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). 😉

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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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.)


Plinky prompts Q&A

Even though it’s September, and eight months of 2011 have already gone by, I’ve decided to join WordPress.com’s Post A Week initiative. Actually, I decided to join last week, but I got “too busy to post”. This is becoming a habit which I need to break, so I’m forcing myself to do a quick post tonight.

I’ve decided to use five random questions from Plinky Prompts to make a little Q&A. If you’d like to add any further questions in the comments box below, I’d be more than happy to answer them! 😉

Cake or Pie?

Cake – every time! Especially cupcakes. I’m having a bit of a thing for cupcakes at the moment, and this week is National Cupcake Week, which is pretty exciting.

Banoffee cupcake

When are you happiest?

Funnily enough, I was asked this question in an interview recently. My response then was “when I’m lying in the bath with a good book”. That’s still my answer, but sadly I don’t have a bath (only a shower) at the moment. It’s killing me, but my books are less soggy.

If you could become two people right now, what are the first two things you’d want to do?

I’ve been so busy lately, that becoming two people would be really nice! I’d leave one of me at home to finish writing all the blog posts and articles I’ve started, while the other went to work. I’d let the work-me go out after work to exhibitions and parties, while the writing-me just stayed at home and wrote about it all.

Would you rather be a food critic, a book critic or a film critic?

That’s easy – a food critic! I’ve been dabbling in restaurant reviews recently over at Haikugirl’s Japan, and it’s something I’d like to get into more seriously. Naturally, I’d be happiest reviewing Japanese restaurants, or pâtisseries…

What’s your favourite month? Why?

It’s probably December, because my birthday and Christmas are both in December. I like that winter feeling, of wrapping up in coats and gloves, going out to a place like Covent Garden and seeing all the Christmas decorations. I’m crazy about Christmas and love any excuse to put a bit of tinsel up… 😉

☆★☆

Can you think of some more questions for me? If they’re good enough, I might even turn them into a whole new post!


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… 😀


It's the little things…

It’s the little things in life that make me smile. I walked in to Starbucks this morning, my home away from home, and discovered that xmas drink flavors are back!

I chose to sample the brand new Caramel Eclair Latte (which is delicious!), but I was also happy to see that my old favorites, the Dark Cherry Mocha and Gingerbread Latte are back.

There’s something so familiar about seeing the red cups in Starbucks at xmas time. Sipping coffee while listening to xmas classics. I know some would say it’s too early but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s never too early for xmas in Starbucks!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

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Dreaming of a white Christmas…

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas… but I haven’t seen one for a very long time.

Today’s post is inspired by Blog Action Day, whose theme this year is ‘climate change’.  Initially I thought “I don’t have anything to say about climate change”, but the more I thought about it the more I found I did have something to say.

Back in December 1981, when I was born, it snowed on Christmas Day, which was the day I was brought home from hospital.  Of course, I don’t actually remember it, but having heard this story as I was growing up, I became convinced of two things.  (1) That’s why I love snow! (2) Christmas should be white!

I don’t think I’ve seen a white Christmas in England since then, but I do recall a rather shocking white Valentine’s Day in February 2007.


So What does this mean for our world?  Will our children’s children grow up wondering what the song ‘White Christmas’ is all about as they sun themselves in their gardens on Christmas Day and have a barbeque?  Maybe it won’t be that bad, but there’s no doubt that the weather in our world is changing rapidly.

But is there anything we can do about it?  Are we doomed?

Well, I’m no scientist (although I did use to work for a science journal!) but my guess is that we’re so far along now that all we can do is slow down the eventual destruction of our planet.  I think we need to be more aware of what we’re doing to our world, and try to help out wherever we can.

Here in Japan, it’s very cool to be ‘eco’ (pronounced ‘echo’) these days, and most of the major supermarkets (at least in my area) are trying to do their bit by stopping the use of plastic bags and encouraging everyone to bring ‘eco-bags’.  I know this is happening in England, too.  But what difference does this small action really make?

To be honest, I have no idea and, as I said, I’m no scientist.  But I’m happy to join in wherever I can and try to ‘do my bit’.  I’m still dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones we used to know.  I hope I can see one again someday…