Friday, May 23, 2014

The Mother of Invention - A Guide to Genteel Poverty

There was a time when my wife and I were able to enjoy meals out and foreign holidays without having to watch every penny we spent. I think it was 1998. Then we ruined it all by having children, one of whom made it impossible for my wife to return to work.

Since then, our household income has been pitifully small. However, in some ways our years of genteel poverty have been a very positive experience and I've learned some useful lessons that have made me realise how much money I used to waste.

Whether you're poor or just simply mean, I'll think you'll find some of my top tips useful:

1. The Mighty Teaspoon

During a brief period of solvency - I think somebody must have died - I had window blinds installed throughout the house. I wanted curtains, but my wife said that they were 'common'. Within a few months, one of the fittings for a blind came out of the wall, taking a huge chunk of plaster with it, leaving a hole.

I needed a way of keeping the blind up until I had time to replaster the wall, but the hole was too large for screws or nails. Then, in a flash of inspiration, I realised that a teaspoon was the answer to all my problems. The long end would fit tightly into the hole and the upward curve of the spoon end would stop the pole of the blind sliding off.

It worked so well, I didn't bother to repair the wall for two years.

2. The Eco Ball

If you already use these, you'll know how wonderful they are.  Instead of using washing powder and selecting a one-hour cycle, you can wash your clothes by using two of these in a short rinse cycle. They save a fortune in washing powder and also use far less water and electricity.

I won't bore you with the science, but cheesy socks will smell like a meadow after a mere 15 minutes of washing. I will never buy Bold again.

3. The Powerline Adapter

This wonderful little device uses your home's electrical wiring system to send internet data from your router to devices in other rooms. I wanted to watch BBC iPlayer programmes on my ordinary television without having to spend a fortune on a home cinema system or a contract with Sky (Boo! Murdoch!) or Virgin (Tony Blair with a beard), so I bought a couple of these and now enjoy a good quality picture and connection without any additional expense.

4. The Broken Blind

My lovely new blinds, all installed by Hillarys, broke rather too quickly. It seemed ridiculous to have to buy a whole new blind just because the cord was broken, but what could I do?

Then I had an idea:

The cords of these blinds are nearly always synthetic, so I set fire to each end, quickly blew the flames out before the smoke alarm went off and pressed the two molten ends together. As they cooled down, they formed a solid bond which hasn't broken in several years.

I would also recommend Lego for blinds, which comes in many shapes and sizes and, when used with superglue, can effectively repair broken plastic fittings.

5. The Tester Pot

If you have a small bathroom and want to paint a wall the same colour, don't waste money on a £20 pot of paint. Just buy two or three tester pots and that should be all you need. I painted our bathroom for the grand sum of £3.

6. The Carpet Offcut

Unless you live in a huge house, you can usually find a tasteful offcut that will fit the dimensions of your room. I had a new pure wool carpet professionally installed in our sitting room for under £100.

7. The Double-Ended Jack

Assuming that you have some cheap audio software, if you plug one end of the lead into your headphone socket and the other into the one for the microphone, you can record anything on the internet and turn it into an MP3 file. It's like taping something - remember that?

These are just a few of the many money-saving ideas I've discovered and whenever anything breaks, I ask myself one basic question:

"Does it really need to be replaced? Does it even need to be repaired, or will a teaspoon do until around 2017?"

You'd be amazed at the number of times the answer is a teaspoon.


Anonymous said...

I admire your ingenuity:necessity really is the mother of invention.


Anne said...

Actually, it's a question not only of poverty but also of social responsibility. The world's resources aren't endless. It behoves all of us to waste as little as possible. Oh, and to leave as much carbon sequestered from the atmosphere as we can.
Sorry about the rant but I'm feeling very ecologically challenged right now - even though I don't live in a fracking area...

Steerforth said...

Yes, social responsibilty and sustainability. Why does our economy need to grow? I can see a future in which 3D printing enables communities and imndividuals to meet many of their needs without having to spend vast sums of money on items that have been shipped halfway around the world.

James Russell said...

I think most of our house is held up with teaspoons... One to add to the list is wood rot hardener, a miracle in a bottle which saved me having to buy a new front door.

Congrats on a million pageviews, by the way, a bit like going over 100,000 miles in a car, surely the most exciting moment in any vehicle's life.

Steerforth said...

James - I couldn't agree more about the wood hardener - I saved a kitchen door that had seemed beyond help.

Thanks for pointing out the pageviews. I'm ashamed to say that I hadn't noticed, as I'm not terribly au fait with these things. I must get to grips with the visitor stats, as it would be interesting to know more about who visits and why.

Rog said...

I've saved a fortune in batteries by removing them from the doorbell and simply checking the front door every 2 minutes

Grey Area said...

Ah, thrift is a way of life in my house, and I salute you - there is a peculiar quirk in the housing stock along the south coast - every attempt to hang a picture, or more probably curtains and blinds, results in large pieces of plaster falling, it's the tipping point for aged, dried out Victorian plaster and the ravages of sea air. I fall asleep at night listening to the sound of plaster crumbling behind the lathes.

Steerforth said...

Rog - That sounds like a Viz 'Top Tip' ("Save money on an expensive gravel driveway by sprinkling Rice Krispies around the front of your house...").

Richard - I think our house is now 40% Polyfilla. Once the repairs cover a greater surface area than the plaster, I'm not sure what will happen.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

So retro! So 70s!

Seriously, why not a book? Printed on brown recycled paper of course, with bad line drawings of men in beards. (Or was that The Joy of Sex?)

Annabel (gaskella) said...

Fab post. We had a year when our boiler refused to fire up 9 times out of 10. Saved a fortune in utility bills just heating the room we were in with a little radiator on wheels. Then I paid £550 to have it fixed and the bills doubled.

I've always been sceptical about those eco balls - might try them now.

Anna said...

Matchpots! Wonderful - instead of buying Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (soooo expensive, but trendy as hell) a matchpot and a dessertspoon of powder polyfilla enabled me to paint two large table lamps for about £2.50 each... AnnaC

Anonymous said...

Great post, Steerforth. Have used tester pots, mended broken pull-cords in the way you describe, have the same powerline adapters as you. I've yet to check out Eco-Balls, though. For recording anything off the internet, try Audacity. It's free, and works like a dream!

Rog said...

Caught red handed nicking Viz material. I've had to change my name to AUY 174G to hide my embarrassment (but saved £500 in personalised number plate costs)

Steerforth said...

Lucy - I see that beards are back. I saw a young chap in Waitrose the other day who had a beard worthy of Brahms.

Annabel - Boilers are a terrible nuisance. If I could build a house from scratch, I'd make sure that there was no need for a boiler. As well as the expense, it's hard finding someone good to fix a broken boiler.

Anna - That's a marvellous tip. £2.50! I salute you.

Agentrodsmith - Great minds (or desperate ones) think alike. Thanks for the tip about Audacity and I promise that you won't be disappointed by the balls.

Rog - My favourite Viz "crap joke" is this one:

John said...

I certainly won't argue about the merits of using spoons for household repairs which seems self-evident to me, however I must respectfully submit that laundry "eco-balls" have no basis in reality ("balls" indeed).

What is most interesting of course is that the fact that these balls have no effect on your laundry means that detergent itself also would seem to be mostly useless.

Steerforth said...

Right John, I shall put it to the test with some smelly socks.

MikeP said...

The only flaw in your cunning plan, Steerforth, is when the teaspoons all disappear to wherever it is teaspoons go (possibly the same place as odd socks).

My wife has a very good line in wrapping paper, using rolls of brown paper, matchpots and various seasonal rubber stamps, potatoes etc. She produced a rather stunning 8ft long painting for our drab stairwell the same way.

zmkc said...

Great suggestions, and, while in the how-to-save frame of mind, if you find a clothing brand you like, search for it on Ebay and never buy anything you wear for more than ten pounds ever again (except underwear - I think that has to be firsthand, if possible - but try to keep it for thirty years or so, holes permitting). I have a sudden sense of being back in the Girl Guides, eager, bright eyed and full of enthusiasm.

Steerforth said...

Mike - That is a slight flaw, but the Asda bargain packs have helped me to keep one step ahead of the teaspoon vortex. The wrapping paper is a great idea, but of course the real money saver is to just stop giving presents.

Zoe - Secondhand underwear is clearly unthinkable, but there are plenty of bargain packs that don't involve compromising the 100% cotton rule. Primark were selling seven pairs of socks for £2 until recently.

I haven't been as successful with shirts on eBay. I like Paul Smith and Jasper Conran, but judging by the prices, so do a lot of other people.

Canadian Chickadee said...

How intriguing! I've never tried the Eco Ball -- I always assumed it was just another gimmick, but perhaps I'll give it a try. Thanks for the tip. xoxox

Nota Bene said...

Around where we live, those particular tester pots are £5 a piece...but I take on board everything else!

Anonymous said...

A timely money-saving tip from the great philosopher and stand up comedian Stephen Wright: "I bought some used paint, it came in the shape of a house"...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Wow - you should present an episode of SuperScrimpers!