Day 77: Romantic Christmas Break for Two…

 

Hi readers,

 

I’m trying to sell on this hotel booking because I can no longer use it. Sorry for spamming my own blog! If you’re interested, click on the link underneath. Thanks.

 

Click to have a look !

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Day 76: The 8p Voucher

So, today I got handed three different vouchers with my supermarket receipt.
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Voucher 1:

9p off per litre of fuel when you spend £20 on toiletries and healthcare

To make a saving: buy more than 222 litres of fuel (in one go, of course)

Voucher 2:

8p off per litre of fuel when you spend £20 on clothing

To make a saving: buy more than 250 litres of fuel (in one go, of course)

My car holds 47.7 litres. So I’d have to bring along 5 and a quarter of my little cars to make my money back (assuming I’m not that into the supermarket’s fashion range). Who has 5 and a quarter cars?!

Voucher 3:

Literally just an 8p voucher.

Come on, supermarkets. . . Are you just trying to bamboozle people who aren’t accountants?! I don’t actually want twenty quid’s worth of toiletries, or of supermarket-branded clothing! I certainly don’t want to have to bring my own fuel tanker along to the petrol station to just break even on your super-generous offers. . .

Your vouchers are going straight in the bin. Stop wasting paper, stop wasting my time, stop giving me stupid 8p vouchers.

Thanks!

Day 75: Coppers

Not that kind of copper. . .

On Saturday I picked up my Tardis money box (okay, it WAS my little sister’s, before she upgraded to a pin-code locked one) and took it to the supermarket. Before I left the house I emptied all my coat pockets and coin purses of small change. I even stuck my hand through the ripped lining of my handbag and pulled up some silver. Even those little storage spaces in my car yielded a couple of coins.

It took a while to tip them all into the machine, but when I’d finished I had a voucher for £37.27. Pretty good, huh?

I paid in an old cheque, a tenner I’d found in a pocket in a rarely-used bag and the change I’d poured into the counter. Altogether I had £76.37. Wow. Given I’d had a minus number in my account, money that I hadn’t noticed not having suddenly transformed my finances.

So how about running your fingers down the back of the sofa? You might have enough to set up your own arcade attraction. . .

Day 68: Helping you to do the things you love for less!

Shopaholic Cuts Back – helping you to do the things you love for less!

I don’t want you to feel too deprived if you’re trying to save, so let me give you a whole load of cheap (or free!) options on how to go out and enjoy yourself, while still looking after the pennies.

Cinema

You must know about Orange Wednesdays, right? Well, what about everyone else, who can’t afford an astronomically priced cinema ticket? Never fear, I have some options for you.

There are a couple of websites offering free tickets for previews. Show Film First and Tell Ten (website addresses below) ask you to sign up, and will then e-mail you when tickets are available. This means that not only can you afford to go the silver screen once in a while, but you can see brand new films before any of your friends do.

http://www.showfilmfirst.com

http://www.tellten.co.uk/create_account.php

Eating Out

The TasteCard is a good option for anyone who enjoys dining out on a regular basis. You can get up to 50% off a meal, but this can involve eating at anti-social times. Membership for a year costs £80, so it’s worth having a think about whether this would benefit you. Although it seems like a lot to shell out initially, you’d only have to use it on four £40 meals out for it to pay for itself. If you’re not sure whether you’d really use it enough to make it worthwhile, you can always get a month’s trial for free.

http://www.tastecard.co.uk/trial

Vouchers for individual restaurants are available via MoneySavingExpert. These are updated regularly, though, so check the website often if you’re looking to go somewhere specific. As I write there are deals for Prezzo, Ask, Strada, and many more.

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/cheap-restaurant-deals

Going for Drink

I’m not going to suggest you go hunting for discount vouchers on alcohol; there are not many around, and for good reason! Still, there are ways to spend less on drinks, if you follow these nifty tips. How about pairing up with friends, to take advantage of Happy Hour 2-for-1 cocktails? Where I live there are loads of cool bars (not just national chains) that do this.

Don’t drink. Okay, this tip is slightly cheeky, I know. But how about alternating between alcohol and mineral water, if you’re on a big night out? If you go out a lot, how about alternating between this and water-only on different nights? Another way to do it is to get an alcohol substitute, such as non-alcoholic wine or beer, or an alcohol-free cocktail. My favourite drink is a virgin mojito, which also conveniently saves me a couple of quid on the rum.

Theatre

Going to the theatre is my favourite thing to do on a Friday and Saturday night, and the way I do it often makes it cheaper than going for a drink with a friend. I’ll readily admit, being young helps. Living in London, and being under-26, can do wonders for your cultural life. As soon as the National Theatre releases a batch of ticket, I will be pouncing, grabbing the £5 tickets for as many shows as I can. You just have to sign up to their Entry Pass scheme, which not only gives you cheap tickets, but also exclusive access to fantastic workshops and talks.

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/discover-more/entry-pass

The Barbican also has a programme for youngsters like myself. “freeB” offers discounts and free tickets. Again, signing up is free, so head to: https://www.barbican.org.uk/eticketing/fbmembership1.asp

As if I haven’t given you enough options already, if you’re under 26, you can also bag one free show per year. Check out this government initiative: http://www.anightlessordinary.org.uk/

Day 62: The Booze Blues

My liver is groaning at me, and my purse sympathises.

Let me give you an extract from my week:
On Friday I drank with my Grandad. It’s not often we get through a bottle of wine these days, because I’m usually driving afterwards. Last week, though, I stayed over, so we got the corkscrew out.
On Saturday I had a date and drank rather more than usual to compensate for my nerves.
On Sunday I met up with a friend for a drink post-church.
On Monday I helped out at a graduate recruitment evening, and, surprise surprise, more wine was involved.

You get the picture.

In London this is no cheap thrill. Although some of those glasses were free, some had to be paid for. Oh dear.

Another problem with drinking, especially after work, is that I need something to soak up the alcohol in my lightweight body. Last night I ended up spending £6.50 on my post-drinking alcohol sponge. Six pounds fifty! So annoying in the cold light of the sober morning. All I got was some fruit, a sandwich and a chocolate bar. I’d never hand over a crisp ten pound note for so little during the day.

Once the bottle is uncorked, though, money starts to feel like those little Monopoly notes. Somehow not real, with no impact on real life. It does impact, though, of course.

Have you ever had that horrible feeling of looking at your bank statement and seeing a series of amounts you’d forgotten about, post-booze? I just looked at my online banking, and remembered a few amounts I’d pushed to the back of my mind. Some amounts I’m not sure I even noticed at the time; I blindly punch in the PIN number on the terminal, without noticing the number before it.

I blame it on the wine, of course I do. But someone (okay, me…) makes the choice to drink in the first place. So now I’m going to make the effort to cut down. I’m not going teetotal (that would just be silly) but I’m going to start out by limiting myself to one night a week. That way I should also limit the surprises on the bank statement to a more manageable figure.

Cheers!

Day 56: Money Saving Expert @Home

As Savvy-Saver-In-Training, I’m an apprentice to anyone who’ll have me. This time, I looked to Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com for help.

Their “Money Makeover” has eleven tips in the “household” category which, they claim, can save you upwards of £6,750.

1. Gas and electricity

  • The problem is that I’m a renter in a shared house. I’ve no idea how long I’ll be staying in my current pad, and to get the cheapest deals you need to tie yourself in for at least two years, or incur early exit fees that negate the benefit of switching suppliers in the first place. Secondly, opting for direct debit gives you great savings. Unfortunately, I can’t rely on my housemates to transfer the money before the bill leaves the joint account. Every time we accidentally fall into the overdraft, we incur a £25 fine, which also negates the savings you get initially.

Savings: Nil

2. Food shopping

  • The argument goes that we’re all duped by the supermarket. We are too thick to understand that just because something is “three for two” doesn’t necessarily make it a great deal. Apparently we’re comforted by the words “discount” and “savings”, too blind to read our shopping lists (because we’re all doing shopping lists now, boys and girls, aren’t we?).
  • As I’ve written about my food shopping before, I’ll leave you to read my other posts on this subject.

Savings: £50/month

3. Council tax

  • It’s said that 400,000 homes are in the wrong council tax band, and are paying too much. Within minutes, you can check how much all of your neighbours are paying, to give you an idea of whether you’re one of the 400,000. I clicked onto direct.gov.uk and had a nosey to see what the houses around me were paying. With the exception of one house, which has been extended, and is now much larger than all the rest, we are all in the same band. No savings to be found here, then.

Savings: Nil

4. Home phone & broadband

  • MoneySavingExpert says that you don’t need to pay any more than £15 per month to get top-notch telephone and broadband. Well, now I feel like a numpty. I did a lot of scouting around a couple of months ago, trying to get the best deal for our house. Orange was the one I settled for, and they charge us £25 per month for high speed broadband and unlimited phone calls at any time. The only upside I can see is that at least our bill is divided by three, so I’m only paying £8.83 each month. Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

Savings: Nil

5. Childcare costs

  • Alleluia, praise the Lord! Not applicable.

Savings: Nil

6. Cut boiler cover costs

  • Fortunately, my landlord is responsible for our boiler repair (which is rather frequent, in my house). No savings for me.

Savings: Nil

7. Free international calls

  • I don’t make any international calls, but if I did, I’d use Skype anyway.

Savings: Nil

8. Calling mobiles

  • My mobile contract gives me more free minutes than I use, and our home phone gives us free calls to mobiles.

Savings: Nil

9. Should you use a water meter?

  • Already got one.

Savings: Nil

10. Cut your digital TV costs?

  • We only have Freeview, which, as the name implies, is… free.

Savings: Nil

11. Direct debits

The instruction is thus:

“Being a Cancellation Hero is simple: unearth EVERY wasted regular payment and stop any you no longer need or use. “

As I’m pretty hot on keeping my finances in order (if not in the black) I’m well aware of what each of my direct debits is for. On the website people complain about having paid white goods insurance for over five years, without even realising! I’m not sure how you could do this, but I, for one, do not.

Savings: Nil

Well, Mr Lewis. I’m not very impressed with your eleven tips. You told me I would save seven grand, but the only saving I’ve made, I was already doing, without your help. Sigh. Still, I hope this has helped someone.

Day 51: Plan A

Are any of you also part of the see it-want it-get it brigade? I certainly was, and it’s taken quite a lot of hard work to change that. Now I just see it-want it, and feel rather disappointed I can’t get it then and there.

So, can I ever buy what I want, or am I doomed to eternal frustration?

Of course I can still buy things, even outrageously expensive things, if I so desire. I just have to make sure that I have the money to do so before I hand over the plastic, rather than guiltily stressing out afterwards. The new mantra is want it-save for it-get it.

Let me give you an example. There’s something I’ve wanted for a long time, but thought I’d never realistically be able to afford. Well, two things actually. Flights to America and to Cambodia.

Unlike, say, a new laptop or even a car, I can’t write down the exact price of these, because they’re constantly changing. This would be the first step: write down how much the thing you want costs. Whether it’s a mansion in the centre of London, or something much smaller, you need to have an idea of the cost, so that you have something solid to work towards.

Secondly, we need a time frame. For me, I know that I can get flights much more cheaply if I go before I reach 26. That gives me around 650 days to save. On the basis that I go before I turn 26, a rough estimate would be £800 for Cambodia and £500 to the US.

Thirdly, get out that calculator! In my case, to save £1,300 in 650 days would be £2 per day. So, roughly the price of a cup of coffee.

Depending on your personal situation, you might need to switch the last two points over. For example, if you know that you can only afford to save a very limited amount per month, you’ll have to work out your time frame on that basis.

 

Now then, do we all have a chubby pink piggy bank to pop in those pounds every day? A daily act of physically putting aside the cash would be reasonable for something like a meal out, or a new pair of jeans, but I’d probably need a life-sized piggy to save for my ambitions.

A better idea for me is a savings account and a standing order. It took me about two minutes to set mine up. I have the set amount going out from my current account on the first day of the month; then I have a leftover amount to live off for the rest of the month. If I forget all about the savings account for the next 650 days, and do absolutely nothing else, I will have amassed enough to see my family in Cambodia, and friends in the States.

It’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do, but as the sand grains slip through the hourglass, slowly but surely, I’ll get there.

Day 47: It’s a marathon not a sprint

A fortnight ago I did an overnight marathon around London, in aid of Cancer Research UK. It was a fantastic experience, with tough times along the way, but there are a few memories that will stick with me.

1) Watching the sun come up in the city; a beautiful red, orange, white and blue background glowed around the famous sights. The view was breathtaking. Simply perfect.

2) Arriving at the break point at Mile 19. Bodies were littered around the courtyard as though it were a warzone; everyone was wrapped in foil blankets to protect against the chilly night air, and the first aid station had a lengthy queue outside.

3) The number of people sleeping rough on our city’s streets.

When you walk around London during the day, you probably don’t pay too much attention to the homeless. At night, though, the city was emptied of its daytime tourists, and the problem was all too obvious. Doorways were filled with sleeping bags, holding people whose only mattress was a flattened cardboard box.

At the stop-off points along the way we were given energy drinks, cereal bars and bananas; many people were leaving their food and drink next to the huddled figures. I was touched that so many people were affected enough to donate their energy supplies, even after trudging for twenty or so miles.

At church last Sunday, we celebrated Harvest Festival. Although we no longer bring in the fruits of the harvest (“non-perishables only, please”), the spirit remains. We come together as a community, and give thanks for what we are so lucky to have.

Equally as important is the recognition that so many do not have ready access to food and drink. Every Sunday we collect for the local food bank, which provides for people who are struggling to afford the very basics in life: food and shelter. At Harvest, we renewed our efforts; the food bank is experiencing unprecedented demand, so the gathering is all the more important now. Our mountains of unneeded food are being donated to the Wimbledon Food Bank and the Merton Faith in Action Drop-in centre for the homeless.

As autumn kicks in, and winter approaches, it’s time to think about lighting the fire, and snuggling up in a blanket, with a hot chocolate, while watching some mediocre Saturday night telly. If you do have the basics in life, plus a little extra, I urge you from the bottom of my heart to give a little of what you have to someone who does not.

Whether it’s time or money, someone, somewhere, will appreciate it. If you’d like to volunteer, zillions of organisations are looking for people just like you, and a quick Google search will almost certainly bring up somewhere right where you live. In London, charities such as St Mungo’s are looking for volunteers in all sorts of roles, all year round. Crisis runs a special homelessness project over Christmas, and needs thousands of volunteers at this time. If you’d otherwise be spending Christmas alone, this is a great way to stave off loneliness, and get that feel-good glow inside.

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Thank you so much for reading my posts. This journey has taught me so much about myself, and so many people have said really lovely things about my blog. I appreciate it a lot.

Goodbye,

Shopaholic

xxx

Day 43: The Yo-Yo Diet

“Shopaholic”, I hear you cry, “have you gone on a diet?”. Well, my friends, in a way. It occurred to me earlier that this cut-back exercise is quite like a diet in some respects; a self imposed restriction on things I like.

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Given the similarities, are there lessons I can learn from yo-yo dieters, without making the mistakes myself?

The yo-yo cycle often occurs because dieters are so strict with themselves at the start. The effort is so extreme that is is completely impossible to sustain.

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Likewise, I found my sudden halt in spending pretty tough, and have a longing for some former favourites. I miss flicking through a magazine, buying into the latest trend, enjoying a large glass of Chilean Merlot on a Friday night. It’s oh-so-tempting to slip back into old habits.

Initially, dieters feel great; they’re looking forward to the weight loss, and they’re proud of themselves for shunning the sugar. As time crawls along, though, it seems harder to sustain. Tired and fed up, they reach for a pick-me-up: food.
Again, I relate to the experience; I felt very self-satisfied with my initial budget-slashing, and looked forward to watching the debt diminish and the savings stack up. When I passed the first thirty day marker, still in debt and still running a deficit, my motivation wavered. I felt like reaching for my equivalent of the dieter’s chocolate bar: the shops.

So, having failed, and feeling upset, the dieter eats more and more until they regain the weight they lost (and usually a bit more).

And here’s the lesson. Now that the initial excitement has passed, and I am in the humdrum period of living with less, how do I ensure I do not slip backwards?
Already I’ve clocked myself casually buying tea at Pret-a-Manger and “forgetting” my packed lunch. It’s so easy to forget how quickly all those “little extras” used to kill off my cash.

Perhaps the trick is to treat myself with non-monetary rewards. Here are a few of my practically free treats:
1) Time spent relaxing is pretty cheap; a candle-lit bubble bath, chilling out in front of the TV, doing the crossword and listening to the radio are all pretty much free, and are all amongst my favourite things to do!
2) Living in one of the most hectic cities in the world is fantastic, but escaping to the country is a retreat, and another cheap thrill. Just looking at the sky and the stars, listening to the birds sing or breathing in the heady fresh air all make such a difference; I know it sounds clichéd and trite, but it’s true.
3) Unfortunately for the real yo-yo dieter, food is a great pleasure, and as I’ve learned, doesn’t have to be expensive to taste delicious and be nutritionally balanced.

“Joy” comes in all kinds of guises, and what qualifies for my list won’t necessarily be on yours. One thing’s for sure, though. Having a few reliable freebies on the list, whatever they may be, certainly helps the shopaholic to cut back!

Thanks for reading,
Xx

Day 39: Hello Boys!

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When I first started writing this blog, I blithely assumed I’d get many times more female readers than male. I cemented my own prejudice with a pink logo and background, and pictures of young women laden with shopping bags.

So it has been surprising to find that men have been telling me how they enjoy my writing, and that they relate to the subject matter.

I consider myself a feminist (it’s not a dirty word, y’know), so it’s incredibly embarrassing for me that, without thinking about it, I equated a lack of self-restraint, and the inability to manage money, with being a woman. I suppose it has just been ingrained in me that women go out to shop, vainly buying fripperies, while men do not. Ouch.

I’m shocked at my own prejudice. Lloyds TSB issued their ’Family Savings Report’ last month. It showed that when women are in charge of household finances, 91% of families hold savings, whereas the figure goes down to 82% when men take on the role.

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The report also showed that it is women, more often than men, who take charge of the household budget. 52% take control of making detailed future plans for savings and 54% pay day-to-day bills and keep track of spending.

So, do I have any excuse at all for my extremely un-feminist view that women shop and spend more than men?

Women certainly do have expenses that men do not. Biology plays its part (I’m thinking of everything from sanitary products to bras), but so do the demands of society. Haircuts, make-up, ever-changing fashions, handbags, nail varnish? Not things that every woman relishes spending her hard-earned cash on, but often bought out of a sense of simply having to do so, to keep up or fit in. Women’s magazines are forever promoting the “payday splurge”, reinforcing the notion that women cannot, or should not, get on top of their personal finance.

Increasingly, though, men are coming under pressure to look good, too. The fashion industry is starting to pay more attention to trends in menswear, and cosmetics advertising is beginning to target men more often.

Debates on the question of whether women’s lives are more expensive often suggest that men have other expenses that women do not, citing technology and cars. Perhaps I’m just being hyper-hypocritical here, but I find this argument extremely patronising. My iPad, smartphone and my gorgeous car, for example, are among my favourite possessions.

So, whose lives are more expensive? Or does it all even out in the wash?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below, or write on the Facebook wall.
Xxx