07 December 2016

What We Really Want for Christmas and How to Decipher It

For busy moms, Christmas tends to be about looking after other people. It’s about making sure everyone receives the presents they want and ensuring everyone has a good time. And it doesn’t stop with Christmas presents. There’s the house to decorate, the Christmas meal to plan, wrapping, writing cards, and this is on top of all the usual chores.

We’re often too busy coming up with inspiration for everyone else’s gifts to think about what we would like to receive. What we really want is for someone to give it a little bit of thought and surprise and delight us. Or failing that, to read our mind.


Ooh, this is a tricky one. When our partners offer to buy a romantic gift, one of the choices is lingerie. When we say we want something sexy, what they hear is something skimpy, black, and no doubt a little trashy. What we really want is something elegant, understated and well-fitting, such as Tutti Rouge lingerie. Take note-- please boyfriends, husbands and significant others.

Surprise Me--

Sometimes when asked what we want, we reply, “Surprise me.” What we really mean is, “I want that thing I’ve been dropping hints about for the last three months.” The thing I pointed out when we were shopping two weeks ago, and which even now is bookmarked in the magazine on the coffee table.

And actually, it would be really nice to be surprised and delighted on Christmas morning. If you think hard about what we love and come up with something unusual and unexpected, you get all the points.


There’s a lot of snobbery around books. Chances are the books that are displayed on the bookshelves are pristine and untouched. Whereas the books we really enjoy are well-thumbed and in a pile on the bedroom floor. So when we say we want some good books for Christmas, we don’t mean the latest political biography or celebrity cookbook. What we really mean is that we want the latest heart-pumping thriller or racy bodice ripper.


Because we’re moms, doesn’t mean we’re not cool. Really. So don’t reach for this year’s Christmas choir music or the best of the latest classical singer to grace our screens. We like to dance like nobody’s watching, play air guitar and bop along to boy bands. Take note of the radio station we listen to on the school run and the songs we sing along to.

What Not To Buy Us--

Never ever buy us kitchen appliances or accessories. Yes, we know they will save us time. But no, this is not a good Christmas gift. It says that you value us for what we do around the house. We want you to value us for being us; bright, smart women with real feelings and interests. Buying kitchen appliances equals a frosty Christmas morning. You were warned.

It can be tricky coming up with the perfect gift. We know because we do it for every member of the family, every year. It takes a lot of thought and not just a quick dash around the shops on Christmas Eve. We listen throughout the year. We keep up-to-date with the things you love and make lots of mental notes. What we’d really like for Christmas is someone to do the same for us. Oh, and if you could wrap it beautifully, that would be perfect.

23 November 2016

The Beginner's Guide to Thrift: Saving Money by Following the Golden Rules

For the more fortunate of us, living a thrifty lifestyle comes naturally. The most obvious influence is the parental one. If we grew up in a household where "make do and mend" was the overwhelming attitude, then we're more likely to carry that into our own lives.
The above, however, is the lucky category. For the majority of the population, being thrifty goes against everything society teaches them to do. We live in an age of consumerism, where having something is better than going without. The way of the modern world is to replace before you even attempt a repair. It's also where wealth is more of a status symbol than ever, so why go cheaper if paying more gives you a few social points?
There comes a point in many a life where this rampant spendthrift attitude begins to seem a little empty. You can't spend your way to happiness, but you can definitely spend your way to unhappiness. It may be that financial circumstances change or trying to fight your way out of debt, but for the first time, you hear the thrifty calling.
Sound familiar? If it doesn't, you're probably a little overwhelmed at the idea. No longer will the swipe of a credit card be the answer to your problems. While there are endless benefits to being more careful with your money, there are downsides as well. It takes a lot more effort, for example. You don't just grab the first thing you see; you have to research and be meticulous.
If you're thinking that's beginning to sound exhausting already: don't panic. Being careful with cash is a skill like any other. You wouldn't expect to be able to climb onto a tightrope and immediately dance across it with the grace of a gazelle. You'd expect to have to work at it, hone the ability, and maybe have a few falls here and there. Switching the way you spend money is a similar process, albeit one with far less scope for catastrophic injury.
So don't give in to defeat before you have even begun; this is one skill to start honing right now. The best place to begin is the very start, so here's some golden rules to get you on your way.
#1 - "I will learn to coupon and I will do it with pride."
Yes, we've all seen the TV shows about those people whose commitment to thrift is so absolute that they take every coupon going. They take the local free paper. They get copies of that same paper from neighbors and family. Some even go dumpster-diving to grab more coupons. No-one is saying you have to go to these extremes, but there are plenty of coupons readily available to you. So use them.
A lot of people have hang-ups about using coupons, even on a small scale. And fair enough, no-one likes to be that person holding up a line by paying for a full cart of groceries with a hundred coupons. But if you plan out your shopping trips properly in advance then you don't have to take any more time than necessary.
One of the major issues with couponing to the beginner is that the rules are so varied. What one store will let you do - such as using multiple coupons in one transaction - another won't. If you're planning a big shop, then it's worth calling ahead to ask for details of their exact policy.
If you do find other shoppers being unnecessary and rude, then just smile and take your time. If they push it further, tell them you're quite willing to let them pay the cost of your shopping without coupons.
#2 - "I will consider every purchase I make."
Stopping the impulse to spend is one of the trickiest things to overcome when you begin making the switch. Some of us are emotional when we spend; we buy things to celebrate, or to cheer us up when things aren't going well. Learning to channel these emotions is an important lesson and one that will help you regain some control.
For the first few months, try and take your time before buying anything. Give at least a couple of days between the decision to buy and actually doing it. This should allow a cooler head to prevail.
#3 - "I will spend where it counts."
Being thrifty is not the same thing as being tight with money. There are some areas that it's just not a good idea to scrimp and save on.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that some areas need money to be as efficient as possible. Sure, you can splint a broken arm yourself and hope it heals - but a doctor will be much better at it. The former is free; the latter costs money - but thinking financially above all else could be damaging.
You also don't need to let the new attitude have an impact on your values. It's perfectly possible, for example, to be vegan and also live as thrifty a lifestyle as possible. You can still find your cheese substitutes and avoid leather; you don't have to compromise your values for the sake of a lower price. It's about saving money where you can to spend where you need.
The same is true if you are ecologically aware. Sure, you can grab a cheap mattress for double-figures - or you can source one from the likes of http://www.betterbedsolutions.com that is better for your health. The former is the less expensive, so that's the one you should go for if you're being thrifty - right?
Wrong. Not only does that compromise your ethics, but it's also going to mean that you need to buy a new mattress in six months. If something is massively underpriced, it's probably not durable. That just means you end up spending more in the long run. This is about changing your lifestyle permanently, not to get a fix and feel better about your financial affairs right now. Commit to it and note where the investments are worth it.
#4 - "I will not buy things that I can make* myself."
*While this is a good mantra, there's also a need for some realism! It is possible, for example, for you to make your own butter rather than buying from a store. However, it will also cost a fortune - for the cow, the machinery, and actually learning to do it. So apply a little common sense here.
One area it's very easy to apply this philosophy is with home furnishings. Fabric is much cheaper than buying ready-made curtains or cushion covers. If you make the switch to making your own for life, you will recoup an investment in a sewing machine in no time. The same is not true for the butter example - so that's where you draw the line.
The initial investment and learning process of making your own home furnishings might be more expensive. However, it's something you can keep using again and again, taking advantage of the money you will save on fabric. Plus you never know - it might be a new hobby you enjoy!
#5 - "I will throw away as little as possible."
This ties in with number four.
A quick glance at the internet and life hacks will show you the way a whole variety of things can be used. This ranges from using egg shells to grow seedlings to using straws to remove strawberry cores. If you look hard enough, you can find a second, third or fourth use for almost everything.
By reducing your waste output, you also get a tick in the environmentally-friendly column. At the very least, make sure you recycle everything you can whether that be inside your home or out. Affix a sticker to your trash can to remind you to evaluate everything you might put in there, searching for another usage.
#6 - "I will allow myself the occasional treat."
Sometimes, we need to kick back and just let go. If you try and adhere too strongly to any new lifestyle practice, one thing and one thing alone will happen:
You will begin to hate that new lifestyle practice.
It's going to feel restrictive. You can't do the things you want; you have less spare time; it's making you miserable. This shouldn't be making you miserable! The whole reason you're doing it is to improve your life, so if you're finding it too arduous, cut yourself some slack.
Look at it like this: by saving in other areas, you're earning the right to spend in others. You're just cutting waste and being more careful, not trying to stop spending on purely pleasurable items forever. So don't force yourself into accepting something you don't want - and don't chastise yourself if you indulge.
Try and aim for 75% adherence and you're going to be doing very well indeed. The rest of the time, enjoy the freedom, knowing you have worked hard to earn it. If you do it right, you're going to enjoy being let off the leash even more as a result.

Thrifty Guidelines for Buying a New Home

Buying a new home is likely to be the biggest single purchase you will ever experience. No matter how good of a deal you find, it will still cost you a fortune. It’s also important to understand that the slightest little mistake in the buying process could cost you even more. With this in mind, I thought I would run through some of the key points you need to consider when buying a new home. There is a variety of tactics you can employ - so let’s dive in right away and explore these amazing thrifty guidelines for buying a new home.

Play the interest rates--

Before you even start looking for a home, it’s important to know how much you can borrow - and the sort of interest you can expect to pay. The interest payments are probably the most important factor here. The slightest increase in a percentage point can leave you paying way more than you have to over the next 15-30 years. If you struggle to find a mortgage that isn’t costing you a fortune, it’s worth taking some time out and improving your credit score first. In simple terms, the better your credit score-- the better deals you will find on the table.

A bigger deposit--

If you have savings, it might be worth using them to put towards a deposit for your new home. Yes, it’s an enormous expense - but the more you put in, the better deal you will find. More importantly, the less you will have to pay every month for the next 15-30 years. It means you will have more money available to you for other areas in your life - and you could even pay off your mortgage faster!

Location, location, location--

Deep down, we all want to live in the best areas - it’s only natural. But the trouble is, living in select locations costs you a lot more money than elsewhere. You pay an enormous premium - but is it necessary? There is some useful info about real estate from Marshall White, which explains the kind of things you should consider when buying a home. If you can find a location that satisfies your needs but is outside of the ‘exclusivity ring’ you will find you get much more home for your money.

Always hire a property inspector--

A property inspector will cost you a few hundred bucks, but they could also save you tens of thousands. The inspector's job is to look over the property from top to bottom. They will find any little defects that you might not notice, or will point out any areas that need repair. Once you have that inspector's report, you can then approach the seller and ask for a discount. They might be willing to have the work done for you or agree to your offer. Either way, you can shave off a considerable chunk of money from your expenditure on your dream home.

Buy privately--

Finally, think about putting flyers through the doors of homes in the area you want to move to. If you can find someone who is thinking of selling but hasn’t signed up to an estate agent, you might be able to cut a deal. You’ll both avoid the sometimes-heavy charge of the agencies, and could secure a fairer price that suits both parties.

19 November 2016

Thrifty vs. Crunchy - Can Trying to Be Both Cost You More?

In case you're not familiar, the term "crunchy" is often used by advocates of natural solutions. This is a group of people who shun the idea of toxin-laden products and opt for natural, simple ingredients in any areas of their home.

Crunchy well-being and home living have been in style for some time now. It also doesn't look like it's going to go away anytime soon. If you're trying to be thrifty, it seems like the perfect solution to spending money on store-bought products. You can achieve the same results cleaning your home - and yourself - for a fraction of the cost? And it's better for you? Where's the catch?!

Well, there is one. Unfortunately, the adage about if it seems to be too good to be true it probably is - well, this lifestyle is a tremendous example of that.

There Is Nothing Fundamentally Wrong with Being Crunchy--

The idea is fantastic, don't get me wrong. There are legitimate issues with some of the chemical compounds that this lifestyle tries to eradicate the use of. For example, sodium lauryl sulfate is nasty stuff, and you should avoid it if you can. The idea of substituting complex chemical mixtures in home and personal care is a good one, but it has one downside.

A Lot of the Recommended Changes...Just Plain Don't Work--

Disheartening, isn't it?

Say you've gotten tired of the amount you are spending on laundry soap. It's a huge expense, and it's constant, there's no point where you're done spending on it.

So you go online and look for alternatives. The options will immediately leap out at you. Some of the most commonly offered homemade, thrifty alternatives included some mixture of…
  • Washing soda or soda crystals
  • Soap (usually castile soap)
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Salt (often kosher salt)
The recipes vary. One reason the recipes vary is that there is no way that a combination of these ingredients can efficiently clean clothes. The science of it just doesn't stack up, as plenty of people have found to their cost. You can see pictures of clothes washed with crunchy solutions that, when stripped in mineral rinses, are still filthy.

Eventually, using any of these options will deposit a thin layer of grime on your clothes. It might not even be visible, but over time (especially if you have hard water), it will become apparent. Clothes will be heavier and stickier to the touch.
"What about the other often-mentioned thing?" You might be thinking if you've dipped a toe into this world before. "What about soap nuts?"

Sorry, soap nuts are not the rescue we all wish they were. They contain saponin - soap - and that will leave a residue over time.

Unfortunately, this is not a standalone case. There are plenty of other home and beauty products that are said to be cheap to make at home... and a lot of them are useless. In some cases, they will make the problem they are trying to solve worse. The same applies to the above; in trying to clean clothes, you make them dirty in a different way - a way that can damage the fabric. Is that thrifty? Making the lifespan of your clothes shorter? Not in my book.

So what are the other areas you need to watch out for?

#1 - Vinegar for Cleaning--

On one level, this is a very good idea. Vinegar, especially the white variety, does make for a good basic cleaner. It's never going to be able to replace all of your cleaning products, though, despite a thousand and one blog posts saying so. It could also eat into some of the surfaces you clean with it; lest we forget, vinegar is an acid.

If you don't want to use heavy toxins but do want surfaces actually to be clean, then natural cleaning products are the answer. They might not be as cheap as using vinegar for every possible spillage in your home, granted, but they will work. If you spend money buying white vinegar (which has almost no other purpose besides cleaning), then sure, you save money. However, when it then doesn't work, and you have to buy something that does, you spend even more money.

That's not being thrifty; that's trying too hard and ending up flushing money down the drain. By all means use vinegar for small spills, but for real deep cleaning, you need specially formulated products. That doesn't mean that they have to be full of skin-irritating chemicals, but it does mean they have to be efficient.

#2 - Castile Soap for Everything--

Castile soap is a great product if you use it as a body wash. It's easy to make and easy to use. It contains no fragrance, so it's not going to irritate sensitive skin.

However, it's not so useful for the myriad of other uses suggested for it. All soaps in some way leave a film behind; we usually flush this away with water and rinsing. Yet it can take specialist products to fully remove that film.

Perhaps the most hair-raising (that's a pun! You'll get it in a minute...) use of this soap is in washing your hair. This is no different to using dishwashing soap on your hair. It'll strip your hair of natural oils - which is damaging - and somehow also manage to make it greasy, thanks to the residue. Then when you rinse your hair, some of the minerals in your water will stick around as well - aided by the soap residue. The result? A gloopy, sticky mess that looks worse than before you cleaned it.

#3 - The "No Poo" Method--

The intentions behind this are straightforward and practical. I mentioned SLS before, but there are plenty of other non-crunchy chemicals to avoid in modern shampoo. They can be problematic, causing scalp and eye problems for years on end.

The whole philosophy of the "no (sham)poo" method is that you can clean your hair naturally. It usually begins with a tale of how we now wash our hair too often, which is true to an extent. It suggests switching off regular shampoo and conditioner in exchange for baking soda and vinegar.

See, this is yet another "vinegar for everything" problem…

And of course, this is so cheap. Switching from a mid-level shampoo of around $8 per 13.5 oz to a fraction of that? You'll save a fortune. So how does it work?

First off, the baking soda is your new "shampoo". You rub it into wet hair and rinse it out. Great! Except for that level of abrasion is bad for your hair, and can't remove all the grime you pick up just by the general act of living. You then rinse your hair with vinegar.

The result claimed is gorgeous, shiny, naturally glossy hair. Maybe there are some people who this works for; whose hair can withstand the barrage of abrasion that baking soda brings. Those it does work for will tend to have very dry hair, or just be so committed to making it work that they pretend they're okay with it.

In reality, your hair will manage to be both frizzy and greasy. If you have a tendency towards oily hair, then this method will make it a thousand times worse. Now, maybe this is something you can handle for the sake of saving money. However, there are cheaper ways of cleaning hair. As SLS, parabens and silicones are more and more rejected by consumers, the price of them is coming down. Look for a deal and stock up when you can.

#4 - Almost Anything to Do with Acne--

Whether you're looking for an answer to annoying adult acne or searching for one of your children, crunchy is not the answer.

The vast majority of acne is hormonal in nature. As the saying goes: the call is coming from inside the house. You can put things on your face to reduce the problem, but you can't eradicate it without fixing the hormonal imbalance. It's not possible. It doesn't matter if it's clay, tomatoes, baking soda (there it is again) or any of the other cheap, easy options - it won't work!

If hormones are not the problem, then it might be your skincare regimen. Perhaps you don't even have one, which is the first thing to fix. If you use face wipes, stop it. Not only are they expensive, but they can make acne a thousand times worse as they just move bacteria around.

Despite its status in pop culture, acne is an illness. It's a symptom of another problem. That might be poor diet, not drinking enough water or the aforementioned hormonal issues. That means to fix acne, you have to fix the internal problem. Putting things on your skin to make it feel a bit more bearable is fine (clay works well for this), but don't expect an instant fix.

So, is it possible to be crunchy and thrifty at the same time? Of course, it is, but be wary of falling into a false economy. A product has to work first and foremost, so spend your money for the result, and it will have been wisely done.