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Thursday, 23 October 2014

My 3 top money saving life hacks!

I have been asked by VoucherCodes.co.uk to come up with my 3 top money saving life hacks. I have loads of ideas about how to save money which are detailed in full here, but three of the biggest ways I have saved money are as follows:

1. Clothes swapping

According to WRAP 'the average UK household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes – but around 30% of clothing in the average wardrobe has not been worn for at least a year, most commonly because it no longer fits'.  That is around £1200 clothes sitting in the back of our wardrobes going out of fashion!  There are loads of reasons why clothes gather dust in our cupboards. I used to hold on to clothes from thinner days in case I was able to get back into them again.  I also find that often I have favourite clothes, which I wear all the time and other clothes are worn more rarely if at all.
Since I've got into the whole clothes swapping idea though I don't hold on to clothes any more. After having my younger son I put on quite a bit of weight and needed some bigger clothes. A friend of mine had lost quite a bit of weight and we did a swap. I was worried about what I would do if I lost weight again but instead of having to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe of larger clothes, which I would have found pretty upsetting they were just handed to me in bags!  I saved money and upset!

I then discovered that giving up sugar was the key to losing weight and lost around 2 stone (read more here)!  Instead of feeling annoyed about having given away all my thin clothes I chatted to another friend who had thin clothes that she had been holding on to, but not worn for some time.  We did a clothes swap and again I got a whole new wardrobe without having to spend any money or trawl the shops for hours!

In total had I bought them new, I would have spent around £660 on clothes!

My next plan is to hold a clothes swapping party with a few friends so that I can give away some of those clothes I rarely wear and hopefully find a few new favourites!


2. Home Exchange

Prices for those wanting to travel abroad in the school holidays are so extortionate that earlier in the year an e-petition protesting against it was debated by MP's (read more here). The petition was not successful and there are still massive price hikes in the school holidays.  One way to get around those high prices is to avoid paying a travel operator for a holiday at all and do a house swap.  The idea is that you go and stay in someone else's house while they simultaneously come and stay in yours. Aside from saving money, it is a great way to get an authentic off the beaten track type of holiday experience and also to have all the convenience and comforts of a real home. People's houses come ready equipped with all kinds of things ranging from kitchen gadgets, to toys, games, dvds, music and sports equipment that you can make use of during your stay. This can come in really handy if you have young kids or are into sports! There are various websites that this can be arranged through e.g. Guardian Home Exchange and Love Home Swap.  We did a house swap to France  over the summer and saved ourselves around £1400 on accommodation!  It was a really successful swap and we had a great time (read more here).

3. Visiting local libraries and getting stuff for free

Libraries are great places to access books, cd's and the internet for free, as well as often providing free kids entertainment. Don't underestimate how much money you can save by borrowing.  I worked out the amount of books we borrowed from the library in one year would have cost us £1680 if we had bought them new! Libraries aren't just for books - in some places there are toy libraries, cloth nappy libraries, tool libraries and seed libraries. Find out what resources you have available to you in your local area and make the most of them! I really like our local toy library (read more here).  Kids get bored of toys easily and when they do you can just take them back! If they aren't bored then you know what to buy them as a gift when the time comes!

If borrowing stuff isn't your thing that's fine, why not get it to keep for free instead! Unwanted things are being given away for free daily on sites like Freegle and Freecycle. So much stuff is given away that over time you could probably furnish a whole house with it!  We have been given a trampoline, a trampette, two scooters, some pond plants and a massive bag of kids clothes via these websites! If we had bought these items new they would have come to around £680!

In total these three life hacks have saved us around £4420. We have also consumed less stuff, which is great for the environment, have less clutter in our home due to borrowing and then returning things and have enjoyed ourselves along the way!

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Disclaimer - this is a sponsored post.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Purple cauliflowers and a water pistol!



Since finishing my year of eco challenges, I still haven't stepped foot in a supermarket and when I did my food shopping the other day I found two quite unexpected things at my local grocers - purple cauliflowers and a water pistol! I've never seen either of these things there before and in the spirit of adventure I brought one of the cauliflowers home with me.

I had told my local grocer about being interviewed on the radio (find out more here) and he listened to it in the shop. When I got to the bit about not using toilet paper (find out more here and here)  he thought it was hilarious and rushed out and bought a water pistol.  I explained that I no longer use water pistols, but it did make me laugh!

The cauliflower tasted just like cauliflower strangely enough and the kids thought it was great. It definitely made a colourful addition to our dinner!

I don't think I would have found these things in the supermarket somehow and I'm still a big fan of local shopping!

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Monday, 13 October 2014

Corn picking fun!



Going to meet a group of strangers can sometimes be a bit unnerving, but there is something about volunteering that breaks the ice. Everyone has something to do and a common purpose. Ever since I heard about the gleaning network some time ago, I have wanted to go and help, but I wasn't able to because I had my 4 year old at home.  He has started school now though and a couple of weeks ago I set off to join a group of strangers in a field to pick some corn!

The gleaning network is made up of volunteers who go to farms at the end of the season and glean fruit and veg which would otherwise go to waste on the fields.  The fruit and veg is then redistributed to charities.

The reasons why food would go to waste on farms are varied, but the farmer on the farm we went to a couple of weeks ago explained that supermarkets have specialist software which processes all kinds of information about customers and environmental factors and it gives them a very good idea of how much fruit or veg to order from the farmers to stop them from over ordering. Unfortunately the farmers don't know what the supermarkets will order when they are sowing their crops and have to do a bit of guesswork.

There were over 20 volunteers joining in the corn picking fun the other day and between us we managed to save a staggering 2.5 tonnes of sweetcorn (approx), which is 31,250 portions of sweetcorn!  The corn got donated via the London and Brighton branches of Fareshare, Community Food Enterprises and Food For All to various charities.

It was a fun day.  I really enjoyed all the fresh air and found corn picking quite relaxing. People were friendly and we sat down to a communal lunch having all brought something to share.  I learned a few things about picking corn, like exactly how to break the stalk so that some of the outer leaves of the corn come off.  The trick is to not take too many of the leaves off as once they come off the corn starts to dry out.  We were encouraged to try the sweetcorn raw and it tasted delicious.

I took some sweetcorn home with me for myself and gave several away. I was going to put some on my foodsharing group (read more here), but never quite got that far as I managed to give quite a few away on the school run!  At home that evening we enjoyed some seriously yummy corn on the cob (very well earned I think) and I also cooked some more corn on the cob, which I cut off the cob and froze for later use.  We had some of the frozen corn last night and it was still incredibly tasty.  I will definitely be doing that again next year when corn is in season!

If you are interested in finding out more about the gleaning network or want to volunteer to help them, then get in touch by either emailing vera@feeding5k.org (Sussex gleaning) or martin@feeding5k.org (UK gleaning) or filling out this online form here.

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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Spreading the word!

I've never been on the radio before, not even on a phone in.  So on my way to BBC Radio Sussex and Surrey yesterday I was feeling pretty nervous. I was going in to talk about My Year of Eco Challenges, which recently came to an end (read more here) and I had a 20 minute morning slot with Danny Pike.

I asked around on Twitter and in real life for tips on how to survive a radio interview and had various suggestions - imagine it going well, gargle with salt water before hand, don't look up the listening figures...

These suggestions really helped as well as lots of lovely supportive comments from friends and family.  Another thing that helped me put it into perspective was the knowledge that I wasn't the important thing about this radio interview. The reasons I did the challenges and getting that message across was the important thing. Before I went in I went over and over the facts and the figures about why I did my challenges.  

Things like

  • Families throw away an average of £60 worth of food a month and food thrown into landfill gives off methane - a greenhouse gas.  Couple that with the fact that food bank usage has trebled in recent years and it makes absolutely no sense to throw food away.
  • Fast fashion has seen shorter and shorter turnarounds from clothing being designed to being on the shop floor. The pressure to meet short deadlines has compromised workers safety with reports of workers being locked in factories until they finish their work.  In April 2013 the Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh collapsed and many workers died in this disaster.  
  • According to this Guardian article here the 'Sumatran Rainforests will mostly disappear within 20 years' and part of the reason for this is toilet paper.  I also did a bit of reading up on whether some brands of toilet paper where more sustainable than others and whether FSC certified ones were ok.  There is a very interesting article here which questions the reliability of the FSC certification and points out there are various different versions of it.  Things can be 100% FSC certified or they might say FSC mix, which means that not all of the product is FSC only some of it. There is another category as well - FSC recycled.  
On air, I pretty much forgot to impart any of these facts, except the one about the rainforests disappearing - retrospectively I was kicking myself quite a bit for this :). 

It was really interesting the kinds of questions I was being asked by Danny and then afterwards what people calling in had to say. One of the questions Danny asked of me and later of a caller was something along the lines of that doesn't someone building a new coal fired power station on the other side of the world make all the effort I have gone to fairly pointless? I said that I feel really strongly that I am responsible for my actions regardless of what else is going on in the world.  If I had my chance again I would have expanded on this.  
  • Basically I think that creating, buying, chucking and even recycling items which are not renewable, sustainable,  biodegradable and /or the disposal of can be toxic to humans, animals and the environment is fundamentally wrong.
  • If we were talking about any other issue where most would agree the behaviour is fundamentally wrong for example bullying or rape or murder, they and/ or the system they are a part of would try to put a stop to these negative behaviours.  So why aren't we doing this when it comes to the environment and why do people think it is ok to use the argument - well everyone else is doing it so why shouldn't I? The reason is that our culture and systems are actually all geared up to encourage these destructive activities - things need to change drastically!!!
  • Individuals do make a difference and we can choose to make things better or we can choose to make things worse. If I want to I could choose to leave a significant legacy of rubbish and pollution behind me. For example lets say I consumed 1 plastic bottle of milk every week over the course of my lifetime and I lived for 80 years and all those bottles went into landfill. I would leave behind me 4160 milk bottles and they would still be there hundreds of years later. According to this website here it takes plastic bottles 450 years to biodegrade! Just one more plastic bottle a week and my legacy would be 8320 plastic bottles hanging around for 450 years.. One less plastic bottle a week and I would leave 0 plastic bottles behind for 0 years.
  • By changing my habits, the benefits haven't just been to the environment. I have gained massively - all the savings I made meant I didn't have to keep working. Many of the changes I have made have improved my health and happiness. As far as I'm concerned it is a win win situation!
  • There is a chance that we are not all doomed.  I want to take that chance and grasp it with both hands, I want a future for my children, in fact one of my greatest wishes in life is to one day meet my great grand children and I want my great grandchildren get to meet their great grandchildren..  I think the best way to inspire other people to help me achieve that future is by making the changes that we all need to make myself.  If someone can argue to themselves that there is no point making an effort because no-one else is, then they can equally argue to themselves that they had better make an effort because they can see other people around them doing it!
Other points Danny kept coming back to were - didn't that take too much time and effort ?  Well if given the choice between doing the easy but fundamentally wrong thing and the slightly more effort right thing what would you do? Plus not everything I did took more time and effort, in fact some things were easier e.g. I found clothes swapping a much easier way to gain new clothes than trawling the shops for hours and trying on lots of clothes.

Danny was intrigued by the amount of money I had saved and earned from being eco-friendly and thrifty and felt it was a reasonable salary - he asked me if I felt the money I saved was a good enough argument for other people doing the same.  My answer to this is that everyone's financial circumstances are different and individuals would save different amounts of money on things depending on what they usually spend on them in the first place. I can only say what I have saved, which I have detailed here.

One thing I took away from the interview apart from wishing I had said various different things slightly differently, was that they take pictures of you if you go into a radio studio - I wasn't expecting that and wasn't prepared (hence the terrible photo!!!)

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