Christmas can be really depressing. Don’t get me wrong – I love all the decorations and the food and everything, but it’s so damn expensive. Even if you don’t have a lot of people to buy presents for, those you do have to get can really add up. On top of the expense, there’s always the feeling that most of the things you buy are unnecessary and perhaps even unwanted, too. How many of us can honestly say we’ve never received a Christmas present we didn’t want? Come on, be honest. We all have. Each and every one of us has, at some time or other in our lives, received something hideous and groaned at its inappropriateness. But did we stop to think that the present had cost someone money? That perhaps the giver had agonised over whether or not it was the right gift?
Choosing gifts for people can be a minefield, and even more so when you’re on a budget. That’s why last year my Mum and I started ‘Freebie Christmas’. Throughout the year we collect as much free stuff as we can for each other, and save it all up for Christmas. The aim is to spend nothing at all (although I did pay a few pounds postage on a couple of items this year, which I suppose is technically cheating), and we’re allowed to get things through any legal means (that means, using your Boots points is ok, buy one get one free is ok, stealing is not ok – except in the case of tea bags in hotel rooms, which we all know is not really stealing). 😉
If you missed it, here’s last year’s post. This year I think my Mum outdid herself:
Not only did we both have a lot of fun collecting things and rising to the challenge, all of the usual pressure was off. There was no concern over one person having spent more than the other, just a fight to see who could collect the most. There was some thought (some of my presents are really cool!), but there was also some silliness (but really, who doesn’t love free tissues?). I didn’t receive a single thing I didn’t like or couldn’t use, and even found joy in the surprise of opening things.
I’ve mentioned Freebie Christmas to a few people and everyone I’ve spoken to seems to think it’s a good idea. It’s amazing how much good stuff you can get for free (just see above!), and think of how much stress and money you could save yourself if you agree to a Freebie Christmas next year.
London is absolutely buzzing with culture at the moment because the Olympics are in town and all eyes are focussed this way. I don’t really care for sport, but I’m happy to see so many cultural events going on at the moment. In fact, there’s so much going on that I’ve been getting a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) again, but I’m trying to remember to breathe, keep calm, and carry on. 😉
As usual, I’m totally skint. You would think that this might bring a downer on things – no money = nothing to do – but that’s never the case in London. Last weekend, I managed to have an absolutely fantastic time without spending hardly any money at all. In fact, all the good stuff I did was absolutely free.
I started my Saturday at Waterloo Station, waiting to meet my mum who was coming up for the day. A hug from my mum is always free, and priceless. We headed down to the river, and eventually along to Arigato in London – a festival of Japanese culture. You can read more about that on my blog Haikugirl’s Japan.
The whole event was free, and included taiko drumming from the fabulous Joji Hirota and his taiko ensemble.
Along by the river there is always a lot going on, and plenty of entertainment for free…
As we were walking along, we ran into some people wearing costumes. They gave us flyers for a Korean music concert which was part of the All Eyes on Korea event at the Southbank Centre. They said that we could exchange the flyer for a free ticket, even though the tickets originally cost £10. I guess they couldn’t sell enough tickets, which is a shame for them, but great news for us!
We had originally planned to do something else, but quickly decided to change our plans and attended GongMyong present ‘Walkabout’ in the Purcell Room at the Royal Festival Hall instead.
I don’t know much at all about Korean culture or music, but I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and it made me interested in getting to know Korean culture better. It was the kind of music that makes you want to dance, and it didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand the bits of Korean spoken between the songs because the music was in a universal language that everyone could understand. The musicians were very talented and creative, and used a variety of percussion instruments as well as random objects to make a carnivalesque sound. It was Korea meets Brazil, with a little bit of didgeridoo thrown in for good measure!
On Sunday, despite the very changeable weather, I found myself standing in line at BoxPark in Shoreditch waiting to get some free art. I had registered with the Graffiti Life event during the week, but didn’t really expect to be there early enough to be one of the first 100 people lucky enough to get a free box painted by a graffiti artist.
Well, it turns out I was third in the line! I made some new friends in the line while waiting in the rain, concluding that we must all be a bit mad to spend our Sunday in such a way.
But it was totally worth it to get this fabulous box painted by Adam Brazier, one of the founders of Graffiti Life.
When I got home on Sunday night there was just one more free thing to act as the cherry on my already very delicious cake… I got a free ticket to the opening night of Mr Brainwash‘s show in London!
The opening night was a collaboration between Mr Brainwash and the musician David Guetta. I had no idea what to expect, but was very, very excited! The opening party was last night… but more about that in another post! 😉
London really is a fantastic place to live, and you can have an incredible amount of fun without spending any money at all! To paraphrase the Mastercard advert: London rent? More than £700 a month. London experiences? Priceless!
I hate Valentine’s Day. Besides my personal reasons and the ghosts of Valentines past, the main reason I hate Valentine’s Day is because it’s just SO commercial.
I know, every holiday and special occasion is commercial these days, but if I see one more fluffy pink heart I might scream. Who actually buys that rubbish? What kind of girl is actually happy to receive a giant stuffed bear on Valentine’s Day? And don’t even get me started on the chocolates. It must be a minefield for the guys – buying chocolates is traditional, but what if she says she’s on a diet? If you buy the chocolates you’re not being very supportive of the diet, if you don’t, you’re berated for not celebrating Valentine’s Day properly and not caring enough. Dammed if you do, damned if you don’t.
As a singleton on Valentine’s Day it’s easy to come across as cynical and bitter. I’ve decided to focus on the positives: money saving and dieting!
Let’s start with money saving:
Participating in Valentine’s Day is expensive. Not only are you supposed to buy a card and present for your loved one, you’re supposed to go out somewhere special, and you’re supposed to look nice. It’s the looking nice that can get really expensive, can’t it ladies? New shoes, dress, frilly undies… Easily £100 or more spent on an outfit for one night. Of course, you might let him pay for the meal, but when you’ve spent so much on looking nice, it’s hardly a saving.
And then there’s the diet:
You go to a nice, fancy Italian restaurant… Imagine all that pasta dripping with creamy sauce, a dessert oozing with chocolate, a few glasses of vino… There are easily 1500 calories or more in the average restaurant meal. Then there’s the box of chocolates he gave you, which you start eating as soon as he’s gone. Diet fail.
As a singleton this Valentine’s Day, I feel quite satisfied in knowing that I haven’t had to shed out all that cash for one night of “romance”, and I can enjoy a nice healthy meal which I’ve cooked myself. I know what some people will say though – why not have the healthy, home-cooked meal with your loved one and save on the new dress too? Of course – but the rules of commercial society say that most people will feel obliged to go out on Valentine’s Day.
Next time I celebrate Valentine’s Day, I hope I can remain mindful of the meaning of the day rather than allowing myself to get caught up in the commercial aspects. Surely a handmade card and a cupcake baked at home says “I love you” just as well, if not better, than anything you could buy in a shop.
Once upon a time there was a girl who really liked to drink tea and eat toast. When the girl moved into a lovely new flat, she decided to treat herself to a special kettle. The kettle, which was a special as the flat itself, was plum-coloured. Liking the look of the kettle so much, the girl decided to buy a matching toaster.
They all lived happily together, and the girl enjoyed a few months of delicious hot tea and buttery toast.
One Sunday (last Sunday, in fact), it was late, and the girl decided to make a cup of hot chocolate before bed. She filled the little plum kettle and flicked on the switch, but the blue light didn’t come on.
She looked at the kettle, sitting next to the toaster, and sat down with a sigh. “No hot chocolate for me tonight then,” she thought. Try as she might, she couldn’t get the kettle to work. It appeared to have died.
That night, the girl went to bed with a heavy heart and a luke-warm hot water bottle. You see, she had bought the little plum kettle in September, and it was January now… and she hadn’t kept the receipt.
Two days later, having dug through her bank statements in an effort to prove that she had bought the kettle where and when she said she had, she picked up the little plum kettle and took it all the way into town.
The toaster sat lonely in the kitchen for a whole day, sad without its matching friend.
Arriving in town bright and early, the girl took the little plum kettle straight to the shop it had come from.
“Excuse me,” she said.
“Yes?” said the shop keeper.
“I bought this kettle here in September, but two days ago it simply stopped working. The thing is though, I don’t have my receipt. What can I do?”
“That’s ok,” said the shop keeper with a cursory glance at the girl’s bank statement. “Here, have another one!”
And with that, the shop keeper climbed up a ladder and fetched a brand new little plum kettle for the girl.
The girl beamed all day, and was so happy to finally go home and unpack the brand new little plum kettle. Placing it next to the toaster, her kitchen was complete again.
And they all lived happily ever after.
[The moral of this story is, when something breaks, remember your consumer rights. Once upon a time I would have simply cursed the cheaply made kettle, chucked it out, and bought a new one. Today, I learnt that I have the right to return it and get a new one, even if I don’t have my receipt!]
As I’ve mentioned before, this is my year of being frugal and trying to get as many freebies as possible. So, you can imagine my sheer happiness when I came across a voucher to get a free box of nibbles!
Graze is a funky little company which delivers slender boxes of yumminess right through your door, as often as you want them. Each box costs £3.49, but I got my first one for free. Here it is:
On their website, you can go through all of the different items they offer and rate them. If there’s something you don’t like, you simply mark it “bin” and they won’t send it to you. If you mark something as “like” or “love” you should get it more often.
Along with the little packs of food, there’s also a leaflet telling you the nutritional information (and calorie count) of everything, and also the ingredients. The boxes are delivered by Royal Mail, and they fit through your door, so you don’t even have to be home to receive them (although I did enjoy receiving mine at work today and having something to nibble on in the afternoon).
This is without a doubt one of the best freebies I’ve ever received. The only down-side is that now I’m tempted not to cancel my membership but to continue getting the boxes. For £3.49 a week I can enjoy a little surprise and something yummy, which has to be better than wasting my money on chocolate biscuits at the supermarket and eating them all in one go (not that I’d ever do that…).
Anyway, I have a special deal which means I get the next one half price (£1.75) and with £1 off (£0.75), so I think I might stay signed up for a while longer.
Oh, I also got a free copy of The Economist today. That’s in addition to my daily Metro and Evening Standard newspapers, and weekly Stylist and Shortlist magazine. Living in London, I certainly don’t need to buy any reading material! 😉
Despite all the baking programmes I’ve been watching of late, and the picture below, this is not actually a post about cooking. There will, perhaps, be cake related posts on this blog in the future though.
Today I’m thinking about an interesting article I read on the way home in London’s free weekly magazine, Stylist. The article, “Just. One. More. Bite.” was encouraging readers to try investing in willpower instead of making New Year’s resolutions that will be abandoned before the end of January.
Personally, I’ve tried not to make specific resolutions this year. To be honest, they’re always the same anyway:
- Lose weight
- Save money
- Write more
The third, writing more, seems to be in hand. The other two seem to be horribly intertwined and unapproachable, like a drawer full of old necklaces that you’d like to wear but abandoned long ago because the effort of untangling them will just be too much.
But just think, if you did untangle all those old necklaces, you’d have loads more jewellery you could wear. Pretty, shiny jewellery. (Guys, if you’re reading this, think cables. Pretty, shiny cables that you keep in a drawer, even though you have no idea what they’re for.)
But what’s all this got to do with marshmallows? Well, according to the article, in 1972 (Stylist says ’68, but Wiki says ’72) a bloke called Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted a test which is known as the Marshmallow Experiment. The test subjects were children (aged 4-6), and each child was taken into a room in which there was a plate with a single marshmallow on it. They were told that they could eat the marshmallow if they wanted to, but that if they waited 15 minutes they could have two. The child was then left alone to decide what to do. Some children simply ate the one marshmallow they were given, but some waited patiently (perhaps covering their eyes so they weren’t tempted or, according to Wiki, “stroking the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal“).
The kids who waited got two marshmallows and learnt the lesson of delayed gratification. Follow-up research showed that those who had learnt the lesson went on to have higher academic achievement, and those who didn’t were more likely to have behavioural problems and trouble paying attention in class.
The Stylist article emphasised the importance of willpower; that rather than just denying ourselves the things we want (which will only make us want them more), we should learn to exercise our willpower a bit more, and resist the temptation of instant gratification. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake and eat it too, it just means you ought to wait a while between the buying and eating (if you’re baking, I’m not sure where “licking the bowl” fits in to this test, but I’m pretty sure it’s ok).
I need to give myself a marshmallow test. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is my year of being frugal and learning to save up for the things that I want. It’s the first time I’ve ever really tried to save up, and I’m finding it hard already.
Losing weight and saving money may seem like two separate goals, but when I start trying to untangle that twisted mess of chains it becomes quite clear that they have huge impacts on each other. I tend to run in viscous circles: I try to go on a diet, but then I get hungry or something else stresses me out, so I ignore the fact that I have a whole bunch of tasty (not cheap!) fruit and other snacks at home and go on a Sainsbury’s rampage for chocolate and other naughties. I have a night of over-indulgence, spend too much and eat too much, and feel bad about it all in the morning.
If I planned out delicious, nutritious meals with a light sprinkling of yummy but healthy snacks, I could save money and, most likely, lose weight too.
So, how’s my marshmallow test going to work? Right now there is no chocolate in my house (except Options hot chocolate, which really doesn’t count). Next time I go to the supermarket for groceries (not mid-week in a crazy fit of hunger, but for a weekly shop with a sensibly prepared list), I shall buy one, reasonably priced bar of chocolate. The chocolate will sit in my fridge, where I will occasionally stroke it as if it were a tiny, hard, cold animal. Eventually, I will eat it – when I really, really want it.
I won’t cheat by buying extra chocolate along the way. That would bust my diet and budget in one swift punch.
Let’s see if this experiment works…
After having a bit of a splurge on my birthday with a trip to New York (more about that coming up soon!), I made my mum promise not to spend any money on Christmas presents for me. However, she still felt that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a few presents under the tree, so she set herself a challenge: Freebie Christmas!
I received some really great gifts – way more than I expected – and my mum swears she didn’t spend a penny. Even the wrapping paper was free (she had a coupon). None of the presents cost anything – some because of coupons, some buy one get one free, some free samples by post or handed out at train stations. It was really impressive.
I got loads of smellies:
Some are travel-sized samples (always useful) but see that full-size bottle of shower gel on the right there? That was handed out at Waterloo Station!
I got sweets and drinks:
Yes, that is a full-size bag of Waitrose fudge, AND a whole bag of Thornton’s continental chocolates!!
Some gifts were silly, like this Fitness First stress toy:
And some very useful, like this Kikkoman calendar:
One of my mum’s friends was clearing out some old books, so I got a couple of paperbacks:
And finally, perhaps the best and most generous present of all, my mum’s Nero’s cards:
That’s two free coffees!!
2012 is going to be the year that I learn to be a bit more frugal. I’ve decided that I’m going to be more mindful of how I spend my money – but this doesn’t mean I’m not going to have any fun. This Christmas has proved to me that it’s entirely possible to give and receive wonderful things without breaking the bank, and I’m so inspired that I’m going to make it my challenge to have a Freebie Christmas in 2012.
In these times of economic belt-tightening, most of us can’t really afford to splurge. However, it can make you feel quite blue if you spend all your time thinking that you “can’t afford” to do things or “mustn’t” do things. Instead of those negative terms, I’m going to try to just think about the real value of money when I choose to spend it. For example, during 2011 I often spent £4.50 at Starbucks without giving it a second thought (coffee and a cake). If I did that once a week for an entire year I would spend £234. If I don’t go to Starbucks every week, I can save £234.
As well as being mindful of the treats I have, I’m also going to look out for bargains and offers. There are always “buy one get one free” offers on things I use, so I should stock up on those things when I see them.
Finally, for the first time in my life (and yes, I have just turned 30), I’m going to learn to save up for the things I want. I see people around me all the time wanting and getting, but they’re not happy. More often than not, they’re just in debt and surrounded by stuff. I can honestly say that there is nothing I actually need right now, so I’m going to watch my pennies and save up for experiences. I want to travel, I want to study, I want to have fun.
2012 will be the year where I remember that the best things in life are free!
I may have finally had enough sugar.
It was hot yesterday, and I decided to treat myself to a cool, vanilla, creamy drink from a high street cafe chain (not the one with a mermaid logo, but another popular one here in England). I often go there, and I often order the same drink, made with skimmed milk.
I didn’t taste the drink until I had left the store. The first sip wasn’t bad, but on the second sip I got a mouthful of sugary grit. My teeth soon became filled with the sugary stuff and I began to wonder what was up with my drink. I gave it a good stir, but to no avail. It definitely had more than its fair share of sugar/syrup/something.
I had been greedy and ordered a “medium” where I usually order a “small”, and it took me the whole 25 minute walk home to attempt to drink the plastic cup of liquified sugar. I ended up dumping the last inch or so in a bin before I reached my house.
I felt sick.
For the rest of the day yesterday I couldn’t face anything sweet. Even dinner (a spicy jambalaya) was a little hard to stomach. This morning I tried a yogurt and some fruit, and my taste buds said “ok, but that’s enough sugar now, thanks“.
So perhaps my sweet-tooth has finally been satisfied. This is certainly good news for my dieting and money-saving attempts, so perhaps I should stop by the cafe and say “thanks“. I won’t be buying a drink though.