Archives for category: friends

My latest financial splurge has probably been the most sensible expense I’ve ever had. Night school.

At the end of September I embarked on (part time) student life, spending Tuesday and Wednesday evening in Illustration class & Figure Drawing class (after parting with £420 of tuition fees and £80 for art supplies- ouch!).

However, I truly believe that this is the best £500 I ever spent. The courses are 11 weeks long and cost £200 and £220 respectively. Each class is 2 and a half hours long so I really feel I’m getting my moneys worth

I have had something really fun to focus on, and have generated lots of work for my portfolio (more on than another time!).

I’m fortunate that my employers encourage learning and offer subsidies to those who wish to study, even if it’s not directly related to work, so I can claim 50% back on completion of the course (to the value of £250 per year).

Another great discovery for me was the ILA (Individual Learning Account), available to low earners residing in Scotland (terms are at http://www.ilascotland.org.uk/What+is+ILA+Scotland/Eligibility.htm ).

The purpose of an ILA is to provide up to £200 per year for a variety of courses, or £500 for a course towards a higher education or professional qualification. ILAs are available for people with an income of £22,000 a year or less, or those who are receiving benefits. Sadly it is no longer available to those living in other areas of the UK – sorry guys!

Fortunately or unfortunately, my annual pay falls into this lower category (hence, the need to budget) so it looks like I qualify for this kind of grant, which is fantastic news as I am already planning to book the next term!

Is there something you’ve been thinking of studying? Whether you fancy brushing up on your IT skills, or maybe baking cakes is more your bag, it might be worth looking into what funding opportunities are available to you. Maybe your employer would help fund a course? Particularly if it is beneficial to the company you work for.

Learning can really lift your spirits, and in these time of recession, I think we could all do with a little pick me up! For me, these courses fit into my grand plan, and sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money, right?

I’m now into my fourth week of feeling unwell and, although the sore throat (which turned out to be tonsillitis- ouch!) has subsided, I am still well & truly under the weather.

That said, I’m conscious that I have still to share the next instalment(s) of my comparative noodle eating. So, here goes.

My second noodle was one of these lesser known brands called Shanghai Garden. I opted for the chicken flavour, although curry flavour was also available. They are the second cheapest from my Tesco shopping list at just 18 pence.

Again, I followed the instructions to the letter and noticed that this brand required a lot more water, 300 ml rather than just 200 ml for the Tesco value range. Then I realised that you actually get quite a lot more in the packet – 108 grams versus only 65 grams on the Tesco Value noodles!

After waiting a moment or two for the cogs in my brain to turn, I worked out that the Shanghai Garden noodles are (only a little bit) cheaper than the Tesco Value noodles when priced per gram. They also taste better and the consistency is more pleasing. Okay, there’s not a huge amount in it, but if you were on a tight budget (let’s face it, most of us are!), then you could actually stretch this to two meals, or to feed two people as suggested in the instructions.

The following day, I opted for the Tesco standard brand noodle (for those who shop elsewhere or who live outside the UK, there’s Tesco Value, Tesco, and Tesco Finest, although they don’t seem to make any Finest instant noodles!).

Knowing what to look for following my previous tests, I noted these were 85 grams and cost 28 pence. The price per gram is almost double that of the previous two, so the expectations rose a little. Alas, the expectations were not met; the noodles were fine, the flavour and consistency were okay, but for the price, I wouldn’t bother.

So far, the Shanghai Garden noodles are the cheapest, most flavoursome and the noodle with the best consistency. I still have the premium brand SuperNoodles to try, but I’m a little noodled out just now, so I’ll have to get back to you!

Yes it’s true. I left school 11 years ago and set off for Art School. A year later I dropped out as I wasn’t happy. I guess I took longer to ‘find myself’ than some of my peers.

Since then, I’ve probably found myself several times over: trained in Graphic Design at a vocational college, landed a job as a junior designer, quit job as a junior designer due to lack of progression in a small company, worked in retail, been promoted to manager, stepped down, and now I’m working as a sales person.

Anyone who has worked in retail will appreciate that it’s not the most rewarding job. In fact, at times, it’s downright insulting! I’m an intelligent girl, but I’m flighty. So guess what? I’m at a careers crossroad again.

I’ve flirted (a lot) with the idea of beauty school or teaching. I’m pretty set on the latter, so tomorrow, I’m going to school. I have a friend who works in the local high school and has kindly agreed to allow me to shadow her and sit in on her classes. Eeeekkk!!!

I haven’t stepped foot in a school since the start of the millennium (class of 2000 y’all!). So I’m pretty nervous, but also bubbling with excitement. Before you say it though, I am well aware of the shortage of teaching jobs at the moment, but think I may have a plan (top secret, y’know).

My budgeting efforts will have to (at least) double as I head into 4 years of full time education. Bring on the beans on toast!

The steps at The Mound

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is coming to a close and I can’t help but feel I’ve missed out a bit this year. The Fringe festivities are on for almost a full month, but sometimes it’s tricky to get round to it of it unless you plan ahead.

As you may know from my previous post, I had a week off last week. However, I ventured off camping instead of spending time with my beloved city, Edinburgh. So on Sunday my husband, Chris, and I decided to make a day of it. We took the car in to make the most of the free parking available in the city, and to give us more flexibility. As we had nothing planned (and because I’m saving the pennies!), we headed straight for the Half Price Hut at the bottom of The Mound.

We gazed at the screens listing the many shows that had become available at 50% off until something took our fancy. Any of you who have been to the Festival before will know that there are some great shows available, but there are also a whole lot of duds too, so it can be difficult to select a good’un when there are so many to choose from.

We eventually purchased tickets for a show called Korean Drum for only £7.50 each, rather than the usual £15 price tag. We had a few hours to kill before the show started so we headed off for some lunch, walking past the Royal Mile on the way. If you want to truly experience the festival, a visit to the Royal Mile is a must. It’s full of colourful characters, street performers and stalls, and best of all, it’s free!

Edinburgh Festival: Looking down the Royal Mile

We arrived at Red Box Noodle Bar for a late lunch. We’ve been there a couple of times before, it’s great value at only £5.30 for a very generous portion of noodles, served in cool American style boxes (here in the UK, noodles are usually served in plastic tubs, like disposable Tupperware, so these boxes hold the novelty factor!). There is a choice of noodle (egg, rice, udon, ramen, etc) and ingredients. I ordered chicken satay udon and Chris ordered Thai red curry beef ramen. Yum!

Oodles of Noodles

We hurried our full tummies along to the show. I usually choose shows in the Dance & Physical Theatre section of the Fringe Guide, whilst Chris prefers music or comedy. This show was a great combination of music and dance. The performers were extremely energetic, but also showed amazing levels of precision, which certainly impressed the audience. Suitably entertained, we headed off to meet a friend for a drink at the East End. We stopped in at the Omni Centre, which I would say is probably best avoided during festival time as it was so quiet and lacking in atmosphere compared to venues in and around the Old Town.

It was a great taste of the festival though, if only for one day. Next year I’ll plan ahead… Honest.

I’m back! I’ve been off on annual leave from work for my 29th birthday, and despite my intentions to increase the frequency of my posts, this is actually my first post in over 10 days! Poor show, I apologise.

I had a great week off including a wee night out on the town with friends. I managed to blag my way into a club for free, just because it was my birthday (hey, it’s worth asking!), and also managed to charm my lovely husband into picking me up (taxi fare would be around £40, kerrching!).

I was pleased to see a bit of sunshine on my actual birthday (Monday), which I enjoyed on the beach at Burntisland, Fife.

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Mid week I headed south with one of my sisters and her 3-year-old daughter for a camping trip. We had a great couple of days visiting Alnwick Castle & Gardens and Lindisfarne. Entry to the castle & gardens was the greatest extravagance at £22 per adult (eek!) but only a penny for kids under 5 (phew!). Visiting Alnwick is really best done on a nice day as the gardens are a great attraction and the castle is just as amazing outside (if not more so), than inside.

The castle is the setting for some of the scenes of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. As an avid Harry Potter fan, this was the most exciting part of the trip for me. I spent the most part of the visit buzzing around searching for parts of the castle that resembled scenes from the film.

Older kids can take part in Harry Potter inspired ‘flying lessons’, which seemed to involve racing brooms hobby-horse style. Then there’s Knights Quest, where children can dress up as knights and maidens and make magic wands, coats of arms and clay tiles. These activities are included in the admission price for the castle, so they’re worth doing to get the most out of your money.

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We ventured into Alnwick town in search of somewhere to eat (ideally fish & chips!). We stumbled upon a little Italian called Caffe Tirreno. It was reassuringly busy and looked child friendly, and the prices on the menu in the window were very appealing. Two 11″ pizzas, two soft drinks and a slice of chocolate fudge cake (happy birthday to me!), all for just just £20.50. Bargain! On the way back we did pass Carlo’s Fish & Chips, which also looked very inviting.

The following day we drove over Lindisfarne Causeway to Holy Island. The island itself is very picturesque with an interesting history too. Unfortunately, my 3-year-old niece wasn’t interested in history so we took a stroll around the village, along to the grounds of the castle, where she enjoyed rolling down hills, and to the coast, where we searched for crabs in rock pools.

We camped at the Barn at Beal, which is also a cafe and visitors centre. They have a small area for tents near the entrance. It was great value at only £9 per night for all three of us. The only down side was that there was only one male and one female shower which each had a toilet in the cubicle. This meant that if someone was using the shower, then the toilet was not accessible for anyone else to use. That aside, it was great value for money, and I would probably stay there again, rather than paying the £20+ that some other campsites in the area were charging. Also on site is a birds of prey centre. We didn’t have time to go, but other kids on the campsite seemed to have enjoyed it.

I’ve also been enjoying the Edinburgh Festival this week, but I’ll have to leave that for my next post.

Like most people in the UK, I’ve been reflecting on the riots that broke out in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Salford, and the many other acts of violence and vandalism in many other British cities and towns over the last week. I’m still feeling a sense of disbelief; how can this possibly have happened in the UK?

I wasn’t directly effected, living in Scotland, where, for once, we are considered to be the civilised ones! I have spent a lot of time in London though (a long-distance relationship in my late teens had me there every other weekend) and every time I visit, my heart swells a little bit with excitement and, perhaps pride is the word, or love for the city. What I mean to say, is that I feel connected. My parents grew up in South East England, and made their marital home in Ealing, where my oldest sister was born.

I wasn’t just a tourist type when I visited either. My visits to London in my younger years included time spent in Brixton, Streatham, Clapham (one of my sisters lived there for a while), Peckham, Elephant & Castle, Croydon… Most of these places have been struck by violence from a so-called lost generation.

The happenings over the past few days have really got me thinking. There is a complete a lack of community in Britain today. Young people feel isolated, whilst some older generations feel threatened. There doesn’t seem to be a solution.

Today’s youth have grown up in a society that is obsessed with consumerism. A teenager without a laptop, mobile phone or games console is practically unheard of. So is it so surprising that so many people seized the opportunity to get something for nothing? Articles in several newspapers and on blogs have all pointed out that, in some ways, the greedy youths looting all over England parallel the MPs claiming excessive sums of money to kit out their homes. Great example? Why should the already wealthy MPs be have these sums of money covered by the government, whilst others struggle to pay rent or buy food?

I do not, by any means, condone the theft, violence and damage caused by the rioters, but perhaps if the whole nation was less materialistic, then there would be less envy. Fewer people waiting to get their fair share. This country needs a shake up. We need to pull together and work on our society. We need to stop worshiping ‘things’ and start respecting each other. Young people are the future of Britain and they need to be nurtured before they can thrive. The culture needs to change.

These are my thoughts and opinions. I’m not really a political person but the recent goings-on have hit a nerve. I’m on a quest to save money in a society that seems to revolve around material possessions. It’s difficult so stop wanting things that just about everyone around you already has. The temptation to spend or acquire consumer goods needs to be removed; Britain needs to change.

I need to curb my spending to avoid the downward spiral of debt. In order to do this, I must address my needs versus my wants, and be disciplined enough to resist. It’s not easy, and it’s not always successful, but it’s all I can do for now.

Yesterday evening we visited my in-laws, where we ate home-made apple & cream sponge (thank you very much to my sister-in-law, Karen). My husband’s parents had returned from their holidays, during which they visited the Imperial War Museum. They brought us back these amusing postcards; needless to say, I am finding them very useful as motivational phrases for my quest to curb my spending.

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So, budgeting is no new concept. In fact, during the World Wars, women had a tough time with very little money for cosmetics and limited access to fashion clothing. I’m not suggesting that we all cover our legs in gravy rather than spending money on tights, but there must be some tips we can glean from reading about these wonderful wartime beauties.

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To combat the rather masculine style of
“Utility Clothing’’, introduced by the government as functional and cost effective options, women sought other ways to feel pretty. Hair and make-up became a way of expressing one’s femininity with more elaborate styles coming into fashion. Hats were thought to be too great an expense. However bows and ribbons, made from fabric remnants, were worn instead.

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I’m not usually one for elaborate hairstyles. However, I was due to attend a wedding on Saturday evening and, due to the exhaust fiasco (which, by the way, cost us £136!), I didn’t have time to wash my hair. I got home, dug out the hairspray and started backcombing franticly. I’m no stranger to a bit of backcombing as my hair tends to need a little encouragement on the day between hair washes, but this was a whole other level. I shaped my tresses into an almost bee-hive style at the front, and then started to pin curl some of the lengths. I didn’t really expect the curls to stay put, but I was surprised at how simple they were to create, and how easy they were to secure.

I arrived at the wedding feeling glamourous, despite my thrown-together outfit and my mad dash in the rain. I got lots of great compliments on my hair too, which is always a good boost to the confidence.

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I had a clear out a month or so ago and stumbled across a gift voucher I had received for my birthday last August. It was for a prescriptive Jessica manicure, and the expiry date was 8/8/11.

For weeks, I kept meaning to phone and book the appointment, but I wanted my nails to be nice BEFORE the appointment, so as to make the most off the pampering opportunity. Unfortunately, my nails are weak, and very rarely in good condition and, to quote one of my favourite films, “my nail-beds suck!”.

Last week, I stumbled across the unused voucher again and realised that the expiration date was fast approaching. I phoned the Balmoral Spa and practically begged them for an appointment. Fortunately, they had availability this afternoon. So off I went to be preened and pampered.

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The spa was very tranquil, and the manicure well executed. I chose a lovely coral colour called Juicy Melon (!) for the varnish. The finish is lovely, I just hope they last!

So tonight, here’s my tip: A voucher is only great if you use it. Be it a gift or a discount voucher, you’ve got to make sure you book it early. Groupon, Living Social, KGB Deals or Itison all have amazing deals but only if you take the time to USE them (will post more on this subject soon).

I’m heading to bed early tonight, and intend to get a good eight hours rest every night this week. I’m working on planning my meals and being organised to… you guessed it, save more money! Wish me luck.

Man make fire

Yesterday, I returned from a camping trip for my lovely friend Janine’s 30th birthday. Janine her husband, sister and closest friends all ventured north for bonfire & barbecue fun on the beach.

I’ve mentioned before that I think this is a fantastic way to spend a birthday, saving money rather than splurging on a party in a hired venue. J’s in-laws have a static caravan up north so a quite few folk slept indoors, whilst the remainder (including me & my husband) pitched our tent for the night.

We picnicked in the sunshine on the way up, just near Bruar and then continued up to Forres, a town just before Findhorn, to buy our barbecue goodies. We all put £10 in the kitty for the food, which turned out to be far too much so we got £5 back (score!).

The evening was spent collecting wood and building the bonfire at Findhorn sand dunes. The boys had a great time making fire and keeping it lit. In fact they got so carried away that they brought back a whole felled tree, which didn’t exactly fit in the bonfire, given that nobody had brought an axe!

It was a lovely night and a great way to celebrate J’s birthday.

Sunset over Findhorn Sands

The expensive part came on Saturday. My husband & I only planned to stay the one night so we headed back around about lunchtime. We weren’t even on the road for half an hour before we heard a rattle, and then just seconds later, the clank of the exhaust. Oh dear.

I have AA membership through my bank (that’s Automobile Association rather that Alcoholics Anonymous to those not in the UK – this story isn’t going to take that strange a tangent!) but I didn’t have the number on me. I tried to look it up on my mobile but there was no reception. Eek!

Luckily, a passing contractor pulled over to see if we were okay. He looked under the car & secured the exhaust to the tow bar loop with cable ties, which he explained would melt once the exhaust got warm, but he offered to show us the way to Frank’s Garage, who would be able to sort us out in the meantime.

Frank’s was all you would expect of a garage based in rural North East Scotland. A man of very few words directed us onto the ramp and secured it with thick copper wire instead. He didn’t charge us anything and said it should hold for the 3 hour journey home.

We’ll have to take the car to the local garage on Monday. Fingers crossed they’ll just be able to reattach the exhaust and that there’s nothing wrong with the exhaust itself- could be pricy!

So my money saving tip today is… Don’t own a car unless you really have to! We’ve already spent over £700 this year on maintaining our car (new brakes & tyres), not to mention £385 on insurance and more ££s on road tax. It’s really expensive, and strictly speaking, we don’t NEED it. But it has dramatically improved our quality of life, and allowed us to go camping for our holidays in July. Sigh. I fear it may have to go if the bills keep coming in at this rate.

My next post will be more up-beat, as I will be typing with my freshly manicured digits. Watch this space.

I recently booked some flights from Edinburgh to Dublin on a well-known-but-not-so-popular budget airline. You guessed it: RyanAir.

One of my sisters lives in Dublin so I’ve been planning to visit her this year. I’ve been eyeing the prices for this route for a few months awaiting a good deal, and last week, I found it.

The best advice I can offer when flying RyanAir is not to get excited until you see the final price. There are so many hidden charges that can pop up, so when the price is advertised at £9 (usually in not-so-subtle red writing on a bright yellow background), you can at least double or triple it.

On this particular occasion the overall price for a return flight for one person worked out at £50.50, with £20 of that figure being added at the last minute (as soon as you select which card you would like to pay with – as if there’s an alternate payment method!). I still feel that the overall price is reasonable though.

The other factor to consider when booking with RyanAir is the amount of luggage you will be taking on your trip. On this occasion we’ve opted for hand luggage only to avoid extra charges. We’re only going to be away for 3 nights so we’ll just have to pack lightly, wear layers for travel and go easy on the toiletries/liquids!

I think the biggest bug bear that people have with budget airlines is that flights are advertised at one price but the actual price is considerably more. In 2009, I purchased a flight to Dublin that was advertised as costing £1.49, after all the taxes and admin fees were added, it was £17. In fact, I once paid £23 for a flight advertised at £0.01! Crazy, right?

So here are my top tips for flying RyanAir within budget:
Be flexible with dates;
Travel light;
Measure your hand luggage (RyanAir restrictions are listed on their website)
Weigh your luggage – if you opt to add hold luggage, the limit is usually 15kg. DO NOT EXCEED THIS! Hand luggage should be less than 10kg;
Don’t get excited about the price until you get to the screen where they ask you to input card details. Once you’ve selected your card type you will see the final price;
Don’t buy food on board – its overpriced- the food in the airport will be cheaper;
Buy a bottle of water in the airport, especially for longer flights;
Wear layers when travelling (I like to wear a pashmina as a scarf, which can double as a coverup on sunny holidays or a blanket if the ‘plane is too cold)
Arrive early (they’re very strict about check in times and the ‘plane will usually board up to 40 mins before the departure time on your ticket);
Don’t bother paying extra for speedy boarding, just get to the gate more than 40 minutes before your departure time;
Make sure you only have ONE ITEM OF HAND LUGGAGE! You will NOT be allowed to carry a handbag onboard in addition to your hand luggage. It MUST fit in your main bag;
If you want to purchase duty free items, ensure they fit in your hand luggage. Additional shopping bags are not permitted.

If you know what to expect, then RyanAir can actually be a good (and cheap!) way to travel. I have had some great deals from RyanAir over the last few years: Edinburgh Marrakech £98 return, Edinburgh to Dublin £17 one way, Edinburgh to Malta £114 return, and many more.

I hope these points are of use. I travel RyanAir more often than other airlines solely because it is cheaper. However, if there’s not a huge difference in price, check what’s included and what the final price will be. You may be surprised.