Friday, 26 April 2013

Everyday budgeting without pain - Part 3 Looking Stylish without spending a fortune

First – a confession.  Before I started this budgeting process, my clothes spending was out of control.  Not necessarily out of control in that there were items hiding in the wardrobe with the tags still on, or carrier bags full of secret and shameful shopping hidden under the bed, but wild and profligate, regardless.
I never actually got into debt because of my ‘wardrobe building’ (yes, I know, it sounds lame to me now  too), but that was more good luck than good management.  Certainly I spent money that should have been saved, invested or paid off the mortgage while we could.  Oh, the benefit of hindsight.
I was equally bad with skincare products – looking for the holy grail which was going to make me into a supermodel.  Of course that wasn’t going to happen.  As a result I ended up with a big stockpile of partly used items, which were cluttering up the cabinet and which hadn’t even been given chance to work.
Since then, I have put strict limits around my spending on clothes and beauty – and actually, I think I’m probably dressing better as a result.  I’m focussing on what really suits me and works for me, but still being conscious of not getting stuck in a rut.  When you only allow yourself one item, rather than a range of similar items ‘just in case’, you do tend to avoid that ‘pile of cardigans’ or ‘heap of similar cut jeans’ scenario.
1)    Firstly and most importantly, before going shopping, make sure you know what you have.  Do not buy anything new unless you have thoroughly cleared out your wardrobe, identified your favourite outfits, and tried new combinations.  This takes time, but ‘shopping your wardrobe’ can unearth all sorts of new treasures, and spending time creating new outfits can give you just as much satisfaction (if not more satisfaction) than buying new things.

2)    Cultivate an enjoyment of ‘elegant frugality’.  Apologies to Rebecca Ast, author of ‘The New Spend Less Revolution’ for stealing her phrase, but keeping this in mind really does help.  Make NOT spending your aim.  Enjoy the process of finding creative solutions (as per 1 above), rather than simply throwing money at the problem.  This can include swapping clothes with friends or sisters, or borrowing temporarily for an event.  Or it could include sharing a big purchase such as an expensive handbag.  What about timeshares in it?

3)  Set a strict monthly budget.  No ‘borrowing’ allowed – although saving is definitely permitted.

4)    Beware the discount.  If there is something you were going to buy anyway, and you can find a discount coupon, then brilliant.  But companies send you discounts to tempt you in to purchases you neither needed nor really wanted.  Resist!  Unless you are strong-willed, you may want to unsubscribe from any mailings you think may be difficult to ignore.

5)    Make use of returns policies.  No, I’m definitely not advocating wearing something and returning it.  But if you have an item you’re not sure about, and its within the return period, and it still has its tags – please return it.  And if you have bought something full price, and then get a discount coupon the next day, please do not have any qualms about returning and then re-buying at a discount.  The shop assistants expect this to happen – as long as its within the returns policy you’re well within your rights.   Even in relatively high end stores such as LK Bennett. I got £40 off my black courts by doing this.

6)   Institute the ‘pause’.  When you decide you would like an item, put it on the wish list and leave it for a week (at least).  When you revisit it, often it has lost its desirability.  Or you’ve even forgotten you ever wanted it!  But if you still love it at this point,  if it fits into your wardrobe, and you have the budget for it – go ahead and enjoy.

7)   Ebay unwanted items, particularly designer items or brand names.  It’s amazing how much you can make with a bit of time and effort.

8)   Reduce the frequency of dry-cleaning for your clothes.  Most things don’t get particularly dirty, and there is definitely no need for cleaning after every wear – even for blouses.  Your clothes will also last longer.

9)   Not everything that says its dry clean only needs to be dry-cleaned.  Cashmere is the best example of this – it is actually better being washed.  I even machine wash mine on a cold wool wash – but I’m not sure whether this would work in those huge US style washing machines which always look rather fearsome to me! 

10) Consider drugstore brands rather than that £100 pot of moisturiser.  In a lot of cases, the owners of the companies are the same, and the same research and development filters down into the cheaper brands.  The best example is L’Oreal, which owns Kiehls and Lancome as well as Vichy and Garnier.  Chanel cosmetics are owned by the same company as Bourjois.

11) Learn how to apply your make-up correctly, rather than spending money looking for a solution.  Make-up counters will often do a free makeover, or to avoid any risk of spending money, there are all sorts of videos online.

12)  Rather than having expensive highlights in your hair (yes – I fell into that trap too!), choose a tint that is close to your natural colour that you can maintain yourself between appointments.  And go for a haircut which doesn’t need regular trimming – no fringe, or sharp bob. By doing these two things, I can still afford visits every 3 months to my swanky but very lovely hairdresser.   But if a fringe or bob is your ‘trademark’, see if you can find a student night, or even a cheaper local hairdresser to trim it for you. 

13)  Clairol Nice and Easy root touch up is so easy to use, and makes it perfectly possible to go longer between colour appointments without those dreaded roots showing.  Definitely worth the £4 it costs!
I would love to hear any of your top tips or your thoughts on the above.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Project 333 April

Project 333 April

So here it is - better late than never!  My April Project 333 wardrobe.  Given the changing weather (it has suddenly got warmer) it has been a bit more difficult this month, but I'm still keeping to the 33 items and making some amazing outfits.
Full list of items (I couldn't find near matches for all of them on Polyvore) is:

Black LK Bennett jersey dress
Full black cotton skirt
black court shoes
black zara 7/8ths trousers
black and beige striped long sleeved  t-shirt
striped full sleeve t-shirt
blue striped silk top
Black formal jacket
pink pencil skirt
black shoe boots
navy whistles dress
ash Jalouse boots
blue and white striped t-shirt
black chiffon shirt
boyfriend jeans
navy pea coat
purple short jersey dress
phase eight faux wrap
whistles military tunic dress
black skinny jeans
grey sweater dress
grey tunic top
whistles tweed jacket
black blouse/t-shirt
coral and blue jumper
red pea coat
Black zara puff sleeve coat
j crew striped blouse
cream rebecca taylor jacket
blue zara 7/8ths trousers
patent loafers
asos grey/beige heels
Orange shift dress

The best thing about many of these is that they have been in my wardrobe for years and they still look fabulous.  The black full skirt was bought in Anthropologie in 2003 and is still amazing.  The black formal jacket is by Elie Tahari and was bought in New York on the same visit.  I think the cream Rebecca Taylor jacket was the same.  So maybe my 'investments' did pay off!  Or at least some of them

Monday, 15 April 2013

Project 333 - March update

I know its rather late in the day, given that we’re half way through April and all that, but I wanted to make sure I kept up with my Project 333 summaries, just for my own future reference and encouragement.
March was in some ways a very easy month for Project 333 given that it was not remotely spring like and was freezing cold and wintry from beginning to end.  This made the coat and shoe choices much easier, as there really was only one reasonable option.
This was my most useful work outfit from the month
Most useful work outfit March 2013

 (albeit completely covered up with a giant puffa coat when I was outside, and accessorised with clumpy boots rather than elegant shoe boots other than inside at the office). 
My most useful casual outfit was my striped top and skinny jeans - as seen in this former post.

My favourite outfit was the whistles dress - not the most useful, but I felt amazing wearing it.

Best going out dress March 2013

The final list of items worn this month, and the frequency with which they were worn was:
Black pink lined shift dress
Whistles mini navy shirt dress
Phase Eight faux wrap dress
J Crew geometric skirt
Blue round neck blouse
Black shoe boots
Puff sleeved striped top
Whistles khaki tunic dress
Black pencil skirt
Whistles cheetah print blouse
Black long sleeve t-shirt
J Brand combats
black biker boots
Leopard print belt
black skinny jeans
indigo skinny jeans
navy pea coat
grey v-neck cashmere
Zara black coat
coral and blue striped jumper
ash ankle boots
black courts
black and tan striped t-shirt
Baukjen purple jersey mini-dress
Whistles body con dress
black Baukjen jersey dress
Puffa coat
Cream Brora cashmere jumper
all saints sweater dress
striped sweater dress

Its amazing even with only 31 items how seldom some things are worn.  However, I loved each and every outfit this month.  The only thing I’m not sure about is my Tommy Hilfiger cream striped sweater dress, which is lovely, but which is rather short and which I’m not sure is appropriate at my advanced age;-)  It’s in the ‘think about’ pile at the moment.
The Whistles body con dress is the perfect example of how not every item needs to be practical or wearable in multiple combinations.  How fabulous I felt in that on that night out must be worth taking up a small amount of space in the wardrobe.
What about you?  What were your favourite outfits recently?  Do you have a dress or outfit that makes you feel amazing – even if it isn’t ‘practical’?

The importance of setting boundaries

The concept of limits sounds like an odd one doesn’t it?  Surely the whole idea of being a grown up is that we can choose to do what we want, spend our money how we want, eat what we want.
But just as children thrive on having boundaries, so must we consider that setting ourselves boundaries can lead to a simpler and more fulfilling life.  The only difference in being a grown-up is that we probably have to set and monitor them ourselves.
When we have gone to the trouble of organising our homes and wardrobes, and decluttering, it is only by setting limits for items re-entering the home that we will avoid ending up in the same position as we started.
The same is true for losing weight.  We can change our behaviour, and limit our food intake to lose weight, but it is only by setting limits long term that we will keep our weight stable and avoid re-gaining what we have lost.
Each person will have different limits – as a grown up its up to you to decide what’s appropriate.  Reading many minimalist blogs, some of the limits people set themselves are very strict and may appear arbitrary.  But it works for them – they aren’t imposing this on you.  You can decide.   And you can evolve.  One of the best examples I’ve read recently of someone completely changing their limits can be found here  Real self-awareness.
Also, it’s worth considering how you respond to the setting of limits.  From my observations there seem to be 2 main approaches:
·         Some people kick against anything that is imposed on them externally, but can live with limits that they have set themselves.
·         Some people are unable to set themselves limits, but can follow rules very nicely when an external framework is put in place.  Some people are only able to do this however when the external framework ‘makes sense’ to them, and most won’t follow rules blindly.
What sort of person are you?  I know that I am a bit of a secret rebel, and won’t follow external rules, but if I have given myself a framework, I’ll follow it almost obsessively!
You may need some external guidance – you may find you can take my limits as an example – or there are many resources out there for diets and budgeting.  Longer term though, it does appear that those people who are most successful are those who ‘own’ their limits and framework, rather than being hemmed in by external rules.
Here are some examples of my personal ‘limits’ – the frameworks I’ve set myself.
1)      I have a monthly clothing budget.  It can roll over if I haven’t used it all, but I can’t borrow from future months.  If I don’t have the money, I can’t buy the item.
2)      I operate a one in-one out system for my wardrobe.  And there has to be some parity between the items – for example getting rid of a t-shirt to make room for a new coat doesn’t work.  In actual fact, I’ve been doing more of a 1 in 3 out recently, to reduce the size of my wardrobe, but this obviously won’t be sustainable long term.
3)      If I have an unused skincare product, I can’t buy a new one in the same category.  Avoids the clutter of stockpiling, and also that endless search for the holy grail.  Most things work nicely, if you take the trouble to use them.

1)      When I’m at work I won’t buy myself chocolate or anything sugary.
2)      I only buy one coffee a day.  If I want more, its either make it at home or use the coffee machine at work. 
3)      I have at least 2 vegetarian main meals a week – helps with cost and health
And the one phrase I find most useful to keep myself in check?  “It’s not an option”. 
It’s not an option to raid the vending machine during the 3pm slump.
Its not an option to blow the clothing budget without carefully considering purchases
Its not an option to reclutter my wardrobe by allowing in new items without getting rid of something old.
What frameworks do you set yourself?

Friday, 5 April 2013

This week I have mostly been wearing...

This week I have mostly been wearing

From Polyvore, a collage of my most favourite and most worn outfit from the last couple of weeks.  I was inspired by this post from Pinterest (which seemed to get there via all sorts of routes, so really sorry, not absolutely sure of the original link)
Beautiful, and so chic. 

Everyday budgeting without pain Part 2. Good food without big bills

One of the areas where I’ve noticed we were able to make the most difference in our spending, without adversely affecting our pleasure, health or enjoyment, was in the area of grocery bills and spending on food overall.   We are definitely big foodies – before we had the Biscuit we would eat out in amazing restaurants at least once a week, and spending on food was an enormous outgoing each month (in the days when we could easily afford it).  On a Saturday morning we would regularly be found at Borough Market perusing the finest produce (and buying it). 
We are true omnivores – no food ‘rules’ here, although we do try to focus as much on veggies as possible in our cooking at home, making the most of our weekly veg box.  Our diets are varied – while there are some fall back recipes that we use relatively often, we try and minimise this, and mix it up as much as possible.  I’ll do a separate post sometime on the specifics of our cooking and menu planning, but wanted to give you a bit of background as to the sort of lifestyle we lead to give these ideas some context.
 These are the tips that work for me, and that have helped me reduce our monthly grocery bills from £600 per month to £400 (still working on getting them lower – but there are some things where I won’t compromise).    We also reduced food waste at the same time – and I’m sure our meals have become tastier too!
1.        Menu plan, menu plan, menu plan.  Keep a note of what is in your freezer and store cupboard, and in particular what needs using.  If you get a veg box, look at the weeks planned delivery on their website, and build your meals around this.
2.       Have at least 1 or 2 vegetarian meals a week. 
3.       Make a shopping list before going anywhere near a food shop or supermarket. 
4.       Don’t shop when hungry – bad for the waistline and the wallet when that chocolate cake just happens to fall into the trolleyJ
5.       Don’t use coupons.  Or buy anything on bogoff or 3 for 2.  Unless it was ALREADY ON THE LIST.  If you weren’t going to buy it at full price – then it isn’t saving you money at a discount.  Potential exceptions may be storecupboard ingredients  that you know you will use, such as pasta. 
6.       The freezer is your friend.  If you see a special offer on meat for example, freeze it for later use.  All sorts of things can be frozen to extend their lifespan – milk and cream for example.  And always freeze bread – slice before freezing if it isn’t already sliced, and then you can just pull out a slice or two when you need it.  Great if, like me, you don’t eat much bread.
7.       Build a list of creative recipes that you enjoy, that use cheaper ingredients.  For example we love Mejadra, a middle-eastern mix of lentils, rice and onions.  Recipe here:  And I’m determined to get the hang of making Masala Dosas – recipe here:  An amazing mix of lentils and rice, made into a pancake and stuffed with potatoes. Cheap, filling, tasty and different.
8.       Choose better, but use less.  A couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate rather than cheap and unsatisfying chocolate bars.  Or use good ingredients but stretch them further – such as using steak in a thai salad, rather than as an individual steak – can make it go more than twice as far.
9.       Choose cheaper cuts of meat such as stewing steak or chicken thighs, or veg in season, rather than fillet steak, chicken breasts and imported blueberries and asparagus.  It may take a little more effort in cooking (although see slow cooking, below), but the flavour will be worth it. 
10.   Slow cookers are great if you’re pressed for time.  A great way of tenderising cheaper cuts of meat, it is also a fantastic way of getting a home cooked meal on the table even if you’re out at work until 8pm.  Loads of recipes out there on the internet – have a look around for things that appeal to you.  The jury is out on whether it actually saves money on the cooking process itself, given that it is on for so long, but it’s definitely a time and effort saver, and also saves money on ingredients (and helps you avoid those pesky ready meals!), so overall it definitely works.
11.   Don’t buy ready meals, and avoid takeaways.  Only pay for a meal if you are in a restaurant.  If you’re at home, make it yourself.  For those nights when you really can’t face cooking, make sure there is always something tasty and homemade tucked away in the freezer.  I usually have a couple of portions of meatballs in tomato sauce, or some bolognaise sauce, or some chilli I can serve with a couple of tortillas.  No more effort than reheating a ready meal or going to the takeaway, and much tastier, cheaper and better for you.
12.   Don’t always go for brand names.  Try own brand products in the supermarket – often you can’t tell the difference.  Particularly for things that are going to be used in something else, such as tinned tomatoes.  Do check prices though, as sometimes special offers on brands will make them cheaper
13.   Store food in the right places.  Do not under any circumstances refrigerate bread – it will go stale far more quickly.  Freeze it if you won’t eat it straightaway, otherwise store in a plastic bag to avoid it drying out.  Store citrus fruit in the fridge, not on the kitchen surface.  Conversely, don’t refrigerate tomatoes or strawberries –they turn wooly.  See here for more:
14.   Learn what ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates mean.  Best before means just that – it isn’t going to hurt you if it’s gone out of date, but it may not be absolutely at its best.  Use by indicates  the latest  date when things should be consumed – but for things such as fruit and veg, it can usually be ignored – they are fine to eat until they really look as if they’ve gone off (see also below).  Milk is also fine to ignore the date on to a certain degree – as long as it doesn’t smell or taste ‘off’.  Same with butter.  Be a bit more careful with yogurt though – apparently it can breed hidden bugs among all those friendly bacteria, as can hummus.
15.   Don’t throw food away unnecessarily – slightly floppy broccoli or chard or leeks can still be made into a great soup or quiche, bendy carrots are fine for making stock or a base for stews.  Slightly wrinkly apples will cook down fine and can be used in a pie or crumble, or just as apple sauce.  Stale bread can be made into breadcrumbs which can then be frozen for use at a later date.
16.   Take your lunch with you to work rather than buying an expensive sandwich.  Tastier and healthier as well as cheaper.  I find the easiest way to do this is to take leftovers.  Make a bit more for dinner the night before, and take what is left with you.  No prep needed.
17.   Entertain at home rather than always going out for dinner with friends.  This is actually much easier anyway now we have a little one.  To really keep costs down, ask your friends to bring the wine.