Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Monthly Roundup - February 2018

It's been a couple of months since I did a post of this kind, mainly because Christmas got me off track a little and things were messy.  Besides, I was also bored of reporting large overspends in most areas of the budget, so I imagine you guys were too.

Although, expenditure isn't perfectly in line with the budget, things are back on a better footing.  The holiday, has had an impact in both positive and negative ways, but hasn't set me back too much, as spending money was budgeted for. 

By the way, I don't include things I buy on holiday or money I spend on holiday in my monthly expenditure, as I don't want to have to record everything whilst on holiday, I just want to relax and spend my money on anything I please, without having to feel accountable.  We all need a break from counting the pennies every now and again.

The holiday has, however, dominated this month, partly because it's a short month and partly because of the time spent preparing for it and recovering from it. I'm almost back to normal now though, just some more laundry and ironing to catch up on.

So, here goes with this month's budget report:

Food - I overspent on this budget by  £36.58.  Due to us being away for a week, I made this budget £300 instead of £400 this month, but still overspent a little. There is still quite a lot of food in the house though, so I probably could have eeked the month out within budget if I'd made more effort.

Household - Again this £50 budget was over by £26.86, although I have to say that I have stocked up on quite a few things this month i.e. mouthwash, toothbrushes, makeup, etc.  Perhaps I'm still overcompensating for not spending in some areas by spending more in others, but I think this behaviour is slowing down as I gradually get used to spending less each month.

Miscellaneous - This budget, also set at £50, came in over by £8.59, which wasn't too bad. I did buy a few gifts and birthday cards this month which accounted for most of this and had a few postage costs for the items I sold on eBay.

My personal budget of £25 also went over this month by £25.33. This was mainly due to buying a few small bits and pieces here and there, such as a book and some bits and pieces from the CS. As regular readers of this blog might notice, this has gone down dramatically compared to previous months, where I was sometimes over budget by  £200. This would seem to suggest that I am indeed curtailing a lot of my personal expenditure, which is a good thing.

The final budget that came over by £13.97 was the Home budget, which is set at just £20.  This month I bought two new fitted sheets and four pillow cases, two candles, a couple of tea towels and a couple more very small items.  I was happy enough with this though, as the main items were on my wish list.

The remaining two budgets came under, namely LB's which was under by £23.01. I very rarely need to buy anything for her these days, as she gets pocket money and now earns some money on YouTube every month, so she happily buys stuff herself.  I do put £50 in a savings account for her every month though, for when she goes to University. I will be increasing this amount as the budget allows.

The last budget to come under was Travel for work.  I set this at £40 this month due to being away from work for 10 days, and I only actually spent £30 on travel, so this budget came in £10 under.

On the whole, I'm pretty okay with this month's expenditure.  I was in the red by £9.68, although strictly there were funds in the account to cover this.  In a month when we went on an expensive holiday, I'm reasonably happy about this. The overspends are a lot lower than they have been in the past, so I think I'm making progress towards living within my means.  In addition, I have been putting aside an extra £50 each month in savings since the beginning of the year and I hope to increase this as my spending decreases.

Did your budget go to plan this month?

Monday, 26 February 2018

Back To Busyness

If you are a regular reader to this blog, you'll know that I'm a great fan of the Flylady system after first coming into contact with it on YouTube via Diane in Denmark and Sophia from My Great Challenge.

When I first discovered it last year, I was very enthusiastic and worked my way through the house over the space of a couple of months.  I loved the system and the way that each room's turn to be cleaned came around again every few weeks and thus never really got the opportunity to get really dirty.

Since starting paid work again three days per week, I have to admit that I've lapsed badly.  Occasionally, I might manage a Weekly Home Blessing (or part thereof), but I haven't really done much detailed cleaning or cleaned the house regularly on a weekly basis. After a few days at work, I've been way too exhausted to do any cleaning for a day or so.

Having had a holiday recently (albeit an exhausting one) and a break from work, I've found myself with a bit more energy to clean lately, and I'm trying hard to get back on track with my Flylady routines.  Luckily, I've still been doing my morning and evening routines for the most part, so the house isn't totally messed up, but it has definitely been feeling a bit dirty lately and in need of some attention.

Last week, I made a start by doing some cleaning in the kitchen.  Not a deep clean, but a part WHB, where I tackled the kitchen worktops, floor, sink area, table and also cleaned the downstairs toilet, vestibule, stairs and hallway. It was a start.

Today, I've continued where I left off  and done some more cleaning.  This morning, I cancelled my class at the gym, as I thought it was going to snow heavily, (it didn't, but never mind) and I didn't want to travel across town in the car. Instead, after walking the dog, I watched Diane and Sophia's daily videos to get me in the mood and then got stuck in.

There's something nice about staying indoors and working on getting your home in good shape when it's snowing and freezing cold outside. Perfect weather for cleaning, because the exertion also warms you up.

It took a couple of hours to dust and clean all the surfaces and hoover and mop the floors, mainly because I did quite a thorough job, moving some of the furniture and cleaning underneath. Again, it wasn't a deep clean, but it feels good to get the basics done.  To be honest, considering I haven't really cleaned these rooms since taking down the Christmas tree on Twelfth Night, they weren't too bad, which just goes to show how the system does work and even if you lapse for a couple of months, it isn't too difficult to get back on track.

I'm back at work tomorrow, but hopefully later in the week I'll have the energy to tackle the top floor of the house, namely the bedrooms and bathroom.  The bathroom in particular is desperate for a clean and I'll be very happy when I've finally done some work in there.

I'm looking forward to just getting back to doing my regular WHB each week and feel that this is enough to keep on top of the house on a weekly basis. Once I've got back on track with this, I might even be able to get involved in some deeper more detailed cleaning in the different zones each week.  I can't see me being as thorough as I was when I first started, but just doing something will make the house feel better and much more manageable.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Some Thoughts on NYC

I mentioned in a previous post about our visit to New York, that I would write a post about some of the practicalities of visiting the city and some thoughts on our experiences there. I'm being incredibly candid here and I hope I don't upset anyone with some of the things I've written. I've tried to categorise my thoughts into different specific areas, such as travel, sightseeing, food/eating out, shopping, etc.

So here goes:

Firstly, I have to say that we had a great time, it's a fabulous city and the vast majority of it's inhabitants are friendly and helpful. Having said this, however, we did find it a very expensive place to visit.  The exchange rate didn't help, but this alone wasn't the problem.  Some things are just expensive in the US and in NYC particularly.

The first thing we found to be expensive was food in the supermarket.  It probably didn't help that the nearest supermarket to us was a Whole Foods Supermarket, who even in this country aren't particularly well known for being inexpensive. The silliest things were so expensive, such as mozzarella (I couldn't find this for less than $4 compared to less than £1 in the UK). A tin of Heinz tomato soup (I just fancied eating this one night) was $4.99, so I just couldn't bring myself to buy it at that price.  I thought Heinz was an American company, but I'm beginning to think this product was created for the UK market and hence expensive in the US.

One night we dropped into a nearby food store (albeit a very smart one) to get some pasta and a jar of sauce for a quick and easy supper.  Big mistake.  Dry pasta $9, bar of chocolate $12, the sauce was unpriced, but by this time we had decided not to bother and left the store, promptly followed by the security guard, who I think thought we had stolen something. We hadn't and he didn't approach us, but we obviously didn't fit the profile of their regular shoppers.

Anyway, we did manage to find a local Puerto Rican food market that had normal prices and we used this market a couple of times to buy fresh salad and fruit produce, spending only $12 or $13 each time. Sadly, there is currently a campaign to save said market, because developers are trying to get it relocated, so that they can build lots of housing and presumably earn big bucks too.  A sad consequence of gentrification, that we saw other examples of and see in the East End of London all the time.

We came away thinking, thank goodness for Lidl and how cheap food is in the UK.  I'll never again complain about food being expensive here.

Eating out, on the other hand was easy and reasonably priced in our experience.  We had to eat out for lunch most days and some evenings we ate out too. Museum cafe's were a little expensive, but other diners and restaurants were reasonable.  I don't think we paid over $100 for three of us ever, but then we didn't exactly eat in swanky places either.

The only problem we had in restaurants was in one particular diner type restaurant one day, when I overheard a waiter complaining about Europeans not tipping enough. He was being quite rude. Perhaps he didn't realise that tips tend to be included as a service charge in many restaurants here, so some people aren't familiar with the need to tip more generously in the US.  We know that at least 15-20% is expected, having travelled in the US quite a bit and try to tip accordingly, but the attitude of this particular person really riled me and I got the feeling he was talking loudly enough so that we would hear him too.  Having said this, the person who served us in this particular restaurant, was very polite and attentive and we tipped him accordingly, but overhearing this conversation did leave a rather nasty taste in my mouth.

Another thing we noticed in NYC, was that the system of entry to museums is much more expensive than ours here in London where entry is essentially free, but you can donate if you wish.  Most of the big galleries and museums cost $25 to enter.  It is, however, a suggested donation, and you can pay less. We didn't, however, feel particularly comfortable paying less than was suggested, unless we went on a day when it was free, and many museums and galleries do have free entry times during the week.  You just have to research this a little.

As a consequence, we didn't visit many of the museums and galleries, but we have visited some of them in the past.  What we didn't know until half way through our holiday, is that there is a CitiPass that you can buy for $122 per adult and $98 for children (some museums and attractions charge for children).  This apparently gives free access to specified museums, galleries and tourist attractions and if you wanted to visit several, would be worthwhile purchasing.

Just one more comment about museums. We visited one where we paid the $25 entry fee and then were asked to make a voluntary donation on top of this.  Where does it end?  Does everyone assume that because you are visiting the city you have hundreds of dollars to give away? This was also after I'd been spoken to quite rudely and sarcastically on first entering the museum, because I dared to ask a question about entry. This was a very interesting museum, but this woman's treatment of me was inexcusable and I wish I'd let her know that at the time, but I didn't think quickly enough on my feet.

On a more positive note, travel around New York was pretty easy, once we'd worked out what was Uptown and what was Downtown. Asking other commuters, we soon found out, was useless as they just weren't interested in helping that much (well one commuter anyway). The Metro card took us all over on buses and subway trains for 7 days for just $33 and the only restriction was that we couldn't travel on Express subway trains, which don't stop at some stops and as a consequence travel the lines faster. Much like the Tube here in London, trains were very packed during rush hour, but at least they are air conditioned.

We did have a slight problem using a credit card to buy our Metro cards at first, as the machine doesn't allow you to enter your card pin number.  Luckily, a homeless person came over and told us how to use the machine with a card and my one regret is that we didn't think to give him some money for his trouble, as he was really helpful to us. When we used the station the next day, I looked out for him to rectify this, but I never saw him again. I would honestly rather help a homeless person, who has nothing but is helpful, than an obnoxious waiter who more or less accuses you of being cheap.

Talking of homeless people, there are a lot in New York, especially around the subways.  They don't bother you and are often very friendly, but it is sad to see so many people living on the street. Many seem to get overlooked too and little attention is paid to them. It's the same here in London and it is something that I've noticed is increasing of late. There is definitely a huge polarisation between those who have a lot of money and those who don't. To me it seemed that in NYC money talks and if you don't have much and aren't throwing it around, you don't have a voice. I'm sure that people might think this the case of London too, and it may well be at times, but to me it made London seem like a caring, cheap and cheerful village, which if you have ever visited London, you know it isn't necessarily the case.

In many ways, I was glad that LB was more interested in Thrift shopping than trawling the shops on Fifth Avenue, as I felt much more comfortable in them than I probably would have done inside the fancier stores. Besides which, I have absolutely no wish to buy high end designer clothing or other items.

Talking of the Thrift stores, the Good Will ones tend to be pretty big with rails full of every type of clothing.  The prices were on a par with Central London charity shops I'd say, which I should know working in one. Some stores are better than others, but you do get an idea of how much good stuff people donate by seeing how much is in them.

My shopping habits whilst there did get me into a little bit of trouble, as my case was just under the full weight allowed on flying out there.  When my thrift store purchases were added I ended up 9lb overweight, which would have cost $124 had a kind and patient airport employee not allowed us to repack a little to avoid the excess charge.

Just one last grumble about travelling in general and aeroplane food.  I made the decision after our flight out there never to eat aeroplane food ever again.  It is just not worth it.  It made me feel so ill. On the way home, I picked up a salad and a piece of fruit in the airport to eat on the flight and only ate uncooked food. I have vowed to do this whenever I fly in future, as it made for a much more comfortable flight.

In spite of all of the above, we did and do love New York and the US and we wouldn't be put off going again.  It is a fabulous city and some of it's sights are amazing, really good value and well worth a visit.  You don't have to pay to walk down the street and see the Chrysler building or the Empire State building or visit Grand Central Station, Central Park or the 9/11 memorials. You can get a free ferry to Staten Island or walk along the High Line for free too. Just do be prepared to spend some money on some of the other attractions whilst you're there.

Friday, 23 February 2018

US Thrift, Beauty and Dog Haul.

As promised, I thought I'd do a little haul post of the items I brought back with me from the US.  No fancy 5th Avenue shopping for me, most of these items came from thrift stores, Marshalls (TK Maxx) or other stores.

I'll start with my Thrift store purchases.  The photography isn't great, but you'll get the drift. 

I bought the following from various Thrift Stores/Good Will stores:

Two pairs of jeans;

Black Levi's 501's

and Blue 7 For All Mankind at $9.99 each.

One black and white printed skirt for $7.99. This will look cute with a belt and tights.

One vintage black velvet jacket for $10.  I used to have a similar one in dark green which I loved and wore a lot, then I donated it. I have often regretted it since and when I saw this one, I couldn't resist it.

One book for $4.34 (incl. 35 cents tax)

One piece of very cute fabric, which I later realised was called Central Park by Moda.  Fitting souvenir of our visit. There's probably about 2 metres here of unused lovely quality cotton and it cost just $4.34 (including 35 cents tax).

From Wholefoods, I bought my favourite brown Pacifica Mascara, which cost $13.99 plus tax. (Not sure how much tax, but this still made it slightly cheaper than buying it here. (only by a few pence though)

From Marshalls, I bought three facial washes (don't ask me why I bought so many, but they were so reasonably priced I couldn't help myself).

Two by Acure , which were only $5.99 each plus tax.

And one by Pacifica, which normally retails at $10.99 in the US, but was only $3.99 plus tax.

Together, these should last me an age, providing they agree with my skin, of course.

From Duane Reade pharmacy, I bought this Physicians Formula Organic Wear BB Cream for $12 plus tax.  I usually pay up to £25 for a natural foundation/BB cream here. (Although I got lucky for my last one and found one in TK Maxx for £4, but I'll probably never be able to do that again)

Finally, I bought the dog a new rain coat. So cute. I'm not sure she thinks so though.  Plus some new small squeaky Kong balls, that she loves. Approx, $20 plus tax.

Oh, and I did buy a new toothbrush from Whole foods too, which had natural bristles and cost $4.99 plus tax, but I don't really like it as the bristles come out too easily and end up stuck between your teeth, so I've ordered some bamboo ones on eBay and will probably use it for cleaning instead.

Talking of eBay, when I got home, I also ordered myself this book by Tim Ferris, that I was hoping to buy in the US, but didn't.  I found it in Barnes and Noble there, albeit in a Hardback version, for $30 and couldn't bring myself to spend so much money on one book, not to mention the weight of it in my suitcase going home. Instead, I paid £11.98 on eBay for a paperback version.  It's a massive book and will take some reading, but I'm really looking forward to it.

So, there you go. I think I've been quite restrained for a trip stateside, but you might disagree.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Settling Back In

It's been a few days now since we got back from the US and I'm gradually settling back into life here. I love travelling and it's a great privilege (gosh, it was hard to spell that word, I had to Google it) to be able to do it from time to time, but my goodness, it is so disruptive to normal life.  Maybe that's the point, we need to disrupt life from time to time, to make us appreciate our lives more fully and I can certainly say that going away has definitely made me appreciate coming home to my own house (despite the fact that it needs a good clean), being reunited with our dog, doing my own thing, watching UK TV, eating UK food, sleeping in my own bed and having a routine again.

I was back at work on Tuesday, which was better than I thought it was going to be, and then I spent the first half of yesterday unpacking the rest of my suitcase, walking the dog, blogging and doing laundry. In the afternoon I went out to do the last little bit of essential grocery shopping that I didn't get done on Monday (as I couldn't find a parking space at the supermarket!).

I decided to go to an out of town Tesco, a huge hypermarket type store, but couldn't even find a small trolley to get the smallish amount of shopping I needed, as they were all out in the hangars and there was no one to collect them and return them to the outside of the store. (Yes, I could have gone over to a hangar and got one, but it wasn't convenient) Besides, a store of that size should be adequately staffed to organise it's trolleys for the convenience of it's customers. 

Needless to say, I complained to Customer Services, but nothing got done in the hour I was in the store.  Maybe they were hoping it would make shoppers buy more, by forcing them to take a huge trolley that they then might fill.  Who knows, but I wasn't impressed.  Having said this, it's quite refreshing to be able to have a good grumble about something. The US is such a positive place, which is great, but I didn't feel able to grumble there and nothing quite beats the odd moan every now and again, to make you feel fully alive.

To make me feel a little better I stopped off in TK Maxx for a browse, which turned out to be a very big mistake and I won't be doing it again this month. I ended up buying quite a few bits and pieces, mostly red stickered bargains might I add, but things none the less.

Here's the list of what I bought:

  • My favourite brand of dog bags (300 to be exact to keep us going) - (Red stickered and reduced by £1.99) - This was the item I went into the store for in the first place.
  • A pack of liver dog treats for 50p (Also red stickered, of course) - Our dog will love these.
  • Two monochrome printed tea towels for £1 each. (Red stickered)
  • Some posh chocolate £3. (Red stickered)
  • Some Dark Chocolate Covered Mulberries £4 - (Red stickered) - A gift for OH for his birthday in May. (Yes, they were in date).  He likes unusual healthy snacks for his cycling.  I hope he likes these.
  • A card and gift for a volunteer at work who is having her first baby. It's a while away, but I couldn't resist and at least I'll be organised and ahead of time.
  • A reusable and washable sandwich bag for me to use for work £2. (Red stickered)
  • A new shower screen swiper £2.99 - a nice attractive bamboo handled one to replace the scuzzy horrible one we currently have.
  • A lovely large lime scented Soy Wax Candle for burning in our home £5. (Red stickered) I like to keep at least one or two tucked away for when my current one runs out.  This one has a lovely fresh smell.
  • A couple of natural beauty products i.e. a blemish gel £3 and a 2in1 day/night cream £6. They will go in the stash until needed. (Both Red Stickered)
  • A little treat for LB £1.99. - A Pop Tarts blueberry lip balm.
  • A £1 donation to charity - I find it hard to say no when asked, but I don't actually agree with this new method of requesting donations at the point of sale in shops.  What's wrong with a collection box to make it completely voluntary. (I know the answer to this - security and the time it takes to empty and count the contents). I should stick to my guns and say I don't wish to donate, but the Red Sticker Queen, felt like it was the least she could do and she would look a bit cheap if she didn't agree.

That little lot set me back £58, so I definitely won't be stepping foot in TK Maxx again for a while. It did scratch the itch though.

Anyway, this morning, I'm at the gym for my regular Zumba class.  For once, I've got all my usual classes booked this week, which is a treat.  It might not happen again for a month, so I'm going to make the most of it. The rest of today I'll probably be staying at home and doing laundry/cleaning, etc. I've got no excuses left not to.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Loving Lately - Books, Films and Social Media

I'm not a person who spends hours on my phone on social media, but I do like to read blogs, watch YouTube videos and now listen to podcasts (especially when on the bus to work). I also love to read books as you probably know and often have two or three on the go at once. In addition, on our flight to the US I got to watch a few good movies (my screen didn't work on the way home!), so I want to mention a couple of those too.

So, for anyone interested, here are a few new discoveries that I'm finding interesting at the moment:

On YouTube, I've just subscribed to Kim on Free to Frugal, whose videos talk about ways to save money, create wealth and be intentional about spending.  A native New Yorker, now living in Arizona, her videos are interesting and informative and although I've only watched a couple so far, I'm enjoying her channel.

Podcasts I'm thoroughly enjoying at the moment include Mad Fientist who talks about Financial Independence, The Money Nerds Podcast, Be Wealthy and Smart and the Disruptive Entrepreneur, which are all mainly financial podcasts and fascinate me at the moment.

In addition, I also like to listen to Oprah's Super Soul Conversations, some of which are fantastic and the Tim Ferris Show (although these do tend to be very long, which can be prohibitive at times). I also like The James Altucher Show and listen to some of his podcasts on occasion as he interviews some interesting people.

I am subscribed to many more but these are the main contenders for my time and ear.

Blogging wise, I haven't really added any blogs to my reading list.  It is already very extensive and my favourites are you guys out there, who know who you are. I like to keep track with what's going  on in everyone's lives, so keep up the good blogging work.

On the subject of books, I've been reading a lot of financial books lately too, a current favourite being Rob Moore's, Money - How to Earn More, Save More and Give More.  A great book written by a UK writer, on the subject of personal and business finance.  He is also the producer of the Disruptive Entrepreneur podcast.

Finally, with regard to films, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, was just the best film I've watched in ages. Truly deserving of all of its BAFTA's. I also watched a couple of Tribeca Film Festival films on the plane, one The Death of a Super Hero, was very sad, but a good film too.

Monday, 19 February 2018

NYC Tales

It's been an intense week, but one in which we managed to achieve most of what we set out to see. NYC is a crazy city.  On the one hand, it's quite easy going and relaxed, especially with regard to dress codes, but on the other hand, everyone moves around quickly and at a brisk no nonsense pace, so you need to go with the flow. Despite us living and working in London, we found it quite exhausting.

We spent our first day here just exploring the local area, the Lower East Side, traditionally an area that contained lots of clothing factories and whose residential population was historically made up immigrants, many of whom migrated here in the late 19th/early 20th century and worked in the clothing industry, either from home or in the large factories that grew up, once industrialisation on a grand scale started to occur.

The housing was mainly made up of tenement buildings, with multiple occupancy apartments, outside fire escapes and families housed and often working in three small rooms. We know this because we went on a tour at the nearby Tenement Museum, which gives you an idea of the lives of the inhabitants of the area around this time.

We were told that the neighbourhood was virtually a no go area in the 60's and 70's after a major exodus of residents to areas further out of town, leaving it decaying, crime ridden and with many social problems. Fast forward to now and the area is gentrifying rapidly with lots of galleries, restaurants. shops and young people moving in. It made an interesting base for us on our holiday and in many ways resembled our East End of London home turf.

I didn't taken any photos of our accommodation, as it also served as a business premises/office and thus for privacy reasons, it wasn't a good idea, but it was a good sized apartment by NY standards, with one big open plan loft type room and one bedroom and bathroom and had all of the amenities we needed. Here's a view from the window (we were on the third floor) on our last day there, when it had just started snowing:

We did need to vacate the apartment between 10am and 6pm on weekdays, but this didn't cause us too much of a problem and served to encourage us to make the most of our time here.

On Day Two of our stay here, we ventured to the Uptown and Midtown parts of Manhattan.  It took a while to get to grips with the Uptown/Downtown system on the subway, but Billy Joel's 'Uptown Girl' helped to cement the difference in our minds. Cheesy but true.

Uptown is the area north of 59th street, Midtown is the central business area south of here down to between 34th Street or even 13th Street (opinions differ on this) and Downtown is the lower part of Manhattan below 13th Street where we were based.

Anyway, on Day Two we visited the High Line.  A public garden space that has been built along an old aerial railway track up the western side of NYC. It begins next to the Whitney Art Gallery in the Meat Packing district. It takes around half an hour to walk the length of it, but you get good views of some of the NY skyline and it ends near the Hudson River in West Chelsea. It was a lovely peaceful walk, a little oasis in a crazy busy city and we stopped off for hot chocolate and some NY cheesecake on the way, which helped to warm us up on what was a bitterly cold day. It probably didn't look it's absolute best in the winter, but we enjoyed it all the same.

After catching a bus from the end of the High Line, we paid a visit to our first Good Will (Non Profit) thrift store (the first of quite a few might I add), Marshalls (TKMaxx) and also to a great little independent pet shop, where I ended up buying a couple of gifts for the dog. (More in another post)

From here we walked to and through Central Park, on to Times Square, turned onto 42nd Street to take in the beautiful Chrysler building lit up at dusk, (probably my favourite building in the whole of NYC)

and then arrived at our last stop of the day, which was a visit to the fabulous Grand Central Station.

This station is so worth a visit. It has been beautifully restored and it is a pleasure to just hang out there and watch the world go by.  There is even a small patch on the ceiling left uncleaned, for you to compare how dirty it was before the restoration. From here we limped home for supper, after having taken more than 25,000 steps in one intense exhausting day. But it was all definitely worth it.

Day Three, was the day we tried to keep LB happy and spent the morning thrift shopping in the East Village. We started off at a Good Will store near Washington Square and then headed into the East Village proper, where there were a number of great thrift shops. One in particular, L Train/No Relation Vintage, was particularly good for classic vintage wear. Even OH bought some items here.

We had lovely cream cheese bagels at a great bagel shop called Tompkins Square Bagels, which had this fabulous mural painted on one of it's walls.

Later, we ventured down into the Financial District for  a late lunch in a bar, explored Wall Street and the surrounding area, before visiting Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorials. Two very solemn but beautiful memorials to a terrible event that changed the world forever. (OH and I had visited the Twin Towers on a previous visit to New York 20 years ago and taken the high speed elevator up to the viewing platform.  It felt strange and slightly haunting, to return and see the area as it is now).

Day Four and we were on the tourist trail taking a ferry over to Liberty Island to visit the Statue of Liberty.  Security is strict, to almost the same degree as airport security, with all bags and persons being scanned before boarding the ferry. The ferry does get very crowded, but we treated ourselves to hot dogs and hot chocolate whilst on board, which were very tasty. We had picked a day which had clear blue skies to visit, which was perfect, as the views of Manhattan from Liberty Island were fantastic, although my camera phone didn't really do them justice.

We had booked our tickets on line before arriving at the ferry terminal and had booked to go up to the pedestal for views out from the statue.  To go right up to Liberty's crown, you had to book months in advance and there was no availability until May.  Bear this in mind if this is something you ever wish to do (and that it is 182 steps to the pedestal, where you can see people in this photo, so there will be many more steps up to her crown - not sure how many more).

With our tickets, we also got entry to the Statue of Liberty Museum, which was one of the highlights of the day, as it gave you the background to the conception, funding, design and building of the statue. Very interesting and informative. I didn't know that she was a gift from France to the US. She is a very beautiful statue that extends a welcoming hand to all those entering the US through NYC and I can completely understand why Americans and others treasure her so much.

From Liberty Island, a ferry then took us to Ellis Island, the place where immigrants to the US through NYC were processed during the period of peak immigration from 1892 until the 1920's. This was another really interesting museum showing how the many incoming migrants came to form a significant part of the population and workforce of the US at this time and subsequently. At $28 or so each, this particular day out was really good value, although the ferries do get very full.

On Day Five of our NYC holiday, we decided to do something a bit different and ventured off Manhattan.  We walked over Brooklyn Bridge and explored this part of New York instead. The walk over Brooklyn Bridge itself wasn't very long, but the pathway is quite crowded and is one that is shared with cyclists, so you have to be a little careful.

As we reached the other side, we saw a cavalcade of police/army/emergency service vehicles heading over the bridge from the Brooklyn side.  We thought it might be the President's cavalcade, but it turns out it was for a very high profile prisoner who had been attending a court hearing on the other side of the bridge. (We found this out from the TV crews filming outside the courthouse)

Once in Brooklyn, we made our way up to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Museum (via another couple of thrift shops) and had lunch in the Museum CafĂ©. OH and I had a very tasty Beef and vegetable soup. We all then explored the museum, which had an amazing Jean Michel Basquiat painting on show, in addition to other interesting items. It was definitely worth a visit for this alone and as it was a slightly less expensive museum to visit than some of the more prominent ones, we decided to give it a go. (More about museum entry in another post)

On Day Six, we split our time between exploring the area close to our accommodation again and then later going back uptown. We spent the morning on one of several tours at the aforementioned Tenement Museum, which showed you the accommodation of garment workers in the late 19th/early 20th century. 

In the afternoon, we headed uptown and got free entry into MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), as they had a Free Friday after 4pm and we took the chance to visit then. It is, however, incredibly busy at this time, as you might imagine, which can diminish the experience a little, but it did save us $50 and there were some fabulous paintings in there including Monet's Waterlillies and Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night which is a favourite of LB. (She was even wearing socks with this design on them).

Our final day, Saturday, we spend relaxing in the apartment for once, packing, chilling and getting ready to go home early on Sunday morning. OH did hire a city bike and cycle to and around Central Park, which he really enjoyed, but LB and I mostly stayed home in the apartment.

We had a great week in NYC. We ate lots of traditional American fare; hot dogs, bagels, cheesecakes, doughnuts, burgers.  Way too many in fact, but we enjoyed them all, although our waistlines have probably expanded a little. (I did put on a few pounds, but am hoping to lose it fairly quickly once I get back to work)

With regard to shopping, we didn't really do a lot, save for exploring the thrift shops.  I did buy a few natural cosmetics at good prices to bring back home with me for future use and a few items of clothing from the thrift stores we visited. I'll do a separate thrift haul and other shopping post. (It won't be a long one!)

I hope I've not bored you too much with our adventures. We had a great trip and if you are thinking of visiting New York, I hope that some of what is written here is useful to you. I will be writing another post about some of the practicalities and realities of visiting and getting around NY and some honest thoughts on our experiences there.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Freebies, Frugal Measures and Frugal Fails 2018 - February

This month I have taken the following Frugal Measures and received the following Freebies:

1) I re-subscribed to Moneywise magazine using my Tesco Club Card vouchers, so I will receive this magazine each month for the next year for free.  This is one magazine that I do tend to read and find quite informative when it comes to investing and saving, so in the absence of anything else to use my club card vouchers on, I used them for this purpose.

2) I used a 10% off voucher from M&S (for being a shareholder) to get £2.04 worth of discount on a few bits I bought before we went on holiday.  One was a magazine for the journey, another a birthday card and a third item a birthday gift that is coming up in March.  Some of these things were bought early to make the most of using the voucher.

3) I sold another two items on eBay making £18.38 after fees and postage were taken into account.  This will be added to my total on a new Challenge I'm undertaking to make/save an extra £2018 in 2018.

4) When sorting through donated items to take to the CS and give and take, I decided to sell some items on eBay instead of donating them.  They are currently listed and I'm hoping they will sell eventually and I can add more money to my Make/Save £2018 in 2018 challenge total.

5) In addition to trying to sell some of the items I put aside for donation, I have also decided to use up four of them, which were toiletries and perfume that LB didn't want.  They're not exactly the kind of perfumes I would normally wear, but as I'm fast running out, I thought I'd use them instead of donate them, as it will save me buying some for a while.

6) I used my Boots reward points to buy a concealer, which means I essentially got it for free. This saved me £3.99 in monetary terms.

Frugal Fails

No real frugal fails to report in the last few weeks, which makes a change.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

A Productive Weekend at Home

For some reason I woke early on Saturday morning.  I think it's because I've just got into a routine of waking early this week for work, so after my usual half to a hour of reading in bed, I was up and about at 8.30am.

After having some breakfast, I set about tidying up the kitchen, washing up, washing fruit and vegetables I'd bought the day before, doing a bit of paperwork and a bit of YouTube watching.

Then, as there was a Give and Take event today, I headed upstairs to sort out what I needed to take.  OH came up with me and finally put the Christmas decorations in the loft, which gave me room to sort the boxes of donations. 

Anything worth sending to a charity shop was put aside, as were a few new and other items that I decided to try to sell on eBay. Having sorted out what was to go to the G&T, I loaded the car and LB and I headed off to drop off the donations. It was a very easy drop off this time around, as there were only really two boxes to donate, so we were back home by 11.30 am.

Later, after a treat of sausage sandwiches for lunch, I proceeded to list a few items on eBay, whilst LB listed a few items on a site she uses. She managed to sell one item within minutes of listing it.

I also did some work on my personal finances in the afternoon. I didn't really feel like doing any cleaning though, so the Weekly Home Blessing will have to wait until Monday. Instead, I picked up a quilt that needed finishing and spent and hour stitching one of the seven rows that need stitching by hand. It's probably 2 or 3 years since I picked this up, so this was a bit of a breakthrough.  Hopefully, I'll finish it this year.

Later on Saturday night, I watched more of a new Netflix series that I started watching this week called Alias Grace.  It's an adaption from a Margaret Atwood novel and is really good. I heard about it in Rhonda's Weekend Reading post on her blog Down to Earth. Well worth watching if you get Netflix.

Sunday, by comparison was a bit more leisurely, as I spent most of the morning doing a Zumbathon at the gym for World Cancer Day. Later, however, I did manage to get some laundry done, empty the ironing basket and put everything away, ready to start my packing for the US tomorrow. I'm starting to get a bit excited now.

I've enjoyed spending time at home this weekend, with LB and OH, after a couple of weekends where I've worked. This time next week, we'll be in NYC.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Getting Back to Normal

I think I must be getting back into the swing of work a little, as today, I was up and about and doing things  straight away this morning. (Well, after half an hour reading in bed).

I had breakfast, did the washing up, put a load of washing in the machine, put away laundry left from earlier in the week, wrote a shopping list and then I was out with the dog for a long 2 hour walk.

When I got back, I had some lunch and was straight out again to do some grocery shopping.  I went to ASDA for a change this week, which I don't do very often, but I did manage to pick up lots of yellow stickered meat and fish items which have mostly gone straight into the freezer and should last us until we go away. Although I didn't intend to do a big shop, I did spend over £100 and stocked up on quite a few things, so that we should have plenty in the house to eat when we get back from the US too.

It was as I was walking out of ASDA that the tiredness hit me. I normally feel tired the day after working and I'm not very productive at all, but this week I did actually get quite a lot done before the tiredness came over me.  In any case, after putting away the shopping and treating myself to a hot cross bun with jam on it, I felt a little restored, just in time to head out to the dentist with LB for our 6 month check ups.

We arrived a little early, so we headed up the high street, so that I could post a birthday card and I couldn't resist dragging LB into a local CS bookshop for a browse.  Big mistake, as I bought these two books.

Another fail on my No Buy Challenge, but I might read the Austerity one when we go to the US.

When we finally got seen by the dentist, I was shocked to hear that my regular dentist who's been treating me for the past two years (after a 12 year absence from going!!!) had left and gone back to his native Greece.  I was a bit disappointed if I'm honest as I found him very professional.  The dentist who saw us was lovely though, a young lady dentist.  Neither of us needed any treatment and therefore I came away with just a £20 bill for my check up.  (I'd budgeted £100 just in case).  A big win, which means that I will have more money than I anticipated to take to the US with me, all being well.

When we got back home I made us a chilli.  It was nice to sit down and eat a proper meal, as our meals had been a bit scrappy this week, mainly due to OH being ill with flu all week and my being at work until late.

I can now sit back and enjoy the weekend.  First stop, will be catching up with the new series of Obsessive, Compulsive Cleaners on TV. It might even inspire me to do some cleaning this weekend.

What have you got planned for the weekend?