Friday 15 July 2016

Frugal Friday

Remember that frugal thing? Well we're still doing it. It's like I said a while back though - the more it becomes a way of life, the more it becomes difficult to think of things to say about it. It's just what we do. We have relaxed a wee bit on things as time has moved on - although we've always been inclined to "go out and do stuff" even within the constraints of paying off every penny we can against the mortgage - there has always been that quality of life balance, as we recognised from the start that while if you're in debt (by which I mean mortgage, credit cards, overdrafts or loans) then cutting back everything you can is a great way of dealing with it, there's also the risk you end up burning out and saying "sod it" too.

I dipped in to Cass's "Frugal Family" blog recently though, and her "50 ways you can save" post gave me an idea, so here I am, first time in a while for one of these on a Friday...

My "50 ways" are split into sections - centered around things we've done, and how we worked to make our money work as well as we could for those things. Even if you're not scratching around for every penny, we all work hard for our money so it's only right that we should make the most of it.

10 tips for Travel:
We live just a few miles from Stansted airport, so the temptation to whizz off for a long weekend is very much there. Our next trip is a couple of days in Dublin, and was actually a fairly last minute decision, not the best basis on which to keep costs down, but we still did our best!
- Book flights as early as you can, particularly with budget airlines
- Be flexible - our original plan was to hire a car for two days, however we were going to get no change from £65 for this. Instead we've bought travelpasses which should cover us for ALL our travel while we're there and have cost us E10 (no Euro symbol on this keyboard!) each. Bargain!
- Likewise, parking at Stansted was going to be pricey due to the short-notice - but we can park at our local station for the weekend for £5, and the train will cost us about £14 return.
- A hotel a short distance out can save you cash! If you're happy to spend 30 minutes on a bus, train or tram, you can be quids in, particularly in popular destinations
- for foreign trips, plan your spending. We've got one of Martin Lewis' ideal Credit Cards for overseas spending, so we'll be spending as much of what we need to as possible on that, and of course as ever it will be cleared off as soon as we get the bill. (It'll also earn us a little bit of cashback)
- Remember you'll need cash too - and work out how best to get it. Some credit/Debit cards allow you to withdraw free of charge, others make a charge, in which case you may be best to get your holiday money in advance. We'll also be raiding our roadkill pig to round up all the Euros that we've found in the street.
- online research is a lot cheaper than buying guidebooks for where you're going, and you often find snippets that the books miss, too.
- Similarly for general sightseeing info, older guidebooks bought from charity shops are still fine, just don't expect admission charges to places to be the same!
- If the place you're visiting has a great market then make use of it for food for an outdoor or hotel room picnic - it usually works out FAR cheaper than going out for a meal, and can taste every bit as good, or better!
- Pack light to save on baggage charges - I can do a weekend on hand luggage even when I need a full bag of camera gear by packing cleverly into the gaps around my kit, and stashing stuff into pockets. Remember also you can usually carry on an "airport shopping" bag - so a bottle of water bought airside means you can then load other stuff into that same bag.

10 tips to save at home:
- Monitor your electricity & gas use regularly - then if you see a sudden sharp spike you can work out what's caused it before it runs up a big bill
- set reminders on your phone to check you're on the best deal for utilities once a year or so
- Shop around for insurance renewals well in advance of the policies expiring - this reduces the temptation to just let them auto-renew.
- Hoovering regularly maintains carpets in good condition for longer, likewise, clean up spills as soon as they happen!
- Girls, when hair-washing, shampoo twice using just a 10p sized blob at most each time - first time concentrate on the roots, second time, the lengths. The first wash won't lather much, but that's fine, it's still cleaning! (Thanks to my lovely hairdresser friend Kate for this one!)
- putting your shampoo in a dispenser bottle not only looks nicer in your bathroom, but also means you're not so tempted to use too much
- When you think that toothpaste tube is empty, lay it on a flat surface and run your finger up from bottom to top to push up all the paste that's left in the tube
- Don't leave electrical items on standby unless you have to - things like your Sky Box will be a nuisance if you keep turning them off and on again, but TV's, radios and stereos can mostly go off at the switch to get rid of those power-sapping little red lights!
- If you're going away for more than a couple of days, think about what you can do to minimise power drain - the less electrical items left switched on, the safer your home in your absence, too!
- If you have an Economy7 meter, set timers to run things like your dishwasher, washing machine etc overnight (so long as it won't be antisocial to your neighbours to do so!), and use the thermostat on your hot water cylinder to heat that on the cheap rate, too

10 tips for shopping:
- The money mantra - Do I need it, will I use it, can I get it cheaper? - before you buy
- If you decide to buy it, can you go through a cashback site to earn a little something back?
- Look on the High Street, but if they won't price-match to online, don't hesitate to walk away, on big ticket items in particular
- For new electrical appliances, remember to check their energy usage - our new shower costs far less to run than the old one, which has covered the cost of running the new extractor and the heated towel rail
- Cashback credit cards - while they're not as lucrative as they were a couple of years ago, they ARE still out there. Just use them for purchases you'd make anyway, and pay off in full at the end of each month
- one for the photographers - there are a LOT of sites out there selling really good quality, well looked after second hand gear, the likes of MPB Photographic and CameraWorld also offer part-ex deals on the items you're replacing!
- Another one for the photographers - if you're set on buying new for a particular item, there is a cracking dedicated comparison site so you can see where the best UK deals can be had - check out
- A lot of us having things we buy regularly, from habit - but it's those costs that can mount up. A £2.30 latte every working day on your way to the office? That's a cool £500 over a year - now think what you could do with that amount of money.
- For food shopping, write a list, not only does it mean you don't forget things, it also means you get round the store faster as you don't have to keep backtracking!
- Apps/websites like MySupermarket are great if you have the option to shop at several different supermarkets - work out where is cheapest for which items and plan accordingly!

In the kitchen:
- batch cook and never use the oven for just one item!
- If your oven is electric, and your microwave has a combi/convection setting, it'll almost certainly be cheaper to use the micro than heating the main oven.
- Stock-take your fridge regularly to avoid waste
- Remember - slightly over-ripe fruit and some yogurt = a delicious (and expensive to buy) smoothie! Sometimes leftovers can be a delicious treat!
- If you're making a curry, bolognese, stew or chilli, always consider padding it out to make an additional portion or two which can be frozen as a "home made" ready meal.
- a packet of gnocchi in the larder, butter in the fridge and some fresh herbs in pots outside, can help avoid the temptation of a trip to the takeaway because you've got "nothing in for dinner!"
- plan your meals to use up anything you have left over from the previous week
- PLAN YOUR MEALS!! (Seriously, even a rough plan of meals you enjoy and some basic ingredients always to hand can make all the difference)
- keep the kitchen tidy and stay on top of washing up - if it's a nice environment, and you don't have to "clear the decks" before you can do anything, you'll be far more inclined to cook in it - that equals less impromptu takeaways!
- If you can afford it, and enjoy it, plan in a takeaway every so often - this journey is NOT about depriving yourself of everything fun. BUT, give thought to what takeaways you really love, and what you could create at home for just-as-good results - for us it's fish & chips, chip-shop ones are incomparable!

10 tips to boost your savings:
- If you see money on the floor, pick it up. There's no shame in it and it's NOT beneath you. If someone else doesn't want it, you may as well have it!
- When you log in to check your online banking, take any odd pennies from the balance of your current account(s) and transfer them to a dedicated savings account - not enough each time to notice, but it does mount up! At the end of a year use the money for something lovely.
- Each time you manage to make a saving on a utility bill, so your monthly Direct Debit amount drops, set a bank-transfer to send the saving into a savings account. As you make further savings, increase the amount of the transfer accordingly. We currently have £96 a month going to savings just from having done this for a few years!
- Work out a monthly budget and stick to it - if you should have money left over at the end of the month, but you don't, keep a spending diary to work out why!
- Budget to save if you possibly can - if you should have money spare at the end of the month then budget to move it straight to savings before you're tempted to spend it!
- Check what savings accounts your bank offers for day to day savings, but be prepared to look further afield for larger amounts. In any event it makes sense to get the best interest you can. Nationwide currently offers a regular saver account which pays 5% for its first 12 months
- If you use an ISA, keep your eye on its interest rate - rates have dropped across the board since the Personal Savings Allowance was brought in but there are still deals to be had.
- If your current account pays interest, learn when it arrives and as soon as it has, transfer it to savings.
- Pigs rule, OK! Piggy Banks are the coolest thing - so drag that small change out of your purse, wallet or pocket, and go feed a pig!
- If you use TopCashBack or Quidco, and get your cashback paid by BACS, transfer it straight to savings as soon as it hits your account so you see a benefit from your savvy shopping, ratyher than it just getting frittered away!

All of the above are tried and tested by us - I'm not a fan of putting stuff in here that we can't be pretty sure works. Yes there's merits in looking at changing bank, and getting a cash incentive to do so, but we've been with our current account provider for, well, forever, actually, in my case, and we love their customer service and that they are a building society, not a bank. They do accounts that suits us. We have a branch in town where we can see someone if we need to. So we won't be changing, no matter how much cash someone wants to give us. Yes we could get TV, Phone & Broadband cheaper than Sky, but they give us the service we want, for a price we can afford (with regular haggling!) so I won't be urging you to change there, either. A lot of this money saving lark is about finding what works for you, and not being over-influenced by other people's accounts of living on dry bread and water, wearing all your clothes rather than heating the house, and having a cold shower just once a week to save on heating the water. Between you and me, most of them probably aren't practising what they preach, anyway! ;-)


Wednesday 6 July 2016

Who cares...? (And who cares if they don't)

I posted a while ago that I was struggling with what to put here these days. With the time to put anything at all. and although I've posted a few times since, that remains unchanged - I've still been wrangling in my head with the same old "nobody's interested" thoughts - which is why THIS POST from Jen over at My Make and Mend Life really struck a chord with me yesterday. Her phrase about comparing other people's beautiful outsides with her own scrunched up insides especially - that makes SO much sense!

It's easy to lose sight of the fact that, online, what you see of a person is what they present to you, what they want you to see. That person who's so upbeat, so cheerful, so damned GOOD at everything they turn their hands to - in real life might possibly be full of gloom and not achieving half what they sound as though they are - it's just that the bits they show you make it all look shiny. Remember "Friends Reunited"? Remember how utterly implausible it was that everyone you'd been at school with had ALL landed these high-powered impressive sounding jobs, and how it made you feel ever so slightly like perhaps YOU should have done that, too? Well here's the thing - I bet you anything you like the majority either didn't have the job they were leading you to believe that they did, (case in point, the lass who I was at school with who I knew full well was working on a florist's stall at the station - suffice to say that was NOT what her FR profile claimed she was doing!). It's not all about people trying to "big themselves up" though - sometimes it's the way we read what people have written, the way we interpret it. Sometimes it's the very fact that we compare ourselves to others, and to how they're making their lives sound, without sparing a thought for whether that life would make US happy, or whether it would be a form of torture for us.

Blogging is a funny old thing, and I realised recently that the thing I've lost sight of comes back directly to the way I am about things in real life. I said to a friend recently that my default setting is to always assume that people won't want to hear from me. I'm rubbish at suggesting phone calls with pals, for this very reason - there's a bit of me that always thinks "they'll make an excuse, they won't want to chat with me, they'll have more interesting folk to speak/spend time with" - it always surprises me when someone suggests a phone call for a natter, in fact, it AMAZES me. If I don't phone you, it's not that I don't want to speak to you, it's that I assume that YOU won't want to speak with ME!  I hesitate to tell people when I consider them a good, or close friend, because I'm always wary of the fact that they'll be embarrassed because they don't feel the same - that to them I'm nothing more than an acquaintance. I'm reluctant, a lot of the time, to suggest to friends that we go places, or do things, for the same reason - I assume that while they might well want to go to those places, or do those things, they won't want to do it with me, and will then feel awkward about refusing.

I have a friend - yes, I'll go as far as to say a good friend - whose "default setting" when stressed, or busy, or unhappy about something, is to shut themselves away from the wider world. I know they will be keeping in contact with the people who are absolutely central to their everyday life - partner and parents - but beyond that, radio silence. I've spent years feeling each time this happens that it's their subtle way of telling me that they don't want to be in touch any more, but they're uncomfortable with actually telling me that, and only recently have I realised that actually, it's just their coping mechanism when things are tough, and that the best thing for me to do is to be there - to drop a text every now and again, a tag on social media with something of interest to them - just little things to let them know that I'm still here, still on their side. And as and when things settle down for them, we'll be back to normal. I don't like it, but it's part of that person, part of the way they are, and while when they're quiet I miss them like mad, ultimately, it's not a reflection on me, it's just the way things are.

Confidence can be such an issue for so many people - and we should all remember that the person we see who appears to be absolutely super-confident may actually be anything but. I started blogging in the first place not because I thought anyone would want to read, or to look at the pictures I posted, but for me, as a record of things we'd done, places we'd been, small triumphs, that sort of thing, and I'd really like to get back to doing it for that reason. I actually like looking back on my blog posts, I can get lost for ages in stuff I've written before, and so often that reminds me of things I used to enjoy but I've lost sight of. So I guess the bottom line is who cares if anyone else wants to read my ramblings. If I can look back on them in a few years and think "Oh yes!" then that's as good a reason for carrying on, as any.


Tuesday 5 July 2016

It's started!

Yep, we're flat out into the Airshow season now and once again I've been out and about round the shows watching those whizzy Little Red Jets doing their thing. No big plans this year (2014 was simply to see as many Reds displays as possible in the course of the year, last year was to see them in England, N. Ireland, Scotland & Wales all in the space of the one season) aside from just to get out and about with the gang as much as we can and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Somewhere along the line there does seem to be a plan to see the boys outside of the UK for the first time (Republic of Ireland, since you asked) and I'm toying with another "display on an Island" too - but that's a work in progress at the moment. ;-)

So far I've done Shuttleworth (sunny, glorious)...

...before our Hebrides holiday interrupted proceedings. Once back it was onto the first Torbay Airshow held in Paignton in June - the weather was mixed but it was a fantastic weekend and the organisers should be rightly proud of themselves. None of the rest of the gang could make it down that far but I had a hilarious weekend with the Reds PR team, regardless. The weekend afterwards saw me make a solo trip down to Folkestone - but a wasted trip also as the weather intervened, the boys were weatherbound at their operating base and unable to get to us. The next day - back with Claire, Tom & Ant and back to Weston-Super-Mare for a day - this one's become a firm favourite of ours over the past few years so this year we decided to try a different viewpoint...

...not the best of days weather-wise again - but that view down on the display made up for that. The following day was Cosford, which once again came with grey skies and rain showers - I'm sure one year we'll get lovely weather for this one but it wasn't to be this year. It's still good though as we get to meet up with some more far-flung members of the gang including Colin, Layna and their gorgeous lad Logan, as well as lovely Aunty Di - it's the social side of the airshows that's as much fun as the flying, in fairness!

The weekend after was the National Armed Forced Day event in Cleethorpes - so Claire, Tom and I piled into Claire's long-suffering Corsa and headed off there - and a thoroughly enjoyable event it was. Although not an "airshow" as such we still got the Reds, Chinook, BBMF and lots of parachutes, and some decent weather to see them all by, also, so we were happy enough with that!

Most recently of all last weekend I joined Anthony for a day at the Yeovilton Air Day - this was one we went to last year but due to a variety of reasons I really didn't enjoy much, but in fairness to it I was well aware it was me, rather than the event itself, hence when Ant asked I said yes to doing it again. I was glad I had too as it felt totally different this year - we arrived earlier and so were able to get a spot at the front (a big deal when, like me, you're 5'1"!) and had a lovely day with THE most fabulously dramatic skies at times...

Next up is Airtattoo at Fairford - three days of wall to wall flying action and more importantly for me, the Reds jets on the ground too so I will be concentrating on my groundshots of the engineers a lot of the time. Look out for the #CircusAtWork hashtag on Twitter (@EssexHebridean) & Instagram (@Robyn_PF) to see those. Looking forward to catching up with a few old friends and getting to know some of the new guys also. We've got the debut of the new F35B fighter there too which will be good - it'll be doing some flypasts with the Reds too which will be good to see.