Saturday, 17 March 2018

This Week

Apologies for not blogging much this week.  I haven't had much to blog about really. I only worked one day at the CS, as I'm using up annual leave this week and next, due to it being the last month of the financial year.  That being the case, I haven't really been getting a whole lot done at home.  Not sure why, just not in the mood really.

I did manage to sort out a purported overdue payment to the HMRC though, which was a weight off my mind.  I didn't owe the money, but my account said I did.  Apparently, it was an error on their part and I now have a nil balance which is good and my last two years' voluntary National Insurance contributions have been allocated to my records, leaving just five or 6 more years credits to accrue before I qualify for a full state pension, (if it's still around when I reach retirement age).  A small thing, but I just didn't have the time to do it last week when I was working 5 days and interest was accruing on the sum which was a worry.

I've mainly spent my week working my way through the washing and ironing mountains that built up when I was working.  This is why I don't really want to work full-time, as life at home gets out of control. I'm getting things back to normal slowly but surely.

This week was also the week of LB's Parent/Teacher evening at school.  Both OH and I attended and the feedback we got was mostly very good, which was reassuring. We didn't get to see a couple of teachers as they were fully booked up, but the one's we did see seemed pretty happy with her progress, although there is always room for improvement.  We try not to apply too much pressure and let LB take responsibility for her own learning. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing, but school is hard enough without your parent's giving you grief when you get home too.

On the wellbeing front, I managed to get to all my classes at the gym this week, which was great. I've put on weight recently, what with the trip to New York and not getting to many classes of late. I overcompensate for the tiredness from work, by overeating when I'm at home.  It's a habit I have to break somehow, but it's hard.

My finances, however, have taken a bit of a bashing this week, as I went grocery shopping yesterday, to a big out of town retail park. I needed a change of scenery, but I got drawn into a few extra expenditures. Mainly gifts and homewares, as I decided to buy LB a new quilt and pillows.
They were on the wish list, as the quilt she inherited from us when we bought a new one for our new bed a couple of years ago, is smaller than some of the bedding I have bought for her room and she often complains of being cold when using it. (Her bedroom has two outside walls and the windows are not double glazed). Her pillows have seen much better days too.

A new lamp that I bought for the living room, wasn't, however, on the list.  It was reduced to £16 in TK Maxx and fits much better with our d├ęcor than our current lamp, but I will need to buy a new lampshade for it at some point. A bit of an indulgence, but I like it as it is a bit quirky.

I also splurged on a new swimming costume for our summer holiday (assuming we have one this year).  It too was reduced to £13 in TK Maxx.  I do struggle to find swimming costumes that look anything like okay on me, so when I do find one, it's worth just buying it. I'm feeling the need of a holiday in a nice warm climate at the moment, after what feels like a very long winter, but it's not likely to happen until at least July of this year, due to other commitments in the preceding school holidays.

Today, I'm going to try to do some cleaning around the house.  We've been invited to a 60th birthday bash this evening, which will be interesting, so I'm spending most of the rest of the day at home.

What are your plans for this weekend?

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Life Update

I've been very quiet this week on the blogging front, mainly due to working five consecutive days at the CS and on top of that having a cold.  It was the first cold I've had all year, and I thought it was too good to be true that I'd missed everything that was doing the rounds.  Anyway, it wasn't a particularly severe cold and after a few days I was feeling a lot better, but it did make the first couple of days at work tough.

Work has been very intense this week, with quite a few volunteers to organise. I'm not complaining, because it's great when we have lots of volunteers, lots can get done, but my brain sometimes has trouble keeping up with them and thinking of new jobs for them to do, as I'm already trying to think about 5 or 6 different things at any one time. I lived to tell the tale and was so relieved to get home on Friday night, knowing that I didn't have to be back at the shop for at least 3 days.

March is going to be a tough month all round, as my Manager is taking two weeks off to use it before the end of the financial year (one of which he took last week) and I've got leave to take before my contract runs out at the end of the month. I'm sure we'll manage, but it will probably mean working extra hours here and there, for both of us.

On Saturday morning, it was sheer bliss to be able to stay in bed and read my current book, which is one by Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It's turning into a very interesting read and he presents completely different ideas about wealth accumulation, than some of the previous books I've read recently.

I had a lovely leisurely Saturday morning, catching up on finances, online reading and generally pottering around.  In the afternoon I ventured out to do a big grocery shop at Lidl and managed to secure everything we need for the forthcoming week just about. Then after walking the dog, my evening was free to watch a few things on Netflix, including the film Mudbound, which was pretty uncomfortable viewing at times, but a good film.

Today, I'm feeling a little more decompressed and ventured out to my usual tough class at the gym this morning.  I came home to lovely flowers and chocolates from OH and LB for Mothers' Day, which was a treat. I'm not going to overdo it today.  I may do some ironing later, but I may not. I can feel another Netflix binge coming on this afternoon and then we may go out for supper tonight.

This week I should be working just one day at the CS, all being well, so there will be plenty of time in the week to catch up on chores and housework. There's no hurry and if you can't relax on Mothers' Day, when can you.

I hope you've all been having a good week and a lovely Mothers' Day.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Buy Nothing New for Me Challenge in 2018 - February

I have to say that I'm not excelling in this challenge and finding it pretty difficult, which doesn't really surprise me.  I'm hoping that it is just teething troubles related to forming new habits, but maybe I'm spreading myself a little too thin, taking on too many challenges this year. In any case, it was a bit of a spur of the moment decision to do it at all and I maybe should have put more thought into it. Anyway, here goes.

This month, I did purchase the following new non-consumable items for me:

1) A sweater dress I saw on sale in ASDA for £9. In a moment of weakness, it was in my trolley and on it's way home with me. On the plus side, it will be useful for wearing to work over my jeans as I like long sweaters and tops, but did I really need it?

2) I also bought a rucksack from Lidl this week which at £8.99 seemed a steal and was a good size for work to fit my lunch, etc. in.

It did come in very handy yesterday, when I went to Tesco on foot to do a top up shop and they had no carrier bags at all.  I ended up giving my cloth reusable bag to another customer who would have otherwise struggled to get her shopping home and I managed to put all my shopping in it.

3) I also bought another new book for myself this month from eBay for £11.98.  After many years of trying, I've now finally managed to connect my Nectar account on eBay, so I now accrue points on any purchases, which is a plus.  I'd have to spend a lot of money to get any vouchers to spend though, so it's not that lucrative.

Once again, not a perfect record on this challenge, but I'm hoping that being on the challenge at least has the purpose of keeping me focussed on not spending too much unnecessarily. If it helps me to stay out of the shops and cut down my expenditure, then as far as I'm concerned that's a good thing and was the aim I had in mind when I decided to opt in.

Still hoping to do better next month!

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Make/Save an Extra £2,018 in 2018 - February

Month two of this challenge has been interesting with regard to working towards the £2,018 target for the year.  I've done what I could, but there are still a few areas of my finances that need tackling, which I might attempt next month. Anyway, here goes:

1) This month, I sold a few more items on eBay, the most profitable being a Zatchel's satchel I bought a few years ago and only used once or twice.  To be honest I found it too heavy to carry around comfortably.  It was in immaculate condition and the buyer left positive feedback which was good, so hopefully they'll enjoy it. It had just sat in my wardrobe for most of the time I've had it, so it was good to let it go and let it be used by someone else. In addition, I also sold three other items and decluttered them from the house.

Money earned - £28.05.

2) I agreed with a friend that we'd stop buying birthday and Christmas gifts for each other and our respective partners this year, as we really don't need or want for anything. I've agreed to still exchange presents for the children, but the adults don't really need to continue with gift exchanges anymore. This should save at least £100 this year, which will be a useful saving for both of us I think and was something I've been wanting to do for a while now, but didn't really know how to broach the subject.

Money saved - £100 (and as she put it, it will also save a lot of time and effort deciding what to buy too).

3) I used my Boots loyalty points to buy some concealer, saving £3.99. A small sum, but it all adds up.

Money saved - £3.99

4) Likewise, another small sum of £2.04 was saved by using a 10% off voucher at M&S.

Money saved - £2.04

5) I received another £6.50 worth of Tesco Clubcard Vouchers this month, which I decided, along with some existing vouchers I already had, to spend on some groceries, although they would have been worth three times as much if I used them on other rewards. The problem is, there aren't any rewards that I want to spend them on. Anyway, in total I used £31.50 worth of vouchers on a £32.87 shop, which meant I paid only £1.37 for it.

Money saved - £31.50.

Total Made/Saved this month = £165.58 + £91.27 (total from January) = £256.85.

A slightly better month which takes me over 10% of the way there, but I will need to shift up a gear if I want to be successful in this challenge this year.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Monthly Roundup - February 2018

It's been a couple of months since I did a post of this kind, mainly because Christmas got me off track a little and things were messy.  Besides, I was also bored of reporting large overspends in most areas of the budget, so I imagine you guys were too.

Although, expenditure isn't perfectly in line with the budget, things are back on a better footing.  The holiday, has had an impact in both positive and negative ways, but hasn't set me back too much, as spending money was budgeted for. 

By the way, I don't include things I buy on holiday or money I spend on holiday in my monthly expenditure, as I don't want to have to record everything whilst on holiday, I just want to relax and spend my money on anything I please, without having to feel accountable.  We all need a break from counting the pennies every now and again.

The holiday has, however, dominated this month, partly because it's a short month and partly because of the time spent preparing for it and recovering from it. I'm almost back to normal now though, just some more laundry and ironing to catch up on.

So, here goes with this month's budget report:

Food - I overspent on this budget by  £36.58.  Due to us being away for a week, I made this budget £300 instead of £400 this month, but still overspent a little. There is still quite a lot of food in the house though, so I probably could have eeked the month out within budget if I'd made more effort.

Household - Again this £50 budget was over by £26.86, although I have to say that I have stocked up on quite a few things this month i.e. mouthwash, toothbrushes, makeup, etc.  Perhaps I'm still overcompensating for not spending in some areas by spending more in others, but I think this behaviour is slowing down as I gradually get used to spending less each month.

Miscellaneous - This budget, also set at £50, came in over by £8.59, which wasn't too bad. I did buy a few gifts and birthday cards this month which accounted for most of this and had a few postage costs for the items I sold on eBay.

My personal budget of £25 also went over this month by £25.33. This was mainly due to buying a few small bits and pieces here and there, such as a book and some bits and pieces from the CS. As regular readers of this blog might notice, this has gone down dramatically compared to previous months, where I was sometimes over budget by  £200. This would seem to suggest that I am indeed curtailing a lot of my personal expenditure, which is a good thing.

The final budget that came over by £13.97 was the Home budget, which is set at just £20.  This month I bought two new fitted sheets and four pillow cases, two candles, a couple of tea towels and a couple more very small items.  I was happy enough with this though, as the main items were on my wish list.

The remaining two budgets came under, namely LB's which was under by £23.01. I very rarely need to buy anything for her these days, as she gets pocket money and now earns some money on YouTube every month, so she happily buys stuff herself.  I do put £50 in a savings account for her every month though, for when she goes to University. I will be increasing this amount as the budget allows.

The last budget to come under was Travel for work.  I set this at £40 this month due to being away from work for 10 days, and I only actually spent £30 on travel, so this budget came in £10 under.

On the whole, I'm pretty okay with this month's expenditure.  I was in the red by £9.68, although strictly there were funds in the account to cover this.  In a month when we went on an expensive holiday, I'm reasonably happy about this. The overspends are a lot lower than they have been in the past, so I think I'm making progress towards living within my means.  In addition, I have been putting aside an extra £50 each month in savings since the beginning of the year and I hope to increase this as my spending decreases.

Did your budget go to plan this month?

Monday, 26 February 2018

Back To Busyness

If you are a regular reader to this blog, you'll know that I'm a great fan of the Flylady system after first coming into contact with it on YouTube via Diane in Denmark and Sophia from My Great Challenge.

When I first discovered it last year, I was very enthusiastic and worked my way through the house over the space of a couple of months.  I loved the system and the way that each room's turn to be cleaned came around again every few weeks and thus never really got the opportunity to get really dirty.

Since starting paid work again three days per week, I have to admit that I've lapsed badly.  Occasionally, I might manage a Weekly Home Blessing (or part thereof), but I haven't really done much detailed cleaning or cleaned the house regularly on a weekly basis. After a few days at work, I've been way too exhausted to do any cleaning for a day or so.

Having had a holiday recently (albeit an exhausting one) and a break from work, I've found myself with a bit more energy to clean lately, and I'm trying hard to get back on track with my Flylady routines.  Luckily, I've still been doing my morning and evening routines for the most part, so the house isn't totally messed up, but it has definitely been feeling a bit dirty lately and in need of some attention.

Last week, I made a start by doing some cleaning in the kitchen.  Not a deep clean, but a part WHB, where I tackled the kitchen worktops, floor, sink area, table and also cleaned the downstairs toilet, vestibule, stairs and hallway. It was a start.

Today, I've continued where I left off  and done some more cleaning.  This morning, I cancelled my class at the gym, as I thought it was going to snow heavily, (it didn't, but never mind) and I didn't want to travel across town in the car. Instead, after walking the dog, I watched Diane and Sophia's daily videos to get me in the mood and then got stuck in.

There's something nice about staying indoors and working on getting your home in good shape when it's snowing and freezing cold outside. Perfect weather for cleaning, because the exertion also warms you up.

It took a couple of hours to dust and clean all the surfaces and hoover and mop the floors, mainly because I did quite a thorough job, moving some of the furniture and cleaning underneath. Again, it wasn't a deep clean, but it feels good to get the basics done.  To be honest, considering I haven't really cleaned these rooms since taking down the Christmas tree on Twelfth Night, they weren't too bad, which just goes to show how the system does work and even if you lapse for a couple of months, it isn't too difficult to get back on track.

I'm back at work tomorrow, but hopefully later in the week I'll have the energy to tackle the top floor of the house, namely the bedrooms and bathroom.  The bathroom in particular is desperate for a clean and I'll be very happy when I've finally done some work in there.

I'm looking forward to just getting back to doing my regular WHB each week and feel that this is enough to keep on top of the house on a weekly basis. Once I've got back on track with this, I might even be able to get involved in some deeper more detailed cleaning in the different zones each week.  I can't see me being as thorough as I was when I first started, but just doing something will make the house feel better and much more manageable.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Some Thoughts on NYC

I mentioned in a previous post about our visit to New York, that I would write a post about some of the practicalities of visiting the city and some thoughts on our experiences there. I'm being incredibly candid here and I hope I don't upset anyone with some of the things I've written. I've tried to categorise my thoughts into different specific areas, such as travel, sightseeing, food/eating out, shopping, etc.

So here goes:

Firstly, I have to say that we had a great time, it's a fabulous city and the vast majority of it's inhabitants are friendly and helpful. Having said this, however, we did find it a very expensive place to visit.  The exchange rate didn't help, but this alone wasn't the problem.  Some things are just expensive in the US and in NYC particularly.

The first thing we found to be expensive was food in the supermarket.  It probably didn't help that the nearest supermarket to us was a Whole Foods Supermarket, who even in this country aren't particularly well known for being inexpensive. The silliest things were so expensive, such as mozzarella (I couldn't find this for less than $4 compared to less than £1 in the UK). A tin of Heinz tomato soup (I just fancied eating this one night) was $4.99, so I just couldn't bring myself to buy it at that price.  I thought Heinz was an American company, but I'm beginning to think this product was created for the UK market and hence expensive in the US.

One night we dropped into a nearby food store (albeit a very smart one) to get some pasta and a jar of sauce for a quick and easy supper.  Big mistake.  Dry pasta $9, bar of chocolate $12, the sauce was unpriced, but by this time we had decided not to bother and left the store, promptly followed by the security guard, who I think thought we had stolen something. We hadn't and he didn't approach us, but we obviously didn't fit the profile of their regular shoppers.

Anyway, we did manage to find a local Puerto Rican food market that had normal prices and we used this market a couple of times to buy fresh salad and fruit produce, spending only $12 or $13 each time. Sadly, there is currently a campaign to save said market, because developers are trying to get it relocated, so that they can build lots of housing and presumably earn big bucks too.  A sad consequence of gentrification, that we saw other examples of and see in the East End of London all the time.

We came away thinking, thank goodness for Lidl and how cheap food is in the UK.  I'll never again complain about food being expensive here.

Eating out, on the other hand was easy and reasonably priced in our experience.  We had to eat out for lunch most days and some evenings we ate out too. Museum cafe's were a little expensive, but other diners and restaurants were reasonable.  I don't think we paid over $100 for three of us ever, but then we didn't exactly eat in swanky places either.

The only problem we had in restaurants was in one particular diner type restaurant one day, when I overheard a waiter complaining about Europeans not tipping enough. He was being quite rude. Perhaps he didn't realise that tips tend to be included as a service charge in many restaurants here, so some people aren't familiar with the need to tip more generously in the US.  We know that at least 15-20% is expected, having travelled in the US quite a bit and try to tip accordingly, but the attitude of this particular person really riled me and I got the feeling he was talking loudly enough so that we would hear him too.  Having said this, the person who served us in this particular restaurant, was very polite and attentive and we tipped him accordingly, but overhearing this conversation did leave a rather nasty taste in my mouth.

Another thing we noticed in NYC, was that the system of entry to museums is much more expensive than ours here in London where entry is essentially free, but you can donate if you wish.  Most of the big galleries and museums cost $25 to enter.  It is, however, a suggested donation, and you can pay less. We didn't, however, feel particularly comfortable paying less than was suggested, unless we went on a day when it was free, and many museums and galleries do have free entry times during the week.  You just have to research this a little.

As a consequence, we didn't visit many of the museums and galleries, but we have visited some of them in the past.  What we didn't know until half way through our holiday, is that there is a CitiPass that you can buy for $122 per adult and $98 for children (some museums and attractions charge for children).  This apparently gives free access to specified museums, galleries and tourist attractions and if you wanted to visit several, would be worthwhile purchasing.

Just one more comment about museums. We visited one where we paid the $25 entry fee and then were asked to make a voluntary donation on top of this.  Where does it end?  Does everyone assume that because you are visiting the city you have hundreds of dollars to give away? This was also after I'd been spoken to quite rudely and sarcastically on first entering the museum, because I dared to ask a question about entry. This was a very interesting museum, but this woman's treatment of me was inexcusable and I wish I'd let her know that at the time, but I didn't think quickly enough on my feet.

On a more positive note, travel around New York was pretty easy, once we'd worked out what was Uptown and what was Downtown. Asking other commuters, we soon found out, was useless as they just weren't interested in helping that much (well one commuter anyway). The Metro card took us all over on buses and subway trains for 7 days for just $33 and the only restriction was that we couldn't travel on Express subway trains, which don't stop at some stops and as a consequence travel the lines faster. Much like the Tube here in London, trains were very packed during rush hour, but at least they are air conditioned.

We did have a slight problem using a credit card to buy our Metro cards at first, as the machine doesn't allow you to enter your card pin number.  Luckily, a homeless person came over and told us how to use the machine with a card and my one regret is that we didn't think to give him some money for his trouble, as he was really helpful to us. When we used the station the next day, I looked out for him to rectify this, but I never saw him again. I would honestly rather help a homeless person, who has nothing but is helpful, than an obnoxious waiter who more or less accuses you of being cheap.

Talking of homeless people, there are a lot in New York, especially around the subways.  They don't bother you and are often very friendly, but it is sad to see so many people living on the street. Many seem to get overlooked too and little attention is paid to them. It's the same here in London and it is something that I've noticed is increasing of late. There is definitely a huge polarisation between those who have a lot of money and those who don't. To me it seemed that in NYC money talks and if you don't have much and aren't throwing it around, you don't have a voice. I'm sure that people might think this the case of London too, and it may well be at times, but to me it made London seem like a caring, cheap and cheerful village, which if you have ever visited London, you know it isn't necessarily the case.

In many ways, I was glad that LB was more interested in Thrift shopping than trawling the shops on Fifth Avenue, as I felt much more comfortable in them than I probably would have done inside the fancier stores. Besides which, I have absolutely no wish to buy high end designer clothing or other items.

Talking of the Thrift stores, the Good Will ones tend to be pretty big with rails full of every type of clothing.  The prices were on a par with Central London charity shops I'd say, which I should know working in one. Some stores are better than others, but you do get an idea of how much good stuff people donate by seeing how much is in them.

My shopping habits whilst there did get me into a little bit of trouble, as my case was just under the full weight allowed on flying out there.  When my thrift store purchases were added I ended up 9lb overweight, which would have cost $124 had a kind and patient airport employee not allowed us to repack a little to avoid the excess charge.

Just one last grumble about travelling in general and aeroplane food.  I made the decision after our flight out there never to eat aeroplane food ever again.  It is just not worth it.  It made me feel so ill. On the way home, I picked up a salad and a piece of fruit in the airport to eat on the flight and only ate uncooked food. I have vowed to do this whenever I fly in future, as it made for a much more comfortable flight.

In spite of all of the above, we did and do love New York and the US and we wouldn't be put off going again.  It is a fabulous city and some of it's sights are amazing, really good value and well worth a visit.  You don't have to pay to walk down the street and see the Chrysler building or the Empire State building or visit Grand Central Station, Central Park or the 9/11 memorials. You can get a free ferry to Staten Island or walk along the High Line for free too. Just do be prepared to spend some money on some of the other attractions whilst you're there.