Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Bowl Full of (Wonky) Lemons

There's something so "homey" about a bowl full of gorgeous yellow lemons resting on top of a kitchen counter... but I didn't buy a big bag of lemons to simply look pretty in my kitchen... oh, no... I already drink gallons of water throughout the day, but sometime last week, I thought, "why not add slices of lemons to my water bottle?"  It's supposed to be good for you, right?  I did consider the cost of a lemon, about 35p per gorgeous fruit, but I thought it'd be worth it for the "promised" health benefits.  
No, I didn't pay £3.15 (35p x about 9 lemons) for this bag of lemons... no... I paid £1.  That's right. £1.  Notice what the label says... "Wonky Fruit".... uhh... they sure don't look wonky to me!  Perhaps a little smaller than their 30p friends, but boy, what a savings!  

This isn't the first time I've bought less-than-perfect produce.  Each of the major supermarkets carry perfectly edible and oddly beautiful fruit and veg.  Morrisons offers "Wonky Fruit" and "Wonky Veg", like these lemons.  Tesco label their "ugly" produce as "Perfectly Imperfect" and Sainsbury's called "Greengrocer Value Selection".

This comes after a campaign to pressure the large supermarket chains to relax their standards on the appearance of fruit and vegetables, which would allow a greater - much greater - amount of produce to be sold in the supermarkets and not to be simply plowed back into the fields as fertilizer.  This in turn also helps farmers earn a greater profit on their crop yield.  Seems like a win-win situation!  Find out more in this article from the Guardian.  

You do have to search for the delicious gems a little, but they're there, and they'll save you a small (very small) fortune... but hey! We're finding the pennies, right?!

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Few of My Favourite Things: Aldi

I admit it - I'm a big fan of Aldi.  I have been shopping at Aldi almost every Monday for at least a year and a half in an attempt to save on our monthly grocery bill.  I love Aldi because, for the most part, everyday food items are cheaper and the quality is excellent.  I definitely feel that I am getting great value for money.

I'd love to share with you which products from Aldi I buy on a regular basis and the prices of a comparable product at my favourite "orange" supermarket.

As you can see, in this one "basket" I saved £9.00.  That's a lot!  This doesn't even include fruit and veg, which I mention below.
We love Aldi's Everyday Essentials Mature White Cheddar, but I couldn't find the price of it quick enough to include it in this blog and I don't have the package anymore to look at how much cheese this is.  However, if my memory serves me right, this is a 1kg block of cheese that costs about £3.50. When open this cheese, we cut it in half and wrap both halves in cling film/ plastic wrap.  We use up one half before using the second.  The second half has never molded before we use it either.
I included these cotton pads in the list above, but I have to say, they are so cheap and softer than the basic variety at the orange supermarket.  200 pads at Aldi cost 69p but £1.60 at the orange supermarket.  What a difference!

Ok, I'm just going to mention it: feminine hygiene products at Aldi are just as reliable as what you'd buy at the supermarket but WAAAAYYY cheaper.  Just a gentle nudge to try them for yourself (if you are a female, of course!).

A few more of my favourite things from Aldi are: frozen fish fingers, frozen fruit and veg, crisps, some cereal, biscuits (though my husband finds the digestive biscuits to be too sweet) and houmous.

In addition to the products listed above, prices on fresh produce is also much lower than the supermarket, especially the new-fortnightly "Super 6". These super-buys are 6 fruit and veg favourites marked down to an even-better price than usual.  I will write a separate blog post on the bargain fruit and veg at Aldi.  Some people say that Aldi's produce molds quicker than at the supermarket, but I have never found this to be the case. Oh, and quick a quick tip, Aldi charges per banana, not by weight, which I find can be more expensive than at the supermarket, but I will find out exactly when I post my fruit and veg blog.

There are a few things at Aldi that I don't like as well as the comparable products at the orange supermarket: toilet paper, tissues, bacon (it's too thin), body lotion and jarred pasta sauce.

BUYER BEWARE!  Aldi does sell name-brand products.  Just because it's being sold at Aldi doesn't mean it's a good price.  Quite often I've found that name-brand products are more expensive than at the typical supermarket. Please make sure you're getting a great price on an item before you automatically put it in your trolley/cart.

Just like anywhere and any time you shop, you have to know your prices.  Learn whether your favorite item or brand is a good buy by keeping track - either simply by remembering or by writing it down - of the quantity versus the price. You don't have to shop at Aldi but if you want to spend less on your supermarket shop, I want to encourage you to figure out whether what you're buying a good deal or not.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Quick Tip: Snap a Pic of Your Voucher Codes

I just got home from an evening out at TGI Fridays with some mom friends.  I'm sure you know me well enough by now that I don't go anywhere without first looking for a voucher code of some sort for the restaurant or store that I'm going to.  Of course I make sure it's valid for the day and time I'm going to use it and it's actually for something that I plan on ordering.  

Fast forward to actually using the voucher code... I'm talking about the kind that are on mobile apps... whenever I hit "Claim" or "Use It Now" or similar on the voucher to get the code, I snap a quick picture of it just in case the voucher code somehow magically disappears between the time I hit "Claim" and when the waiter or cashier is able to enter it into the register.  

I learned this the hard way a couple of years ago when I lost the data connection before the waiter could take down the voucher code.  Tonight would have been a similar situation when the waiter could only enter in 5 voucher codes that the other ladies had - I had the 6th - and my voucher code disappeared when he was trying to sort it out.  Thankfully I had taken a picture of voucher code and he was able to use the photo of it unbeknownst to him to take 6th appetizer from our group's bill.  I hope you found that Quick Tip helpful!





Saturday, August 26, 2017

The True Cost of Stuff


My family and I returned earlier this week from our wonderful annual trip "home" to Ohio.  We spent lots of time together and with our extended family, visited fun places, ate some really yummy American food and helped my mom and step-dad prepare for their move in a few day's time.  This house move preparation mostly took place in the evenings; instead of enjoying time with my husband, reading or going for an evening walk, I posted Barbie toys and New Kids on the Block memorabilia... I was head-over-heals for Joey... to different selling sites and sorted through boxes of papers from my school days. Fun! (Not.)


My mom and step-dad have graciously stored what seems like every toy and school report from my childhood for almost 14 years - the time I've been living in Europe.  This means many, many, many boxes containing My Little Pony toys, Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and clothing, love notes and poems (yes! poems!) from a high school boyfriend, report cards from elementary school through high school and school music programs among many, many other things.  Do you get the picture?  All of this stuff has been taking up space in my parents' garage, basement and closets for all this time.  I'm even more amazed to think that the toys from my early childhood have also been moved to other houses at least 3 times before this.
The decals weren't ever put on the toy!  


I vaguely remember playing with this toy but we never made ice cream in the ice cream maker.

Here's the thing though.  These things could have been played with then sold, given away or thrown away a long time ago.  But they weren't.  Why?  A big reason is that I have a tendency to form an emotional attachment to things, not really use or play with it and just simply leave them on a shelf or squirrel them away.  Of those Barbie toys, I think I played with... exactly... NONE of them.  Nope.  The decals weren't even put on toys!  So my parents (or Santa) paid for them, they were put somewhere in our house, then moved many times, then stored for many years...

.... until a month ago when I promised my mom and my step-dad that they would never have to move my unnecessary things ever again... and this meant committing my evenings to figuring out what to do with stuff.  To make a long story short(er), I tried to sell this stuff on eBay, different Facebook selling pages, letgo and Shpock.  Oh, the toys, not the love poems ;o)  Those I put in the recycling bin.  Some of the items did sell, but for far less than I was hoping.

Was it worth it?  Was the $100ish that I earned from selling all of those toys, spending all of those evenings with the stuff instead of with my family, storing those forgotten things year after year and moving them from house to house numerous times worth it?  I think you know the answer: No.  Oh, yeah, and this isn't the first holiday/vacation I've sorted through boxes of "keepsakes" from my childhood during the time in Ohio, either.

The emotional stress of having too much stuff is draining and being surrounded by unwanted stuff is imprisoning.  The cost of stuff isn't just what  is printed on the price tag; add to it the effort it might take to maintain and keep that item and the emotional strain that item places on you, too.

I want to encourage you to simply pause a few seconds before you buy something and ask yourself whether you really love what you're about to buy, will consume it in the near future, use it on a regular basis or add real value to your life. If the answer is "no" to any of these points, simply put that item back on the shelf and walk away. It'll be ok. More than likely, you'll forget about it or simply reflect on how proud you are of yourself for not buying yet another "thing", and as a result, save money and save yourself from future emotional torture.  

I've promised to take a new approach to the stuff in my own house.  I'm still a "squirrel" at heart, but I promise to strive to, little by little, either use, sell, donate or recycle unwanted things in my house - and believe me, there's plenty!

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.