Friday, 19 November 2010


If you like to shop, this may be for you.  I have just received £50 worth of Marks & Spencer gift vouchers but I am not going to spend them without doing some forward planning... 

Bargain hunting can be great fun.
It puts a whole new slant on shopping, and in fact on recreation.  We would rather spend time on something that is fun but will make us money or save us money, than on something that is also fun but will cost us money. Because it is soooo satisfying when you uncover a real bargain. 

Seven years ago in January, a friend e mailed me to say that Marks & Spencer had underwear reduced in their sale and her daughter had just got £96 worth of undies for £16. 

If you beome a committed bargain hunter, you will want to plan ahead, and keep a note of what your needs are likely to be for the coming year. 

I did this rigorously when our 3 kids were small and it meant they got to have a lot more than they otherwise would have, on our limited budget.
They were all the same size so we had no hand me downs within the family although we did have a bit of a system with friends of passing on clothes to each others' children.
I kept a book of what things I had been given that were too big for them, such as next year's size school uniforms, and then knew what we needed to buy at a glance and could snap up that bargain with confidence.

Our clothing needs are actually very predictable.  
Our kids would need a minimun of 12 pairs of new socks and underwear each a year, 5 school shirts, 2 school jumpers 2 pairs of school trousers, a school bag and so on.   Add to that another 5 play tee shirts, 2 pairs of play trousers, 2 smart pairs etc.  Once I sat down to think I realised it was really very easy.  The system also meant that everyone always had a smart outfit in their wardrobe that fitted if we got an unexpected invitation.
Once you have the list and you know what you are going to need, just wait and stock up when you see a bargain or until the end of the January or Midusmmer sales.  There is  no need to bother queueing for the expensive bargains on day one of the sales. 
By the time the sales are on, you may have found most of it in the charity shops anyway  but there is always something that has to be bought new, socks and undies being a good example.

Fashion may change but there are a surprising number of things that are fashion proof even if you are a fashionable person.  Socks, underwear and nightwear are good examples. Other relatively fashion proof things are school uniforms and tee shirts.  And actually those are all of the things that we will definitely have to replace regularly anyway.
Tee shirts and school stuff do change a bit fashion-wise - for example over the last few years Tee shirts went from longer length to waist length and are now back at longer length again.  Skirt lengths have done the same in reverse and trouser legs have gone wider and then narrower.

However it didn't change every year and if you buy a certain number of plainer shirts, skirts or trousers for everyday wear you can always buy a few more fashionable items with all that money you have saved!  The plainer ones are more fashion proof - it is this year's must have item that is totally out next year, your plain black tee shirt will still be okay.

As you get better at planning and buying in advance when things are cheap,  there are fewer urgent needs, because you have stocked up at a knock down price.
What's more, because you know what you are likely to need for the future, when you do see a bargain you can buy with confidence.   

This principle applies to all things, not just to clothes.  for instance, cans of tomatoes, ink cartridges, copier paper, spare oil filters for the car,,,

And then you begin to find you are getting better off.  This is one of the things that can give you real leverage.
You don't notice the difference at first, and I can remember wondering if it really did work when we started out15 yearsago.  
Then one day I found myself thinking 'how come we always seem to have so much money?!!'  Our income had not changed and we were not big earners but we had savings - money in the bank. In other words we had an emergency fund and that meant the next time there was an unexpected bill we did not have to borrow money. 
This is called 'The Snowball Effect' by Amy Dacyzyn who wrote The Tightwad Gazzette.   this book has been in print for probably 20 years.  It is phenomenol and quite literally saved our bacon.  If you buy two books about simplicity and getting ahead with money, get this one, and Your Money or Your Life 
by Joe Domnguez and Vikki Robbins.
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century
The Complete Tightwad Gazette 

The snowball effect works like this: 
  • you predicted your needs and bought cheap.
  • you therefore spend less money and accumulate savings.
  • you don't need to borrow next time there is an unexpected bill.
  • you therefore save on loan interest payments and accumulate more savings
  • you are able to buy something that enables you to save even more money, such as a wood burning stove to burn free wood or a second hand sewing machine to make your own curtains.
  • You make a new friend when you get the free wood from their dead tree.  They get their garden cleared free and don't need to pay for a skip.  You give them some vegetables from your garden to say thanks for the wood.  
  • Next time they go fishing they leave you a fish on the door step. It turns out they don't eat fish anyway so from now on you have a regular supply of fish-for-vegetables thus saving you and them money on the grocery bill. 
In the present climate when we are all worried about money to varying extents, a plan like this can give you that emergency fund, or can help keep your head above water if things are bad.  It also gives you a morale boost because when you have no money you have things put by and can 'shop at home' and choose things out of your stock to treat yourself or the kids with.  

The 'mummy shop'
I used to keep a 'mummy shop' of bargains or things I had made.  If the kids did something that was thrifty or helped with a special job (they all helped a bit in the house in an age appropriate way as a matter of course), I would reward them with something from the mummy shop.    They totally loved it and I had fun finding things to put in it.
If you are a tax payer, money saved is worth more than money earned, because you don't pay tax on it.

So anyway, when my friend e mailed about that Marks & Spencer underwear sale, I was already poised with a list of our needs for the year.  By the time I actually got to Marks & Spencer the undies had gone down in price even more  – everything was £1! 
I e mailed her back and let her know.  By the time SHE got back there, everything was 50p.  Top quality, lovely stuff that had started out way over our budget.  So when it was 50p we bought a second lot for when the first lot wore out.  A bit of planning has saved a lot of money.  And I actually got a five year supply of undies for about £50.

So you can bet I won't be spending those M&S vouchers before Christmas.
Our kids got really good at spending any vouchers they got too.  They used to ask us if they could keep their Christmas money or vouchers until January.  Then they went shopping in the sales and got a lot more for their money.  Not a bad idea for anyone who gets a voucher this Christmas...

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


What to Do After You Turn Off the TV

We do not have TV.  When we had it,  the set ended up being on a lot.  If someone felt like watching TV, on it went.  Almost invariably there was nothing on worth watching.  Then the channel flicking started and finally everybody would settle for something they did not really want to see instead of switching it off again.  The off button was hard to find, it seems. 
The most striking thing was the way that the TV seemed to suck in energy.  In the evenings, the longer I watched it for, the more tired I became.  Finally there simply was not enough energy to contemplate doing something else.

When I do see TV in someone else’s house, I am appalled at some of the stuff that is on.  My job used to involve visiting people in their homes, so I got to see a fair cross section of daytime television.
Talk shows parading peoples’ problems would be on in the background and although no one was really watching it (except me, not having been exposed to much of that stuff I was transfixed!) it still creates a negative atmosphere and affects you view of the world.

Friends who have TV do not seem to know what I am on about. They ask me what I do in the evenings, if we do not have a TV set.  Before branding me as an extremist though, try going without TV for a month and then see how you react to it when it’s switched on again.  See later for tips about how to experiment with your TV use…

One study has researched the problem of us becoming desensitised to distress because we see it on TV a lot, and suggests that this can actually desensitise us to distress in real life and make us less likely to help someone out. 
If this is true, TV could be destroying our compassion. 

I do notice that TV-watching friends do not react as strongly as I do to these things, and feel that I react more strongly than I did in the days when I had a TV.

When we began to spend more time looking after our grand daughter we got some videos for her to watch. (Our old fashioned videos are all the same to her!)
One was never enough though and she got bored and fractious.  The video has never been on again and she doesn't ask for it.  if she is ever unwell, it might be useful.
One day it was torrential rain.  I thought maybe we would watch a video and then on impulse stopped on the way home and bought a child's umbrella for £1.  She played outside for ages with the umbrella and a cat litter tray full of water as a 'puddle' to stand in.  We do baking, play with home made play dough or with water in a bowl, dig the garden - all the things we did with our own kids in fact. 

TV seems to be everywhere.
It is common in doctors and dentists waiting rooms, and even the post office and the changing room at one local gym has it.  I have rarely seen anyone watching properly although they do glance at it. In fact people filter it out.

When the kids were small we went to the movies instead of watching TV.  It was a real family treat and good value.  (take your own popcorn and drinks or the cost can double).

We also had a TV/video combination unit, with the receiver removed.  This enabled us to legally watch rented videos.  We took the unit to a TV repair shop and they gave us a letter to send to TV licensing confirming that its reception capabilities had been disabled.   Now it is virtually obsolete due to the advent of the DVD but we did well for a while with videos purchased at the car boot sale for 10p/15c each as people got rid of them. 
We can still watch DVDs on the computer legally so long as it does not have a receiver in it and we occasionally use the internet based ‘watch again’ websites of the different TV companies.  Only about once a month though.  There usually seems to be something more interesting to do.

TV licensing paid us a visit about 5 years ago.  (They do check up on you eventually if you have told them you don’t have a TV.)  Years ago they used to send us lots of letters but not any more. 

We told them about the TV video combo and they naturally asked to see it.  And we couldn’t find it. 
They of course found this hilarious and said we were the first people they had seen that day who really didn’t have a TV.
It eventually turned out to be in our daughter’s wardrobe and they went away happy but still chuckling.

If you want to experiment with your TV use:
  • Try covering it with a nice cloth or put it in a TV cabinet.  Not having visual contact with it improves the feel of the room and means you don't get triggered to switch it on just because it is there rather than because there is something you really want to watch.
  • Decide not to watch TV first thing in the morning.  News programmes especially have a lot of negative stuff in them.  Is that really how you want to start the day?  
  • Have one TV free night at home a week and see how it feels.  If you are not used to it plan how you are going to spend the time.
  • Watch out that you don’t end up surfing the internet as a TV substitute.
  • Here are some of the things we do at home in the evenings: 
    Talk to each other, play board games, knit, read, make things, write, cook stuff for the freezer, spin, dye yarn, do stuff to support voluntary groups such as contribute to a newsletter, talk to friends on the phone, write this blog.