Friday, 28 February 2014

Today's baby bargains!

I just wanted to share a couple of real bargains that I got today! 

Having hauled down my "brand new baby" items from the loft, we discovered that the Moses basket we used for Heather had seen better days. I was given it second-hand by my sister-in-law, mind you, so it has definitely had a lot of use! I'm feeling a bit sorry for Pickle (our pet name for the new baby!), because he or she will hardly have anything of its own, and will basically wear, play with and be pushed around in Heather's hand-me-downs. 

So, I got on the hunt for a lovely new Moses basket for Pickle. I came across this beauty on eBay, and snapped it up for a bargainous £31, in new condition complete with rocking stand! If I were to buy this set brand-new from Mothercare, I would be picking up a bill for £125... a saving of £94! 

I also visited Merry-Go-Round, and kitted Heather out in swimming gear for our upcoming holiday. I got 2 swimsuits, 2 sun hats, an adorable long sleeved costume and a hooded sun towel... all for a grand total of £16!!!

I can't believe I haven't always embraced buying second-hand. It's totally win-win... the seller gets extra money and more space in their house, re-using creates less waste and environmental pollution, you save money and still get to own beautiful items! 

Fabulous hair for free

While I was off on maternity leave and barely had enough money to buy food, I still managed to indulge in some fabulous haircuts... for free! 

I discovered the world of hair academies. I am lucky and live in Glasgow, where there are lots of amazing salons with great training programmes. One of the best salons for this I have come across is the Rainbow Room International chain. They have several premises across Glasgow, and two training salons in the city centre. 

Often, trainee hairdressers need to complete a certain number of cuts and procedures in order to gain their qualifications. They advertise for models on sites like Gumtree most days, and the recipient doesn't pay a penny. On Gumtree today, I notice that Toni & Guy,  Rainbow Room, independent stylists and colleges are all offering free haircuts! I tend to go for stylists who are almost finished their training, or have recently graduated and need the experience. 

The downside is that it normally takes a bit longer than usual, and a mentor will need to check your new hair to make sure it is up to standard. 

I prefer Rainbow Room because they give you the whole salon experience (shiatsu massage and high end hair products) despite the fact you are getting a freebie. If you aren't confident in trusting your hair to a complete trainee, you can pay to book in to one of the academies, where newly qualified hairdressers will do treatments for a fraction of the price. For example, a half head of highlights is £85 in the salon itself, but only £40 in the academy. Bargain! 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Using up my craft materials- painting a Daruma doll

We're all guilty of it... pinning new project ideas like crazy on Pinterest, and never making them! I also must confess to buying and hoarding new craft materials for that next "big project"... then far too often, moving on to something new. 

Now, with another addition to the family planning on joining us in July, the time has come to clear out my box room to make way for the transformation into guest room/ proper craft room. This morning, in the bottom of a box, I found acrylic paints and a couple of little tiny canvases.

I do not paint. I haven't painted anything since I was at school, and I don't even remember buying said acrylic paint set! However, in the interest of resolving to waste less and buy less, I have decided to give it a whirl. Why not?!

Recently, I have fallen in love with Japanese Daruma dolls. They are round dolls with a weighted base, designed never to fall over, and their motto is Nana Korobi Yaoki: "Fall down seven times, get up eight." Or, put simply, never give up on your dreams! They are given as good-luck gifts, but what I love most is that they are more than a lucky charm. They are symbols of how success is achieved through setting goals instead of just wishing for the best. They come with plain, white eyes, as you can see in the picture to the right. The owner then visualises a goal, paints in one of the eyes, and places the doll somewhere to remind them to keep striving for that goal. When the goal is achieved, you get to paint in the second eye! 

You can buy these cute little dolls at The Japanese Shop and find out more about them at We Love Daruma

Here is my Daruma doll painting so far, and below, the start of his face. I'll post a picture of the finished piece later... 

Here he is! Complete with one eye painted in to symbolise my goals...

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Giving things away for free... not as easy as it sounds!

Since I'm always on the hunt for a freebie or a bargain, I thought I would "pay it back" by making more of an effort to give away things for free. 

Giving to relatives
My sister has a baby girl 11 months younger than my daughter, so on Sunday I put together a bag of lovely clothes for her to make use of. It's great, because since there is almost exactly a year between them, the clothes all fit her season-appropriately!

Giving to charity
I have a box of baby toys to hand in to Merry-Go-Round, a fabulous social enterprise which allows buying for babies and children to be accessible to all. 

Giving to strangers 
Today, I decided to advertise some stuff for free on Gumtree as I was having a clear-out. Turns out this is a socially strange situation, and it is actually more difficult than I imagined to give things away! I got loads of e-mails asking "where do you live?" or "is this still available?" then when I replied, I got no further response. I also got people saying they were interested, then not turning up. I had so many people "interested" in the items via e-mail, yet I really struggled to "seal the deal" and get the items picked up! The funny thing is that when there is no money changing hands, people don't seem so invested in coming to get something... and I would have guessed the opposite!

Here are just some of the things I am giving away for free today... a reclining chair, a mirror, and a Body Shop gift set! 
Gone pending collection... Body shop gift set unopened- free Southside Picture 1Gone pending collection- black reclining chair free Southside Picture 1Gone pending collection: 2 wavy mirrors for free Southside Picture 2

I actually thought that giving things away for free, and having people collect it from your house, would be easier than giving to charity shops. It isn't. I still love the sentiment and idea of being part of the "free-cycling" and "gifting" community, and I would do it again for bigger items (the fact that someone picks them up is also convenient!) However, I think in future I will stick to giving smaller items to a charity shop. 

Has anyone else had a similar experience when trying to give things away for free?! 

Nails: How I Save Almost £500 a Year!

I do love the look and feel of gel polish on my nails. As someone who could never wear traditional nail varnish as I have really sensitive skin, I was delighted to discover that the new gel polishes do not have the same rash-inducing effects. Furthermore, gel doesn't chip nearly as much, and allows my nails to grow to a decent length. 

Like many women today, I am a slave to the gel nails. At £20 a time though, it is by no means a cheap luxury. To keep them looking lovely and chip-free, I really need them re-done every two weeks. Especially as a new mum, when I've forever digging around in a nappy bag or washing my hands for the fiftieth time in a day.

Gel polished nails every 2 weeks = £520 a year. Wow!
My gel polished nails every 2 weeks = £35 a year. How?!

Well, after a few months of dishing out far too much money to beauty salons, I decided to buy my own UV lamp and polishes, and indulge in DIY manicures. On a friend's recommendation, I purchased a new lamp from an eBay store for £15, base/ top coats (£7 for both) and several coloured polishes (about £13). 

Polishes can be expensive if you buy the branded ones. I bought Blue Sky polishes after reading reviews on-line, and I am quite happy with the quality despite their cheaper price tag (around £3-4 per bottle).  

The first time, I made mistakes- I piled the polish on far too thick, and of course, it pooled in the side of my cuticle. After a few goes though, I mastered the art of applying several very thin layers to create the perfectly polished nail. And I've never looked back! I actually find it much more convenient...  if a "chipped nail" disaster happens now, I don't need to wait two weeks to get perfect nails again- I simply touch it up at home! 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Going on Holiday Abroad- the Thrifty Way!

Holidays most definitely come under the "luxury" heading in the grand scheme of essentials, which is why I haven't been abroad in 3 years. The expense of babies and houses got in the way, and I couldn't justify the cost of jetting off for a sun-soaked week. 

This year, with another baby on the way, and after a thoroughly grey, wet miserable winter, we decided to move a week of sun further up our short-term priority list. However, I made sure we did it the thrifty way, not falling into any classic money-draining traps. Yes, it takes a bit more time and legwork than booking a package holiday, but it's worth it! 

Be flexible on dates
My husband and I both work in education, so we are tied into the more expensive "school holiday" period. If you are in the same line of work, or have kids of school age, you feel my pain on this one! However, you can still be a little flexible with your dates to get the best deal, and flying on a Sunday or at a less-favourable time of day is often cheaper. Check out other departure airports a little further from you too, as the price difference can sometimes offset the initial hassle of getting to the airport. 

Book your own hotel transfer
I can't stress this one enough! When I was shopping around on Thomas Cook's website, they appeared to charge a flat fee of £30 each for return coach transfer between airport to hotel- so £60 for my party. I booked my own return coach transfer using ResortHoppa for £11.12- saving a sizeable £48.88! 

Work your baggage allowance
Baggage allowance always adds up, and will typically heap an extra £100 on top of the price of your holiday (for 2 of you- more if you are a family!) Sometimes you can make a saving here by only taking one "hold" suitcase between you and packing "light". Consider if you can take any heavier items on board in your hand luggage to keep the weight down. 

Cheaper insurance
Often, insurance is added in to the cost of a package holiday, and can be quite expensive. Insurance is so important that you do need it, but I'd recommend shopping around using price comparison websites like Travel Supermarket. The price for my party quoted as part of the package holiday was £71.64, but I ended up buying insurance for £10.83, which had a more comprehensive cover level... a £60.81 saving!

Consider half-board or all-inclusive 
While you may seem to be getting a cheaper deal when you book "room only" or "self catering", consider how much you will really spend on food and drink while you are away. Half-board (breakfast and dinner included) or all-inclusive can actually save you quite a lot in the end. We booked all-inclusive for a total of around £100 more than self catering would have cost- I think between my pregnant self, my over-6-foot husband and my one-year-old constant grazer, it was a wise choice! 

Budget in-flight dining
Another "extra" added to the cost of flights is your in-flight meal. They tend to cost around £20 per person, and in my experience, are never the most gourmet dining experience! Now I always opt out of the in-flight meal if I can, especially if it's a shorter flight (saving around £40!) and bring my own picnic. It's always nicer when you can choose exactly what you want to eat, without paying all the overheads for the airline food. 

BNWT Monsoon baby girl swimming costume 3-6m
So we are going away to Tunisia in April for a week in the sun. Now I can't wait to scour eBay and my favourite local children's second-hand boutique Merry-Go-Round for cute holiday clothes! (This cute baby Monsoon swimsuit is on eBay today!) 

One Man's Trash... Getting Something for Nothing

If there is anything I love more than getting a bargain, it's getting something for nothing... or for very little! One thing I have discovered recently is that this is definitely more possible than I imagined, thanks to websites such as Gumtree and Freecycle. 

Getting something for free normally does involve a little hard work and imagination, but offset that against the pounds you will save and it's all worth it. If you're anything like me, I actually like things more if I have put in the extra work to make them mine, and saved my money in the process. 

"One man's trash is another man's treasure" is such a true sentiment. Around 3 years ago, I moved house and got rid of a lot of the contents of my flat such as furniture, mirrors and pictures. At the time, I gave smaller things to charity shops and put bulkier items out on the street- to my surprise, they were always gone come morning. This doesn't surprise me at all now I know more about the Freecycling and thrift culture in Glasgow... I would be delighted at some of the treasures I left out in the street back then! 

People really do list stuff for free on Gumtree and Freecycle- no catches, no hidden agendas. Often, the items need a little TLC, but other times, they are simply surplus to requirements. For example, I got this original canvas oil painting of water lilies on Gumtree- the owner had redecorated and it didn't match their new colour scheme. As you can see, it perfectly matches mine! 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

My Favourite Budget-Friendly Shops

I have never been someone who spends particularly extravagantly, tossing money around with wild abandon.  I have always loved a bargain, and I never tire of rummaging through sale rails in shops. 

However, my money was going somewhere. Month after month, without fail... the week before pay day I was struggling. No matter how well I thought I'd budgeted, or how much I had been paid. Fairly recently, I decided to trawl through a month's worth of bank statements to try to get to the bottom of where I had been going wrong. The problem became clear very early into this exercise: daily "top up" trips to the shops were draining my bank balance

You know how it goes: you pop into the local shop after a long day at work to get an onion. Half an hour later, you emerge laden with bags of impulse purchases and junk food, your purse at least £20 lighter. You repeat the following evening. One month, I budgeted £200 for food. Horrified, I calculated that I actually spent almost £500! Part of the problem was that I was even buying things for my home during these visits- candles, trinkets and cleaning products (really expensive in local shops!)

I have changed my ways. I now thrive on shopping for less, so aside from second-hand shops and eBay, my favourite bargain shops are currently:

A friend introduced me to this shop while I was off on maternity leave. "B&M has made my house into a home," she told me one day- those were her exact words! This shop is full of household decorations, signs, cushions, mirrors and candles, and the stock changes really quickly. I always buy my cleaning products, such as cloths, air fresheners, bleach and wipes here now. In my opinion, these items (on their website today) wouldn't look out of place in any interior design boutique, and look at the prices! 
Betsy Luxury Cushion Cover - You Are My Sunshine
Cushion: £4.99
Antique Bathroom Plaque
Bathroom sign: £1.00
Outdoor Hanging Station Clock
Garden Clock: £9.99

OK, not the most glamorous of shops, but definitely worth a visit if you have one nearby. I always pop in here first before I go to a "bigger" shop, as you really can save a lot of money. I buy bread, milk, cold meat, confectionery and jars here for a lot less than I would in a supermarket. 

I make a real effort to do a "big shop" once every 2 weeks. This practice on its own has helped reign in my spending considerably, and switching to Aldi has made a further difference. The first time, it was a leap of faith to change to "own brand" products, but I can honestly say I enjoy them as much as the branded items that cost up to 3 times more.

I have an obsession with Russian Dolls... I find them unbelievably cute and pretty much love anything to do with them. You can imagine my delight when I discovered a range of Russian Doll items in my local Poundland- including tea towels, oven gloves, ceramic banks, ice cube trays! Poundland has had a lot of press recently about so-called "middle class"people shopping there, and the fact that they are now selling shares in the company shows it's doing well. For us shoppers though, I also think their cleaning products and haircare ranges are brilliant. 

Russian Doll gift box

Giving handmade gifts

Handmade gifts... a yes or a no? 

I love handmade gifts! I think it's one of the nicest ways to show friends and family that you care about them. In my opinion, anyone can go out and buy a present in 5 minutes flat. To actually take the time to make something by hand, and make it personal... that's what makes a gift really special. 

I appreciate that not everyone feels this way- there are some friends and family who I know would not appreciate this gesture. For some people, the act of gift-giving is about the monetary value attached- perhaps gifting someone an item they could not afford to buy for themselves. Some people would rather be given the option of returning a gift to buy something they really want. And some people just consider handmade gifts cheap. 

But I disagree! 

I make my own gifts whenever possible, and I add extra personalisation by the way I wrap them up. Adding a cute little tag like this Russian Doll one adds a cosy "handmade" feel to any gift. 

The heart picture you see on the right was a gift for my friend when she bought a new house. I chose a colour scheme which matched her new décor, and from an old, ripped book, I looked for words I felt were relevant to her and her new home. I finished the piece in a rustic old gilded frame. She loved the originality and uniqueness of it! These pictures are a great idea to give as wedding gifts (choose personal words) or simply as a gift for someone you know well.

I will certainly re-visit this topic a lot in the future of my blog, whenever I make and give new gifts I'm especially proud of. 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Make Do and Mend! My Guilt-Free Clothing Resolution

One issue I feel guilty about about is the "disposable clothing" culture our society has created. Items are picked up increasingly cheaply, worn once, then they either start to fall apart or are discarded to the bottom of a drawer. The quality and durability of high street garments tends to be poor, and the ethics of the factories they come from are largely in doubt. 

There is loads of information on-line if you take time to look for it. Here are some websites: 
Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops
Do Something
Labour Behind the Label

And yet I have some of these items in my wardrobe. 

This is something I want to change in my own life. I have decided to make a conscious effort to be more aware of my wardrobe choices- for moral reasons, thrift and for fashion. Deep down, I know that the conditions in some factories mass-producing clothes cannot be acceptable, and this is a fact I can no longer ignore. Only last week, the Guardian reported that 350,000 tonnes of clothes are being dumped in landfills a year, in the UK alone! Well-made clothes last longer and when looked after, can continue to look great for years. Buying clothes cheaply and repeatedly is false economy, and I would like to be able to honestly say I love my wardrobe with a clear conscience. 

The 4 rules I will follow:
  • I will continue to wear the clothes I already own- mending them/ customising them as necessary to extend their life. 
  • I will donate clothing I no longer want to friends, charity shops, up-cycle them and anything which is beyond salvage will go to the Rag Bag appeal at my daughter's nursery. (Click here to read about how this avoids clothing going to landfill.) 
  • I will buy clothes second-hand where possible. 
  • I will further research retailers' labour/ workforce policies, and only support companies with good working conditions. 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Personalise your Home with Handmade Treasures

Your home is a reflection of your unique personality, so what better way to decorate than to fill it with your one-of-a-kind, handmade treasures?! My husband and I bought a house around 18 months ago, which was in dire need of a complete overhaul! Every room needed ripped back to a shell and given some TLC, to fix some botched DIY jobs and remedy the dodgy décor. While we still have a lot to do, we have started to make it feel like ours by tackling one room at a time, and adding our personal touches.  

My daughter's bedroom is decorated with a woodland theme, filled with friendly foxes, owls and squirrels. I wanted to add features to the room which were unusual, different to the rest of the woodland nursery items anyone can buy. I made the bunting from wallpaper samples and string (this cost me nothing... a local store was giving away books of wallpaper samples for free, and advertised on Gumtree!) I made the little toadstool footstool you can see to the left of the picture from a plain white Ikea footstool, covered in red scrap fabric and white fabric spots! The white footstool cost around £4, and I had the fabric lying around already. 

I made this apple picture to hang in her room (beside the window, so you can't see it in the picture!) from an old, tatty, ripped copy of Little Women. It's beautiful, eye-catching and I know that nobody else has this piece! The old book cost 10p from a charity shop, and I paid 50p for the frame it's displayed in. I very rarely buy new photo frames any more, when so many are just waiting to be reclaimed second-hand! Sometimes, it's just a case of seeing past a picture or photograph you don't like, and re-using the frame for your own project. 

This rustic and pretty little twine heart hangs in our bedroom, on my wardrobe door. Twine hearts seem to be everywhere at the moment, but somehow I think they are really sweet. This one is special to me because I made it using garden wire and twine- and that feeling of satisfaction and attachment to a decoration in your house simply cannot be bought! I make these in all different sizes to give as gifts, or to hang from various handles and knobs in my house. Garden twine and wire are easily picked up in local supermarkets for about £1 each- and you get enough materials to make countless hearts! 

Continuing the heart theme in our bedroom, I wanted to include an unusual picture showing key places in our relationship. Each heart is made from a map- Paris (where we got engaged), Dumfries (where we got married) and Thailand (where we went on honeymoon). Again, I used a frame sourced from a charity shop (£2.50, and in great condition!) and map pages taken from the back of an old work diary. 

I really enjoy making things for our house, and as we work our way from room to room, I look forward to filling it with more meaningful, one-of-a-kind items, crafted with love!