New Year Aims

I hope everyone has had a great start to 2018 so far!

I don’t really like using the term ‘resolutions’ as they never seem to last more than a couple of weeks into January. However, it seems natural to perceive a new year as a brand new start and to contemplate what you hope to achieve.

I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days about my personal aims which are detailed below.

Losing weight:

I gained a lot during my last pregnancy and haven’t managed to lose much at all during the year and a bit since I had my baby girl. Not helped by the fact that she has been a terrible sleeper and I’ve turned to carbs and sugar big time to get through the fog of sleep deprivation! However, the past month or two (touch wood) her sleep has turned a corner so I’ve been feeling far more human, so no more excuses.

I’m not sure exactly how much I’d like to lose, once I get started on the journey (always the hardest bit for me-after a few weeks into it it gets easier) I’ll set some targets I think.

Exercise:

I’ve never been a fan of the gym and prefer to exercise alone really, so I’ll be dusting off my old workout DVDs and aiming to work out twice a week to start with, then increase this in time.

I am already fairly active on a daily basis, carrying out the school and nursery run three times daily totals an hour’s walking and I usually reach 14k steps on my Fitbit on weekdays.

Finances:

We have a big holiday coming up in August (a cruise) which we booked ages ago (November 2016!). Booking so far ahead was a necessity due to high demand for the ages of children we have, but it’s proven useful to help us spread the cost over so many months.

The shore excursion details were released recently and there are lots of exciting-looking ones, but they aren’t cheap. So we will save up extra so we can book whichever ones we like, given that we have barely holidayed abroad since having the kids.

Our grocery shopping spends have really crept up in recent months, and I intend to get more organised about meal planning and eating out of the freezers and cupboards. Theres is a surprising amount of food already in both!

Do you have any aims or goals for 2018? I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Happy New Year!

Another short and sweet one while I enjoy spending time with my family to celebrate the holidays.

I hope everyone reading this enjoys a very happy and healthy 2018.

If getting your home organised is one of your resolutions, you may find this post on organising helpful, or this post about having a clear out to declutter your house.

For those of you on a health kick, there are some thoughts on healthy eating in cold weather here, and you can expect further posts about healthy eating on a modest budget in the coming weeks.

New posts will be added each Sunday morning (UK time) from next week.

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Why you should sweat the small stuff

Why you should sweat the small stuff

Doesn’t it seem that small things break or go wrong in our homes on a regular basis?

We have so much to fit into our days, that fixing minor inconveniences such as dripping taps, dead lightbulbs, creaking doors etc often fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Which makes perfect sense, because although we initially feel bothered when we notice something isn’t functioning, it’s all too easy to turn our attention to more pressing matters.

Do these small inconveniences really matter?

Well, despite the fact that in time we become blind to many of these little annoyances as our minds subconsciously accept them (for example, we don’t bother trying the switch of a broken table lamp any more and automatically reach for the switch of the ceiling light), perhaps we shouldn’t just ignore them. In the aforementioned case of the broken lamp, although an alternative source of light is available to use, it can’t be denied that a bright ceiling light doesn’t provide the same sort of ambience as a soft, subtle corner lamp would. Spending evenings under a harsh ceiling light rather than a soft corner lamp can affect our mood, and thus our wellbeing.

A couple more examples…

Our dining chairs need the felt pads under each chair leg replacing every few months. Usually, I leave it too long and just put up with the high-pitched scrape of the chairs whenever someone pushes one in or out. Last week, while I was tidying out a drawer, I came across a pack of felt pads and quickly replaced the ones on all the dining chairs.

Well, I can hardly tell you what a positive impact doing this made. Just testing each chair after I had applied them by gently pushing them backwards and forwards was so pleasing, to feel it glide smoothly across the kitchen floor, rather than scrape loudly.

Periodically, the interior doors in our house become creaky. Hearing that noise when the offending doors are opened or closed does irritate me a little each time, but I often disregard it instantly. Yet when I finally force myself to grab the can of WD40 lubricant and spray a tiny bit onto each door hinge, it’s a pretty satisfying feeling to test opening and closing each door afterwards and hear only peaceful silence instead of the annoying creak.

Yesterday I noticed that our shower head had built up a lot of limescale around many of the spray holes, which explained why the water flow had seemed poorer in recent weeks. It was a simple job to unscrew the shower head and place it in a saucer of vinegar to descale for a couple of hours before lightly scrubbing with a toothbrush. It looked as good as new afterwards.

So, perhaps it’s worth forcing ourselves to fix these minor inconveniences?

Having everything around us working smoothly and efficiently helps us to feel more at peace, less stressed and so helps keep our frequency high. Our homes should be peaceful sanctuaries that we can retire to at the end of a busy day and rely upon to restore our sense of tranquility.

Making the effort to sort niggling little things yourself, if you’re capable, can also bring a strong sense of personal satisfaction when you survey the results of your handiwork. There are also countless clips on youtube that show you step-by-step how to fix just about anything.

If you can’t fix certain things, perhaps you could walk around your home, make a list of little jobs to be done and either pay a handyman to fix them if you can afford it, or else offer a skill swap to someone with more DIY skills than you do in exchange for something you can do in return.

Which niggling little things need fixing in your own home? With many people currently taking an extended break from work over Christmas and New Year, this could be the ideal time to get things fixed to start the New Year with everything working smoothly.

Have you taken action to sort little jobs before and felt that sense of satisfaction? I’d love to hear about them.

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My favourite Budget Beauty Buys

Over the years, I have sampled a huge range of different brands of cosmetic and toiletry products. Often, these purchases came about as a result of being persuaded by a product review in a magazine that a particular product would solve whichever beauty woe I was experiencing, or even, dare I admit it, because a particular advert was so appealing. I guess companies don’t spend millions of pounds on marketing for no reason, after all!

Are the high-end products worth the extra cost?

These days, I’m generally not convinced that most high-end (or even mid-range) beauty products justify their price tags. When you turn to peruse the ingredients label of any pot of cream or lotion, the first ingredient listed (as having the highest volume percentage)  is invariably aqua (ie, plain old water). The second and third ingredients are often similar in both budget and high-end products, too. It seems hard to believe that the amounts used in the lowest volume ingredients are going to be enough to make a significant difference to my hair, skin or whatever, most of the time.

So, these days I tend to try low-cost ranges first, and only if I dislike them do I upgrade to costlier ones. I am pleased to say that I have found some firm favourites amongst the budget brands, which I shall reveal here.

Shower creams and gels

I used to love treating myself to Molton Brown shower gels (or asking for them for Christmas and birthday gifts). The scents used in them are distinctive and delicious, it’s true. But one day I decided that literally washing £20 down the shower drain for ONE bottle of shower gel was bordering on obscene. A couple of years ago we went on a summer holiday the the Vendee region of France and I picked up a few bottles of French shower creams to try from the local supermarche.

There is a French company called Les petit Marseillais which produce a lovely range of different types of toiletries with beautiful scents, all at a good value price. After sniffing dozens of different bottles before deciding on just a few to purchase (this habit drives my husband crazy; he can’t for the life of him understand why I don’t just glance at the fronts of the bottles to choose between them then hurriedly toss a bottle in the trolley), I found one with a ‘black orchid’ scent which smelled divine. That was the shower cream I used for the entire holiday and when we arrived home in England I was delighted to discover that Palmolive make their own ‘black orchid’ scent shower cream. I’ve been using it ever since, apart from using ones that I’ve been gifted. I think it smells far more luxurious and high-end than the price of it suggests. Recently I saw it was on sale in Wilkinsons store at only 90p a bottle and couldn’t resist stocking up.

Hair care

For hair, I tend to find that it’s better to keep switching the shampoos and conditioners that I use regularly. As soon as I wash it with a different one it seems to become squeaky-clean, as though residue from the old product has been removed. Or perhaps I just imagine that. I like Alberto Balsam’s tea tree and mint shampoo for the super fresh smell (usually not costing much more than £1). Conditioner-wise, I like Tresemme or even the imitation versions of it (in an almost identical size and white-coloured bottle) from Aldi and Lidl. Also Gliss conditioner is great for colour-treated hair and widely available in pound shops).

In terms of hair treatments, I adore Natural World’s Brazilian Keratin Hair Treatment oil. It’s available from online retailers such as Fragrance Direct, Amazon and Ebay for just a few pounds plus postage and a small 100ml bottle lasts months because you literally only need a few drops each time, perhaps half a teaspoon. I only use it after every other hair wash (otherwise it gets too sticky and greasy) and by smoothing those few drops down the ends of my hair when it is just damp it gets less tangled and keeps the condition better.

Make up

I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but spending five minutes applying a little makes me feel a lot better about coming downstairs and facing the day. To even out my skin tone, I used to love Barbara Daly oil free foundation. Sadly it suddenly became discontinued last summer so I had to find a replacement. This replacement has been Max Factor’s Facefinity All Day Flawless 3-in-1 Foundation, which is ok but I don’t love as much as the Barbara Daly one.

Other days I use a loose powder foundation- a mineral one by Lily Lolo. This is nice and gives fair coverage but only works well if your face is well-moisturised- don’t make the mistake of applying it to dry skin or else every dry patch and line will be emphasised!

For mascara (which I don’t always wear), Maybelline Great Lash is a good budget one that I often come back to. Currently I’m using a Dior mascara called Diorshow, which my lovely sister treated me to for my birthday and it is great quality. Or perhaps it’s all in the wand, rather than the mascara itself, as some experts say.

Well, that’s most of mine. Do you have favourites that you would never switch from? I’d love to hear them.

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Christmas Gifts on a Budget

Most of us have a lot of gifts to buy for many family members, friends and other people that we would like to acknowledge at this time of year. I actually quite enjoy buying and selecting gifts for people, but there’s no denying that it can get pretty costly.

So it’s worth considering how to reduce the costs a little. I tend to keep an eye out for suitable gifts year-round (one of my strategies to reduce stress in the festive season). Sometimes if I’m extra lucky, they might be in the sales, too. Even if not, it at least helps to spread the cost out.

Another way to save money on gifts is to make things yourself. Home-made gifts can also be more personal and appreciated than shop-bought items. As a teacher, I was frequently touched by how much effort the kids would put into making me personalised presents. Over the years, I have received all sorts from home-made lavender bags, notebooks with my name stencilled on, knitted and embroidered items, all sorts of baked goods and more.

Everyone has different skill sets and will be limited by those. For instance, Im utterly unteachable at knitting. Yes, I really am. I even tagged along to a knitting club for seven and eight year-olds with the hope of learning alongside them. They all picked it up while I was left clueless. So knitted gifts will always be off the cards.

However, I have made biscuits and confectionery as gifts. Shortbread is incredibly easy and is a typically seasonal food for Christmas. In terms of sweets: coconut ice, peppermint creams and chocolate truffles are all straightforward to make and taste delicious. It’s easy to bulk-buy suitable sized gift or presentation boxes on Ebay to make them look as good as they taste.

Today in a supermarket there were many potted plants that had been reduced in price. In particular there were a number of cyclamen flowers in shades of pinks and purples in cute galvanised mini buckets. It was easy to see why they were discounted, as several of the flowers in each one had died and they didn’t seem to have been kept well watered. We keep cyclamens in our garden in pots during the winter so I feel fairly confident about looking after them. In particular, they need to be deadheaded regularly, given sunlight and watered sufficiently. So I picked up and bought four of these plants, priced at only £2.50 each.

The first one I set aside as a birthday gift for a relative next week. After removing the browned, dead flowers and a few crunchy leaves, its appearance was much improved. Then, I pulled out a pale pink ribbon from our gift cupboard (I always save nice ribbons that have been used in packaging I have received as they often come in useful when I gift-wrap things myself) and tied it in a simple bow around the top of the silver coloured bucket. It looks pretty nice, don’t you think?

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The remaining few plants were also given the deadheading and watering treatment and have been placed in a sunny window. They looked ten times better just for having had that. When I gift then next week I am hopeful that they will look perfect.

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My daughter is very arty and creative so she was keen to make something for her grandmothers for Christmas. I purchased some small terracotta pots and we pained them plain white in acrylic paint. Once dry, my five-year-old used a combination of finger painting (for the petals and flower centres) and brush painting to create a sweet flower print pattern on the pots. We will just add a little plant and voila, all finished. I’m sure they will be well-received.

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Do you make any of your own gifts? I would love to hear about what you create yourself. Or perhaps you have other tips or suggestions on how to keep costs down when buying Christmas gifts?

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Minimising stress in the run up to Christmas

You’ll know from my recent posts that I really do love Christmas, from decorating the house to luxuriating in the simple pleasures and find the month of December to truly be the most wonderful time of the year.

However, it can’t be denied that it is also the busiest time of year for most people and can prove stressful to juggle the demands on your time, feel that you’re keeping on top of things and have everything ready for the big day.

Below are some of the strategies that I adopt and find that they help to reduce the potential stress at this time of year. They won’t necessarily all be ideas that you want to follow, but hopefully a few will appeal.

Declutter

One of the most stressful aspects of Christmas for me personally is the influx of stuff into the house, especially kids’ toys. They already have so many toys but it’s understandable that relatives want to treat them to new toys for Christmas presents. I aim to have a decluttering session specifically for kids toys in early December, as this is a good opportunity to dispose of broken toys or donate toys they no longer play with to charity shops. It is also a chance to spot toys that need replacing and could prove good things to buy them as gifts. When relatives specifically ask for ideas of what the children would particularly need I can then mention ideas based on what I’ve noticed needs replacing for them or else I try to suggest days out or experiences as an alternative to toys. For example, my eldest daughter has been desperate to visit a climbing centre about 45 minutes drive from our house. So her grandmother is purchasing her a gift voucher to go to the climbing centre as her main gift. I know that she will be over the moon with that experience gift and on a selfish note I am relieved that it will be one less object to find a home for. See my post on decluttering here.

Start shopping early

It sounds dull and geeky, but I always keep a spreadsheet of what I’ve already bought for people gift-wise and note ideas of what to buy individuals on it. I tend to keep an eye out year-round for gifts that would perfectly suit a recipient and snap them up as I see them, as I’ve learnt the hard way that leaving it all until December can mean that I don’t succeed in finding the kind of personal gifts that I aim to give people. This has the added bonus of spreading out the cost of Christmas gifts and takes the pressure off finding so many gifts for people in December. Now, I appreciate that this is a little too late to be of any help this year, but you can always be on the lookout from early next year for suitable gifts for next Christmas.

Get organised with Christmas Day hosting purchases

I have hosted on Christmas day ever since we had our first child, because it means that both sets of grandparents get to spend time with their grandkids and also our house is the largest so accommodates everyone without it being too much of a squeeze. It pays dividends to plan ahead if you’re hosting on Christmas day- and yes, you may have guessed that I recommend another spreadsheet to list all the foods to buy, as well as other related items eg crackers, napkins, turkey foil etc.

Ask guests to bring an specific item each to take the pressure off- I find that often they offer to do this anyway. Also, I aim to buy a Christmas food item a week in my grocery shop from early November onwards to spread the cost and hassle, especially as there are often special offers on and it spreads the expense a little. Obviously this only applies to foods which can be kept in a store cupboard rather than fresh foods but still applies to many items such as soft and alcoholic drinks, cranberry sauce, Christmas pudding and cake etc.

Don’t be afraid to cut corners on Christmas dinner

I firmly believe that Christmas should primarily be about togetherness.  I am more than happy to adopt as many time savers as possible to get to spend more of Christmas day with my young kids rather than slaving away in a hot, stuffy kitchen and make no apology for this. If people want gourmet cuisine, I suggest that they book themselves into a hotel on Christmas day rather than spend it in my home!

Here are some of the corners that I cut when cooking Christmas dinner for my family:

We have never bothered with starters. Even as a child growing up, my mother (who is an excellent cook) never made starters and because there are so many types of food for the main course no one ever goes hungry. In fact, we often struggle to find room for dessert even after just a main course. So don’t feel pressured to include extra courses that aren’t necessary.

Despite turkey being the traditional meat here in the UK, I have bought 2 large free-range chickens for Christmas dinner in recent years. We prefer chicken anyway as it tends to be a little less dry than turkey, and it is very affordable to buy free-range meat (which I prefer to do where possible) which would be hugely expensive if it were free-range turkey at this time of year. Our oven is only a small, standard oven so to maximise the space in it I have sometimes cooked the chickens in slow cookers on Christmas day itself, or cooked them in the oven on Christmas day morning, then sliced up the meat after cooling it quickly then found that adding hot gravy to it during the meal means it tastes fine (and not cold at all). It’s a pressure removed to know that the meat is cooked already leaving you to focus on the side dishes.

I’ve become a convert to frozen vegetables year-round and am happy to use them on Christmas day, too. Honestly, vegetables are frozen so quickly than minimal nutrients are lost (probably fewer than fresh ones that have been lingering around for several days before use both in supermarkets and in the home). There is no waste with frozen vegetables because you simply remove the exact quantity required from the bag and they have the added bonus of being ready prepared for you (eg sliced carrots, small broccoli florets) which is a massive time saver.

I shamelessly use gravy granules and Paxo stuffing mix, packet mix bread sauce (bread sauce is the best component of the Christmas dinner for everyone, surely?), as well as ready-bought desserts. Personally I believe the difference in taste is so small that it is not worth the significant extra time it would take for me to make my own from scratch. I have nothing against ready-prepared or frozen Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes, either, although I don’t use them every year.

Organised gift wrapping 

I loathe wrapping gifts and must admit that it’s my least favourite aspect of preparing for Christmas. I find it easiest to start at least a week or so before Christmas day, spread the task it over a few evenings, with a Christmas film on and a glass of something nice. Use a tape dispenser and sticky Christmas labels for name tags for speed. A friend once told me that for family she just wraps and scrunches coloured  tissue paper sheets around each gift then pops them in a gift bag, so doesn’t need to worry about folding and taping which sounded a good idea, although I have yet to try it.

Do you have any of your own tips to share to reduce the stress in this busy month? Please do share them in the comments below.

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