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. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Importance of Budgeting

Hello Friend.  Please accept my apology for not having written in almost a month. Life doled out other priorities which required my attention.  But I haven't forgotten you!  I promise. In fact, I have so much I want to share with you and have the chance to do that again.  

I had a really nice conversation with a new acquaintance a couple of evenings ago.  While our husbands were rounding up their conversation... in the car park of a Micky D's... Finding the Pennies somehow came up.  Something she said stuck with me. She said, "Yeah, we (she and her husband) get to the end of the month, and we really don't know what we spent our money on!"  This comment had me wondering how many of my friends, perhaps even you, wonder the same thing, month after month after month.  

This conversation came just a couple of days after the husband of a friend I was speaking with told me that he is down to their last pennies in their bank account, "but I haven't told her that yet."  My heart goes out to this family.

Friends, please be honest with yourself.  Do you know where each and every penny you spend goes every month?  Would you like to begin each month with a greater feeling of control over your finances? 

You most likely know where I'm going with this.  The only way you can have greater control of your spending is by keeping track of each and every penny you spend.  "Come on, Lauren, who has time for that?" you may be asking.  "You do!" I reply.  "But that takes a lot of effort," you may then be thinking.  Not really, and the effort you do put into a creating and following a budget is more than worth it.  

By following a budget, you can tell your money where to go.  By allocating your income at the beginning of the month, you have the ability to control how you will spend your money before you make a single purchase.  This is so important so you know how much you have to spend in particular areas of your life.  Some may see this as being quite restrictive; however, I see this as opportunities to spend my money in a way that optimizes each penny spent.  

But why do I even follow a budget?  My main reason for following a budget is peace of mind.  I know that a) we will have enough money to cover all areas of our life, b) if there is an unexpected expense one month, we already have some or enough money saved to cover that expense.  In addition, it allows my husband and I to have the ability to better communicate about upcoming expenses and be able to plan for them. 

I want to share with you how we allocate our money each month to help you identify where your money may be going.  There are basic areas we allocate money to: groceries, mortgage, utilities, fuel, and insurances.  There's regular monthly bills that aren't fun, but are necessary: council tax, health expenditures (prescriptions, dental examines, etc.), and bank account fees.  Then there's some monthly bills at are fun or optional: cable television, tv licence, mobile phone contracts, window cleaner (house cleaner, if you have one), entertainment/play, restaurants, gym membership, and clothing (I know clothes are necessary, but perhaps this one can go between the necessary and fun/optional category depending on what is considered a "need" or a "want"), hair cuts (again, a need vs. a want), and professional membership fees. We even have an "other" category, that we can't really plan for because they don't always happen but do come up most months, like car parking and posting letters and packages.

Not only are there monthly expenses to take into account, but also annual payments that we save for each month so that when the bill comes, we're prepared. These include: neighbourhood maintenance fee, boiler service, vehicle tax, MOTs, vehicle breakdown cover, vehicle servicing, and National Trust membership. There are also annual events that happen that we save for monthly: Christmas, birthdays, and holidays.  We also budget for eventualities, things that we don't know whether they'll happen, but are likely to, for instance: house expenditures, vehicle servicing, new vehicle purchase, school expenditures, and gifts for others that doesn't fall into the "birthday" category.

We save for far in the future events such as our daughters' higher education and retirement outside of work pensions.  One area I haven't mentioned yet - yes, there's still one more - and this one is very important to us, is tithing and charitable giving.  As Christians we believe that a tenth of our income should be given to our church and the work of Christians worldwide (missionaries and Christian charities).  We also allow for charitable giving in our budget when the need arises, such as when friends or family participate in sponsored fund raisers or when a friend could use "a little extra" to help them get by that month.

Please, please don't think that I am boasting about being able to cover these areas of our life. I simply want to help you to identify where you can be allocating and saving your money, so that you can gain control of your finances and live with a greater peace of mind about today and tomorrow.

Start
Ok, so you don't have a budget or perhaps have a rough outline of your budget.  I am not a qualified financial adviser, but I know that by following a budget, your finances will improve.  In my next blog, I want to help you to create a better budget.  Until then, just start by getting out a piece of paper and a pen.  Write down how much money comes in each month from your and your spouse's salaries, child benefit, and other places.  Then make a list of as many expenses you can think of or follow my lists above to outline where you spend your money.  This in no way has to be perfect.  If you want, put an exact amount or a rough estimate of what you think the expense is next to each item.  That's it. 

Friend, I know this is a sensitive subject, but I care about you, your family and your future. 

Take care xoxo

Monday, March 20, 2017

Online Food Shopping: Yea or Nay?

Well, that was a first!  This afternoon I had a phone interview with a researcher from the BBC for the show Right on the Money.  The researcher, Hannah, asked me questions regarding saving money by shopping for groceries online. I was so excited to share my thoughts on online food shopping with someone from the BBC!
"So, Lauren, what are your thoughts on online food shopping?" you may be wondering.  Shopping online can be a great way to save money.  So, how do I decide whether to shop online or in store?  I only shop online if I have a voucher code for money off my shop.  There are plenty of offers for your first online shop; for example, you can receive £18 off when you spend £60.  That's a good savings, if you're going to spend £60 on your shop anyways.  I'll touch on this minimum spend consideration in a bit.
So let's say I decide to go ahead with making an online food order.  When I shop for food online, I start by using the comparison website mysupermarket.co.uk.  This site allows me to compare prices on all of the items I'm planning to purchase, not only within the store I'd like to purchase from but also against other stores and also makes suggestions for comparable items that are cheaper.  I have also set up "Price Alerts" to notify me by email when a product I've chosen goes on sale at any of the stores on its website.  I won't go into specifics about using MySupermarket.co.uk in this blog, but I'll revisit this soon.

Once I have added all of the items I'd like to my shopping basket, I can then send the order to the shop's website from which I'm ordering.  Then I'm asked to choose a delivery slot.  Occasionally I can find a voucher code for free delivery, but most of the time I have to pay for delivery. However, there's a way to save here, too.  Prices for delivery can start at £1 for later evening delivery slots to £7 for more "prime" morning delivery slots, according to one shop's website.  Having my groceries delivered to my house for a £1 probably saves on the cost of fuel to and from the shop, but probably not if I spent £7 for delivery. Some grocery stores even offer collection for free from their shops, saving you time on walking around the shop and standing in a queue at the checkouts.

So what are the advantages to online shopping if you've adopted a money-saving mindset?
1) You aren't tempted by the offers on the end of the aisles/ on the plinths.  The items at the end of the aisles are marketed in such a way that they almost make you panic if you don't put them in your trolley or feel guilty for passing them up.  Often they aren't a great deal, either; they're just being promoted.
2) If you are incapacitated or have young children who make grocery shopping a challenge, online delivery may make life easier for you since the groceries show up at your door.
3) Offers are easy to find so you can see all items in a category that are on offer in a glance so you can make a quick decision.
4) You're able to know exactly how much the items in your basket add up to before you checkout.   At a normal shop, you likely don't know how much your shop will come to before it's time to pay and you're not likely to ask to have anything removed once your items have been scanned if you've spent more than you intended.

However, I find there are more disadvantages to online grocery shopping than advantages, such as:
1) You have to plan ahead for the groceries you will need tomorrow or later in the week and can't receive the food deliveries the same day, so you may need to pop to the shop anyway to get items you need before your delivery is due.
2) You aren't in charge of the exact items you pick.  For instance, if I were to order 4 bananas online, the online shopper at the shop doesn't know that I prefer medium-sized, yellow bananas, not large, green bananas.
3) You may not get the best use before date of a product, although most online shoppers are trained to pick the best date, but they may not always be careful with their selection.
4) You won't be delivered any reduced items. This one's a biggie for me since, as I'm sure you already know, I love to buy reduced items when I can, especially meat which I can freeze.
5) There's usually a minimum spend required for online shops.  So, if I don't plan to spend that amount of money, then you're somewhat pressured into buying items you weren't planning on just to reach that minimum spend threshold.  Obviously, this goes against the money-saving mindset.

The last comment I made to Hannah was that no matter whether I shop in store or online, I can't stress enough the importance of "knowing your prices".  Knowing what a good price is will always help you to save money (I'd love to expand on this in another blog post).

To summarize, if I have a money-off voucher to use, can book free or £1 delivery slot and don't need the items today or early tomorrow, then purchasing my food online may be a great choice. However, as I can mostly stick to my shopping list (except for adding a few reduced items to my trolley), I can still go to the shop while saving money on my grocery bill.

If I have missed any advantages or disadvantages to shopping online or any other tips you've found to shopping online, please leave a message on the blog or on the Finding the Pennies Facebook page. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Bad Hair Fortnight

Ok, I'll admit straight from the get go that I made a money mistake, actually TWO money mistakes, when I recently went to get my hair cut.  After not having my hair cut about 5 months, I finally made an appointment at a nice salon I've been to a few times before.

This is my Before Do.
I spent about 2 months deliberating about where to get my hair cut. I repeatedly considered 3 choices:

#1) at the nice salon where I'd pay the most money, but it'd be in a nice atmosphere, with a massage chair while my hair was washed and a nice coffee and biscuit. Oh, and the scalp massage always feel so nice while the stylist washes my hair.

#2) at the small salon at the gym I go to. I went to her in September, nothing really wrong with my experience there, except it wasn't at the nicer salon, but at the gym I go to 4-5 times a week.  I just wanted to walk in different doors and not be in the gym atmosphere!  But still, I think I got a nice coffee.  This salon is also sort of expensive.

#3) at the home salon of a friend from playgroup.  Although this was the most affordable option I was considering, I simply wanted to feel pampered since I don't go to salons very often, nor do I go for massages, manicures, facials or anything like that.

When I called to make the appointment, I was given the option of two stylists, one for £30 and one for £38. I made it a point to explain that I wanted the stylist to make recommendations for my shorter hair style, because I wasn't entirely sure of the new hair style I wanted.  The lady on the other end of the phone explained that everyone in the salon should be able to do this, but I still chose the more expensive stylist because I thought she'd have the most experience and, thus, give me a better-looking new hair style.

So, two weeks ago I walked through the doors of the nice salon. I got my hair washed but the massage chair wasn't turned on. Bummer.  I should have asked for it to be turned on.  I drank my nice coffee while my hair was cut.  Although I thought I explained pretty well what I wanted, the stylist didn't cut my hair short enough nor graduated or angled. She was about to finish my off my hair, but I hesitantly said that my hair wasn't as short as I had expected it to be.  She seemed frustrated, told me that she'd shorten my hair but she'd have to switch the next client to another stylist. "That's fine, do what you need to", I thought, "but I want my hair to be shorter."

My hair looked pretty nice when she finished putting some waves into my hair with a flat iron, but when I went to pay, I was slightly dismayed when I told it would be £45.  "Didn't the lady on the phone say it'd be £38? Oh, well, never mind," I thought.

I walked out the salon pretty happy, but saw my reflection in the shop window I was walking past.  My hair didn't look like I had explained at all!  The next morning, after washing and blow drying my hair, I thought my hair looked... well... boring. Like just a straight bob.  I am sure I asked for a graduated/angled bob with layers!

This is how my hair looked after my first appointment, but in the evening, so the waves had fallen out a bit.

After talking about my hair with a few friends - one even commented that my hair didn't look like it had been cut by a professional at all - they all encouraged me to ring the salon again to make another appointment. I've never done this before!  I really lacked the confidence to do this, but finally got up enough courage to write an email on Monday.  Wednesday came around and still no reply. So I rang the salon... 3 times... no answer!  I rang back earlier today and explained the situation. I also questioned being charged £45 for my hair cut.  "Your appointment took longer than an hour because your hair was long and wanted a complete restyle and your stylist's next client had to be moved, so we had to charge an extra £7." WHAT?!?!  How is it my fault that the stylist didn't cut my hair short enough the first time around?!  Isn't a hair cut, a hair cut?? "Ok, whatever," I thought.  She still hadn't offered another appointment, so I didn't debate this extra charge with her.

The lady begrudingly offered me an appointment for Friday afternoon.  The now more confident me had asked, "Just to clarify, I won't be charged again, will I?"  I returned to the salon, could tell straight away that they weren't happy to see me again and started to explain to the same stylist I had before exactly what I wanted... again.  I didn't think I'd have to show her a picture because she's a professional and should be able to make suggestions for my hair, but I did anyway. She said, "At least you brought a picture with you this time."  Huh?! I just sat silent although I was seething inside.  I couldn't wait for her to finish. We chit chatted a bit and she cut off more hair all around.  Man, I didn't want it shorter, just taken up at an angle in the back!  I thanked the stylist for her time and walked out.

Here's the "After" cut.


Needless to say, I will NEVER walk in that salon again.  I know it took a lot of explaining to get to the "Lessons Learned", but here's a few big things I've learned:

#1: The amount spent on a hair cut may not reflect outcome.  You may pay less on a hair cut and get a fantastic cut or, like me, you may pay more and not walk out with a less-than-fantastic hair cut.  Although I know that I will likely go to my friend I've been to before next time, I should have asked around for recommendations for stylists.

#2: I should have contended the extra £7 charge for "my" going over time.  The extra charge wasn't discussed with me nor was it my fault that the appointment went over my allotted time.  When I arrived at my appointment, we discussed my shorter cut, so it wasn't a surprise to the stylist that I wanted a new cut and that it may take a while.

#3: If you're completely restyling your hair, take a photo or two of the style you like.  I didn't think I'd need to do this with an expensive, experienced stylist, but I guess it's very helpful.

Please let me know if you have any other additional tips to finding a stylist, understanding pricing at a salon and translating an idea for a hair cut to a stylist.

Friday, March 3, 2017

It's a Brownie Kind of Day

It's Friday. A cold, wet, dull kind of day.  The perfect kind of day for brownies!  Don't you just love the fudgy, gooeyness of a chocolate brownie?  I love the crunchy edge and the thin, crispy top. Simply yum!

My brownie recipe is inexpensive, simple and uses pretty basic ingredients. Plus, they can be whipped up in about 10-15 minutes - prep time, that is.  I love to use my KitchenAid mixer whenever I can - I feel like Ina Garten or Ree Drummond when I'm using it.  Just look at the ribbons of gooey brownie batter cascading from the whisk!   By the way,  my homemade vanilla maturing away just to the left of the mixer (check out my blog about this here).

My brownie recipe isn't mine at all - it's simply from my Betty Crocker cookbook (but here's the link to the online version).

Betty Crocker Ultimate Brownies
Serves 16 (or 2 or 1!!!)

Ingredients
2/3 cup (151g) butter or margarine (I use butter)
oz unsweetened baking chocolate, cut into pieces (I use inexpensive dark chocolate from the chocolate aisle)
1 3/4 cups sugar
teaspoons vanilla
eggs
cup Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour (a.k.a. plain flour)
cup chopped walnuts (totally optional)
Directions
  • 1 Heat oven to 350°F (180°C, or 160°C for fan ovens). Grease bottom and sides of 9-inch square pan. (I line the bottom with baking paper so the brownies will pop out of the pan easily once they're baked.) In 1-quart (small) saucepan, melt butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly. Cool slightly (while you do the next step).
  • 2 In medium bowl, beat sugar, vanilla and eggs with electric mixer on high speed 5 minutes (or until the eggs and sugar have lightened in color which is about 3 minutes, but the longer the better). Beat in chocolate mixture on low speed. Beat in flour just until blended. Stir in walnuts, if using. Spread in pan.
  • 3 Bake 40 to 45 minutes or just until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack, about 2 hours. For brownies, cut into 4 rows by 4 rows.
Unfortunately, though, I won't be having any of these brownies... ok, maybe one... tomorrow.  One batch (in the bag) is going to the builders and volunteers who are helping with a DIY SOS build in Telford this week. DIY SOS is a show on BBC 1 that recruits local tradesmen to renovate homes so that sick or disabled family members can live better lives at home.  I'm excited to have the opportunity to help in a very, very small way.  The other batch is going with us tomorrow when we visit our long-time friends.  These brownies are so easy to make that they can be enjoyed any day of the week... like today!

Monday, February 20, 2017

We Made Money with Baby Oleg!

 

Ssshhh!!! Don't tell my girls... but the Baby Oleg dressed as Olaf they've been cooing over on TV... we've just sold it on eBaby for £24!  Yep.  Sorry, girls, what you don't know can't hurt you... and as if you need another cuddly toy!

We comparison shopped and purchased this year's car insurance through comparethemarket.com.  I am not necessarily endorsing this website, but it is very smart to use comparison website when it's time to purchase new insurance.  For a limited time comparethemarket.com is giving customers who purchase insurance through their site the choice of either a Baby Ayana dressed as Elsa or a Baby Oleg dressed as Olaf.

We chose the Baby Oleg because at the time, Baby Olegs dressed as Olaf were selling for more on eBay than Baby Ayanas.  Baby Oleg did take a few weeks to arrive, but when he did, my husband immediately listed him on eBay without the girls ever knowing.  A week later someone out there bought Baby Oleg for £24!  That £24 is going directly into our "Home Expenditures" category on our budget, since that really needs a boost at the moment after we bought our older daughter her new bed.

Not only did we get the best-priced car insurance saving £94.09 over last year's and Baby Oleg that made us £24, we also get the Meerkat Movies app that gives us a voucher code for 2 for 1 cinema tickets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Hey, if you don't mind going mid-week to the cinema, it's a cheaper way of going out to the movies!  We used this twice in the last couple of months (we bought insurance through comparethemarket.com sometime last year, too) saving about £10 per visit to the cinema.

I actually didn't start out this blog post with the intention of talking so much about comparethemarket.com.  My intention was to show you that sometimes there are ways to think outside the box when it comes to making and saving money.  Twenty-four pounds isn't a huge amount of money, but it has helped to boost our "House Expenditure" category on our budget and hasn't added to the stuffed animal/cuddly toy mountain in our girls' rooms.  Another way we thought about selling Baby Oleg is by asking ourselves how much we would pay for Baby Oleg at the toy shop... if at all.  I definitely wouldn't buy him for £24, but if we had kept him, that would have been £24 lost. 

I'd love to challenge you to think about the money-making items in your house.  Is there anything collecting dust, something that you don't love or your children no longer love that could make a few "bucks"/"quid" by selling?  We are currently in the process of slowly de-cluttering our house... and it feels soooo good!  Please leave a comment if you've sold something in a similar unconventional way as we sold Baby Oleg.