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.

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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.

… make chocolate & lime cupcakes. I made these chocolaty delights yesterday after finding the recipe on the BBC Good Food website. The recipe is for ‘easy chocolate cupcakes’, I added the lime twist based on the old-fashioned sweets Chocolate Limes. This recipe is extremely easy to follow, but I felt it was just a little too chocolaty for me so made a few adjustments. If you love bitter chocolate then go for the higher measurements on the cocoa and plain chocolate, if you like your chocolate sweet, then use the lower measurements or switch to milk chocolate instead of plain. My adaptation is as follows:

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Preheat to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. This mix makes approx 10 muffins or 24 cupcakes.

For the cakes:

  • 100g plain chocolate , blitzed into small chunks in a food processor (don’t use one with a high cocoa content)
  • 200g self-raising flour (a little extra may be required)
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 2-4 tbsp cocoa to taste (I used 4 tbsp of Green & Black’s cocoa and it was VERY chocolaty!)
  • 150 ml sunflower oil , plus a little extra for greasing
  • 100 ml soured cream
  • 2 eggs (keep ’em free-range folks!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 1-2 limes
  • juice of 1 lime
For the chocolate topping:
  • 60-100g plain chocolate , blitzed into small chunks in a food processor (don’t use one with a high cocoa content, adjust to taste)
  • 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp sour cream
To finish:
Sieve the flour and cocoa and add the sugar. Beat the eggs and add the other wet ingredients (sunflower oil, vanilla extract, lime juice & zest and sour cream) then gradually fold into the dry ingredients. Add the blitzed chocolate chunks and mix well. At this stage I found the mixture a little bit too runny so I added about 4-5 tbsp self raising flour. The consistency should be sticky rather than runny; it should spoon into the cupcake cases rather than pour. Pop on the oven for about 20 minutes. The cakes are done when you can insert a cocktail stick into them and it comes out (just about) clean. Leave them to cool on a wire rack.
Gently heat all of the ingredients for the chocolate topping in a small saucepan until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes. Pour a teaspoon of the topping onto the cupcake and sprinkle the crushed chocolate limes on top. Unfortunately I couldn’t seem to find chocolate limes in the shops, so I used lime zest to decorate instead. There are a number of online retailers that sell chocolate limes, including chocolatebuttons.co.uk.
I have made a stash of these for a birthday party this weekend, which brings me to my little money saver this evening. My good friend Janine is celebrating her 30th birthday on Friday, and rather than having an expensive bash, she’s invited a few of her nearest and dearest to her favourite spot in Scotland, a little village called Findhorn, on the north east coast for a beach party and camping. Okay, maybe it isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but camping out makes weekend trips so much more affordable and flexible. My husband and I are heading up for one night, whilst others are there for a long weekend.
Luckily I love camping, and might just borrow this idea for my own birthday celebrations. And when life hands you lemons…

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Evening all! And a beautiful evening it is too. The sun has been shining on Edinburgh this week, but sadly I have been indoors with the fluorescent lights instead.

I’ve been getting hair envy from reading Fluff and Fripperies, a blog from the beautiful Emma. Now, my hair has been in need of some tender loving care since I let the hairdresser douse it in bleach when I kissed goodbye to being a redhead. I’m loving the colour (blondest blonde), but I am most certainly NOT loving the condition.

In my efforts to save money (Kiehls and Shu Uemura are seriously over budget for me), I decided to go a little bit old skool and make a home made hair mask. I have a friend that swears by a mix of egg and olive oil to nourish and revive tired and damaged hair, so that’s what I did.

I mixed 2 eggs with about 20ml olive oil and 30ml argan oil, which I had left over from my trip to Marrakech earlier this year. I then smothered the mixture onto my damaged tresses, covered it in cling film (to minimise dripping) and left it to work its magic for 20 minutes. I then rinsed the concoction out of my hair and shampooed as with Herbal Essences Dazzling Shine Shampoo followed by Herbal Essences Dazzling Shine Conditioner (left on for 2 minutes before rinsing). I used a little Moroccan Oil through the ends of my hair before blow drying.

I have to say, I am very happy with the results, my hair definitely feels smoother and stronger. There are lots of variations on this mask and other home made conditioning treatments available online. I looked at Daily Glow and Girls Love Style before mixing up mine. I think I might try the avocado or banana mask in a few weeks!