Friday, July 7, 2017

Join me for a 6 Week Summer Mum Challenge!

We all know that soooo many goals are set at the beginning of the calendar year... but what about at the beginning of the school year?  We've just passed the half-way mark for 2017.  How are your financial goals coming?  I truly hope you're well on your way to accomplishing them.  Maybe, like me, you've made some health or fitness goals but haven't quite made the progress you've promised yourself you would this "far" into the year.  Don't despair!  I'm not.  I'm taking ACTION.

"Hey, Lauren! This is a blog about saving money and finances! Not one about losing weight or fitness!" Bear with me for a few moments. There are so many parallels between the mindset necessary to accomplish your financial goals and the mindset to accomplish your health goals.  One of the most important things I have learned on my weight loss "adventure" (I'm not a fan of the use of "journey" here, but that's another story) is that small, consistent changes can lead to BIG results - hence my finding the pennies approach to finances.
Just like I encourage you to "find the pennies" in your everyday life to save money in order to win at your finances, Michelle Bailey, Director of Fit4Training and Founder of Mummy Movers, teaches the same small changes and consistency approach to her clients who want to "smash" their fitness and health goals.  Michelle qualified as a Personal Trainer and Group Exercise Instructor at 18 years old! Later she achieved her BSc (Hons) in Exercise Science from Coventry University, specialised in Pre- and Postnatal Exercise, Fitness for Children, Pilates, Yoga and earned a Diploma in Sports Therapy.  She started her own training company, Fit4Training, with her "now" husband 7 years ago, then founded Mummy Movers in 2013 to encourage mums to workout with the ability to bring their babies along.

How neat would it be to begin the second-half of the year with Michelle's guidance, encouragement and expertise?  Well... Michelle is offering her 6 Week Summer Mum Challenge, a nutrition and fitness plan to help guide you to your new you for the new school year for only £9! Yep.  A £60 value for £9.  You're worth £1.50 a week to make some great progress for your health goals, aren't you?

"Ah... but Lauren, I don't have time over the summer with the kids being out of school."  We all have the same 24 hours, it's up to you how you choose to spend it.  If you spend an hour a day exercising, connecting with the other mums on the plan on the designated Facebook page and planning some healthy meals (again, small changes to your lifestyle already), you're only spending 4% of your day technically following the plan.

"Ah... but Lauren, I'm going on holiday and I want to have fun and relax while I'm away."  So am I! For three of the six weeks!  So what?!  You can have fun while committing to a healthier lifestyle and find plenty relax!

"But Lauren, I don't belong to a gym and have no idea where to start!"  No worries. Michelle will provide home-based, equipment-free workouts with the help of videos.  Cool!

"I don't know, Lauren, I'm still not sure this is something I want to do."  Why not?! What do you have to lose but some pounds... and this time, I mean pounds as in weight.

I encourage you to check out the 6 Week Summer Mum Challenge and, hopefully, sign-up to join me, Michelle and other mums for the next 6 weeks!  The challenge begins 24th July, so act quick to begin your fitness and nutrition adventure.

Friday, June 30, 2017

My Homemade Vanilla Extract is Ready!

Ta da! My homemade vanilla extract is finished and ready to use!  Almost six months ago, I began my "experiment" after being quite disgusted at the cost of vanilla extract from my supermarket - £6 per bottle!  The bottle of maturing/brewing/steeping (whatever you choose to call it) vanilla extract has been sitting in the corner of my kitchen getting darker over time.  I gave the bottle a little shake every so often, and now, six months later, it's ready to use in my recipes for breads, cakes and muffins.  And it smells sooo nice, so vanillaey.

Tonight I poured some of the extract through a sieve into a jug, then poured it into a cleaned and de-labelled bottle that was previously filled with expensive Nielsen-Massey vanilla.  So what about the rest of the vanilla in the larger bottle?  I topped it up with more vodka to mature until my little bottle needs refilling.  How long can I keep topping it up for before the vanilla pods lose their "vanilliness"?  I don't know!  I suppose when the colour stops getting darker.  It's an experiment, right?
Just as I thought this would be a short blog post, I asked myself a question that I ended up having to Google: "Is there a difference between 'essence' and 'extract'?"  Good question, Lauren!  The answer in short, is yes, there is a difference.  According to bakingmad.com, "Whilst often cheaper, essences or flavourings are a chemically developed flavouring and can often give a synthetic taste to your baking. Extracts are flavours 'extracted' straight from the source, for example vanilla extract would be taken from the vanilla bean, capturing the delicious and distinctive, rich flavour." So while essences may be cheaper, they are made from synthetic chemicals!   

I'd love to know if you feel inspired to make your own vanilla extract, or if you've already made your own, too!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My New Job and Our Near-Future Goals

This morning at playgroup a friend and I were chatting.  She asked me about my new job and then asked, "Why don't you write a blog on your new job?"  I started jabbering away about how it's now really money-related, and I don't want to boast about my increased income. She then responded with such encouragement about how after reading my blog about eating out at Zizzi, she doesn't hesitate just to ask for tap water to drink with her meal rather than spending extra on over-priced drinks.  She said has really made a difference to her mindset!  I'm thrilled that sharing my frugal tip has had such an impact on someone and her family! I hope that by sharing about my new job and what we're planning to do with the extra income, I'll be an encouragement to you.  I'm honestly NOT telling you this to boast in any way, shape or form.

Until about 2 weeks ago I had been working for Sainsbury's, first at Gloucester Quays, then at Shrewsbury, then finally in Telford for 7 years.  Working for Sainsbury's gave me the opportunity to keep working while my girls were babies and the flexibility to work around my family's schedule - as in, I worked in the evenings after my husband got home from work.  I enjoyed meeting the public and working with some really lovely people.  However, since sometime last summer, I started to itch for something different, something a bit more challenging.  I started praying for the Lord to open a door for me, but I didn't know what and I didn't know how.  I wondered who would hire someone who hadn't worked in a professional environment in almost 8 years and would still be willing to allow me to work part-time.

Then in mid-April, while I was working on a Saturday morning at Sainsbury's, out of the blue, a lady customer I had just served at the checkout, came back and handed me a piece of paper.  I thought it was rubbish and almost threw it away, but she kindly gestured for me to open it.  Inside was the opportunity I had been waiting for - she pretty much offered me a job at her company on the spot!  Just like that, my prayers were answered.  Fast-forwarding a bit, I began my new job a few weeks later, served the 4-week notice period at Sainsbury's and ventured out of the "safety" of a comfortable job to a challenging, fast-paced job. 
I took this photo as I was leaving my last shift at Sainsbury's

Now, onto the money part.  Again, I'm sharing this to encourage you, not to boast.  I am still working part-time, but double the hours and at a slightly better rate than at Sainsbury's.  So you may be wondering what we'll do with the extra income.  We will not be "rolling in it" by any stretch of the imagination, but I am very grateful for the ability to save some money.  What Lauren?  Save??  Yep, my husband and I are challenging ourselves not to change our lifestyle - not to eat out more, not to go on fancy holidays, not to "treat" ourselves on unnecessary things - but to continue to save.  That's weird, Lauren. Yep. I know, I'm weird...

You may be wondering what exactly we're saving for.  I shared with you last month about the importance of a budget. With our budget we've been saving for a couple of big, near-future things (as opposed to distant-future things such as university and retirement, which we're saving for too, but I'm talking about a couple of goals that are in the relative near-future) which are to buy a "pre-loved" 7-seater/mini-van and a family trip to Disney World! With cash... not finaning... I know, it's weird. It's not what the majority of people do.

We started saving for both a couple of years ago but now we'll be able to contribute more towards those "funds" and reach our goals quicker, Lord willing.  We have decided it is more important to our family to save for bigger ticket items than on things that our family will soon forget.  I want to encourage you to set goals and incorporate them into your budget.  Start saving for your near- and distant goals today, otherwise they may never happen.

Sure, I would enjoy splurging on more expensive groceries or trips to the theatre or over-night stays in hotels, but to be honest, I'll get MUCH more pleasure driving my girls around in a mini van that we saved hard for and seeing their excited faces when they experience the wonder of Disney World for the first time. I am not saying that if you decide to spend more on groceries or go to the theatre or stay in hotels you aren't spending your money wisely, you may just have different priorities than we do.  It's also not to say that we won't ever splurge on something at the supermarket or go to the theatre or stay in a hotel overnight, I'm just saying that we are intentionally saving our money for future goals and there's not much wiggle room in our budget for "extras" because of these goals.

I challenge you to look at your spending and set goals for yourself and your family, if you haven't already. Are there areas in your spending that you could spend less on and contribute more towards your goals?  Be weird. Save. Set goals. And believe it can happen.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

musicMagpie: How I Found MANY Pennies!


If you know me or have been following my blog, you know I LOVE to save money wherever and whenever possible. Perhaps you do, too!  Yay!  You know that feeling when you reach into your pocket and you find a pound or a dollar?  Or when you're clearing out a drawer and you find a few pennies in the bottom? How do you feel?  Excited, right?

Now imagine that all of your unwanted books, CDs and DVDs - and our case, two old iPhones - are small stacks of coins.  Imagine collecting all of those coins into a purse.  What do you have?  Money!
Money that has been collecting dust on a shelf!

I'm going to skip to the end of the story...
Imagine our excitement when I received this email from musicMagpie in my inbox:


Yes!  We received a payment from musicMagpie for £56.40!  How?  In case you aren't familiar with musicMagpie, you send them your unwanted electronics, books, DVDs, CDs and games and they pay you for them!  How? Go online to musicmagpie.co.uk or download their app.  With the app, you can use the bar code scanner and find out instantly what they will be willing to pay you for your unwanted item.  Now, you may be a little underwhelmed with the amounts, but those little figures add up.

So among various books and DVDs, we had two old iPhones.  My old one was still working, but old and I didn't want it. My husband's phone was 100% dead and destined for the recycling bin.  When I was entering in the details on the app about the phone, I even ticked the box for "faulty" condition, but I didn't think they'd pay us for a dead phone. They did!  £13!  We almost threw £13 in the bin!

The amount that you are told you will get on the app isn't guaranteed, but it's an estimate.  We boxed everything up, asked for FREE pick-up service and waited a few days.  They sent an email to say that our order had been received.  A few days later we received the above email and payment into our account. It was so simple!

MusicMagpie hasn't paid me to write this post, but I highly recommend it as a way to find a few pennies... or a lot!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Introducing Live and Play: Personalised Children's Quilts

You know when you get so excited about something, you just can't wait to tell the world about it?! That's how I feel right now!  My fabulously beautiful friend, Anna Fourie, has just launched her business: Live & Play - Personalised Quilts and Much More.


Live & Play offers you beautiful, bespoke children's quilts, cushions, cot bumpers and sheets using high-quality, durable, but soft fabrics.  What's truly amazing about her products is that they can be custom-made with your child's initials or name, meaningful shapes and coordinating fabrics.  Each of the patterns are hand-stitched, adding that special, customised touch to your child's quilt. These would make for WONDERFUL baby gifts that would be so meaningful for the new baby in your life.

Take a look at the detail on these patterns!


This is a Cath Kidston-inspired quilt personalised with the name "Amelia".

This is a personalised Envelope Cushion Cover


I love this yellow and light blue quilt.  If you look closely, there are tea cup fabrics in two shades as well as a coordinating floral pattern: simply beautiful. 
The children's quilts come in various sizes: 60cm x 120cm, 70cm x 140cm, 100cm x 170cm.  The prices are very reasonable, too! 
My girls are wearing aprons that Anna made just for them. Aren't they fantastic?!  I'm sure these will be in her product offering very soon.

PLEASE check out and "Like" the Live & Play Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/childrensquilts/ and by all means, contact her with any questions you may have.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sandal-Ready Feet with Homemade Foot Soak

We have had the most BEA-U-TI-FUL weather this week, and with the beautiful, warm, sunny weather, came my sandals!  One little problem, tough.... my feet were not at all ready to be exposed and shown off to the public. Good thing no one was looking (hopefully!)  My solution (quite literally 😄): a homemade foot soak that promises soft feet and costs less than £1 to make.  

I've been eyeing up those battery-operated pedicure rollers for a few months, but every time I saw the price - about £40 - I couldn't justify spending that amount of money to silkafy (that's a word, right?) my feet.  Not only would I have to spend money on the roller, I'd also have to pay for batteries and replacement sanding rollers... no way!  I even saw a pedicure set on Boots.com for about £175 - seriously shocking!

Ok, so every "recipe" for this homemade foot soak called for Listerine, but it's a name brand and I was put off by the price of a bottle.  Then I read that any antiseptic mouth wash would work - so one that kills the bacteria in your mouth, not just the minty fresh kind.  Bingo.  I had a solution: I'd buy the store brand antiseptic for £2, saving me £1.50 over a bottle of Listerine.



So, here's the "recipe":
1 cup of antiseptic mouthwash, such as Listerine
1 cup of distilled vinegar (I read that apple cider vinegar works, too)
2 cups of warm/hot water

Pour all of the wet ingredients into a baking dish or bowl and soak your feet for at least 15 minutes.  Yes, you can take some time to relax!  

When you decide it's time to take your feet out, dry them off and use a pumice stone to gently buff the rougher parts of your feet.

I am AMAZED how soft my feet are. (Apologies if pictures of my feet are grossing you out.)


Now that I have tried this homemade foot soak, I am soooo glad I didn't buy an expensive micro pedi roller thing.  After a little nail polish, my feet will be ready for the world to see the next time I wear sandals (ok, just kidding... I really don't want people to look at my feet!)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Small Decisions En Route

A big part of "finding the pennies" is about slowly creating a mindset that makes saving money a habit - something that doesn't require much thought and effort.  It's about thinking about the day ahead, when money will likely be spent, looking for opportunities to save money, and putting a plan into action. 

I'm writing this blog from a lounge on a ferry crossing the Irish Sea on our way home from our 10-day holiday/ visit to my in-laws in Northern Ireland. I simply want to share how we've saved at least £25 on food alone by making a few simple changes to our normal routine for the journey home. 

The drive from my in-laws is about a 2 1/2-hour drive to the port in Dublin. Of course, like any parent, I had the bag of a few snacks and drinks in the car. No biggie. An easy savings of maybe £5 not having to stop at a petrol station for drinks and snacks. No news there. 

Our first change of the day, though, was lunch. We always aim for the service station just over the boarder in Ireland before stopping. Usually we get Burger King. Two adult meals - or at least two burgers plus chips and drinks to share as we usually do - plus two kids meals could easily cost £15, if not more. Yesterday, Jeff and I agreed that we could pack a lunch of sandwiches, crisps, grapes and drinks for our lunchtime stop. Ok, yes, our packed lunch would have cost maybe £4 to make... but thanks to my generous in-laws, we just took what was in the kitchen already. 

Once on the ferry, I went to buy a coffee - with free refills!!! - for £2.70, but the queue for food was too long, I decided the wait wasn't worth it. I guess the novelty of having free refills on coffee was drawing me to the coffee than the coffee itself anyway. 


When it was time for dinner, we could have each had a meal, but I just as I was ordering, I realised I wasn't very hungry. The rest of my family was, and I reflected on a lesson learned a few days ago when we were at a restaurant - my girls rarely eat all of their meals, so I should sometimes just eat their leftovers, instead of ordering my own meal. This decision saved us £7.30 - the cost of the meal I was planning on ordering. I was right, too, my girls only ate half of their meals, so I still had plenty to eat. I admit, I won't do this in every occasion, but today, with ordinary ferry food (nothing special), this was a chance to put a lesson into action. 

Finding the Pennies in your life doesn't have to be huge amounts of money or making huge decisions. It's about taking small steps and making small changes in your life that will "snowball" into a money-saving mindset.