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I recently booked some flights from Edinburgh to Dublin on a well-known-but-not-so-popular budget airline. You guessed it: RyanAir.

One of my sisters lives in Dublin so I’ve been planning to visit her this year. I’ve been eyeing the prices for this route for a few months awaiting a good deal, and last week, I found it.

The best advice I can offer when flying RyanAir is not to get excited until you see the final price. There are so many hidden charges that can pop up, so when the price is advertised at £9 (usually in not-so-subtle red writing on a bright yellow background), you can at least double or triple it.

On this particular occasion the overall price for a return flight for one person worked out at £50.50, with £20 of that figure being added at the last minute (as soon as you select which card you would like to pay with – as if there’s an alternate payment method!). I still feel that the overall price is reasonable though.

The other factor to consider when booking with RyanAir is the amount of luggage you will be taking on your trip. On this occasion we’ve opted for hand luggage only to avoid extra charges. We’re only going to be away for 3 nights so we’ll just have to pack lightly, wear layers for travel and go easy on the toiletries/liquids!

I think the biggest bug bear that people have with budget airlines is that flights are advertised at one price but the actual price is considerably more. In 2009, I purchased a flight to Dublin that was advertised as costing £1.49, after all the taxes and admin fees were added, it was £17. In fact, I once paid £23 for a flight advertised at £0.01! Crazy, right?

So here are my top tips for flying RyanAir within budget:
Be flexible with dates;
Travel light;
Measure your hand luggage (RyanAir restrictions are listed on their website)
Weigh your luggage – if you opt to add hold luggage, the limit is usually 15kg. DO NOT EXCEED THIS! Hand luggage should be less than 10kg;
Don’t get excited about the price until you get to the screen where they ask you to input card details. Once you’ve selected your card type you will see the final price;
Don’t buy food on board – its overpriced- the food in the airport will be cheaper;
Buy a bottle of water in the airport, especially for longer flights;
Wear layers when travelling (I like to wear a pashmina as a scarf, which can double as a coverup on sunny holidays or a blanket if the ‘plane is too cold)
Arrive early (they’re very strict about check in times and the ‘plane will usually board up to 40 mins before the departure time on your ticket);
Don’t bother paying extra for speedy boarding, just get to the gate more than 40 minutes before your departure time;
Make sure you only have ONE ITEM OF HAND LUGGAGE! You will NOT be allowed to carry a handbag onboard in addition to your hand luggage. It MUST fit in your main bag;
If you want to purchase duty free items, ensure they fit in your hand luggage. Additional shopping bags are not permitted.

If you know what to expect, then RyanAir can actually be a good (and cheap!) way to travel. I have had some great deals from RyanAir over the last few years: Edinburgh Marrakech £98 return, Edinburgh to Dublin £17 one way, Edinburgh to Malta £114 return, and many more.

I hope these points are of use. I travel RyanAir more often than other airlines solely because it is cheaper. However, if there’s not a huge difference in price, check what’s included and what the final price will be. You may be surprised.

… make chocolate & lime cupcakes. I made these chocolaty delights yesterday after finding the recipe on the BBC Good Food website. The recipe is for ‘easy chocolate cupcakes’, I added the lime twist based on the old-fashioned sweets Chocolate Limes. This recipe is extremely easy to follow, but I felt it was just a little too chocolaty for me so made a few adjustments. If you love bitter chocolate then go for the higher measurements on the cocoa and plain chocolate, if you like your chocolate sweet, then use the lower measurements or switch to milk chocolate instead of plain. My adaptation is as follows:

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Preheat to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. This mix makes approx 10 muffins or 24 cupcakes.

For the cakes:

  • 100g plain chocolate , blitzed into small chunks in a food processor (don’t use one with a high cocoa content)
  • 200g self-raising flour (a little extra may be required)
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 2-4 tbsp cocoa to taste (I used 4 tbsp of Green & Black’s cocoa and it was VERY chocolaty!)
  • 150 ml sunflower oil , plus a little extra for greasing
  • 100 ml soured cream
  • 2 eggs (keep ’em free-range folks!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 1-2 limes
  • juice of 1 lime
For the chocolate topping:
  • 60-100g plain chocolate , blitzed into small chunks in a food processor (don’t use one with a high cocoa content, adjust to taste)
  • 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp sour cream
To finish:
Sieve the flour and cocoa and add the sugar. Beat the eggs and add the other wet ingredients (sunflower oil, vanilla extract, lime juice & zest and sour cream) then gradually fold into the dry ingredients. Add the blitzed chocolate chunks and mix well. At this stage I found the mixture a little bit too runny so I added about 4-5 tbsp self raising flour. The consistency should be sticky rather than runny; it should spoon into the cupcake cases rather than pour. Pop on the oven for about 20 minutes. The cakes are done when you can insert a cocktail stick into them and it comes out (just about) clean. Leave them to cool on a wire rack.
Gently heat all of the ingredients for the chocolate topping in a small saucepan until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes. Pour a teaspoon of the topping onto the cupcake and sprinkle the crushed chocolate limes on top. Unfortunately I couldn’t seem to find chocolate limes in the shops, so I used lime zest to decorate instead. There are a number of online retailers that sell chocolate limes, including chocolatebuttons.co.uk.
I have made a stash of these for a birthday party this weekend, which brings me to my little money saver this evening. My good friend Janine is celebrating her 30th birthday on Friday, and rather than having an expensive bash, she’s invited a few of her nearest and dearest to her favourite spot in Scotland, a little village called Findhorn, on the north east coast for a beach party and camping. Okay, maybe it isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but camping out makes weekend trips so much more affordable and flexible. My husband and I are heading up for one night, whilst others are there for a long weekend.
Luckily I love camping, and might just borrow this idea for my own birthday celebrations. And when life hands you lemons…

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I’m writing this post from the Spiegel Garden, which is part of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. The atmosphere here is buzzing; lively crowds of twentysomethings sitting in scattered groups on the (plastic) grass, whilst others sit at picnic benches chatting intently with the sound of the bass coming from one of the three performance tents. The excitement of the Edinburgh festival is creeping in, happily egged on by five days of sunshine.

This is far from my most frugal evening. We’re seeing the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble play later, and at £16 a ticket, this is definitely more pricy than a cheap evening in front of the telly with a frozen pizza in the oven, but it is definitely possible to enjoy the jazz festival on a budget. As I look around me, there are plenty people with a drink in their hand, but there are quite a few without too. It’s free entry to the garden, and if you’re happy not to drink, or to nurse a half pint like I am, then it’s actually a pretty well priced (or even free!) taste of Edinburgh Jazz.

It’s the same scenario during the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s great fun (and free!) to just wander around town, soaking up the atmosphere, watching the street performers, perusing the stalls… and on a lovely warm evening like tonight, it’s perfect.

Sadly my iPhone battery died before I could finish uploading. The gig was awesome, I will post about it tomorrow. G’night!

So we didn’t catch any fish on Saturday night. We did, however, see a gorgeous sunset over the Firth of Forth and observed some colourful characters, who you wouldn’t usually associate with a quiet night of fishing…

I’m sorry I deserted you yesterday. It was, in fact, a perfect day, filled with sunshine, sea, family, friends and music. We took a boat trip out to an island in between Edinburgh and Fife called Inchcolm. I hadn’t been out there since my childhood and had forgotten how beautiful it was. We were lucky to see some seals (probably the reason we didn’t catch any fish!) and some birds, mostly gulls.

Later, we had a barbecue and then headed to the Speigal Tent in Edinburgh to soak up the atmosphere at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival (for the price of a half pint of cider, which I nursed for a good half hour!).

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Back to work today. This evening we watched The Lovely Bones on TV. I read the book a few years ago and was extremely dubious about the film. I really struggled to understand how this magical yet tragic book could possibly be made into a movie. I feared that it would seem gimmicky and the sentiment would be lost somehow. For this reason, I didn’t ever make the effort to watch it at the cinema, nor the DVD. Until now.

I was truly touched by the adaptation. It broke my heart all over again. It managed to capture all the frustration, anger and confusion that Susie’s family experienced, alongside her own grief and fear. The scenes that I feared would be gimmicky actually achieved the feeling of the surreal that I thought would be lacking. In fact, I think it was better, in some ways, than the book.

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I realise that this post is not exactly ‘money saving’. What I mean to illustrate, is that you don’t have to go to the movies and pay the entry fee. There are plenty of movies for free, or even for just a fraction of the cost on DVD. And you can watch them as many times as you like.

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Today I joined Twitter. I’m still to decide how I feel about it. After spending hours setting up an account and fluttering through the giant birdcage that is Twitter, I feel like I have achieved very little. I have wished Daniel Radcliffe a happy birthday in hopes of getting it to ‘trend’, gathered 3 followers and lost 1 already.

Not a very fruitful afternoon. And it’s sunny outside! Here in Scotland, sunny days are hard to come by, so I really should be making the most of it. At least I managed to get the washing hung out in the garden.

My money saving tip today was to talk my darling hubby out of going out to dinner. I’m sure we can find something good to make at home at just a fraction of the cost. I did my supermarket shop online today as well, so at least I’m practicing what I preach! It’s being delivered on Monday night. Also, we’re going fishing this evening (off the harbour), so if we catch anything, that’s free food!

Nobody has visited my blog today, I’m guessing it’s because it’s the weekend. So I thought I’d try a bit of reverse psychology and tell people NOT to read this post. Sorry if you thought it would be more interesting. A post like this is very much a result of a very sleepy me! Happy Saturday!

In other news… I had the best night last night, chilling with my bestest lady friends. Gossip and food fest are just the best Friday night activities…. This morning I tried Chocolate Sugar Puffs, they kinda just taste like Sugar Puffs but they turn the milk brown…. The chilli plant has been repotted and is settling into it’s new home nicely!… The big batch of soup from the allotment is nearly finished, fortunately father-in-law has kindly donated another turnip from his allotment to go into the next batch!

Morning! So I’ve got that Friday feeling, which only happens to me once a month as I work alternate weekends (and on my other weekend off I’m off the Friday as well – yay!). I’m pretty excited today as I’m going to a friends house after work for dinner and movies and gossip! There will be five of my oldest friends, we’ve known each other since before high school so there’s always plenty to catch up on.

My husbands always moaning that he doesn’t have enough money to meet up and hang out with friends. He seems to think that he MUST meet his friends in the pub and that he MUST order several beers. I disagree. Some of my favourite days/nights socialising in the last year have been at home or at friends houses.

My friends and I have revived ‘the sleepover’, and could happily spend the night chattering away, watching movies, and, of course, eating junk food! I should state now that we are all in our late 20s (very late, 30 is looming!), so we probably should have grown out of sleepovers by now, but we would all argue that it’s one of the cheapest and most relaxed way of socialising around.

We’ve done pot luck dinners (everybody makes a course so there’s plenty for everyone and nobody has to shell out on the cost), ladies that lunch (we all got our glad rags on and made lunch and afternoon tea – it was awesome!), barbecues, even breakfasts! It’s all been at someone’s house, on the cheap!

Don’t get me wrong, I love a night out too! But there’s nothing worse than going on a night out when your skint, worrying about spending money you know you shouldn’t be spending, especially when others are egging you on – ‘Go on, have another drink!’. Frugal times are best spent with frugal friends at home!

In other news, I have started reading the Harry Potter books again from the start (the end of the movies has left a huge gap in my life, until the box set is out of course!). Also, and this is the best thing, I think I might get paid today. Here’s hoping! Will check my balance on the way to work. It’s been a tough month money-wise, so this pay-check is most welcome!

I have spent £1 today. Mainly down to working a 12 hour shift, taking food to work and only taking 2 out of the 3 breaks that were due to me (2 coffees @ 50p each = £1!).

During my coffee break I chatted to an intern during about supermarket shopping and how easy it is to spend more than you planned. She told me she usually shops in the convenience stores ie. the ones that hike the prices up just because they’re in a busy area. She does this because she doesn’t have a car. Isn’t that ridiculous?! She has to get 2 buses to the nearest supermarket so instead she just accepts that she has to pay more for her groceries than everyone else- crazy talk.

Before we had a car, my husband and I would catch the bus to the supermarket and rush around trying to get everything we needed before the bus home. Most of the time we’d end up missing it as we’d get distracted by products on offer or freshly baked cookies… Or anything really. Supermarkets are clever. They make you spend money that you don’t want to spend. They make you buy products that you really know you shouldn’t (hands up who’s bought Ben & Jerrys ice-cream because it was on offer or it was conveniently placed? Heck, I have 3 packs of Sugar Puffs at home just because they were in offer, buy 1 get 2 free?!? Go figure.).

Have you thought about buying your weekly shop online? The idea seems quite indulgent. Choosing all your shopping online and then someone else selects it for you, packs it and delivers it to your door. Yes, there is a delivery charge, usually about £3. Chances are, if you get a bus to the supermarket and back you’ll already have spend close to that anyway. The intern I was speaking to told me it was £5.60 for her & her boyfriend to take a trip to Asda. Not so indulgent now, huh?

There’s another reason why online supermarket shopping could save you money though, even with the delivery charge. If you shop in the supermarket, you might go with a list and a budget in mind. Inevitably, you’ll leave with extra stuff and having spent more than intended (you might even forget to pick up stuff you wanted but going home with things you didn’t need – how annoying!). If you get to the check-out and the nice lady say £38.70 but you only planned to spend £30, you don’t put things back. That would be awkward, especially with the people in the queue sighing, huffing and giving you the evil eye. Instead you just accept that you have overspent. We’ve all been there.

Online you can pick up what you want, but also put back as much as you like! It’s never embarrassing because you can faff about as much as you like at the check out. Nobody’s watching! Everything is easy to find and its not a problem if you change your mind. You can be as frugal as you want and nobody’s looking over your shoulder as you count those pennies back into your purse. Try it, you might just surprise yourself as to how sensible you can be!

I’m so proud of myself today. I spent exactly £1.36 today. That. Is. All.

I did a little shopping yesterday to pick up breakfast food to take to work this week so breakfast consisted of:
2 broken up ryvita biscuits with Greek yogurt, muesli (on offer for £1, usually £2.46) blueberries (£2, large punnet) and cherries (£1 on offer). Yum yum, very filling and healthy too!
I had a coffee from the machine at work for 50p (no Starbucks or Costa!).

My husband made a big batch of soup on Saturday and divided it up into little portions and popped them in the freezer (clever hubby!). So I grabbed one of them for lunch, it had thawed nicely by this point and I zapped it in the microwave for 2 minutes. I bought a slice of bread and a portion of Philadelphia Light for 36p from the canteen and another 50p coffee from the machine. (we have free water at work from the coolers so I had a few glasses throughout the day)

I’m so pleased about not spending anything! It’s such a great feeling!

Banana loaf is done! I had a couple of bananas that were on there way out, perfect excuse for some baking methinks! I have used cherries in this recipe too and managed to snap up a small punnet for just £1 at my local Asda! See my previous post here for details of the banana loaf I’m attempting to recreate.

I struggled to find the recipes that I’d used the last time I made the gluten free banana and cherry loaf, so I adapted one I found at this link.

I made the following alterations to the ingredients:

250g gluten free plain flour (I used Doves Farm plain white flour blend)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon glycerine
pinch salt
115g butter (can be subbed for sunflower oil for the dairy free lot – about 80ml or 1/3 cup should do)
115g dark brown soft sugar
2 eggs, beaten
500g mashed over-ripe bananas
10-12 fresh cherries – optional
50-100g chopped nuts or a couple of handfuls whole nuts (I used a mix of hazelnuts, almonds and pecans, chopped in food processor) – also optional
2 tablespoons natural yogurt (dairy free variety is okay)

I blended all the wet ingredients (butter, banana, glycerine & eggs) and gradually added the sugar. I then sieved the flour, bicarbonate of soda and xanthan gum into a large bowl and gradually added the wet mixture, folding it in. The mixture was a little stiff & doughy so I added the yogurt to loosen it off. At this stage it should be thick but it should move if you tilt the bowl, a bit like cement! I then added the nuts to add a bit of texture. I used the blade attachment on my food processor (pictured) to chop the nuts, about 4-5 pulses was enough, be careful not to chop them too much or they’ll start to form a paste. I then added the cherries, tearing each one into several pieces and disposing of the stone.

Spoon the mixture into a loaf tin, either lined with greaseproof paper or greased well with butter. Pop the tin in a preheated oven at 150 degrees for a fan oven or a little higher for a conventional oven and bake for about an hour and 15 mins or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

This was not my most successful loaf but I think that’s because I had the temperature up too high (I used the temp recommended on the recipe I referenced but I think for gluten free it should be a bit lower. I also have a fan oven so think that may have played a part!) The top of my loaf is a little crispy (burnt) but the middle is gooey and just dense enough.

I made a light glaze with 1 and 1/2 tablespoons yoghurt and about 50-75g icing sugar (so its still a bit runny) and brushed it on the top. Alternatively you can make a cream cheese and icing sugar mix. Start with a small amount of cream cheese (add a slice of banana if you want to add some extra flavour) and add the icing sugar, the consistency should be thick like a paste. Sprinkle some icing sugar on the top to finish.

I’ll remake this again soon so may update it again if I can improve on anything.

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A couple on months back, we had a banana cake-off at work: me and a colleague, Lesley, agreed to make banana cakes for our colleagues, who would then judge the winner.

At the time I was really keen on making cupcakes, so I decided to make banana flavoured variety (with real banana though, not artificial flavourings!). I stumbled upon a recipe on the internet and produced 2 dozen tiny cakes. They were not my best. I usually ad-lib a bit on recipes as I’ll usually see more than 1 recipe for the same thing & somehow combine them. But sadly, on this occasion, I stuck to the recipe and the results were not the best. I iced them with a banana & cream cheese icing (which I ended up making far to much of!). However, I lost the cake-off to Lesley – she made a wonderful banana & date loaf, which everybody enjoyed, except for my good friend Freyja, who is Coeliac so couldn’t have any of them due to their gluten content. I left work a little bit disappointed, as I knew I could do better.

At home, I still had excess banana icing, and I still had some super-ripe bananas, so I decided to have another go to try & redeem myself! I felt a little guilty that Freyja had not been able to enjoy any of the cakes due to their gluten content, so I resolved to make a gluten free banana loaf.

I came across a few recipes online and combined a couple of them, although they weren’t gluten free. If you’ve ever tried gluten free baking before, you’ll know that it can be tricky. The flour is of a different consistency and is usually more powdery once baked. There are many varieties of gluten free flour, I used Doves Farm plain white flour blend.

To combat the powdery texture I used glycerin with the bananas and substituted some of the caster sugar for golden syrup. I also used xanthan gum (also from Doves Farm) as an alternative binding ingredient, as gluten generated by wheat flour is the element that holds everything together. As another little ad-lib, I added cherries (mainly because I had a punnet in front of me and they were delicious!).

I popped it in the oven and, once cool, used up the leftover icing. The downside to making a loaf is that you don’t get to try it before you unleash it on the world (or my colleagues). Thankfully, it all worked out and everyone enjoyed it.in fact, some people preferred it to Lesley’s. It is my gluten free greatest success to date. And I don’t remember the recipe!

So today, I am hoping to recreate the amazing banana & cherry loaf. I have the super-ripe bananas & am picking up some cherries at the shops – Tesco have some on special buy for £1! I feel like the gluten free variety of this loaf really worked and added a lightness, not usually found in a loaf.

I plan to document my every ingredient, sieve and blend. Hopefully I will then be able to share with you a recipe for a gluten free banana (& cherry) loaf that works.

I’m just about to heat up a portion of our homemade soup that’s stashed in the freezer. Yum!

For other ways to alter recipes, see Living Shalom’s blog post here:

Simple Adaptations.