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 marshmallow experiment, part 2

Look >>>>

There it is. My chocolate bar. If I wait, I can really enjoy it, instead of simply receiving instant gratification followed by the disappointment that it’s gone and I can’t afford another one.

I’m trying the marshmallow experiment with spending money too. I’ve always been something of an impulsive shopper, but I’m trying to change that.

The one big “purchase” I would like to be considering right now is signing up to a new Japanese course (to improve my Japanese and learn more about the history and culture). I have various options, but I believe the most satisfying one will be saving up for an MA. I’ve looked into various evening classes and, while I’m sure they would be fun, I want to feel like I’m working towards something. (Actually, if I’m really honest, I want to do this course, but it’s an undergraduate degree and I don’t think I could ever afford it.)

Looking at the state of my savings account right now, saving up for an MA feels a little bit like starting to climb mount fuji right from the bottom. The mountain looms before me, and I have no idea how I will make it to the top in time for sunrise.

This MA course costs £2,826 (per year, for two years part-time) right now but fees are going up this autumn. Still, going by the current price, if I wanted to save up the total cost in advance I would need £5,652. If I wanted to have that amount within two years, I would need to save up £235.50 per month. Which, frankly, is entirely impossible on my salary. Over three years, it would be £157 per month – still impossible.

So I have a choice. Do I save up anyway, hoping to gain extra money along the way somehow to speed things up? Or do I go with the (still expensive) instant gratification of signing up to an evening class? Or, a final option, do I continue trying to convince myself that I can study by myself? I do have all the textbooks…

The marshmallow experiment…

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…

(The Rose Petal Bakery)

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!