Thursday, 31 January 2008

Food costs on the rise

Back in December last year, I blogged about the rising cost of Christmas dinner both here and in the States, now recent information has revealed that on average British households spend 13% of their income on food and it now looks like this figure will rise.

So why is food suddenly costing more? Poor harvests and rising oil prices are partly to blame.

But another factor that people might not know about is the biofuel industry, where crops are turned into fuel to run cars and the hard question is this - do you feed starving mouths or empty cars?

That is the politics of food.

What this means is that the cost of the weekly supermarket will cost more, largely due to 'food inflation' something not really seen by my generation, we are more used to chucking whatever we like in to the trolley, but all that is about to change if predictions by economists comes true.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

£1,000 a year is spent on lunch

Today's Metro newspaper carried an interesting story about a survey which revealed that we now pay around £1,000 a year for our lunches.

On average we spend about £4.40 on shop-bought food every day and over our lifetimes we can expect to spend £42,000 on lunches, which is a heck of a lot of money on just sandwiches and snacks!

I don't think I will look at a sandwich in the same way again.

And if you thought lunch boxes were just for kids check out these websites with healthy and interesting recipes.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Women's guide to beating student debt

Yesterday I blogged about how statistics indicate that it will take women 16 years to repay their student loans, so I thought I would mention some of my best tips I have learned from my own experience:

1) Aim for a good paying job - When I graduated with a 2:2 politics degree, I emailed a careers website to see what options would be open to me, the response back was that I shouldn't aim too high because of my degree classification.

I was pretty pissed off to say the least, and in part, this spurred me on to prove them wrong!

Originally, I took a part time job just to make ends meet but in less than a year I was offered a corporate jobs in the public sector where my politics degree would come in handy.

Latest findings suggest that within three years of graduating, men are more like to have jobs earning £25,000 or more.

But I managed to get this kind of job only one year after leaving university, so I want other women to know it is possible.

With student debt rising, I think it's important to get a job that will help to pay off your student loan.

2)Have a realistic plan - Trying to pay off your debt too quickly can lead to more problems, but as I was living at home, I could save the rent money and use this towards my debt.

I would suggest setting a monthly goal, but be flexible, there were some months I could save a lot and other times when I couldn't, the important thing is to keep going and if you slip up a couple of times along the way, it doesn't matter.

3)Prioritise your debt - Rather than spending my first months wage, I used it towards my loan, sure there were a lot of other things I wanted to buy, but if you don't move your debt to the top of the 'To Do' list, it won't get done.

4) Budgeting - This is the method by which you will spend less and ultimately save more, it will be tough, but set yourself small goals along the way, so for example, if you stick to the budget all week long, treat yourself to a low priced gift on the Sunday.

5) Socialising - Partying, clubbing and a whole host of other social do's soon add up, so limit yourself to one evening out per week and think up creative ideas for the other evening's like a girls night in or a hot-pot dinner party where all the guests bring their own dish.

6) Shopping v spending - All the magazines out there may portray women as being born to shop, but ultimately you have to factor in choice, it's not the media saying you have to own something (okay, perhaps the adverts do!)but the person who is handing over the cash at the check out till is no one other than yourself, so take responsibility for your actions and start making positive decisions.

Women will take 16 years to repay student loans

Earlier this year, a Guardian article reported that female students who entered university in 2006/2007 will expect to take 16 years to pay off their loans whilst men will have cleared their debts in 11 years.

A number of reasons have been given for the time difference including pay inequalities between men and women and the reality that women are more likely to take time off to raise a family.

Another fact that students may not be aware of is that the interest rate on these loans have recently doubled which will undoubtedly hit women hard.

Even more alarming with the cost of education rising, is that what we are actually seeing is the creation of generation debt.

When I walk around university, I'm seeing that the attitude to debt is a passive one, many students have accepted debt as being normal, which makes me worry.

With degrees being so expensive, I'm concerned that this will put off many students from getting a second degree, especially with funding for Masters being cut.

I decided not to take another loan to fund my MA journalism course, speaking to other students, many have expressed fears that going back to university will wipe out their savings before their courses end.

I have been lucky, I paid off my student loan in less than two years which I blogged about earlier.

But with these recent findings, I will be writing a women's guide to clearing debt for tomorrow's post.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Sort out your money worries in just one day

How often do you ponder about finances only to think, "I don't really have the time," - A recent article on the American MSN Money website looked at how to sort out your finances in just one day and following their lead, I decided to blitz my finances today:

1) How competitive is your bank account? - Don't know the answer? Perhaps it's time you found out, accounts become uncompetitive over time so check to see how much interest your account is paying by checking out the Uswitch website and see if you could be better off with a new account.

2) High interest savings - On a similar day last year, I set up an internet savings account, these types of accounts often pay higher rates than your high street banks so check out Money Supermarket.

It's also worth bearing in mind that most current accounts now have an internet account attached to them which have no penalties if you have to switch money between the two, so it's worth investigating.

3) Where do you spend the most money? - Time to dig up those old bank statements and find out where the money is going, I've recently splurged on concert tickets and books, so I will not be buying any more this week.

As I'm on work experience at a magazine I've been withdrawing more cash than normal for travel fares and food so it's back to packed lunches for a while.

After drawing up a list of my key expenditures, I will be saving this money instead

4) Budgeting - After identifying where the money is going, I've decided to save this money instead and limit the amount of cash I will withdraw every week, being disciplined with my money will help reduce excess spending and save a few bob.

If you're not sure how to budget, here's how to do one in five minutes.

5) Have a savings goal - I'm going to Tokyo later in the year, so I've cut out a picture of Tokyo at night and stuck it to my wall as a reminder to why I'm doing this: to have enough spending money in the great neon city.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Twentysomethings and money: UK & America

I stumbled across an interesting article about money in your 20s, it looks at the problems that twentysomethings in America are facing and what they can do about it, and as a young lady in my twenties myself, I thought I might offer up the obstacles I have faced living in the UK and what I've learnt:

1) Life after Uni - It's a big world out there and like most students I left university with a degree and debt and student living could not prepare me for 9 to 5 living, office politics and the realisation that, hey! I now have money!

2) Generation debt - Like most students, I took out a loan to pay for my education, but I wanted to pay it off sooner rather than later, it took me two years to clear it, but what I would say is this, that it is possible to beat debt, just start with small steps.

3) My first wage - As tempting as it was to go shopping down Oxford Street with my first pay cheque, I used it towards my debt instead, which was the start of my next two years on a budget, but in that time I learnt how to really value money and use it to achieve a bigger goal.

4) City living - In a place like London, it's easy to shop your life away, working frustrations can make you do crazy things like spending as if there's no tomorrow come Friday evening, yeah... I was a bit self-indulgent in those days, but I learnt a lot, city lights can be a distraction from the real issue at hand.

5) Money and friends - In your twenties, your friends are everything, but be wary of anyone who treats you like an ATM machine, all I can suggest is this: only lend money if you're prepared not to get it back.

6) Have a back up plan - In your twenties the future seems like a long time away, but the best piece of advice I can say is this, save at least three months wages into an emergency fund.

In the world we are now living in you never know when your job is going to disappear so have some savings just in case, with a little cash in the bank, you can whether life's storm's.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Money Spinners

Do you remember Money Spinners? It's a TV show where a money expert would come in to a family home and give advice on how to save money for a particular goal such as a family holiday.

It was whilst watching this show a long time ago that I decided to do my very first car boot sale which raised £80.

Contrary to popular belief, not all reality TV is bad for you, this show, along with Alvin Hall's Your money or your life were my first forays in to consumer television.

So here are a few of my best money spinning tips of my own:
- When holding a car boot sale, be ruthless with your belongings, if you haven't used it for a year, it's time to ditch it
- Packed lunches needn't be boring, check out a cookery book from your local library for new ideas
- Never pay full price when buying online, use comparison sites for the best deal and then use an internet discount voucher to save even more
- Make your own birthday cards, I keep a kit with art materials and make my own cards rather than spending £3/4 every time

Thursday, 24 January 2008

5 Minutes to better finances

Time is one of the excuses that people use for not sorting out their fiances, so today's blog is about how to make changes in five minutes flat.

1) Take control of your finances - Make budgeting simple with this helpful guide.

2) Analyse your bank statements - This is a quick way to see where you are spending the most money, which is also where you can make some big savings if you change your way of thinking.

3) How much money do you want to save? - If you have a short term goal, for example, buying a new handbag, ditching your morning coffee and bringing a packed lunch from home for a month will bring you closer to your goal.

4) Empty your change - Drop all your spare coins into a jar when you come home in the evening, is an easy way to start saving.

5) Open an online savings account - These accounts have higher rates of interest, and because you work hard for your money, isn't it about time your money worked hard for you?

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The YO! Sushi challenge

A little while back, I blogged about how to save money on eating out and one of the things I found was a giveaway by YO!Sushi who are knocking off 50% off their food with a special voucher.

Me, my friend Sarah from university and a bunch of her mates headed over to a YO!Sushi restaurant in London to take advantage of this offer, so today's blog is all about our culinary experience.

There was a menu, but me and Pete decided to take a more liberal approach to our food selection which was as follows:

Eat whatever looks tasty.

So I ended up eating chicken katsu curry, some katsu style prawns which were seriously yummy, spicy rice, deep fried pumpkin, some exotic fruit and a pancake style dessert with raspberry sauce which I cannot name.

Other members took advantage of the offer and choose the most expensive dishes, the fabled grey dishes which cost £5 each, sparking a lively discussion about whether expensive food is tastier than cheaper grub, we were unable to decide.

Other interesting dishes included octopus balls, qyoza and crab sushi.

With the voucher, you can get 50% off up to ten dishes from the conveyor belt- Evren challenged me to eat the ten plates, needless to say, I took him up on this challenge, but I failed miserably, caving in at dish number six.

There was a round of 'name that tune,' where we came to the conclusion that Google was far more reliable than five people in a Sushi restaurant.

And the other game involved pushing that red button on the table and waiting to see how long before the waitress arrives.

First time she arrived in five seconds.

Second time it took her 15 seconds.

Yes, we are evil people, but it was highly entertaining.

For some reason, the American TV series Lost sprang to mind, the season where John has to push the button in The Hatch every 108 minutes or else, something really bad might happen, which prompted the dilemma: would you take the risk of not pushing the button?

We, as you can tell, love buttons.

When it came to the bill, the waitress asked a rather strange question, "Did you drink water?" apparently the fizzy water was not free, as we later discovered.

It's like that advert where a couple on holiday get charged extra not only for the mini-bar but also watching the sunset from their room.

Overall, it was a nice evening, we ate a lot, joked, stacked our plates in mini colour coordinated versions of the leaning Tower of Pizza and then watched as they tumbled over.

Good fun!

Monday, 21 January 2008

British lifestyle - Third most expensive in the world

We all know that living in Britain is a bit pricey but findings from a recent survey conducted by HSBC bank discovered that we Brits have the third most expensive lifestyles in the world, only beaten by Norway and France.

The survey looked at how long the typical British salary would last in other countries whilst keeping the same kind of lifestyle including two meals out at a restaurant every week.

Whilst the above three are the most expensive, our money would last just under three years in India, 15 months in the United States and 14 months in Australia.

Since we pay much more than most other countries, us Brits need to be smarter with our money to make it go further.

With such expensive lifestyles, I'm sure many people will find it hard to save.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Savvy Money Swaps

Yesterday, I blogged about knowing the difference between needs and wants and today, I will be taking that further to see how else you can save money.

Look down your list of both needs and wants and see if you can make a smart swap, here are my best suggestions with the old way in italics and new way in bold:

Food e.g breakfast and lunch.
Ditch breakfast on the run and wake up half an hour earlier and eat at home, taking a packed lunch to work.

Monthly Oyster card for commuting in to work.
Get an interest free season ticket from your employer and over the course of a year you will save a couple of hundred quid compared to a monthly Oyster card.

Work and casual clothes.
Look for day to evening clothes, smart separates that can be jazzed up with accessories.

An expensive contract mobile phone.
Switch to pay-as-you-go.

Designer clothes.
Department stores carry the latest trends at a fraction of the price tag.

Take away meals.
For home cooked meals, with many online recipes and TV shows on how to cook in 20 minutes, there is no excuse for a cheap tasty supper.

Luxury holidays.
Bargain holidays, websites like Lastminute.com have changed the way we travel, so why pay full price when you can get it cheaper?

Cost of socialising (think pubs, clubbing and parties.)
If you have a debt to pay off, only go socialising once a week and be creative the rest of the week, such as DVD and popcorn evenings.

Store bought coffee.
Grab a thermos and your favourite coffee and take it with you.

Expensive chocolate.
Many of you may have noticed I have a bit of a sweet tooth, so check out discount supermarkets like Lidl that sell continental chocolate at half price.

Go through the rest of your list and see if you come up with other swaps of your own, if you have an idea I haven't thought off, wny not post a comment below.

Needs and wants: How knowing the difference can save you money

I recently came across an article on the American MSN Money website about how only half of all high school students could answer questions correctly on a financial literacy test.

More startling from the American research was that a quarter of adults also failed the quiz with women more likely to fail the test than men.

It seems no matter our age, or where we live, we all need to know more about money matters, so below I will talk about needs and wants and how making a few changes will help you save money.

Many people will still be in debt from Christmas, so today and tomorrow's blogs will be about how small changes can make a big difference:

Know the difference between needs and wants- Most people spend their money on wants, often neglecting their needs, if you spend your money before the next pay cheque, with bills still to pay, knowing the difference will help you.

Grab a blank piece of paper and on the top half write your needs, followed by your wants below.

If you want to save money immediately, cut back on these wants for a month and see the difference, below are a few examples of each:

Needs are often shelter, food and clothes but modern lifestyles have expanded so think about every day costs, quite often these will be the direct debits that go out of our accounts so here is my revised list:

- rent
- food (by this I mean, breakfast, lunch and dinner)
- travel costs for work
- work/casual clothes
- gas/electricity bills
- phone bill


Take a piece of paper and add anything else that are essential to your work, for example, your internet connection or if you have children or are a carer, add the cost of childcare and any other costs.

Wants are anything extra after your needs:

- designer clothes
- take away meals
- luxury holidays
- concert tickets
- books and DVDs
- cost of socialising (pubs, clubbing, parties)
- store bought coffee
- chocolate


Keep your list and come back tomorrow where I will show you how a few smart swaps can save you money.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Gym Memberships: Read the smallprint

Whilst reading this mornings Money section in The Times, I came across an article about how gyms can charge you for canceled contracts - the article focused on a man who recently left the country to move to Sydney only to discover that LA Fitness were chasing him for payments.

With lots of people joining gyms as part of their New Year's resolutions, I'd suggest you read the small print and ask about their cancellation policy before signing on the dotted line.

So, if you are thinking of joining, here are a few questions to ask as well as how you can cut the cost of getting fit:

1) Ask about the cancellation policy - Life's unpredictable so it's worth asking what would happen if you moved to another area or your right to cancel and what you would need to do.

2) Be wary of gym deals - There are lots of ads appearing in newspapers and magazines giving free weekend passes or even a month's free membership, often they require you to set up a direct debit, which you can cancel after the promotion, but many people will forget to do this, so make a note in your diary.

3) Do you really need a contract? - Perhaps you can opt for a pay-as-you-go option instead and it's worth checking out council gyms as they will be cheaper.

4) Take your fitness routine outside - Joining a gym is not the only way to get fit, here are some other options:

- join an amateur sports club or if there's a sport you've always wanted to try, now's the chance
- If you have an i-Pod consider jogging in your local park
- There are lots of marathons to raise money for charity, why not sign up with a friend and train over a number of months, you will get fit and help a good cause
- Even half an hour of walking every day can be good for your health

Friday, 18 January 2008

Friday Evening at A & E

On an unusual day, I met some interesting people...

It all started when I slipped at Paddington Station and whacked my head on the floor.

The impact of the fall, sent my glasses flying off my face, needless to say it must have looked pretty amusing to on lookers.

I was helped to the first aid room where I had an interesting conversation with an attendant,who had worked in the chocolate store, Thornton's, for three years.

For some bizarre reason, I have met a lot of people who have worked in a chocolate shop and all of them have said they have been put off chocolate, so I had to ask him:

Do you still like chocolate?

He's the first person to say yes.

The ambulance men were really lively, one of them asked me why I decided to study journalism.

I told him that I had a good job, but felt there was something else I wanted to do and asked him whether he had felt like that.

He then told me that he used to be a cop which surprised me, so after a moment I had to ask him why.

He laughed saying I really was being a journalist, but for me, this was too good an opportunity to miss.

He said he had felt the same, mentioned about bureaucracy and paperwork, but I respected his honest answer.

I waited at the hospital for an hour, my brother wondered around to find a newspaper and said there were 50 copies of the Metro.

After an hour wait, I saw another patient walk past, with a bloodied foot, who left a trail of blood on the floor.

Me and my brother just looked at each other - I had a bump on the head, he was still bleeding after an hour's wait.

My brother said he was bored, I told him he could follow the red line on the floor and see where it took him.

We then watched a cleaner mop the floor - this is amusement in hospitals.

The slippery surface sign was around the corner and we were worried that it was an accident waiting to happen, much like my own.

A student nurse, from a nearby university took my blood pressure and I had to pull funny faces to check my reflexes.

My brother said it was worth the wait just to see the expressions on my face - apparently I looked really stupid.

When I told the story of my accident, the nurse asked if my handbag was stolen, to which I replied no adding that if it had been taken, all they would have found would be manga comics, so they would have been disappointed.

Given the all clear, I was told to go home and rest.

All plans for the weekend have been cancelled, including the Cosplay Picnic.

I even straightened my hair, wanting to look like Ritsuka from Loveless but in the end because of my haircut I look like Yuki from Furuba.

When I returned to Paddington, there were lots of yellow signs warning travelers of the slippery surface.

People of the world, please take care when walking, especially over the next few rainy days.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

If Fight Club’s Tyler Durden was real…

He would appear in an American comic book series called, The Nightly News.

Okay, I know I just said that an imaginary character would become another imaginary character, but bear with me on this one...

A friend from university was looking for an American graphic novel called Painkiller Jane, so I took her to a comic book shop and whilst scanning the racks of comics I came across The Nightly News, with its surprisingly deceptive cover.

The story is set in America, where corporations own the news. If Fight Club’s Tyler Durden was real, Nightly News would be his day job. At the start it’s about activists at a protest rally. That’s until a sniper takes out one of them. That’s when you find out his real targets aren’t the protesters at all, but the journalists who arrive on the scene. In this world, the US government hires gamers to become future snipers as they have good hand-eye coordination.

Yes, it’s that messed up.

Highly stylised, there are no frames, instead the speech bubbles run downwards. It’s more than a comic book, it’s art. The Nightly News is like a bullet between the eyes. And that is a compliment. There are no heroes here. It’s a nasty world, and to survive in this chaos, you need characters just as heartless.

The book has been hailed as the future of comics and I can see why. There’s nothing like it out there. No noble, honest, decent folk, like I find in my fluffy cute manga. With a conspiracy theory that Lone Gunmen fans from The X-Files would love. It kicks butt to all those superhero comics out there. If this comic was turned into a film, it would run like an Oliver Stone movie. Violent, corrupt and undeniably sexy.

But why has it taken me two and a half years to pick up an American graphic novel? Just like other subcultures, there are tribes. For example, the people who don’t read manga, frown upon those who do. Women who read shonen manga disapprove of those who read shojo and so on.

Recent reports from Japan are indicating that the industry is in decline but looking at this comic book alone suggests that the Japanese could learn a thing or two from America.

The artist wants to distinguish himself from his characters, a disclaimer says, it’s not his own views, the text assures as that he is a normal guy, that he gives to charities, plays with children and loves cooking. But checking out his blog, I must admit it made me chuckle when he described himself saying, "I'm huge in Belgium."

What Jonathan Hickman has created is a warning, about how a media obsessed society can change things and it might not always be for the better.

For more info, check out this interview with the creator.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

How to survive Japan

For today's blog I thought I would put together a slightly humorous 'how to survive Japan' guide.

First off, I've been learning how to use chopsticks properly after using them wrongly for such a long time, I thought it was time to learn, in time for my trip to Tokyo later in the year.

Then, there's how to eat sushi guide - seriously, I didn't realise there was a correct way of doing this, but apparently there is.

Japanese etiquette is very different, how they conduct themselves is very different so here are some tips on what to do and what not to do.

And another little guide on what to do if you meet a Japanese rock band - Hey! You never know, stranger things have happened...

To end on a light note, here's a fun quiz to see, would you survive in Japan?

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The Real Fast and the Furious

The Fast and the Furious made street car racing cool, but reading an article about Asian girls racing in LA added a whole new dimension - it's the girls who are behind the wheels.

The girl in the article, Jackie Q, is by day a straight laced A grade student, but in the evening she is speeding down Sunset Boulevard.

The police, I might add, are sensible enough not to follow her.

The most interesting point in the article was that apparently these high speed Asian girls are not copying Hollywood movies but rather grew up on their brother's video games.

No timid wallflowers here either, they are very much in the driving seat but whether they are in control is another matter entirely.

A number of innocent bystanders have been killed in LA due to these girl's actions, whether the need for speed can justify taking someone's life is debatable.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Why the world needs explorers

With the recent death of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, I’ve been thinking about explorers. A scene from The Truman Show has in my mind. A young Truman says that when he grows he wants to be an explorer, but he is quickly shot down by his teacher who pulls down a map of the world and points out that everything has been discovered and that there's nothing left to explore.

On hearing the news of Hillary's death, I turned to a friend and said, "There are no explorer's these days, except for Kino." But I for one think the world needs more explorers, even if its just the animated kind. Kino from Kino's Journey for those who don't know is an anime about a gun slinging girl who travels the world on her motorbike staying in each place for only three days before moving onwards. But for those who can’t travel, the book behind the anime, Kino no Tabi, poses the thought that destination is a state of mind, and whilst reading the book you are taken on a winding journey through hope, loss and the human soul.

In the anime, a man tells Kino that whenever he sees a bird, it makes him want to go on a journey. That feeling of blissful nostalgia, of wanting. Kino is my hero, rather than being a dreamer, she is steadfast and cautious, she knows what this world is really like, and through her eye's we see that to survive in this world, you have to make decisions and tough one's at that.

The opening passage in the book plays on the notion of beauty, Kino sees the world as an ugly place but that lends it a sort of beauty. Whilst she travels she is aware of her own limitations, that she can't change things, even when she sees so much suffering and pain. This she believes makes her a terrible person, but her companion Hermes points out that only terrible people don't want to feel other people's pain but she does.

Both travelers and explorers alike, know that their paths will lead to hardship and struggle, but still, they choose to continue, journey down that road, without turning back, no matter where the road, or life, may take them.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

How to save money on your holiday

As I will be jetting off to Tokyo later in the year, so here are my top tips on how to save money on the run up and during your holiday:

1) Book your flights and hotel separately - Speaking to a few expert travellers, the best tip I've been told is to book flights and hotels yourself, often booking with the hotel directly.

2) Use the web - There are plenty of Internet sites with recommendations on how to cut costs and travel safely, along with online guides, so there is no need to buy an expensive book.

3) Foreign Currency - The Post Office, now converts currency for free, whilst some bank still charge, so make sure you money goes further

4) Packing your suitcase - It can be tempting to buy lots of new things before you go but a little clever planning will mean you have more spending money at your destination.

Decant your regular toiletries into mini containers, take clothes that can go from morning in to night and if you are heading off to a sunny destination, buy sun block now whilst the sales are still on at supermarkets.

Just in case you're wondering, here's how to pack a suitcase.

5)Make the most of free activities - Most cities have websites listing free activities, and its also worth checking out tourist websites too, here are some of the most interesting one's I've found for cities around the world:

London - Free or nearly free activities in London, or why not be a tourist for a day in your own city?

Paris - With Eurostar making the capital of Paris only a couple of hours away, check out the city's many free attractions.

New York - Take a break from shopping in the city that never sleeps to see what else the city has to offer.

Tokyo - As I'm heading off to Tokyo later in the year, how could I not mention the land of the Rising Sun.

7) Food - Take advantage of all you can eat buffets or food courts/markets as eating local produce is cheaper than hotel food.

8) Photo's - Take a digital camera with you and on the flight back delete any bad photo's so that by the time you get back you will know which photo's you want to develop in to prints.

If you are away for a long holiday, take advantage of sites such as Photo Bucket where you can upload photo's straight to the web and writing a blog is an easy way to let your friends and family know what you've been up to instead of expensive telephone calls.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Making the most of Girl's Night In

Going out can cost a lot, so today's blog is all about making the most of staying in:

1)Popcorn movie evenings - Whilst I was paying off my student loan, this was one of my most popular evenings, all it involves is renting a movie, a bag of microwave popcorn and some good company.

2) Clothes swap parties - Clothes can cost a fair bit of money so why not hold a clothes swap party where everyone brings clothes or accessories they no longer wear and exchange them amongst yourselves.

3) Hot Pot dinner party - Organising a dinner party can be both costly and time consuming so ask all your guests to bring one dish each, this way the hostess of the party can spend more time socialising and less time in the kitchen!

4) Makeovers - You can't get more girly than this, get all your girl friends to bring a fashion magazine each, some make up, facial masks (sachet one's cost only 99p in Boots and Superdrug)and munchies, preferably chocolate.

5) Join a club - Like reading? Join a local book club, most libraries have one these days but if you have other interests such as making movies, painting or drawing, check out the local newspaper as there are always lots of clubs in the local area.

5) Retro TV marathon - Great for insomniacs, bring along an old TV show that you haven't seen since you were a teenager, my favourites include: My So Called Life, Party of Five and Freaks and Geeks.

For more tips on how to make your social life less expensive, check out this article on MSN Money.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Get Fit for less

If your New Year's resolution this year is to loose weight and get fit the last part of my 'save money on everything' series is all about how to cut the cost of fitness activities along with a few tips to get you in shape:

1) Join the 'pay as you go' gym - Gym memberships can cost an arm and two legs so see if your employer has a special deal with a local gym or even consider council owned gyms which are often much cheaper.

If you go frequently, think about off peak membership.

Rather than paying a monthly sum, consider joining on a pay as you go basis and take advantage of special offers, most gym's will give you one or two days trial membership.

2)Take your fitness regime outdoors - Okay, you don't have to join the gym, I've recently been doing exercises at home with a fitness DVD, but once the weather gets warmer, I plan to go jogging/running.

Think about what else you can do - cycling, walking, swimming or even joining an amateur sports club in your local area.

3) Exercises for your body shape - It's great to want to get in shape but have you considered your body shape?

Adapting your exercise regime to your body shape will help you get better results.

4) Gym clothes - As you start losing weight, chances are your clothes will become baggy and buying new clothes on a regular basis can become expensive, so check out fitness magazine's such as Zest, which in this month's issue, has teamed up with Sweaty Betty to give 20% off sports clothes.

5) Those running shoes - Trainers cost a bomb, so check out discount codes for sportswear stores like JJB to save a few bob.

How to get money off your shopping

Today's entry in my 'save money on everything' series is all about how to get money off your shopping:

1) Use discount codes - When I buy things online, I always try to find a discount voucher, I recently bought beauty products over the net and using a special code saved me 10%.

2)Find the cheapest deal online - Price comparison websites are a good way to compare prices on the high street and the web at the click of a button, try Kelkoo and Pricerunner.

3)Loyalty cards - Every time I shop in Boots I always check the Boots Advantage card machine to see what special offers they have and once you have got those points use them to pay for an extra special treat.

4)Second hand stuff - Ask yourself, do you really need to buy everything new? If not, check out charity shops or eBay where you can buy things for a lot less

5) Impulse buying - If you see something that you really like but it's expensive, give yourself a three day cooling off period, check if you can get it cheaper online with one of those discount codes I mentioned earlier, or if you can find a similar item somewhere else for less.

6) Using my NUS card - If you are a student, use all the discounts you can get, check out the NUS website on a regular basis to keep track of new offers.

So far I've used my student discount to get money off clothes, food, DVDs, books, beauty products and cinema tickets.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Eat out for less

As a bit of a foodie myself, today's edition of 'save money on everything' series is all about dinning out on less:

1) Restaurant websites - Got a favourite restaurant? sign up to their email newsletter and get discounts, as I will be going to Tokyo later on in the year, I thought it's time to brush up on my chopsticks skills, Wagamama do 2 for 1 on meals in the promotion section of their website whilst YO! Sushi will be knocking off 50% between 14 & 24 January.

2) Book your table online - There are a number of websites which offer discounts if you book a table online, try Toptable where there is a January sale on with 50% off meals or 5pm.co.uk which offer a variety of perks from 2 for 1 meals, just remember to print off the voucher and take it with you.

3)Make the most of Happy Hour - Many pubs especially chains like Weatherspoons will offer cheap meals between 5 - 6pm, and by the way, their January sale is currently on until the 15 January where the price of a meal and a pint has been reduced.

And you don't need to wait until the evening for a bargain, keep an eye out for displays, walking past a cafe this morning in Harrow I saw a sign for a full English breakfast and pot of tea for £2.99 so keep your eye's peeled.

4) Student meals - The cost of meals is always a topic of conversation at my uni, usually about how food costs a lot, so if you are a student, flash that NUS card and use any voucher books - while out in Ealing on the weekend, I picked up a voucher book at Subway.

5) Cut the cost of coffee - Ditching my morning coffee saved me loads but if you can't quite kick the caffeine habit pick up a loyalty card, Cafe Nero does one, where you get a stamp each time you visit and when you complete a card, you get a free drink.

Or even better, buy a thermos and take your coffee with you!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Save money on your hobbies

Most people spend a fortune on their hobbies, whether it's reading, going to the movies or buying DVDs, today's blog is all about how to save money on some of our favourite things:

1) Movie buffs - Sign up to a company which gives out free preview tickets for the latest movies, SeeFilmFirst, or alternatively, most cinema's offer cheaper matinee tickets early in the day, at the Prince Charles Cinema it only costs £4 or £1.50 if you become a member.

If you have an Orange phone, drag a friend along to the movies on Orange Wednesday where it's 2 for 1 on cinema tickets, also check out lastminute.com,where standby tickets at VUE cinema's around London cost £4.99 each

2) TV and radio shows - If you love TV why not try joining the audience for a live recording, Applause Store have tickets for most TV shows and why not check out tickets for radio shows too for a whole new experience.

3) Cut price books - If like me, you read lots, try buying your books online, The Book Depository often undercuts Amazon's prices, but if you don't mind second hand books, check out eBay and don't forget to use your local library, if they don't have the book you want in, you can always reserve it, it may take a while to come in, but reserving a book is only a fraction of the cost compared to buying it new.

Don't forget charity shops especially Oxfam where you can pick up books for nearly nothing.

4) DVDs and music CDs - Use comparison websites such as Kellkoo and PriceRunner to compare prices to find the cheapest stockist or even better, sign up for an online DVD rental service where you can hire a number of DVDs every month with many offering one month free rental.

5) London for free (or almost...) - London can be expensive so check out London Free List which lists free things happening in London, or nearly free (not more than £3) for days out including activities for both grown ups and little kids too.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Beauty on a budget

As many women will know, beauty products can cost a fortune so part 2 of my 'save money on everything' series is all about how to look beautiful without breaking the bank:

1) Free samples - Most department store beauty stands will give out mini versions of their products to customers so grab as many as you can, the best one's I have found are from Kiehl's store in Covent Garden and Shishedo who gave me enough eye cream samples that I don't have to buy another eye cream for a year!

If they don't give samples, buy a small lip gloss style pot from Muji and squeeze a small sample in to the container, if you are going to spend a lot of money on a face cream, you need to know if it's the right one for your skin type.

2) Multi-tasking products - Buy products and make up that do three jobs in one, some clever make up can be a lipstick, blusher and eye shadow in one, even new beauty products can do this, Elizabeth Arden has recently launched a cleanser, exfoliater and primer combined, so expect more from your beauty products.

3) Supermarket brands - Contrary to popular belief, cheap brands can be just as effective as the more expensive one's, Boot's have their own brand expert range and Barbara Daly make up range for Tesco has featured in many beauty magazines.

And don't forget your local independent chemist, they often reduce prices on make up and often carry lesser known brands that most people don't know about.

4) Pampering girls - What girl doesn't like a little pampering, but treatments like facials can cost a bomb especially if you live in a city like London, so investigate nearby beauty schools which offer discounts.

5) Too much make up - Rather than chucking out your lipstick when it's reached the bottom of the tube, invest in a mini lipstick palette with compartments, where you can blend colours to make your own shade of lipstick.

Whilst there are expensive cases on the market, check out the Japanese hardware stores at Oriental City in Colindale, north London, which cost less and also carry Korean and Japanese beauty products which are worth investigating.

5) DIY Facials - Check out your local library for a book about beauty which often include steps on how to give yourself a facial, all you need is a couple of items, lock yourself away in the bathroom and re-create a spa environment at home.

Don't worry about full size products, Boots and Superdrug now do miniature version for globe trotting babes so you don't need to fork out, the key is add a few things to what you already have or alternatively, raid the kitchen cupboard!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

How to save money on everything

My new series looks at ways to save money on the most popular things we buy, kicking off with a look at fashion:

1) The January Sales - It's not too late to pick up a bargain, the sales are still on and major department stores such as John Lewis will be ending their sales next weekend, so waiting towards the final weekend will see big reductions on sale items.

If you are bewildered by the sales, check out Handbag.com's fashion tips on sales shopping.

2) Vintage finds - Never underestimate charity shops for unique finds, especially the shops located on Hammersmith Broadway and shops in affluent areas of London like Kensington where you can find interesting clothes.

3) Designer clothes on a budget - Branded accessories can be seen as an investment for the future as they rarely decrease in value, but buying the most sought after handbag can be expensive so check out fashion sites such as Net-a-Porter who often knock down the prices of designer goods and the good news is that their sale is still on.

4) Get on the email list - If you have a favourite store, join their email list to receive their newsletter to get special discounts and the first pick on the newest stock.

5) Take a closer look at your wardrobe - Buy well cut basics such as a trouser suit, pencils skirt/smart dress and update your look with pieces from the new season to keep your style bang up to date.

If you're wondering what the trend's are this spring, it's retro looks, wearable denim and feminine pastel dresses that are making waves on the runway.

Come back this week for tips on how to cut costs on beauty, fitness and leisure.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Money and relationships

In the last part of my 'Back to basics' series, I will be looking at how to 'money proof' your relationships, making sure that money doesn't lead to fights or conflict.

1) Split the bills - Be clear about who pays what, if one person pays for everything, this can distort the balance of power in a relationship and can lead to resentment, so if one partner is the bread winner, think of ways to balance out the relationship, for example the other partner could do household chores and cooking.

2) Eating out - As tempting as it is to let your date pay for everything, consider 'going Dutch' and paying half, this way there will be no expectations and paying your own way will show your date that you can look after yourself.

3) Friends - The same goes for friends, many friendships have ended over money, so the best advice I can give is only lend money if you're prepared to not get it back.

4) Best friends - As for best friends, a word of warning, sometimes people have to sort their own problems out, you are a friend, not an ATM machine, so don't let your friends treat you like one.

If you do lend money, draw up a written agreement about when and how you will get the money back.

5) Can you buy love? -I'm not sure you can, but money can buy a Prada handbag, perfume and lots of well... stuff!

I have often thought, why is love so expensive? - So think up other ways to show affection, a home cooked meal, a picnic in the park, hand made presents can give that extra special touch that you can't buy in the shops!

For more tips check out this article on the BBC website.

Starting tomorrow, I will be writing a new series about, 'how to save money on everything,' from fashion, beauty to leisure and fitness, so come back for more money saving tips.

Friday, 4 January 2008

How to get a pay rise

So far this week I've been talking about how to save money but part 6 of my 'Back to basics' series is all about how to earn more money:

After all, the more money you earn, the more you can save:

1) Why do you deserve a pay rise? - That's one of the questions your manager is going to ask you, so think up examples of where you have taken on additional duties: have you led on a project or implemented a new initiative? write up all the things you've done and demonstrate how they have benefited the company.

2) The right time to ask - It's better to ask early in the morning at the start of the week before the office gets busy.

Request a formal meeting ahead of time as this will give you time to sort out what you want to say.

Also, if you're changing jobs, this is a good opportunity to ask for more money.

3) What are you worth? - Do your research, check what other companies pay for the same job, by knowing the skills I would bring to the team I was able to ask for £1,500($3,000) more than the advertised rate when I changed jobs.

4) Have a back up plan - Your employer may not be able to give you a raise especially if there's been job cuts, so ask if you can have a review in six months time to discuss a raise but also think about non-money things you can ask for:

- flexible working so that you can leave earlier one day a week
- an open learning afternoon so that you can use the organisation's library to brush up on some skills once a month
- mentoring sessions, perhaps there is a senior person in another team who can give guidance on how to develop your career


5) What else can you do? - Suggest that you are willing to take on more responsibilities, perhaps there is a project you can lead on or if there isn't one yet, let your boss know that you will be interested when the next one comes up.

If you need to learn new skills, think about taking an evening class, it is possible to complete a course in six months and if you can demonstrate how doing the course has benefited your employer, it will put you in a better position next time around.

For more tips, check out this article about how to get a promotion.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Cut the cost of your weekly food bill

Modern living is becoming more expensive and as any household will know, food shopping accounts for a major part of the weekly shopping.

So part 5 of my 'Back to basics' series is all about thrifty ways to spend less at the supermarket check out:

1)Buy supermarket own brands - The next time you buy a loaf of bread, compare the prices of well known brands to the supermarket's own brands, they are usually cheaper and nearly identical to well known brands.

Compare other products and you will see the difference - With supermarkets introducing more of their own lines, substitute one item every week and see if you notice the difference.

2) Shop at the end of the day - Supermarkets often reduce the prices on items towards the end of the day to clear stock that is nearing their sell-by date, so pop along after 6pm and you will often find some meat and bread products have been reduced.

3) What's in the cupboards? - If your cupboards are filled with tinned cans or if there is food in the freezer, don't go food shopping for one week, instead use up what's already in the kitchen.

Doing this once a month has saved my family £60 ($120) off our food bill.

4) Visit your local farmers market - fruit and veg cost less at a farmers market and they usually have more variety than the supermarket

5) Look out for special deals - buy toiletries and everyday essentials when they are on '3 for 2' and take advantage of special offers.

6) Use that loyalty card - Supermarkets are one of a few places where you can earn many reward points: if you get the supermarket magazine free with your card, remember to use the special coupons inside to make even more savings

7) It's not just about food - Supermarkets now sell more than grub, everything from clothes, jemelry to widescreen TV's, so take another look.

For more tips on grocery shopping and how to dodge supermarket strategies which make you spend more, check out this excellant article at Money Saving Expert.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

How to get out of Christmas debt

Many of us will be dreading opening their bank statements this January due to excessive spending over Christmas, but don't worry, part 4 of my 'Back to basics' series is all about some serious debt-busting tips:

1) Change your attitude to debt - Whilst out sales shopping yesterday, another customer in front of me whipped out his credit card to pay for his shoes and as he turned around to his friend he said, "I'll just stick it on the credit card, I won't have to think about that for another month."

Hearing that, worried me - if you want to get out of debt faster, one of the best things to do is changing your approach to debt, I left university with a £11,000 student loan to repay but rather than sticking my head in the sand, I was adamant to do something about it and if I can do it, so can you!

2) Prioritise your debt - Make a New Year's resolution and commit to clearing your Christmas debt - next write down everything you owe and focus on paying off the most expensive debt first, such as credit and store cards, then work your way down the list, tackling one debt at a time.

3) Get a second job - Ask to do some overtime at work or pick up a temporary job over the weekend to get some extra cash, think about odd jobs like babysitting, walking a neighbours dog, baking birthday cakes, if you can play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, why not take advantage of that skill?

Just ask yourself this, what am I good at? and then think how you can make money from it.

4) Curb that retail therapy - Remember how you got in to debt in the first place: if it's because you rely on credit cards too much, now's the time to take control of your finances, leave your cards at home and pay with cash, when you've paid off one credit card, cut it up, so that the temptation is no longer there.

If you go shopping due to boredom, try a new activity or volunteer, giving a few hours back to your local community will distract you from shopping and look good on your resume.

5) Sell those unwanted Xmas presents - Flog those dud presents at an online auction, or even better, grab an empty box and fill the box with things you no longer use that are lying around the house and take them to a car boot sale.

If you don't have enough things to sell, team up with a friend, that way you will have more of a variety of items on display and you can share the booking fee for the pitch spot between you.

6)Change your habits - A few simple lifestyle changes for a few months can save you money, so look at where else you can save money on the things you do spend:

- Ban take away's for a month
- Buy supermarket own brand foods which work out cheaper than well known brands
- Only go for an evening out once a week until your debt is cleared, putting the money towards clearing your debt
- If buying clothes is expensive, hold a 'swap shop' evening and swap clothes you no longer wear with your friends


For more tips on beating debt, check out this articleon MSN Money for extra tips.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

5 Money resolutions for the New Year

It's a new start to the New Year and many people will be making resolutions - If you haven't made one yet, why not make a money resolution this year to improve your bank balance and make your purse or wallet a little fatter.

In part 3 of my 'Back to basics' series, I will be giving you some tips on how to save more money:

1) Make saving easy - If you are one of those people who count down to payday (and frankly, who doesn't?) set up a direct debit to automatically move money into your savings account after payday.

2) Put your £1 coins into a piggy bank - If you're not sure how much money will be coming in every month, try this instead: every time you get a £1 coin as part of your shopping change make a promise to drop this into your piggy bank - A friend of mine did this and saved £30 by the end of the month.

3) Get a bank account that pays you interest - Bank accounts can become uncompetitive over time, so check out comparison websites to see if your account is up to date and check out online accounts which pay higher interest rates.

4) Leave your credit card at home - A good way to save more money, is to spend less -Try online shopping during the week and keep one weekend every month as a 'no shopping weekend' and have a relaxing day out instead.

Living in London, it's easy to shop your life away, but really, there is more to life than just hitting the shops.

5) Use your ISA allowance - You can save up to £3,000 in a mini cash ISA in any tax year, so make sure you use up your allowance.

Saving £250 every month may sound like a lot of money but there are many ways you can do this, so below are some of my top suggestions:

- Ditch that morning coffee
- Take a packed lunch to work
- Cancel unused gym memberships
- Sell your junk at a car boot sale
- Switch from a contract phone to pay-as-you-go
- Only buy the items on your shopping list when grocery shopping
- Ditch one expensive hobby