Thursday, 30 August 2012

100 No Spend Days

At the start of the year I set myself a challenge to have 100 No Spend Days in 2012. A No Spend Day is where you don't spend any money (duh!), although standing bills like rent, utilities etc. don't count. I originally took on the challenge because I wanted to stop the little drips of cash that I often spent on pointless things, like a bar of chocolate or a coffee. I hoped it would cut down on my own little “Latte Factor“.

I completed the challenge! :) I reached 100 No Spend Days!

Here's the breakdown:
January: 13 No Spend Days
February: 14
March: 10
April: 11
May: 10 (I realised I had been slacking, so decided to up my game the next month!)
June: 17
July: 12 (was travelling for 10 days though, so actually probably the best month so far!)
August (so far): 13
Total: 100!!

Back in May I hit the halfway mark. I had noticed that despite The Boyfriend's predictions, I did not spend more on “spend days” than I otherwise would have, although I did find that the frequency of my No Spend Days decreased after I'd finished paying back my overdraft. I'm pleased to say that after I have since regained momentum and started having more No Spend Days each month! :)

I have picked up a few handy techniques along the way for people wanting to increase the amount of No Spend Days they have:

  • Don't go shopping! Seems like a pretty simple idea, but if you head into town for “something to do” you'll pretty much inevitably buy something, even if it's just a bottle of water.
  • Don't bring your wallet. I'm not saying be cheap and expect everyone else to pay for you if you go out! What I mean is if you're not planning on buying anything, don't take your purse to work etc., because it's easy to be tempted into buying a snack or something and the little Latte Factor dripping of money starts again.
  • Remember WHY you are avoiding spending. Come up with a savings goal, such as a £1000 basic Emergency Fund. Whenever you're about to make a frivolous purchase, remember how much closer you'll be to your goal if you DON'T spend your cash!
  • Bring your own lunch. It's easy to go into town and grab a sandwich at lunchtime, but if you bring your own lunch you'll stop the daily spending!
  • Track your spending. If you don't pay attention, you'll find money slipping through your fingers with nothing to show for it. If you have to write down that you didn't have a No Spend Day because you bought one 60p chocolate bar, you'll be annoyed you didn't move towards your goal! Trust me!
  • Find free things to do. Libraries, museums, picnics in the park, beach days, crafting. There's usually something free to do. Instead of going out for drinks with friends, why not invite them round?
  • Plan purchases. Try to plan what you'll be eating in the next week so you can get it all in one go. Buy your petrol at the same time and you'll barely need anything for the next week!

I'll keep trying to add to my No Spend Days. The next month will be crazy as I'm moving to a new city next week, but when we get back into the swing of things I should be able to rack up many more before Christmas!

Do you have No Spend Days? Any tips or tricks to stop yourself spending money?

Sunday, 26 August 2012

My Garden: Trials and Tribulations

As Pamela over at Feral Homemaking pointed out in a recent post, gardening is a hobby that can cost you dearly in both time and money. Depending on what you grow, there can be a significant outlay for buying seeds, compost, special fertilisers, etc., and it can take a fair bit of time to make sure everything is sown, watered, transplanted and weeded!

I agree with Pamela that it's best to view gardening as a hobby, rather than a surefire way to lower your food costs. It's fun, and you'll probably have SOMETHING to show for it, but you don't always get the yield you were hoping for.

For example:
  • Pigeons ate my carrot seedlings
  • My onions are still pitifully small due to bad weather
  • My peas were chomped by slugs
  • The currant bush has some strange virus
  • Haven't seen much from my swedes yet!

As I said at the start of the season, there are a lot of unknowns between sowing the seeds and harvesting the crop!

My entire potato harvest...
You certainly couldn't feed a family on my harvest of potatoes. I planted five potatoes I think (from chitted potatoes, not seed potatoes, so no real cost outlay) but they died back too early, possibly from a combination of bad weather and dodgy stock potatoes to begin with! (Note to self: buy seed potatoes next year). My “bounty” contained six medium sized potatoes, about eight small ones, and another eight or so truly tiddly ones!

But as they say, you win some, you lose some (and you learn a lot on the way).

My tomato plants are finally starting to fruit and I'm going to have a LOT of cherry tomatoes to eat in a couple of weeks. The plants are throwing out flower trusses faster than I can pollinate them! Our cabbages are looking pretty good too! :) There are a few that could be harvested soon, with some more developing more slowly that will provide greens throughout the winter hopefully (although I'll be at Uni by then!).

How are all your lovely vegetables doing? It's been a bit of a mixed bag here with the weather, but my Nana (veteran gardener extraordinaire) said her plants have been a bit useless this year too, so I don't feel too bad!

Do you think you've saved money gardening, or is it a black hole for time and money? :)

Friday, 24 August 2012

Five Ways to Get Rid of Sticker Glue


I don't know about you, but I find that even “easy peel” stickers have a tendency to leave either the glue or half the sticker behind when you try to remove them! I have picked up a few techniques for removing sticker glue over the years, without needing to buy expensive “goo remover”!
 Please be sure to do a spot test before using anything that might harm your item!
  1. Good ol' fashioned soap and water – If you have a sticker on something that can be washed, you can soak it in a bowl of fairly hot soapy water and it will come off with a little scrubbing with a nail brush or a damp cloth.
  2. Vodka – the student's answer to cleaning! Just rub it on with a cloth and it will lift the glue off your item.
  3. Hairdryer – if you have a sticker on something you don't want getting wet, use a hairdryer to heat up the glue. When it melts it is easier to remove. This is also a good preventative cure too – heat the sticker BEFORE removing for best results!
  4. WD40 – spray on, leave for a couple of minutes and wipe off!
  5. Pencil erasers – rub the glue off with a pencil eraser – these can sometimes leave their own irritating marks though, but work well on wood.

Apparently even peanut butter can be used to remove glue! Have you used any strange tricks to remove sticker glue?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Vegan Garlic Straws Recipe (An Alternative to Cheese Straws)

I managed to mangle that middle one!
Just a quick little recipe for vegans or people who don't like cheese (if such a thing exists).

I made cheese straws for a board game night, but didn't know any quick-to-make vegan alternatives. I decided to try garlic-flavoured straws. With this recipe you can make a big batch of vegan pastry then add cheese to some and garlic to the others.

The recipe (makes around 12 straws):
  • Mix 200g vegan margarine (I use Vitalite as it's easy to find in UK supermarkets) and 300g plain flour together and check it can roll into a ball. (May need a splash of cold water, but the Vitalite is often enough to hold the mixture together).
  • For CHEESE straws, you can now mix in 200g grated cheese and half a teaspoon of mustard (for the best straws you've ever tasted).
  • For VEGAN straws, add at LEAST two decent-sized crushed garlic cloves. Three cloves would make it pretty garlic-y.

  • Chill the mixture for 30 minutes, then roll the pastry out to 0.5cm thick and cut approximately 10cm x 2cm slices. Place them on a greased baking tray.

  • If you're making CHEESE straws, this is the point to brush the straws with beaten egg for glazing. If you're making VEGAN straws, there's not really much you can use to glaze but they'll still cook and look fine. :) 
  • Cook in the centre of a pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes at 200°C (gas mark 6). They will be a light golden brown when cooked.

Both recipes won the approval of my family and didn't last more than a couple of hours, which is always a good sign!

P.S. If you're looking for more vegan recipes I made a vegan chocolate birthday cake back in May

Friday, 17 August 2012

Excuses Excuses

Donna Freedman recently wrote an article on Get Rich Slowly exploring how people come up with a variety of external problems to excuse themselves from taking responsibility for their own actions (or lack thereof). She says that we need to call BS on our excuses because usually we are the victims of our own decisions.

I have been guilty of this many times in my life. When I was an undergraduate I had to have some expensive dental work that ate into the depths of my student overdraft. But that's the BS talking; it was ME who neglected my teeth and ME who didn't have any money saved for emergencies!

More recently, I've found when tracking my spending that I often overspend on fuel. In the past I would estimate the cost of getting to work and back, then add on another few miles' worth of fuel per week and budget that amount. Every month when I went over budget I would say, “Ah, but last month I had that trip to Redruth / worked more often / had to go to town a few times” etc. Every month there was an “unexpected“ reason why I had spent too much! I learned that while I do try to limit my driving I cannot stick to as tight a budget as I believed I should, so I have had to adjust my budget accordingly.

I can foresee similar BS justifications in our new place. It's very easy to get carried away when hunting for house stuff like kitchenware. It has been useful for us to go as a couple, with one pointing out to the other that no, a huge meat cleaver is a want, not a need (especially when one of us is a vegetarian!). Better to save that money for next month's rent!

Protecting Yourself
It really doesn't matter what mistakes you've made in the past. The best thing to do is try and learn from them, rather than burying your head in the sand telling yourself it wasn't your fault. Got an unreliable car? Make sure you have money set aside for the inevitable repairs and eventual replacement to avoid taking out a loan. Got a bad credit rating? Save up a couple of months' worth of payments on your debt so you'll always be able to pay at least the minimums.

Don't be afraid to say yeah, I screwed up, but here's why it won't happen again.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Warpaint and Horseflies

I hate horseflies! They are huge, weirdly attracted to me and their bites give me an inch-wide red allergic reaction, which is both painful AND itchy (how is that even possible??). You can even see the little bugger's “teeth” marks!

It's actually a sunny summer's day today so I dutifully marched outside to clean Jools, after several hours of doing anything else I could think of. Within a couple of minutes I had three horseflies zipping around my head, back and legs. A blast from the hosepipe did nothing to deter them, so I stomped back inside to discover that I'd already been bitten.

People suggest wearing long-sleeved tops to protect yourself. The problem with that is that these flies can bite straight through fabric, even jeans! Think about it; they bite horse skin for a living! I had to come up with a better deterrent.

Whilst Googling, I discovered that horseflies hate mint, lemon and ammonia. People suggested spraying yourself with a minty mouthwash solution, but we don't have a mint-flavoured one at the minute so I... improvised.

Turns out toothpaste does not rub into your skin like suncream!

All in the name of science, I strolled back to Jools with stripes of value toothpaste like warpaint all over my exposed skin and clothes (good thing we live in the middle of nowhere)! I was out there for another 20 minutes, during which one horsefly buzzed around me for a couple of minutes but left without chomping me. I consider that a win! :)

Does anyone know of a way to repel these evil little blighters, or am I doomed to be eaten alive for the rest of summer? :(

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Car Insurance Cheek!

I opened my e-mail this morning and actually laughed out loud. Swiftcover had just sent me a renewal quote for my car insurance.

I am selling my car before I go to Uni, but I was interested to have a nose at how much they would offer now that I have a full year of No Claims Discount (I was always named on my parents' insurance previously). 

Instead of the fairly awful £56 a month I was paying for the past year, I was quoted a massive £71 a month! HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!! They were kind enough to offer an automatic renewal too, so if I sat back and did nothing they would graciously add another 26% to my monthly payments!

Please beware of insurers! Almost all the younger people I've spoken to have found that insurers whack the prices up after a year and most of us have to change insurers annually for a better quote.

My Dad thought that perhaps the increased price was because of the recent EU ruling to stop insurers charging women lower premiums (which, by the way, is hilarious because age discrimination is still perfectly legal in insurance. Some of the younger people at my work are paying thousands a year just to insure their tiny cars.).

I decided to prove father wrong and went to a price comparison website. Instead of £71 a month, I was quoted £36 a month!! Literally half the price! On the other hand, my Dad always finds that going directly to a “we're not on price comparison websites” insurer works better for him, so maybe those companies have better deals for the more “mature” driver... :D

Another Way to Get a Better Deal
There is a lot of advice out there about how to lower your car insurance premiums (click here for the Money Saving Expert guide), so I won't profess to be an expert.

I do, however, know one way for you to save a bundle: pay annually. Most insurers add a massive chunk of interest onto your bill if you choose pay monthly. Some add over 30% APR. When I bought my car I needed it to get to work and earn back some money, so I didn't have the £600 to pay all in one go. That's probably the same for a lot of young people, but consider saving up to pay it all in one go next time. You could save yourself hundreds of pounds.

For example:
My cheap(er) insurance quote was £36.95 a month for 11 months, with a £114.03 deposit. This worked out to be a total of £520.48 for paying monthly. They also offered me a one-off annual payment of £447.64. Paying annually would save me £72.84! 

Two Ways to Save
My (pretty basic) advice is therefore to never accept a renewal quote without checking out some alternatives, and pay annually rather than monthly if at all possible!

Have you ever had a laugh at your renewal quote? My insurer changes every year – no company loyalty here! :D

Sunday, 5 August 2012

How to Make Fabric Placemats: Easy Sewing Tutorial

It is straight, honest! Just a funny camera angle! :D
In the run up to moving to our own place, The Boyfriend and I have had to purchase a lot of little bits and pieces for the flat. I wanted to re-use or recycle wherever possible, so I decided to sew some placemats out of some second hand pillowcases. (Yes, I like sewing with pillowcases).

Why fabric placemats? They're veeery cheap (mine cost less than £1 for four as opposed to at least £5 for a set of placemats from a supermarket), they're washable and you can pick any pattern you like! :)

To make a fabric placemat, you will need:
  • Three pieces of fabric: one upper piece with your main pattern on, an inner piece to go inside to give extra strength and insulation (I used some cheap white cotton fabric I had), and a bottom piece (which would work well either plain or with the same fabric as the upper piece). You don't need any specialist binding interface.
  • Threads - 2 colours: one the same colour as the main fabric (for seams) and one with a complementary but different colour to add a decorative edging stitch later.
  • Sewing machine is optional but speeds things up immensely!

How to make your fabric placemat
  1. Cut your three fabrics to 35cm x 30 cm (14 x 12 inches) rectangles.

  2. Pin the fabrics together in the following order (see photo): Main (upper) fabric with WRONG side facing up. Under that, the bottom piece of fabric with the RIGHT side facing up. The last layer is the inner fabric, which can be any side up as it won't be seen!

    Floral stripey fabric = upper, yellow = bottom, white = inner

  3. Sew the three pieces of fabric together using a thread the same colour as the main material, leaving about 1cm (half an inch) for seam allowance. You must leave an 8cm (3.5 inch) gap open along one edge, which will be used to turn the placemat the right way out.

  4. Trim the seam allowance to 0.5cm (¼ inch) around the edge, except for where you left the gap. Trim the material away from each corner at a diagonal angle to minimise bulk in the corner when you turn it out.

  5. Turn the placemat the right way out. Make sure you have the upper and bottom fabrics showing. Use a pencil with no lead, a pen with its lid on, a knitting needle or even a fancy-pants seam turner to push out the corners. 
  6. Pin the opening closed and use a ladder stitch (see the easy-to-follow YouTube video below, which isn't mine!) to close the gap. It will make the seam completely invisible. 

    Almost invisible seam. Catch the knots inside the seam.

  7. To give the placemat more rigidity and strength, sew a decorative line approximately 0.5cm (¼ inch) in from the edge using a long running stitch in a thread of a complementary but different colour to the main fabric. Be sure to start and finish the line using a few neat backwards stitches if you are using a sewing machine, so that the thread does not unwravel with use.

    There you have it. Beautiful, easy-to-make placemats in whatever pattern you like, for a fraction of the cost of buying new ones! :)

    P.S. Don't you love those tulips? I nearly kept them as pillowcases! :D