Saturday, 31 December 2011

Setting Aside Money for Annual Expenses

Most household costs can be easily worked into a budget. Monthly rent and bills, fuel costs, mobile phone contract, food costs, etc. If I have £50 left over after all that, it's mine to spend, right? Wrong!!

Christmas is a fantastic example of an annual event which can “come from nowhere” and bust your budget! It happens every year, yet this year has been the first where I've actually set aside a little from every pay packet to spread the cost. I've just been going through my budget and thinking of how much I need to budget weekly and monthly to be able to afford the annual costs of living!

Car tax – My car tax is due for renewal in February, when I need to pay either £215 for a year or £118 for 6 months. (Makes me miss my little Micra's 1 litre engine and £130 for a year's tax!!)
MOT – The MOT safety checks for Jools the Peugeot will cost approximately £50 at my local garage. Since he'll be 12 years old by September when it's due, I'm guessing it'll cost a little in repairs too. I've budgeted an extra £50, but if he costs more than that then it's a matter for my Emergency Fund!
Car insurance renewal – Again, due in September. I'll be a year older and hopefully with a year's No Claims Discount, HOWEVER the EU has ruled that women's car insurance prices have to be equal to men (despite us being ten times less likely to have a serious crash...) from December next year, so my insurance is likely to increase, rather than decrease, next year. (Don't get me started on how somehow sexism is not allowed in car insurance yet ageism is!!) Worst case scenario is about £70 a month with a £150 deposit, so I'm budgeting £220 for the initial outlay.
Gifts – Christmas cost me about £130 this year for my entire family, which is at least £300 less than normal! (We used to go a bit crazy at Christmas!) For this year, I am budgeting £300 for all gifts, which will include both birthdays and Christmas!
Dental checkups – Dentists charge anything from £15-£40 just to look at your teeth, and you're supposed to go every six months. I know I need some work doing too, so I have a separate fund for this.

Things you may also need to consider:
Television License – If it were up to me, we wouldn't have a television at home. When I'm at Uni again later in the year, I will not get one. If you do have one, don't forget to budget £145.50 for this year.
Holidays – If you want to go away over the summer, spread the cost over the winter months too!
Subscriptions – Do you have any annual subscriptions to the gym, magazines, clubs etc.?
Insurance – Do you have to pay any life, home or disability insurance premiums annually?

I need to spread the cost of approximately £900 over the course of the year. £17 a week sounds a lot better than squeezing £400 into my normal budget in September!!

Have you got a section in your budget for occasional expenses? How much do you need to save?

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Ten Ways to Save the Planet for Free

Buy this energy saving gadget, eat extortionate organically grown vegetables. 
We are constantly being sold expensive products in order to try and reduce the enormous burden we place on the planet. Whilst I would definitely recommend some of these (low-wattage light bulbs, for example), there are many ways we can reduce waste and minimise consumption for free, which may well have more of an impact anyway! It is one of my New Year's Resolutions to implement all of the following methods wherever possible, and I hope you'll join me.

  1. Recycle – Yes, yes, you can recycle your paper, cans, clothes and plastic at home, but recycling goes deeper than that. Can you repurpose things that you no longer want into something else? Frugal Down Under is amazing at turning old things into beautiful new gifts and items for the home. You can find a home for a lot of unwanted possessions on Freecycle. Use a comparison website to see who will give you the most money for recycling your old mobile phone, either for yourself or for charity.
  2. Re-use plastic bags! – Shops in Wales charge a fee for plastic bags even at supermarkets now and it's only a matter of time before the rest of the UK follows suit. Re-use plastic bags you already have (for free), or invest in a few Bags For Life which can be replaced when they wear out. I travelled to Germany about six years ago and I was so impressed to see that people take along their own containers to buy fruit and veg, rather than using the little plastic bags we have. I can't believe this hasn't caught on here yet, so let's start doing it today!
  3. Grow your own – Fresh, organic vegetables can be easily grown. The initial outlay for seeds and tools will be easily compensated by the amount you save later in the year by eating your own crops. Plan what you are going to grow – there are multitudes of websites to help with this (use one based in your own country). Dig out a vegetable patch, or turn over the soil of last year's patch if you already have one. You can begin planting in March. Use your waste vegetable matter (raw) to begin composting for a great fertiliser in a year's time. (See my beginner's guide to composting).
  4. Turn it off! – Leaving a laptop on standby overnight uses 15-40 watts an hour, depending on whether the battery is charging. This alone will cost you a pound or two a week, which soon adds up when you think of all the other red lights blinking in the dark in your home.
  5. Print sparingly – Print only when you have to, and always use both sides of the paper. You can even set documents to print two sheets per side, which is usually easily legible.
  6. Don't buy bottled water – The Mother Nature Network states that bottled water results in 1.5 million tonnes of plastic each year and less than 20% of bottles are actually recycled. With prices of up to £1 per litre, bottled water can be nearly as expensive as petrol!
  7. Short showers – Showers are viewed as less wasteful but try putting the plug in one day to see how much water you actually use. Aim to halve it.
  8. Look after your possessions – Perform the required maintenance tasks, keep items clean and learn how to fix it when it is broken. Cars can actually use significantly less fuel if the oil is changed regularly and they are looked after properly. (See my post on hypermiling, the art of making fuel go further).
  9. Get on your bike and ride – How long does it take you to drive to work? If you live within five miles of your workplace it will take less than 20 minutes to pedal yourself there. That is INCLUDING that great big hill on the way there, and think how much fun it'll be whizzing down it on the way home!
  10. On-line banking – Stop the unread bank statements from cluttering up your home. You can keep a real-time eye on what's going in and out of your account using online banking. Make sure you have up-to-date anti-virus and firewall software installed. For more security advice, read this website.

Ten small ways to save money, reduce waste and save energy. Ten easy ways to make a difference. Join me in my mission to reduce my impact on the planet in 2012!

Monday, 26 December 2011

Homemade Christmas Roundup!

Well, Christmas is done and dusted for another year! I can't help feeling relieved! I was up really late on Christmas Eve wrapping presents and making food-based gifts that couldn't be kept long. The past couple of days have been blissful though, if only for being rid of the niggling “I still need to make this, I have to hurry and finish that” thoughts! Soooo good to be done! I was given some truly lovely gifts this year too. Thanks to friends and family. <3

Guess what? The Boyfriend's mum saw the Christmas card holding tree that I made my Nana and has requested that I make her one next year! Result! Must've looked good then!

I did learn a lot from having a homemade Christmas however:
  1. Working 50+ hour weekends in split shifts does not leave a lot of time for crafting, family, The Boyfriend and friends, and all of them require a lot of dedicated time in the run up to Christmas!
  2. Cellophane is evil.
  3. Sometimes you can buy things more cheaply than you can make them.
  4. Continuous crafting takes up A LOT of space! My room is still full of boxes, fabric, gift wrap and various Christmas-type accessories.
  5. Tissue paper and crepe paper are not good choices of wrapping paper if you have a cat that likes to rub up against things!
  6. People do actually appreciate the time you spent something specially for them, rather than another generic set of shower gel.
  7. I need a lot more practise!!
I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas. I've eaten far too much the past couple of days, but spent the time with all my favourite people. :) 

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

An Orange Error of Judgement

Did you hear about Orange's 4.34% price hike to contract phones? The increase will be applied in January to all pay-monthly customers who got their contract before mid-September. My parents are each on a £10 a month contract with them, so this amounts to them paying another 43p a month, or £5.20 a year, each. A small increase, but an unexpected one. This is a legal move; in the small print it says that they can increase their prices by the rate of inflation each year (currently 5.4%). But is it really worth their while?

There has been uproar. Over the course of a 24 month contract (which many contracts are these days), customers will be paying almost enough for another month's usage at the price they signed up for. Many people did not realise that there was even the potential that the price would change. I feel that Orange will lose far more than they gain – brand loyalty in a market as competitive as mobile phone tariffs is very hard to build up, so an unexpected and somewhat unfair (although legal) price increase would probably lose them more money in customers leaving than the increased revenues they bring in now.

Are you on Orange? Would you care if this small increase happened to you? I would be annoyed if O2 did this to me, but would probably remain loyal to them unless another company provided as good network coverage in Cornwall!!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Homemade Christmas Card Display

Finished tree hanging on the wall
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches!
Not only green when summer's here
But in the coldest time of year.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

How lovely are thy branches!

My Nana uses sticky-back strips to hold her Christmas cards on the wall. The problem is that you can really only use them once and the cards tend to start dropping off before Boxing Day! I thought I'd make her an early Christmas gift of a new way to hold the multitude of cards she gets. (Not joking, she gets 50-100 from all her friends!)

Already filled!

I got the idea for a tree-style card display from this website and I followed their basic instructions, although mine has a different design. I made two trees using two sheets of holly-green A2 cardboard, which was about 1.5mm thick. I had to borrow a scalpel, which resulted in cut fingers. :D To hold the cards on, I bought some red mini-pegs cheaply from Amazon. A lot of shops seem to be selling mini-pegs this year too.

She was really pleased with it, although she'll need another one next year – there is still not enough room for all of her cards!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Homemade Gifts for Extended Family

The Boyfriend's family live up country so we only see them once or twice a year, so it can be tricky to know what to give them for Christmas. His brother has a young family, so I made them all a few little bits and pieces they all could enjoy. I'm feeling quite Martha Stewart-y about it all now that it's done so I thought I'd show off.

Firstly, I made each of them (adults and kids) a personalised bauble to hang on their Christmas tree. I bought some red baubles in Tesco and used a gold glitter glue pen to carefully write each of their names on one.

For the adults, I made a mulled wine spice parcel complete with instructions on how to make mulled wine. I wrote about this a few days ago HERE. I made several and will be posting them to a couple of friends from uni too!

For their three eldest daughters I made a “chocolate chip shortbread in a jar” mix.
The dry recipe is:
300g flour
100g sugar
150g chocolate chips

Then you write an instruction label of what “wet” ingredients to add (in this case, it's a simple recipe, so it only requires 200g butter/margarine). I included baking instructions (mix together and cook for ~15 minutes at 190C/375F/gas mark 5 if you're interested) on one side and a Christmassy poem on the other side of a piece of card (two of the poems I found HERE and the other I knew from primary school!).

I wrapped these cookie mixes up with festive crepe paper to cover the lids and string to hold the recipe card and a festive biscuit cutter in place (an angel, a Christmas tree and a star).

I wanted to get back into using the sewing machine, so for their youngest daughter (nearly 2 years old) I made a toy dog. I found the pattern in a sewing magazine that was once my great-grandmother's, and my mum made me toys from it when I was little, so I thought it would be pretty cool! :) Now this was a right royal pain in the bum to make. I think it'd be easy if you knew what you were doing but I was basically re-learning how to use a sewing machine at the same time! I'll post about making it soon. His front legs are a bit skewy but I guess it adds character? Haha! He looks like he's trying (and failing) to walk on ice! :D

Despite the setbacks, I'm glad to finally have this lot out of the way. There is still a lot more to do before the 25th!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Horrors of Handmade

I'd like to say I've really been enjoying making presents this year. I'd like to say that it has all gone off without a hitch. That would be a lie.

GRRRR! It's been so frustrating! Overcooked shortbread, toy dogs fraying as you try to stuff them, cutting myself to shreds with a scalpel, making something only to have it all fall to bits again, sewing machine motor burn out (before I'd even started using it), congealing cream, stitching some fabric inside out and only noticing at the end, chocolates breaking as you make them...

I think my problem is that I'm just not experienced in all of the things I'm attempting. I know that I CAN cook and use a sewing machine, but I don't make sweets or sew things often enough to be in practice. I'm just glad I gave myself a lot of time to do it all. I've been doing this on and off since September and I'm still not finished (making a lot of food items does not help this!) Will I eventually succeed? Who knows?!

I've got to post a couple of things today. (Last date for second class postage – first class is Tuesday 20th in case you need to know). I need to write some letters to go with them now.

Please wish me luck with it all – it's starting to look like I'll need it! :-/

Friday, 16 December 2011


Along with everyone else this past week or two, I've been soooo busy! I've been working A LOT, so even when I've had free time I've been knackered! My sister and I decorated the living room for Christmas the other day, and we've been knocking out our homemade Christmas presents. I've got to finish a lot of it by tomorrow because The Boyfriend's dad is coming down to visit him (from Coventry) and taking all The Boyfriend's (TB's? haha) family's gifts when he goes back home. I've made most of the things we are giving them (I'll post again when they're done to show off!), although TB got his dad a bottle of apparently very nice (but pretty expensive) whisky, plus some stuff for his brother too.

Today's goals are to make a stuffed toy dog for TB's niece and to proof-read his university applications (before work). Tomorrow I'll be hunting for PhDs again, putting my Nana's Christmas decorations up and baking shortbread for Christmas gifts (before work again, haha). So much to do, REALLY NO TIME AT ALL! 

How are your Christmas preparations coming? Are you nearly finished? I can't wait for a bit of time off in January (the Chinese is closed for a month!).  

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Great Heating Debate

How cold is too cold? There are so many posts at this time of year about either succumbing to the cold or sitting freezing your bum off! Which side of the fence do you fall on?

It's cold here. I live in Cornwall, so it's colder pretty much everywhere else in the UK, but hey, it's cold here too! We haven't had the heating on yet. It's getting impossible to dry clothes and I'm worried that the house is going to start going mouldy again! My dad and I are really trying hard to keep the electricity bill down this year and everyone's on board with it, but it was difficult to get to sleep last night as my face was freezing (I pulled the duvet over my head but I have to leave an air hole to breathe through)! I went to The Boyfriend's house yesterday and it was so toasty and warm inside! Jealous!

What do we think? Is it worth putting the heating on for an hour in the evening?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Keeping Warm in the Snow

Here is a fantastic tip from my mum, who is from snowier climes than Cornwall. When out in the snow, if you make a snowman or have a snowball fight, the ice water quickly seeps through your gloves, leaving your hands painfully cold. If you (or your kids) wear a pair of marigolds (rubber gloves) underneath your insulating gloves, your hands stay warm and dry all day! :)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Mulled Wine

Ohhhh, mulled wine! The second best part of the run up to Christmas! (The first is putting the Christmas tree up whilst dancing around to Wonderful Christmastime, obviously!) I went into town last night with my family to soak up the late night shopping atmosphere (more relaxed than the BUYBUYBUY during the day!) and to sneak ideas for homemade Christmas decorations! They were selling hot mulled wine for £2.50 a cup. Quite expensive, but it was very cold so mum and I happily got some!

The way they were making it was to heat a vat of wine with some clove-studded oranges floating around in it. That's the simple version. The better tasting and more interesting gift idea is to make a spice parcel!

These spice parcels contain a cinnamon stick (cut into two), 30 cloves, 20 allspice berries (aka pimento berries – you might have to find a specialist shop, or they can be bought online HERE), three green cardamom pods and some dried orange peel. I got the recipe from this website.

You tie all the ingredients up inside some muslin, using some white cotton. Then just tie a bow around it to make it look nice. They literally take seconds to make and are an ideal gift to post because it's very light yet festive. To make the mulled wine, the recipient just has to remove the ribbon and heat the spice parcel up in a saucepan containing a bottle of red wine and three tablespoons of sugar.

I'm also giving some local family members a cheap (I usually buy a half price bottle that would normally be around £8 or £9) bottle of red wine with the spice parcel, to make it a bit more exciting! :) Considerably less than £2.50 a cup too!

I'm currently storing these spice parcels in my room. It smells soooo nice!! :D Win win!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Liebster Blog Award! :)

I was nominated by the lovely Saving For Travel for the Liebster Blog award. Thank you very much! If you don't already follow SFT then I would recommend her blog for its upbeat posts and the sense of community – she responds to all comments in the next day's blog.

The Liebster Blog award is a way to promote some of your favourite blogs that currently have less than 200 followers.

The rules are:

*Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
*Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog
*Copy and paste the award on your blog.
*Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
*Most of all, have fun!

I would like to nominate the following five blogs (in alphabetical order):

$12 a day AND a baby on the way” by rivulet – I love the honesty of her posts; the ups and down on living on such a tight budget. She is currently working on an inspiring list of 45 goals for 2012 (and getting a head start on picking the habits up throughout December!) and has a page devoted to the lovely things in life.

Feral homemaking” by Pamela – Pamela has a great sense of humour and I enjoy her varied blog featuring tips on frugal food, saving money and of course homemaking on a budget.

Frugal Down Under” - This lovely lady truly cares about being environmentally friendly whilst living frugally, often with advice on recycling old items into new gifts or free ways to entertain and feed her family. She also often has both national (Australian) and international giveaways. :)
The M Chart” by Isa – A caring mother who is always coming up with ingenious ways to decorate their new home in Malta and create toys and entertainment for her daughter on a budget. Check out her how-to tutorials!

We may be poor, but we are happy” by Judy – I love the sense of family you get from reading this blog. They work together to get through the tough times and enjoy the good ones. Judy is an inspirational lady.

So there you have it! I hope you all accept the award and keep on posting! :)

I would definitely recommend you checking out these five bloggers if you haven't already and have a read back through their archives!

Happy reading!

Friday, 2 December 2011

My friend and I went to visit our friend in Bristol yesterday. We decided to take a trip to the Christmas markets, so I started up Jools, my trusty gold Peugeot. The big red radiator warning light came on. It means “fill the radiator tank up”, so we went back into my friend's flat for a bottle of water. I poured it in, up to the maximum line, then someone noticed that their feet were getting dripped on! All the water was running straight back out of the radiator! Eeeek! We tried again, til we'd probably filled it up about five times, but it was not looking good!

Luckily my parents have a family breakdown assistance account, so I rang them up and they soon had Mark the friendly AA man out to us. He jacked up the car and finally worked out that the water was pouring out of one joint, where the radiator meets the hose to the engine. To get a closer look, he took the wheel and half the wheel arch off!

Grubby old Jools!
I thought he said, “you need a new radiator” so my brain kicked into overdrive wondering where I could get the money to get that fixed from! Turns out it was the rubber seal on the lower radiator hose that had worn out and snapped, letting all the water leak out. He rang a few dealers but no-one had a hose in stock, so it was looking like we'd have to be towed to Exeter, then Plymouth, then home to Cornwall, by relay. Hours and hours of relay!
This is the blighter that caused all the trouble!

Then he asked them if they had just the rubber seal for sale. RESULT! 59p for the part! (Plus £14 for some new anti-freeze for the radiator).

Yesterday I was VERY glad I had breakdown cover. I had no idea where the water was coming from, or how to get to the nearest garage. It would have cost me an hour at least of labour to fit the part too; it took a long time to disassemble the car and put it all back again after bleeding the system.

Today I looked at the price of breakdown cover. Taking the AA as an example, roadside assistance with national recovery is £69 a year for an individual. I guess if you only drive in your local area and don't go on long journeys it would probably be a waste of money. Most people know garage in their local area and have friends that could tow them there. If you have a very new car it's probably not that likely that your car will break down.

If, on the other hand, you have an older car like Jools and you occasionally pootle up the motorway to far-flung places, I guess some sort of breakdown cover would be a worthwhile use of £6 a month. A lot of car insurance companies offer breakdown cover as an added bonus, so check the fine print to see if that would cover you to be relayed back home as well as roadside assistance.

The Boyfriend uses his breakdown cover about twice a year...

What do you think? Do you have breakdown cover and have you ever used it?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Seven Favourite Festive and Free Things To Do

Christmas is an expensive time of year, but there are a lot of free activities you can do, both at home and in your local community. For those of you looking for some cheap ways to entertain yourselves and your family, I bring you the top seven free (or nearly free) and festive things to do!

Christmas carol services
I LOVE LOVE LOVE carol services. I go to at least two or three every year! I love the atmosphere, the songs, singing my little heart out (slightly out of pitch sometime, naturally.. especially the high-pitched ones!), mince pies and mulled wine!! Our local radio station promotes events happening in the local area, so it would be worth checking out your station's website for a What's On guide. Most churches hold at least one each year.

Making presents
I'm trying to make all my Christmas presents this year. A lot of them aren't finished yet as they're ongoing, but I guess I'm sort of getting there. I wrote a blog a month or so ago about some of the presents I have been making!

Making decorations
I usually make decorations, usually for the living room rather than the tree, although a crafty friend of mine is making mini Christmas bunting to use on her tree instead of tinsel, which I think is a fantastic idea to steal in future years!! :D One thing I will definitely be making is this goooorgeous 3D paper snowflake! There's a video on WikiHow to show you how it is done!

Luckily for us, my Nana makes us a Christmas cake every October, which we then slowly feed with brandy until Christmas day. It's always great to have a night in and make some tasty Christmas treat though – what about gingerbread, cookies, sausage rolls, truffles, or even... Mince pies!! :D

See the lights
Depending on where you live, this one can be free or almost free. If you live in a town, wrap yourself and your friends/family up in your favourite scarves and head down the road to look at all the beautiful/wonderfully tacky Christmas lights adorning the houses of those who are far too festive to care about rising electricity bills!! :) If you are more like me, several miles from even the nearest village, then just take a slow drive round the nearest town, or park up somewhere free and wander through to see the highstreet's Christmas lights.

We went to go and see the Christmas lights being turned on in Truro. It was accompanied by the Festival of Lights parade, which was fantastic! Have a look at some of these lanterns! 


Christmas Wrapping
You either love it or you hate it. Personally I loooove wrapping Christmas presents. Leave them all to the last minute and it becomes a chore, but stick on the Christmas tunes after buying/making a couple of presents and get wrapping for a free and festive evening doing something productive!! :)

Movie Night!
Christmas films will be taking over TV for the next few weeks so you'd better get used to it! I don't actually watch TV, but I have a lot of Christmas films on DVD to get stuck into! Wrap yourself up on the sofa with a blanket, cup of hot chocolate (completed with whipped cream) and maybe even one of your home-made cookies! My favourite Christmas film as a kid was The Santa Clause (with Tim Allen), although the 2nd and 3rd ones were horrible!! As a slightly more mature person now, I prefer Elf (with Will Farrell). It's perfect for both kids and adults so I'd definitely recommend it to spread some Christmas cheer! :)

So there you have it. A few ways I spend my time and build up the festive feeling during December. To be fair they're pretty obvious, but they can all be done either as a group or on your own, and should still leave you feeling merry (even before that fourth cup of mulled wine!)