Monday 27 January 2014

The Other Three Women in my Life

Let me introduce you to the other three women in my life – Elizabeth, Florence and Matilda. I didn’t name
them Susan did. Why those names? I have no idea. As you can see they are three hens a Rhode Island Red, a Marram and a Light Sussex. We bought them in early November as ‘point of lay’ chickens. Point of Lay indicates that they will soon start to lay eggs. In this context, the word ‘soon’ can be a very subjective term – ‘soon’ to me and you may be different to the ‘soon’ used by the farmer who sold us the hens.

To date only one hen, has laid anything –, The Marram. I guess we have had about a dozen eggs in total.

The theory of hen keeping seems sound, logical and frugal – they strut around eating grubs, kitchen peelings and the odd bit of grit. They live in a mobile chicken house (a chicken tractor to our American friends) and they keep the grass short. In return for their care, they donate eggs and very rich manure.

So far so good – now here is the rub. Rural France, foxes and the need to make a careful choice of housing for the ladies. We settled for a Eglu manufactured in the UK by a company called Omlete. Guarenteed fox proof – good for up to four medium sized hens. We decided on three to ensure they had plenty of room. The Eglu comes with a run and you can buy an even larger run to if you want to give them even more space. We opted for the larger run – and an awning to provide some shelter in wet weather – and a sort for quilted overcoat to keep them warm at night.

These girls are living in 5 star luxury. Not only is the Eglu very practical – it has also won design awards. The
only hen coop actually exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Design Museum in London.

All this comes at a price of course but its OK I have done the arithmetic – if the three hens lay as they should (and as yet they have not) I should recover my money (in the value of the eggs) by April – no not this April – no, April 2017.

In the meantime I refer to the eggs as ‘Faberge’ – (just to make my point)!


Monday 20 January 2014

I Never Set Out to be Frugal

I never set out to be frugal. That is, I can’t recall a ‘road to Damascus’ moment when I suddenly thought YES frugality is the way for me! Rather, it was an attitude of mind developed out of necessity, which grew into a sort of self-gratification, and became imbued with philosophical and political overtones.

The starting point, I suppose, was when I became interested in sailing. There were two issues here firstly a boat has to be looked at as an expensive luxury and secondly, given the vagaries of tides and weather, it’s a pastime that demands plenty of free time. Would it be possible therefore to get a boat and get out of the rat race early so I had time to go sailing? Is there a relationship between time and money and if so, how does the equation work? Can more of one lead to a dearth of the other? Where is the ‘happy’ balance?

The answer seemed to be that a life adjustment would be possible and probably beneficial but there was a simple matter of a mortgage to be cleared. I was lucky in that my mortgage was tied to UK base rates and it was paid in two instalments each month. One for the capital repayment, the other was the interest. I quickly realised that if I increased the capital payments by even a small amount, the interest charges reduced – and that by transferring the ‘amount' saved on interest, I could further increase my capital pay-offs, thereby further reducing the interest charges, enabling me to increase capital payments ----- ad infinitum. In effect I created a benevolent circle which gave me the leeway to add this small French second home without too much pain.

In the end, both homes were mortgage free before my 60th birthday. So a tiny bit of frugal thinking made a huge difference. I also took great delight in ‘beating the man’, turning the bankers’ and financiers’ strategies on their heads and making sure that nothing I did feathered their nests.

During the process I began to notice other things. Thrift shops provided me with very good ‘designer label’suits for work. I could dress as good as colleagues for less than a tenth of the retail price. The garden, the shoreline and the sea became a source of food, more fun than visiting a supermarket and our love of antiques and ‘old things’ enabled us to decorate our two homes in a ‘shabby chic’ way that many would describe as fashionable. Having drastically reduced expenditure I never once felt poor or miserly – providing I was clever, so long as I avoided the high street and the shopping mall, I could have anything I wanted. If anything, I felt in control and empowered.

Now, here in rural France, my neighbours take a collective approach to frugality. Take the recent New Year Celebrations as an example. One friend had a house with a reasonably large room for entertainment, another provided trestle tables and benches and a third contributed a pretty good sound system. The rest of us (39 in total) were asked to arrive with plates of food and a bottle of Champaign or wine. The first letter of your surname determined whether you had to provide nibbles, a starter, a main course element or a desert. No couple would be expected to spend more than 20 Euros.

How did it go? There were nuts, olives, slices of cooked hams and meats, pate de fois gras for starters, oysters, baked and stuffed potatoes, salads and quiches, followed by a huge selection of cheeses and then choice of several deserts. The wine and Champaign flowed all night and the party ended at 4 am in the morning.

Now how much would I have had to pay for that in a UK restaurant – and would I have enjoyed it any better? Well, in a previous life I have paid huge amounts for a Restaurant New Years Eve special evening – some were fine, others – pretty indifferent – with regard to price, atmosphere, variety and volume of drink however, none compared with this recent French experience.

So, frugality doesn’t mean you need to wear sackcloth and ashes and it isn’t about poverty. With two houses and a boat I really couldn’t claim to be in that position. For me the frugal approach provides a higher standard of living, a better quality of life and it leaves more money in my pocket for things I really need.


Monday 6 January 2014

The Good Life

Leaving the day job, downsizing, frugal living in a new country, exchanging time for money – and actually enjoying it, where to begin? It’s a question we often get asked in one form or another. It’s also a difficult question to answer – what worked for us (so far) might not work for you and in some cases if you take the decision, you may find there is no way back. Few fifty year olds, for example, would find it easy to get back into mainstream work at the same level if the adventure didn’t work out.

Our attempts at frugal living began long before we took the plunge mainly because we had a mortgage to clear. We did the calculations and set about pouring all our resources into getting that money off our backs before we took the plunge. Interestingly enough the sums also suggested that there was no point in waiting to buy the French house – we would still have to find the same money – so although we were living frugally we bought the French house at the first opportunity. Luck played a significant part as well, the value of house prices rose significantly and interest rates were low throughout our ‘saving’ period. When we came to sell and downsize the UK house we obtained much more for it than our initial calculations had suggested.

But here is something else to think about – would you actually enjoy a frugal approach? We joke about being frugal for ‘frivol’. If we’re careful enough with the day to day frugality we can afford the odd ‘frivolous’ weekend in Paris or elsewhere.Anyway, if you are thinking about a similar adventure here is an idea you might find interesting.

There is a book – written I think in the 1960’s, by a guy called John Seymour. The book is called The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency and it tells you everything you need to know about growing crops, preserving food, rearing animals for food, brewing, butter making, keeping bees, fishing, building sheds and fences, plumbing, care for tools etc – it is a gold mine of information.

So, here is the idea, if you are attracted to the simple practical life, buy the book and try a few of the ideas for fun. If you discover that it isn’t fun, then maybe a simple country life isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you find the ideas exciting and if you actually enjoy some of the tasks – then maybe you could make it work. John and the book by the way were the inspiration behind the BBC TV series ‘The Goode Life’.

You can get the book here: