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2018 Goals - February

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Did January seem to stretch on endlessly? Judging by my Twitter dashboard and I'm going to say that answer is - yes! But we're now in to February and in the back garden the crocuses are starting to come up. It's still very cold but now we know that spring is on it's way.

Because it's February I can now review my goals from January and tell you all about my aims for the new month! I was actually quite impressed with everything I managed to tick off last month, only one thing needs to be carried forward!

So my results for January were;

Health
- Drink 2 litres of water a day < Not quite there yet but I'm definitely getting a lot better at drinking more.
- Reduce biscuit eating to twice a week < Was doing really well on this and then fallen off the wagon this week, but again I'm improving.
- Take a vitamin c every day. < This is the bit I have real problems remembering, even though I keep the bottle on my bedside table 

Other
- Open an ISA (future house move funds). < Opened and first payment made!
- Open an easy access savings account for car and holiday savings, and a fixed rate savings account as a future maternity fund. < Did both of these! The rear tyre replacement meant that I didn't pay anything in to the car fund this month, but I did make a holiday saving payment, and paid £150 in to the maternity fund. I also opened another easy access account for an emergency pot and shoved £1000 in there so it's out the way.
- Print off wedding photos for a frame we got as a wedding gift, and hang it up. < This is the one thing I didn't do, DH needs to pick a photo of me as part of it, and I need to decide what other family ones to print off. It's on the list for February.
- Sort out all the filing for bill paperwork. < Done, although when sorting through some papers the other I found another few bills so I need to file those.
- Buy a blind for the living room. < Did this right at the end of the month, Blinds2Go had 5% off on the one we wanted so we saved a few pennies. It should look really nice when it arrives!

Phew, what a list! As you can see the only thing that didn't get completed was the wedding photos. I'm especially excited about the blind as our living room is south facing. It gets lovely and warm but the sun really gets in my eyes when I'm on the sofa. I've been planning on buying a blind for months so getting it done at last is a big relief!

And I'm now all nicely set up for February;

Health
- Reduce portion sizes for dinner
- Only eat crisps at work < Going to really struggle with this DX
- Exercise video once a week < Going to struggle with this too
- Take a vitamin c and d every day

Other
- Print off wedding photos for frame and hang it up
- Sort & photograph wedding china < Can then start selling some of it!
- Sort out all the used stamps and send them to a place that buys them < Going to donate the money to my favourite charity, the MND Association
- Buy a tumble dryer
- Comment on one blog post a day
- Update car log book with married name and address

I think that's all quite enough to be getting on with for the time being, what are your aims for February?

2018 Goals - January

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Happy 2018 everyone! 

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and are enjoying the New Year. Last year I didn't come up with any particular targets in my life. I'd just bought a house and was due to get married so that seemed like enough to be getting on with at the time!

But this year me and my husband are now settled in at our house and we don't have any big life events planned for 2018. So this seemed like the ideal time to come up with some things to do throughout the year. Health, finances and the house are the key areas that I've planning on working on.

My overall aims for 2018 are;
- Lose a stone in weight.
- Generally improve my health overall.
- Overpay £1000.
- Get my savings back under control.
- Improve the house by decorating/completing rooms/tidying it up all the little bits that get forgotten about.
- Find a new job with a shorter commute.

I've split some of these down in to smaller targets month to month. I think a lot of the problems people have with resolutions is that they try to make lots of big changes all at once. The health ones for example are going to be a series of small changes to make all year round that will hopefully help me lose weight, and improve my health.

After working out my plans for the next couple of months, I've now set myself some specific goals for January and that should put me in the right frame of mind for the rest of the year;

Health
- Drink 2 litres of water a day (I've downloaded an app called Plant Nanny, which you use to track how much you've drunk and grows a little digital plant for you XD).
- Reduce biscuit eating to twice a week (this has really become a problem at work as we're constantly buying biscuits for the office).
- Take a vitamin c every day (DH does this already).

Other
- Open an ISA (future house move funds).
- Open an easy access savings account for car and holiday savings, and a fixed rate savings account as a future maternity fund.
- Print off wedding photos for a frame we got as a wedding gift, and hang it up.
- Sort out all the filing for bill paperwork.
- Buy a blind for the living room.

Half the time I delay things because getting them set up is a nuisance. If I sort out specific areas now then it should be easier to continue with them in the future.

Have you come up with some goals for your 2018?

Charity shop haul - October 2017

Sunday, 19 November 2017

October ended up being a bumper month for my charity shop purchases. I've made it a little easier on myself to remember what I bought, but leaving my new books on a specific shelf in the living room until the time comes to write this post! My biggest problem was remembering what books I'd bought, since they tend to be the most common purchase. Having a shelf spot has definitely helped, but it does mean they remain disorganised for a few weeks.

This month I managed to secure a triple hit, with clothes, books and a DVD all purchased from charity shops in October!

Clothes

I'm super pleased about my October clothing hunt, as I managed to get two lovely tops. The first is a Seasalt one in green and cream hoops, with lovely long sleeves. Seasalt clothing is lovely quality, with good thick cotton that keeps you nice and toasty. This was only £5, not quite as cheap as my last Seasalt charity buy, but still a good bargain.


The second top was a Gap one in navy blue, again with long sleeves. It was only £3 and fits perfectly, so it's quickly becoming my new favourite top. The problem I have now is that I can replace some of my older, worn out shirts that are starting to develop holes. However I still love them so parting from them is proving difficult. I need to have a bit of a clear out anyway, so one Saturday I'll just have to go through the wardrobe and be ruthless!

Books

It was also a good month for books. The first one I picked up was a Dorling Kindersley publication on preserving food, mainly jams and pickles. I've never made jam in my life before, but at some point I'll want to give it a try. At only £3 for this lovely thick book I feel happy knowing I can have a guide sitting on my shelf, for when I'm ready to give it a go.


I also purchased another women in history book - Alison Weir's biography on Isabella of France. Isabella was Queen of England as the wife of King Edward II, and led the rebellion against him and Hugh Le Despenser. I really like Alison Weir's work, I also have her books on Elizabeth of York, Katherine Swynford, and Margaret Douglas, and this is proving to be a really good read. I've been struggling through my non-fiction books a bit recently, but I'm getting through this one with no problems.

DVDs

Finally my other top bargain for October was getting hold of the new Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond. We'd only just watched it the week before after I borrowed the DVD from my work library, so imagine my surprise when I found a copy for sale in the charity shop's bargain box for a mere fifty pence! This charity shop has a DVD shelf hidden towards the back of the shop, right in front of the door to the staff area. There's no where particularly prominent that they can put them, but it does mean they have to have regular clear outs and put lots of stuff in a box at the front. I'm really pleased with getting it so cheaply, I enjoyed the film but preferred Into Darkness, so getting it cheaply was really good.

A reverse advent calendar

Sunday, 5 November 2017

After taking a break from this blog in October I'm now raring to go again! So since my Christmas shoebox post was so well received I thought I would highlight another little charity thing I've received to do this winter - a reverse advent calendar.

"A what?" I hear you ask yourselves. This amazing post from Sara Williams at Moneywise explains it all very well! Basically every day you buy one item of food for a food bank, collect it all in a box, and at the end of the 25 days of Advent you take the box to your local food bank as a donation.

Like many other people I'm planning on doing mine for the next twenty five days (starting yesterday on 4 November), as it means the food bank will have time to get the food out to people. However if you don't think you can manage to arrange it that quickly then don't panic! The food you need to get should have a long shelf life. If you decide to start it on 1 December then you can always donate the box in the first week of January. Donations tend to drop in the New Year as people tighten their financial belts after all the Christmas spending, but they're also the point when the numbers that need a hand increase. A box of supplies will be just as welcome in January as it is in December.
Using one of our old moving boxes to store things!

You might be trying to rattle your brain and think about what specifics you should give to a food bank. First of all you should Google for your local food bank, many are set up or assisted by the Trussell Trust so they're a good place to start. They'll list specific days and times when they're open for donations. Each food bank will have an "urgent needs" list, things that they are running very short on. They'll also have a list of suggested donations. They need to make up enough food to feed people for several days, and it needs to be long-life. Dry goods like teabags, pasta and tinned items, plus things like jam, long life milk (may not have a fridge for fresh milk), and a treat such as a packet of biscuits. Many food banks will also have a box of toiletries for people who may be in need of shampoo and deodorant. The phrase "period poverty" has become quite well known in recent months, so donating a pack of sanitary towels or a box of tampons can be a real help.

Now you're looking at the list on your local food bank's website and wondering how much this will all cost. It sounds really expensive, after all prices are going up everywhere. It's going to be £50 at least, right? But I did a little run around Tesco with a pen and notepad the other day and managed to get to grips with the bulk of the prices. Everything on the list below comes to a total of £31.67. BUT - you don't need to get everything on the list. I found Heinz soup on an offer of 5 tins for £3, and individual pots of porridge at 5 for £4. So that would be 10 items right there. I also picked some large sizes (the pasta sauce for example was a large jar) but you can choose smaller ones. Food banks help families, couples and individuals, so there's always someone who could need what you buy.

So here's a list of 25 things (and their cost) you can buy for a reverse advent calendar;

1. Small pack of rice - £1.00
2. Potatoes (tinned) - £0.60
3. Carrots (tinned) - £0.30
4. Long life milk - £0.55
5. Fruit squash - £1.20
6. Cereal - £1.50
7. Porridge - £0.90 for a small pot (my Tesco has a 5 for £4 offer)
8. Tea bags - £1.30
9. Coffee - £2.00
10. Jam - £0.75
11. Marmalade - 60p
12. Meat (tinned) - £2.50 (you can get tinned curry and bolognese as well as stewing beef etc)
13. Tuna (tinned) - £1.50
14. Pie (tinned) - £2.70-ish (there were quite a few types)
15. Soup - £0.95 (also has a 5 for £3 offer for Heinz soups)
16. Pasta - £1.00
17. Pasta sauce - £2.00 (big jar)
18. Tinned beans - £1.00 (three pack of Branstons from Iceland)
19. Heinz ravioli - £1.07
20. Heinz beans with sausages - £1.05
21. Pudding (tinned) - £1.70
22. Biscuit snack pack - £1.00
23. Shampoo - £1.00 (Wilko)
24. Toothpaste - £1.00
25. Towels/tampons - £2.50 (depends on the pack you buy, I think this was the larger pack of Always towels)

I should also qualify that some of the stuff is Tesco brand (jam, potatoes and carrots for example) and some is branded (teabags, porridge, biscuits), so you may find better prices in Sainsburys, Asda or Morrisons.

I already have mine started. On Saturday I popped in to Wilko for some cleaning supplies, and got a bottle of Alberto Balsam shampoo for £1, and then in Iceland I found a pack of 3 tins of Branston's baked beans for £1. So that's Saturday and Sunday sorted out. I'm trying to use multipack offers to bump up the numbers of things in my box, and buy one type of item each day. But as I said above, you can take advantage of such offers to help you reach your 25 goal if that's what works for you!

Thank you to everyone who Tweeted about the Moneywise article, I hope you all enjoy your reverse advent calendars!

Mortgage Overpayment - August and September 2017

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Anyone with an eagle eye would have spotted that I missed my regular post on my mortgage overpayment for August. That was because August became a very expensive month after I needed to get some work on my car, so my overpaying was on the small side. So small in fact that the blog post would have been about 100 words XD

I decided to combine it in with September, which had fewer emergency expenses and therefore let me sweep up some extra pennies when I reviewed my accounts. I also had a bigger expenses claim in September, which helped bump up the payment.

So without further ado - in August I managed to overpay £45.41, which was a lot less than my target of £60 a month :( As I mentioned my car needed some work, and I was loathed to move too much money out of my savings to cover it as I'm trying my best to keep money in my savings account than constantly move more out of it.

But on the plus side in September I overpaid £70.96! I ended up with a £25 expenses claim due to a bunch of things we needed for the office at work, and I was so careful with my money during the month that I was able to do a large sweep at the end of September which added an extra £12 on to my payment.

I haven't been very good about listing things on eBay and Facebook selling pages the past two months as work has been getting very busy. I'm hoping I'll be able to find some time in October and November to get back to listing things and go for some bigger payments towards the end of the year!

Christmas shoeboxes

Sunday, 24 September 2017

I hope you can forgive the Christmas-themed post. It's less than 100 days away, which to some people means hitting all the panic buttons and freaking out about whether there's enough chairs in the house to have everyone round on Christmas day. But for me I have to think about Christmas things a bit early as I make Christmas shoeboxes for a charity called Link to Hope, and they ask for the shoeboxes to arrive at their warehouse by early November!

I first came across Link to Hope a few years ago. I wanted to do a charity shoebox but didn't want to go through the Operation Christmas Child programme, due to some of the more problematic things I've read about them (I won't go in to it here, but if Google it then you'll find plenty of other websites discussing it). I found someone else on a forum asking the same question, and Link to Hope was mentioned in the replies. They state on their website that they will give a shoebox to anyone, regardless of religion, belief or creed, and they do not hand out any literature with their shoeboxes. They do use churches as community spaces in some areas, but they also use schools, village halls and any other large building that can accommodate the people that arrive to collect a box.

This year is especially exciting for me as I've finally been able to volunteer as an Area Collector! These are people who act as a drop off point for shoeboxes in their local area, and I haven't seen one this far out in Essex before! I've already had one person phone me to check I'm happy to accept them, and I'm hoping more will want to join in as we get closer to the November deadline!
Just need some winter woolies

What do you include in a shoebox?
Link to Hope, who I do shoeboxes for, have two types - family and elderly. Nothing is divided by age or gender, so you can't pick "nine year old girl" or "two year old boy", but it does mean that you can fit a big variety of things in. The people that receive the shoeboxes are from areas that have few work opportunities, and winter is a struggle between earning enough money for food and get some heating, so simple things like toiletries and school supplies become a luxury rather than a need.

There's basics that you put in every shoebox; toiletries such as shampoo, soap and showergel, sweets and chocolate, plasters, tissues, and winter woolies including hats and gloves and warm socks. Then you have extra items depending on which group your box is going to. Additions to family shoeboxes include school supplies such as a notebook, pens, pencils and rulers, a small cuddly toy, and some little toys or games. For elderly ones you can include a nice mug, a cloth shopping bag, reading glasses, and a small pack of dominoes or some playing cards.

Can you include freebie items you've got?
As long as they're unopened (in the case of toiletries) then of course you can collect freebies throughout the year to include in your shoeboxes! I recently got a free tote bag from TK Maxx for signing up with their "Treasures" programme, I already have more tote bags than you can shake a stick at, so I've folded this one up for one of my elderly boxes.

Next year I'm planning on keeping a better eye out for things I can collect for free that will go in the shoeboxes. Having a few extra little things to include is nice, but only as long as they're useful and in good condition. Don't just chuck in a load of sample facemasks that you don't want to use. But if you travel frequently and pick up the little packets of wrapped soaps in hotels then you can include those. If you have a subscription box for things like stationery that you know will just sit in a drawer for years, then you can build up a nice little collection of pencils and notepads that can be added to bulk out empty space.

My best buys
Since I try to collect things throughout the year I generally manage to put my shoeboxes together a bit cheaper than buying everything in one go in October. I also like to bulk buy things that I can then split across several years of shoeboxes, I recently bought 15 small bouncy balls off a party supply shop on eBay. These normally go in giftbags for kids parties, but I've put two each in my family shoeboxes and that still leaves me with 11 to be split across the next few years!

I managed to buy two really nice tin pencil cases for £1.50 each from The Works, along with colouring pencils from Tiger for £1 a pack, and I got some lovely Crayola felt tip pens from Wilko for £2 during their "Back to School" sales. I picked up two mugs from Waitrose at £1.50 each when they were having a sale, one for each elderly shoebox. They're a lovely bright blue and really thick, my husband used to have one (that was eventually dropped on the kitchen floor) that survived several house moves so they're really good quality.

Things you can't send
Obviously there are also things that, for customs and safety purposes, can't be included in shoeboxes. Medicines is the obvious one, no cough syrup or paracetemol or anything like that (but first aid items such as plasters are very useful and can be included). You also can't send any seeds, which is a real shame as it would be helpful to give people help in growing their own food where possible. You also can't include any books or literature, so no children's books or guide books or pamphlets.

If you want to create your own shoebox for the charity then you can find more information on their website, and a list of Area Collectors can be found here!

100 days of DuoLingo

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Back in June I wrote a blog post about my aims for the next six months of 2017. At the time I had just started using DuoLingo to learn Italian, and was slowly starting to get to grips with going back to a language I've repeatedly tried and failed to learn over the years.

One of the great things about DuoLingo is that is tracks how long you've been learning for. You get quite competitive with yourself, and as I write this it's telling me that I've been learning for 115 days! This isn't entirely true, as you can use "Lingots" earned from reaching milestones to hold over a day or two if you don't have the time or energy to do your daily task. However I haven't definitely not used enough Lingots to cover 15 days, so I've certainly broken the 100 days mark of learning Italian!

How to use easy is DuoLingo?
All you really need for DuoLingo is a computer/laptop/tablet and the ability to turn on sound, that's it! There is an option to use a microphone but as I don't have one I've switched it off. You can use your settings to do things like set your daily goal, ranging from "basic" at learning enough for 1 xp a day (which equates to just one translation or listening exercise), up to "Insane" at 50 xp a day. I started off with 20 xp a day, which was two lots of 20 exercises a day. But in the end I was finding that it was difficult to get the enthusiasm to do that much, especially if my journey home proved difficult, so I've now set it to 10 xp a day. This is one session of 20 exercises, a mixture of listening and writing in Italian, translating sentences from English in to Italian, and occasionally picking the right answer (or answers) out of a list. Oh, and it's completely free to use, although you can use it to buy things like flashcards that will help you learn offline.

Personally I'm finding it very easy to use, especially now that I have it set in a way that makes it easy to get it done and dusted in the evenings. I think it really helps that I studied Latin at GCSE and AS Level and then again at university, and did a lot of French in school too. Unlike English, Italian grammar is very gender-based, and the endings of words change depending on the context of the sentence. For example "I eat" is "mangio", while "we eat" is "mangiamo". If you're not used to this kind of grammar style then it can be difficult to wrap your head around it, and even though I know how it works I still struggled at certain points, and at one point came close to giving up entirely.

A breakthrough
My biggest problem came when I was trying to learn possession words (yours, mine, theirs etc). As I mentioned above, Italian grammar is similar to Latin in that the endings of nouns and verbs change depending on a host of different things. For a while I was really struggling to get my head around possessives, as I assumed they were static. Instead, I eventually realised that they follow the ending of the noun that is being possessed. So for example "i mie mele" is my apples, but "il mio cappotto" means "my coat", you can see that the word "my" is "mie" to go with "mele", and "mio" to go with cappotto, as one is plural and the other is singular.

Once I realised that then I found it a lot easier to progress. I am still going back frequently and testing myself on old things, but I spent weeks grappling with possessives, whereas now I'm trying new levels and only working on them for a week before I move on to the next stage.

Is there an app?
There is indeed an app for DuoLingo, but for the time being I haven't installed it. I'm quite enjoying using it on my laptop as I can jut sit in bed and concentrate on what I'm doing. Although using the app would no doubt help if I wanted to work on it while waiting for the bus, for example, I'd be spending too much time looking up the road to really focus on what I'm learning.

Next steps
Overall I'm really happy with my progress, although I seriously doubt DuoLingo's claim that I'm now 20% fluent in Italian! My next biggest step will be remembering all my vocabulary, as after grammar problems it's always learning a huge range of new words that's a problem for me. Once I've hit the 200 mark I think I'll start leaving little labels around the house to help me remember the Italian translation of various words, or I might draw up a little "10 words a week" list that I can sellotape to my work PC and glance it to help me remember.

I'll do a second review when I hit 200 days (if I manage to keep my streak going that long without interruption). Maybe I'll have come across another grammar problem, or maybe I'll be genuinely fluent in Italian! I'd eventually like to use it to learn Dutch as one of my best friends lives in the Netherlands, but I really do need to make more progress in Italian first.
 
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