Sunday, 30 December 2007

Living on a budget

If over this past year you have found that you are not in control of your finances, or that your credit card is ruling your life, with new year just around the corner, now's the time to get your finances back in shape and budgeting is a good way to start.

Part 2 of my 'Back to basics' series will focus on developing budgeting skills:

1) Setting a budget - Get a piece of paper and write your monthly wage at the top, now write all your essential monthly expenditures underneath, everything from rent, food, travel costs, bills and any direct debits.

Take away all these costs from your wage and the figure you have left will be your disposable income, now divide that by four and you will now have your weekly budget.

2)What do you spend your money on? - Most likely this money gets spent on hobbies, socialising, going out and miscellaneous item's, so list all the things you buy, the spending diary I mentioned yesterday will help identify those hidden expenses.

3) What can you cut back on? - Now look over the list and ask yourself what else can you cut back on - How about ditching that morning coffee and taking a packed lunch to work, this could save you £30 or $60 a week.

4) Staying on track - To be successful at budgeting, you need to be realistic about what you can live off, being too strict with yourself can lead to failure and it will take a bit of time to see what works for you.

5) Reward yourself - Budgeting can be tough, so give yourself a reward at the end of the week for sticking to your budget - This can be anything from buying a piece of cake or a book from a charity shop, having rewards along the way helped me to stick to my budget.

Finances made easy

Today I'm starting my 'Back to basics' series where I will be showing you how to start saving and develop good money skills.

Yesterday, I asked you what you would like to achieve with your money and the reason I asked this was because people often save money for a reason, whether it's a short term goal like saving for a holiday or more long term like saving for a mortgage deposit or for retirement, it's easy to get started:

1) Set a goal - Having a clear goal will make you understand why you want to save, so if you don't have one yet, pick a goal, as having a clear goal will give you the motivation to start saving.

2) Organise your financial papers - Before I jump in to financial tips I thought it would be useful to get a few tools to help you get organised. Dig out an old file with dividers and sort out your financial paperwork into three piles, your bank statements,your current debts and any savings you might have.

3) Make a piggy bank - Also grab an empty container or jar that we will use later on as a make shift piggy bank, okay you probably haven't had one of these since you were in school, but it's an easy way to start saving if you haven't done this in a long time.

Grab a sticky label I write down your goal on it and stick it on your jar - Whether it reads 'holiday fund' or 'rainy day savings,' dropping your spare change into the container will keep you motivated to save towards your goal.

4) Open your bank statements - If opening your bank statements leaves you with a heavy heart, be brave, I want you to face the problem head on.

5) Understanding your spending habits - Grab a highlighter pen and go through your last three bank statements marking up your biggest expenditures - this is to help you find out where you spend the most money and jot down the top three reasons why you are spending at the top of the bank statement writing down the total you spent on each.

For example, when I did this exercise a couple of years ago to help clear my debt I realised I was spending a lot of money at restaurants and buying a lot of books, which gave me an idea where I would need to cut back on to save money.

6) You and the cash/ATM machine - Next, go through the same statement and mark all the cash withdrawals you made in the last month - I would often withdraw small amounts every time I went to a cash machine, such as £10 notes, but they soon added up and I was shocked when I realised I was spending around £100 this way.

7) Keep a spending diary - I would suggest keeping a small notebook with you and over the next week I would like you to write down what you are buying, write down everything from that chocolate bar to any big items.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Detox your finances

Did you over spend this Christmas? If you did, you may be one of many who are suffering from a financial hangover.

With January just around the corner, I thought I would start a series of 'Back to basics' guides over the next seven days to help people shape up their finances.

Never been a saver? Don't worry, the guide's will show you how to start as well as giving you just that little bit of extra motivation to keep you going.

Tomorrow's entry will be about getting started but I would like to pose a question just to get you thinking about money:

What would you like to achieve with your money?

Jot down your answer in a notebook and come back tomorrow for the first part of the 'Back to basics' series.

If you can't wait until then, check out the money makeover article in The Daily Telegraph today to get some tips on what you can start doing now.

Friday, 28 December 2007

How to survive the Sales

It’s that time of year when shoppers are stomping their feet to grab bargains at their favourite stores, but if the sales leave you stressed and with no change in your pockets, here are my top tips to get the most out of the sales:

1) Set a budget – Okay, I know it’s boring, but being realistic about your finances will mean you won’t be swamped with debt later, so set a limit on how much you can spend.

2) Write a shopping list – Just like grocery shopping, write up what you need and then decide how much you are willing to spend on each item as well as which shops you plan on visiting.

Leave a small amount; say £20, under a heading called ‘miscellaneous’ – you’ll find out why later.

3) Be prepared – Sales shopping can be exhausting, so take a bottle of water with you and some fruit or energy bars to keep you going until lunch and take breaks throughout the day when you start to feel tired..

Also, have a plan on what you will do when you get back home, whether it’s a soak in the tub, ordering a takeaway or watching a DVD, a few preparations will mean you can relax more easily and feel less frazzled when you get home.

4) What’s in the wardrobe? - If you’re going clothes shopping, have a look through the wardrobe to see what you already own, avoid buying duplicates and look for classic cuts that can be mixed and matched with accessories.

5) "Should I buy it?" – If you find yourself standing there wondering whether to buy or not, ask yourself this, would you have bought it if it were full price? If the answer is no, put it back on the shelf, don’t simply buy because it’s cheap, it’s quality that counts.

6) When is a bargain not a bargain? - When you end up paying more for it than you intended.

The label hanging off the handbag may say 50% off, but if it costs more than you have, walk away and try another store, you are bound to find a similar design/colour in another shop.

7) “But it’s so cute!” – How could I end this guide without talking about impulse shopping? Sticking to a list can be tough, remember that ‘miscellaneous’ item at the start? Well this is where that comes in.

Just this once, I will allow you to impulse buy one item only within the limit you set earlier and because you’ve already accounted for impulse buying at the start, it needn’t break the bank.

For more info on consumer rights whilst out sales shopping check out this article on the Channel 4 website.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Sales frenzy online and on the highstreet

How did you spend Christmas Day? - According to an article in The Guardian newspaper today, 3.6 million of us logged on to snap bargains and spent a whopping £52m.

But not to be outdone by online stores, discounts of up to 80% can be found on Oxford Street as retailers try to clear excess stock before the new season.

So why such large discounts? The article went on to say that there is too much stock left over from Christmas and fears that consumers will be tightening their purse strings soon means that the January sales have come earlier this year.

This fear that consumers will not be spending so much this year has prompted well known retailers such as Marks & Spencer, PC World and Argos to start their online sales early.

Come back tomorrow when I will be giving my top tips on how to get the most out of the sales without reaching for the credit cards.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The real cost of last minute Xmas shopping

Okay, you know the drill - You promised yourself that this year you were going to be more organised and do your Christmas shopping early, but before you know it there's only six more days to go!

But have you ever stopped to think how much extra you might end up spending? Last minute shoppers always tend to overspend but according to an MSN Money article late shoppers spend an extra £150 per person which will see this year's shopping bill reach a height of £535.

Worst of all, a lot of this money will be spent on gift's that people don't want.

While most people will be putting their Christmas shopping on their credit cards, it is expected that it will take between two to three months to pay off the bill, meaning many of us will be paying for Christmas well into the New Year.

An interesting point in the article is that 22 December is being tipped as being the busiest shopping day for retailers, when shoppers are expected to spend the most.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

How internet discounts can save 10% on your shopping

Last month, I blogged about how special websites reveal discount codes for highstreet stores if you choose to do your shopping online.

Yesterday’s Guardian newspaper ran an article about this and even listed codes for popular shops including John Lewis, Boots and Waterstones to name a few.

How do you use these codes? Do your shopping online and at the checkout, when asked if you have any promotional vouchers, type in the relevant code to get your discount.

Three websites worth bookmarking include My Voucher Codes, Money Saving Expert and Send Me Discounts, which lists codes sent in by retailers as well as codes found by money savvy shoppers.

Originally, such codes were only available to a small number of people but now as more shoppers find out about them, these codes are only available for a short amount of time, so if you want to grab a bargain you will have to act quickly.

So check out The Guardian article here to save money on your Christmas shopping.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

10 ways to save money

Over the last couple of days I've been thinking up more ways to save money, so here are a couple of my best tips:

1) Ditch those ready meals - With so many TV shows about how to cook a meal in less than 20 minutes with only a couple of ingredients, there are no excuses to cook a quick cheap meal.

Check out the BBC Food website where you can type in the ingredients in your fridge and the website will suggest what recipes you can make.

Rather than buying an expensive cookbook, check out recipes online or borrow a cookbook from the local library.

2) What to do with the leftovers? - As tempting as it is to chuck it in the bin, think how else you can use the food: meat can be used in soup's or sarnie sandwiches, adding extra vegetables can turn leftover rice in to Chinese style fried rice.

With Christmas just around the corner and all that leftover food, there are plenty of ideas of what to do with leftover turkey.

3) Pay less for the same goods - It may sound strange but goods bought online often cost less than buying the same goods on the highstreet, so the next time you are out shopping, check out the difference in prices before you part with your cash.

4) Develop cheaper hobbies or... - Going to see a movie in London can be expensive even with a student discount, so I often hold movie evenings with friends hiring out one of the latest must see movies.

5) ...make your hobbies cost less! - I'm a big anime and manga fan and rather than buying lots of new books and DVDs, I swap new titles with friends and borrow manga from the local library.

6) Can you wait until the January sales? - December is one of the most expensive times of the year, but divide up your shopping list in to two categories: what you have to buy before Xmas and things that can wait until after - aim to get the best deals in the sales.

7) Keep a spending diary - Write down everything you spend and soon enough you will realise just how much money we waste everyday.

Write down everything from that trashy magazine to those bars of chocolate and then identify where you can cut back.

8) Are you a supermarket snob? - Where you do your weekly grocery shopping says a lot about you, many are now shopping at more upmarket supermarkets as they believe this will improve their social standing, but by switching to a cheaper supermarket and buying fresh produce from your local farmers market will save you more.

9) Ditch brand loyalty - Loyalty cards may give you points but they might not always give you value for money, for one weekend, try buying only the cheapest brand, for example supermarket own brands rather than well known labels and see how much you can save.

10) Look out for end of season sales - Buying clothes can be expensive but look out for end of season sales, where clothes are marked down to clear stock in time for the new season fashion's.

Stick to more classic items which you can get more wears out of with a more tailored cut in dark colours such as black or navy that you can accessorize for a more modern look.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Are you still paying for last Christmas?

According to a recent article in The Daily Telegraph, one in ten of us are, meaning 4.4million are still paying the cost of last Christmas.

There are about 16million store cards in use and people often end up paying twice the cost of purchases due to high interest rates if they only pay off the minimum each month.

So I thought I would give my tips on how to deal with store cards in the run up to Christmas:

1) Do you really need another credit card? - This is what a store card really is, don't be duped, if you can pay off all your shopping by the end of the month, then it's a useful way to get discounts and deals at your favourite store, but if this isn't you, I would suggest avoiding store cards at all costs as they are an easy way to rack up debt.

2) Ignore the sales pitch - I've lost track of the number of times I've walked in to shops where sales assistants try to get you to open a store card and I'm not just talking about those people who walk around with clipboards, many will now try to rope you in at the check out when you are trying to pay - you have been warned!

3) Be realistic about your finances - A lot of stores give a 10% discount on goods when you open a store card but bear in mind that store card interest rates are often higher than those from highstreet banks, averaging up to 30%.

4) If all else fails, ask yourself this - do you still want to be paying for the cost of this Christmas, this time next year? Remember 4.4million are and if you are not careful, this could easily happen to you.

5) What to do if you have a store card - Pay off the debt as soon as possible as this is one of the most expensive ways of borrowing.

If you have more than one store card, tackle the most expensive debt first and work your way down, paying off one card at a time until you are clear.

Friday, 7 December 2007

The final chapter of Fruits Basket

Today, I will take a break away from my money posts to talk about a manga that I hold dear to my heart, Fruits Basket.

For those of you who don't want to know how it ends, please don't click on the following link, but for those Furuba fans who are a little curious, here is the final chaper - But please do read my post as I've not included any spoilers here, just my thoughts on a wonderful manga.

I've been reading the manga for two years now and it's beauty and simplicity that captured my heart - Telling the story of an orphaned girl, Tohru, who lives with the Sohma family who have lived with a curse for generations, it's a story about growing up, finding strength when you feel that you can't carry on and finding hope in the darkest of places.

I was caught by the Fruits Basket spell rather unexpectedly, it was a scene with the 'noble prince' Yuki when he confesses to Tohru that he's not really a nice person, he just acts that way because he wanted to be liked.

It was at a time in my life when I was going through a similar thing to Yuki and his words, the honesty, touched me - I guess I was a little ashamed, like all people, I wanted to belong somewhere, but hearing those words made me realise it was okay to be who you really are, even to have weaknesses and flaws, I guess that's what it means to be human.

That I think is the special charm of Fruits Basket, to make a person realise things about themselves, that they have never realised.

Since then, Yuki, has always been special to me, I've often said that I'd like to think I'm like Yuki but everyone says I'm really Kyo!

Does that mean I'm a loud mouthed punk? Maybe... but reading Fruits Basket has changed the way I see the world, once cynical, I now believe more in the world, I don't want to give up on this beautiful world we live in.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Make money from your clutter

Everyone has stuff they don’t use lying around the house, so why not make money from your clutter? Here are a couple of ideas I have used:

1) Go to a car boot sale - Two months back, I sold my old stuff at a local car boot sale and made £80 – The most popular items were jewellery, fiction books and DVD’s and by introducing a ‘3 for 2’ policy on my books and DVDs helped me to sell more.

2) Online communities – Traditionally social networking websites are just for socialising but it’s also a good way to sell your stuff to people who have similar interests to you – I sold my old manga comics on a marketplace forum and made over a £100.

3) Online auction websites like eBay are also popular, so take a few pictures of your junk and you can sell your stuff without even leaving the house – Plenty of people will be looking for cheap presents with the run up to Christmas so why not flog some of your stuff now.

4) Collectibles – Check to see if you have any autographed item such as books or CDs that you could also sell direct to fans, even recent Sci-Fi magazines with Star Wars covers can go for a fair bit of money, along with limited edition perfumes.

5) Recycle old gifts – Everyone has gifts and presents that you have never used or clothes that you don’t wear, branded goods can fetch a considerable about of money especially if it’s a well-known label.

6) Raid the attic – Check to see if you have any old antiques or children’s magazines and books lying around, I recently found an old Bunty annual that I had not read since my teens.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Asian women’s guide to saving

Part of the reason why I started this blog was to help other Asian women to develop good money skills for the future – so for today’s blog I will focus on the common pitfalls that young Asian women in their early twenties may fall in to:

1) Spending frenzy – I remember that feeling when I got my first pay cheque after university, you just want to spend money and buy everything in sight!

As tempting as it is to spend, try to save some of your cash as soon as you get your wage, put some money in an ISA or if you are a regular saver opt for a high interest regular savings account.

2) Competitive friends – It can be hard keeping up with the latest trends especially when your friends are sporting the latest designer clothes or must have handbag.

Sometimes, there can be a competitive element amongst friends to see who has the best jobs and clothes – Trying to keep up can seriously dent your wallet so focus on your natural strengths to boost your confidence.

If you have an eye for fashion, why not offer a personal stylist service to family and friends, there are people who will appreciate your advice especially with all those Christmas parties coming up.

3) The debt trap – I know far too many friends who have gotten themselves in to debt by over spending or a reliance on credit cards – If this is you and you are scared to open you bank statements, check out my October and November blog posts on how to get out of debt.

Clearing my £11,000 student loan was hard work but if I can do it, I know you can too!

4) Bank of mum and dad – Asian families have always traditionally doted on their kids, but relying on your parents all the time will not make you financially independent. - Learn to budget and live within your means so that you can save money.

If you haven’t saved money for a long time, start small, emptying your small change into a jar or money box is a step in the right direction, plus there are some fashionable money boxes these days, just remember to put money in!

5) Don’t mention the future – When you’re young, the future often seems like a far away place that you don’t need to think about, especially if you’re living for the now.

But learning to save money will help in the long term, be it for a holiday, your first home or when you want to think about having a family – all these things need money, so the sooner you start saving, the brighter the future will look.

Monday, 3 December 2007

How do you waste money?

That’s the question that a slide show on the MSN Money website poses, encouraging us to take a look at our spending habits to find out just where the loose change in our pockets is actually going.

When most people think of wasting money, normally unused gym memberships spring to mind, but it’s the little things on the treats we buy everyday that can gradually built up.

I followed the slide show and found out that I was guilty of two habits, see if you can figure out which one’s they were, which came as a big surprise to me as I am normally very money savvy!

But it made me realise that everyone wastes money no matter what income they earn, so this week I will be putting the cash I normally spend on ‘treats’ into a makeshift piggy bank to see how much I can save.

Why not try this experiment with me and let’s see how much money we can save.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Heroines in shojo manga

I write for an anime website, Anime UK News and tonight was the first time I contributed to a joint blog, my entry focuses on shojo manga and you can read the complete guide here.

Shojo manga is more commonly known as girl's manga where the story lines focus on romance, friendship and sometimes a bit of scandal - the heroine has to overcome adversaries to reach her goal.

It was hard to narrow it down to only six choices so I thought I would name drop a couple of other title's that escaped the list: Ghost Hunt, Nana, Bring It On, My Heavenly Hockey Club, Ouran High School Host Club and After School Nightmare.

Manga has been growing in the UK with an increasing female readership - there has been a large influx of shojo comics following licenses for popular series including Absolute Boyfriend and Hot Gimmick.

So what's the appeal of shojo? Frankly that's a hard one to pin down - story lines can be wide ranging from cute and fluffy, to slice of life drama to the downright racy and scandalous!

But the central character is always the heroine - she may be surrounded by sexy bishonen but in the case of Haruhi from Ouran Host Club she will not always fall for a boy's charms (much to the disappointment of Tamaki.)

And in shojo, heroines are not all the timid type, take Nana O from the Nana manga, a punk rock singer who is not about to conform to what society expects from her.

One of my favourite heroines would be another Nana from the split personality manga, Othello, who sticks up for friend with flamboyant style, doing things her way.

So anyone who has picked up a shojo manga only to flip it over and frown at the romance label on the back, should take another look, covers are often deceiving and you may be surprised to what you find inside.