of fancy equipment or a vast Downton Abbey kitchen.

3.  You are never too young to learn the connection between money and work.

4.  You are never too young to learn to take care of your money.

5.  Orange and pink with sparkles can literally bring on a headache. Although I suppose it might have been too many strawberries or too much sunshine.

pick your own strwberries in a punnet

Pick Your Own Fruit Farms – A Perfect, Free Family Outing?

DSCN0292No surprise then that our nearest pick-your-own fruit farm is one of my favourite free summer holiday outings. When I say free… obviously I pay for the fruit. Which I would have bought anyway. What I don’t pay for is the pleasure of spending a few hours under a wide blue sky floating on the honeyed smell of a million ripe strawberries as the kids run up and down the rows of fruit bushes in search of ladybirds. Today I lost track of them for a moment, but knew they were somewhere among the rows of fruit, perfectly safe. (I found my children – like a prudish Edwardian vicar’s wife – under a gooseberry bush, in case you are worrying .)

They love the fruit farm. I love that they are getting fresh air and learning about where their food comes from. And I love that I am getting fruit at peak ripeness for less than supermarket special offer prices.

There are some things not to love about picking your own fruit, though.

What’s Not To Love About Pick-Your-Own Fruit Farms

Getting Your Money's Worth At PYO Farms

images (1)1.  Not all PYOs are equal. Many now charge entry (why is this – I don’t have to pay to get into Asda, do I?) Some farms charge prices per kilo of fruit that are barely below the supermarket price. The idea is to make getting cheap fresh fruit double as a family outing, not to pay over the odds for either food or family fun. So avoid PYOs that charge entry and check their prices online before you go. Paying to pick fruit you could buy more cheaply is Not Thrifty.

2.  Jam does not make itself. Like the old lady in my childhood camping memories, once you have picked fruit you have to crack on with preserving it. You can get away with sticking it in a fridge for 24 hours but, after that, the layer at the bottom of your basket will start to get soft and mouldy. Been there. Now, before we head out the door to the farm, I schedule myself a specific time to get it jammed. If I don’t have time for jam-making the next day, I don’t pick more than we can eat in a couple of days. Picking your own and then throwing it in the bin a few days later is Not Thrifty.

ChristmasRetroShop-GraphicsFairy13.  Jam goes in jars. This is obvious, and yet… I have, on numerous occasions, picked mountains of fruit when I did not have mountains of jam jars. Much of my jam went to waste. This too was Not Thrifty. Now I check I have jars, cello tops and wax circles before I even think of picking fruit. Honest.
4.  It is very, VERY easy to get carried away. A strange, primitive gathering-lust descends on me at the fruit farm. There is something deeply absorbing about working your way steadily down a row of plants, focussing all your attention on finding more, more, more… Any mindfulness benefit of this is completely ruined, however, by finding that you have picked 20 kilos instead of 2 and must now sell one of your kidneys to pay for them. In supermarkets you can put food back on the shelves – fruit farms don’t work that way. Buying more fruit than you can use or afford is, again, Not Thrifty.
Berry-Picking-Picture-GraphicsFairy-thumb-150x1505. There is a limit to the amount of ripe fruit a small tummy can hold. On no account jiggle a small child who has just accompanied you to a fruit farm on your knee unless you have a very relaxed attitude to pink vomit. It turns out I do not. Food that comes straight back up is also Not Thrifty.

In spite of all this, provided you do your research and planning first, I still think an afternoon picking fruit in the sunshine is a fine free outing for the holidays. As an added bonus, the farm we go to is right beside Glasgow Airport and we can watch planes taking off and landing as we pick. How many supermarket fruit aisles offer that?

Glasgow airport runway from East Yonderton PYO Farm

June 27

Try A New Free Activity: A Vintage Bus Ride Around The West End

How To Buy Happiness
How To Buy Happiness

It has been a few months since I started trying a new activity each month.  It was an attempt to Buy Happiness – to invest in doing not having.  Positive psychology research suggests that we get better value for money if we spend it on activities than on material goods, and more satisfaction from variety than volume.  So we have embraced that and aimed to try out one new family activity each month to mix it up a bit.

We have not run out of new things to try and we score extra Thrifty Points for mostly finding free ones.  (Strictly speaking we paid for most of them with our Council Tax already).   During June we went nuts and tried something new every weekend:  the annual West End Festival was on, with a packed programme, much of which was free.   We have had a lot of fun, but this weekend was the winner.

 IMG_9892IMG_9879Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trustbig red bus
runs a free vintage bus service around the West End for one day of the Festival each year and Sunday was The Day.  After a short walk in the sunshine we boarded a lovely old bus and trundled along to the Riverside Transport Museum.  Tiny Tartan was delighted to find a seat right behind the driver’s cab, and watched the driver intently through the window.


IMG_9887IMG_9880The bus was full of  happy passengers, the pavements full of smiling pedestrians pointing and taking photos, the streets full of other vintage buses with passengers waving cheerily to each other, and cars hooting hello to their new elderly neighbours.   A mundane trip through familiar streets turned into a big adventure.


IMG_9913IMG_9920IMG_9905More classic buses and a gleaming collection of vintage fire engines were parked outside the museum for the day.  Enthusiastic volunteers showed them off and let the kids sit inside, while they chatted to us about what drives them to spend their free time restoring old vehicles.
IMG_9927We spent so long enjoying the fire engines that we never did make it inside the museum and instead boarded another lovely old bus home.  We are already planning to make a whole day of it next year,  with more stops along the bus route to soak up the festival atmosphere.   If we had paid for it, it would have been great value for money.


March 11

Buy Happiness: Try Something New

You may have noticed that my initial intention to introduce new habits ‘one week at a time’ has wavered somewhat.  Truth is, my enthusiasm for the idea of developing new habits outstrips my ability to actually develop them.  Apparently, one new habit a week is more than I can handle and I am determined to work with the real me, not the ideal me.  So I have decided to slooooow it down and aim for just a couple of habits a month now.  This month’s second (and last – phew!) new habit is to try out a new, cheap activity.

HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyWhy?  Surely when you are trying to cut costs, trying out new things that you might not even enjoy is nuts?  Well…

  1. Activity and variety make us happy.  So I figure a variety of activities should make us extra happy.
  2. Doing without gets old pretty quick.   Not spending much on treats shouldn’t mean having no treats.  At all.  Ever.
  3. Not Spending is a negative, and our minds don’t readily commit to negatives – much more inspiring to aim for something than to avoid something else.   So I am aiming to have lots of new experiences rather than avoiding spending money.  Experience has taught me that when I just aim to Not Spend, sooner or later I crack.
  4. Expanding the range of cheap activities we can enjoy will stop us shelling out for the more expensive options just because we can’t think of an alternative.
  5. Mixing it up a bit will be fun.  (Cheap fun!)

wee write imageSo – having discovered recently that I have already paid (with our Council Tax) for lots of family activities we have never tried,  I decided to pick one of them for our first new activity.  This week sees the start of Glasgow’s first ever Wee Write festival – a literary festival for children.   Saturday was Family Fun Day, with lots of free drop-in activities alongside the bookable events so we went along to enjoy the freebies and soak up the atmosphere.  That’s not what happened though:  I bought tickets for Tartan Boy and myself to attend the Metaphrog workshop while Tartan Dad and Tiny Tartan enjoyed the entirely free PlayTalkRead bus parked outside.   Truth to tell, we could have just stuck with the free activities (in fact, Tiny Tartan would have been thrilled to just spend the whole day on the play bus) and spent a very happy few hours there.  The atmosphere was buzzy,  the big reference library jumping with lively kids, and there was loads to do.

So – do I regret spending a tenner to go to a seminar on comic-writing with Tartan Boy?  Nope.  It was a brilliant hour:  TB lapped up every word, I thoroughly enjoyed watching him watching the presenters, and even enjoyed a little ham-fisted doodling of my own, and when we got home TB spent hours drawing his own top secret comic book.  We have talked quite a bit about ideas that came up in the workshop and TB clearly enjoyed having his mum to himself and sharing a special activity with me.  I am still mulling over some of the ideas about creativity and story-telling that came up in the workshop.  So that tenner has given us both a lot more than the one hour of entertainment we paid for.

money mumIt helps, though, that I now have a little fund for treats and outings and so did not have a slightly panicky feeling that we couldn’t afford it when I booked the tickets.  Next month, we will definitely try a totally free outing.

I have asked Tartan Boy to do a wee guest post about the outing too.  He would love to read your comments!

March 11

Metaphrog: a Guest Post

51au4WNvDVL__SX385_Hi guys, TartanBoy here! So at the weekend I went to a workshop called Metaphrog. It was run by the graphic novel authors John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs, most known for their Louis books. The workshop was all about comic book writing. They handed out boards, a pencil and a piece of paper during the workshop for doodling on. It was a really helpful lesson- I still can’t draw though! If you ever go to this workshop, you will enjoy it! Hope you check out Metaphrog, if you do, you will love their books. Goodbye guys!