Thursday, 30 June 2011

Save our forests.

Earlier this year our forests were saved from being sold off to private buyers. But it seems that the danger is not passed. The government are still deciding what to do with the forests. Now, to say that I don't trust all the people that run this country is an understatement. I have had too much experience with councils running through land sales through the back door and going against what people actually want to trust that they will not try another way to sell forests against the wishes of the people.

38 degrees is a very good organisation that hugely helped stop the bill that was going to allow the forests to be sold off. They are now getting together a petition to show the government just what our national forests mean to people. If any of you feel strongly enough about the issue then please take the time to fill in this very short questionnaire and lend your support to this very worthy cause. Once they are gone, they are gone forever and bear in mind that less than 0.5% of the population already own or control more than 70% of the land in UK, leaving the other 99.5% of us squashed onto what is left. Lets not let them have any more.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Impulse buys

I was thinking about the things that I have bought on impulse in the past and regretted, I don't do this so often any more, but it is a useful exercise, I think, to know where you can be impulsive and take care when you are in those situations. So I made a list of my worst impulse buys over the years. It would be quite fun to hear from other people and see where they are impulsive.

1) A set of tarot cards for £20 (never even properly looked at or used)
This is more than 20 years ago, but it sticks out in my memory because I regretted spending that amount on something so dumb within 15 minutes. Still not entirely sure what drove me to buy them but they were a waste of money and were lost within my parents house by the end of the month and I have never seen them again.

2) JML vegetable chopper for £5.
 I was seduced by the advert where someone would put a piece of veg in the chamber and then press the plunger on the top 10 times and the veg was minutely chopped. As is the case with these things, it never actually worked properly as carrot would get clogged up in the blades and washing it up was way harder than washing a knife. Binned.

3) Exercise machines (anything upwards of £50) There have been a number of these over the years. When I was a student I bought an all singing all dancing weights machine determined to make mine the body beautiful. Of course, I used it diligently, getting up every morning to start my workout and eating accordingly. It lasted a whole month. Soon it became just an annoying and massive object in the corner of the bedroom, although it did have a use for hanging clothes on. Add to that numerous gym memberships over the years (good value while you are getting something out of them, but soon become a huge waste of money when weeks go by without you going near) health and fitness books and I have probably spent close to £2000 over the last 20 years, possibly even more.

4) The latest i-pod/mp3/mini disc/walkman/portable cd player. Numerous amounts from £20 to £130.
The most recent impulse must have device was my i-pod, now 2 years old. Now don't get me wrong, it is beautiful and it does the job in a beautiful way, but it was completely unnecessary, mostly because I don't listen to that much music. I was seduced by those tiny light and gorgeous technology. And yet, it sits in a zip compartment in my rucksack for months on end without seeing the light of day. What proves that I am still susceptible to pretty technology is that I was looking at my friends new i-pod touch the other day and getting seduced with the thought that i would like to own one of those. Fortunately reality set in and I shoved the idea right out of my head. Still, all those apps that I can't live without...........OH, hold on, the human race has survived without them for thousands of years.

5) Superfood supplements.(probably minimum of £500 over 10 years.)
I still have a pack of 10 kilos of whey protein in my cupboard (from the last time I went gym crazy) retailed at something like £40 I also have a couple of packs of vanilla flavour similar something or other. I have had garlic tablets, seaweed snacks, protein bars, b vitamins, multi vits, zinc. The list is too numerous to go on. It turns out that I eat a very balanced healthy diet of home cooked, often home grown food and don't need any supplements at all.

6) Skin products that are going to make me younger and more beautiful forever. (£1000+)
Over 20 years I hate to imagine how much I have spent on not needed stuff for my face and body. Male grooming has become huge industry and men (who will never spend quite as much as women) are spending millions on staying younger. Nowadays I have a much more modest routine and have even started home making certain things.

7) A pair of Salomon walking shoes £90.
These didn't quite fit me, but I bought them anyway because a friend of mine was with me and said his were so comfortable. I tried on so many pairs and none of them actually fitted me very well (it seems that I was a perfect half size and these shoes didn't come in half sizes) but I was being hassled by my friend and hassled by the shop assistant and I bought them rather impulsively. I wore them for a while, but if I had carried on I reckon they could have done my feet permanent damage because my toes didn't fit them properly and I was beginning to get terrible pain in my big toe and the bones in my feet were clicking badly. So almost brand new they went to the back of a cupboard and were never worn again.

There have, of course, been many other things, but most of these are habits I have now kicked. What were your worst impulse buys? How do you stop yourself now?

Friday, 17 June 2011

House sale and banks.

OK, so it's not great. I have not had a single viewing yet. I know the flat has only been in the market 2 weeks, but I thought maybe one person may have shown a tiny bit of interest by now. Seemingly not. Everything they say about the market is true, I know, but until you become involved you don't quite realise what sort of effect it is actually having. If the banks do put the interest rates up soon then it is going to be even worse. It seems so wrong that we are picking up the pieces for the banks hopeless and disgraceful behaviour. I am self-employed and know that I will only ever be given a tiny tiny mortgage now (hence one of my many reasons for moving up North) which, as it happens suits me. But it is so unfair, as in 8 years I have never once been late on a payment, never been badly overdrawn or had a credit card debt. But statistics say that I am in a high risk category simply by being self-employed and therefore cannot be treated the same as regularly employed people. Why are we having to put up with this, when it is their fault in the first place? Of course, problems come from greed. Greed from consumers always wanting more than they have which inevitably becomes more than they can afford. People just stretching themselves for that extra bedroom, or to have a downstairs loo. Greed from the banks wanting greater profits and greater bonuses so they can sip champagne at parties. Even now, considering I am 'high-risk' self-employed, I get offers from my bank for loans, greater increases on credit cards, higher overdraft facilities. They are encouraging debt where it is unnecessary and withholding it on the mortgages which people have more need of.

I was reading on frugal queens wonderful blog earlier today how she has scrapped her bank account from one which charges her £264 a year just to use it and gain nothing. In the past I have regularly been encouraged to move to a fee paying account (for a time Natwest tried to get me to change every single time I went into the branch, so annoying) and could never understand what was to gain. Big deal, a bit of free travel insurance thrown in usually and maybe a free £15 hmv voucher. But really what you got for your money was pretty much nothing. Banks are very good at earning money for doing absolutely nothing. Frugal queen has inspired me to give myself a bank overhaul and check they are not getting anything out of me that they did not legitimately earn. I imagine the majority of the people who read what I write are already pretty savvy at not paying for unnecessary items but it makes me realise that there is always more money to be saved. I have now saved £9000 towards my house move (earning peanuts in interest from my isa, of course) and most of this money has been saved simply by cutting corners here and there and I am proud to know that I am not lining the pockets of big corporations with it, supermarkets don't get much more than they should from me, banks screw me over with interest, but get no credit card debt interest or overdraft charges out of me, reusing and second hand is my first port of call and if I have to buy something unusual that I actually need then I try to go to a small independent shops as much as my wallet allows.
But I am no money saint, there are still other ways to save money that I have not yet discovered and I am always on the lookout for any new ideas and new skills to be learnt. All are welcome!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Have you ever struggled to eat an ice cream?

I was entertained earlier this morning by reading about some of the useless products on the market that simply end up as landfill. The landfill awards include things such as an motorised ice cream cone for people that are too lazy to twist their own wrists when eating an ice cream and a motorised fork so that you don't have to twist your own spaghetti or noodles:

 I began reading with a wry smile caused by the stupidity of people buying such things but then thought about the seriousness of these products. Let us take just one of these products. The Ice cream cone would be made from plastic, probably in the far east from numerous components and needs 2 aa batteries. The components will be put together in a factory and then shipped to unsuspecting nations all over the world Once it makes it to our shores, it needs lorries to transport it to the foolish retail outlets that stock such things. The amount of energy used in making and shipping this item would be so appalling when measured against its worth and contribution to the world (I am in no doubts at all that it would end up in the bin, if not within a few days, then certainly by the end of summer) plus you don't even get the pleasure of eating the cone. At £6 it is not the most expensive of the winners, but what is the cost of these items to the planet and what is the world coming to when people are convinced that they need such things?
Many of the other items mentioned are just as useless (digital skipping rope, electric ear dryer). Perhaps people just wander around looking for things to spend money on.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Styled with lash inserts.

It is with an enormous amount of pleasure that I can say that my lifestyle choice is changing the way I look at the world of consumerism. I have never been easily led, either when it comes to the choices I make, following the crowd or making purchases, but it is only more recently that I have been watching adverts with new eyes. I am grateful to the advertising standards agency for providing me with a lot of pleasure and laughter at the various ridiculous adverts on screen and magazine. Especially the small print.

Here are some of my favourites:

Mascara adverts with small print at the bottom of the screen: 'Styled with lash inserts'.

Hair dye adverts done with Davina Macall which say at the bottom: 'Davina has been styled with hair extensions some of which have been dyed using the product.'

Most make-up ads: 'enhanced in post production'

A real favourite, walkers sensation crisps: 'Made with real ingredients'

Subway advert for their low fat sub sandwich: 'Only low fat when a 6" Sub with no sauces and on brown bread.'

Lipstick advert that claims all day long lasting colour: 'Top coat may need to be re-applied throughout the day'

Computer videos games showing fantastic action: 'Not actual screen shots.'

Once you get into the mode of seeing the small print, you begin to realise how ridiculous buying any of this stuff is and how advertisers are trying to fool the public all the time to part with our money for a product that doesn't actually do what it says. Unfortunately because they are getting popular house hold names to endorse the product they are tapping into the wannabe celebrity market, especially for things like beauty products.
For me, besides providing me with a good laugh, I thank the false claims for making me view all products with a certain amount of suspicion and cynicism. It is easy to start asking yourself if you actually need it, does it actually do something that will enhance your life, or if you can get something cheaper and just as effective, or best still, if you can make it yourself at home.

Perhaps the best small print an advert could say is using the words of William Morris: 'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.' A good phrase to ask yourself before you buy anything.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

2 money free days away.

I have been away from home with my work for 2 days. Now, I am self-employed, and while a certain amount of my expenses are found, I still have to fund certain things. For example, I have to pay my own way to get there (I was working in Dorset) I have to provide my lunch and anything like cups of tea etc. I will however be given dinner and breakfast and accomodation.

This can often leave me slightly out of pocket, not the end of the world, but considering that I am away for work and not play, I feel like I don't really want to be spending my own hard earned and hard saved money.

The travel is something it is hard to get out of as I have to get there. However, I car pooled and the petrol cost just £20 per person. So far so good, only £20 out of pocket. Thursday morning saw me getting up very early and making a large amount of sandwiches for my lunch and a portion of flapjack to take with me, easy to store in tupperware and would easily stop me from getting hungry at any point.

It was quite fun to compare what I was spending with what my colleagues were spending, so while they stopped into a motorway service station to buy some very sad looking sandwiches, crisps, cake and drinks, I had my far superior sandwich sitting on the grass with some tap water brought from home and a piece of my flapjack. Couldn't help feeling a little bit smug at this point!

Arrived at destination and did a few hours work through the afternoon and then had an early dinner (provided) and then worked until about 22.15. One of my colleagues, (a particularly spend happy man) had bought a large bag of marks and spencer food that still had in it a sandwich, 3 packs of biscuits, chocolate. etc.
He decided to throw away the lancashire cheese and onion chutney sandwich because he wasn't going to eat it. I suggested he should save it til tomorrow, but he looked at me as thought I was quite mad and pointed out that it would be out of date by tomorrow. Now forgive me for asking, but what is there to go off in a lancashire cheese and chutney sandwich kept for 1 day?
So on his way to the bin I swooped in and said I would have it - great, Friday's lunch sorted.
Friday saw a very full days work, but while my work mates were buying cups of coffee (£2+ a time) I just made use of the kettle and brewed my own cup of tea to have with some of my flapjack.Cheese and chutney sandwich for lunch, while colleagues treated themselves to a bought lunch. Dinner, again, provided and then set off for home at about 22.00. Arriving back at home by 01.40. Now I never went hungry, far from it, never felt like I was denying myself and never felt like I needed to spend. Final bill for the two days away, £20 for the travel and nothing else. I imagine my colleagues had probably spent at least twice that, possibly more.

Interesting to note that my friend and colleague who I swiped the sandwich off also went to throw away a completely unopened packet of the marks and spencer biscuits which he never ate because he didn't want to take them home. They are now, obviously, happily sitting in my cupboard!

Isn't it strange how people will throw away perfectly edible food rather than save it for another day?

This next 3 months I am working away from home many many times and I am going to see if I can spend an absolute minimum (travel costs aside). Its all money I can put back into paying my own mortgage, when all said and done. Why should marks and spencer, starbucks, costa etc have it all?

Elderflower stockpile

Elderflowers are now pretty much finished here in the South of London. I am happy to have my nine 750ml bottles of home made elderflower cordial, and at a rough guess this cost me about £5 to make. The equivalent in Sainsburys is £2.88 for 500ml so the same amount of cordial bought there as I have made would come to £40.32. Meaning a saving of £35.32 and the peace of mind of knowing exactly what went into mine. I would probably have made more and experimented with Elderflower champagne, but anything I make now will have to be shifted when I move house, so I will save all of that for next years harvest.

It just shows how much money can be saved when you make something yourself. I enjoy cordials and would love to experiment with some other ones. I have only made the elderflower and also some lemon barley water. Anyone have any good cordial recipes to share, I would be very interested!

Cherry brandy,as delicious as it gets.

Last summer I made cherry brandy and it was one of those things that you try because you think it could be quite nice and make a nice gift and turns out to be way better than you could ever imagine. As cherry season is shortly here (my friends cherry tree is almost ready to be raided) I thought I would post the recipe for others to try. It is so delicious and one of the ways in which it is hugely better than bought cherry brandy (besides price and knowing what goes into it) is that you can also eat the cherries as a dessert in their own right, delicious with ice cream, cream or yoghurt.

Makes approx 750 ml (3 small preserving jars)


500g just ripe cherries

Approx 175 g caster sugar

Approx 350 ml brandy (the cheapest of the cheap will do)  Mine was this basics from Sainsbury which is £8.99 for 750 ml, although I just noticed the same thing is £8.59 in Tesco.

1) Carefully place the washed cherries in some wide necked preserving jars packing them in tightly without squashing or bruising. (I pricked mine with a needle first)

2) add enough sugar to fill one third of the jar and top up with alcohol (as a general guide use 1/4 - 1/3 sugar and 3/4 - 2/3 alcohol to fruit)

3) Tap the jar gently on a board, turn it to and fro to release any bubbles and seal. The sugar will gradually disolve- give the jar a chake or turn it upside down to help it disolve.

4) Store in a dark cool place for approx 12 weeks to mature before opening.

Well worth the small amount of effort and if you have a cherry tree then what a treat.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Change: A simple word, With a difficult meaning.

I will be honest, reader, I am feeling a little stressed. Not bad anxiety, but the sort that makes your stomach heave now and again, and makes you question everything. Now I have to admit that I have always been a fairly bad decision maker, but when the chips are down I will do it. Well, about 10 months ago I made a monumental decision, those of you who have read my first few entries will know that it was the decision to leave this huge, sprawling city and move to a more rural location 200 miles to the North where I only know a handful of people (very small handful). If you are reading this in America, then 200 miles doesn't probably sound like much at all, but within England, it feels a long way.

Yesterday my flat appeared on right and I eagerly looked upon it with the eyes of a buyer. It was about this time that the unexpected stress kicked in. It hit me what a monumental decision this is and how life changing it will be. Don't worry, this post is not going to end with me saying that I have changed my mind and that I now want to embrace a future of overcrowding, hideous long journeys to and from work standing in packed out trains and picking my way through the filth on the streets of (my part of town) suburban London. No, I have certainly not changed my mind, but at the same time, this city has been my home for the last 19 years and it hasn't been all bad. When I arrived as a student in 1992 I could (amazingly) afford to live in a nice ish part of town, now it is a mega expensive part of town and I have been forced to go further and further away. But I enjoyed my time, it was exciting, there were theatres, opera houses, bars that stayed open all night, men selling food on the street at 3 in the morning and for a young man who had come from a tiny town it was brilliant and exciting. I made good friends while I was studying, some of them remain true friends now still, all these years later, some on the other hand drifted away, as is the nature of relationship. A few years passed and in my mid to late 20's I found myself living in a horrible bedsit above a fried chicken shop in a horrendous suburb of the city, but it was all I could afford at the time. I sank lower and lower into a depression and it was a part of my life that I closed the door on and would not like to revisit. Yet, why was I in that position? - because London is not kind to the people that are employed, but poor. But life got better eventually and by my 30's I was on a fairly even keel, but the signs of discontent were there. I moved further out but the commute took its toll and I ended up moving back nearer in again, to my present flat. It is beautiful and peaceful here - yet it is only a 15 minute walk to that horrible, chicken shop flat of my nightmares. That is also the nature of this city, you can be in the most beautiful area, and 15 minutes walk later, you are in a place that makes you nervous to walk about in the dark. But still, like I say, one way or another, for better or for worse, this has been my home for 19 years.  My friends are all here, my life is here. heart is not.

So big decisions are good, we must conclude, even if you are pathologically bad decision maker like me. Changing your life for the better is great and can never be underestimated. And maybe, just maybe a bit of stress is good for you too, now and again, certainly when the results will bring you closer to your dream.

But I still feel nervous all the same.........

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A tale of the British tomato

I had a funny conversation with an Italian colleague today. It started as a discussion on tomatoes, Italian versus English. Obviously I love the Mediterranean fruit and veg, When you look at the tomatoes in the market stalls in South of France, Italy and Spain you get something very wonderful. big juicy tomatoes picked from the vine that morning, smelling of tomato and ripe and gorgeous. However I was saying that I always but British tomatoes in this country because of the lack of air-miles but also because the imported ones are not very good. Picked before they are ripe and  kept in cold stores. Also because we should support British tomato industry. She was having none of it.

However, I went on to say that nothing beat a home grown one, picked fresh and eaten while still warm from the sun. She waved her hands in a typical Italian gesture and exclaimed that it was far far too expensive to grow your own. This slightly flummoxed me. How can you possibly think that, I said. £1.50 for a pack of seeds, throw them in some dirt and nurture them. She seemed rather surprised that you could actually grow a tomato from seed. 'Oh' she said, 'I always thought that that you had to buy them as a plant'. She went on to say that 'Mummy, always said that it wasn't worth it, because by the time you had bought the plants, bought the compost and pots and PAID THE GARDENER TO DO IT, it was cheaper to go to the shop.'

Have we really lost touch with what the earth will provide us so much? I wonder if the human race has become so used to what the supermarkets tell us we need to do, need to eat and need to buy and convinced us of what we CAN'T do, that we are forgetting where good food actually comes from? Our relationship with the earth we grow things in is declining and people need a serious wake up. Has consumerism convinced us that we need to spend so much money, even on growing our own things, that we can't even do it for ourselves any more? I love my local garden centre, run by good honest people, but we have all seen the novelty watering cans that won't do the job well and the grow your own herbs that come in a can there. I can't blame them for making some honest money, but people seem to have lost the ability to even throw seeds in soil now.

I still can't say that I convinced this particular lady, brought up with a gardener, (if you can pay a gardener, surely you can afford some compost and seeds). But money simply can't buy me the satisfaction I get from picking my humble tomato off the plant that I have nurtured from seed and biting into it.