Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How I "Spent" My Day - McDs Sticker, Nectar Points and a Tiny Brownie

My day was pretty normal - gym in the morning, kids to school, work, kids from school, home.  I missed out on about 68p at the gym that someone had left on top of the shelves when, for a brief second, I felt insecure about my "weird" status as I was walking out with my friend.  Ugh! I should have just picked it up.  Darn it!  
So my normal day got a bit more interesting - in terms of my "finding the pennies" hobby/ mindset/ lifestyle when I was walking to my car after work and found litter *gasp!* next to my car - it was another McDonald's coffee cup with the loyalty sticker STILL ON IT!  Jack pot!  I secretly high fived myself.  The sticker completed Jeff's coffee card, so he can get his free coffee the next time he goes to McDs.  Caring is sharing, right?!
When we got home from the school run, I discovered that Mr Postman delivered a Nectar card promotion containing a coupon for 800 bonus points, worth £4 on my Nectar card.  Yaaayy!  More on my Nectar points in a bit.  
I wanted to have a meat-free, low-cost meal this evening and the solution was egg fried rice. It ticks the boxes for protein, carbs and veggies, as well as being very inexpensive.  I hadn't ever made egg fried rice before, but it turned out really well having followed this recipe. I used frozen mixed veg rather than chopping up fresh veggies - I boiled them first while the rice was cooking - and actually got to use an unopened bottle of oyster sauce that I bought a couple of years ago and didn't end up using (and it was just fine, by the way).  The girls enjoyed this meal, and even asked if we could add some prawns to it the next time we have it.
Are you wondering what's in the glass? It's iced tea "made" from last night's leftover tea in the teapot.  Why pour perfectly good tea down the drain when I can drink it cold another time?  Sooo good.
So it's Nectar Double Up Week at Sainsbury's!  This happens twice a year - once in November and once in the summer.  You can swap Nectar points for vouchers worth double the value of the points in a handful of departments, such as toys, entertainment, clothing and wine.  £5 worth of points can be exchanged for a voucher worth £10, exchange £10 for a £20 voucher, and £20 for a £40 voucher.  We save our Nectar points to mainly use during these double up events because they're such a great deal, especially considering the points were mostly free in the first place.  Find out more by visiting your local store (I've just looked at both the Sainsbury's website and the Nectar website and there is ZERO information about this on their websites - that's not good advertising!) I ended up buying some DVDs, a super cute My Little Pony dress costume for Brenna and toys for both of the girls for Christmas and walked out having spent £8.55 for £88.56 worth of stuff.  These won't even affect our Christmas budget, as the points were free.

I did have a quick nosey at the reduced sections in the store and found a bottle of Sainsbury's lotion reduced to 50p and this tiny gluten and dairy free chocolate & coconut brownie reduced to 10p.   This tiny brownie was tiny... tiny... only a few bites worth.  I cannot imagine paying £2.00 for this tiny little jar of brownie, but I thought it was worth a try for 10p.  I have to admit, it was very good - I heated it up in the microwave for a few seconds.

So, that's how my money-saving mindset worked today.  I hope I've encouraged you to find some small ways to save, too!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

How We "Spent" Our Day: Child's Play

Today was basically a kids' day - swimming, McDs and a soft play birthday party.  Yay! Right?! Earlier this week, we gave the girls the option of going swimming - which they've been asking to do for about a couple of months now - and going to the cinema.  The cinema would have been cheaper, but it was their choice this time.  I'll let you in on a bit of a Bolton budget secret - we budget £20 per month for "play".  A friend asked me recently whether this is enough.  It is for our family, for the most part, anyway. We are finding, however, that our girls are reaching the age that they are no longer free and we actually have to pay for them... bummer!  

We've been going swimming at the same pool for years now, but recently they increased the price for an adult to swim 50% - from £5 to £7.50 each.  Now that Ellen is 5 we have to pay £5 for her, too.  So what used to cost us £10 for the family to go swimming, now costs £20.  Grrr... Jeff even rang around to other pools, but there were either swimming lessons going on, the pool didn't permit non-members access or it would have been actually more expensive.  So, off to our usual pool we went.  It is a lovely place... clean.... and very few other there's a Jacuzzi that I always take advantage of.  I like to think of it as a cheap spa break... as long as I drown out the sound of the girls' voices talking to me... the... entire... time.  Never mind.  We did end up swimming for an hour and a half.
We also treated the girls to McDonald's on the way home. Of course, it wasn't spontaneous and it fit into our "Restaurants" budget.  We ordered two Happy Meals, 2 Big Macs, 2 medium fries and a "festive" coffee.  It cost us less than £10 for all of us to eat at McDs.  I must say... I was pretty impressed with myself.
The Happy Meals were the usual price £2.79 each.  Jeff and I each had a Big Mac and medium fries for £1.99 having used two receipts with codes; a thoughtful colleague of Jeff's actually gave him two receipts with the codes from the online feedback surveys that we could use today.  
And what about the large "festive" coffee?  It was free.  Imagine my excitement when I finally had six stickers to fill the coffee card above.  And no, of course, I didn't buy the six coffees to get the stickers... okay, I did buy one coffee in July... I found them... on cups... on the ground.  Eeeewww?!?! "Lauren, that's really weird."  Yep, I'm weird... so what.  I also pick up loose change... and the £5 note on the ground on a recent short stay in London... so what's the difference?  Not much.  I've actually tried to fill a card the past two years and haven't been successful, but this year I finally achieved my goal. YES!  I was even more excited that I could use this free coffee card on a fancy, whipped cream-topped coffee.  I did share it with Jeff, in case you were wondering.  I also asked for a cup of water, rather than paying for a Coke. So, there you go... McDs for a family of 4 for £10. Not bad.  

I spent a few couple of hours baking this afternoon - peanut and chocolate granola and cinnamon streusel pumpkin cake.  I added a couple of spoonfuls of this granola to natural Greek yogurt and Brenna loved it.  Mommy win!

Later this afternoon, we had a fun time at a friend's birthday party which took place at a indoor play area.  We spent £1 on a ride-on game that Brenna then abandoned halfway through.  
All-in-all we had a fun family day.  Totally worth the £20 to go swimming and the £10 for lunch at McDonalds.  Now that we've spent the allocated £20 in the play category of our budget, we may not be able to spend money on "play" until December, but that's ok. I'm sure we'll find other way to have fun for free!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

An Emergency Fund... Do It Anyway

I've almost finished preparing these shoe boxes to be sent to two girls somewhere in the world via the charity Samaritan's Purse. I enjoy picking out all of the gifts that go inside each box, I enjoy imagining the excited faces of the little girls who will receive these present-packed boxes and the lesson I hope to instill in my daughters of gratitude, giving and awareness of others in the world.  But there is one thing that I don't love to do in regards to these shoe boxes - wrapping them! I honestly dread having to sit and wrap the lids separately from the actual box.  Why?  I'm not sure... but I simply don't... like... to... do... it... and yet, I still do it anyway.

Sometimes we have to do things we simply don't like or want to do, right?  I've been thinking all day about a comment that someone posted on a financial Facebook page that I follow. Just FYI, by "ef", she means an emergency fund.

The lady posted the following:
"Hi question about ef. How do you know which amount to aim for (£500-1000)? For instance, we own our home, within the last three years we have bought new most are appliances. My dh car is fair to say going to need to be replaced possibly in the next year. Mine is fine. But I don't think we'd need £1000 ef we have some money at aside for his new car already.
I could see the reason behind having a higher ef if we had older, more unreliable items in our life but not as it stands."

I replied: 
Hi, emergency funds are saved for unexpected occasions in your life, like job loss and isn’t necessarily just there to use to replace things that need replaced or repaired. Determining how much you have saved in an emergency fund depends on how many dependents there are in your family and how much risk you’re willing to take. You should also have sinking funds for things like Patricia mentioned: boiler service and repair, new-to-you car fund, MOT and annual service, House expenditures, holidays, birthdays, gifts for others, etc. These are expected expenses, things you know will eventually happen or are very likely to happen in the future. DR says we should have 3-6 months of expenses saved in an emergency fund. Hope this helps.

I hope this helps you, too.  I'm going to ask you something... how much do you have in your emergency fund? (Please tell me you have something saved for a "rainy day".)  Initially a good place to start is to aim for £1,000, then after paying off all debts except your mortgage, boost your emergency fund to 3-6 months of expenses.  I am not a financial expert, nor qualified in any way, but I do follow the advice of Dave Ramsey, an American financial adviser.  

The lady above didn't seem to understand the importance of having an emergency fund, otherwise she would have been motivated to do something that she doesn't seem to really want to do.  You know what?  I don't really want to find ways to save money every day. But I do. I don't really want to say "no" to buying things I really want... but I do. I don't really want to just have money "sitting" in an account just in case when I could be spending it on things to enjoy now... but I do.

If you don't have money in an account set aside for life's emergencies, I want to urge you to start today... yep, even prior to Christmas.  How can you start or boost your emergency fund today? Decide what your first goal for an emergency fund is: is it £500, £1000, or 3 months to 6 months of expenses? Create a spending plan (aka "budget") and allocate an amount from each month's wages to build to this goal.  Are there items in your house you can sell? Even if it's only worth a few quid; it all adds up!  Perhaps you have some money in an account already but it hasn't been dogeared for anything yet... you can either put it in another account or simply take a mental note that this amount isn't for spending unless it's an emergency.  Perhaps you can work extra shifts and put that extra money towards your emergency fund.  Maybe you have other ideas!

I honestly want the best for you and your family.  Having an emergency fund may seem strange or difficult.  You know what?! It's worth the extra work and all the saying "no"s for peace of mind, right?  Do it anyway.

Monday, November 6, 2017

How I "Spent" My Day

Hi Friends!  I have so many thoughts swirling in my mind... all things I want to share with you!  BUT... not today.  I want to flesh out the ideas a bit more before I do. 

I do, however, want to give you a bit of insight on my earnings and expenditures today, to hopefully give you a bit of inspiration!

As of this morning, our fridge was pretty bare.  I wondered what in the world Jeff and I were going to pack for our lunches. I was momentarily tempted to give in and buy a sandwich from the sandwich van that pulls up blaring its music like an ice cream van and parks itself dutifully at 11:45 outside my office window daily.  The salads and sandwiches that my colleagues buy from the sandwich van look good and, boy, would it be easy to buy something every day... but two things: a) I don't want to spend money unnecessarily, b) I don't want to fall into the habit of thinking of the sandwich van as a backup "just in case"... it's simply not an option (ok, it is, but the very last option).  Thankfully we had a few eggs, which I hard boiled, cut up and put on a couple of day-old rolls with a little mayo.  We also had yogurt, a nectarine and a Kit-Kat each. Done.  And no extra money spent. Phew!

Dinner was a similar situation, since I wasn't planning to go grocery shopping until after dinner... sans kids.  I had planned to make pasta carbonara, again using up a few more eggs, a few strips of bacon and a handful of frozen peas, but then my daughter, Ellen, asked if we could have tuna pasta bake instead.  Sure!  Thankfully, we had 4 tins of tuna in the cupboard; I used 2. I also chopped up the remaining couple of carrots in the fridge that were starting to shrivel.  So, I made a complete meal with some cupboard staples and used up a couple of carrots that may have ended up in the bin in a few days had they not been used today.

After dinner, with my grocery list app in hand, I headed to Aldi.  I kept to my list for the most part and spent about £40 to fill up our fridge. I splurged on a large pack of strawberries at £2.39, but these will be a side dish of sorts to have with hamburgers, so in my opinion, they're worth the extra expense.  I don't really follow economics, but I'm amazed at how much a normal pack (250g) of butter has sky rocketed the past 6 months or so.  I'm not entirely sure why the cost of butter has gone up as much as it has, I just know it has.

On the way home, I dropped off a Christmas teddy bear to someone who couldn't collect it - I only agreed to drop it off because I was about 3 minutes from her house when I was at Aldi.  Another £2 added to my kids' university savings fund.  (Another blog post in the works!)  I also swung by the Tesco petrol station to use a 10p off per litre of fuel voucher I received when I did a big shop at Tesco a couple of weeks ago which expires tomorrow.  Definitely wanted to take advantage of that!  Using the voucher saved me £4.60. We have another one to use by next week for Jeff's car. I went this evening rather than making an extra trip out tomorrow evening... that's a small savings, right?!

I'm planning to write more of these "How I Spent My Day" blog posts. I'd love to know what you think of them and whether they inspire you to think about your pennies in a different way.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Unexpected Blessings and Expenses

Right, confession time.  As much as I love to find ways to save money, live somewhat frugally and follow a budget, things don't always go as planned.  At the beginning of the month, if not a day or two before the start of each month, I plan our spending for the upcoming month, which shows me where I can expect our money to go, allows us to save for future events and gives me freedom to spend within the limits of our budget.  However, sometimes unexpected expenses arise or I simply forget to include expenditures... and sometimes I think, "oh well, just buy it anyway". (Not good!)

The past few days all of these things happened. We planned a family morning out to a local farm for a tractor ride and pumpkin picking.  We did this last year and the girls really enjoyed it.  So we forked out the £21.50 again to do this, but it was will probably be our last time because it's simply not worth the money.  I LOVE pumpkins, though, so this is somewhat meaningful to me.  So the cost of the tractor ride and pumpkins fit in our budget, as this is the only family "fun" we have planned for the rest of the month.  However, the £8 spent on the picture above, taken by a photographer running around the pumpkin patch, was not budgeted for... but aren't my pumpkins so darn cute?!  Then there was the "snack" that I swore up and down before we left the house that morning that we wouldn't be buying any snacks or taking any snacks with us because my kids didn't eat much for breakfast that I went ahead and bought.  My kids were hungry and smell of the sausages being grilled at the farm shop were seriously luring... and then I uncharacteristically said "yes" to a coffee when the lady asked if I wanted a cup with the sausages.  Ka-ching!  There went another £9.50 for a snack we could have avoided and didn't really need.  I added these extra costs to my budget, but it leaves very little wiggle room for the second half of the month.

Saturday evening, my husband and I got dolled up for an evening wedding reception.  In case anyone couldn't tell... I didn't buy anything new to wear.  I am not gifted with any sort of fashion sense! I am blessed by super friends who babysit the girls for a few hours every once in a while for nothing but a hug in exchange, one of whom babysat the girls for us that evening.  Of course I'd happily babysit their children when the need arises, too.  Unfortunately, though, just as we started the car... thankfully it started just fine... we immediately noticed the dash didn't light up and the speedometer didn't work.  Oh boy.  Again, we are super blessed to have a fantastic mechanic (although he's about 25 minutes away) who was able to fit in our car today.  Thankfully, the cause of the panel not working was due to a fault in the software which he was able to fix and no expensive parts were required. Yay!  This £35 fix was unexpected, though, and put us "in the red" for the time being in the "Vehicle Servicing" category of our budget.  Grrr... and with a MOT (saved for on a monthly basis) and a major service expected in December, we will have to save more than we usually do in November and December to pay for this. 

I also forgot to account for a wedding gift for the bride and groom whose reception we attended. It was a small financial gift, because the groom is my husband's colleague and we have never met his wife, but still it put our budget "in the red" in the "Gifts for Others" category on our budget. Again, we can re-coop this cost in November, but I really don't like overspending then having to play catch up.

On Sunday a dear friend at church gave me a surprise bag of goodies of surplus goodies she had in her kitchen, as seen in the picture above.  I was absolutely delighted - think two school girls giggling in class - with a jar of raspberry jam, whole nutmeg (I think I'll pass on a few of these to my friends) and a jar of good-quality cocoa powder.  This friend also brought in two boxes of Bramley apples from her garden to share with the church, so I also gratefully helped myself to 4 of those (after others helped themselves first, of course).  My husband would like me to make an apple pie with these apples and I'd like to try to make homemade apple cider vinegar from the apple peels following the recipe the same friend told me about last week. 

I wish I had taken a picture of the large pot of chicken "noodle" soup I whipped up on Sunday, but I didn't think it would turn out as delicious as it had.  I bought two medium-sized whole chickens from the farm shop on Saturday for £7.  Wow, £3.50 each for great-quality chickens.  After our roast chicken dinner on Sunday, there was just enough chicken leftover to add to a pot of soup.  I have never made chicken noodle soup before, but, hey, how hard could it be, right?  I sauteed some onion and celery in a bit of the chicken fat and the burnt bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven from the roast chicken.  Since Aldi didn't have a bag of carrots (can you believe it?!) I used some mixed vegetables in the soup instead.  I also was able to use up a jar of homemade vegetable stock another friend gifted me a few months ago (she was a recipient of some of my homemade vanilla extract).  A bag of giant couscous has been sitting in my cupboard for months now, so I decided to finally put them to use in this soup - hence why it's not really chicken noodle soup.  I was delighted when my kids ate up this soup this evening for supper - they have never had chicken noodle soup before either.  There's even a couple of generous portions left over for tomorrow's lunch. 

Last but not least, we decided to go ahead and buy our 3-year-old's new big girl bed about a year and a half before we originally planned.  Just before our older daughter turned 5 in March, we bought her a big girl bed, but since then, our younger daughter has also been wanting her big girl bed, claiming that her toddler bed is uncomfortable.  We have waited a few months to buy her bed but went ahead and made the move last week.  We did our research and my husband found out that we could save almost 50% on beds through his company's discount website.  Maybe we should have waited another month or two to bulk up the "Home Expenditures" section of our budget because now we're slightly overspent in this category, too.  Any other plans we have for the house will have to be put on hold another 6 or so months until we can save up for the next big purchase.

The reason I'm sharing this is to prove that in no way am I anywhere near perfect in my spending or money-saving mindset.  I'm still learning from mistakes and struggle with needs versus wants.  But there are also so many ways to find pennies in everyday life and to focus on contentment and the many blessings in our lives. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Coconut Oil: a Fantastic Beauty Product

There is a plethora of uses for coconut oil, such as cooking, beauty, and natural remedies. I've been using coconut oil to cook with for at least a couple of years now because of its health benefits and high smoking point, which means it won't oxidize when its being heated to high temperatures and cause nasty things to happen in the body (like olive oil can).  When my younger daughter was a newborn, I used coconut oil on her dry skin, instead of chemical-based lotions.  Simply Google "uses for coconut oil" to find a plethora of uses for coconut oil.

A few weeks ago, I started to use coconut oil as a make-up remover, after having less-than-satisfactory results with popular micellar water.  Yes, micellar water works... sort of... to remove make-up, but my eye make-up didn't come off completely and it dried out my skin, especially around my eyes.  I had heard of coconut oil being used to remove make-up (I'm sure most oil can be used as a make-up remover) for a while, but hadn't tried it... then I took the big step of applying it on my skin and on my eyes.  Admittedly, it does feel a bit strange at first to be rubbing oil... the same oil I cook with... all over my skin, especially my eyes, but it feels just fine after about 2 seconds.

So, once I rub a light layer all over my face, I use a cotton cosmetics pad or two to remove the makeup. I don't even need night cream now since my skin is left feeling very moisturized.  I've even noticed that if I have a spot (not that I do, of course), it has completely disppeared after a couple of nights.

Just a short, very entertaining video demonstration:
Oh, I haven't talked about the cost - it's not the cheapest of oils; however, a large jar is way cheaper than buying bottles of makeup remover, night- and eye cream.  I hope you'll give coconut oil a go - not only in your body, but on your body - very soon.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Find Pennies on Your Receipts

Let me ask you something - do you check every, single receipt you're handed to make sure that you were charged the correct price for what you bought?  If you honestly answered "no" to this question, then you may be losing out on your hard-earned money. 

Far too often shops, restaurants and service providers unknowingly, or even knowingly, charge you a different price for a product or service than what you expected to pay based on the offer advertised or the price sticker on the shelf.

This happened to us this evening. My lovely in-laws offered to pay for our meal out; when the receipt came after my mother-in-law paid, I reached for the receipt (I hope she didn't mind!) to check that we were charged the correct price for our meals.  We went to a pub restaurant that a friend had recommended that had select £6 meals Monday-Friday all day, which my in-laws took advantage of. My husband and I ordered a curry meal "deal" that included a drink.  So we were being careful with the meals we purchased.  When I reached for the receipt, the first thing that caught my attention was that there were too many items on our bill.  I scanned down the list of foods on the receipt.  Ok, actually we did have all of that.  But something still didn't seem right.  Then I spotted something suspicious: my daughters' children's meals were itemised instead of just saying something like, "Kids meal £5.99". So out came the calculator on my mobile.  I added up the prices of each of the items on the kids' meals, and just as I thought, we were charged £1.06 more for each meal.  Whoa!

Of course, I went up to the till... waited until someone was able to help me... she blah blah blahed about how something was taken off but they had forgotten to take off something for the kids' meals... blah blah blah... just give me the £2.12 you overcharged my in-laws already!

I did walk out of the pub with a huge sense of pride knowing that I hadn't let the restaurant get away with overcharging us.

So, what can you do to find some extra pennies?  Ideally before you pay for something, check over your bill to make sure that all of the prices/charges are as you expect them to be.  If you aren't able to check your bill before you pay, such as at the supermarket, step to the side after paying and quickly check that you were charged the correct prices.  If you are in a hurry then, at least check the receipt when you get home... and add it to your budget.

Oh, and do speak up.  It is worth it.  Try not to be embarrassed about asking for your money back or a price check.  They sure weren't too embarrassed to take your money or wrongly charge you! The more you practice checking your receipts and, if need be, getting some money back if you were wrongly charged, the sooner it will become a habit and you'll be finding the pennies to put back in your pocket.