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. 

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 26: Learn to speak Spanish books

I really want to be able to speak Spanish.  Ever since my very first trip abroad, which was to Ibiza in 1984, I have tried many times to learn the language, but I have never actually got much better than being able to ask someone how they are, order a meal, count to 10 and say Merry Christmas (which is not that useful as I have never spent Christmas in Spain). 

Every now and then I feel the enthusiasm to become more fluent coming on and, rather than going through the huge library of "Learn Spanish" books/tapes/CDs/ computer software that I already have, I am persuaded to buy the latest book/CD/software that promises to make it very easy to become fluent in Spanish.  I load tracks onto my MP3 player to listen to as I walk around, and I read a few chapters of the book, before life gets in the way.  I should probably start doing these courses from chapter 4 onwards, which would enable me to actually make some progress. 

Unfortunately I can't buy the one thing that I need to learn Spanish and that is the time! 

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 25: Novelty items as gifts

First of all, a very Merry Christmas to the hoards of readers who are reading this blog fresh off the press!  As today is Christmas Day, the day when we all waste tons of money on naff gifts that will be in the charity donation bag by New Year, I thought I would highlight a particular type of gift that I have, occasionally, resorted to buying over the years. 

It is always difficult to find just the right present for people who have everything they need/want, and who will buy things for themselves throughout the year (some of them even buy things for themselves whilst they are Christmas shopping for others - no names mentioned here...). Anyway, it is for these people (and they are usually men!), that numerous websites have popped up, selling gifty things that are designed to look like a lot of thought has been put into the purchase.  It's not that I'm totally against these sort of sites - I think it is very sweet that you can buy a specially engraved locket for your loved one, with a compartment where they can store your toenail clippings so that they will always have them close, or an automated toothpaste squeezer in the shape of a cow where the toothpaste comes from the... well... (I haven't ACTUALLY seen these exact items, but you know what I mean).  
The thing is, once you've bought something that your loved one can wear, put on the wall or put on display, you have to stop!  You can only get away with buying more than one of these items if your current "loved one" isn't the same as last year's. 

A fairly recent practice that keeps all of these tat shops and websites in business, is the "Secret Santa".  Honestly, if everyone who was involved in these schemes from work places, schools and groups of friends, all gave their fivers or tenners to worthwhile charities, an awful lot of good could be done in the world.  Instead of which, millions of items of completely useless tat are opened by millions of people, who have a quick laugh then chuck it in the bin (unless it is something edible, like a willy-shaped chocolate bar, which tastes fowl, but they'll eat it).  Is this really what Christmas has become? Well that's my soapbox moment over. 

Here are just a few of the multitude of websites selling the type of things that I am talking about:


There are also hoards of shops on the high street - many that just pop up for Christmas, such as:
Hawkins Bazaar

I am particularly concerned when items such as the following are included in a page titled "Must have gadgets".  Gosh, how does one manage to live without one of these?

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 24: Stationery

When I was young, I used to LOVE stationery of any kind.  It was such a treat to go into W H Smith to look at all the stationery, and to SMELL it.  Pens, pencils, rubbers of all shapes, sizes and colours, note pads and paper, rulers, post-its... 

Things haven't changed that much since I grew up.  I still get very excited when I go into the stationery department of a large store, or, better still, a specialist stationery store such as Paperchase.  The one thing that has changed is the amazing amount of choice available.  I could spend hours and hours just browsing the lovely notebooks, paper, pens, bits and bobs... (let's not even start on post-its...)

Oh yes - one other thing has changed since I was a wee girl - the advent of technology.  Being the gadget geek that I am, I rarely pick up a pen and I have absolutely no need for a paper notebook/planner of any sort, as all my notes, thoughts, todos, appointments, addresses, etc, are kept in various apps and synced between various computers/tablets/phone.  Such a shame that I don't get to use any of the pretty paper notebooks that I buy when I get carried away in the stationery department!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 23: Deodourant

I'm not planning to go au natural, and forsake deodourant for ever more.  No, it's just that the curse of Costco strikes again!  This is the third day that I have had to fess up to the overstocking of certain products, and it is all down to this wretched shop!  Something happens when I walk through the door of the huge warehouse, and I completely forget to focus on the things I actually went in for (which is usually meat and wine).  I wander around the huge aisles, heaving huge packs of stuff into my huge trolley, then haul it all through the checkouts.  It is only as I put my debit card (they don't allow payment by credit card) into the little machine and look at the huge number in front of me that I come out of my trance and realise that, once again, I have purchased a load of items that I don't need and, worse still, already have copious quantities of in store at home. 

My current deodourant stash consists of a pack of 12 large aerosol cans and a pack of 12 of the roll-on variety.  DH won't use them as they are too girly-smelling, so I have supplies for the next couple of years. 

If only I'd known about Baking Soda before I stockpiled the chemical products!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 22: Tins of chopped tomatoes

I'm not really sure why, but I have a strange habit of buying tins of chopped tomatoes in bulk.  I don't mean the packs of 6 that you can get in the supermarket, but I mean a carton of 4 packs of 6 - ie 24 tins at a time, from Costco

It's not as though I do a huge amount of cooking with tomatoes (or with anything...), and they're not the sort of thing you can just open and eat as a tasty snack(!).  They sit in a cupboard taking up far too much storage space, mocking me each time I open the cupboard door.  I don't know what happened over the past few years, but I ended up with about 48 tins of tomatoes lurking in the cupboard.  My tomato amnesia is a close rival to the bath product amnesia discussed in yesterday's post

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 21: Stuff to put in the bath

I love nice, smelly, bubbly stuff in my bath, or a luxurious oil, or crystals, or one of those "bath bombs" that explodes into the water (except when they have lots of petals and bits of junk in them).  The thing is, I only (usually) have one bath a day, and there is only a certain amount of product that you can put in one bath.

Why is it then, that every time I am in a supermarket, chemist or (worst of all), Costco, do I feel the need to buy another bath product?  I suffer from bubble bath amnesia whenever I see any of these items for sale, and I put one in my basket every time.  Costco is the worst, because they sell packs of 3 VERY large Radox bubbly.  My bathroom cupboard is full of it, and I probably need to have 5 baths a day for the next year to use up all of the contents of my cupboard. 

I CERTAINLY don't need any more bath products!

However.... I don't think I will object if Santa brings me something nice from Jo Malone...

Friday, 20 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 20: Earrings

I have got out of the habit of wearing earrings, or at least, wearing different earrings on different days.  In my days of power-dressing/shoulder pads/high heels/red lipstick/overpowering perfume, I used to wear the earrings to match - very large, dangly and shiny, I would never wear the same pair two days running.  My jewellery box was full of lots of pieces of metal, plus quite a few nice pairs of more subtle gold earrings. 

These days I really can't be doing walking around with anything resembling Christmas tree decorations dangling from my ears.  The most I usually manage is a pair of studs, or maybe some small hoops.  Once in, I usually leave them in for a couple of weeks, as I can't be bothered to take them out.  I often lose the backs, or sometimes a stud, when I am washing my hair and manage to catch one.

I won't be buying myself any more earrings.  That said, I would not be unappreciative if any little light blue boxes (you know the ones) turned up in my Christmas stocking, with a very tasteful pair in white gold...

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Things I am not going to buy - Day 19: Fleeces

There is something very comforting about a lovely, soft, fluffy fleece.  They are so comfortable to wear, and so warm and snuggly.  Perfectly suited to the British weather, they can be worn all year round, even in the summer on the frequent occasions when the sun isn't anywhere to be seen. 

I have quite a collection of fleeces in various colours - some that zip all the way up, and some that pull over the head.  I even have a couple of sleeveless versions to "layer" (probably with another fleece!). 

There is one small problem, and that is that they are not exactly... well.. stylish!  Whilst they are probably OK to wear on the "slopes" (not that I have every ventured anywhere NEAR a "slope"); it is just about acceptable to wear them when carrying out some active outdoor task, such as gardening; and it is OK to wear very expensive, branded versions from "outdoor" shops for outdoorsy pursuits such as rock climbing and extreme walking, it isn't really considered acceptable to wear non-branded versions for everyday wear.  It is probably because the cheaper versions are worn by people doing manual labour in cold places, including road sweepers and cleaners. 

I am rather taken by the latest fashion for "onesies" - now they WOULD be warm and snuggly... Perhaps Santa will bring me one?