Tuesday, 27 November 2007

What's the real cost of Christmas? - In America and the UK

As many Americans read my blog, (hello there!) today I thought I would write about the increasing cost of Christmas in both the States and over here in the UK.

Christmas is always one of the most expensive times of year, but this year will be even more pricier as food costs have soared, with the average cost of Christmas dinner expecting to cost around £169 and a whopping £435 on presents alone according to latest reports.

And it looks like Americans may find themselves in the same position with some food stuffs up by 20% - A survey comparing what the items in a Christmas carol would cost nowadays put the total cost of Christmas to an amazing $19,507, but carols aside, the cost of Christmas is going up.

What can Americans do about it? Check out this article about cutting the cost of Christmas for Americans and have a look at my tips in my blog entries on the right for more inspiration!

I would really like to hear from my American readers to find out what they are doing to keep Christmas costs down, so please do drop me a comment below.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Beware those debt traps

Christmas is often the time when we are most likely to overspend, only to be caught out when we open the bank statements in January - but with a little extra planning, you can avoid going into the red.

1) Pull those purse strings - Yes, Christmas is around the corner, yes, that means lots of presents, but deciding who you will buy presents for and, more crucially, what the limit for each gift will be, will help to prevent over spending.

2) Credit card culture - Essentially this is spending money you don't have - I had a credit card which I never used for a year, finally deciding to cut it up.

Learning to live within your means may seem hard but it's simply about being smarter with the money you do have.

3) Competitive friends - Longing for the It handbag? Latest designer dress? - Keeping up with fashionable friends can seriously dent your finances - focus on building up a capsule wardrobe, something that never goes out of fashion.

4) "Just one more wont hurt..." - Over spending is one of the quickest ways in to debt especially when everything in the shops is screaming, "Buy me," but a little discipline and a little reminder that you probably have ten of them already at home will help you to walk away... slowly!

Check out this article about 10 habits that lead to debt and see how many things you do.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

How to beat identity theft

Earlier this week it was revealed that the UK Government had lost personal details of 25million people which will leave them open to identity theft.

Earlier this week I blogged about fears surrounding Facebook and how posting too much personal information online can result in your identity being stolen.

With the recent fiasco, many bank account holders are being informed to watch their accounts for any unusual activity, with some banks now even selling identity theft insurance.

I spoke to Iftikar, 26, who works in the City to find out how he protects himself against identity theft.

" I shred my documents, anything which links my name and address, it's about making sure no sensitive information can get out.

People have to be sensible, I'm careful about which websites I use for online shopping and stick to well known websites I trust."

Identity fraud now costs £1.7bn a year in the UK, an article in The Daily Telegraph today shows what practical steps you can take to protect your family's identity.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Avoid that Christmas spending temptation

The countdown to Christmas has started and it's this time of year that people start to feel that temptation to whip out that credit card to pay for all those impulse buys - so here are a couple of tips and tricks to fight your flexible friend!

1) Remember it's actual money - Credit cards give the illusion that you're not really paying with money, after all, it is plastic, but try paying with cash for one week - handing over those bank notes becomes that little bit harder when it's your hard earned money.

2) Tackle that, "I deserve it!" mentality - People comfort buy for many reasons: bad day at the office, client from hell, but shopping away your problems isn't going to deal with the heart of the issue, so instead of reaching for the credit card, spend a little time figuring out what the underlying issue really is and what practical things you can do to solve it right now.

3) Spendthrifts beware - Christmas last minute shopping and the January sales are your danger zones - learn to leave your credit cards at home and shop within your means - try setting yourself a goal such as only buying items on your shopping list, with a little reward for your good behaviour at the end of the day such as a slice of cake or a popcorn and movie evening with friends.

4) Put it on ice - If all else fails, freeze your credit card in ice, it will take a day or two to melt preventing you from using it in the shops for last minute treats.

5) Where would you like to be in January? - By this I don't mean a holiday destination, but what would you like your financial outlook to be?

Many people will still be paying for Christmas well in to the New Year, so if you would rather enter 2008 with a healthy bank balance, start good money habits now to prevent slipping in to the red.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Facebook fears around identity theft

With the rising popularity of social networking websites, such as Facebook, there are fears that revealing too much information about yourself could lead to your identity being stolen, according to an article in The Sunday Times.

I spoke to Fran, 23, a fellow university student who has been using Facebook for over a year - She admitted posting her email address online - One piece of information that the article suggests you should keep to yourself.

Fran said: " I set my profile on private but I guess people don't realise the amount of information they are putting up there.

Many younger people are using Facebook, it's a friendly way to keep in touch, but there are some people who might want to use your details."

With the popularity of Facebook I decided to find out why she decided to join.

"A lot of my friends were already on there," said Fran," so I decided to join, it's a good way to see what your friends are up to."

For more information about how to keep your identity safe online, check out The Sunday Times article here.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Heroes and the rise of the Super Geek

I have recently become smitten by the Heroes TV series, but what has caught my attention in recent magazines is the popularity of Masi Oka who is currently being toted as the poster boy for Geekdom and for making geeks cool.

Masi plays the cheery Hiro, a Tokyo office worker who believes that he can turn back time and through sheer willpower teleports himself to New York City!

Bubbly, optimistic and endearing - I was amazed that a geek, of all people, has been given the best super powers in the entire show, but it's somehow fitting, Masi in a recent interview describes Hiro as never growing up, continuing to believe in the things that other adults grow out of.

And that I think is a special quality, everyone is in a hurry to grow up and to forget about those childish things associated with youth, but I think the ability to be to believe in improbable things is a most admirable thing indeed!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Money Saving Challenge

Following up from yesterday's blog, here is how I saved money:

- Used shopping vouchers to pay for Christmas presents

- Bought fresh fruit from the local market instead of the supermarket

- Made a hand-made birthday card for a friend's birthday this week along with baking her a chocolate cake

- Instead of doing a full week's grocery shopping this week, I decided to use up the food in the fridge and the cupboards

- Instead of going out to the cinema I dug out my old DVD, 'Howl's Moving Castle,' which I haven't watched for a very long time

Overall, it was an interesting day - what I found useful was looking at daily things and try to think, 'How can I save money here?' which made me think of alternative options or different ways of doing things.

Saving for beginners

Find it difficult to save? or are you completely new to saving?

For today's blog entry I'm going back to basics to show you some easy steps that anyone can use to start saving:

1) What would you like to save for? - Before we even open your purse or wallet, think about why you want to save this money in the first place, is it for a holiday? a new mobile phone or even money to go back to university? - which was my goal.

Whatever your goal, write it down and then think about how long it would take to save this money and be realistic about your timeline, many people give themselves unrealistic targets and fail even before they start, so I don't want this to happen to you.

2) Take a closer look at your lifestyle - Sit down with a sheet of paper and write down all your expenditures to figure out where your money is going.

It would be helpful to pull out bank statements for the last three months and with a highlighter look at your big expenses and how many times you actually take cash out of the bank and jot down the cumulative total.

I needed to save a lot of money to go back to university and from looking at my own statements I realised I was spending a lot of money on DVDs and whilst I was withdrawing small amounts of cash on a regular basis, it soon added up.

I decided to rent movies instead and limit the amount of cash I took out of the bank every week.

3) Budgeting for people who don't like to budget - Sometimes people don't want to budget because it's an indication that they don't have money - what I would say is think of it a little differently, saying, "I'm going to make positive changes so that I can achieve my dream."

To save up the money to get back to university, I knew I was going to have to make some big changes, but I felt that investing in my future would be worth it in the long term so it was a sacrifice I was prepared to make.

4) The scary bit... - Actually starting, it's all well to say I will start saving tomorrow, but I want to challenge you to start saving today, starting right now.

Everyone uses excuses to why they can't save so I want you write all your excuses down be it "I don't earn enough to save money" or " I will start from next month's paycheck."

5) What can you do today? - Okay, here's the challenge: how much money can you save today?

To make things more interesting, I will do this challenge with you, so in tomorrow's blog I will tell you how I got on.

Just to get you started, here are some tips and a few of my own ideas are below: Take a packed lunch with you, have a shopping list for today and distinguish between the wants and needs and buy only the items you need, instead of going out in the evening or grabbing an expensive take away, buy a few groceries from the supermarket and watch an old DVD from your own collection that you haven't seen for a year.

I wish you all the best and let me know how you all get on.

Friday, 16 November 2007

A Student's Guide to Christmas planning

It's only forty day's to go until Christmas, but who's counting?...

I thought I'd put together a couple of tips of how to survive this festive season without pulling your hair out or leaving you with an empty pocket.

1) Buying presents - Most of your money is probably going to be spent here so take advantage of any 3 for 2 deals that high street stores such as Boots are offering but don't forget to use your loyalty card to take advantage of special promotions.

2) That party dress - That party frock can be expensive so check out TK Maxx or charity shops for vintage finds - or if you have a nice little black dress, spend your money on funky accessories instead, which will update your look.

3) Socialising - December is often the month of party invitations, but if eating out is stretching your wallet, look out for special deals and use up any loyalty card points such as Tesco Clubcard to pay for meals out.

4) Give yourself the weekend off - If presents shopping is driving you crazy, cancel all activities and recreate your own home spa for a little indulgence, or maybe see a cut price film at the cinema.

5) Every student loves...freebies! - Be a little cunning on the Internet and you can even land yourself a couple of freebies!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The Student Finance Crisis

A recent article on The Guardian website says that many students are struggling to make ends meet this year as student loan payments are taking longer to reach students.

The worst effected do not have money to even eat and students who have children are being severely hit, but there is help out there by applying for hardship loans and bursaries through your university.

If your situation is not that dire but you are worried that this could be you come December, learn to prioritise your spending by budgeting and being smarter with your money.

Here are a couple of my tips that I have used since starting university:

1) Be cheeky with your NUS card - Whilst there are many discounts online, it's worth flashing your card around as you may be able to pick up local deals such as cut-price haircuts which haven't been widely advertised.

2) Food shopping - One of the biggest expenditures you will have, so save money by picking reduced price items at supermarkets towards the end of the day and buying supermarket own brands which have identical products at half the price.

3) Cut up that credit card - These cards are the fastest way to escalate student debt - Instead learn to live within your means even if it means accepting that your lifestyle is different now.

4) Sell your junk - If you have lots of books and dvd's you no longer use, sell them through the Student's Union noticeboard or take advantage of your university's social networking website if they have one.

Before starting university I had a car boot sale and raised £80.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

How internet shopping can save you money

It’s been on the news and in all the papers, but with the dollar at a 26 year low, now seems to be as good a time as any to take advantage of the strong pound.

More Brits are jumping on a plane to go to shopping destinations such as New York, but the good news is you don’t have to leave the country to get great deals.

Instead of shopping at the UK Amazon website, why not take a look at the American equivalent, where with two dollars for every pound, you will effectively be buying everything half price, even when you take into account handling and shipping fees.

Or if you want to shop a little closer to home, check out Women Republic, a website aimed at women with not only tips and advice, there are lots of promotional discounts available at popular high street stores if you shop online, especially if you are buying lots of presents.

Don't forget to check out price comparison websites, Kellkoo and Pricerunner to find the lowest price for your Christmas shopping - you will be surprised to see how much prices can vary between stores.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

The Tokyo Look Book

When most anime and manga fans think of Japanese subcultures, either gothic cosplayers from Harajuku or the fashionable kids of Shibuya spring to mind.

When I first started reading manga, the heavily made-up gal in Imadoki! and the j-rock cosplayers in Othello were my very first introductions - but open up this book and you realise there are many more tribes and Tokyo is their playground:

Senta guys, hime-kei, decoration style cosplay, street style, your fashionable office girls and the cyber club kids to name just a few.

One of the more interesting comments was an interview with Mana, formerly of Malice Mizer who has been credited with creating the Elegant Gothic Lolita look describing his Gothic styles as "everyday clothes."

Surprisingly, most punks and goths are actually visual-kei fans, music isn't about music anymore - it's a fashion statement!

Ultimately, the book paints a picture of what it means to be young and growing up in Tokyo right now, with many teens well aware that when they reach the age of twenty their lives will change, twenty is often the exit age of many social circles - it's sad to see that you can't stay young and carefree forever.

But what the book doesn't show is the most tantalising question of all: what happens next?

Where do the Harajuku goths and Shibuya club kids graduate to? and how do they eventually move on with their lives?

That is a story that I would like to know.

If by any chance that any Tokyo kids are reading this, please post a comment and let me know, I would like to know your thoughts and what you think your future will be.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Teaching kids about money

I read an interesting article in The Daily Telegraph over the weekend about why it's important for kids to learn about money.

A charity, the Personal Education Finance Group, has started a campaign in schools called "What Money Means" trying to make kids more money literate so that they are better prepared for adult life.

If you think your kids don't need to know about money just yet, check out the charity's video where school kids and college students talk about money and how debt in the family can have an impact on their lives.

As a parent there are many ways you can teach your own kids about money - I've also added a few of my own tips below:

1) Take your kids grocery shopping - Show your kids two different brands of the same product, say bread for example, and ask them what's the difference between the two, so that they can start to think about why one is more expensive than the other and let them choose which one they would like to take home.

As grown ups it's easy to make all the choices for your own children, but let them become confident in handling money so that they can make sound decisions in the future.

2) Earning pocket money - Get your kids to earn their pocket money by doing simple chores around the house, like tidying away their own toys or if they are a little older, setting the dinning table or putting the washing on the line.

3) Save and spend - When I was a kid, I would get £5 pocket money and my mum would always encourage me to save half of it for the future.

I'm convinced doing this when I was young helped shape my positive attitude towards money, believing that I could repay my student loan even when the odds looked against me.

4) Get your kids to have a goal - Ask them what they would like to save for? Be it a football or the latest iPod - having a goal reminds kids why they're saving in the first place and will give them that extra bit of encouragement to continue.

5) Lots of encouragement! - Try not be too critical or judgmental if your child makes a mistake - even grown ups make mistakes!

A few words of encouragement may be all they need to try again!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Manga in America

I recently stumbled across this month's issue of Wired magazine where there is an interesting article about manga's influence on Western culture.

The article looks at the growing popularity of manga in America and there is even a 10 page manga history done in true manga style.

To better understand manga, the writer went to Tokyo and explored fan made comic conventions and how whilst they are breaching copyright laws, they are indirectly supporting an industry which has been in decline.

Anyone who has been watching the second season of Genshiken will understand the perils and joys of trying to produce these dojinshi comics, but it appears that in Japan that they are a necessary hub of creativity, predicting consumer demand as well as nurturing tomorrow's manga stars.

The future of Fruits Basket

I recently interviewed two American voice actresses, Laura Bailey and Colleen Clinkenbeard for Anime UK News.

In an exclusive interview the actresses talk about FullMetal Alchemist, playing male characters and that question that all Fruits Basket fans want to know - Will there be a second series?

In America, there has been a big grass roots campaign to get a second season, where fans folded more than a 1,000 paper cranes to show their support.

However, it now looks as if a second series will be unlikely.

Fruits Basket often regarded as a girl's manga in Japan has been phenomenally successful around the world and is the biggest selling manga in America where it's read by all ages.

In Japan the manga-ka, Natsuki Takaya, has been hailed as a highly influential figure for the next generation of manga artists, however, Natsuki has been more timid about her success.

The manga has already come to an end in Japan and I am very interested to see what the legacy of Fruits Basket will be.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Missing lawyers in Pakistan

Most people have been following the news about what has been happening in Pakistan - more than 1,500 lawyers have simply disappeared overnight as President Musharraf declared military rule but this figure is said to be an underestimate.

As a journalism student, I read the newspapers everyday, but last night I found out that one of my cousin's who is a lawyer has been missing for three days and suddenly the news isn't about other people - it's about someone I know.

His elderly mother recently lost her husband and no-one has the heart to tell her what has happened.

How do you tell a mother that her child has been abducted?

I don't know the answer.

What I do know is that he was just an ordinary man earning a living to feed his wife and young child, he was not a part of the pro-democracy movement, but clearly, to the military there is no distinction.

Talking to my relatives, what is apparent is that one thing is being reported in the West, another in Pakistan, but what is happening on the streets is an entirely different story.

Relatives with links to the military are trying to find out more, but there is a fear that even asking could lead to some kind of repercussions.

But they can't silently stand by and do nothing.

Whenever such events are reported in the news, one thing is often neglected: those who have been left behind.

For the sake of his family, I hope and pray that he is returned safely.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Make saving for your ISA easy

In the run up to Christmas all people can think about is spending money, so in today's blog, I will show you how to save £250 every month.

That's the amount you will need to save every month if you want to use up your tax fee mini-cash ISA allowance by the end of the year.

1) List all your outgoings - Grab a piece of paper and jot down where your money is going, this means all your standing orders, direct debits and the cash you take out of the wall every Friday evening.

2) Where does your money go? - Now figure out what you can cut back on: switching your Internet provider, cancelling that gym membership that you never actually use, limiting take aways to only once a week - there are lots of ways that you can save money.

3) Ditch that morning cappuccino - If that coffee that you grab on your way in to work costs £2, that's £480 over the course of one year.

4) D.I.Y Lunches - I saved a lot of money by bringing my own lunch to work, and trust me, eating out in London is not cheap.

If you spend £5 on lunch every day, that's £100 every month which adds up to a whopping £1200 every year that could be going straight in to your pocket!

5) Become a sensible shopper - Most things we buy are on impulse, so leave your credit card at home and live within your means.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Genshiken dilemma…

If there ever was an ultimate anime club, then Genshiken would be it.

I’ve been reading the manga about a bunch of university students who all share (or hate) a passion for anime, manga and gaming.

Buy manga or clothes?

In the manga there’s a scene where one of the club member’s says that you can’t really buy clothes when you spend all your money on manga and anime.

This prompted me to stick my head in my closet and make the shocking discovery that he’s actually right!

But this got me thinking about how much money we spend on hobbies and how they can slowly take over our lives - as they once said in the Genshiken anime: You can't try to become an otaku, you just are one.

"I’m not an otaku!" (Even though I am…)

Then there’s Sasahara-san who doesn’t think he’s an otaku because he doesn’t own a computer, even though he spends all his money on dojinshi, anime and wallscrolls.

He didn’t initially want to join Genshiken for fear of being labelled a geek – It was amusing to watch Sasahara avoid what he really loves, only to later give in and become a part of the team.

But my favourite character, much to my own surprise is Saki-chan, the girl who claims she’s not an otaku, even though she spends more time in the Genshiken club room than anyone else trying to convince her forever smiling otaku boyfriend, Kousaka, to stop being an otaku.

Commenting on their unlikely relationship, the vice president remarks that, with an otaku, Saki will just have to accept that all they ever think about is geek stuff – a losing battle if ever there was one.

The true meaning of Genshiken

In part, Genshiken is about accepting who you really are, even if it means sticking your hand up at the back of class and confessing that you’re a bit of a geek.

So many people just follow the crowd, but Genshiken shows that it’s actually okay to be into anime, manga and other random Japanese stuff.

But that I think is the true meaning of Genshiken – the ability to admit and follow your passion, no matter what anyone else thinks!

All that from a manga – who would have guessed…

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Be financially savvy for Christmas

Most people will get their Christmas wage early, but the money has to go a long way until January’s paycheck, so today I will show you how to stay on top of Christmas and make your way into the New Year:

1) Ask for vouchers for your favourite stores – Vouchers have always been frowned upon as a Christmas gift, but you know better than anyone where you spend the most money, be it online or in Topshop.

Thinking ahead - asking for a voucher now, will mean your money goes further in the January sales.

2) Grocery shopping – Come January, there will probably be no food in the fridge, so why not ask for supermarket vouchers that you can use after Christmas, which will save you one or two week’s grocery bills.

Or alternatively, if you know you won’t have money for food – convert money into vouchers ahead of time and use it when the time comes.

3) Cash gifts – I know this is cheeky, but if you haven’t used up your ISA (tax-free savings) so far, ask relatives for money that can go straight into your savings account.

4) Premium Bonds – On the other hand, if you have used up your ISA, why not ask for premium bonds? – you could win cash prizes over the year and if you don’t, you could always use the money to help pay for Christmas next year.

5) Unwanted Christmas gifts – Flog these on an online auction website or recycle them as presents for someone else – just make sure you don’t give them back to the person who gave them to you in the first place!

Monday, 5 November 2007

Avoid a credit card Christmas

Findings from the Citizen's Advice Bureau is showing that more of us are heading for our credit cards to pay for Christmas this year.

Here are my tips to make Christmas less stressful and a little more friendly for your wallet:

1) Swap Oxford Street for online shopping - Every year I go to Oxford Street and join the madness of shoppers, but this year I've had to ask myself- why?

There are lots of good online stores that sell presents and they will even gift wrap and post presents abroad.

2) Home made presents - Can you bake christmas cakes or make novelty cookies? why not make a food hamper for relatives and don't worry if your culinary skills need improving there are lots of good recipe websites with step by step instructions - perfect treats for last minute unexpected guests.

3) Stick to a shopping list - Decide who you are going to buy presents for and who gets a Christmas card.

Figure out which presents you can buy online and hit the shops or Christmas markets for the remaining.

4) Family presents - Rather than buying lots of presents for each other, put the money together and buy one joint present as a family for each member, this way you can give them something that they really want.

5) Budgeting - Set a limit on how much you are going to spend for each gift and stick to it no matter what - there are a number of price comparison websites which will take the guess work out of who's cheapest.

6) Don't forget the extras - Decorations, Christmas tree, extra food - all of these 'invisible' expenditures will soon add up so set aside some moeny for these at the start and you won't get a big shock later.

7) When temptation strikes... - Give yourself a three day waiting period for really expensive products, chances are you will probably change your mind later.

If all else fails, remember why you are doing this in the first place - to have an enjoyable Christmas without the worry of being in the red come January.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

My podcast interview with Johnny Yong Bosch

I recently braved the expo madness to interview American voice actor, Johnny Yong Bosch who plays Ichigo in the anime Bleach and the podcast recently went live on the Anime UK News website.

Meeting Johnny was an interesting experience, at first he came across as being shy, but after a couple of questions about the roles he’s played, Johnny was both insightful and passionate about what he does.

He didn’t even duck out of a difficult question about why actor’s use alias’s and listening back to the interview, I realised just how expressive he is with his words.

We talked about Bleach, what it means to be an outsider, whether he would want to talk with the dead and of course I had to ask about his time in Power Rangers!

I’d mentioned to Johnny that a number of his fans from the forum were coming down to see him at the expo and afterwards he asked for the website address as he wanted to swing by and say hello to his fans.

Later on I saw him posing with fans who had dressed up in Power Ranger costumes and he was making funny poses - it was interesting to see another side to him!