Monday, 21 April 2014

How to stretch too tight shoes

How to stretch your shoes!

An easy way to save on clothes and accessories is to work with what you have. But what about the fabulous shoes that really pinch? If you're like me, you bought them, wore them convinced they would be fine, and spent the day wincing as at least one toe got squashed every time you put a foot down. The beautiful shoes are now worn so they can't go back to the shop. Oops. What a waste. Not very money saving and definitely not green.

So are they destined to live forever in the wardrobe until they are relocated to the charity shop? Not if you try this handy tip! I tested it on two pairs of shoes and it worked a treat.

You will need a small sandwich bag with a seal fastening or a normal sandwich bag with a separate clip that will seal the bag closed. The bag must be water tight. Best test it first so you don't get wet shoes!

Tuck the bag into the front of the shoe and push the plastic right into the toes. Carefully fill the bag with water and seal it leaving a little room for the water to expand. Place your shoe in a carrier bag and put it in the freeze for at least two hours. The water will slowly expand when it freezes and stretch out the shoe! For a full visual instruction see this Youtube clip.

 Remove your shoe and allow the water to thaw a little before removing the bag, this will make it less likely to tear and leak. For an extra stretch I put on a pair of really thick socks, popped on the shoes and wore the around the house for a bit. It's a bit of a faff but very easy and it really does work!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Tips and tricks to reduce energy use in the home

The last quarter of 2013 saw most large energy companies increase gas and electricity prices.
According to Money Saving Expert, British Gas increased electricity bills by 10.4% and gas tariffs by 8.4% for around 7.8 million customers from 23 November. Npower put up electricity and gas prices by 9.3% and 11.1% respectively from 1 December and Scottish Power raised gas tariffs by 8.5% and electricity prices by an average of 9% from 6 December for its 2.2 million customers. For more stats and the full article click here.

In March SSE promised to freeze prices until 2016 and others may follow but for many household the cost of gas and electricity is substantial and  for some it is simply unmanageable. On current tariffs a  medium fuel user will spend around £1000 a year on dual fuel.

Leaving aside the costs there are other pressing reasons to reduce fuel consumption.  Fossil fuels still make up 87% of the world's fuel use. Resources are diminishing but our usage continues to increase. The info graphic below provides some alarming stats. See the Guardian's Live Better Challenge for more information.

From the Guardian Better Living Site

Whether you choose to make change to your energy use for financial or environmental reasons it makes sense to reduce your usage.  But just how easy is it and can one family really make a difference?

At the moment we are not monitoring our energy use on a daily basis so I have no hard stats to share. I will post an update one our new energy monitor arrives!  In the meantime here are some simple tricks:

1.Try using a slow cooker. 
According to Uswitch, cooking accounts for 4% of an average user's energy bill. Slow cookers run on a much lower wattage than an electric oven and there is a smaller space to heat. If you use your slow cooker on low the cost of cooking will be substantially reduced. As an added bonus, slow cooking lets you use tougher, cheaper cuts of meat and requires very little preparation time. There is a one off cost to buy a slow cooker - they cost upwards of £12 but I've had mine for 5 years and it has more than covered its cost.

2. Better still try a WonderBag
 A Wonderbag is a slow cooker that uses no energy. Designed to help families in developing countries it locks initial heat in and uses it to cook the food. You heat your food in a pot and let it simmer for 5 mintues for veg and 15 for meat, pop the pot in the Wonderbag, seal it and leave for five hours or more. When you take your pot out you will have perfectly cooked food having used nothing more than the initial power. I was sceptical but it worked a treat - review to follow. At around £40 there is an initial cost outlay but the fuel savings and it's versatility make it worth considering. We have a small camper van with a calor gas stove and the Wonderbag means that we can use a minimal amount of gas to make tasty meals while we do more interesting things during the day. You can read more here.

3. Fill your oven
If you are using your oven consider batch cooking a couple of dishes. If the oven is on you will be heating the whole space, take advantage by cooking two casserole's instead of one or bake while you roast. If you divide up the food and freeze any extras you will save yourself cooking time in the future - you might also save some additional money by being able to dip into the freezer for food instead of reaching for the takeaway menu.  The Slow Cook Book is the best I have found for simple casserole recipes for oven or slow cooker.

4.Turn the lights off
Turn the lights on only when you need them and turn them off when you leave the room. Simple but effective.

5. Switch your thermostat down one degree. 
This shouldn't be enough to feel a difference but will make a dent on your bills and CO2 emissions. 

6. Boil just enough water.
............or save any extra hot water in a flask and use throughout the day.

7. Turn off appliances and unplug chargers
According to Ofgem the average home spends £600 just powering appliances! Switch off appliances at the wall so they are not using power on standby. Unplug chargers, they draw energy even when not in use. Pull the plug out on hairdryers and straightening irons............I am very bad for forgetting to do this. To find out what your appliances use check out this article from Carbon Footprint Limited

8. Step away from the tumble dryer
Which data suggests that an A rated tumble dryer costs on average £43 a year to run with a C rated one costing over £100. This is based on around 148 uses a year. Line dry your clothes or use an airer and cut out this cost altogether. 

9. Wash on 30 degrees
According to the Energy Saving Trust  washing at 30 uses around 40% less energy than a higher setting - saving you around £13 a year. As a bonus the lower temperature is kinder to your clothes so they should last longer. 

10. Have quicker showers
Cutting your shower to four minutes could: -

  • give you an extra day and a half of free time every year
  • save more than 13,000 litres of water a year - the equivalent of 162 bath fulls
  • save energy and reduce CO2 emissions
 I hope this has been useful! Happy energy saving.  I'd love to hear your energy saving tips!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Buy no new clothes in 2014!

I can easily kid myself on that I don't buy or spend alot. But at the moment it's not really true. Working in an industrial estate used to be a great way to curb spending - the shops were miles away so temptation was completely out of reach.

Then came Internet shopping........................

My not very organised and not very minimal wardrobe. The left side is my husband's, I don't have a shirt fetish!

It's quick, it's convenient and the selection is huge. But the real draw back is that for me it doesn't really feel like spending money when you buy on the Internet. It is just too easy to type in your card details. There is no physical exchange of goods so it doesn't feel like buying - there is no memory attached to the experience. And probably most importantly the fact that you can buy with one click as soon as the thought comes into your head means that there is no time delay to ask yourself - do I really want or need this.

I already buy alot of my clothes in charity shops. This isn't a choice based on cost. For me it is more about trying to reduce waste and live sustainably. But thanks to a slight Internet shopping addiction more things have been creeping quietly into my wardrobe. More stuff means more time to look after stuff. Washing, folding and putting away. Wondering if there is enough cupboard space. Not putting things away and getting frustrated because the house is untidy. Sound familiar?

So my challenge for the rest of 2014 is not to buy any new clothes, shoes, bags, cosmetics or toiletries other than the essentials - toothpaste etc.

The rules: -

  • Buy no new clothing items  for myself, except underwear.
  • Gifts, hand me downs, swaps and charity shopping is allowed.
  • Tailoring, mending and cleaning existing clothes is allowed and in the spirit of the challenge.
  • No new makeup, skin care, shampoos etc. These are some of my worst impulse buys! Basics like toothpaste and suncream are allowed. 

    Want to join? I would love to hear from you if you are interested in joining the challenge or have done a similar challenge in the past. 

    If you are thinking about joining the challenge check out these resources for inspiration:


Friday, 11 April 2014

Shopping locally - is it more expensive?

I hate the thought of small independent shops going out of business because massive retailers have taken over. Community has a value and the local shop is often at the heart of that. It's heartbreaking to see so many empty shops in towns because of the fierce competition from out of town retail parks.  However, supermarkets have their appeal, parking is easy, the selection is huge and their price comparison promises should make them cheaper. Many people are put off their local shops for fear that they are more expensive but is this really true? Today's test was to try out the theory.

Image from CTMiller

I was really disappointed to find that yes my shopping at my local independent store was more expensive than it would have been at a large supermarket. But not by as much as you might imagine.

Over 21 items the difference was just £2.40. The difference is exaggerated because I bought steak as a special treat - a nice meal in instead of a night out with my husband.  The difference in cost was huge but I suspect there is a similar difference in quality and my steak is as local as it gets. The full comparison is set out below.

So are there any other factors which are worth considering when choosing whether to shop local?

I think there are a few - and it is difficult to put a price on them.
  1. The cost comparison doesn't take into account the huge marketing machine that swings into action when you go into a big supermarket. Unless you are very disciplined and shop with a list there is a big temptation to pick up additional items and these quickly mount up in cost. This could be a big advantage if you are shopping with children!
  2. Big stores are often further out of town. If you take the fuel cost per mile at the expenses rate of 60p then my local shop saved me £2.40 which strangely is the amount by which my shop would have been cheaper in the supermarket!
  3. It's a nicer experience. This is one that you just can't put a price on. My local shop is smaller and less rushed than a supermarket but still big enough to get a trolley around easily and it has a car park. It has a proper butcher counter with good quality local meat. It has cheaper cuts of meat that supermarkets don't sell and the fruit and veg looks like it came out of the ground and not a 3d printer.They also have a far better selection of real food like pulses than my supermarket.
  4. There is generally a better selection of items with less packaging.
  5. The food is locally grown and supports the local economy.
  6. On the down side there is less choice. In a supermarket it is very easy to shop to your budget by choosing premium or value ranges. My local store doesn't have the same breadth of price choice. My comparison is for broadly similar products but if I looked at the value range the shop would be considerably cheaper again.  
  7. Opening hours: the opening hours of smaller stores can be restrictive. Mine is open am to 7pm Monday to Saturday. The large supermarket is open 24 / 7.
I'd love to hear your thougths and experiences on shopping local.

Other resources on shopping local that you might find useful:


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Simple changes - Coconut Oil as a facial moisuriser?

I made the switch to natural cleaners for my house a few years ago - a nasty allergy made this one an easy change to make - but I was a bit suspicious of substituting beauty products with foodstuffs until now.

This switch was born out of being disorganised, I ran out of my usual moisturiser,  and trying to economise a bit now that I am self employed.

Ease of switch: very easy! 

I already had a jar of coconut oil but if you don't it is now available in most large supermarkets. Using a spoon that had been dipped in hot water I scooped out a chunk of cocunut oil (it is solid at room temperature) and put in in a sealable tub. To use, just scape out a small amount, soften in your hands and apply to your face like a normal moisturiser. It feels a little greasy at first but very quickly sinks in.

Success of switch: Great success.

I've been using coconut oil as a facial moisuriser for two weeks now and have found it just as effective as a normal moisuriser.  My skin is quite sensitive and I've had no adverse reaction.

Cost / Cost Saving: Saving £53.37 (on 283ml of product)

I bought Groovy Food Company Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. It is available at Tesco for £6 for 283ml (£2.13 per 100ml). I usually buy Boots Time Delay Day and Night Cream at £10.49 each for 50ml (£20.98 per 100ml!!). That saved me a massive £53.37 if  I use the whole tub as moisturiser and that's before you take into account the other things I seem to pick up when I am in somewhere like Boots just because they are in front of me! You also only need a tiny amount of oil so I suspect the saving will be increased over time becuase the product simply lasts longer.

Other benefits:

The obvious benefit is that the product is completely natural so if you are trying to cut out chemicals from your life this is a great easy switch.

Another unexpected bonus is that coconut oil has many other uses  - this makes it a brilliant product to travel with. Just fill a small container and you have facial moisturiser, hand and body moisturiser, eye make up remover, lipsalve and deodorant!

Eye make up remover: a small amount warmed to soften it then dabbed onto a cotton ball or cloth makes a really effective eye make up remover. I forgot mine and the cocunut oil removed all trace of thick eyeliner from my eyes with no stinging.

Hand and body moisturiser: Smells lovely and is very effective

Natural deodorant:  I didn't really believe this one but I did try it and was pleasantly surprised! Warm a small amount in your hands and rub it into your armpits. It left no marks on my clothes and I still felt and smelt fresh at the end of the day.  I haven't tested it out at the gym or a run yet and think I'll stick with a normal anti perspirant for that for the moment.

Is it worth trying? I'd say definitely. 


Simple changes big rewards

In April 2014 I finally left my all consuming job as a corporate lawyer to concentrate on the things that are important to me and try to simplify my life a little. Enjoying more of this................

And less of this..............

Photo from Under30CEO

I am an avid reader of books and blogs on simple, frugal and green living but for the most part I managed to avoid making singificant changes because I convinced myself that it was just too hard or too time consuming with a job that was crazy busy. This blog is a bit of an experiment on simple living and how achievable it is when you have a job, a family and other committments and you aren't able or just don't want to sell up and move to a homestead.

What I'm discovering is that there are lots of really simple changes which you can make without spending alot of time or money.  Actually,  I'm finding that these changes are saving me both time and money!

In the Simple Changes Series I hope to share some of these changes and give you very clear details on the time they take, the costs, savings and results. I hope this these tips help you simplify your life and create the time to do what matters to you.