Thursday, 31 May 2012

How to Make an Important Decision

I hate decisions. I'm really indecisive. One of my favourite parts of turning vegetarian was that it knocked off most of the menu options when eating out!

Making an important decision can give you that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach? How will I make the right choice? What if I make a mistake? 

I don't like the conventional advice to "make a list of pros and cons" because at least in my case it often gets altered to fit what you think should give you the "right" answer, even if it's not right for you. For one thing, there isn't always one right answer, so don't over-analyse your decision! It's agonising and drags the whole process out. Don't worry so much!
Trust your gut instinct!
This amazing article from Psychology Today descibes how gut feelings and intuitions arise. It says that we absorb a multitude of information that we don't use immediately, but that the brain can piece together unconsciously to form a network of associations that it can access later. We often "know" the right decision immediately because we have subsconsciously analysed a wealth of knowledge that we didn't even realise we had. 
Sleep on it!
It is wise to make decisions in the morning. This settles your mind and allows you to understand your gut decision more easily. Stop churning the options round and round and get some sleep!
Write yourself a letter
Write a letter to yourself discussing your options. Don't really think about what you're writing, just put pen to paper and write as if you were talking out loud. This is less calculated than the "pros and cons" technique so your subconscious has more of a say, so combines reason with intuition.

Imagine you decided already
The method that works best for me is to imagine that you have made the decision, one way or the other. Do you feel relieved or stressed? Excited or disappointed? This really helps you know which option is right for you.

How do you make an important decision?

P.S. Did you know there's an entire philosophy behind flipping a coin? It is known as Flipism. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A Week in the Sun on the Cliffs

This is a post about my trip from Bude to Newquay (Cornwall). Normal posts will resume shortly!

I'm baaaack. I have weird tan lines, including hiking boot feet with flip-flop lines on top for good measure! That can only mean one thing: it was sunny in Cornwall!! Yessss!

We visited: Bude, Boscastle, Tintagel, Padstow and Trevone. (And much of the coast between them!)

We only spent about £100 each for the week too, including accomodation, food and drinks and fuel. We already had tents, hiking gear and rucksacks, but once you've got them, they last a LONG time, so if you fancy a cheap holiday, invest in some good camping gear!

The Plan
My Mum and I went hiking and camping around the northern Cornish coast. The original plan was to carry our gear on our backs like nomads/snails. Unfortunately, two people need almost as much stuff as four people (tent, food, fuel, camping burner, plates, pots etc. etc.), but with fewer people to carry it all!

We tried lugging it all in hiking rucksacks from Bude to Boscastle (17 miles), but it was roasting hot even at 8am and the cliffs are some of the highest in the country. We made it 11 miles (to Crackington Haven) and collapsed in a pub, calling a taxi to take us the few miles to the campsite!

(Check out my sweat patches in that photo! Niiiiice!!)

Change of plans!
That first day of walking was hard; too hot, too heavy, too far, too steep and no fun. Luckily we only live in mid-Cornwall, so we were able to rope good ol' Dad in to move our gear some days, so we could live it up with small day bags. The walks were still long, and it was still hot, but we skipped up 500+ ft high cliffs with relative ease! :) It was fun!


Look at the size of these cliffs!

 So here are a few photos of our trip. I would thoroughly recommend hiking the South West Coast Path. It is one of the best maintained paths in the country. We met some people attempting the 630 miles between Minehead (Somerset) and Poole (Dorset). (Even they only made it to Crackington Haven that first day!)

Alpacas in Bude!

Huge vegetarian pasties! (Not quite peppery enough mind you!)

Cornish language. (I can speak a little Cornish too. Little known fact for you there!)

Boscastle harbour. I loooove Boscastle. I don't think I've been before. It's a beautiful village.

The coastal watch outpost at Boscastle. Volunteers work 4 hour shifts to keep an eye on people on the sea and coast paths. They especially watch for people walking alone and make sure they reach the next outpost.

My Mummy. :) She loves her hiking poles!

The thrift was beautiful. It covered most of the headlands!

Me! :) Do you like my sunhat? :D

This is the remains of Tintagel castle, where King Arthur was meant to have been born. There's really not much there now.

Windsurfer in Padstow.
If anyone wants more info about Cornwall just leave a comment and I'll get back to you! (I live in mid-Cornwall, but have visited most parts of the Duchy by now!)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Back Soon!


I am off walking the Cornish coast tomorrow with my Mum. We're walking approximately one third of the total coastline, ending up in Newquay on Tuesday!

Hope everyone has a great week, and I'll catch up with you all when I get back.


Monday, 21 May 2012

How to Make a Vegan Birthday Cake

It was my mummy's birthday on Saturday! Happy birthday, Mum!

Mum recently turned awkward vegan. I wanted to make her a lovely cake, but all my normal recipes use eggs, milk, butter, yoghurt, etc. etc. The only one I know of that doesn't is carrot cake, but Dad moans like a 3 year old if you suggest a cake with vegetables in it!

Luckily Google is my friend and after a few minutes searching I came across the Vegan Society's website, and more importantly their birthday cake page. I liked these recipes because they used ingredients most people already have, rather than the bizarre concoctions found on other websites.

I chose to make the chocolate cake recipe. The only ingredient non-vegans might not have is vegan chocolate for icing, but you can get this in a lot of health food shops. Alternatively, I just decided to make a chocolate-flavoured “butter” icing instead.

The cake ingredients:
200g self raising flour
2 heaped tsp baking powder
25g cocoa
75g Barbados sugar (this is muscavado sugar)
100ml vegetable oil
550-750ml cold water (I only used 500ml. I think if you used the full 750ml it would just be chocolate flavoured water!) 

My chocolate-flavoured "butter" icing:
50g vegan margarine (eg. Vitalite, which is made from sunflower oil)
100g icing sugar
1tsp cocoa powder

The recipe says to just blend all the cake ingredients together in a food processor, but I didn't have one to hand. For the non-technologically advanced, I suggest the following:

  1. Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the baking powder, cocoa and sugar, then mix together.
  2. Mix in the vegetable oil.
  3. Add the water in little by little, mixing it until it has the consistency of normal cake mix; pourable, but not too runny.
  4. Divide the mixture evenly between two greased cake tins (I used 8 inch tins) and cook for 25-30 minutes at 180ยบC (380F, gas mark 4).
  5. Once cooked, cool on a cake rack.
  6. Make up “butter icing” (beat 50g vegan margarine, 100g sugar and 1tsp cocoa together) and use to sandwich the two halves together.
  7. Decorate by sieving icing sugar over the top!

It turned out a LOT better than the last birthday cake I posted on this blog.

The Reviews
It's the best cake ever!” - Mum, the vegan. (Possibly slightly biased? :D)
It's actually not that bad” - The Boyfriend, he likes meat.
You wouldn't know it's vegan” - Dad, a compliment by his standards!

I think it tasted pretty nice. If you go for the chocolate icing that the website recommends, then I would add more sugar to the cake mix as the sweetness of mine mainly comes from the “butter” icing.

Mum was happy to be able to have cake for once! :)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Would You Sell The Olympic Torch?

I'm sure a lot of people have watched, or are planning to watch, the proud Olympic torch bearers running through the towns and villages of the UK, carrying the Olympic flame to the London 2012 games. It is certainly a moment to be remembered forever if you were one of the lucky 8000 who were a part of the relay.

Yet, as I am writing this, several of the Olympic torches used to transport the flame through its initial travels are for sale on eBay. You might think selling such a unique souvenir would be a little unsentimental. Possibly. But you might reconsider your judgement when you learn that with >21 hours left, one lucky soul has already got the bidding up to £130,100.

Have a look, maybe even watch it to see how much the bidding ends on. Just be sure not to accidentally place a bid!!

What do you think? There are several other torches for sale already on eBay, all for tens of thousands of pounds. Would you sell one, if you had it, or keep it forever as a souvenir for your grandchildren?

Gotta tell you, I'd sell it.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Things I've Learned from No Spend Days

I have had over 50 No Spend Days this year so far! I set myself the challenge of having 100 No Spend Days in 2012, so I am currently ahead of schedule. I am due to move to Uni in autumn though and I think it's better to get as many as possible out of the way before I go!

So what have I learned so far?

The good
The Boyfriend said that I would probably just roll lots of spending into one day, so no spend days would not save any money. This is not the case. I find that I don't spend more than normal on a “spend day”.

I find this challenge stops me spending little bits here and there. If I am having a No Spend Day, it's not worth losing it for an ice cream or a drink. It stops the drip drip drip of unconscious spending.

The bad
I have found that spending money is quite addictive. Even buying diesel can be quite exciting! I bet no-one else gets that excited about swiping their debit card! I think it's because it makes you feel rich. If you have a few spend days in a row, it's hard to break the pattern. You feel drawn back into consumerism.

I need to turn this feeling around. Spending money makes me feel rich, but NOT spending money makes you ACTUALLY rich(er)!

The breakdown of my No Spend Days is as follows:
  • January – 13
  • February – 14
  • March – 10
  • April – 11
  • May (so far) – 6 of a possible 14 ( target is 14 for the month)

As you can see, since I was approaching and achieved being debt free in March I seemed to spend more often. I have set myself a target for May to get back on track and have 14 No Spend Days.

Who would benefit from No Spend Days?
The value of No Spend Days is debated a lot online. Do they encourage people to spend less, or simply group a lot of spending into a few days?

I would say they are good for those who fall victim to the “latte factor”, a phase invented by David Bach to describe the little things you spend money on daily. The example he gives is a latte on the way to work in the morning, but it could be any unnecessary purchase from a newspaper to buying lunches. If you just bring your own coffee/lunch from home a few days a week you could save a bundle, racking up a No Spend Day in the process!

Then again, as Laura Vanderkam said, perhaps these Latte Factor Victims spend a lot less on rent so that they can afford little luxuries like this!

Do you keep track of No Spend Days? Do you think they are a useful tool in a frugal lifestyle?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A Weekend in the Sun

I just had a lovely weekend. The sun was even shining at my house – very unusual! :) I thought I'd share what I got up to!

Fun in the sun
On Saturday I took The Boyfriend for a surfing lesson for his birthday. Neither of us had ever been before, but it was really good fun. (The stag party group of ~25 men dressed as pirates certainly added entertainment value too!) The instructors were really good and gave you a lot of help both on the beach and in the sea. I managed to kneel on the board before falling off, but The Boyfriend got as far as crouching on his feet! We are both VERY achey today!

Today after work my sister and I went for a walk along one of the beaches in Newquay. We've decided to brave the sea tomorrow in our summer gear! Wish us luck!

Got my little cabbages in the vegetable patch, planted some potatoes, swede, swiss chard, peas and pumpkins, and even weeded my Mum's fruit bushes. We now have all the ingredients growing to make a proper pasty! (Note carrots do NOT appear on the list!!)

My Nana came round for a cup of tea and left with a big bag of stinging nettles to make fertiliser. Basically you cut the plants up a bit and leave them to rot in a watering can. After a while it makes a very nutritious feed for plants, a trick that Ilona (the Mean Queen) has mentioned on her blog's money saving tips.

So what other interesting things have been going on?
Pamela (of Feral Homemaking) often writes a post linking to various articles that have interested her recently, so I thought I'd give a quick roundup:

Isa's reinvented her old fridge by adding a stylish paper design to cover old stickers left by previous owners. It looks awesome!

Rivulet's back to work after the recent birth of her first son, and it has inspired her more than ever to get out of debt. Her son is adorable too!

Stephanie looks like she had a great time flying round in a small plane and chatting to the pilot! Very jealous of the adventure!

Ilona's been making amazing shopping bags out of old plastic supermarket bags fused together in layers. She's even added designs to them for added style. I really want to try this! What a good use of “rubbish”.

What have you been up to? I hope you've enjoyed the sunshine! 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Theft-Proof Your Wallet Today!

I've been travelling the country a lot lately, visiting friends as well as universities. One thing I am always very paranoid of is pickpockets/muggers. (Mainly instilled in me by my father, who insisted I wouldn't make it through a year living in London because I have no common sense!) That's why today's article by Donna Freedman on Get Rich Slowly really struck a nerve with me.

Donna was the unfortunate victim of three cowardly muggers whilst travelling. She spent the next few days trying to remember (and cancel) all of the credit/debit cards, loyalty cards, rewards cards, store cards, etc., as well as all the possible sources of identity theft.

Somewhat more organised than myself, Donna had a list of everything in her wallet back at home, with all the phone numbers she would need to cancel the cards and protect her identity as well as her bank account.

I decided to give this “wallet audit” a go, so that in the event of theft I can immediately cancel everything and limit the damage done. I wrote down the emergency phone numbers of everything in there, so it's a simple case of following a pre-written plan should anything happen.

Side note! This is also handy to get rid of random stuff that is no longer useful; old Tesco and Sainsbury's vouchers, lots of out of date loyalty cards, etc.

To be honest, I would not fret too much over losing most of the things in my wallet. I guess the three most problematic things would be my bank cards, credit card and driving license. It's good to know I know have a back-up plan, available online ready to use if needed! :)

Mainly for my own benefit: 
What's in My Wallet?
  • 2 x debit cards for my bank accounts (If you are with Natwest the number is 0870 600 0459, and the Emergency Cash service is the same number).
  • Student credit card (as above)
  • Driving license – UK photocard holders can ring 0300 790 6801, but I was shocked to see that there is a £20 fee for replacing it!
  • AA card - 08705 444 444
  • Tesco Clubcard - 0800 591 688
  • Nectar card – 0844 8110 811
  • Shell Drivers Club card - 08459 006 008 – Wouldn't be so bad if thieves racked up some points I guess!
  • Starbucks card - 020 8834 5050
  • Waterstones card – 0800 328 5723
  • Eden Project Pass - 01726 811911
  • National Insurance Number card - 0845 915 7006. I have taken this out of my wallet now. There's no need to carry it and if it's stolen you would have to get a new NI number! Hassle!!

Extras I have when travelling:
  • Oyster card (for travelling around London) - 0845 330 9876. If you have registered your card online your balance should be able to be transferred to a new card
  • Rail card - 08448 714 036. If card is lost, a replacement fee of £5 applies, if stolen you can provide a crime reference number and your card will be replaced for free.
  • European Health Insurance card - 0845 606 2030
  • Passport - 0300 222 0000

What's in your wallet? Do you know without looking? :)

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Research Finds One in Four on Wrong Tax Code

Today The Telegraph reported on research by accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young, which found that 25% of its clients were on the wrong tax code. This mainly affected people with taxable income from savings, especially pensioners and higher rate tax payers.

The report found that people were often paying tax twice on the interest from their savings. If you use self-assessment, rather than Pay As You Earn tax deductions, you need to check with HMRC whether they have records of your income from savings and know exactly what to include on your tax return.

If you have modest savings, it is worth moving it from a regular savings account into a tax-free ISA (Individual Savings Account). You can save up to £5640 in cash, or up to £11280 in shares (or a combination of cash and shares). Instead of paying tax on the income at 20% for lower incomes, or up to 50% for higher rate tax payers, you get to keep all of the interest. This means it is very rare for a regular savings account to yield better returns than an ISA.

The report did note that HMRC says that 98% of people are paying the correct amount of tax, but I have often had problems with the system. If you have not worked for the entire tax year (beginning on April 6th), you may have paid too much tax before your Tax Code was calculated.

When you receive your P60 for the recently-ended tax year, use HMRC's tax checker to make sure you paid the correct amount of tax. If you discover you paid too much, contact them (with your National Insurance Number to hand) and ask them to check whether you are owed a refund. Do NOT leave it to them to sort out. It is supposed to be done automatically but I have ALWAYS had to do it myself, even a couple of years later! (Bear in mind if you ring you might be on hold for a while!!). 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Seizing Opportunities: Expect the Unexpected

If an amazing opportunity came up, would you have the resources set aside to do be able to pursue it without worrying about how to pay for it?

Many people have an Emergency Fund but it is important to keep this money earmarked specifically for emergencies. When I was getting out of debt, I used my Emergency Fund to pay for trips to University interviews, leaving it severely depleted when I needed to pay for car repairs a couple of weeks later.

One option is to create a fund for unexpected expenses. I've already done this with things like car maintenance and gifts, however I recently set up a “Travel” category (inspired by the photos of my holiday with The Boyfriend last year) and a “Moving to Uni” category too. I know how much is in each category but they are all stored in the same account, which gives a bit of a buffer if needed.

So today I say hello from Kent! (I am writing this at home but I will be in Kent when you read this!)

I was supposed to be camping with my Mum this week but we've had to cancel because something came up at her work. I already had the week booked off as holiday from work, so I couldn't even go in and pick up some shifts. I decided to text some friends I hadn't seen in a while in the hope that they might be free. As luck would have it, two of them in the South East were able to get some time off so I booked a train ticket using my Young Person's railcard (saves you a third off most train fares – costs £28 but worth it if you make more than £100 worth of train rides a year).

A couple of months ago I would have had no room in my budget to make this unexpected trip although I have been dying to see my friends for nearly a year now. Having that money set aside specifically for travelling meant I could take advantage of the opportunity that arose, without trying to fit it into my budget or reaching into my Emergency Fund for a non-emergency.

I know a lot of people specifically save for travelling and it is a great idea. I would like to save up to visit another country either during or after my PhD, so I will slowly start funding my Travel fund. It will allow me to take advantage of last minute offers, as I know the cash is available.

Do you have an Opportunity Fund? Do you have money set aside to use doing something fantastic, without knowing exactly what it is right now?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

SFT's Challenge: Find an Extra £50 in May!

Saving For Travel has a new challenge over on her blog. To compensate for an increase in monthly living costs, she has decided to find an extra £50 in May and challenges everyone else to do the same!

The money can be from additional wages, ebay sales, savings (using coupons instead of cash, for example); anything that raises £50 more than you would otherwise have.

This challenge ties in nicely with one I set myself back in February. When I went from two jobs to one, I decided to make sure I had extra money coming in each month to supplement my wages. An extra £50 will be a nice addition to May's budget!

Ways I Might Raise an Extra £50
  • Extra shifts at work – This seems like the most likely option, although I hope to use a variety of methods!
  • Selling unwanted stuff on ebay – I sold a few things in April with some successes. This will encourage me to do some more decluttering! :)
  • Collecting change – I stash away any 1p, 2p and 5p coins I find in my bag at the end of the day. If I can collect £1 of coppers or £5 of 5ps then I can deposit them into the bank. I don't use cash often though so this will be difficult!
  • Using loyalty points instead of cash – I have Nectar points, Tesco points and fuel points all likely to give me a voucher this month. If I use these I can bank the savings.

Saving For Travel said she will be putting her £50 towards her trip to Japan next year. I will allocate any extra money I make to my Moving to Bristol fund.

Anyone else signing up for this challenge? What will you put your money towards?