Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Still Simplifying - January

For the third year running now, I'm attempting to simplify our home and keep clutter at bay.  In addition, I've set myself the task of simplifying at least one area of my life each month, which could mean doing anything from a simple re-organising of a cupboard, to forming new habits that make life easier and simpler.

I got off to a pretty good start in January by completely decluttering my email inbox this month and deleting over 2000 outdated emails. In addition, I've made inroads into getting my financial life in order by filing this year's tax return and paying voluntary NI contributions for the year (and preparing most of next year's return), taking stock of some negative spending habits with a view to changing them in the future, investing in life insurance, requesting a pension forecast and revisiting some of my smaller investments.

Not a bad start. In addition, I took care of our household shredding which has been building up for months and was overflowing it's container and did a year's worth of filing of bank/credit card statements, etc. It always feels good to do these jobs, so it's all been good progress, but I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do next month to meet this simplifying aim. I'll let you know when I do.

One other thing that I haven't mentioned here on the blog, but has been very significant in terms of my health this month, is that I went for my first mammogram a couple of weeks ago, having turned 50 last year. With a strong family history of breast cancer (my mother died of the disease at age 57), I was quite anxious about going for the scans, but having now received the all clear, I am glad I did and intend to go on a regular basis when called. I've also booked LB in for an eye test at the opticians this month and myself in at the GP to get my cholesterol re-tested, so I'm trying to keep on top of things healthwise too.

Finally, on the decluttering front, I managed to find 62 items to donate in January and have already made a start on collecting items for February. January's items and the items that have been collected over the previous few months left the house and went to the Give or Take, save for some that are going to the CS and some I want to try to sell on eBay to recoup some cash. I want to try to list these this month and will let you know what happens.

I'm hoping to keep up the good work next month and I'll keep you posted on progress.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

January Roundup

So relieved to get to the end of January.  Not quite there yet, but just about.  It's been a long and expensive month. LB's birthday, a friend's son's birthday, sales shopping and NI voluntary contributions have made it a struggle, but with help from the overdraft I got through and live to tell the tale.

February will be another difficult month financially, a 40th birthday, a 21st birthday, another adult birthday gift, a nephew's housewarming gift and Valentines Day to come. Some presents have been bought already, some still to get/give. Hence, I'm looking forward to March when my financial life should ease up a little with just two normal birthdays on the horizon and Easter of course.  From then on I don't have any birthdays until May when it's OH's and his dad's, so I should be able to make up some ground then.

So back to the budget.

Food - Just within at £6 or so under, but I have to admit that OH paid for some of the food shopping last week when he came with me as I was struggling to make it through the month.

Household - £24 over, probably due to overstocking up on soap and buying some disposable items for LB's camping party.

LB's - £45 under due to it being her birthday and immediately after Christmas. She didn't need anything save some new tights for school.

Me -£50 over due to buying 4 new sweaters, a new bra, more tights, thermal gloves and other bits and pieces. Most were bought from the CS, so didn't cost much, but it all added up to quite a big overspend here.

Home - £3.50 over due to buying two sets of new towels in the January sales.  I do now have all the bathroom towels I need and have replaced all of the ones that were pretty worse for wear, so I shouldn't need to purchase any more for a good while.

Misc - Massive overspend in this category, the total of which I'm not even going to reveal, as it's way too embarrassing.  In spite of promising myself I wouldn't get much in the sales I did do some gift shopping for birthdays and next Christmas, bought 3 polo shirts for OH from the CS (I just buy good ones when I see them as they are so expensive to buy new), LB's birthday present, plus the voluntary NI contributions of course.

Savings - £100 put aside, but it might make more sense to use this to pay off my overdraft and replace it later in the year when things ease up.

It's been a crazy month, but it's over now and I'm not going to keep on punishing myself about it. Onwards and upwards. By next January, however, I would like things to be under more control than they have been for the last few years.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Give or Take Day Again

Saturday morning was the morning of the latest Give or Take event in our borough, and as usual I had a car load of donations to take, as a result of my ongoing decluttering project. I've been looking forward to taking it for a few months now, so it's always a great relief when the event comes around.

As I've mentioned before you take donations at 11am and then from 12 noon to 3pm you can help yourself to anything that's there for free.  The last couple of times I've been I've gone at 11 am just to take donations, and today was no different.  As a consequence, once again I didn't take any photos, save for one of the 'stuff' rammed into the car ready to go.

Before loading the car, I went through everything in the boxes to make sure I was happy for it to go. I decided that a few things I'm going to try to sell on eBay.  As I'm trying to get my finances in order, it makes sense to capitalise on anything worth selling.  I didn't take a huge lot of things out, and many of them I subsequently decided to send to the charity shop instead, as selling them on eBay would be a hassle in one way or another.  The rest went to the Give or Take.

Here's a picture.

On this occasion, OH and LB came along with me to help me unload at the other end, mainly because we were donating the trampoline which was in numerous pieces.  It was just as well really, as the community centre where it was held was bang in the middle of building site due to the fact that the estate that it is on is being rebuilt.

It was a lovely spot, right on the edge of a reservoir, but just a nightmare to deliver a car full of stuff to.  Anyway, I managed to borrow a shopping trolley from the organisers to transport the trampoline parts from the car to the centre, which was very useful, and the rest of the boxes and bags we managed between us, with a bit of help from a volunteer. Sometimes at these events, you have to be pretty determined to donate or you'd be put off by the access arrangements, but I guess we are in London and they have to take the venues they can get.

As I arrived early, and OH and LB didn't want to hang around for an hour to wait until you could take things away, I didn't get any photos once again. There was, however, already a queue with at least 20 or 30 people in it, which attests to the popularity of these events. I promise I will go later to another event, when I've got less stuff to donate and get photos, as I've been promising you guys for the past year or more.

Anyway, it once again feels good to be rid of more excess.  The sewing room is a bit less cluttered. I now just need OH to put the Christmas bags back up in the loft and I need to take a box of slightly better quality items to the charity shop, which I'm determined to do in the next week as they've been hanging around way too long, then normality will resume in the sewing room and I might be able to get around to doing something creative once again.

Friday, 27 January 2017

This Week

This week, as I've already mentioned in previous posts, I've been continuing to concentrate on getting my financial life in order, aided by reading 'The Millionaire Next Door', which sadly I've almost finished.  I might just have to look out for other books by this author, as I found it fascinating from the first page onwards.

Earlier in the week, I took a look at my historical internet shopping habits, which was interesting, and also completely decluttered my personal email account, deleting over 2000 outdated and unnecessary emails. In the latter part of the week, I've been concentrating on completing this year's tax return with just a few days left to go until the deadline.

I'm afraid I always leave it to the last minute, although this year I had already calculated the majority of the figures for my small business, when I did last years return, so just had the months of January - March to complete, which didn't take too long. I'm thinking of doing the same this year and getting as much of the return prepared as I can now.

This year was the first year that you could pay your voluntary National Insurance contributions on line with your return under a new initiative brought in by HMRC. As I don't earn enough to make NI contributions, I have recently decided to make voluntary contributions to try to ensure that I meet the required number of credits when I reach retirement age.  As a consequence, this year was the first year that a payment was required by me on completing my return, which was all in respect of these contributions.

I hadn't actually budgeted for this outgoing, so I'm afraid the overdraft took the strain, but I look on it as an investment in my future, although I am under no illusions that there will still be a state pension by the time I reach retirement age. In additon, to clarify my current NI credit situation, I've also sent off for a pension forecast from the DWP. It should make interesting reading.

Tax return completed, I am feeling a lot better.  It always hangs over me for the month of January, so once it is done I feel a sense of freedom.  In the process of doing it, I also did some financial filing of statements, etc, that I tend to let build up throughout the year and then file them all at the same time. I also made a few adjustments to some savings and investments that I currently hold, to try to get slightly better returns, although it's hardly worth the effort at the moment with interest rates so low everywhere.

It's been a productive week on the whole, in between doing my days at the CS, trying to keep up with household tasks and classes at the gym.  The house still needs cleaning thoroughly, but I'm going to concentrate on doing that next month and do a bit of spring cleaning then. How's your week been?

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Looking Back

The last couple of days have been interesting.  I decided a couple of days ago to start decluttering my online life, or more accurately, my email inbox. There were over 2300 emails in it, most of which just needed deleting.

In the process of deleting the old emails, (I've got them down to just 74 so far) I decided to do a bit of research into my online shopping history over the last few years and made a note of each online order I'd placed, as I deleted the emails pertaining to them. It was quite an eye opener.

Why do it?  Well, it was useful in order to see what a habit I'd formed with regard to online shopping and I'm hoping I can use the information to help me reduce my online spending in the future.

The information I gleaned also showed how my online shopping habits have changed over the last six years, and how the online shops I've frequented have changed over this time too, which was interesting in itself.

I started off buying online using eBay mostly and a handful of other sites, but over the last few years the amount of sites has increased to include over 30, which is quite shocking when I think about it. Although many involved just one off purchases, some I have shopped at on multiple occasions.

Without giving any figures here, (I'm way too embarrassed to do that) my online shopping habit seems to have peaked back in 2015 and the number of orders placed in the last year has reduced in number to almost half of 2015's total.  I think this might have been due to my spending less time on line since starting to volunteer in the CS.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, being armed with this information should hopefully help me to monitor my online spending in the future, and hopefully reduce it substantially. Perhaps I'll be able to get more of a balance between on and off line spending, whilst reducing both. It will be interesting to see if that happens this year and I'm recording any orders as I make them.

In addition, I haven't yet actually considered the cost of my online shopping habit.  That is a job for another day, when I'm feeling a bit more brave and have the time to trawl through my credit card statements to get a feel for the exact numbers involved.  There may be a few more shocks to come and another post too.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Currently Reading - The Millionaire Next Door - 2Oth Anniversary Edition

Having finished Suze Orman's book about Women and Money, I've been feeling inspired to continue reading books on the subject of personal finance and am currently reading this book which was recommended by a YouTuber I follow, who also happens to be a follower of Dave Ramsey's programme, namely The Former Mrs Jones.

She has recommended this book a few times in her videos and when OH asked me what I wanted for Christmas, this happened to be the only book on my Amazon wish list, so he bought it for me.

I'm not very far into it, but it is quite fascinating reading.  It is basically the result of a major survey of over 14,000 millionaires in the US and it looks at how they became millionaires, what they spend their money on (and more to the point what they don't) and what their net worth actually is and what it realistically should be based on their age and income.

What is really interesting about this book, is that it uncovers the fact that most millionaires don't inherit their wealth, but create it themselves, by being careful with their money, spending it wisely and investing it.  They don't for the most part drive expensive foreign luxury cars, wear a fancy watch or dress in designer labels, far from it, they are more like to drive a ten year old Ford, wear a cheap Timex watch and shop in local department stores for their clothes.

Now this might sound very boring and dull to many people, but what's boring about having enough income not to have to worry about money and having the financial independence to do whatever you want in life and not be a financial burden to your children.

Far from finding it boring, I find it very inspiring, as it makes you realise that it is possible for even the most ordinary person to become very comfortably off if they just take a little care with how they spend and invest their money. I almost wish that I had read this book ten years ago as my finances might have been a little different to what they are today.

What the research did find, was that quite often those who are earning large salaries are not the ones who have a high net worth of $1 million or more, because they are the ones who are often caught up in the consumerist culture, whereby they live paycheck to paycheck, using their income to buy the kind of products they think everyone thinks they should own and wear and in reality they often have very little by way of savings or investments that could sustain them should they lose their job.

Whilst reading this book I can recognise myself in some of what is written.  Spending what comes to me and not really thinking or planning for the future, hence why this year, I want to turn things around and get myself on a better financial footing.  I guess recognising where you're going wrong is a good starting point for that.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this read.  There are lots of tables full of data in the book, making it a little like a social science text book, so it might not appeal to everyone, but you can read it without paying too much attention to these and I'm a bit weird, as sometimes I like to read this kind of data.

This book has been in print for 20 years now and was originally a New York Times Best Seller, so it definitely has proved itself to have some merit.  However, although you can still glean a lot from it today, which I am doing in reading it, there have been some big changes in the world in the past 20 years, which have possibly dated it a little.

What I mean by this statement is that the internet has potentially changed a lot of things in terms of personal finance in our world today. They have created sources of income for many people, especially with such sites as eBay and the YouTube and to some extent it has democratised the art of making some serious money creating many millionaires as a consequence. I'm not sure if the book will cover this aspect of today's wealth and society, but it will be interesting to see.  Nevertheless, I think it is probably worth a read regardless. If it sets you on the right road to getting your finances in order, it's got to be worth it.

Sunday, 22 January 2017


Waking up on Saturday morning, after a busy and eventful week, but also one filled with a lot of procrastination, I decided on the spur of the moment that I needed to do something about the state of our house. It has been a bit neglected since Christmas as I haven't really done a whole lot of cleaning.  I cleaned the living room after taking down the decorations, but not much else had got done, other than keeping on top of the daily washing up, wiping down and laundry tasks.

As a consequence, the state of the house was starting to bother me, so after spending an hour in bed with my latest book (got to be done) and once OH and LB had headed out with the dog, I decided it was time to just stop worrying about the mess and get on and do something about it.  I always find it easier if I've got the house to myself, as I have a free rein.

I didn't even bother with breakfast.  I just threw some old clothes on and got started.  I did a general pick up and sorted some dirty laundry before getting out the hoover and tackling the upstairs, stairs, landings, hall and kitchen floors.  I wiped down all the cupboard fronts in the kitchen. The dog had made them a bit of a mess shaking herself off after muddy walks. I then mopped the wooden floors in the hall, stairs and kitchen, cleaned  and mopped the downstairs toilet and upstairs bathroom and replaced the towels.

After 3 hours of non-stop cleaning, it felt so good to be back in control of my house.  I hate that feeling I get when everything is getting on top of me.  I rewarded myself with a late brunch of a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea.  It doesn't take a lot to get your world back on track, just a bit of focus and some elbow grease.

There are still jobs that I want to do, such as deep clean my kitchen cupboards and worktops, clean the reception rooms and blitz our bedroom, but for now my panic over the state of the house has been quelled for a while.

The remainder of the day was spent cleaning a couple of pairs of leather boots that I wear all of the time, one of which had been really neglected and was looking very scruffy and muddy.  They came up very well and I've returned them to my wardrobe for the first time in over a year. They usually get thrown in the shoe box in the hall and used for dog walking, but  I've decided I like them because they are so comfortable and easy to wear and I want to prolong their life as long as possible, which means taking more care of them,

Later, after walking the dog and putting away some clean laundry, I got a shower and got changed and we went out for supper and to the cinema to see the new film about Jackie Kennedy, starring Natalie Portman. (LB was sleeping over at a friend's house, so we had a rare night to ourselves).  I'm not sure we made the right choice of film, but it was a nice mix of getting things done and taking time out for ourselves.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Getting My S--- Together

This year, as I mentioned in another post, I'm trying to get my financial life in order.  I've plodded along for years, not really giving much thought to the future, living on a day to day basis and to a certain extent there's nothing wrong with this approach, as it does make you appreciate daily life, but the death of my friend a few weeks ago, has made me re-evaluate quite a few things in my life.

Reading Suze Orman's book has also influenced me, I have to admit, but I've also thought about these things myself in the past and intended to do something, but just haven't bothered until now.

Last week, I applied for some term life insurance. I've not actually had a proper policy for many years, if ever if I'm honest and I've been lucky that it has never been needed. I've had the odd small life assurance policy here and there that have paid out small sums and I was covered when I was employed if anything happened to me, but in recent years my cover has been minimal and more recently non-existent.

Now many people may consider life insurance unnecessary, and if you've got no dependent children and have paid off your mortgage then I might agree, but we have a dependent child and we haven't paid off our mortgage, so I thought I'd better do the grown up thing and get some to make sure that my loved ones won't have any financial worries should anything happen to me.

I chose enough cover to pay off our mortgage (or extended mortgage, if we extend it to pay for building work later this year) and provide a year or two's living expenses (at a minimal level might I add). I am committing to it for a term of 15 years, which should see LB through to adulthood and hopefully our mortgage should be completely paid off well before it ends.

The way I see it is that as a parent and a partner, it is my responsibility to do this for my loved ones and I haven't until now.  Yes, it's a commitment, but one I can change or cancel if my financial circumstances change, but it is one that will give me peace of mind that they will be taken care of if anything happens to me, despite the fact that I'm not the main breadwinner.

Another thing that has influenced me to finally do this, is that I am getting older, I am getting diagnosed with different medical conditions, (hypothyroidism and high cholesterol to date) and who knows what might be next. Each additional health issue will inevitably cost more in insurance terms from here on in, so now is as good a time as any to get started.

In many respects, I wish I'd done it years ago, as it would have been a lot less expensive, but I didn't. I've chosen and signed up to a policy and am just waiting to hear when they'll take the first payment out of my account. It's not super cheap, probably on a par with our pet insurance, but nothing in life worth having is, and to put the cost into perspective, the premium is only twice what I pay out every month on charitable donations currently, so I guess it's time that charity began at home.

In addition, I figure that I can easily spend the amount in question, dribbling it away each month on unnecessary purchases, so at least spending it on something I deem worth having, will mean that less money is available to me to spend on trivial things that I really don't need. In this respect, as someone who is trying to reduce the amount of 'stuff' in her life, it's a no brainer.

I'm gradually growing up I think. It's taken a long time, and there's still a long way to go, but hopefully I'm now heading in the right direction and taking responsibility for myself and my loved ones.

Friday, 20 January 2017

A Dramatic Day

Today, I went into the Charity Shop as a favour to the manager, as he was really short staffed. I'm trying hard not to do 3 days per week, as it is just too much, but he was a bit stuck this week, so I agreed to go in.

It was a very quiet morning and pretty uneventful.  I left around 2.50pm and as I was walking down the high street there was a crowd gathered around a local cafe.  At first I thought it was a party as there was a bit of shouting, but then I noticed that there was a car embedded in the front of the cafe.  I could hear people around me on the street saying how it would be a miracle if no one was under the car, but I didn't stick around, as it seemed ghoulish to stand around watching. (Some people didn't seem to have a problem with taking photos of the scene on their phones, however)

As I reached the station a fire engine, paramedic car and an ambulance were speeding to the scene and the air ambulance was circling above.  I must have missed seeing the accident by minutes or even possibly seconds.  I felt a bit shaken when I got on the train.  I rang the shop to tell them I was okay, just in case anyone told them about the accident and they might have been wondering if I'd been involved. (They hadn't even heard anything about it, but it had been very quiet in the shop as everyone locally was probably looking on at the scene)

When I got home, I checked out the local paper's online site, to find that there had indeed been someone under the car, who had subsequently been cut free and was being treated at a local trauma centre. Hopefully, she'll be okay. A bit of a dramatic day to say the least.  It makes you think about how precious life is. You just wouldn't expect something like that to happen whilst sat outside of a cafe having a coffee.

Needless to say, I'm glad to be home safely for the weekend.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Birthday Glamping Adventure

We are now back from LB's 14th Birthday Glamping adventure.  On Saturday, OH and myself, along with LB and 7 of her friends spent the night in these cute little glamping pods on a nearby campsite.

Most of the girls cycled there and back with OH along the canal close to our house.  I got the long straw and took the car rammed with all of the gear we needed for our one night stay. I think I overdid the food shopping a little, but we'll have plenty of leftover food to eat up in the next week or so. (Mainly bacon, eggs and breadcakes, might I add).

Here's a picture of the outside of OH and I's little 'cocoon' pod. Very basic, but very sweet and the beds, although small were very comfortable.  I got a pretty good night's sleep.  We had a heater, electric light and a kettle in there too, which was useful.

Above is what it looked like when we'd got ourselves settled in for the night with obligatory hot chocolate, hot water bottles and a couple of my handmade cosy quilts. I knew they'd come in useful sometime.  With my new laptop and dongle, we were even able to watch a couple of episodes of Designated Survivor on Netflix, just like on a regular Saturday night. It was great.

I was also able to imagine a little what living in a tiny house might feel like, although these weren't really big enough to live in. The girls cabins were a little more spacious and a bit better equipped. They had more beds, a mirror and a fridge too.

The girls all hunkered down in one of the pods (we hired two for them) for the most part and played games and chatted.  I don't think they hardly used the laptop, which is a good thing really.  They had a game of football rounders and a few games of hide and seek around the campsite.  You can imagine the excitability of 8 teenage girls let loose in the dark on a campsite.  I did insist that they at least stay in pairs though throughout, for safety reasons.

They also had roasted marshmallows around the campfire that OH got started and we ate grilled chicken, hotdogs, salad and baked beans.  Here's the makeshift cooking station we set up to make the food.  Not quite camping as you know might know it, due to the fact that we had electricity.

This morning we woke up to persistent rain so it was a leisurely breakfast of tea, cereal and pastries in our respective cabins, before getting up and ready and packing everything away into the car and eventually coming back home and back to reality.

I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  It got cold at times, but it made me fully appreciate the luxury that is a nice thick sweater and thick woolly socks.  The simple things are always the best. That's our parental duty done with regard to birthdays for another year. Next year, it's going to be a simple affair at home hopefully.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

A Small Household/Food Haul

My order from the new online ethical/organic company arrived as notified on Friday. The delivery service was exceptional and only took a couple of days.  It would have been quicker, but I delayed a day as we were going to be out.

Here's the box. I love getting parcels, even if it is just groceries.  It feels like Christmas opening them.

The items inside were well packaged with biodegradable packaging, which I reuse for my eBay sales for the most part.  Once removed, here are the contents of the box. No messy spillages this time thankfully.

I separated out the household/toiletry products and food products to show what I ordered.

The household order included 5 litres of my favourite eco laundry liquid, eco kitchen towels, 500mls of a new to us natural shampoo that I wanted to try and 15 bars of natural hand made soap.  They actually sent 20 bars, so I need to let them know that they sent too much, which I will do the moment I get a chance.  I'm happy to pay for them, although it was their mistake, as they'll get used eventually. This isn't actually my usual brand of soap. I prefer the Suma natural soap, but this brand, which is very similar, was on offer at £1.49 per bar, which was a really good price as they are normally over £2 everywhere I've seen them. Hence why I bought such a large supply.

The food part of the order contained the items above. As you can see the 3kg bag of rice is huge. We do eat quite a bit of it here though, so it will all get eaten eventually.

Overall, I was very happy with the order. I was also offered 10% off my next order if I order again within the next 6 weeks, but I don't think I'll need anything that soon. I'm pretty sure I will be ordering from them again at some point in the future though.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Snow Came and Changing Product Suppliers

Well, snow paid us a visit last night (Thursday).  I was hoping we'd miss out, as we are camping on Saturday night for LB's birthday sleepover.  We must be crazy.  We will be staying in heated wooden camping pods on a site on the outskirts of London, but it's still going to be cold.  I can't honestly say I'm looking forward to it, but LB and OH are.

Today, I'll be spending the day trying to get organised and make preparations for it, including checking out the camping gear we keep in the shed, to decide what we need to take with us in order to stay warm and cook our food, and then there's the job of buying said food at the supermarket. It would be so much easier if LB had a summer birthday, but there you go.

Last night after supper, I had to venture out in the snow, well, sleet to be more accurate, to walk the dog. She wasn't too impressed at having to go out in it and punished me by dragging her feet and making me stay out longer than I wanted to. It did make me appreciate being back inside when we finally got home though. There were quite a few children out getting very excited about the snow, bless them.  I don't mind it, so long as I don't have to drive anywhere in it.

Later the same night, I watched my new favourite TV show, Unforgotten, a crime drama on ITV.  I love the actress who plays the main investigating officer, she's just so watchable.

In other news, I found out the date of the next Give or Take day yesterday, it's on Saturday 28th January. I'm so pleased that it's not far off, as I can't wait to clear the spare room again. I might just do another sweep of the house next week and see if I can find anything else that needs to go.

Today, I'm expecting a delivery from a new to me online ethical/organic products retailer that I have ordered from for the first time, on account of not getting a satisfactory response from Ethical Superstore after the fiasco of the leaking washing up liquid all over my last order.

I wasn't being greedy or grabbing and wanting any money back or anything in compensation (other than for them to replace the litre of liquid that leaked out and soiled the rest of my order). An apology and some indication that they believed me would have been sufficient, but instead I got the distinct impression that they were sceptical and thought I was grasping, as they just did not seem interested in the slightest in my experience, which was disappointing, so I'm taking my business elsewhere.

It took a whole evening of research on the internet to find a company that stocked all of the products that I like to use, in bulk, but I think I've found one that I can order most of my bulk household and some toiletry items from. It's a little more pricey, but I'm prepared to pay the extra as a matter of principle. On the plus side, their delivery seems to be a lot quicker, so there should be no repeat of ekeing out the dishwasher tablets, as happened previously whilst waiting for the last order I made with my previous supplier to arrive.

As a consequence of placing this order, I will probably bust my household budget this month, but I will have a good few months supply of most of the products I use regularly in the house, which means that I won't have to order anything else online for quite a while.  I managed to bulk buy my usual brand of laundry liquid and almost a year's supply of our usual bar soap, plus I was able to order a 3kg bag of organic brown Basmati rice and a couple of kilograms organic wholewheat penne (which is hard to find in the supermarkets) at a very reasonable price. This should keep us well stocked up in essentials for a good while. It's not the best month to do this, but it's done now.

I'm disappointed to have to change supplier, as I found it very easy to order from the previous company, but sometimes you've just got to make a stand against bad service, especially when you've been a very regular and very uncomplaining customer for nearly two years.  I'll keep you posted with how the new company Goodness Direct fares with regard to customer service and will probably do a short post on the order once it arrives.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

My New Bullet Journal

Sometime last year I wrote a post about how I had started a bullet journal of sorts, using lots of small picture stickers to highlight jobs I needed to do.  This system worked for quite a few months and I quite enjoyed it, up until my sister came to stay and I just didn't have time to keep up with it.

As a consequence, I simplified it and just wrote lists and ticked the jobs off as I did them.  This worked better and took a lot less effort peeling off stickers and putting them in the journal and then printing new sheets of stickers off every time they ran out.  I enjoyed the system for a while, and it was very colourful and fun, but I much preferred the new simplified one.

Anyway, just before Christmas I saw this new unused journal in the CS and I decided that it would be perfect to transfer my new bullet journaling system into.  It is very similar to a Moleskin notebook, which can be very pricey, but it cost just £1.99.  I just had to buy it.  It also has a handy pocket in the back for any wishlists or paperwork that I want to keep referring back to.

Above is a photo of how I now bullet journal each day. Very simple tick box for each task.  A cross gets put in the box if it doesn't get done and an arrow denotes the task is carried forward to the next day and sometimes the next and the next!  I'm much preferring this pared down, grown up version of bullet journaling and it cuts down the pieces of paper with lists on, that I have cluttering my kitchen table.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Currently Reading

At the moment I'm enjoying reading this book by Suze Orman, who is an American author that writes about the subject of personal finances.

This particular book focuses on the finances of women and on how, as a woman, you can take control of your finances and be prepared for every eventuality.

I bought this book from the CS last week.  It seemed just the thing to motivate me this year, when I'm trying hard to get on top of my finances.  It's quite a thought provoking read, although it is mainly aimed at American readers.

One thing that she wrote particularly struck a chord with me.  If you don't adequately value your own time, don't expect anyone else to value it. So true in my experience. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect to be thanked constantly for things I do, but sometimes the way you are spoken to can make a big difference in terms of feeling like your time and efforts are valued.

Anyway, the book itself is written along similar lines to Dave Ramsey's Nine Steps to Financial Freedom. She focuses on first building up an emergency fund that could cover a full eight months expenditure, to allow for possible job loss or illness.

Once this has been saved and put away, she focuses on paying down debts such as credit cards. She goes into quite a bit of detail about the best way to do this, namely starting with the card with the highest interest rate.

She also talks a lot about credit ratings and how the way you tackle paying off your debts can affect your ratings. Again, this is focused mainly towards the US financial market, but it is still quite interesting reading, as it highlights how cancelling too many paid off credit cards, or transferring balances too often to 0% deals, can have a detrimental effect on your credit score.

The book was published in 2010, after the financial collapse, at a time when banks were withdrawing lines of credit to cardholders in the US for no apparent reason and as a consequence of this, she doesn't necessarily advise you to cut up your cards and close accounts, as you might not be able to get new ones.  She suggests that having at least two credit cards, one for monthly use and one for emergency use, is the ideal, as it will give you options should you be really desperate for cash and will also keep future mortgage and other credit options open, as it will provide you with a credit history.

Orman also advocates that all women should have a bank account separate from their partner's, which not everyone might agree with, but I can see her point, as without any individual financial history, getting credit could be a problem if you were to find yourself on your own at some point in the future.

Towards the end of the book, she also delves into the areas of saving for retirement, saving for college fees and obtaining the right insurances to protect your family and help you to feel in control of your finances and your future life.  I'm looking forward to these chapters as I read on.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Loving Lately

On a slightly more positive note than some of my recent posts, in this post I thought I'd talk about a few things that I've been loving lately.

Number one are these lovely Fortnum & Mason Macademia Nut Piccadilly biscuits that OH bought me for Christmas.  I have to admit that I am very partial to macademia nuts.  My sister often sends me products from Australia with them in and they are so tasty and not widely available in the UK. These biscuits which might now become a favourite (when I can afford them), are very tasty and are lovely as a treat every now and again, as I don't generally tend to buy biscuits at all.

The second item that I am loving lately is my new free subscription (using Tesco clubcard points) to Landscape magazine.  I used to subscribe to Top Sante magazine for a couple of years, but found that I wasn't reading it and got a bit tired of all the new health food fads that it talked about.  I decided to change back to this, which I've subscribed to before, to give me a bit more varied reading matter every month.

I'm also enjoying using this aluminium credit card wallet, that I purchased at the Ideal Home Show back in November. I'm led to believe that credit cards can now be cloned and information taken from them, when just carrying them in your handbag, using technology that can scan them from 10 feet away.  As I now regularly travel on the trains in London to go to the CS, I thought I'd start using this, which is supposed to protect and prevent your cards from being scanned.  I'd wanted one of these for a while, and at just £5, it is definitely worth the money, especially if it does what it is claimed to do.

Finally, I'm enjoying my new small and inexpensive ASUS lap top, that was also a Christmas present from OH.  He's been wanting to get me off his much larger spare laptop for ages, as I am very heavy handed on the keys and giving me this present did the job.  It also prevented LB and I arguing over who got to use it, as she can keep it to herself now I have this one.

In addition, this little laptop is very light to carry around when we go away and it has Candy Crush installed on it, which is an added bonus, but also sometimes a disadvantage, as I get addicted to playing it and lose hours of my life!

Monday, 9 January 2017

New Dressing Table Set Up

Before Christmas, I blogged about how I'd bought a new piece of furniture for our bedroom.  It was an item that I've been looking for for a couple of years now, but had not actually had any success in bidding for on eBay, as it was quite sought after.

Habitat radius oak console table 2 draws excellent condition

So, when one came up for auction again, just before Christmas, I decided I was going to just buy one, as the item itself is no longer produced and I was starting to wonder if I would manage to secure one at all. In addition, my current dressing table arrangements were starting to annoy me. I wanted a tidier more streamlined look, so that the bedroom didn't look so cluttered.

Here was my current arrangement as photographed in a previous post about my bedroom. (This picture was on a good day, normally it looks a lot messier than this!)

This set up was always a  temporary one in my mind and has done the job for a couple of years.  It was also an improvement on how it looked originally, but the area still looked a bit cluttered for my liking and the perspex boxes got very dirty with fingerprints and makeup products, as well as collecting quite a lot of dust.

Anyway, I decided to go ahead and buy the console table above to use as a dressing table. The fabric covered ottoman stool could fit underneath it, as could the waste bin, and almost all of my daily used products could be put out of the way in the drawers.

Here's a picture of the new arrangement in our bedroom.  It's quite a long piece of furniture, which isn't a perfect fit, but I'm quite happy with how it matches our wardrobe and chest of drawers and brings the bedroom together a little more.

In addition, it now makes cleaning this area a lot easier and the room also just looks a lot tidier generally.

The above photos show how the inside of the drawers are organised.  I'd saved lots of empty beauty box boxes and their lids to use as drawer dividers and they proved perfect for dividing up my makeup in to face, eye, lip and other product categories.

The basket of duplicate and surplus products on the lower trolley shelf waiting to be used, has had to be moved to a new location, but this will encourage me not to buy anything until I need it, as I don't want to have to find a place for it in the room any longer.

I'm not sure what I'm going to use the perspex drawers and the trolley for now, they may possibly be used in the sewing room, but I'm very happy with my purchase, despite the expense and I am enjoying using it on a daily basis.

Slowly, slowly, I'm managing to get areas of the house how I want them.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Garden Update

Last weekend, OH made a big change to our garden and I'm feeling a little excited about it.

Yes, he finally took down the trampoline that LB hasn't really used in a long time now.  It was dismantled and packed neatly into a pile, ready to give away to anyone who would like it.

We're either going to put a note on the gate and see if anyone enquires after it, leave it outside the house or donate it to the next Give or Take event.

Here it is all tied up and ready to leave our possession.

It's a little sad in some ways, as LB used to love bouncing on it with her friends, but she just has very little interest these days and it doesn't justify giving garden space to it. I'm hoping it finds a new and loving home.

The exciting thing is that we now have some space at the end of our garden to relocate some of the things from the decking outside of our back door. Here's a picture of the space freed up where they will eventually go.

We need to do this, as later this year, builders will be starting work on our kitchen extension, and will require us to clear this area completely, so we're getting a head start.

OH has already relocated the Hot Composting bin he bought me for my birthday and has started using it.   Also still to be moved here, is my little green house and the potting table, but this shouldn't take long once we get our act together.

OH also needs to make a gate that opens from the existing fence, to enable easy access this area, but it's a work in progress and he's made a good start. I'll keep you posted on further progress.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Making Progress and a Living with Less Stuff Grand Total

After a difficult start to the week, things are improving. Having a full day to myself on Friday and no plans this morning, I've been able to make a large dent in my current to do list.

The family situation was resolved, albeit temporarily.  It may rear it's head again at some point, I'm hoping not.

I got a head start on the ironing yesterday and completed and put away a whole lot of laundry, which makes me feel a lot better.  I know that many people don't iron, but I was thinking as I was doing it yesterday, that it's a kind of meditation for me.  I do a lot of thinking whilst I'm ironing (in between watching YouTube videos, of course.😉).

Anyway, there's still a bit more to do to empty the basket, but I'll try to get that done this afternoon and then I'll be able to concentrate on doing a bit of post Christmas house cleaning next week.

In addition, I've been sorting out more bits and pieces for donation here and there. I didn't actually do either a November or December decluttering post in 2016, as Christmas was on me before I knew it, so here is the final tally for my year of Living with Less Stuff.

In November, I decluttered a total of 63 items, which when added to my October total of 875 items, came to 938.  In December, a further 72 items were put aside to donate making a grand total for the year of 1010 items. I'm pretty pleased with this figure, as after my first year of decluttering, where I donated over 1200 items, I only expected to be able to find 500 or so things this year, so to find more than double this is great.

I'm continuing with the process again this year and aiming once again to donate another 1000 items if I can.  As time progresses, I'm finding myself more and more willing to let go of things I thought I wanted to keep, which is progress indeed.  I'm hoping the same will continue to happen this year and really make our home a much more enjoyable space to live in and life a lot more simple.

On a completely different note, this morning, I finally managed to get around to doing some personal care things that I've just not made the time to do in recent weeks.

After having a shower, I've had a mini pampering session doing small but very necessary things, such as cutting my toenails and re-shaping my eyebrows. All things that you need to do and which annoy you on a daily basis, but I just never set aside any time to do towards the end of last year.

I feel so much better for getting to grips with myself and taking more care of myself, instead of overcommitting myself to do things for others. One thing that's definitely been brought home to me in the last week or so, is the importance of self care. If I don't do it, no one else will, plus the fact that it also helps you to feel better about yourself. I can now face the year ahead.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Riding Out the Storm

It's been a rough week and it isn't over yet. As the week has progressed, it's got tougher and tougher.

I had a couple of trying days at the CS.  The manager had been off sick between Christmas and New Year and didn't get any of the things done that he wanted to, so when it reopened on Tuesday there was a lot that needed doing. It didn't help that I felt a bit of an emotional wreck due to the news about my friend.  I think it had really started to hit home and made me a bit vulnerable.

I think I was in shock and a bit numb for the first few days and now I just feel so sad. I guess it's all part of the grieving process.  We hadn't seen each other for a while, so I was initially a bit more detached, but through the week, as I started to think about her more, I got sadder and sadder. I'm looking forward to seeing my friends at the gym on Monday and talking to them about it, as they are probably feeling just the same.

A few other things hit the fan this week too.  One involved issues concerning LB, who was struggling with going back to school due to friend problems, tests she didn't feel prepared for and other issues. I sat down with her after a tough day at the CS on Wednesday and we talked about things and are trying to find a way for her to move forward. I think I've let things slip over the last six months, getting so engrossed in the CS and haven't been paying enough attention to her needs.  I got my wake up call and I'm trying to make amends and be a better parent.

On top of this (it never rains but pours), a serious family issue also reared it's head this week, which gave us some stress and a difficult decision. Not altogether a good start to the New Year so far, but I'm hoping that it will get better. We just need to dig in, keep our heads and ride it out, if at all possible.

On the plus side, I took down all of the Christmas decorations tonight.  By the time they came down I decided that I liked my tree after all.  It just needs a few new baubles to jazz it up a bit, but this shouldn't break the bank. Whilst putting everything away, I did a serious cull of all of my old glass baubles and decorations, putting many aside for donation.  Sometimes you've just got to ring in some changes and have a good clear out. As a consequence, I've got all of our Christmas decorations condensed into one decorations bag, one wrapping paper bag and one wreath bag, for the first time in a good few years, so that was a positive.

I've also sorted out all of the donation pile in the spare room and it's a lot more organised and ready to go when I get the date of the next Give or Take. LB has been intermittently been adding to it.  She's become more of a minimalist than me lately, which is good, as I wouldn't want her to inherit my hoarding tendencies.

Today, I've been to the gym, been out and about doing top up food shopping and errands, written a heartfelt sympathy letter to my friend's husband and sent it off, and as mentioned, done the 12th Night stuff , which is about enough for me for one day.

As I've done my two days at the CS for this week, tomorrow I have a free day at home to do with as I wish.  I've just got a dog walk planned and then lots of laundry and ironing in an attempt to catch up after the holidays.  I hope everyone is having a much better week and start to the year.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

New Year, New Budget Resolve

I've spent the first day of the New Year trying to get to grips with the catastrophe that was and is my finances. I don't have an alcohol hangover this New Year, just a financial one. I almost dared not take a look, as I knew it was bad, but I had to just face the music and do what I could to rectify the situation.

I spent a couple of hours going through all of my receipts and checking them off against my internet bank records.  I did a few crafty transfers to and from savings accounts and I've done the best I can to patch things up. It has just about wiped out the savings I put away over the year, but better that than start off on an impossible footing for the year, during what is probably my most expensive month, due to LB's birthday, a nephew moving into a new home and a friend's son's birthday coming up.

Although I promised myself I wouldn't over do it this Christmas, I did and spent far more than I should have, so I can't blame anyone but my own foolish self.  I am, however, never doing it again and that is a promise.

I'm saving double the amount each month this year, have left this month's amount in my savings account (£100) and it is not going to be touched. 

Next year, I'm scaling down Christmas expenditure by spending a fixed and reduced amount on everyone and no more. No more little extras, that soon add up to a lot. In fact, I'm going to try to buy as many presents as I can from the CS, where items are still in their packaging or in immaculate condition though. I did do this for quite a few presents this year and it wasn't a problem, so I'm going to hopefully extend this further next year and benefit others as well as just the recipients.

As I wasn't able to shop the sales easily this year, I haven't spent a lot on sale shopping, but I have bought my Christmas cards for next year, plus the odd other item for gifts for next Christmas.  Crazy I know, but it all just helps nearer the time. I've also treated myself to a new bra which I desperately needed, and us all to a new set of towels, which I am gradually replacing one by one. I have also bought myself some new underwear and a couple of pairs of very inexpensive trousers, which I will wear on a daily basis to the CS, so I'm all set.

The remaining wishlist for this year is much reduced compared to last year. Mainly it consists of some clothes for LB and a few bits for the house, but nothing much else, as I have all I need. Priority number one will be getting through this and the next month relatively unscathed, in spite of a run of big birthdays and other events that I will need to buy gifts for.

I'm looking forward to March when things calm down and hoping that next year I'll be better prepared, as I am finally going to get control of my finances this year, come hell or high water (which according to various doom mongers on YouTube, might actually occur this year). I know I promised the same thing last year, but I am rock solid about it this year.  Enough is enough.

With that wonderful tool hindsight, I can see what you guys could probably see all along, that my spending was spiralling out of control in the latter half of the year. I'm hoping the same doesn't happen again this year.

I'm currently being inspired by Budget Girl on YouTube, who has been paying down over $30k of debt over the last few years and is aiming to be debt free this year.  If she can do that, I can get control of my spending or I'm definitely a lost cause. I'm actually perversely looking forward to the challenge.

What are you looking forward to in 2017?