Sunday, 29 June 2014

Are You in a Flap, Jack?

I was sent the following graphic by Vouchercloud (they've not sponsored me), which I first saw discussed on A Frugal Wife's blog. James Cook of Vouchercloud explained to me, "Basically, because we are a money saving site the main concern of our users is the cost of everyday items and the impact that this has on their lives. We therefore thought it would be a good idea to do some in-depth research into how the cost of living has changed and in particular, how expensive everyday living is now compared to the past. Crucially, we wanted to present the findings in actual adjusted figured (hence the adjusted for inflation) so people are not given a distorted view."

You may have seen this before, but I think it gives some pause for thought. As does this article which I saw shared recently - Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek).  I think if you are going to spend your hard-earned cash, be it frivolously  or frugally, then it makes sense not to play blithely into the hands of the megabucks companies who just want your money. OH said this article made him think twice about buying a coffee from a well-known chain at work the other day, instead of having the free stuff in his office. But then, his second thought was I want a nice coffee. Doh!

Plus, I think as our spending patterns change, it becomes easy to forget the cumulative effect of accumulation. It used to be easy to think, I'm not buying x, because that's the equivalent of y hours work, where y = a scary figure (think the silhouette of Michael Gove in a darkened room, suddenly lit from beneath the face with winking green fairy lights. Scary!). I'll never throw away the gothic velvet coat I bought in the year 2000, which cost £100 at the time and remains damn sexy (yeah, reconcile Sisters of Mercy with the Pulp song now playing in your mind. Mash up!). From my experiences in charity shops lately, people are less likely to cling long term to their throwaway £2 Primani dust-rags (and those charity shops will continue pricing 'Atmosphere' labels the same as 'Per Una', which must mean they think the wine stains and body odour add designer value. "This blouse whiffs like an offensive drunk - mark it down as a John Galliano.").

But as the cost of the essentials keeps rising, how many of us are struggling because of buying cheap little bits of crap we don't really need to make ourselves feel better? Me! I've been guilty of splurging on posh flapjacks to give myself a mid-morning boost. I don't need them; lately, I'm carrying the sort of pud that can get hard-nosed Londoners to give up their seats for me on the tube. Now, that's not good.

Would you spend £150 on flapjacks? At recent rates, that would be my annual equivalent.

Flapjack - not Twinkie! Duh!

And being mid-declutter has reminded us that we have too much. Someone else might be able to use it though, so we've signed up to Freecycle. Incidentally, isn't it disheartening when you begin a declutter and immediately everything looks much, much worse?

Awesome comic by Kerry Callen - see the rest of Batman's sorry tale here.

Also, it may not be the pennies you are wasting. What about time? An interesting life-coach article by Nina Grunfeldon in the current issue of Mslexia talks about how you might use the stones in a jar metaphor to look at your reasons for not doing what you want. If you fill your jar with stones, then fill the gaps with gravel, fill the spaces remaining with sand, and then, finally, top up with water, you get a very full jar (incidentally, this is not an idea for an alternative homemade present to give Josh Widdecombe instead of jam).
Try filling the jar up the other way, and the stones won't fit. The stones are your goals, gravel is the unavoidable tasks like sleeping and eating, the sand is the admin stuff you really should do (like going shopping and sorting out bills) and the water all the other crap (like wasting time on Facebook or answering someone's email;their priority, not yours). You can see how prioritizing rubbish leads to you not doing the thing you wanted to do.

I think the money/time thing ties together. We feel crap because we work long hours. We have a flapjack so the blood sugar spikes make things interesting for a bit. We crash and are tired and not so productive. We fall asleep on the bus home instead of reading the book we wanted to read and wake up at the station with a sore neck and dribble down our fronts. We feel we need to put the TV on as soon as we get home, just until we've relaxed a bit. Celebrity Masterchef suddenly becomes compelling and you watch the series so far on catch-up even though no one knows how to cook. Our eyes glaze like the icing on a school bun, slightly watery. We realize it's midnight. We haven't written our magnificent octopus; we haven't gone for a run; we go to bed depressed. We wake up having had too little sleep to cope with the day; we buy a flapjack to cheer ourselves up.

I'm saying we because I'm speaking of universal experience. But I realize it's just me who experiences the flapjack-bus-Masterchef cycle. But replace with any confection/drug/vice/distraction you like.

So, July is going to be a focus on my stones month. And not just my kidney ones.

Anyway, cheer up. Here's your graphic.

Being British: Are Your Costs Escalating - An infographic by the team at vouchercloud

Embed Being British: Are Your Costs Escalating on Your Site: Copy and Paste the Code Below

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Fame, Fame, Fatal Fame

Tuesday lunchtime, I got interviewed for the Helen Blaby's show (Follow the link to listen again about 37 minutes in). Helen was interested in what bargains could be had round and about and I happily chatted away.

Then Helen asked me what the best bargain I'd had was - ever.

All I could think of was chocolates and turkey. Could you tell it was lunchtime?! Were these the best bargains I'd ever had?

Why didn't I tell her about my gorgeous £35 wedding dress?

.. or how about that I was only charged labour costs for the jewel bouquet due to the generosity  of my friends collecting pieces for me. My purple chiffon - £2 from the market and pressie feathers from another friend.

As I write, I'm wearing a very sunny dress (given to me for nowt by my friend the stunning and amazing comedian Leanne McKie - she's given me loads of clothes, lovely lady) and some bargain £20 DM dolly shoes from the factory outlet shop in Wollaston, saving probably £40 on the full price. Similar outfit to here in fact (only I am a squidge slimmer now). Most of my wardrobe is from the chazzas.

Then there was the stunning break I arranged to propose to OH in an Elizabethan manor house (because he's a sucker for romance), with afternoon tea, a ghost walk around Stratford upon Avon in the evening, a few hours in the spa and pool and a trip to Warwick Castle (including the tower) the next day? Thanks to Top Secret Rooms, buy one get one free ticket from collecting crisp packets and a perusal of the local 'what's on' site, I bagged all this and the man for £88.


How about all those fabulous trips to the theatre over the last year for between nowt and a tenner for me and OH? And how about paying NOTHING to go and see X-Men First Class and Anchorman 2 at the Picturedrome, NOTHING to go see The World's End at Cineworld (with chocolate wrappers) and just £3.50 for the pair of us to go see The Lego Movie on the Kids' Sunday Matinee (incidentally, it's awesome, very funny).

Some of the cool stuff to be had out there for little or nowt is for everyone and anyone to find. I would say, only take advantage of the stuff you know you will appreciate if it's a material object, there's a limited quantity, or if there's a cost. But if you're talking about a thing to experience, potentially a good memory for the future, why be a stick in the mud? Just go for it!

Speaking of which, here are some from this weekend. I went to see my university friends in Southampton. After we bid goodbye, I tried to get back to the train station. I got stupendously lost, but hey, Southampton has some cool historical stuff dotted about the city centre, from sections of the old city wall and castle, to the elaborate gate, gun dock, and a memorial to citizens who died in a terrible fire in the 1830s. Good exercise, taking in the sights. Also good for clearing hangovers. not that I get such things...

Big gate thing

Great Fire Memorial - or recycled church, if you will.

Castle gate, with gun docks

What was not so good for a hangover was the continued session that resulted from going to Northampton Music Festival the following day.

The festival site was the whole town

Surprised to see Avril Lavigne get such a low billing... perhaps that's why she didn't show. Maybe it was the shame from that awful Hello Kitty thing.
The view from the beer garden - which could be the title of a future biography, I like to think.

Two-string shoebox guitar and tea-chest combo at All Saints - I think this was Kenneth J Nash.

I believe this was Hannah Graham at BBC (Black Bottomed Club - Northampton College) stage, not Avril Lavigne.

These guys were pretty good - I think they were The Celebrities.

Brighton beach? No! It's the Summer Terrace at NN Cafe

King's Gambit - I'd always wondered what they sounded like. Folksy gutsy music. Very good.

Alan Lynn of NN Cafe creates a masterpiece of a salad with turkey, pear and blueberries.

Whilst many band members looked like extras from Mumford and Sons, the keyboardist of Sean Grant and the Wolfgang resembled Sherlock's arch villain Jim Moriarty.

Cousin Avi. A bit Jamiroquai/Maroon 5. Not really my thing, but the crowd loved them. Well, we can't all like Mumford and Sons, can we?
What an awesome weekend - prepare for repeat at the Northampton Food Festival on 4th and 5th July - free, with free tasters and voucher giveaways for local restaurants and shops. I hope there's some left on Saturday as that's the only day I can make it down.

Food-wise, I've been very lucky lady. Vouchers found on have got me a free Danio yoghurt, and a free sushi roll this week.

Taken on the bus. It's okay, I had the duck.
And I was lucky to get free tickets and a lift to the Good Food show last weekend, where I picked up some bargains and free goodies. Just like the shops, if you go round on the last hour on Sunday to make your purchases, the stall holders throw in some extras or make things even cheaper.

We had free Super Theatre tickets to see Tom Kerridge and Michael Caines.

Great displays in the Garden Show

This was part of an RHS garden commemorating the First World War.


My nephew, taking part in a free craft session to make a candle from real beeswax.

The haul! Mostly freebies. Total spend £7.60. The bag contains 2 fresh kippers for £1.60. Awesome.
Other freebies I've had this week include 2 free style magazines (I know, I'm stylish enough, right?), one for filling in a survey online, another was just left on a bus as litter. I'm not proud. I finished the free book I had from Galaxy chocolate - Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn - and it was really good, I  recommend it. A nice blend of self-harming Southern Gothic, freaky families and a murder mystery to boot. Think Tim Burton does The Killing.

So, anyway, in this blog, which is essentially an exercise in over-sharing, it seems I am perhaps not sharing enough. You may be here looking for advice in grabbing bargains, but reading about what I have managed to find after the fact may be as useful to you as extra dentures would be to Luis Suarez. Even though I do hunt down more bargains than Tim Wonnacott (what do you mean "who"? The antiques fella. No, not the orange one, the one who dresses like Peter Davidson era Doctor Who), I am pro-mimalist spending; pro-local industries, pro high-street, pro-ethical shopping and all for paying the creator their due. These things do not always go hand in hand with being a bargainista.

Ah well, I can but try.

Sunday, 1 June 2014


 Today I feel pretty awesome. I worked hard and this is my reward.

I mean, I've been working hard in the garden and this is what I've managed to achieve from the wild woodland I had a few weeks ago.

Seedlings in an improvised cold frame, made from a broken brick barbecue
The barbecue grill protects newly planted seedlings in this old Belfast sink from the cats. The slate round the lavender is also an anti-cat device. Bloody cats.

Hazel sticks up-cycled from an old house decoration make a wigwam for beans and a frame for netting from Poundland to protect strawberry plants. A free CD from a newspaper with some Toni Braxton and other mushy stuff on it makes a bird-startler. Hopefully netting over the newly planted courgettes will deter the cats.

Yes, the lawn is mostly dirt and weeds, but at least it's tidy. Just got to keep on top of attack from cats, slugs and the neighbour's rather bouncy German Shepherd.

This weekend, we went to London for the British leg of the ITU World Triathlon Championships. We budgeted for this, so we could relax. That budget was tested a bit in some rather nice bars a friend introduced us to, but hey, an excellent time was had by all.

And here's for the treats money could but didn't buy...

Okay, we had grandstand seats this time, but anyone can go to Hyde park to see the triathlon. It's free!
See the swimming...

the cycling...

the running!

And here's the girls on their bikes - awesome stuff!

My new hero is the USA's Gwen Jorgensen, who powered ahead of her nearest rivals with a very convincing win. Here she is completing the run, with absolutely no one else in sight. British contender Jodie Stimpson was in the lead for the whole series until this point, but that honour is Jorgensen's now too.

 Both races were great to watch, but the women's race had that awesome win by Gwen Jorgensen... no one else could touch her! Of course we were rooting for Lucy Hall, Jodie Stimpson, Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins. It was such an exciting race.

For the men's race, it was fantastic to see both the Brownlee brothers racing, and Alistair was in the lead until the final kilometre. Unfortunately, he couldn't keep up the pace and the Brownlees finished with Alistair 4th and Jonathan 5th. Winner was Spanish triathlete, Mario Mola. After the race we were lucky to meet him and he signed free t-shirts for us. AWESOME!!!!!
He's lovely!

 We also liked these giant triathlete sculpture in Hyde Park. We didn't spot a cycling one, but there probably was one...

Mind, I am a bit annoyed that some newspapers have only written about the men's race. What's that about, The Guardian? Triathlon fans don't make that distinction between genders - I mean, for longer distances, both men and women set out together, and though the men usually finish first, when Chrissie Wellington was competing, she only got beaten by one bloke at Alpe D'huez. One!

Watch how awesome Jorgensen's win was here.

 Other fabulous stuff this week that was/is free:
  • Doughnuts. We've twice been given doughnuts at work as a bit of a morale boost. Oh my the raspberry-iced Krispy Kreme one was lush!
  • The Betrayal: I listened to the abridged version of Helen Dunmore's novel set in Stalinist Russia. It's available for over a year on demand. Follow the link to listen yourself.
  • Romance and Adventure: Comedian Josie Long has put her show online for free, and it's really good. Follow the link to watch for yourself. OH and I watched and enjoyed this in the week with a cheeky glass of wine.
  • Heavy Entertainment: OH and I are off to see Nick Helm's Heavy Entertainment series being recorded next week and we're really looking forward to it. The pilot show is still available on BBC iplayer on demand, so you can see what we're in for. We think he's awesome. You're welcome!
  • Free e-book: OH bought a bar of chocolate last week which had a code for a free e-book I've chosen Sharp Objects, the debut novel by Gillian Flynn. Looking forward to reading it.  I've not missed out on the chocolate, as I've ended up with a free Mars voucher from a winning wrapper, too.