Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Best Eight Places to Visit in Cornwall


I love Cornwall! It is my home and I am sad to be leaving it this September. There is so much to love about this part of the world, and whether you live here or just visit every now and again, there will always be something that you haven't done yet. One thing I mean to do before leaving is to visit St. Michael's Mount. I can't believe I've never been there!

Here are some of my favourite things to do in Cornwall. If you haven't been to these places, add them to your bucket list!


1. Land's End – Avoid the tacky tourist trap of the Land's End amusement park and instead follow the coastal path. The area is outstandingly beautiful and you will quickly leave the crowds behind. There are some fantastic old buildings to explore at Lands End and nearby Sennen too.

2. The Camel Trail – The River Camel flows from Bodmin Moor to the sea at Padstow. Much of its length is neighboured by the Camel Trail, a cycle path/footpath on the old railway line. You can hire a bike and cycle along the the beautiful estuary between Padstow and Wadebridge, and even further beyond if you fancy a more challenging ride.

3. The Eden Project – The Eden Project is fairly expensive to enter (~£20 if you book in advance online), however if you Gift Aid your fee then you get free entry for a year. People with a Cornwall or Devon postcode can get a Local's annual pass for £5 during the winter months. Winter is the best time to visit Eden in my opinion; the plants are stunning inside the biomes and there is a lot more going on, from storytelling to mulled wine! The festival of lights in the run up to Christmas is stunning, and between October and Easter there is an ice skating rink for a small additional cost.

4. BeachesAvoid Newquay like the plague. It is far too crowded and you're likely to step on broken glass left by the numerous drunken stag and hen parties. If you want a family friendly beach, head a few miles down the coast to Perranporth, a small tourist town with a large beach and several places to eat. For a more secluded spot, we prefer Treyarnon Bay, which is a pain in the bum to get to but worth it in the end!
 



 












5. Pencarrow House and Gardens – Pencarrow is a stately home with fantastic grounds. I've never actually been in the house, but every year during May the gardens are alive with rhododendrons and bluebells. It's a magical place to visit.


6. Bodmin Moor – The moor is the antidote to the busy crowds during the Cornish summer. I like to escape to the moors for a circular walk around some of the most beautiful (but sometimes bleak) scenery in Cornwall.

7. Boscastle – I fell in love with this little village when Mum and I hiked some of the Cornish coast last month. Don't just visit the village - take a walk up the coast on either side for stunning views!

8. The South West Coast Path Find the sea, join the coast path and just keep walking! Mum and I plan on taking two cars next time we go, so that we can park one at the destination instead of having to turn round halfway through the day to return to the start!




What do you love most about where you live? Anywhere I should add to my bucket list?? :)

Monday, 25 June 2012

What Would You Do With a £1000 Windfall?


Say you won £1000 in a contest. What would you do with the money? It's not an absolutely huge life-changing sum, but it's a still a nice windfall of extra money to fall into your bank account.

So what would you do with the unassigned money?

I had to make this decision recently. I knew I was in for a tax refund because I'd been on the wrong tax code for six months of the past year! I was very pleasantly surprised to see that I was due a refund of just over £1000!

Now, the thing about my tax refund is that it isn't “free money”, although it is VERY easy to think of it as an excuse to spend! It's money that I had to give up valuable hours of my life to attain. Then again, even if I won £1000 it would be hard to forget that it is worth nearly 165 hours of my life (at minimum wage). Ouch, that is painful to write! I think my time should be worth a lot more than that

Here's what I did with my hard-earned yet unassigned money:
  • Bristol fund - £410. I completed my Moving-to-Bristol fund. This was the main thing I was saving for, so it was important to me to sort it out long before I might need it at the end of the summer!
  • Travel fund - £60. I save a little money every month for future travel and I thought it would be great to use some tax refund for something that I will really enjoy. I love seeing the rest of the world! :)
  • Gift fund - £50. May and June are particularly expensive months for birthdays in my world, so it was good to re-build my depleted gift fund!
  • Family meal - £30. My family rarely go out to eat because it can be quite expensive. I treated us all to breakfast on my sister's birthday with a little of the cash.
  • Emergency fund - £200. After meeting my main savings goal (Bristol fund) I have started bulking up my emergency fund because you never know when you'll need some cash.
  • Concert ticket - £24. If I am going to spend money, I would rather buy an experience than an object. When I heard one of my favourite bands was coming to Cornwall and putting on a concert on a local beach, I had to go!
  • Bike repairs - £26. I had a blow-out the other day. I don't know what I ran over but the puncture ripped straight through the tyre and into the inner tube, leaving a big tear in both of them. I bought a new tyre and upgraded my inner-tube to a puncture-proof variety. So far so good!
  • Current account buffer - £200. I tend to transfer any “spare” money into my ISA, so occasionally my current account goes into my interest-free overdraft. This doesn't cost me anything so isn't really a problem, but since I got out of debt I really don't like seeing the number go below £0. I put a £200 buffer in this account and think of it as £0, so now I should never actually go into the red.

What would you do with a windfall? Save it all or blow it on a holiday or the latest iGadget? :) Did you get a tax refund? Click here to find out if you are entitled to a refund and how to get it!

P.S. That 58 minutes on hold to HMRC was the best-paid hour I've ever spent!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Why is Jimmy Carr's Tax Avoidance Not Illegal?


Jimmy Carr was in the news today for using a K2 tax avoidance scheme. This is basically where an individual resigns from their UK job, then signs with an offshore company who receive the individual's salary from the UK company. The offshore company then pay the individual a small “wage” (which they pay a small amount of tax on) and give them a large (tax-free) “loan”

Many people in this country earn minimum wage, yet still have to pay 20% income tax on anything they earn over the tax threshold (currently £8105 per year). Low-income families face a multitude of financial struggles, yet tax avoidance in the high income tax threshold (over £150,000 a year) was as high as 30% last year. This means that some people earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year are paying less tax than the average UK family. How is this legal?! 

According to the BBC, tax evasion is the criminal act of avoiding paying the income tax you owe, whereas tax avoidance is the legal practice of paying some dodgy accountant to use offshore accounts to reduce the amount of income tax paid by the UK's richest to as low as 1% (much higher than someone earning minimum wage for a full-time job). What exactly is the difference here?? It sounds like two names for the same thing, but if your account does his job well you can get away with it!

The Prime Minister declared Jimmy Carr's tax avoidance “morally wrong” (yet refused to comment on recent OBE-awarded Gary Barlow's use of another scheme currently under investigation by HMRC). Income tax is used to fund vital services like the NHS, education, the police and social security. Perhaps Jimmy Carr and others do not use any of these services (although I can't imagine he wouldn't call the police if his mansion was being robbed!), however do they expect the rest of the country to shoulder their share of the cost of keeping the UK functioning? It is incredibly unpatriotic and, I would agree, morally wrong.

Mr. Carr has since withdrawn from the tax avoidance scheme, calling it a “terrible error of judgement”. I call it ironic, considering his jokes about other people's abuse of the UK economy!

I just hope that the government's plans to stop tax avoidance in the rich goes further than just cutting their income tax rate to 45% (from 50%). Surely that's just going to earn less money from those responsible enough to pay their dues.

What do you think? I am outraged!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Father's Day Treat: Apple and Rhubarb Crumble!


To celebrate Father's Day yesterday I made him one of his favourite desserts; apple and rhubarb crumble. Yummmm! :)

This recipe is vegan-friendly (Mum likes crumble too!) and pretty much fool proof. Just chop fruit, add sugar and spice (and all things nice), top with crumble and leave in the oven.

Ingredients
3 x bramley apples, peeled and cored.
2 rhubarb stalks
150g light brown sugar (I used muscavado)
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
Half a teaspoon of ground ginger
150g (vegan if necessary) margarine + around another 25g for the filling (Our vegan margarine of choice is Vitalite, made from sunflower oil)
300g plain flour


Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 180ยบC (gas mark 4) and grease a casserole dish. Mine was 8.5 inches in diameter.
  2. Slice the rhubarb into roughly 1-inch chunks. Cut the apples into chunks slightly larger than the rhubarb. Cut them into a bowl of water to prevent the apple browning before you finish.


  3. Mix the apple and rhubarb pieces together in the casserole dish. Mix 75g of the sugar with the cinnamon and ginger and sprinkle it over the fruit, then dot small knobs of margarine over the top.


  4. In a mixing bowl, sift the flour over the butter and add the remaining 75g of sugar. Rub the mixture together until it forms breadcrumbs, which you then use to cover the fruit in the casserole dish. Ensure this crumble topping is at LEAST 1cm thick (preferably 1.5cm), or it may go soggy when cooking and nobody likes soggy crumble!


  5. Bake for 50 minutes in the centre of your pre-heated oven. Check your crumble halfway through to ensure the topping is not cooking too quickly. If it is already golden brown, cover the dish with aluminium foil. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes to harden the crumble topping.
  6. The fruit filling will be extremely hot, so allow to cool for 10-20 minutes before enjoying with ice cream!

I hope you all had a nice father's day. Happy Father's Day to you, Dad!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Six Environmentally Friendly Ways to Stop Slugs!

Disclaimer: Turns out, it's illegal to use coffee grounds as a pesticide until they have been properly tested, but you can still use them as a soil enhancer! Funny old world, isn't it? :)

Slugs! The bane of every gardener. One day your lettuces look set to win a prize at the village show, the next they are reduced to a stump by these slimey fiends.

The lovely weather for vegetables (rain!) means that hundreds of the little blighters emerged to wreak havoc on cabbages and my Dad's chili plants (he was NOT amused!). Lili from creativesavv left a comment saying that she was having a lot of trouble with them over in the USA too, due to the weather.

Can anything be done to save the crops and flowers we have spent hours nurturing??

There are a lot of techniques for slug control, from lethal measures to methods that leave the slugs happy but noticeably absent from your vegetable patch! I must admit that I would much prefer to leave slugs alive wherever possible because it is not a life-or-death situation for me. Yes it's annoying if my crops get munched but there's always a trip to Tesco for some lettuce.

Non-lethal measures
  1. Gritty barriers – Slugs and snails are very keen to protect their soft “foot”, so placing a barrier of sharp grit around plants will make them think twice about trying to attack your vegetables. Top things to use include crushed eggshells (make sure they are washed or you will attract vermin), coffee grounds (slugs are also repelled by the remaining caffeine, which is poisonous to them) (Edit: actually it is illegal to use coffee as a pesticide), sand and oats.

  2. Sacrificial plantings – Protect your valuable crops by planting a sacrificial ring of less-important plants that slugs go crazy for. A great example is lettuce. The effect of this can be enhanced by spraying your sacrificial plants (and other weeds near your vegetable patch) with beer, which slugs looooove!

  3. Copper rings / aluminium foil – I've heard great things about copper. You can buy little rings to put around your plants, which should give slugs a little electric shock. It's not lethal, but hurts just enough to make them turn back. The same effect is said to be had with aluminium foil. I recently tested these two metals and found them woefully lacking however. Gary the test slug happily slimed from copper coins to foil and back again!

    Gary didn't mind copper or aluminium!

I think gardeners should employ as many of the above non-lethal techniques as possible in combination. None of them would probably be effective enough alone, but gritty barriers combined with sacrificial plantings should give your vegetables enough respite from the slimey villains. 

If you want to get serious, here are some lethal methods for getting rid of slugs in a way that will not harm the rest of the wildlife in your garden:

Lethal measures
  1. Slug pellets – Old-fashioned slug pellets are toxic to helpful birds and mammals that eat the dying slugs, as well as unwitting pets or children that might eat them. Now there are non-toxic varieties that are much more specific to slugs and snails, such as ferrous phosphate or aluminium sulphate.

  2. Nematodes – Nematodes are microscopic worms that are by far the most numerous organisms found on Earth. They can be found almost anywhere on the planet, but some soil-living nematodes are particularly good at killing slugs. Nemaslug (the trade name for slug-killing nematodes) is a fairly expensive method of slug disposal, coming in at around £10.75 including postage, but it is easy to apply and will kill slugs above and below ground over a 40m2 area for six weeks. They are specific to slugs and will not harm other forms of wildlife.

  3. Beer traps – A far cheaper method is a beer trap; a plastic container of beer buried slightly below the ground with a lip so that slugs can enter but hopefully excluding most other small invertebrates. Slugs are attracted to the smell of beer, then fall into the trap and drown. Beer can be used in non-lethal methods too (see above).

Other resources

My alma mater Cardiff University has done a lot of research into the prevention of slugs and snails. Professor William Symondson wrote this article containing an absolute wealth of information for killing, repelling and distracting slugs.

Do you have any top tips for slug distraction or removal? I'll be using coffee grounds to protect my cabbages. Mum works in a coffee shop, but you can pick them up for free at any Starbucks.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Lovely Weather for Ducks and Vegetables!


Most of southern Britain has been hit hard by the rain during the past week or two. It's starting to feel more like Spring or Autumn than Summer! The good news here in Cornwall that the rain has been interspersed with periods of warm sunshine; perfect veggie growing conditions!

Tomatoes are taking over!
My tomato plants are getting almost big enough to flower. I have sixteen plants, which are currently taking up my entire windowsill. I am trying to harden them off, but it takes a good 10-15 minutes getting them all arranged for a day in the garden because I can only carry two at a time!

Top tips for tomatoes:
  • Make sure you tie your tomatoes firmly to a stake at several places along the main stem, leaving just enough room so you don't damage the plant (about half a centimetre).
  • Regular watering is essential, especially when fruiting. If you allow the soil/compost to completely dry out, the tomatoes will split when they next receive water.
  • Apply fertiliser weekly once the fruits begin to develop.

Basil
I planted some basil at the same time as the tomatoes. Can you believe the difference in size of the two plants?? The basils are about 1.5 inches high, the tomatoes are about three feet tall!

I also sprinkled some out-of-date carrot seeds in a tub of compost in the hope that I might get some germination. Usually we have very little success with carrots but lots of them have come up (far too close together, so they will have to be thinned later on). They're starting to get their true leaves now too! :)

Tiny carrot seedlings
Top tips for carrots:
  • Carrots require a sandy soil, so if you have a clay-type soil like mine, your best bet is to grow them in a deep container.
  • Try not to damage/crush the leaves because the smell will attract carrot fly (top tip from my Dad!).
  • Keep plants well watered to avoid woody carrots.

Pea 

I have three tiny pea plants too. The seeds were again old ones from a couple of years ago and did not germinate very well. I need to stake the plants now because they have started putting out tendrils looking for support.

A month ago I had a few cooking potatoes left in the bottom of a bag that had started to sprout. This is “chitting” and means that if planted they should develop into new plants. We planted them and the resulting plants are coming up nicely.

Potato plants
 
Top tips for potatoes:
  • Potatoes should be watered during the growing season if there isn't regular rain.
  • Apparently you should cut the green, above-ground part of the plant off two weeks before you lift the crop. This enables the tubers to develop a thicker skin less prone to damage from digging up and storing.


Sharing the vegetable patch with the potatoes are some onions (growing nicely from sets), some lettuces, swiss chard, swedes and some cabbage plants. (The leeks did not fare well against marauding pigeons!) These little guys are coming along well, although none of them are without a few slug-chomp-marks.

Cabbage 
Tips for growing cabbages:
  • Grow cabbages in a different spot every year, to reduce build up of the many diseases they are prone to contracting.
  • Watch out for butterfly eggs (small oblong-shape) on the underside of leaves. Caterpillars can devastate your crop almost overnight!


Over to you, Mary, Mary, quite contrary. How does your garden grow?

Saturday, 9 June 2012

When Are Your Savings NOT Savings?


I've been thinking a lot about saving lately. How much should you save? Do sinking funds count, ie. saving money for planned future expenses? Or are only things like emergency funds or retirement funds included? All money will be spent eventually, so how far in the future counts as “savings” and what is just “set aside”?

One of the most common pieces of advice is to save 20% of your income (or use it to pay down debt if you have any). This follows the 50-30-20 budget made famous by Elizabeth Warren, which states that you should allow up to 50% or your after-tax income for needs (housing, insurance, food, utilities), 30% for wants (meals out, new clothes, books, music etc.), and 20% should be saved.

The problem is, what counts as 'savings'?

I am currently saving a large chunk of my wages for:
  • Moving to Bristol – just completed funding this.
  • Car repairs (£80/month)
  • Gifts (£20-30/month)
  • Emergency fund (£100/month)
  • Future travel (£40/month)
  • Eventual laptop replacement (£25/month)

Most of my 'savings' are earmarked for emergencies and moving to Bristol, and I don't have a retirement account yet although it is something I am starting to think about. Of course, a lot of the Bristol savings fund will be spent in a few months, leaving me with my Emergency fund as my only true “savings”, which even then could be accessed at any point if needed.

Do savings only count if you will keep them for a set period? Over 5 years? Until retirement? What about people saving for a house, or saving to pay for their child's university education? Eventually ALL savings will be spent!

What do you think? What counts as savings and what is just cash set aside for a short term future purchase?

When are savings not savings? When they are spent!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

How to Make FREE Fertiliser for Your Garden


Growing lots of tasty vegetables can use a LOT of fertiliser, especially for high nutrient requirement plants like tomatoes. It can be quite expensive to feed your plants weekly with shop-bought fertiliser over the summer, but good news! There's a completely free alternative!

You can make fertiliser from stinging nettles and water!

I first heard about this technique from my Nana, who has a wealth of frugal tips for gardening! It's great because you're helping your plants AND getting rid of weeds at the same time!

Here's how to do it:
  1. Find a particularly vicious-looking stinging nettle patch!
  2. Grab a large bucket or tub, preferably with a lid because this is going to get stinky!
  3. Pull up the stinging nettle plants (not the roots, those things go down sooooo far) and chop them up into your bucket. Make sure you're protecting yourself from their triffid-like stings with gloves. You want to damage them as much as possible to release the nutrient-rich juices.
  4. Once you have mostly filled the bucket with chopped stingers (this takes a fair while to achieve!), then grab a handy brick or rock and go to town on them even more, crushing them into oblivion. If you've been stung as many times as me in the past, you'll really enjoy this part. Yelling “DIE, DIE, DIE!” is optional, but enjoyable.

  5. Fill your bucket of mushy nettles with water, and please do cover it with a lid or something. You need to leave it for at least 3-4 weeks and it's a very smelly process!
     








  6. After a month or more of decomposing, your nettle-based fertiliser is now ready to use. Just skim out the plant material and use the tea-coloured liquid as fertiliser. PLEASE NOTE that this is potent stuff. If you apply the neat liquid directly to your plants it will scorch the leaves. You should dilute it one part to ten and apply no more than weekly to your plants.

I hope you enjoy the resulting vegetables, if not the smelly process in between! Just remember, it's free! :D

Got any top tips for growing your own? How are your plants doing?

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Goals Update

I last wrote an update on my goals about three months ago, so I thought it was high time I did another one!

Moving to Bristol
When I announced that I am debt free, I decided that the next important thing I needed to do was save £800 to finance moving to Bristol. I have since increased this to £1000, to cover things like my share of a flat deposit and the first month's rent, as well as the cost of actually moving. I currently have £541 saved from my wages, eBay sales, selling textbooks and a refunded train ticket.

SFT's Challenge: Find an extra £50 in May!
 Saving for Travel challenged everyone to find an extra £50 in May, either by earning more, using vouchers or selling things. I only had the opportunity to work an extra 2.25 hours because I was away for nearly two weeks in total, but I did sell a couple of small items on eBay and used a few vouchers to net an overall extra £29.30. Still, every little helps!
 
New Year's Resolutions

1.  100 No Spend Days - Back at the end of February I had achieved 27 No Spend Days, which has now increased to 58 NSDs. This is an increase of around 10 days a month. Not too bad considering all the travelling I've been doing this year! 

2. Record every penny spent and earned - I do this every day and would recommend it to anyone wanting to improve their money management. It helps you to understand what you could save money on and what your priorities are.

3. Reduce waste and helping the planet - I challenge myself to stay under 100 miles per week in my car, which is often difficult as around 50 miles are used just getting to work and back and my nearest town is a 14 mile round trip! I tend not to go to town unless visiting  my Nana though. My vegetable patch is coming on well (although my leeks were eaten *sniffle*) and I still don't really buy much.

4. Find a PhD - complete! :D

5. Spend more time with friends - went to visit some good friends in Kent and Essex, and see a lot more of my friends at home too. 

6. Weight loss - don't ask! 

 How are you doing? Are you in the middle of any challenges of your own?