Sunday, 30 October 2011

Soooo Tired

I've worked 52 hours this week. To me that doesn't sound like a loooong time, but I work two jobs where you're standing up and walking about all day. I'm knackered! I'm especially tired at the end of this weekend where both restaurants have been very busy and I had an hour gap between my shifts each day! I should be grateful for the hours really as next week I'm only down to do ~38 hours (the hours at the Chinese vary by how busy it is), which nets me about £100 less than this week!

But yes, life has been put rather on hold this week. I have quite a long To Do list building up now!! PhD positions have begun to be advertised, so I need to be researching and applying for them! Also, I have only finished one Christmas present so far and I still don't know what I'm doing for several people! I need to get creating next week!

Can't even keep my eyes open anymore. Don't think that putting the clocks back last night helped – it feels an hour later than it is! G'night!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bad Mix or Bad Cook?

When baking a cake, I'd normally start from scratch using all the different ingredients, but when I saw a Victoria sponge cake mix in Tesco for 49p I thought that it'd probably be cheaper and easier than buying the ingredients I needed separately! All you need are two eggs and some water.

I really wanted it to work! I baked it this morning for my Dad's birthday meal this evening. I used exactly the right size tins and the right amount of eggs, but when I put the mix into the tins it barely covered the bottom! I assumed they must have some amazing raising ingredient in there to poof it up a bit! I think my problem was that I didn't have an electric whisk, so perhaps my mixture wasn't as airy as it should've been but I did try to compensate with lots of floofing-up hand maneuvers!

Sadly, when I pulled it out of the oven after 15 minutes, the cake layers were only about a centimetre thick! It's probably mostly my fault, but I now have an inch thick cake instead of a lovely voluminous sponge! The cake is still fairly airy and light, just... thin! It is also, having tried a crumb, pretty darn tasteless compared to other sponges I've made myself. 

The cake was my responsibility so it's off to find some more ingredients, or maybe just a ready-made cake that I can't mess up!!

Happy birthday to you,
Sorry your birthday cake is poo,
I'll do better next year,
Happy birthday to you!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Autumnal Leaf Print Wrapping Paper

It's my dad's birthday on Thursday. Rather than buying some generic wrapping paper, I though I'd get a little creative and make something a bit more unique. I decided to make leaf print paper. My first attempt resulted in disastrous vaguely-leaf-shaped red splodges, but after Googling I learnt how to make more interesting designs!

To make leaf print paper, you will need:
Paper – newspaper would be the most frugal, but I opted for brown parcel paper for an autumnal feel!
Paint – I used cheap acrylic paint from Home Bargains (I made myself red cardboard wings for a costume at Uni last year!). Poster paint would probably crack when you folded the paper so be careful what you use!
Paintbrush/foam brush – A foam brush would work best to apply the paint thinly, but I didn't have one and a paintbrush worked pretty well!
Leaves – You need leaves with an interesting shape (oak leaves and sycamore/maple leaves look particularly cool) and with prominent veins on the back. Another tip is that particularly waxy leaves repel the paint so they don't work as well (for example, I had trouble with fuschia leaves).
Piece of scrap paper

The first step is to thinly apply the paint to the underside of the leaf (where the veins stick out). It's a good idea to paint the stem a little too as the shape looks better. Don't glob the paint on or you won't be able to make out the detail when it's printed.

Next, place the leaf paint-side down on the main sheet of paper. Put the scrap piece of paper over it and run your hand across it evenly to transfer the paint to your wrapping paper.

Carefully remove the leaf from the page, and you should have a nice leaf print on the wrapping paper.

Now repeat this until you've covered the paper!

Et voila, interesting wrapping paper! You can cut out one of the leaf prints to use as a tag too!

Might try this with holly to make Christmas wrapping paper too!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Frugal Christmas Gifts: Sweater Bag

I've completed one of my homemade Christmas presents! My word did it take a long time! It wouldn't have been so bad if I could've used the sewing machine, but the bag's for Mum and it's her sewing machine. It's really complicated to use so I'd have needed a refresher course in how to work the 1000 settings.

I made a sweater bag, as seen on Frugal Living by Basically you cut the top half of the jumper off below the armpits and use it to form the outside of the bag. I used some old white material I had as a lining, with a material-style belt cut up as handles.

I think it turned out pretty well and I took about 8 hours stitching the bloody thing so it shouldn't come undone easily!

Now I just need to get cracking on the other things!! Only 9 weeks until Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A Quick Update

I managed to find a job! It's part time at McDonalds, which actually seems to be a good place to work. There are a lot of staff benefits like money off online shopping at Amazon and Play (and some high-street places too). It's not what I was expecting to be doing six months ago when I got a letter back from a company researching plants offering me an interview (and later a job!), but still, it's money and it's flexible. I can fit it around my job at the Chinese and also any upcoming interviews I will hopefully have for my PhD!

In other news, I noticed today that I haven't used my credit card in over a month! (And it's all paid back!) The last time I used it was because I wasn't sure if I was near my overdraft limit, so in five weeks I've managed to pay off over £600! :) Not bad going for someone on minimum wage!

The best news is that with my new job I should be debt free by the time I go back to Uni! I will hopefully even have some savings! (I can't work it out yet because the hours aren't fixed, but even minimum hours gets me back up to £0!!)

I can do this!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Composting 101

Making compost is FANTASTIC! It saves you money on expensive fertilisers for your vegetable patch (which itself saves you money on food), it gets rid of all your waste peelings and saves landfill, and it even helps to prevent some plant diseases.

If you don't already have a compost bin, I would definitely recommend getting one if you have a garden. Even if you don't grow vegetables, compost can be added to your flower beds to improve growth and even flower quality. Place your bin on a bare patch of soil and just start adding to it! It takes about a year for everything to break down properly, but you're left with a rich, dark compost that should be added to your soil and dug in to mix it.

Things to compost:
  • Vegetable peelings
  • UNCOOKED fruit – don't add any cooked material to the compost bin as it will attract rats
  • Grass cuttings – just make sure that the majority of your compost IS NOT grass cuttings, because if this makes up a lot of the volume the compost will be slimy and unpleasant!
  • Tea bags – rip open the bags and add the leaves to the compost. The bags do not break down well in the soil so you'll be finding them for years!
  • Old flowers and dead annuals
  • Cardboard and egg boxes
  • Bark and wood shavings
  • Stinging nettles – these are full of nutrients. Just be sure to remove the roots or you could find them taking up home in your compost!
  • Horse/cow poo (or the poo of any herbivore!)

Do not put these in your compost, as they will attract rats and will contain some nasty bacteria when it starts to rot.
  • Cooked food
  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Omnivore/carnivore poo, such as dogs, cats, pigs (or humans...)

You should also avoid putting diseased plants into the compost because it will contaminate your garden when you introduce the compost into the soil.

Some people also add dead leaves to their compost. This is fine, but the best thing to do with loads of dead leaves is to collect a huge bin liner full of them, store them somewhere out of the way and let them start to rot. If the leaves are dry when you collect them, spray them with water to speed up the decomposition process. This is “leaf mould”, which is not particularly high in nitrates (a component of fertilisers) but it is an excellent way to improve your soil structure, benefiting your garden in other ways. Do not use evergreen leaves like holly or conifers though.

My dad and I went for a wander down the lane earlier to collect some high nitrate plants to add to the compost bins. We got a couple of bags of stinging nettles, clover and bracken. We also came across the jackpot – a big pile of horse poo!! (Yes, I did wash my hands afterwards!!)

Do you compost and if so, what do you add to your bin?

Time for Tea

During the exam period I kept myself sane by drinking vats of tea. I took a litre with me to the library every day and some days I must've drunk another litre at home! Eek! I've had to cut back to a normal two or three cups a day now though, after becoming slightly addicted to caffeine and getting headaches if I didn't have my “fix”!

These days a cup/mug of tea is a way to relax. Grab a couple of chocolate digestives and we're really talking! Top tip: if you only use digestives for dunking in tea (an act that The Boyfriend and my father constantly chastise me for!) then the value range at your local supermarket do just as good a job. In Tesco, Value Chocolate Digestives are 39p for 300g, which compares very favourably to leading brands like McVitie's (£1.75 for 400g)!

As someone who only got into tea a couple of years ago, I can't really say that I'm a connoisseur. I know loose leaf tea is supposed to be vastly superior to teabags (haven't tried this yet) but I was wondering: is there a noticeable difference in quality between different teabags? Do brands like PG tips or Tetley's taste better than supermarket own brand bags? All I know is that I hate Earl Grey (tastes like washing up liquid was left in the cup!) and decaffeinated tea tastes bizarre!

Friday, 14 October 2011


I'm stressed about finding more work at the moment. Can you tell?

Recent figures have shown that UK unemployment reached a 17-year high in June-August. 2.57 million people were out of work, which included nearly a million 16-24 year olds (21.3% of those eligible to work). For five days I was one of those unemployed young people.

I regularly check the JobCentre Plus website for new jobs. The majority of positions advertised in my area are either 2-16 hours per week minimum wage roles or self-employed things like leaflet distribution or Avon representatives. There are very few “white collar” professional jobs, partly because they are advertised on more specialised websites, but also simply that there are none around. It's probably a problem everywhere, but in Cornwall especially young people are forced to leave the Duchy to find the jobs they have earned through years of study. The reality is that companies do not want to create new jobs in the current economic climate, for fear that they will have to downsize in the future. Many new public sector jobs have to be filled from other civil service departments rather than being opened up for new people to enter the system.

Imagine an unemployed person. Did you imagine someone sitting on the sofa, staring at endless channels of daytime TV drivel? Most people WANT to find work. Trying to find a job requires HOURS of work each day. I was searching and applying for jobs for about 6-8 hours each day. It was far more mentally draining than a regular 9-5!

I hate the ever-increasing unemployment rate. There are a lot of things I disagree with David Cameron about, but one thing he said was sadly true, “every job that is lost is a tragedy for that person and for their family”.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Will the Recession Save the World?

Humanity is destroying itself. We're lopping down forests, burning through fuel supplies and we're polluting the planet to a point where crops will start to fail. I don't personally believe humans as a species will last for another 1000 years, or even 500 years.

Yet there is still a glimmer of hope. We still have time to rectify the situation. To stabilise greenhouse gas levels at a safe level would cost 1% of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the Stern Review published in October 2006. The alternative is struggling to pay for failing ecosystem processes. Our planet is fantastic. It provides a huge range of habitats to support teeming millions of creatures and plants. We benefit from food, clean drinking water, pharmaceuticals from plants, regulated climate, pollination of crops, nutrient cycling, waste decomposition and disease control, not to mention all those processes we do not fully understand yet! If carbon emissions continue at the current rate we will lose some of the most vital things that Earth provides for us. The cost to the global economy will be 5-20% of the GDP, or 20 times more than the cost of acting now to prevent the loss.

Do people want to go green to save the planet? Can they be bothered? Until recently the answer was “no” in most cases.

The recession has been rubbish for everyone, with millions of people unemployed in the UK and a huge hike in the cost of living. In the news the other day they reported that people weren't planning to turn on their central heating until it gets colder because of the 18% rise in energy costs. As long as people are staying safe, surely this is a good thing! People feel that they should be able to walk round their home in shorts and a t-shirt, even in the middle of winter! By putting on a few extra layers instead of flicking on the heating you are saving yourself money as well as cutting down your carbon footprint. I'm currently writing this from the comfort of a blanket and shawl, with fluffy woolly socks keeping my toes toasty. A safe room temperature is about 16°C (61°F), which isn't warm but it's not uncomfortably cold (older people and young children may need a slightly higher temperature). If you're only going to be in one room (for example at night), just heat the one room instead of your entire house!

Another “benefit” of the recession is the ridiculous price of petrol/diesel. The cheapest prices in our area currently are 133.9 pence per litre for petrol and 138.9p/L for diesel. (It's quite harsh that Cornwall has some of the highest fuel prices in the country, yet some of the worst public transport and lowest wages to boot!) The days of going for a drive for something to do are over. A year ago, The Boyfriend and I would occasionally drive to the 24hr Tesco (~25 mile round trip) to get a DVD to watch, but lately we've said “ehhh.. fuel costs too much”! I'm sure a lot of people are reducing their weekly miles to save money, which has got to have a good impact on the environment!

The question is how much of a reduction will be enough? The Government has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 12.5% by 2012 (from 1990 levels) and by 80% by 2050. Will we meet these targets, and will it be enough to stop global climate change from escalating?

The recession is causing people to live more frugally and environmentally friendly. Will the recession save the planet?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Emergency Fund EMERGENCY!

It's always a good idea to have a bit of money stored away for unexpected emergencies. Unfortunately for me, I have a potential upcoming emergency and no fund set aside!

Unless my situation changes and I find a permanent job rather than flitting from seasonal job to seasonal job, I will be completely without income for January. Even the Chinese restaurant where I work part time will be closed for the month.

Generally it is recommended that you make a list of all of your regular monthly expenses, such as rent, food, utility bills, fuel, insurance, etc., and then create a fund large enough to cover all of these outgoings for three months. This guards against loss of earnings, car repairs, expensive dental work, etc., etc. Dave Ramsey is a famous American financial counsellor and recommends setting up a $1000 emergency fund, even before paying off any debt. Whilst it's a good idea to save up three months worth, I only have three months until the start of January, so I'm aiming for at least enough to cover January's costs, just in case!

My outgoings for January:
Rent - £0. Fortunately if I am completely without income my parents would be able to let me live rent free for a short period of time. I am completely glad that I don't have my own place in a situation like this!
Car insurance - £56. Yes that's my monthly premium! It's my first year as the main driver rather than a named driver, so I have no No Claims Discount and I'm still under 25. :(
Mobile phone - £17. This is my main source of contact for potential employers so I don't want to give up my contract for a month.
Fuel - £100. I'm budgeting a normal month's fuel consumption because I would be on the hunt for jobs which will (hopefully) involve driving to interviews!
Living - £50. This will cover a few items of food each week to contribute to the house.
Small buffer - £25. Just in case something (else) comes up.
= £248 so budgeting £250 in total.

I'm aiming to have a £250 January emergency fund by the end of the year. I already have £70 saved from tips and some money that I haven't yet put in the bank. If I put away £10 for each of the 13 weeks left I should have £200. This will mean I'll only need to earn £4 in tips per week to make it up to £250 (averages £10-20 so this shouldn't be a problem).

All extra money will be saved rather than spent, which includes tips, extra fuel money (unlikely but still!), birthday money (November), spare living costs, any money left from the Christmas budget, etc.

Even with this emergency fund, I REALLY need to find another day job. My projected finances if I just continue on with the Chinese restaurant and the hotel next summer is looking even bleaker than they are now! GRRR!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Hunting for Seasonal Work

The dreaded day has arrived.

The hotel is cutting back our hours to four days next week instead of the standard five. We're already finishing an hour earlier each day, so this is taking me from a comfortable 35-40 hours during the summer (including evening shifts in the laundry) to about 20 hours a week. Currently this is being compensated for by my 15-20 hours in the evenings at the Chinese restaurant, but very soon this will be my only source of income. (The research job I have been promised is still very much in the planning stage.) I cannot try to live on ~£100 a week whilst paying back debts over winter.. my projected bank balance for winter/spring is looking as bleak as when I graduated!

I need to act now.

So, new plan. Tomorrow I'm off to town to visit my Nana and also catch up with a friend. I'm going to head in early and trudge round the shops. I will ask in every shop, “Do you need additional staff for Christmas?” If I can't find anything in Newquay (it's a tourist town so actually pretty quiet in winter anyway) then I'll head over to Truro in the afternoon (a larger town with more chain stores!!).

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

How Do You Deal With Overspending?

Haven't posted in a few days as my laptop started making a rattling noise and what I thought was smoke was pouring out of it! Luckily my Dad's an IT technician. Turns out it was particles of dust blowing out and the rattling noise was a piece of broken vent-cover jamming up the fan! Good news – it's fixed! Don't have to shell out hundreds of pounds for a new one either - major plus point!

Anyway, onto the main topic of today. How do you deal with going over budget? It was The Boyfriend's mum's birthday on the 29th and we went out to dinner. It wasn't a high-end restaurant or anything (Table Table – owned by Brewer's Fayre), yet I still ended up spending £17 on one meal, all by myself!

I'd already factored her birthday present into my budget but didn't realise The Boyfriend was planning on taking her for a meal! My weekly budget is £15, which includes buying a few items of food for the house and maybe a half-price evening at the cinema or a pint of cider one evening. (Generally I try not to spend anything at all). Unfortunately the £17 meal was on top of all this!

So what's the solution? Do you take it out of next week's budget, spread the cost or simply accept it and move on, £17 worse off than before?