Another Freebie Christmas!

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). ūüėČ

If you missed it, here’s last year’s post. This year I think my Mum outdid herself:

Christmas freebies

A magazine, tea, hot chocolate, free coffees, a notebook, pen & pencil, chocolate biscuits, sweets, hand cream, shower gel, a DVD, a Hello Kitty purse… ALL FREE!

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.

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Sex & the City? Do it yourself!

When I went to New York in December, one of the things I really wanted to do was see some of the famous places from the Sex & the City TV series and films (1, 2).

(Image source)

I looked into the options and soon discovered that the organised tours you could pay for were pretty expensive (around $50 per person). These tours also included a number of places that didn’t really interest me. (Rabbit hunting in the Pleasure Chest with my mum? ¬†I don’t think so!) When I thought about touring around New York City in a bus full of (most likely) women, trying to cram in all of the “memorable” places from Sex & the City, my skin began to crawl. The only option seemed to be to design my own tour, with just the places that I wanted to see!

The two sites that I considered unmissable were Carrie’s house (66 Perry Street) and the Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleeker Street). These are really close to each other, both in Greenwich Village.

Luckily, we were staying quite close to Greenwich Village, so we started the day by walking there. It was much more interesting to walk than it would have been to take the subway.

On the way, I saw this great shop:

Shoegasm

As far as I know, this is not in Sex & the City, but with a name like “Shoegasm” it really should be!

We soon reached Bleeker Street.

Bleeker St

I hadn’t planned to go to any of the fancy shops that Carrie likes to shop in (what’s the point if you can’t afford to buy anything?) but I passed a Jimmy Choo shop and did stop to have a peek through the window.

Jimmy Choo

We got to the Magnolia Bakery nice and early, and I got a birthday cupcake.

The Magnolia Bakery

The Magnolia Bakery - birthday cupcake

One disappointment was that the bench where Carrie and Miranda sit in the TV show wasn’t actually there. I wonder if it was just for the show, or if they had it removed because too many people sat there?!

(Image source)

Just around the corner, was Perry Street.

Bleeker St & Perry St

Carrie’s house is obviously quite a big tourist attraction, but it is actually a privately owned house. The poor people who live there must get so annoyed with all the tourists coming by to take a photo. They’ve actually put a chain up now, and a sign asking you not to sit on the step, which is fair enough I think.

66 Perry St - Carrie's House

(Image source)

After a wander around Greenwich Village, we walked to Soho to find Onieal’s Restaurant and Bar¬†(174 Grand Street), which is known as “Scout” in Sex & the City. Scout is the bar which Aidan and Steve opened together.

ONieal's

(Image source)

It was a nice bar, and very quiet when we arrived.

ONieal's

We decided to have a bit of lunch and, of course, a Cosmo.

Cosmo in ONieal's

Our timing was so good. Just as we were finishing our drinks, a tour group flooded in. I was so glad we could leave and not be a part of it!

ONieal's

Of course, there are many other locations around New York which are used in Sex & the City, but all of the above was enough for me!  As a bonus, we also stopped by the HBO shop (1100 Avenue of the Americas), where I picked up this great book, Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell:

The book includes a Sex & the City map and list of places to visit. I was quite happy to see that there were no additional places I wanted to see. If you’re into brand shopping or bar-hopping there are a lot of other places which I haven’t mentioned. You might want to check out this list for more information. You might also want to read this great article about why organised Sex & the City bus tours suck.

(Image source)

I’m a big fan of seeing places that are used in movies and TV shows, but I’d highly recommend organising your own trips rather than taking a tour. There’s so much information on the Internet, that it’s easy to plan. And now, with this post, you know how to see the highlights from Sex & the City all by yourself. ūüėČ


Look forward to your tenacious days ahead…

Tenacious. To be honest, it’s not a word I’ve ever used in a sentence except perhaps for when talking about the band, Tenacious D. To be even more honest, I wasn’t even sure how to use it.

You’re probably wondering how I came to be in possession of a card with such an odd fortune on it. Well, it came in a plastic ball…

Words, Words, Words at Selfridges

And I got it from Selfridges.

Selfridges is not a place I normally shop in, but when I passed by the other night I had to stop and go in. In the window there was a huge wooden rollercoaster and what appeared to be a ball-pool full of coloured balls containing words.

Words, Words, Words at Selfridges

Words, Words, Words at Selfridges

This Word-A-Coaster is a project intended to celebrate the English language. It’s Nice That: Words Words Words has taken over the UltraLounge on the Lower Ground floor of Selfridges until March 1st, and this amazing Word-A-Coaster will be in the window for that period, too.

Here’s a bit of an explanation from the It’s Nice That website:

For the showpiece corner window of Oxford Street and Orchard Street, we have collaborated with interactive designer¬†Stewdio¬†to create ‚ÄėThe Word-A-Coaster‚Äô a playful fortune telling machine.¬†The 14 foot high hand-built wooden rollercoaster (constructed by model makers¬†Atom) is surrounded by a sea of 30,000 brightly coloured balls filled with 30,000 unique fortunes that can be picked up in store for free.

Inside the balls, shoppers will find a small card emblazoned with a uniquely numbered adjective, generated by a clever computer programme that leaves each individual with their own personal, playful prediction for 2012.

When I went to Selfridges the Word-A-Coaster was unfortunately broken, but I was allowed to reach over and pick up a word anyway. I got “tenacious”, and have been puzzling over it ever since. At first I thought it was a word with a negative meaning, but I then realised that it could also be positive. If I am to have “tenacious days ahead” this year, I think that means I will have to stick to my guns and be a bit stubborn about the things I want to achieve. So, losing weight and saving money it is!

For more information about Words Words Words, please visit the Selfridges website.


The story of the little plum kettle

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 end.

[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!]


The best things in life are free…

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:

Freebie Xmas

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:

Freebie Xmas

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:

Freebie Xmas

And some very useful, like this Kikkoman calendar:

Freebie Xmas

One of my mum’s friends was clearing out some old books, so I got a couple of paperbacks:

Freebie Xmas

And finally, perhaps the best and most generous present of all, my mum’s Nero’s cards:

Freebie Xmas

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!


Wishing our lives away…

As I was browsing the shelves in my local supermarket last weekend I happened to spot a nice little selection of chocolate reindeer. Beside them were gigantic tins of Quality Street. This can only mean one thing – Christmas is coming!

Except, unless I’m mistaken, it’s only September. Kids have only just gone back to school, and we haven’t had Halloween yet. Surely, if anything, the shops should be full of pumpkins and witches?!

I feel like every year is getting shorter, and people are in too much of a rush to move on to the next big thing. We all know Creme Eggs will be available to buy before Christmas Eve and, as much as I do love them and wish they were available all year round, that’s just wrong.

Let me compare England to Japan for a moment. In Japan, there is a very distinct changing of the seasons, and this is reflected in the goods available in the shops. But there is never any overlap. It’s simply not possible to buy Halloween goods and Christmas goods at the same time in Japan. In England, I sometimes wonder if it might actually be possible to buy reduced Halloween goods, Christmas goods, and early Easter goods all at the same time – late November, perhaps?!

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting excited about Christmas already. I’ve seen some lovely Christmas cards in the shops, and I’m already imagining where I’m going to put my Christmas tree in my new flat. But I think we need to slow down. If we’re not careful, we’re going to forget to enjoy the moment completely.

So, what am I looking forward to right now? Moving house (again!) next weekend. That’s just about as far into the future as I want to go at the moment.

If you can’t help get excited, there are:

35 days until Halloween

90 days until Christmas

198 days until Easter

(Image source: I think I received it in an email once, but I don’t know whose image it is originally.)


Christmas spirit?

“Bah, humbug!” No, that’s too strong
‘Cause it is my favorite holiday
But all this year’s been a busy blur
Don’t think I have the energy
To add to my already mad rush
Just ’cause it’s ’tis the season.

The above is a quote from ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by The Waitresses, a song I was appropriately reminded of this evening. I’ve been out finishing my Christmas shopping today and, while it is true to say that Christmas is my favourite holiday, I do often find myself wondering about the true spirit of Christmas.

I was raised in a traditional way – Christmas is a time to give presents to your nearest and dearest.¬† Buying presents is something I enjoy – it’s a great feeling when you find that perfect item for someone you really care about; something you just know will make them smile.¬† But what about all those other presents you have to buy?¬† The presents you have to give out of duty?¬† Or the presents you have to find for the friend who already has everything?¬† I can’t help wondering if somewhere along the lines Christmas has gone wrong.

To be honest, I found a whole bunch of things in the shops today that I would have really liked to receive for Christmas.¬† But I won’t get them, because people who buy me presents don’t know what I want, or aren’t in Japan to see what I see.¬† I’m not complaining, I’m happy for anything I receive for Christmas, and I would be happy receiving nothing, but I can’t help thinking “Wouldn’t it make more sense if we all bought ourselves the things we want instead of buying for others?”.

Would that take the fun out of Christmas?¬† I don’t think so… Personally, I LOVE shopping.¬† So, if I was allowed to go Christmas shopping for myself, that would be awesome!¬† Especially here in Japan, where most shops gift wrap (beautifully) for free.¬† I could buy myself all the things I fancy,¬† have them all wrapped, then go home and put them under my Christmas tree!

I think as we get older it becomes more difficult to buy presents.¬† My friends have jobs and houses now, and they can buy what they want for themselves.¬† I’ve known them for so long that it’s hard to think of something new.¬† And when you add having to post it to another country into that mix, well, it can be hard to find something good.¬† So, I say we start a revolution!¬† Take Christmas back and keep it for yourself… ūüėÄ