Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Keeping out the cold

Just when I thought it was starting to get warmer, Bristol is hit with another cold snap! I refuse to put the heating on at this time of year, so we need to think about other ways of keeping warm at night. Slippers and a blanket help a lot! :)

According to about.com, windows and doors are the second biggest culprits for losing heat from your home. I made a draught excluder for the front door, but our bedroom is always freezing because I never got round to beefing up the thin curtains "insulating" the north-facing bay windows!

There are a lot of ways to reduce the heat lost through windows. A good place to start is to determine whether there's a draught, which can be sealed up with insulating tape. For windows that open, you can use foam strips between the window and the frame. You can also buy an insulating film to stick onto the pane to bulk up the thickness of the glass itself if double glazing isn't an option for you.

Apparently you can stick a layer of bubble wrap onto windows for insulation, but if you want something slightly more normal you could invest in some heavy curtains or sew a second layer of fabric onto the ones you already have. Bathroom and kitchen blinds will help to keep the heat in at night! Don't forget to open your blinds/curtains during the day to let the sunlight warm your home.

The Energy Saving Trust found that you can save £170 by upgrading from single to double glazing windows, and a further £120 by draught-proofing your home. Improving your window insulation can save you twice as much as insulating your attic, so it's definitely time I got my act together and replaced our translucent curtains!

How do you insulate your home? Have you noticed any improvement in energy usage?

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Kitchen Blinds.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

How to grow vegetables WITHOUT a garden!

Ever wanted to grow vegetables but don't have a garden? Start a container garden!

If you have a sunny spot outside, or even a south-facing windowsill, you can grow your own vegetables! 

What to grow
It's a good idea to plan what you want to grow. If you are limited on space, grow small plants that produce expensive foods like lettuce and cherry tomatoes, NOT huge cheap crops like potatoes! Make sure you're growing things you actually like to eat or you won't be saving any money!

Even if you don't have any space outside, you could grow plants on your windowsill. Think small but expensive to buy, for example herbs or cherry tomatoes.

How much space will I need? 
The types of vegetables you want to grow will dictate how large a container you need. Use advice for Square Foot Gardening to determine how much space you need for each plant, or to calculate how many plants you can grow in a set area. For example, I have three tubs that measure 1.5' x 1.5' (46cm x 46cm), which is 2.25 square feet. I could grow 32 carrots in each tub, or mix and match and have half carrots with a few pea plants on the other side.

So what can you use for a container?
I have three large tubs, some large plant pots and... lots of milk bottles! If you cut the top off a milk bottle it makes a perfectly sized plant pot for a pea plant or a lettuce. Make sure you "black out" the sides to prevent sunlight getting to the roots. You can do this using non-toxic paint or, as I've done, wrapping them in aluminium foil!

If you're using an unconventional container, like an old welly or an ice cream container, make sure that you poke several holes in the bottom to allow water to drain out. This will prevent the roots rotting.

Caring for your container plants
Place your plants in a sunny location (a patio, balcony or windowsill works well!) and look after them in much the same way as a normal vegetable plot.

The main thing you need to keep an eye on is that plants in containers dry out a lot faster than if they are in the ground, so be prepared to water them once or even twice a day during hot summer days!

Luckily plants grown in containers are at less of a risk of soil-borne diseases like certain fungi and nematodes, but watch out for aphids munching on your plants!

Smaller containers holding top heavy plants are in danger of blowing over in the wind. Stand your pots against a wall and consider putting up a wind break if they are in a breezy location.

Buying compost for containers is expensive, so make the most of what you have by reusing last year's compost. Be sure to add a little fertiliser to the soil to replace the nutrients that were used last year. Where possible, try and rotate vegetables between containers from year to year.

Has anyone done this before? What's your favourite vegetable to grow in a container garden? :)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

30 ways to save £1!

To celebrate the 30th birthday of the £1 coin, Money Supermarket is holding a giveaway for bloggers. For each money saving tip you write they will pay you £1 (to a maximum of £30). I've been away the past few days, so I e-mailed them to check that the contest was still going on. They said they still have plenty of money to give away, so if you haven't yet, get writing your entry! Click here for more information.

Anyway, on to my favourite money saving tips!

1. First of all, look after your stuff! By taking care of things, you prolong their life and prevent spending money! (Case in point: me ruining my old laptop through careless tea drinking!)
2. Check you're on the best deal for your utilities!
3. Make things from what you have rather than running out and buying a new item. I made a snazzy draught excluder from an old pair of jeans and some pants!
4. Keep an eye on your meter readings. Water leaks can be very expensive!

5. Make your own fertiliser from stinging nettles!
6. Make compost using vegetable peelings, grass cuttings and cardboard!
7. Grow from seed rather than buying plants - you'll get SO MUCH more for your money!
8. Recycle old egg boxes and toilet tubes as bio-degradable plant pots. 
9. Save water from the shower or washing up to use on thirsty plants.

10. If you spend more than £100 a year on train tickets, check if you are eligible for a railcard. For £20-£28 a year you can save 1/3 on all fares.
11. Ditch the car. Maybe you could sell a car, maybe you could just walk more
. Either way, you're saving fuel, money and the environment.
12. Learn simple car maintenance methods. Looking after your car will save you a lot of money in the long run!
13. Drive efficiently. Don't leave your car idling, don't carry around weight you don't need, don't brake and accelerate sharply.

14. Cooking and freezing a large batch of food in advance will save you time and money!
15. Don't run out of food! You'll be much less tempted to go out to eat if you have food in the house.
16. Eat vegetarian foods. Meat is REALLY expensive, whereas lentils and beans are a cheap source of protein.
17. Take a packed lunch to work. Stop the daily money leak.

18. Ditch the hotel - go camping! A decent campsite costs a tenner a night, with fresh air and birdsong thrown in for free! :)
19. Use your local library. As well as books, many libraries stock the latest magazines and DVDs.
20. Exercise for free. Have a look on Youtube for your favourite exercise, or try jogging or walking around your local area.

Other stuff
21. Try making a gift for someone. The Boyfriend's mum is a big fan of homemade chocolates!
22. Turn clutter into money by selling it on eBay or at a carboot sale.
23. Many colleges offer extremely cheap haircuts and beauty treatments performed by trainees. Everything is checked by a professional before they are allowed to proceed.
24. If you have a tax refund on the way, stick it into an ISA in case of emergencies. If something happens, you have money on hand and will avoid paying credit card interest. You might even earn a few quid!

25. Use rechargeable batteries instead of disposables. They cost about twice as much, but will last you years.
26. When buying something online, you can often find a discount code for free shipping or money off by five minutes of Googling.
27. Make (and stick to) a shopping list! Shops use all sorts of tricks to make you spend more than you'd planned, so avoid the impulse buys!
28. Draw a line on your kettle marking exactly how much water you need. Don't waste energy!
29. Use white vinegar as a degreaser and anti-bacterial spray.
30. Have a No Spend Day. Challenge yourself to forego your morning coffee and popping to the shop to get something for dinner. Make do with what you have and keep your money in your pocket.

What do you do to look after the pounds? :)

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Showrooming: Is it wrong to view in store then buy online?

Last week I wrote about ways that shops trick people into spending more than they planned, but are the tides turning as people use showrooming to trick them out of a sale?

When was the last time you went "showrooming"?

Showrooming is where you walk into a shop, check out the product that you're planning on buying, then walk out and buy it cheaper online. It was probably responsible for the demise of companies like Jessops and HMV, which sell goods at a higher price than their online competitor Amazon.

So is showrooming immoral?

In my opinion, showrooming is just another form of shopping around. People used to do it before the internet became popular, back when places like Argos were a cheaper rival to many other businesses. I would however say that you're taking the mick when you take up half an hour of an employee's time picking their brain about the product, before picking up your smartphone and ordering online!

People say that showrooming hurts a lot of small businesses. I can see how that might be the case, but small shops are more likely to have interesting little things that you can't find elsewhere (which is how they compete with bigger brands in the first place!). Small companies should use their unique angle to keep customers coming back.

Larger shops will be happy to have more customers coming through their doors. They know that the longer they can keep you in there, the more likely you are to spend. Best Buy, a shop in the US that was floundering because of showrooming, has now introduced a price match guarantee with Amazon.com. This sounds counter-intuitive, but the impression of being a good value company has led to a increase in sales.

What does the future hold?

In Australia a celiac food shop has decided to charge $5 for looking at their merchandise, which is refunded if you buy something. How on Earth does this company expect to encourage people in with that attitude? The future depends on shops accepting that people have access to price comparison data and finding new ways to do business.

Even if a small shop cannot compete with Best Buy's price match guarantees, they can excel at things like customer service. If a shop assistant has been helpful in making a decision, people are more likely to buy from them. Introducing a loyalty card with rewards would be another way to keep people coming back. Sales allow shops to rival online prices, keeping customers in the store longer to entice them with the higher priced stock.

The future of large electrical items is online. The amount you can save is phenomenal, plus you don't have to try and cart a huge television home in the back of a Mini. We might even see real showrooms of electrical goods on the high street, with QR codes allowing you to purchase them online.

Like it or not, showrooming is here to stay. Businesses need to evolve.

Do you think showrooming is acceptable? What sorts of items would you scope out in store then buy online?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

10 ways shops trick you into spending money

A silk worm cocoon - made of a 500m long strand of silk!
Hello all!

I just got back from a fab week in Turkey. It was a really cheap trip because the flights and accommodation were subsidised by three Turkish companies. In return, the group had to visit these establishments (a jeweller, a carpet-weaving co-operative and a leather shop - vegan Mum was not amused!). Their aim was to sell enough of their beautifully crafted but ridiculously expensive products to make it worth their while.

Unfortunately for the salespeople, I don't have a budget of several thousand pounds for a necklace, rug or jacket! Still it was interesting to watch their sales techniques.

In each of the three locations, their first aim was to split up the tour group. People are much easier to influence on their own! They all described their wares as an investment, which would hold their value over the years (only if you can find someone to BUY them off you though!). They also insisted that you touch/try on the product, which even I know makes a person more likely to identify with and purchase an object.

If you're anything like me, you hate being tricked into buying anything. Here are some things to look out for closer to home:

  • Items placed near the entrance to a shop are there to encourage impulse buying whilst you're still in the mood to shop!
  • Similarly, fresh fruit, veg and bread are often located near the front of the store to give you the impression of a "fresh" shop - and because they are high-profit items!
  • The things you want are usually located at the back of the shop, to encourage impulse buys of additional products that the customer passes.
  • Shops regularly rotate their stock so people spend more time searching for the things they need.
  • There are very few windows or clocks to prevent people from realising how long they have been shopping.
  • Special offers make you think you're getting a great deal, but did you actually want three jars of pickled eggs? Or any??
  • Popular items are placed in the middle of the aisle, so customers are forced past other items to tempt them.
  • The most expensive items are at eye level. 
  • Inexpensive, small items are placed next to the tills, likely to be grabbed by bored people in the queue.
  • And online? Shoppers are more likely to buy from a website that already has their details stored.

It's a good idea to plan what you're going to buy before you get there to avoid being tricked into spending money you don't want to part with! Whether you're shopping for a new car, shoes or just a pint of milk, make sure you do your research and get the best deal for you!

How many of the above list do you recognise? Do you know of any other sneaky tricks? Let us know in the comments below!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Six Blogs You Should Read

Hello! I thought I'd share the love today. I'm going on holiday with my family for a week starting tomorrow, so I've made a list of some of my favourite blogs that will definitely keep you entertained while I'm away!

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourite blogs and why I think you should read them too!

Feral Homemaking is full of thought provoking posts, cookery, even the odd book review. Pamela posts a brilliant Friday blogaround that means you'll always have something interesting to read!

Ilona (Life After Money) isn't afraid to tell it like it is! She blogs about how to get the best deals from the supermarkets and living well on a pension. She often has lots of lovely photos from her long walks too.

Saving for Travel is a great mix of frugal lifestyle and travel. SFT always has a money saving challenge to take part in, which helped her to blast away her mortgage last year! She also loves Cornwall nearly as much as me!

Dan (Frugal Living UK) is an interesting chap; he's an opera singer who moved to rural Lancashire to escape the hassle of London. He's been renovating his house, starting to grow veg and is generally becoming a frugal expert.

Thrifty Crafty Girl is run by Priscilla, who can always make me giggle. She posts fun crafty projects that will inspire even the least crafty person! She also posts simple-but-tasty recipes that I am dying to try!

Allotment to Kitchen is pretty much a lifesaver for me! My Mum turned vegan, and this blog has so many vegan recipes that I barely know where to start! Shaheen used to have an allotment, so she is keen to promote seasonal eating.

Have you got a favourite blogger? Give them a shout out in the comments below!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

I Saved Over £200 in Money Saving March!

Over the past month I've tried 12 ways to save even more money from an already frugal budget. Here's how I got on:

Challenge 1 - packed lunch - Woohoo, I did it! I do usually bring my own lunch, but in February I bought lunch in the supermarket five times because I didn't have time to make it. That means I saved £15 in March by keeping soups and instant noodles at work!

Challenge 2 - see a penny... - I've got to admit, I got carried away by the bright lights of The Boyfriend finding £10 on the floor. I collected a whopping 13p in change during March. Oh well!

Challenge 3 - stay in with friends - This month we've had some great times with friends either at our flat or their homes; we made pasties, sushi (vegetarian for me!), and had roast dinner and brunch cooked for us! I don't really have an estimate for savings here, but it definitely would have cost a lot to eat out for each of these days!

Challenge 4 - £50 extra income
- I earned £19 for two psychology experiments and ~£66 for demonstrating in Undergraduate practicals! Total earned: ~£85! How did you do?

Challenge 5 - £1 meal plans - We've stuck to evening meal plans for the past three weeks and I like it! There's no pondering what to have for dinner and you can fit meals around both the ingredients you have and how much time you'll have to make it! We spent £26.15 less on food this month!

Challenge 6 - save money on bills - I signed up for Money Saving Expert's Cheap Energy Club, which checks that you are on the best tariff for you and alerts you if that changes! Pretty handy! Looks like I can save £71 a year by switching suppliers. 

Challenge 7 - save money on gardening - I have windowsills full of egg boxes, seed trays and milk bottles. I cut the top off the milk bottles to put a pea seedling in each of them, to get a head start on spring! WHEN WILL IT BE WARM?? No real estimate here, but I haven't bought the things I thought I needed!

Challenge 8 - enter a competition - I won a free Malteser chocolate bunny from Tesco! Haven't heard back yet about which amazing holiday I have(n't) won, haha! I am still in the process of writing an entry for the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize (check it out, fellow scientists!). Winnings: 60p (value of a Malteser bunny!)

Challenge 9 - No Spend week - We had to get milk, booooo! But we only spent £3.78 (milk, margarine, bread etc.) so I guess we did ok.

Challenge 10 - find a better ISA - I still can't find an easy access ISA with a better rate than inflation (I still only have a small Emergency Fund and don't want to tie it up too much), but I will definitely be opening a new ISA this month to get a better rate!

Challenge 11 - batch cooking - I've been stocking up the freezer with healthy meals rather than the "freezer crap" like pizzas and veggie burgers. So much cheaper and healthier, still very little effort involved. This probably saves at least 50p per meal I make instead of pizza/burgers, so currently about £3.

Challenge 12 - make a gift - I made a cake and cheese straws as a gift for my parents when I went to visit, which cost a lot less than a bottle of wine and was more thoughtful to boot.

So all in all I saved £200.88 during Money Saving March! :) That's not even including better interest rates and the cost of gifts, gardening and meals out! Woohoo!

How did you do?
Did you manage to earn extra money, plan meals better or switch to a better internet provider? Let me know! :)