Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Does anyone give a toss?

Ah that’s better – I’ve gone back to being “incognito”.  I don’t like the way Google tries to take over your on-line life, tracking your every move, and announcing everything that you do to the world, his wife, his pet hamster, and every other creature in the known universe (and probably the unknown universe as well)!  I somehow found that my blog had become part of my Google + account, which I try desperately not to use in the way that Google intends.  It’s hard enough keeping up with Facebook, and I certainly don’t want to start making “Circles” in Google +! 

I don’t really have a particular subject for today’s musings.  Thought I’d just ramble on a bit and see what comes out.  My last blog, just over a month ago, was to summarise how I was doing against my targets for not-wasting-money.  Curiously, that particular blog was read my more people than any of my other blogs.  It didn’t result in any more followers – I think those that found the blog through the title “Confession time”, were, perhaps, a little disappointed with the content?  What sort of a world is it when you have to put something in the title that makes them think they are going to find something titillating?  I guess I will just have to put suggestive titles on all my blogs in future to get some “traffic”. 

So, here we are, in March already.  It’s pancake day, and Spring is just around the corner.  We seem to have got through winter without having any school closures due to snow, although with the crazy weather we have in this country, I wouldn’t be surprised if we got snow in June this year!  
I thought I would just comment on something that was on the news this morning about the number of people that buy ready-made pancake mixes – ie you add water and mix your batter.  I am definitely one of the people at whom these sort of products are aimed – short of time, not that confident in the kitchen and happy to pay a premium for things that will make life easier; but even I will be mixing up my flour, eggs and milk in a bowl in little more than the time it would take to open a packet of mix.  I could understand buying the ready-made whole pancakes, as that saves the hassle of trying to cook the damn things without having a soggy pile of batter bits in the pan and a pile of washing up, but the mixing up in a bowl is surely the EASY bit? 
I suppose I could ask why people are willing to pay through the nose for a small bag of ready peeled and chopped onions/peppers/etc, which cost about 5 times the amount of the equivalent unpeeled article, however I am most definitely guilty of buying these!



Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Confession time

Well, now that the first month of the 'new' year has almost past, I’m sure you’re DYING to know how restrained I’ve been in sticking to my list of things-I’m-not-going-to-buy.  So, one by one, here is the truth:   

1.       Handbags – 2 (a smallish cross-body, and a largish shopper/cross body – from TKMaxx, of course...)  I think this particular addiction is going to take some serious treatment to overcome
2.       Travel bags – 0 (although we don’t have any trips planned right now, so probably not a good test)
3.       Storage containers – 0 (feeling good!)
4.       Skirts/dresses – 1 of each – in the sale….  Although I have actually worn both items more than once so far (with long boots), so that isn’t too bad!
5.       Tights – 2 (see previous item)
6.       Cookbooks – physical – 0, virtual – about 8 – although I have resisted the urge to add another glossy hardback book, with lots of exciting pictures, to my bookshelf, I have purchased around 8 e-cook books.  They were VERY cheap though….
7.       Kitchen appliances and gadgets – 0
8.       Fitness equipment – 0 (Fitness equipment used – 0)
9.       Apps – hmmm, I recently bought a Nexus tablet, which runs on Android so some app purchases were necessary.  More details to follow at a later date…
10.   Black trousers - 0
11.   Black boots – 1 pair (I HAD intended to get rid of an older pair when I got them home, but I just couldn’t choose which pair had to go…)
12.   Heston’s popcorn ice-cream – 0 (although I have bought 4 tubs of Haagen Daaz Strawberry Cheesecake, which is ALMOST as irresistible)
13.   Travel size toiletries – 0 (see point 2)
14.   Bikinis – 0 (as if!)
15.   Indian spices – 0 (and managed to cook 2 curries using the spices I bought before my blog)
16.   Bargains – FAILED!  See items 4, 6, 11, 17, 27, 29…
17.   Food bought on its “use-by” date – fail!  Have definitely continued to buy these ‘bargains’
18.   Clothes for DS – 1 - a tiger ‘onesie’ for Christmas (he loved it!)
19.   Fleeces – 0
20.   Earrings – 0 (although Santa brought me a pair of long silver ones…)
21.   Stuff to put in bath – 0 (Santa didn’t bring me any of this!)
22.   Tins of chopped tomatoes – 0 (managed to use up a few tins from stocks)
23.   Deodourant - 0
24.   Stationery – some sticky labels, but that wasn’t too much of a splurge!
25.   Novelty items as gifts – totally failed!  Well, it was hard to fill up an 11 year-old’s stocking without resorting to some of the items I vowed not to buy.  Items included some “Bush Tucker critters”, which he wouldn’t try - and neither would anyone else; some little puzzles, which never get done; some silly little books, which never get read; various other over-priced c**p that I have already forgotten!)
26.   Learn to speak Spanish books – 0 (I think I’m ‘fixed’ of this urge – for now….)
27.   Fresh food on offer – definitely didn’t stick to this one.  Bought lots of 3 for 2s, 4 for 3s, etc, over the Christmas period.  Didn’t waste TOO much
28.   Bed and bath linen – 0 (although we did buy a new bed for DS)
29.   Comfortable clothes – hmmmm – I guess I have to come clean about the cashmere tracksuit I bought in the sale from Tesco.  They are lovely and soft for lounging around in (and were a fab bargain), but they look like PJs, so not the sort of thing to be caught wearing out!
30.   Cheap versions of expensive items – as I mentioned in item 9, I bought a new Nexus 7 tablet.  I really wanted an iPad mini, but it was almost twice the price.  I don’t think this really counts, as the Nexus is a pretty good device (is has, of course, required some additional investment in Android apps…)
31.   Costco items not on my list – popped in to Costco for a few items on my list (24 tins of baked beans, lots of bottles of wine, some meat, etc), and did come away with some additional meat and frozen food that wasn’t on my list.  Shouldn’t have done this as I didn’t have enough room in my freezer!  (note to self – must start using up all the stocks in the freezer….) 

Well, we’re at the end of the first month, and it has been a bit dismal really.  I had hoped that by broadcasting my intentions to the world (!!), I might actually stop and think before purchasing any of the items on my “banned” list.  Obviously it hasn’t worked, so I think I need to try an alternative approach.  Perhaps I should have a month when I am only allowed to spend cash!  Having to prise grubby little notes out of my purse, and hand them over to receive lots of little coins to carry around in return might go some way to making me give a little more thought to what I purchase.  However, unless someone forcibly removed all internet access, I wouldn’t be able to control the urge to accept the offer of “buy now”, “add to basket”, “checkout”… It is just soooooooooo easy, and you don’t even have to enter your name and address or payment details on many sites.  It isn’t even like spending money!  (until the credit card bill arrivesL ).  Perhaps I need one of these "Smart" cards?

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 31: Anything in Costco that is NOT on my list when I walk in

Costco is one of those places where customers should be given some training before being allowed to visit.  Something about being able to buy things in bulk seems to turn us into hunter/gatherers and make us feel that we need to stock up our cupboards in case of Armageddon.  Never mind the fact that we only use one tin of tomatoes a year - you can buy them in crates of 24 and you'll never run out!!  Start doing this too often and you won't be able to get through your front door for boxes of food and household items. 

A number of my previous blogs refer to the "Curse of Costco" -
One of the biggest selling points for Costco as far as I am concerned (in addition to the fact that the car parking spaces are huge and designed for American cars),  isn't the fact that I can buy in bulk, and nor is it the fact that things work out cheaper (because they don't always).  For me, it is the fresh meat and produce - I think it is the fact that it is American, but the meat is always of a very high standard.  You have to have some freezer space, and be prepared to split it, wrap it and freeze it when you get home, but the quality far exceeds anything you can buy in the supermarkets.  The fresh fruit and veg is also lovely, but you do have to ensure you have plans to use it up or freeze it. 

All Costcos are identical in layout (apparently).  If I went to a Costco in Seattle, for example, it would be exactly the same as the one that I go to in Milton Keynes.  How cool!  Of course I wouldn't go to a Costco in the US in case the urge to stock up came over me, which might cost me a lot in excess baggage charges...hey hum!

Anyway, back to the point!  When I walk through the door at Costco, any memory of the stocks of tomatoes, deodourant, bath products, cleaning products, and anything else that is crammed into every inch of cupboard and freezer space, goes out of my head.  The hunter/gatherer urge comes over me and off I go, filling my trolley with bulk packs of everything from toilet tissue to tea bags.  Quite often the price isn't much of a saving on the normal supermarket, so there is absolutely no reason to buy in bulk as it is very unlikely that I am going to be unable to get to a supermarket in the next twelve months!

And don't mention the appliances/gadgets/clothes/books sections!  Well, as I have mentioned them, it is amazing how long you can spend looking around them and how it is so easy to come home with a new rice cooker, handbag, TV, or pretty much anything!  You can also get your eyes tested and get new glasses, get your photos processed, buy an engagement ring and get new tyres on your car! 

I must either learn to stick to what is on my list or consider cancelling my Costco membership!

Monday, 30 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 30: Cheap versions of expensive items

Some things have a much higher price tag than they should simply because they are made by a "household name" - Kelloggs, Cadbury, Proctor and Gamble, McVities, Walls, Heinz, etc, etc, etc. 

Now I'm not really including this category in my resolution because I do seek out own brand products where I am pretty sure there isn't going to be a lot of difference.  However, I'm probably a bit picky, and tend to veer towards the branded stuff just because I think it is going to be a better taste/quality. I know there are lots of taste tests that show own brand products beating known brands, and I know that a lot of the own branded products are made by the big names, it just that when the chocolate digestive doesn't taste as delicious as a McVities, or the washing-up liquid is much thinner than Fairy, it feels like it's worth paying a bit more.
Other things have premium prices because of the fancy packaging and marketing, such as designer perfumes, toiletries and make-up. 

In this category, perfume stands out as the thing that it is most definitely worth paying for the real thing.  Anything that attempts to copy a designer brand perfume at a reduced price is not worth a sniff!  Other perfumes that are made by the "non-designer" cosmetic houses don't do it for me either.  Revlon's "Charlie" might have been OK for me at 17, when it was all I could afford, but now it simply has to be Chanel/Dior/LancĂ´me/Guerlain/Estee Laudee, and others in that ilk "darling"!  Of course, all the big designer names make ranges of skin care and make-up products that also have premium prices.  I occasionally splash out on a very expensive face cream that promises to take 10 years off my face, or a pretty eye shadow palette or lipstick (usually when I have too much time to kill in the Duty Free shop at the airport), however I find that cheaper brands of skincare products and make-up are perfectly adequate.  By cheaper brands, I am probably talking mid-range rather than supermarket own brand stuff!

Finally, some things are far more expensive than apparently identical items because they actually DO something that works, unlike the cheaper imitations.  This is where I need to learn lessons from the past.  I can probably admit it relates solely to the attempt to buy products that will work with Apple gadgets that aren't actually made by Apple. We have a number of Apple gadgets, including an iMac, a couple of iPads and a couple of iPhones.  They all come with their specialist connectors that only fit i-thingies, and cost a fortune.  Most annoyingly, when Apple brought out the iPhone 5, the connector was completely different to previous iPhones/iPads.  Although the phone came with a charger cable, it is handy to have at least one other spare.  I also had a docking station that enabled me to connect my iPhone to my rather nice Pure radio.  I could no longer use this as the connector was totally different.  Apple sold a nice little convertor for just such a purpose:

Barely an inch square, this little piece of equipment, required for using any previous i-connectors with the new iPhone, cost £25, which is bloody expensive for what it is!  A quick surf on the net revealed hundreds of items that looked exactly the same and claimed to do exactly the same job, with the difference being they cost a fraction of the price - yes, they could be picked up for under a fiver!  Brilliant!  I ordered one through a supplier on Amazon, and it arrived within a couple of days.  Excitedly I put it in my docking station, put in the iPhone, set the radio to "aux", played some music on the phone and.... nothing! No sound came through at all.  A little message popped up on the phone saying that there was a non-standard device stuck up its bum (or words to that effect), and that it probably wouldn't work.  It did actually allow the phone to be charged, however it wouldn't transmit the sound, which was the purpose of buying it.  I returned it to the supplier.  I found another device on another website which looked similar, but it had an additional little antenna which went into the headphone socket.  Surely this would work?  It specifically stated that it would allow iPhone 5s to transmit sound through docking stations with the old connector.  Not a chance!  Not a crackle or a buzz.  Just the same message.  This one also went back to the supplier.  I went into the Apple store and spent £25 on the real thing.  It worked.

I also bought a small keyboard (musical variety) that could be used with a computer or an iPad to make music.  It worked fine with the Mac and the Windows PC, but to use it on an iPad, you needed to buy the camera connection kit: 

2 little adaptors that plug into the iPad and accept either an SD card or a USB connection.  Price from the Apple site/store - a mere £25.  Undeterred by my previous experience, I found lots of sites selling non-branded versions that did exactly the same thing... apparently!  I bought one for about £8, and excitedly tried it out on my iPad, first with the SD card from my camera.  Up popped the dreaded message about it not being a standard connector... uh oh, doesn't look good...but... it actually worked - allowed me to transfer pictures from the card to the iPad.  Not what I wanted it for, but still, it bode well for the midi-keyboard.  I plugged it into the USB camera connector, and fired up Garage Band on the iPad.  I pressed a note on the keyboard... nothing.... I cranked up the volume to the max on the iPad and the keyboard....not a squeak!  I couldn't return the device because it actually did what it was designed for - ie transfer the pictures.  Grrrrr!!!  I went into the Apple store and spent £25 on the real thing.  It worked.

I did actually risk buying a couple of charging cables for a few pounds each and they work, although I still get the message that they aren't standard connectors and aren't going to work, but they seem to manage to charge the phone, so I feel I have actually got one up there on the mighty Apple.  Yah boo!

The reality is, I should just stop trying to save money and go straight to the Apple store should I need any more connectors/chargers.  

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 29: Comfortable clothes

I mentioned my work "uniform" of black trousers and black boots in my previous blogs, and I certainly have a lot of both items in my wardrobe.  My non-work wardrobe has become, I'm afraid, a little bit too much on the "comfortable" side, and not a lot of the "style".  I haven't quite succumbed to buying the elasticated waist "slacks", that can be found in the week-end supplements - well, not quite - I admit to viewing them occasionally and thinking how nice and comfy an elastic waist would be...  

I'm already on the slippery slope to scruffiness due to my extensive fleece collection.  I have one pair of jeans that I tend to live in at the week-end, along with flat shoes/boots/trainers, a t-shirt and a fleece.  Easy to put on, easy to wear, but a bit samey.  It's not that I don't have other pairs of jeans, but when I drag myself out of bed at the week-end, I just can't be bothered to try and squeeze myself into a pair of jeans that are a little tight, or require a heel to be worn.  The jeans aren't particularly scruffy, it's just that when worn with a fleece, they do rather look like I can't be bothered - especially as I tend not to put make-up on at the week-end.  I never used to be so slovenly - I blame pregnancy.  The only bottoms that fitted were those with a very loose elastic waist, and once I realised just how comfortable they were to wear, there was no going back to tight zips, buttons and studs.  

As well as the comfy jeans, I have a number of pairs of jogging bottoms in which I love to loll around the house.  I haven't yet ventured out in them, but it's only a matter of time...

I think one of my resolutions should be to make a little more effort with my appearance - perhaps by wearing a nice skirt or dress?  A different pair of trousers or jeans would be a good start.  I must certainly never go out of the house with a pair of elastic-waisted trousers.  

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 28: Bed and bath linen

I have put this one in because it is a very dangerous time of year for such items.  With the sales now in full swing, there are many stores out there selling lots of beautiful bed linen - duvet covers, sheets, pillow cases - and towels of every size and colour.  It's always tempting to look at pictures of beautiful bedrooms, with perfectly smooth duvets/bed covers, covered in matching and contrasting cushions, and beautifully draped (matching!) curtains.  Rather like the way food is sprayed with all sorts of disgusting chemicals to prepare it for the glossy photos in cook books and on packets, these pictures are of beds that have never been slept in and are not likely to be.  How can duvets be that "puffed up"?  The reality is that the top bit always goes flat, and no amount of shaking and puffing will make it look even all over.  And who, in reality, can be @r$ed to remove a cushion mountain off the bed every night and put it back again in the morning?  Does anyone actually do that???  I can so easily be fooled by the perfect images into thinking that my bedrooms could look like that if I just buy that particular set of bed linen and 24 cushions. 
The dream...

The reality

The point here is really just how many sets of sheets and towels do I need?  I have the set on each bed plus a spare set for each bed for the emergency situation that might occur if the sheets I wash don't dry in time to be put straight back on the same day - an unlikely occurrence as they go in the tumble drier.  Similarly with towels - we all have a bath sheet plus a spare, and there are heaps of hand towels plus some bath towels for guests (in the rare event that we have some). 

Just walk away from the bed linen and towels...

Friday, 27 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 27: Fresh food on 3 for 2, 2 for 1, etc

One of the things that really narks me when I am shopping in a supermarket is in the fresh produce aisles (including fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy/chilled foods) when they have offers that require you to buy more than you need of an item in order to make a saving.  Whatever they call it -  4 for 3, 3 for 2, buy 1 get 1 half price, etc.  It's all very well making these savings, but when you really only want one item, you feel that you're being ripped off by paying full price for it! 

Take bean salad, for example.  I really like mixed bean salad, but all of the supermarkets seem to do it on a buy 2 offer.  I really don't want 2 bean salads - I am the only person in our house that eats it, and I am not going to get through 2 full tubs in the 2 remaining days to the "eat by" date.  I just can't bring myself to only buy 1 tub and pay...FULL PRICE!!! 

The stores are getting a LITTLE bit more helpful, in that you can now mix and match items - rather than 3 cauliflowers for the price of 2, you can have a cauliflower, a few leeks and a turnip, perhaps.  A better deal if you want them all, but I still don't see why they can't just reduce the price for 1 bloody cauliflower!  My fridge is full of rotting fruit and veg that have been bought as "add-ons" in order that I can get a good bargain.  This post is very closely related to the bargains post and the food on it's sell-by date post.

It is very irresponsible of the stores contributing to the masses of food that goes to waste each week by offering incentives to people to stock up on perishable goods.