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Stewardship of Money and Living in London on a Student Budget

September 30, 2014 1 comment

It’s that time of the year when sunny days get colder and the student hordes throng the streets of London. I’ve had a good time meeting the first arrivals, urging them to make the most of their few years abroad.

rocket, fig, proscuitto, mozzarella salad with linseed vinaigretteIt’ll be a sad thing if all they had to show at the end of their degree was, erm, a degree, selfies in front of tourist attractions, signed menus from Michelin restaurants, and a life partner to eat in said restaurants with. There’s much more to life, boys and girls! Away from the usual societal crutches of home, this is the perfect opportunity to think carefully and independently about life – to investigate properly what truth is and so set valid life goals according to that truth. After thorough investigation, Christian claims, as set out in the Bible, seemed overwhelmingly true:

  1. the deadly problem we all face is that we are all under the wrath of God for failing to acknowledge him;
  2. nothing we can ever do or say will be able to turn away God’s wrath on the Last Day;
  3. but God sent his Son Jesus to save us from this – if we trust that what God promised is true – ie. that Jesus’ death is sufficient to save us from the consequences of our sin.

Because this is such an important thing for this life and the next, I would highly recommend everyone to research this for themselves. A Christianity Explored course is a great place to start! And London universities are well served by good churches like St. Helen’s Bishopsgate and Euston Church.

While the important stuff gets sorted, there are also daily necessities to consider. (Ah but, really, who ultimately provides us with money to buy food with, enables food to grow as they should, regulates the seasons, gives us breath?) As a student at a Bible course, living off my own savings, I had to be careful about spending, but also not let frugality be an idol; to be so able to work the budget as still to be generously hospitable about housing and feeding people. We usually think that “good stewardship” of God-given money consists merely of avoiding conspicuous consumption, but miserliness too fails to properly invest God’s money for his work.

Food
Because the United Kingdom produces its own food and local food is more likely to be less expensive, it is best to eat the season.

Street markets are your best bet for fresh food. I don’t mean the organic hipster places but the “ethnic” sort in East London – for example, along Whitechapel or in Shadwell. Vegetables are usually sold by the bowl – £1 for whatever is in the bowl. And I have managed to bargain for more to be stuffed in the same bowl…

Check London Farmers Markets for more English/continental produce. Although basics are on the whole more expensive, this is for you if you care about provenance. And there are some bargains at closing time or on things that don’t usually figure in the modern London kitchen – like duck hearts, other offal, pork bones for ramen bases. Even the more posh farmers’ markets are worth checking out: I’ve gotten good bags of pesticide-free fruit and vegetables for £1 each at the Marylebone Farmers’ Market and chicken carcasses for stock (but with enough flesh left on it for a meal for one or two) for 25p each at Borough Market.

It’s also worth being a regular at your local butcher and fishmonger who may throw in stuff for free once they get to know you.

wild blackberries wild blackberry tart

Foraging has saved me a bundle on fruit and herbs. But obviously you need to be sure not to poison yourself, especially with the mushrooms. Check out recipes and advice at Forage London.

Marked Down GroceriesIf you really need to use a supermarket, you can compare prices at mysupermarket.co.uk. There isn’t a particularly generally cheap(er) mainstream supermarket: Tesco and Sainsbury’s might sell different goods more cheaply. Lidl, Aldi, and ASDA, although not known to be upmarket, have own-brand products that stand up to more expensive own-brands: like olive oil and charcuterie. Check for Great Taste Awards as well. There are also treasures in Lidl’s wine bins (eg. Bordeaux second growths).

Waitrose does really deep discounts on well-kept but expiring food. I usually snap these up for the freezer – good for lazy evenings and unexpected guests. It’s also worth signing up to be a Waitrose member for free coffee (espresso, cappuccino, latte) and tea daily, additional discounts, and a free well-written magazine every month.
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down GroceriesThe other great thing about Waitrose is that it applies original bulk-buy discounts to stickered items. In this instance, Waitrose technically paid me £0.11 to buy 18 sausages off them!

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Marks & Spencer stores tend to clear out their bakery sections at a good yellow-stickered discount about 6.00 p.m. (store-dependent) every day so you can get proper bread/pastry your dinner/breakfast there. The city center stores are also good for discounts on dairy items like milk and cheese.

Approved Food has a bit of a niche selling food near or past its best before date at good reductions.

Coffee
Brewing your own probably gives you a better cup and saves you loads off Costa lattes. Worth checking out online coffee companies for promotional discounts – eg. Pact Coffee delivers your first order for only £1.

Clothes
By the fact that everyone can tell me a mile away by my clothes, it is clear that I don’t really have much experience in this area. But for fig leaves that don’t look too cheap, TK Maxx has good stuff. There are loads of charity shops around. Also look out for clothes swaps.

For camping/hiking/walking clothes, footwear, and accessories, try the Army Surplus Store

Hair Cuts
Get them free by being a real live model for hairdressing students or juniors. Have a look at this Time Out article for details.

Cookware, homeware and home electricals
Check first if anyone has anything to give away on London Freecycle or Gumtree or a whole list of alternatives on the Guardian Green Living Blog or on the London Re-use Network. Otherwise, compare prices at:
Robert Dyas
Argos
Lakeland
Poundland, 99p shop, 98p shop…

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse
Reuse jars as cups and for storage. Reuse can and coffee cups as pen and pencil holders. Reuse fruit crates for shelves. Reuse wine cases for bookshelves.

Transportation
Cycling around London is free, though you’ll need to acquire a bicycle and an all-important bicycle lock.

Bicycles
Freecycle, Gumtree, . Or ReCycling and other sites listed on Bike Hub. Cycle training, if you live in Tower Hamlets, is free.

bicycle maintenance club bicycle repair and maintenance tools

You’ll want to keep your ride in good shape, so pop down to the free bicycle maintenance workshops.

Trains
The Man on Seat 61 has good advice about this.

Leisure Activities
It helps to live in areas that the government thinks need a leg up. In Tower Hamlets, for example, there is free tennis and relatively cheap admission to swimming pools.

For theatre, opera, concerts, check out the TKTS website for discounts, or (if appropriate) hunt for student standby tickets or platform seats.

Lots more tips at moneysavingexpert.com.

Beef Stew and Trials of Various Kinds

January 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Beef Stew
“Hooray, the house hasn’t burned down!” cheered a housemate, returning from The Annual Student Conference. I’d left the oven on, wandered out for evening service, stayed around to chat over dinner, and realised belatedly that we might not have a place to live in when we returned. Fortunately, the only thing that was stewing was what was well-contained in the pot. So not only were we not homeless, as a bonus, there was a hot supper waiting as well.

The Sunday morning message on James 1:1-8 has been the topic of many a conversation this week.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

As people who profess to have faith in God, how we respond to all sorts of testing situations – whether suffering or temptations – will have a major impact on the steadfastness of our faith. This is in a sense circular, though not as a logical fallacy – but rather, by way of reinforcement and refinement.

Knowing that this is the purpose of trials of various kinds, we can therefore count it all joy. Not in a masochistic sense, not that baseless positive thinking nonsense (“Why so grumpy? Just smile a little.” “Think good thoughts, it’ll all work out in the end! I promise!”), but relying on our assurance that God is sovereign and in control of everything, and that these things stabilise and strengthen the nature and quality of our relationship with him.

(This was something The Tutor had pressed on me way back in September last year, but being quite hard-of-hearing, I’d thought he was trying to lay on a Gottfried Leibniz Die beste aller möglichen Welten (the best of all possible worlds) and responded with the same incredulity as Voltaire in Candide. Alas. {But then again, don’t think he showed his working on a scriptural basis. Aha.})

And so how do we go about this? Ask God, because what faith in God includes is trusting that he is a good God who doesn’t throw out a few obstacles and then fold his arms and wait to see how humans perform; he is a Father who cares deeply for the welfare of his children and will not withhold anything good (that is, good according to his criteria – good for our relationship with him, not the prosperity and health that we humans assume are the ultimate good) if we ask. And this, even though we do not deserve his gift of wisdom.

__________________________________________________

Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jools’ Favourite Beef Stew
(because, to quote numerous uni students,”you can’t go wrong with Jamie”)

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 knob butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 handful fresh sage leaves from housemate who didn’t manage to use them all on the Christmas turkey
  • 900 g quality stewing steak or beef skirt, cut into 5cm pieces
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • flour, to dust
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and quartered (a bagful at Marylebone Farmers’ Market was £1)
  • 4 carrots, peeled and halved
  • ½ butternut squash, halved, deseeded and roughly diced (oops, forgot about this)
  • 1 handful Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and halved (also £1 for a bagful)
  • 500 g small potatoes (forgot)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée (replaced with tomato ketchup because couldn’t find the can opener)
  • ½ bottle red wine (a cheap ASDA Extra Special Cabernet Sauvignon 2011*)
  • 285 ml organic beef or vegetable stock (random Waitrose house brand)
  • + chestnut mushrooms
  • +4 sticks of celery
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon (oops)
  • 1 handful rosemary, leaves picked (drats)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped (fergeddit)

Method

Preheat the oven to 160ºC/300ºF/gas 2. Put a little oil and your knob of butter into an appropriately sized pot or casserole pan. Add your onion and all the sage leaves and fry for 3 or 4 minutes. Toss the meat in a little seasoned flour, then add it to the pan with all the vegetables, the tomato [purée], wine and stock, and gently stir together.

Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and just a little salt. Bring to the boil, place a lid on top, then cook in the preheated oven until the meat is tender. Sometimes this takes 3 hours, sometimes 4 – it depends on what cut of meat you’re using and how fresh it is [or until you remember to rescue it from its slow death]. The only way to test is to mash up a piece of meat and if it falls apart easily it’s ready. Once it’s cooked, you can turn the oven down to about 110°C/225°F/gas ¼ and just hold it there until you’re ready to eat.

The best way to serve this is by ladling big spoonfuls into bowls, accompanied by a glass of French red wine and some really fresh, warmed bread [or mashed sweet potato stirred through with English mustard…mmmm]. [Mix the lemon zest, chopped rosemary and garlic together and sprinkle over the stew before eating. Just the smallest amount will make a world of difference – as soon as it hits the hot stew it will release an amazing fragrance.]

*ASDA Extra Special Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

ASDA Extra Special Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

This was a pays d’oc of indeterminate origin within France. Blackcurrant on the nose but didn’t translate to palate. Very short. Was not sorry to bung it into the casserole.

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