Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The End of Project Goodbye Magpie

Can you believe it?  A year has passed since I started Project Goodbye Magpie back in August 2011!  A whole 12 months of budgeting, watching the pennies and trying to find out what life is all about while I was at it. 

Well, the figures are in, the spreadsheets have been calibrated and I am delighted to announce the results are as follows (drum roll please):

We have spent a whoping £13,715 less over the past 12 months and managed to pay off £4,600 from our Credit Card leaving a now managable £1,000 left to pay.

So, how did we do it? 

No. 1 Saving was not having any Car Loan repayments, saving £7,500.  We paid off the car loan last year and although a lot of people would take this as an opporunity to upgrade, we're most definitely not, and intend to run our current car until it is scrapped.  I used to be the kind of person who would get very excited by a new car, now I can't understand the fuss and would happily not have a car at all if we possibly could, (my sister and brother-in-law just went car-less and are loving it, no more petrol or garage bills!)

No. 2 Saving was the Coffee and Eating Out Challenge.  Where we went from regular weekend lunches out and coffees around town, to pretty much cold turkey, with the odd cuppa or two, and dinner out, thrown in.  My trusty thermos flask for coffees on the go and just simply not eating out, saved an unbelievable £3,227.87 (!!) over the course of a year.

No. 3 Saving was the Grocery Bill Challenge. Everyone is moaning about the cost of groceries going up, but by making better use of our bulk buy warehouse, shopping weekly at the local farmers market for our veg, not wasting so much food and just not going to the supermarket as regularly (where you often buy 'off-list' just-in-case stuff you don't actually really need), we saved £1,351.76 on our food bill!

No. 4 Saving was on Holidays.  We saved £1311.01 by going camping for our anniversary rather than a weekend abroad and by bargain hunting our self catering cottage in the highlands for our regular two weeks away.  We had just as much fun and saved a packet in the process.

No. 5 Saving was stopping the useless 'medical' bills caused by visiting a chiropractor who wasn't doing much to help my son's stiff back, but was doing a lot to lighten my wallet!  At £1,085.00 it was a significant saving.

Next up at No. 6 was Christmas.  By making gifts and being a bit more creative I saved nearly £1000.00 on the cost of my season's greetings!

No. 7  Saving was on Household Bills, where I saved £968.98 by swapping all my tarriffs for gas, electricity, internet and insurance policies, with the help of moneysupermarket.com and other such websites.  It is amazing how quickly these savings add up.

No. 8 Saving was Not Buying Any New Clothes for myself or JW (our growing 17 year old was exempt), saving a significant £837.89.  This was much, much easier than I anticipated and has been a total revelation about how I like to spend my time.  I made outfits, I sewed outfits and I re-jigged stuff I already had, but had never worn! 

No. 9 Saving was Birthdays.  I made, charity shopped and created my way to a £536.67 saving!

No. 10 Saving was on Cinemas and Entertainment, making use of offers and using our Nectar points and other vouchers, while steering well clear of the rip-off that is cinema snacks, we saved £484.40.

No. 11 Saving was on Gardening, where I got creative with seeds and propogation instead, and even got given plants by a kindly neighbour, saving £358.85 in the process.

No. 12 Saving was on Haircuts.  By buying a good quality set of clippers and watching some videos on YouTube, I saved £241.94 by setting up my very own barber shop and cutting my families hair!

All of this work actually saved around £20,000 on last year's spend!!!!  Can you believe it?  This enabled us to pay off a significant amount of credit card debt and make some necessary and urgent repairs to our house (a majorly broken heating system  and some costly roof repairs), while still saving money overall. 

It has been a really interesting year and I have learnt a few things about myself.  The thought of going clothes shopping makes me yawn with boredom now; although I have discovered a love of treasure hunting in the charity shop I now volunteer in!  I've realised that I have plenty of clothes and that I actually only need to replace one or two things each year, (like vest tops with holes in them and that kind of thing).

Another real revelation is that I really can't be bothered with birthday gifts and christmas presents (for myself or to give to other people) and have decided that I am going to opt out of the whole process.  I used to spend a lot of time thinking about birthday presents, shopping for gifts, wrapping them up and so on.  But I have realised, that it is just another form of consumerism, but with less perceived guilt, as it isn't for you.  The whole thing is just so out of hand, where some months I have five or six gifts to get at once.  So I have decided that I will give to my neices and nephews until they are 18 years old, in the form of a £5 note.  I will also continue giving to my own son, my husband and my mum and mum-in-law (as I think they would be upset if I missed them out).  But that folks is it, everyone else is getting a card!!

I haven't missed going out for coffees at all.  And this was something I was very worried about giving up.  Now, I actually much prefer my own cafetiere coffee to the super bitter stuff they like to serve you up in coffee houses.  JW and I had coffee out as a treat the other day and I just couldn't drink it, even after I chucked two sugars in!

I have also really enjoyed making use of the local park benches and getting a different view of the city.  Although, it is nice to meet up for a slice of cake with a friend now and again, especially when it is tipping it down and a thermos in the park just isn't an option!

Not Eating Out hasn't been as tricky to give up as I'd anticipated either.  Again, I thought I would really miss it, but I just haven't. We have had lots of lovely picnics and been more organised with food at the weekend.  The only downside has been that going out for something to eat was always a good way to get out with No.1 Son and catch up with him.  So now, we are going to go out about once a month and that will make it a real treat, rather than just because we haven't got anything nice in the house to eat on a Saturday lunchtime!  We also have a weekly heads-together as a family around our dining room table, to catch up with each others activities, which sounds a bit formal, but keeps everyone up to date and stops anyone feeling left out because they didn't know that such-and-such was happening.

I haven't been a total miser either, by saving up my pennies and selling up things I didn't need, I managed to save up enough money to buy myself a new bike (which I ADORE!)  And being able to pay to fix the house roof and the heating without having to use the credit card has been a really great feeling! 

We have set out our budget for next year and with No.1 Son off to University in 12 months time, keeping our belts tightened will become even more important!  But I really don't mind, as a lot of the things we were spending money on before, I have just simply got out of the habit of wanting. As a by-product of my less consumer driven outlook, I even developed a serious dislike of women's magazines, with all their talk of 'colour pop' and the 'must have new season look'.  What a load of drivel!

If you too would like to save some serious amounts of money and de-magpie your life, really the best tip I can offer you when it comes to spending less is to write everything that you spend down and tally it up each week.  It may be a tired piece of advice, but how many of us listens to it? Seeing those weekly and monthly figures in black and white really is the best motivation you can get for not buying that new gadget, must have jacket, or indeed anything else that catches your magpie eye!  It also gives you motivation to earn more money if that is what is necessary to turn things around, or indeed to downsize things to fit into your real budget (not the budget that you wish you had!)

So, what am I up to next?  Well, I have successfully tackled my outlook about money.  I have a new respect for it and for the process of saving up for items.  I wouldn't dream of taking out store credit for a new TV or Washing Machine now, or taking out a loan to do-up our house or anything like that.  I am firmly of the mind-set that you should save up for things.  So, while we may not get our garage conversion done anytime soon, at least we can sleep soundly in our beds at night.  Our next financial step over the next 12 months will be to finish paying off the last of our one and only credit card debt and helping to support No. 1 Son's Uni costs (he will be getting a part-time job!) 

For me personally, I am going to concentrate on keeping on discovering the things I really enjoy spending my time doing.  Just getting out of old habbits really took up my energy over the past 12 months and now it is really time to start concentrating on the important stuff of life and what makes it worth living. 

If you would like to join me on this journey please hop over to The One Life Project and I'll see you there!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Entertainment minus the Credit Card

Free Entertainment: The Mendicant Punk Monks

The whole point of project Goodbye Magpie is to get my spending under control.  So, how was I going to fare spending time at the Edinburgh Festival with all it's temptations of food stalls and pre-show/post-show drinkies?

Even with the help of some fab free tickets, thanks to the guys at ticketing website Clicket (dedicated all things Edinburgh, 365 days of the year!), I still knew I was in for a militant few weeks if I wasn't going to blow my budget.

Well the verdict is in and it's: Could Do Better.

 I slipped up on a couple of areas.  Not bringing enough food for JW when he was coming to meet me for a show after work.  This resulted in me buying him a pie (£1.50: bargain), him still being hungry and buying a burger (£5.50, hmmm), then having a few pre-show drinks (almost £10 for two drinks, ouch) and then getting a pizza and chips on the way home, because JW is actually still starving (£10, oh dear).  Neither frugal nor healthy!  But typical behaviour I'm sure.

I also ended up having a couple of sneaky coffees while meeting up with friends, which is against the rules (not the meeting friends bit, the coffees bit).  Although I have to say that the Toffee Cake from the Hula Juice Bar is AMAZING and worth every penny!

We did try a show at the Free Fringe.  Thinking that this would be cheaper than stumping up for more tickets. But, the show was in a pretty yucky nightclub, with sticky floors; you know the type.  And although the comedian was funny, the venue's drinks prices were extortionate. So by the time we had bought a round and put some money in the comedians bucket, we were no better off and would have been as well paying to go to a decent place.

Edinburgh International Book Fest
But when I did get it right it worked really well.  For instance the Unbound Programme at the Edinburgh International Book Festival is all free and really good quality.  No-one hassles you with a bucket at the end.  So it genuinely is free! The drinks are reasonably priced (the G&T is very, very good!) and the atmosphere is really quirky.  No sticky floors here thank you very much. 

I went to see Literary Death Match, which was fast past entertainment with four writers battling it out to become the Literary Death Match Champion.  And I even got a £5 book voucher for the festival book shop for my troubles, sweet!

The Art Fest Telescope
I also scored with the Edinburgh Art Festival which had a highly entertaining opening night with free wine, a live installation complete with working artist (Kevin Harman), and a telescope that looked at painted views, which was kind of cool.

And slopping down The Royal Mile is always fun, you never know what you will come across.  Like the Mendicant Punk Monks (pic at top of page, chanting "Let's Do It Like They Do On The Discovery Channel").

Sticking with the positives, another way I have saved on cost is to bring my lunch along with me and my refillable water bottle.  So on balance, it could have been a whole lot worse!
But it isn't over yet, so I still need to watch my pennies for the next couple of weeks!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Sad Weekend

Left to Right: Spicy, Morgan and Rum
As those of you who have read my blurb will know, I am a big animal lover.  I have been a vegetarian since I was about 11 years old and as a big grown up girl, there is nothing I like better than talking to my own little Guinea Pigs. 

Our Guinea Pigs live in the hall, under a big-old oak side dresser.  Every morning they meep hello (and "where's my breakfast") and each time you come in through the front door, they give you happy welcome home (and "did you bring anything back for me") squeaks.

Morgan and Rum
They love being outside in their run out in the back garden too and will scamper up to you enthusiastically when you go out to see them.

They are an affectionate bunch, highly characterful and very soft little creatures.  Much more endearing than you might imagine and animals which deserve a lot more care and attention from their owners than they usually get. 

You might be wondering why I have pet Guinea Pigs at all?  Well, I was denied a pet as a child (a brief spell of gold fish just doesn't count!); we can't afford a dog (all those vet's bills and insurance costs, never mind the food!); JW hates cats; we weren't sure about a house rabbit; reptiles are a no-go; and I don't think caging birds is acceptable.  So, there you have it: Guinea Pigs it is.

Rum and Me
We have had our piggles for nearly six years.  And this weekend our little Rum pig died.  I haven't had a pet from a baby to the end of their life before, and to be honest, I have just found it heart-breaking.  You wouldn't believe you could cry so much over such a small animal. 

It is easy to see why many people feel the need to believe that there is something after death.  As the body that is left behind feels so very empty and it is hard to accept that they are gone.  It would be much easier to imagine that Rum is running about in a sun warmed meadow, rather than being, well, no-where.  But, I take comfort from the happy years we had together and from the fact that he is no longer suffering.  He was a super-sweet, super-soft pig and I am so very glad to have known him.

So to all of you lovely pet-owners out there; do give your animal-friend an extra big hug today if you can, take a video of them when they're happy and healthy and be extra kind to them.  You will be so glad of it when the sad day comes and they are no longer with you.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Is it just me?

Apparently today is five years since the first day of the global economic crisis.   So, this morning the UK radio, newspapers and internet are all full of stories about the need to increase household consumption in order to spend, spend, spend our way out of the ongoing lack of growth in our economy.  We simply aren't taking out enough loans, borrowing enough on credit cards or whittling through our savings quickly enough to buy all that junk that we just don't need.  Come on people, get the plastic out; your country needs you!

Well, how very unpatriotic of me, what with my de-spending drive.  Here's the thing that bugs me about all of this, we live in a planet with finite resources and we are already using way to much of them, threatening our very existence in the process.  The short-sightedness of asking people to go out and consume more is just plain dum.  It is just the same as saying "hey guys, we need to create more landfill, waste and pollution in order to consume our way out of this economic mess".  If we keep going like this, in a hundred years from now, the economy will be in an even worse state, as we try and deal with the mess and pollution that is left behind. 

In my more extreme moments I do feel like yelling out, "Stop buying all that crap!" to shoppers as I pass Primark, Tourist Tat shops or the 'Seasonal Goods' aisle of the supermarket.  "You don't need it and it won't make you happy". 

Personally I feel so much better now that I am not spending all our income on nick-knacks for the house, new clothes or make-up.  In fact I couldn't imagine a more boring day out, than traipsing around the shops getting undressed, dressed, then undressed and dressed again, in various small compartments with torturous mirrors, while trying to find new clothes.  Oh my god, how frigging dull!!!

By all means, if you have the money to splash about, then do so.  Have a nice coffee and cake at the local cafe, buy a book, spend a few quid in your area's charity shops and what have you.  But just don't buy a load of unnecessary rubbish with your cash.  Because most of it will end up here:
Or here, dumped in the environment:

Maybe the news coverage of the economic crisis should link back to the ongoing environmental crisis a bit more and suggest people spend any extra money they have on things which are useful, like, I don't know a bicycle, or if you're feeling really flush, maybe invest in green energy or something...

Meanwhile, I will continue to telepathically scream at idiots buying fridge magnets and tartan teddy bears...

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Everything Else Happened

I have a real soft spot for Jonathan Safran Foer.  I send him big karma inducing hearts from across the Atlantic and hope that he and his family feel the benefits of them.  I first came across his work through his non-fiction book EatingAnimals.  

As Foer searched the American meat industry for the truth behind his nagging personal hypothesis that Eating Animals is wrong, I willed him on.  I felt his pain at witnessing scenes in abattoirs, smelt the horror that is an industrial hog farm and through Foer, I witnessed the inhumane treatment of farmed animals in all its bleak starkness.  God that book hit the spot, (go on, read it; I dare you...)

So, I was somewhat joyful to see that Everything Else Happened, a show based on the writings of Foer, is being staged as part of the Edinburgh Festival by DreamEpic.  I went along to one of the first shows, and boy, is it beautiful.  

Four actors deliver four separate monologues, which are believable, mixing painful truths with wry laughter.  

The Grandma who offers you cookies, fresh sliced tomatoes, fizzy pop; anything to make you happy.  The middle aged man suffering the pain of mental health problems, which have led him to a dark place of broken hearts and loss.  The old, overlooked and looked-through magician.   

And for me, the most touching of all, Foer himself (played by Actor/Director Adam Lenson), talking about the in-between conversations, the ones we hint towards but never say, the missed opportunities of communication to reach out to our families. The seemingly unstoppable handing on of issues, of sadness, of pain. And the difficulty of saying “I love you” in return.

Big hearts Jonathan, big hearts.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Let the Fringe Fest. Begin

Yesterday saw the beginnings of my desperate attempt to throw off the trappings of domesticity and embrace the theatrical and comedic madness that is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Things didn’t get off to the best start as running late, I attempted to load the guinea pigs in the dishwasher, feed the dirty dishes some breakfast, put my 17 year old No.1 Son out on the washing line and get the laundry out of bed...

Things didn’t improve as I arrived at the venue, somewhat flustered, to find that there had been a mix up and my name wasn’t down, so I wasn’t getting in!  

No.1 Son was now a-grumbling at his lack of breakfast, but my attempted to pacify him by buying two sausage rolls (for the benefit of our southern friends, that’s a sausage in a roll, and not the pastryfied bakery good you may have been thinking of), went pear shaped as I chose the take-away unwisely and the rolls got binned due to in-edibleness.  That didn’t improve the mood, so we headed back home show-less and down £15.00 on bus fares and sausages!  

Thankfully, things did pick up at the Assembly Rooms later that night.  JW and I were booked in to see One Day in the Life of Lloyd Owen Langford.  Having never heard of Lloyd before, I was half expecting the usual “is there anyone in from Cardiff tonight?!” malarkey.  But, joy of joys, Lloyd was actually going to tell us a story, and a rather funny one at that, about a trip to the shops to buy some bread.  Now, that perhaps doesn’t sound like the most inspirational of occurrences, but when I tell you that Lloyd’s landlord is none other than the duvet buying welsh comic Rhodri Gilbert, you might be persuaded to hang around a bit to listen.  

Lloyd’s gentle and humourous storytelling manner means that you would happily listen to escapades involving text messages and dog doings all day.  When we finally got to the point where the bread was at last purchased, the audience were desperate to know more, “what kind of bread was it?” they asked, “did you enjoy it?”, they were clamouring to know.

I’ll never listen to Delilah by Tom Jones in the same light again...  Go see before he sells out!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Circus is Coming! I Love Edinburgh in August!

I am very excited! It is that time of year again. The time of year when Scotland's capital goes mad and a large assortment of weird and wonderful people descend to cheer the grand old lady that is Edina right up!

The famous Spiegletent Going Up!
I have just come back from a wee trip into town and found lots of workmen making the final preparations for Edinburgh Festival and Fringe (not to mention the Arts Fest., the DanceBase Fest....) and I am now raring to go for the big kick off on Friday! 

And thanks to the 100% lovely folks at Clicket.co.uk (a fab one stop shop for tickets and info about events in Edinburgh), I am going to be out and about, experiencing the festival and reporting right back to you on what I have found.  From dance, to street films, comedy to cabaret; I am up for just about anything.

I totally love the festival madness and think it sums up what life is really about; fun, laughs and being interested in the world.  I can't wait to shake off my usual chores and all that taking care of visiting relatives, and to start to feel like I am 21 again for a whole month!

But all of this joie de vivre needn't come at a high price, I am still going to be thrift conscious and intend to negotiate my way around the festival without breaking the bank.  

The animals of East Linton Farm Park
Just look what I found in St. Andrew's Square in Edinburgh already! I'm looking forward to seeing what else turn's up!

Quite at home in the middle of the city

                                 Who wouldn't smile at that! And it didn't cost me a penny!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Anniversary Celebrations on the Cheap and very Cheerful!

It was my second wedding Anniversary the other day, what better excuse for a celebration?  But, anniversaries can be expensive occasions.  We seem to be influenced more and more by the media, advertisements and shops, to dig deep on significant dates, to show our loved ones just how much we care.  After all, how on earth will your partner know how important they are to you, if you don't buy them a watch/silk tie/slap-up dinner/bunch of flowers?  Well, I say, bah-humbug to that!

Paris: Fabulous, but too Expensive this year
This time last year I surprised JW with a long weekend in Paris.  Now don't get me wrong, Paris was fabulous, but it just wasn't going to fit into our budget this time around. So, this year, we did something a bit different! 

JW got diddly squat as an anniversary present and I got zero in return.  Just the way we now like it!  Instead of wasteful gifts, we decided that JW would take the Monday off work and we would just spend some time together instead.  But as the rain poured down, and having done the local art galleries and indoor activities, I got itchy feet.  Inspiration struck when I looked at the weather forecast and saw that the sun was shinning over Fort William.

I have always wanted to climb Ben Nevis (the highest peak in the UK) and decided that we should just go for it and have an adventure for our anniversary.  Shockingly, we have only used our little tent once in the 12 years we've been together! So, I thought it was about time it saw the light of day again.

I won't bore you with the details but, just to say that we pitched up at Lochy Holiday Park to a very friendly welcome and a great £15.00 a night fee. We also stumbled upon the most delicious Thai restaurant in town called The Cafe Mango The food was so good!  If you're ever in Fort William, you should check it out!

Our night at the campsite was spot on.  Funnily enough, I have just finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.  If you've read it you'll know that he spends a lot of time tuning his motorbike very early in the morning.  So, it was rather fitting that we (and the rest of the campsite I'm sure), got woken up by a group of bikers doing exactly that at 6.30am!  But, it was all to the good, as the noise of the engines revving got us up and going and climbing Ben Nevis before we knew where we were.

The climb up was long, but the path was good, making it much easier than it might have otherwise been.  Walking up through the cloud layer was amazing.  It's probably the closest thing to heaven that there is.  And the views?  Well they were spectacular!  You can't really get a much better feeling, than being at the top of the very highest point in your country.  What else could you want on your wedding anniversary?  I don't think a box of chocolates even comes close!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Re:Made in June

10:10 have been encouraging everyone to re-make and fix things up, rather than dumping things when they get broken or are no longer needed.  Being a bit of a squirrel myself, I like this challenge a lot!

My Jubilee Weekend Project was to fix up a snooker table with JW.  We saved it from the jaws of a skip and turned it from this:

                                                                        Into this:

Next up, it was my lovely Grandma's 86th birthday.  Yes, that's right, the same age as the Queen, and she still works every day too; amazing!  To celebrate Grandma's birthday I turned these dry-cleaning coat hangers (donated by a friend):

In to these rather fetching padded coat-hangers, using left-over dress-making fabric:

My final recent re-make was to turn this:

 Into this: An Apple Tree for my Dad on Father's Day.

 Go on, what can you re-make this month!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Try Outs

Half of the reason for Goodbye Magpie is to save money.  The other 50% share of 'why do it' goes to trying new things and seeing what happens.

An argument the other night with JW, has spurred me on to keep going with this aspect of the project.  The argument went something along the lines of, "don't you feel that life is really boring at the moment?"  Poor JW made the man-error of attempting to fix the problem, rather than just listening to the moan.  Things were said, exasperated looks were exchanged and I gave up the conversation at the point where we were 'discussing' an umbrella holder.  Don't ask...

Part of the problem is that saving money and doing new stuff, really don't go hand in hand.  In order to do things you often need to buy tickets, get equipment or travel somewhere.  So hence my feeling a bit like Miss Jean Brodie, in the prime of my life, all the while sweeping floors and doing laundry!  I exaggerate, it just feels like that's all I do sometimes!

So, I have a list of things that I want to do and that won't cost too much money and I intend to get cracking on with them.

St Giles Cathedral
The first new thing I did this week was go and listen to some Organ Music.  I know, I know, it's not exactly climbing Everest, but it was new to me. 

St Giles Cathedral, here in Edinburgh, do a series of lunchtime and evening recitals for free (collection at the end).  So, I went along and listened to some Bach and some Mendelssohn. 

The Organ; What a Beast
Unfortunately, I discovered that I really don't like Organ Music (surprise!)  It is very dramatic, but just not my cup of tea.   I found that it sounded off key and inharmonious and just not very tuneful.  Although I can completely appreciate the technical skill involved; blooming heck it sounded and looked like very hard work!  And, in fairness, it did make me jump out of my seat twice, just with the sheer unexpected volume of the beginning sections of some of the pieces.

A rather impressive interior
On the plus side, I did enjoy being in the church and having a good look around, and it was nice to have a good excuse to sit down and not do anything!  So all in all I would say that it was a pleasant way to spend an hour.  And if you haven't gone to an Organ Music Recital before, I would say that it is worth 45 minutes of your life, but probably not much longer than that. 

Next up: Cycling to the Scottish Borders.