Thursday, 23 March 2017

Frugal Measures and Freebies and a big fat Frugal Fail 3

For this post in this current series, I decided to add Frugal fails to these posts, as lets be honest, we all make mistakes or get persuaded to spend more than we intend at times. I'll start this post with my most recent frugal fail in order to get it out of the way.

My major frugal fail this post was allowing myself to be talked in to buying varifocal lenses on my recent visit to the opticians, against my instincts and budgetary efforts to stick to my usual lenses for short sightedness only.

It's my first venture into varifocals and although it will probably be a lot more convenient, as I do spend a lot of time taking my glasses on and off at the moment, the cost was twice that of the normal lenses I've been buying for years and I'm not yet sure that it was worth it, as I haven't actually got my new glasses yet. I'm paying for them across two months, in order to be able to afford them, so I don't know yet whether I'll like them, but I am hoping that I do or I'll be even more annoyed with myself than I am at present.

Anyway, onto the positives, recent Frugal Measures and Freebies include the following:

1) I watched the film Me Before You on Netflix.  I have to admit though, that waiting to watch it for free (well, not strictly free, due to the subscription) was due to multiple reasons and not just frugality.  One reason was that OH wouldn't go to the cinema to watch the film with me, another was that I knew I'd cry watching it and didn't want to do that in a public place and probably the third reason was fiscal. I thought it was very true to the book and the casting was pretty good too.  I'm hoping they'll make a film of the sequel, Me After You, as I enjoyed reading that too.

2) I used two of the yellow stickered cards I bought from M&S back in February, for a couple of birthdays this month.  These two cost 19p and 29p respectively. They're nice quality cards, too.

3) I created a strict budget plan for the next six months, to try to achieve the financial outcomes that I want to achieve this year.  I now just have to stick to it and I should be in a much better financial position.

4) I had a six month check at the dentist and didn't need any treatment, so just paid £20 for the check up. Result. I was advised to book in for a scale and polish in a couple of months time, but I'm happy to do this once in a while to keep my teeth as clean and healthy as I possibly can. I've adjusted my strict budget accordingly to account for it.

Whilst at the dentist, I helped myself to this free sample of my usual toothpaste, as it is perfect as a travel size when we go to Crete next month.

5) I had another week at the CS where I didn't buy anything.

6) Having signed up to my recently acquired life insurance policy through MoneySuperMarket, I qualified for a £75 voucher, once I'd paid my third monthly premium. I got an email through about it today, requesting that I choose between Argos, Next and M&S. I, of course, went for M&S because at least I can use it to buy food, as well as other things.

I will hopefully receive it in the next 28 days, so it should help keep me within budget next month and possibly the month after, if I use it carefully and don't blow it in one go.  I might use it for my weekly top up grocery shop until it runs out.

Not quite as many frugal measures and freebies this week, but the ones I did manage will be very useful indeed.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Glad to be Home

Tonight, I'm very glad to be home. I feel very sad for those people and their families caught up the atrocity in Westminster and who are at this moment fighting for their lives or recovering from the trauma. I heard the news on the radio whilst working at the CS this afternoon.

I found out a bit more about what had happened on Yahoo and via the radio when I got home, but will probably find out more details from the 10 o'clock news later tonight. It's a sad day for London, but I was rallied by the #wearenotafraid campaign that I read about online.

The world seems such a volatile place at the moment. We try to just get on with our lives regardless, but these sort of events bring us back to reality. It saddens me that there is so much negativity, hate and malice out there.

Changing the subject slightly, I've been watching Gary Vaynerchuk a lot on YouTube lately and I almost agree with him when he says that lots of people want to get rich quick these days and not work hard for it.  They all look to the self-made young millionaires on YouTube and want to be like them. Aah, the age of YouTube, where you can earn thousands/millions advertising your own and everyone else's products to an impressionable audience who will then go out and buy them. What an amazing opportunity for those who got in the game early.  Excuse me if I sound a little cynical, but the kind of success it offers doesn't interest me much, but I can understand how people can get swept along by it or young people are desperate for the opportunities it can open up for them.

I stopped watching sponsored content a good while ago, as it just seemed so gratuitous and unappealing. I've actually got to a stage where I almost pity the vloggers who get sent mounds of PR samples and stuff in their PO boxes from numerous companies, wanting them to promote their products.  Clutter springs to mind.  What can you do with a whole range of lipsticks.  It takes me two years to use one up, let alone 20. I just see them as vehicles for big business hijack in order to hawk their wares. Fair play to them, they are getting amazing opportunities early in life, so who am I to criticise.

Anyway, I like the way Gary just tells those waiting for it to happen for them to stop moaning about why they haven't made it big instantly, be grateful, work hard, put content out there without being too precious about it and be patient. Nothing worth anything ever comes easy. 

It's such old fashioned advice, but still so true, even in our digital age and it obviously still needs to be imparted because people (me included) are lapping it up. What is the hurry to be a millionaire when you are 20? Although at least they are wanting to get on and are hungry. In many ways, I wish I had been more hungry for success when I was 20, and had known more about compound interest, but I didn't and I didn't really come from an entrepreneurial background. 

Having said this, I am not sure that I would have liked to feel the pressure that many young people feel to be a financial success these days.  There was very little pressure on me.  Too little I sometimes think, hence why I've always been pretty terrible in relation to my finances. I came from a hard working background though, and my parents did their absolute best for me and my sisters, I know that much. It didn't come easy to them, so why should it be any different for anyone today.

Anyway, in the light of today's events, success just doesn't seem so important somehow, it can all be wiped out in seconds, but then we shouldn't let others' hate stop us from striving for a better life and world.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Working to a Strict Budget

March has been an interesting month. I've tried hard to stick to a really strict budget. I didn't fully succeed, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the fact that it wasn't as difficult as I thought it was going to be.

I think it helped that I got to that 'sick and tired' moment that The Former Mrs Jones talks about on her YouTube channel, that prompted her to get on board with Dave Ramsey's 9 Steps to Financial Freedom. I've had a lot of those moments in recent months and the penny has finally dropped.

I myself am not actually committing to Dave Ramsey's programme, as I don't really have a lot of debt to pay down and prefer to chart my own journey, but it is a useful tool to measure your success by and therefore every now and then, I do check where I am in relation to his steps.  Here's my not quite complete version of them.

1) £1000 Emergency fund
2) Debt Snowball
3) Save 3-6 months expenses
4) Invest 15% of income for retirement
5) Save for kids college education
6) Pay off mortgage early
7) Build wealth and give

I am personally taking an approach that attempts to tackle several of the steps simultaneously rather than in the order Dave Ramsey suggests. In this sense, I'm trying to save and invest for retirement and my daughter's education, keep funds available for emergencies and regularly give some small amounts of money to charity (in addition to my time volunteering at the CS)

(Please note, that I may have mixed the order of some of these steps to suit my own personal priorities. I also think there was another step about buying a car with cash, but as we own our car outright, I didn't include this one in my list. I'm not sure what the other missing one is though.  If anyone knows please enlighten me.  Again, it may have been one that didn't seem relevant, perhaps titheing, which isn't a particularly common activity here in the UK or at least I don't know of many people who do it. Please refer to Dave Ramsey on YouTube for the proper 9 steps in his plan)

Anyway, as I said, I'm not strictly following Dave Ramsey, but I am taking a lot of notice of Budget Girl who does follow the Ramsey plan, and charts on her YouTube channel, how she is paying down her student loan debt. In particular, I am paying attention to her detailed budgeting methods. She is very inspiring. I'm so enjoying seeing her debt go down each month. She truly deserves to be debt free for all her hard work and positivity.

She argues that the ability to budget is like a muscle, that grows stronger with practice and focus.  I like this analogy and find it does make perfect sense.  As a consequence, I am flexing that muscle in an attempt to build it up over the next six months.

Although in March I partially succeeded in sticking to a strict budget, I was still left feeling like I was treading water, if not going backwards and couldn't see to when the light would appear at the end of the tunnel, so on Sunday I decided to plot a strict budget for the next 6 or 7 months and see where it would take me.

I kept the Food budget at £400, Household at £50, Home £20, Me £25, LB £25 and Misc. £50 and tried to account for any known upcoming big birthdays, events, foreseeable expenses.  According to my calculations, if I stick strictly to this budget for the next six or seven months (until September), I should get where I want to be, in terms of being in control of my finances and living firmly in the black and within my means, rather than using credit cards and my overdraft to get by each month. (Although I do pay them off every month and never pay interest) This is a terrible habit that I've formed over the past 10 years and I'm trying very hard to break it and start paying for everything in cash or with a debit card. (Unless purchasing online, when I will still use my credit card)

In some respects, sticking to such a strict budget for so long seems a bleak prospect, but I think the built in small budgets for me, home and household should help me stick to it, as they do allow a little room in the budget to buy the occasional treat for myself or to enhance our home. I think I'm finally in a mindset to tackle this financial turnaround strategically and I'm going to do my darnedest to crack this thing.

Of course, there will probably be lots of things that crop up that I haven't accounted for, which will more than likely blow my budgets, but I'll just have to cross those bridges when I come to them. Having focussed on what I want to achieve, and having potentially created a path through the jungle of my current finances, I now just have to follow it to hopefully achieve my aim and the prospect is making me feel much more optimistic. I will be keeping a very close eye on my progress each month and I'll let you know if I'm sticking to the plan and achieving the progress I have predicted.  Wish me luck.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Weekend Catchup

After my stint at the allotment on Friday afternoon, I was hopeful this weekend, that I'd get to finish digging over the plot, but unfortunately life had other plans, or LB did anyway.  She wanted to have a sleepover with a couple of friends on Saturday night at our house, so I spent most of the day cleaning up in readiness and making the place presentable.  It gave me the kick up the backside I needed to get on with it anyway.

In the process, I did a bit of hoovering and dusting in our bedroom, as dust and dirt levels were getting very severe.  As I've said before in posts, it's probably the least cleaned room, as every other part of the house seems to be given priority, mainly because no visitors come into our bedroom and see the state of it.  Don't get me wrong, it's tidy, but not as clean as it could be.  Anyway, it is now and it looks a lot better. 

I even got around to putting some fragrant draw liners in my underwear drawers.  They had been a gift a couple of years ago.  The trouble was, when I went to bed all I could smell were the liners, and it wasn't a nice smell either.  It smelled like chloroform or something similar.  Needless to say, they came out again the next day. I don't know if the fragrance had gone off, but I just couldn't tolerate it. Anyway, I learned a valuable lesson - use such gifts as soon as you can to prevent deterioration.

In the process of cleaning our bedroom, I also found a few more things that I was happy to donate, which was good and in emptying my drawers to line them, I came across lots of summer clothing that I may need when we go to Crete in a few weeks time. As a consequence, I decided to start packing. 

As I'm taking just a carry on, for only the second time, I'm going to squish all of my clothes into one of those shrinkable storage bags, so that I can get more into my suitcase.  I'm hoping it will allow me to take everything I need, but not take up too much space in the carry on.  (I got the idea when in TK MAXX where I saw some for sale.  I resisted buying them, which I was pleased about when I got home and realised I already had empty or near empty ones I could use) I'll keep you posted about whether this works or not.

On Saturday afternoon I tackled the ironing mountain once again, putting all the clothes away on Sunday. There's still just under half left to do, but the pile is much more manageable now.

Sunday, I attended my regular class at the gym.  We've been struggling with the music system for two weeks now, so the class wasn't the usual one that the instructor teaches. She had to adapt the class to slower music which wasn't ideal, but we still got a good workout.

I did my usual weekly shop at Lidl straight afterwards and it was hell.  They've reorganised the store so that the bakery is the first thing you walk past as you walk in.  Trouble is the aisle isn't wide enough for everyone to pass, so it's a bit of a bottle neck.  In fact, the whole store was a bottle neck this week.  Not a very enjoyable experience.  I did almost all of my weekly shop for £52 though, which is good for us. I'm currently trying to avoid other supermarkets to avoid impulse spending.  It's working quite well.

Sunday afternoon was a pretty lazy one. I probably could have gone to the allotment, but it was very windy, so I stayed home instead. You've got to have some down time on the weekend.  That's my excuse anyway. I rounded off the weekend by watching the first episode of the new series of Vera, a long time favourite show. I hope you had a good weekend.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

CS Update

Life at the CS has been steadily improving over the last few weeks. As a consequence, and you can probably tell this from the variety and number of posts I've been publishing lately, I've found myself with free time to actually get on and do jobs at home, that I've neglected for a long time. This has been very satisfying on many levels and has allowed me to strike a much better balance.

The main reason for the improvements, has been that the new manager has started a volunteer recruitment campaign and we've had quite a few people through the door enquiring about volunteering. I've been pleasantly surprised by how many people are actually happy to volunteer, as we've never had a recruitment push since I've volunteered there.

Anyway, a few new volunteers have already started, which has reduced the pressure on long standing volunteers to fill the gaps in shifts. The manager is looking for people who can give a longer term commitment, rather than be able to stay for just a couple of months. I can see his logic, as quite a lot of time and effort goes into training people, so the longer they are willing to stay the better.  Although there are no guarantees with any volunteer, making clear the minimum amount of commitment you are looking for in the outset will help to make the staffing of the shop easier and more sustainable in the long term.

Next week, the manager is on holiday, so I'm expecting to work a few extra hours, mainly to stay and help cash up of an evening, as the afternoons tend to have less volunteers than mornings.  I don't mind too much, as everyone needs a holiday and new volunteers don't necessarily have the experience to take on some responsibilities. Having said this, I haven't done this very often, as I usually leave before the shop closes, so it's good experience for me too.

I may volunteer to go in on the Saturday, as a one off, which I haven't done before, as the manager was struggling to fill this particular shift. Both myself and another long term volunteer are away from the shop in a few weeks time for a week, so I feel it's the least I can do before I go.

The nice weather makes such a difference to the commute too. London is like a completely different place when the sun shines.  People's moods seem to be lifted and they appear much happier going about their daily business. People sit out in bars and cafes and enjoy the warm weather and the whole atmosphere is a little more congenial.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

An Afternoon Working My New Allotment

I posted late last year about how I'd swapped my old allotment, which I was struggling to maintain, for a new smaller one around the corner from my house. It was pretty sad to leave the old one, but I was looking forward to working one that was more manageable for me, considering my new commitment to the CS.

I visited the new plot back in November and started work digging it over.  It wasn't in too bad condition, but there was quite a lot of digging to do as it was still a good size. Here's what it looked like when I took it over.

Here's how I left it back in November after digging half of it over.

When I arrived today, it looked like this.

As you can see, there are many more weeds on the half I didn't dig over before Christmas.

Anyway, as there are going to be inspections at the end of the month, and as the weather is starting to warm up, I thought I'd better get to work this week, so on Friday afternoon I took myself there and do some digging.

I stayed for about 3 hours digging over some of the beds.  I decided to dig between the beds too as I'm not sure I want paths between beds as was the arrangement before.  It was hard work and by the time I'd finished I was aching all over. Some muscles I never knew I had were letting me know about it.

Here's the result of my work.

I'm probably just over a third of the way round.  The bed in the foreground looks larger than it actually is in this photograph, it's actually quite narrow.  If I can walk tomorrow, I may go back and do some more work. I'm looking forward to getting growing on this plot and see how things fare.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Freebies and Frugal Measures 2

Recent freebies and frugal measures include the following:

1) I received these two packs of free seeds with my subscription to Kitchen Garden magazine this month.  (A gift from a friend for my birthday last year)

2) I borrowed some books from both my local library and a local Little Free Library. (Sadly, this hasn't prevented me from buying a couple of books too)

3) One of my eBay items sold, which was good news and brought in a very small amount of cash, but better small, than not at all.

4) I found a small piece of furniture on the street whilst walking the dog and gave it a makeover.  It is now being used in our bedroom as my bedside table. (See recent DIY post)

5) I got free tickets to the Ideal Home Show at Olympia, London at the end of the month.

6) I bulk bought several staple food and household items this month, which should keep us going for a good while.

7) I got a free pack of Naked Salted Caramel Nibbles using a voucher at Tesco. (Needless to say, this is the empty packet)

8) I finally received the results of my requested Pension Forecast from the Department for Work & Pensions, which was more positive than I thought it was going to be. I still need to contribute NI contributions for several more years to qualify for a full state pension, but as I've started to pay voluntary contributions this year and intend to continue if I don't find a job, this shouldn't be a problem. (I say positive, that's assuming, of course, that there still is a state pension when I reach retirement age)

9) For two out of the last 3 weeks that I've worked at the CS, I haven't bought anything, which is good going for me.

10) I received some freebies this week when OH was sent some samples for his business.  I nice pen, post-its and a 7.5gb memory stick. (I removed the promotional material from this, so it's now empty and ready to use to store some of our family photos - Saves me buying one anyway.)

It's not been a bad couple of weeks all things considered.