Monday, 31 March 2008

ISA countdown: What you need to know

The deadline to put your money in a tax-free ISA (Individual Savings Account) this year is fast approaching, ending at midnight this Saturday 5 April, so today's blog is a guide to how to get the most out of your ISA.

ISAs were introduced back in 1999 by the Government to encourage more people to save money, anyone over 16 can save £3,000 in a mini cash ISA whilst those aged 18 or over can invest £4,000 in a mini equity ISA or £7,000 in a Maxi ISA which involves stocks and shares.

From April 6, new changes will mean you can invest more in these accounts and the names will be simplified and the limits raised so you can save £3,600 in a cash ISA or £7,200 in a stocks and shares ISA.

Why have an ISA?

Quite simply, ISAs come with a tax free wrapper, meaning you will pay no tax on your savings, in other words, the taxman will not get a penny of your interest meaning ISAs are now a good place for long term savings.

If you haven't used up your allowance so far this year, it's not too late to save money but before you sign on the dotted line, here are a couple of questions to ask your bank and why:

Can I withdraw money from my ISA?

Some banks will try to persuade you to take a fixed rate ISA, where your money will be tied up for between one to five years and if this is the case, you wont be able to get your hands on the money until the term ends.

Whilst fixed ISAs do give a higher rate it's worth considering your own needs first, if you don't need the money for a year, it's worth considering this option, however, if you feel you might need to access your money at short notice, opt for a variable interest rate which will pay a lower rate of return but you will be able to get your hands on your money when you need it.

Will I be penalised for taking money out of my account?

Some banks will allow you to make withdrawals without any penalty, but find out if there is a limit on the number of free withdrawals or if you need to give notice to take money out of your account.

What is the interest rate?

If you've had your ISA with the same provider for a long time, chances are your interest rate has become uncompetitive, so it is worth shopping around and remember to check out Best Buy tables on the internet and in the weekend newspapers.

What is your online interest rate?

It's worth asking this as the higher rates of interest can often be found online, as more and more people do online banking.

Does this ISA include a bonus?

Walking around the banks this week, I've seen many posters offering high interest rates, but when you read the small print, you find out there is an added bonus for a short period of time and then it reverts back to a lower rate.

To find out more information check out this article about your ISA options.

How to beat the rising cost of living

Over the last couple of weeks there has been numerous reports about the rising cost of living as daily basics such as bread, milk and eggs are going up which will hit families on middle or low incomes worst.

As rising inflation will make daily essentials more expensive, here are some of my money saving tips on cutting the cost of household expenditure:

1) Budget more wisely - As basics become more dearer, people will have less money to spend on luxuries and treats so setting a weekly budget will help streamline your finances and prioritise your spending by making you look for more ways to save money.

2) Do you really need it? - When you go grocery shopping, write a list of everything you need, now go through the list and delete anything which is more of a luxury instead of a necessity.

Everyone impulse buys and supermarkets use all kinds of ways to get you to spend more: moving things around, so you have to look everywhere for what you really want, placing more expensive goods at eye level within easy reach are only a few tactics, but knowing the psychology of supermarket shopping will help you to keep your well earned cash where it needs to be... in your wallet!

3) Slash your grocery bill - There are many tips and tricks to save money at the supermarket such as buying supermarket own brands and shopping in the evening to pick up last minute late deals.

Also check out a My Supermarket which will compare the prices of your weekly shop to see which will be the cheapest.

But one of the sure fire way to save money is to go food shopping once a fortnight and use up the items stored in your cupboards or freezer in the week between, most people tend to accumulate items that they rarely use, so by doing this my family's food cost has gone down £80 every month.

4) Where can you buy cheaper? - Whatever you plan on buying, always think where can you get the lowest prices, most items are market up on the high street so to get a better deal go online and use price comparison sites such as Kelkoo or PriceRunner to get the lowest price.

5) Use vouchers - If you are planning on buying online, check out MyVoucherCodes and grab an online voucher which will save you even more money.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Anime theme tune showdown!

Many people get into Japanese music by listening to the songs played on their favourite anime shows, it was Full Metal Alchemist which introduced me to L'arc en Ciel and a number of other great bands, so today's blog is all about the best anime tunes out there.

Playing in the video above is the song, Let Me Be With You, by ROUND TABLE featuring Nino, it's one of those super happy songs that was used for Chobits and has been used on so many fan videos on You Tube.

Other favourite's include the Paradise Kiss opening, Lonely in Gorgeous, quite possibly one of the best dance tunes out there and Okina Reika's, Tsuki no Curse, used in Loveless is also a great theme tune.

So what is it about anime soundtracks that make them so compelling? Usually, I find the unique mix of songs express the different emotions in a series, one of the best one's I've heard so far is the, NANA 'Best of,' soundtrack and the video for A Little Pain by Olivia Lufkin is below.

Music evokes emotions and some of the most powerful songs can make you feel both happy and sad, it's also a good way to check out another culture, even if you can't understand the words, a good song will convey the feelings the singer is trying to express, that in essence, is the power of music.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Korean Punk girls and J Pop boys

Ever since I got into J rock, I somehow accidentally ended up liking Korean girl punk outfit, Shorty Cat, whose video, With The Punk, is above.

Think punk with a cheery poppy vibe, which has filled the girl band gap since I stopped listening to the likes of The Donna's and Sleater Kinney.

Although the Koran punk scene is limited compared to their Japanese counterpart, it's interesting to see how punk has developed around the world, away from Punk's spiritual home in London.

Switching over to pop, another group I like are the, KinKi Kids, for their super happy music, all their hits chart at the top spot in Japan, and whilst I'm not a chart follower over here, I must confess the light, bright feel of their song, Brand New Song, (below) is simply addictive!

Friday, 28 March 2008

Miku, UVERworld and the other side of J music

I can't even remember the last time I bought an English cd, ever since I fell into J rock I have never looked back, so today's blog is all about the best bands and artists coming out of Japan, some you will know about and others you probably should:

I wouldn't be blogging about J rock if it wasn't for An Cafe's Miku, ever since their London gig I've had Orange Dreams on replay, it's the song that was written for ex band mate Bou and although it's a sad song, when you listen to it, it's somehow uplifting, this song always cheers me up when I'm down.

That's the great thing I realised at the An Cafe gig, it doesn't matter that I don't understand Japanese, music is something you feel with your heart, music is borderless.

Another band worth checking out is UVERworld, their video Chance is at the top of this page, rock music doesn't have to be all angsty and depressing, in the same way An Cafe makes J rock fun, UVERworld makes rock interesting, a techno/emo feel with a hard rock edge.

Another artist worth checking out is Mika Nikashima whoose song Glamorous Sky, was written by Hyde of L'arc en Ciel fame and is a powerful song used in the NANA movie.

If you prefer more Gothic music then Miyavi may be more your thing, Neo Visualizm is a great song and although Miyavi is a bit of a cheeky chap, music has become a lot more exciting with him around.

He is also part of S.K.I.N, a Japanese super group including Gakt, which makes British artist's celeb collaborations pale in comparison - Simon Cowell take note.

Lastly, to prove that all music doesn't need to be so dark, check out Home Made Kazoku's Nagareboshi (Shooting Star) in this video below, they are the Japanese 2Pac and the song is about aiming high to achieve your dreams, who needs Britpop when music is as aspirational as this:

Thursday, 27 March 2008

An Cafe fashion style

At the recent An Cafe gig in London, I noticed that Miku has started a trend amongst his fans to wear palmwarmers and fingerless gloves, so today's blog is all about An Cafe's colourful style and how you can re-create the look at home:

Palmwarmers - Miku wears black one's as seen in the Kakusei Heroism video but he also wears white and black striped one's.

Similar one's can be found at Camden Market, pictured below, but a friend of mine makes her own, the easy way to do this is to buy a pair of fashion tights and cut them at the ankles and below the knee.

Bright clothes - Most Visual Kei bands wear Gothic clothes, but An Cafe's clothes are bright and funky, think red, pink, yellow t-shirts, hooded coats and sequins worn over ripped jeans.

Scarves, bandanas - Another Miku thing is to wear bandanas in his hair, you can either buy a ready made one like the silver one below or buy fabric and fold it up before tying it in your hair.

Rock hair - By far the hardest bit, be patient with your hair straighteners and use putty or wax to get that manga hair look, if dying your hair is a bit scary, add coloured hair extensions in your hair for a flash of colour.

Tastful bling - Less chav and more narrow chains with small pendants with musical instruments or small crosses, the look is more understated than all out bling.

Skinny ties - Think narrow styles, like those worn by indie boys, made in shiny fabric like satin in bright colours such as red paired with a stripy polo shirt.

Diamante - Miku wears diamante hair slides in his straight hair in a criss cross fashion which can easily be bought in chemists or Accessorize.

Waistcoats - This look has been done to death by Kate Moss, but this is one for the boys, wear over a long sleeved round neck top or a white shirt teamed with multiple chains.

Be an individual - Most important is to be individualic with your style, don't follow the herd and experiment with different colours, if you've become used to wearing black (like me) neon pink can be a bit scary, but if Miku can do it, so can you.

If any other An Cafe fans have their own suggestions on how to get their look, please leave a comment below, I would like to hear from you!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

An Cafe in London

Last night, I saw J-rockers, An Cafe, perform at the Islington Academy.

Imagine rock mixed with power pop, with rocking guitars and a funky keyboard, if you can picture that, you are half way there.

Visual Kei is not just about the music, it's also about the clothes, Miku wore a neon pink hooded overcoat, mixed in with a bandanna and green earrings, which somehow strangely suited him.

Miku apologized saying that he can't speak English properly and said, "I love you," to the audience, which was greeted by a deafening roar, but turning around I was surprised to see it wasn't the fan girls screaming- it was the fan boys!

Miku was bouncing across the stage, cheering the audience on to sing along, the highlight was seeing Miku pull out pink and white pom pom's and do a little routine, he was quite possibly the cutest cheerleader in the world.

By the end of the evening, Miku says he wants to see the audience smile, but there wasn't any more room on people's faces to widen their smiles.

Miku clearly carries the band, his happy-go-lucky attitude refreshing, and despite the language barrier, he wants everyone to have a good time, but that's the power of music, even in Japanese, it can move you and get you jumping around.

Waving goodbye to the audience, Miku is both timid and an extrovert, saying he will come back to play London again, but unknown to Miku, he has already won the hearts and minds of everyone in the audience.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Exploring Trinity Blood: Vampires, politics and despair

Anyone missing the demise of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, should give the manga, Trinity Blood, a whirl.

Set in the distant future, after Armageddon has destroyed the earth, a new conflict emerges between vampires (the Methuselah) and humans (called Terrans), but in this world there is a twist, the Vatican has become a military power house, often the last line of defense between the two factions.

But what makes this world interesting is the role of the Vatican with it's internal conflicts, rivalry and power plays.

All this before you meet the main character, Abel Nightroad, who on the surface appears to be a destitute travelling priest, but is in fact the Vatican's secret weapon against the vampires: a Crusnik, a vampire that feeds on other vampires.

And this is where things get really interesting, chuck in a mechanoid gun friendly priest, Tres, and a rather feisty nun, Esther, and you have a rather amusing trio who naturally always find themselves in trouble, often due to Abel's clumsiness but who cares, it makes for an amusing read!

Trinity Blood is part Gothic adventure series and part comedy but whilst the manga pulls a few surprising punches along the way, it is easy to get swept along with the story.

But if this story appears to be just light hearted fun, you would be deceived, there is a much darker story lurking here.

Abel, who is ashamed to admit to Esther what he really is, hides the truth from her, but at the end of volume 4, a scared Esther calls Abel a monster when she sees him in his terrifying Crusnik form, which leads Abel to despair.

A little while back I found out that the man who wrote the original novels, Sunao Yoshida, had died a few years back, apparently he was a lot like Abel, kind hearted and generous, the kind of person I would have liked to meet one day, as I don't think there are enough of this kind of people in the world.

Here's to hoping that I will meet more Abel's in this world, one day.

Feminism in manga: the NANA effect

Many of you may have noticed, but I'm a bit of a NANA fangirl, I really like the way Ai Yazawa portrays her heroines as independent women rather than being docile.

Chasing the future

Both Nana's in this series move to Tokyo to make a new life for themselves, earning their own money and realising that behind the glamour of Tokyo, real life can be tough sometimes, but in the face of such harsh choices, decisions will have to be made, and this is where NANA really excels, in showing not only the problems life can throw at you, but also the consequences that you will have to live with.

Hachi (Nana Komatsu), once a boy-crazy pretty girl becomes pregnant and in the process, the friendship between the two friends slowly changes, but to Hachi, Nana Osaki now seems further away as her musical career takes off, but despite this, Hachi still supports her friend, even though they are far apart.

Kindred spirits

Friendships between female friends can be volatile due to jealousy, envy and rivalry and whilst most shojo manga is often light and fluffy, NANA often shows that people do make mistakes and handle situations badly, a lot like real life if you think about it and that is what I think sets this series apart from other manga's.

The Nana's world changes and this I think is experienced by many women in their twenties as their lives change too due to careers or marriage which often call friendships into question.

But ultimately, Hachi believes in Nana O and this I think keeps their friendship going and that in this fickle world of revolving friendships is commendable.

The manga has been said to inspire a new generation of women in Japan, and honestly, I can see why.

More than just Rock 'n' Roll

And whilst I no longer where my punk rock make up or diamante collar, there is still a little punk rock spirit in my heart.

Since I started this series, I have also read Kamikaze Girls and been listening to more J-punk records, what I now call the NANA effect in my own life.

There are plenty of women who are all about using others, mistakenly thinking this is independence, but it's not, reading NANA just makes me want to make my own way in this world and that isn't a bad thing at all.

So many female friendships are about rivalry and outdoing each other to prove, 'I'm better than you,' that I sometimes do worry if people really know what it means to be a friend.

But I think there is hope in NANA, as women live out their twenties all over the world, even when their lives change before their very eye's, mistakes will be made but we will carry on our struggles, moving forward to the future.

After all, isn't that the purpose of youth?

Sunday, 23 March 2008

What's in your handbag?

Following the example of the very fabulous InsideMyBag website, I thought I would share the contents of what's inside my anime handbag with you:

Death Note handbag - For those who don't know, the villain/hero on my handbag is Light from the anime series, Death Note.

Out of all the bags I've owned, this is the one I've got the most attention with, it's not designer, it's dirt cheap, and yet I've had a girl shout, "That's a cool bag," behind me on the Underground escalator, it took me a few seconds to realise, wait... she's talking about me, but this was the first of many comments.

Meiji Chocolate Almonds - I was in Chinatown yesterday, so I had to cave into my weakness for Japanese chocolate, not too sweet, these almonds are totally moorish.

Meiji Strawberry chocolate - This is by far my favourite chocolate, but I don't always find it, it's chocolate with a thin layer of strawberry nougat in the middle, very yummy!

Face Stockholm Glitter Stick in Silver - I'm a glitter girl at heart, good for times when you need a little sparkle in your life, or quick make up on the go when out clubbing.

Kiehl's lip balm - If it's good enough for the A-list, it's good enough for me, an ultra moisturising lip balm.

Clinique lipgloss - A lovely chocolate coloured lipgloss with a hint of glitter.

Manga travel card holder - A groovy little cover for my Oyster card, makes touching in and out, much more fun!

NANA manga - No anime handbag would be complete without a manga, I'm reading the heartfelt series about two girls with the same name, because every girl is a little punk rock at heart.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Loveless Cosplay: The trouble with being a cat boy

Dug up a long forgotten photo on my digital camera the other day taken at a Deviant Art cosplay meet.

This was our Loveless group, that's me on the far right, strangely, on the photo the top looks blue but its actually green.

I'm dressed as the angsty cat boy, Ritsuka, and on my left is Soubi(I really wanted to steal her furry coat), then my evil brother Seimei (Meg pulled him off wonderfully, looking rather sinister) and at the far end is another Ritsuka.

It was both fun and troublesome being a cat boy, the ears (I assure you there are two) took ages to put on and running through Hyde Park I did get some funny looks but the best reaction was when I stopped to ask a roller blading dad and his son for directions, they acted very normally, even though I know I must have looked odd.

Walking around, we did get a few smiles from Japanese people and whilst sitting down to eat in a restaurant it was problematic sitting on my tail, cat boys don't have it easy, I assure you!

But this is all part of the cosplay experience and whilst sometimes people will make snide comments, most people just smile at you or do a double take.

It's almost like putting on a costume and being someone else, I had a hard time being angsty though as I smile a lot but being a little aloof was fun.

Friday, 21 March 2008

UK households have more debt than USA

Yesterday's Metro ran an interesting story about how the credit crunch is expected to hit Britain worser than America, as Britain has a stronger link between house prices and consumer spending.

The article pointed out that the levels of household debt is also higher for the UK, running at around 175 per cent of disposable income compared to 128 per cent in the States.

So how do debt levels fair across the pond? A recent article looking at money in your thirties, stated that 9 out of 10 thirty somethings owe money and although this age range has fewer student loans to repay, the debt is often higher at $13,000 compared to people in their twenties who owe around $9,200.

The main reason behind this is that those who took smaller amount of loans in their twenties paid their loan back quickly, whilst the 30 year old's were still making payments on large loans.

Bearing in mind that most UK female students will take 16 year to repay their student loans compared to 11 years for men, and the picture we are now seeing in America is something we will soon be seeing over here - a generation of thirty somethings burdened with debt.

Add credit cards into the equation and 50% of American 30 year old's fail to pay off their credit cards by the end of the month and the future looks like a bleak one.

So here are some tips on how to manage your debts:

1) Make debt your top priority - The wide screen TV can wait, focus on paying off the remainder of your debts, focusing on the most expensive first and working your way down.

2) Stop living on credit - Really resolve to start living within your means and pay off your cards.

Once that's done, start saving and if you see a top that you really want to buy, save up for it first before buying.

3) Tighten your purse strings - Getting out of debt takes work and you will have to forgo some luxuries if you really want to make it work, so become more disciplined with your wallet and re-evaluate your lifestyle to see where you can save money.

4) Learn to budget - This will not only help control your spending but make you more savvy about where you spend your money and get more for less.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Cosplaying into the Record Books

Earlier today I headed down to the Millennium Bridge in London where the, 'Largest gathering of people dressed as games characters,' took place to set a new world record for the Guinness Book of Records - Gamers Edition.

I was surrounded by the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Chun Li, Lara Croft and even the ghosts from Pacman!

An army of eighty cosplayers dressed up in mostly home made costumes braved the cold weather to take part in the record.

Kim Harman, 19, who travelled all the way from Devon to be here today to transform into Chun-Li from Street Fighter said:

" I think she was the first female games character who wasn't a damsel in distress, she's independent, I'd like to be more like her."

Phil Simms, 22, spent two weeks with very little sleep making his costume of Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog, here's what he had to say about the day:

" Tails is my favourite character, I've had a very good reaction from people today, the best thing about Tails is that I have two tails, so I get to fly home!"

But the show was stolen away by 24 primary school children who all dressed up as Mario from Super Mario Brothers wearing identikit red caps and dungarees.

The article about today's event will soon be appearing on the Anime UK News website.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Sort out your finances

With many worries that a recession may be heading our way after the American credit crisis, today's blog is all about what practical steps you can take to take control of your finances:

1) Deal with your debts - More credit card companies are refusing new application as the credit crunch continues, so now's the time to focus on clearing those debts once and for all.

If you are using a high interest credit card, switch to a 0% interest credit card and start paying off your debt.

When you get paid, transfer as much money as you can to pay off your debts before saving any money, as the interest on credit cards often outweigh the interest on savings accounts, that's why it's important to deal with debts first.

2) Become a competitive saver - Do you know the interest rate on your savings account?

If it's been so long ago that you can't remember, check out a comparison website to see if you can get a better deal elsewhere.

Chances are that great savings account three years ago has now become uncompetitive and although the Bank of England has reduced the interest rate, the more savvy savers can still find a good return on their money.

3) Saving made easy - If a recession does hit, it will pay to be more clever with your spending, so look at where you can save money now.

Here are a few of my suggestions:

- Only go food shopping once every fortnight and use up what you already have in the fridge or cupboards.
- Jot down your grocery shopping list and then eliminate the items that are more 'wants' than 'needs.'
- At the supermarket, pick supermarket own brands over more expensive goods.
- Chuck all your loose change into a money box at the end of the day.
- Cancel any direct debits that you no longer use.
- Ditch breakfast on the run and eat at home.
- Limit how often you eat out and take a packed lunch to work.

4) Curb your spending - Many people impulse buy, so ask yourself the following two questions before you part with your cash:

Do I really need this?

Have I already got something similar at home?

The reality is that we only wear 20% of our clothes so exercising a little will power will keep the money in your wallet.

5) Keep a spending diary - If you really have no idea where your money is going, start a spending diary.

Writing down every single thing you buy for a week will make you more aware of just where that money really goes, but take this one step further and jot down what you were feeling at the time and what you were doing at the time, will help determine you money triggers.

Many people spend cash out of boredom or spend more when out with friends, so if this is you, find a cheaper hobby or go shopping by yourself.

For more information, check out this article on how to recession-proof your finances.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

How to save money for an emergency

If you're wondering why you need an emergency account to begin with, consider this, what would you do if you lost your job tomorrow?

Scary thought, isn't it?

Do you have any savings to fall back on? If this was to happen to you, what would you live on? If you have children, how would you run your household?

So today's blog is all about ways to save more and what to do with your money when you have saved it:

1) Pay yourself first - As soon as you get your monthly wage, move some money into a separate account, if you are a single person, the minimum you need to save is three months wages, if you have children, double that.

Transferring money is the simplest way to do this, it may take a while to save it, but the point is, if you don't have any emergency funds, start doing something about it immediately.

2) Where can you cut back? - Write down where you spend the most money, if you're not sure, check your bank balance, you will soon find out at which shops you spend the most.

Take into account 'invisible' transactions, by this I mean cash you take out which seemingly gets spent on things you can't remember buying, the most likely culprits are: eating out, socialising, magazines and your hobbies.

3) Give up an expensive hobby - Pick one hobby that you can live without for three months and save the cash instead, or reduce the number of nights out and have cheap nights in with friends instead.

If the thought of abandoning your favourite shop is too much, limit your visit to only once a week and set a limit on what you can spend, doing this will be hard at first, but the long term benefits is that you will be better prepared for the future if something goes wrong.

4) What are your special talents? - Good at cooking or DIY? Turn this into a money making hobby: become a handyman on the weekend, take a second job or bake cakes for special occasions.

5) Where to save the cash - Once you have the cash, save the money in a separate account from your day to day account, otherwise you might spend it, remember it has to be an easy access account in case you need to reach it in a hurry.

Online accounts work well as it is easy to transfer money between accounts if you need to, but if you know that you are a spendthrift, get a branch account with no card or cheque book, where you will have to walk in to a bank to withdraw the money.

The other option is putting the money in an ISA, which will pay you tax free interest, but keep the account variable rather than fixed in case you need to withdraw the money in a hurry.

6) What is an emergency? - Be absolutely clear what an emergency really is and write this down, such as losing your job, or the threat of becoming homeless, shoes or a holiday do not qualify I'm afraid!

Once you have reached your goal, keep adding a little bit extra every month to top up your funds.

For more advice, check out these tips on how to save money every day.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

5 Steps to beating the Budget

Many people will be hit by this year's budget and its not just the smokers or the drivers who will be effected, no matter if you are a winner or a loser this year, a little financial planning can only be a good thing so today's blog is all about thrifty ways to save more:

1) Be picky about the car you drive - 2010 may seem like a while away when the new, 'showroom tax,' on cars will come into effect but buying a brand new car will set you back £550 in tax for the first year alone, while the most polluting cars will pay a shocking £950, according to a Guardian article.

And if you think this ruling won't effect used cars, think again, expect to be taxed £455 in 2009, so if you are buying a car this year, don't just think about the cost of the car itself, but also how much it will cost to run the car in the following years.

2) Quit smoking - If you kick the habit, you can expect to be £3,000 richer every year says an article on the Sky Money website along with being healthier and cutting the cost of life insurance, saving this money into an ISA will make you richer.

3) Keeping costs down - It's time to become more money savvy on the things you do buy, check out online price comparison websites like Kelkoo and Pricerunner before you hand over your cash to make sure you are getting the best deal.

4) How much will the budget cost you? - Don't think this weeks Budget will effect you? Try out the BBC's Budget calculator to be sure.

5) Save more - If the results from the above calculator mean that you need more money, prioritise saving to the top of your, 'things to do,' list.

Many of us do not save enough money and chances are with this year's Budget we probably all need some extra cash for the year ahead, so put as much as you can into your ISA allowance, direct debit regular installments straight into your account after pay day, before you get the chance to spend it!

For more tips on beating the budget, check out this Budget survival kit.

Come back tomorrow to find out how to save for an emergency fund - you never know when you might need a little bit extra cash!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

The Skint person's guide to saving money

Quite often I hear a lot of people saying that they don't earn enough money to save a little cash at the end of the month, so today's blog is all about how to save money even when the purse strings are tight:

1) Where do you really spend your money? - Everyone wastes money, cash has this way of slipping through our fingers but paying by debit card means when your bank balance arrives in the post, you can see exactly where you have spend all that cash.

So grab last month's bank balance and trail through it with a fine comb, where are you spending the most, what can you give up for a while or eliminate altogether?

2) Savvy money swaps - Once you have figured out where you can save money, now look at where you can spend less on the things you do buy.

Supermarket own brands can be just as good as over-priced brands so the next time you go food shopping, look at the price labels on the shelves and try a cheaper product.

3) Only go food shopping once a fortnight - When was the last time you checked the kitchen cupboards? If it's been a while, chances are food is piling up, so for the last month my family only went food shopping every other week (except the occasional fresh ingredient's) and used up the food in the fridge instead, saving us £90 so far.

4) Are you a reluctant saver? - For just one day, try spending no money at all, this is not as easy as it seems, a friend of mine thinks we are programmed to spend, but I disagree, more to the point, I think we are programmed not to save.

Once a month give yourself a, 'no spend,' weekend and take advantage of free activities in your local area, be it a visit to a free museum or explore the local park.

5) Saving made easy - Every time a friend of mine got a £2 coin as part of her loose change, she would take it out of her purse and put it in a money box, by the end of the year she has saved up £200.

For more tips on how to look rich on the cheap check out these cheeky suggestions by other money savers.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

What the Budget will mean for you

If you are a bit mystified by today's budget , here's a simple guide to the key facts and how they will effect you:

As predicted, the Government will be encouraging more people to save, with ISA limits increasing to £3,600 on cash ISAs.

Home buyers
The Government wants to encourage more people to take fixed rate mortgages to help people on to the property ladder and sites to build 70,000 more houses have been identified.

Car drivers
Darling will postpone the 2p increase in petrol costs until October this year with a 0.5p per litre increase from 2010.

The cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes will go up 11p from 6pm tonight.

Winter tax allowance for the elderly will rise from £200 to £250 and more pensioners will not have to pay council tax.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

What to watch out for with 0% credit cards

Despite the current credit crisis many credit card companies and banks are still trying to lure customers to their 0% credit cards, but an excellent article on MSN Money recently pointed out we need to watch out for the debt traps associated with these cards.

So why do people use 0% cards in the first place? Often many people think it's a good place to keep their debt, with no interest for a limited amount of time, but many people are now finding that these cards are in fact extending their debt rather than solving them, so today's blog is all about what to watch out for and how:

1) Always pay on time - Missing even one payment could revert your card back to a higher interest rate, you won't know this unless you read the small print and most banks are relying on the fact that you wont.

2) Never take this card with you when you go shopping - Don't let the 0% card lull you into a fake sense of security, debt is still debt and the last thing you want to do is increase it.

3) Why are you spending so much in the first place? - Take a good look at why you are spending beyond your means - what's your lifestyle like?

Your bank statements won't lie and if you want to beat your debt, this is the first place you need to look, pinpoint exactly where you are spending the most money.

4) Where can you cut back? - Everyone overspends on one thing or another so giving up a hobby or two for a while will save extra cash you can put towards clearing your credit card debt.

5) Have a goal - Setting yourself a target is a good way to focus on beating debt, so set yourself a realistic deadline for when you want to be debt-free and write up an action plan of the steps you need to take every month to get there.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Things to do on a rainy day

Over here in the UK we have braced ourselves for bad weather, so today's blog is a list of the random things I've been doing today:

1) Read the newspaper
2) Find out how to play Sudoku
3) Attempt and fail at the Sudoku puzzle in the newspaper
4) Watch manga music video's on You Tube
5) Enter lots of competitions
6) Read manga scanlations online
7) Eat an extremely large amount of chocolate
8) Read some fanfiction
9) Watch far too much day time TV
10) Play the 'Rainy Day' song by Guster that appeared in Life As A House

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Star Project Chiro

Ever since I read Bring It On and Chocolat, I have been a big fan of Korean manwha and Star Project Chiro is no exception.

Telling the story of a pretty girl, Eun-Yo, with an arrogant personality who gets blackmailed by, Nan Lee, after she burns his house down, and has to do whatever he says to pay back her dedt.

Nan Lee, is a famous celeb who runs an entertainment company and he has promised Eun-Yo he will make her a star to pay the money off faster.

It all seems fine, until the biggest surprise is revealed in volume two, the star he is creating is actually a boy, so Eun-Yo must put on weight and cut her hair to pull off the look.

And surprising she actually makes a good looking boy, who looks exactly like the leading male in Bring It On, but you won't hear me complaining, and the manwha finally starts to pick up it's pace with some hilarious results.

But this is what I love about Korean manwha, all the pretty girls are actually crazy loud mouthed women and you will find no wallflowers here, just girls who kick butt!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Nodame, the French adventure!

In my last part of my trilogy of blogs on that wonderful manga series, Nodame Cantabile, I will be focusing on the duo's escapades in Paris.

Today, while I was out shopping, I kept being drawn to Nodame style clothes and Chiaki style jackets, I actually rather like that classical image; smart and sophisticated!

I also ended up buying all things French; baguettes, cakes, perfume and other nick nacks, the manga has taken on a life of its own in my world.

I even bought my very first classical music CD.

Nodame made me laugh a lot with her selective phrases in French directed at Chiaki like, 'he's my husband,' and Chiaki still claims that they are not a couple, but somehow this has become a running joke in the manga.

But as Chiaki makes his debut concert, it is Nodame who has a crisis of confidence- she is not sure why she is in Paris.

And having had a similar experience myself a few years ago all I can say is that, sometimes there are tests in life to see if you really want to achieve your dreams, sometimes you have to loose faith, to realise whats truly important.

The book ends on a cliffhanger so even I'm not sure what happens next but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Nodame.

Anyway, I'd just like to say a big thanks to all those Nodame Cantabile fans out there who have been reading my blog over the last few days (especially those in Japan).

Arigato and thank you for reading my musings on a surprising manga.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Chiaki's choice: talent, luck or fate?

It's been a long time since I have been moved by any manga, but Nodame Cantabile, has taken up a special place in my heart.

On seeing Chiaki's conducting, a reporter from a classical music magazine comments that most people don't always know what to do with their talent and Chiaki is no different.

How best to use your talents?

Today I realised that I hadn't been aiming high enough and I changed my mind, there are also areas in my life that are counter productive and I have decided not to waste time on these things.

You will sometimes find the most supportive people in the most unlikely places and I realised I had been wrong about a few people - what they really want is for me to succeed, I had been too blind to see it.

Chiaki's not sure whether to stay in Japan or go abroad, but after Nodame cures his fear of flying, he suddenly realises that he wants to take her with him.

Whilst talking on the phone she tells Chiaki that even though they will be going to different countries she hopes that one day they will appear on the same stage, not realising that he's behind her!

In this day and age when people have selfish dreams, Nodame has a shared one and even though this is make believe, I still hope there are more people in this world like that.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Nodame Cantabile: Hope, pain and music

There's a scene in the classical music manga, Nodame Cantabile, where a reporter is looking at the young composer Chiaki and even though he is so full of talent, he carries a sense of hopelessness with him.

The reporter wishes that Chiaki will realise that to survive in music, you need both talent and luck, and he wonders whether Chiaki will grasp this.

And I found myself contemplating this same fate, thinking have I really understood this myself, and at a sad point in volume eight, I realised my mistake.

I didn't grasp my dream when I had the chance and it slipped through my fingers like a rivers stream.

For not having the confidence to grab the future with both hands, for not realising what was really being handed to me.

Like Chiaki, for not realising the good intention of the people supporting me.

To the one out there reading this, can I say I'm sorry?

It is after this very concert that the auditorium is filled with praise and clapping, but Nodame sits in the audience crying, only later do we realise why, she is helping the one she loves reach his future, even with the possibility that she may not be a part of it.

Nodame doesn't represent a selfish love, just a kind one.

Music can turn such pain and loss into hope.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Manga as therapy

Sometimes you just need a really good laugh and a funny manga is a good place to start.

Here are a few of my top recommendations:

Chocolat - Kum-ji fakes her way into a fan club for a band she doesn''t even like in order to meet her real heroes.

A side splitingly funny look at fandom, Korean style, full of angsty pop stars, rivalry, fan club wars and the surprising revelation that fanboys do exist!

Ouran High School Host Club - Haruhi breaks the Host Clubs expensive vase and ends up becoming their dogsbody, where she finds out just how different the super rich are from every one else.

A hilarious romantic comedy about class, wealth and eating a lot of cake (okay, the last one's just about Hunny) but a refreshing manga nonetheless.

My Heavenly Hockey Club - Roped in to joining the boys Hockey Club, Hana, would like nothing better than to get extra sleep, but she is soon dragged across the country to hockey matches, which for one reason or another, where they never actually play.

The manga which just pretends to be a sports manga is a slapstick comedy, perhaps the only time you will ever see a bear in goal.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

In praise of Bollywood bad girls

Recently, my mum has got me addicted to a couple of Indian drama shows called, Father's Dream and The Story of Every House.

It was only after watching about four different series did I notice a pattern emerging here.

The fabulous vixens are dressed immaculately in stylish clothes with the most elaborate make up that make the heroine's look like wilting wallflowers!

I asked my mum why the bad girls all look so, er... hot and her response was this:

" Because they are rich and powerful, they can do whatever they want!"

This is feminism gone astray, but with women this devilish and sneaky, I have to confess I rather like them, they know what they want and like hell are they going to let some man/husband/goody two shoes get in their way.

If you've never watched any Bollywood drama's the kind of story lines you can expect to see are: family betrayal, scandal, murder and greedy and jealous relatives.

The essential message, if you want to be philosophical, is that no matter their class or status, ultimately power and money corrupts and no one's downfall is quite as beautiful as these vampy Bollywood babes.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Easy ways to save big

You don't need a complicated master plan to save money, here are some nifty ways to save that little bit extra cash:

1) Shop online - Comparison websites can easily find you the cheapest deals, but if you only buy books and CDs online, why not try grocery shopping, this way you only buy what you need without the added temptation of those extra goodies.

2) Get real about your targets - If you don't save on a regular basis, aiming for a big goal can be tough, so become a regular saver gradually, so if you spend £900 every month, aim to reduce this by £100 next month and so on.

But don't push yourself to the extreme either as this will set you up for failure and when you reach a new goal give yourself a reward for all your efforts.

3) Piggy banks - I know I've mentioned this before, but this is by far the easiest way to save money, a friend would put any £2 coins she got back in change in a jar and by the end of the year she had £200.

4) Become a swapaholic - Next time you buy toiletries, swap the item for a cheaper version, most of the time you are paying for expensive packaging and classics often work just as well as luxury brands.

5) Car boot sales - This is the quick way to raise cash and declutter your home, simply grab a box and fill with items you no longer need - be ruthless, if you haven't used it in a year, you're not likely to use it again, no matter how much you originally spent on it!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

If manga characters came to life...

It would probably go something like this...

In my head I've been writing a Fruits Basket fanfiction called, The Secret Life of Yuki, where we find out what Yuki gets up to after the manga books close and all his fans are asleep.

I would picture Yuki being a bit EMO but still polite, but I don't think he'd be friends with Kyo in real life, after all cats and rats aren't supposed to get along anyway?

He would always give autographs to his eager fans, Kyo wearing cool shades would snub 'em, he's a celebrity you see.

Hatsuhara would be a total club kid, unwittingly dragging poor Yuki along to Tokyo's cyber clubs and Shigure... well, he would be just Shigure (bone idle and lazy.)

Which somehow, beings me to George from Paradise Kiss, if he walked in to my life I would most likely be swept off my feet, not that I would mind, he's a super stylish guy, but that's the great thing about manga: endless imagination!

Who would I most like to meet in real life?

Perhaps Kio from Loveless, he would annoy me no end, but I think he's a very loyal guy and so accepting - I think the world needs more people with open hearts.

If I ever met Kino from Kino's Journey, I would ask her just why she travels and what it means to be free.

But the most surprising person from a manga I would like to meet would be Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club, an idiot he may be, but a kind hearted fool at that.

Maybe I will start writing that fanfic one of theses days...