07
Nov 13

The Hoff, The Fonz and beating the ticket scammers!

My kids have started putting in their requests for which shows they want to see this Christmas.  Minnie (aged 7) LOVES her annual trip to the ballet and the rest of the kids ALWAYS enjoy a panto. Having a look through the list of pantos this year, I am always amazed at the celebs who are taking part.  Captain Hook in Nottingham this year is played by David Hasselhoff and Hook in Richmond is being played by none other than The Fonz, Henry Winkler.  It is silly and SO much fun!

Hoff

I usually head online and start trawling the internet to find the best tickets at the best prices.  I have always been lucky and managed to get some real bargains but according to ticket site viagogo, I am one of the fortunate ones.  They say that a massive 4.7 million of us have been the victim of a ticket scam and a staggering £50 million was lost to ticket fraud between March 2012 and March 2013! Ouch!

According to their data, the most scammed events last year were big music concerts like Coldplay and One Direction and this Christmas popular shows like Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, the hilarious Book of Mormon (trust me, it is BRILLIANT but truly offensive!) and Snow White and Aladdin are already potential targets for scammers.

You are usually at biggest risk when trying to get tickets to a sold out show.  Your first port of call should be the venue to see if they have had any returns. If not, then gumtree and eBay usually have lots of tickets listed but beware of fakes and use common sense – never arrange to meet someone to exchange cash on your own.

One Direction

It is so important to exercise caution when using a search engine too. Just because a site comes out on top for a search for ‘One Direction tour tickets’ (not for me, honest!), it doesn’t guarantee that the company is legitimate or that you’ll get your much longed for seat in the arena! Check out every company by looking for feedback online or any complaints that people have made, especially in the press.

Finally, only buy tickets from websites that offer a guarantee. On sites such as viagogo, the seller does not get paid until the buyer has attended the event. If there is any problem with the tickets, it is the seller who will have to pay the price of a replacement or refund. Great system!

I have actually been really organised this year and already have my tickets to The Nutcracker. If you want to find out how to be first in line for the best shows in town, read my article on how to bag cheap tickets


31
Oct 13

A Royal Christening on a family budget

Prince George Christening 1

Watching the coverage of Prince George’s Christening last week I was struck by how understated and personal it was.  Prepared to be horrified when I tell you that 10% of parents spend an eye watering £10,000 on their baby’s Christening!  Insane!  However, you CAN have a really lovely party and celebrate your baby’s naming day without spending their inheritance!

  1. Baby’s gown – if you have a family Christening gown or special outfit, then use it!  It is GREAT to have something traditional and even if you aren’t keen on the style or think it is old-fashioned, it beats buying something new!  My friend’s husband was horrified about putting their son into ‘a dress’ but as soon as he remembered it was FREE, he was much happier!
  2. You don’t have to have an extensive guest list!  William and Kate only had 22 people (Godparents and immediate family).  Remember, this isn’t an extension of your wedding and you don’t have to invite loads of guests.
  3. Keep the party informal – check out the best deals on booze on mySupermarket or use discount vouchers and maybe even ask your guests to bring a dish to share together.
  4. Christening cakes, like wedding cakes, can cost a fortune, but you could buy a plain celebration cake and then buy cute cake toppers from Amazon or eBay and cut the cost in HALF!
  5. Although Prince George had a celebrity photographer, simple snaps on a good Smartphone can be just as good these days and you can get them printed out easily from PrinterPix and Photobox

Prince George Christening 2

For LOADS more ideas for creating a fabulous naming day on a budget, read my 1 minute guide to Christenings on a budget


18
Oct 13

A boot camp to save you THOUSANDS!

I have just cancelled my gym membership and will NEVER spend money on faddy diet foods again! Sounds extreme (and exciting!).   I have just had a pretty extreme experience at Prestige Boot Camps where I spent five days (normally 7) being put through my paces by the BEST trainers and eating only what I was given by a top class and nutritionist.

suffolk bootcamp

As a nation we waste £37 million a year on unused gym membership fees and unnecessary equipment that sits gathering dust in our lofts.   The average woman in the UK spends over £25,000 in a lifetime on faddy diets – that’s £485 a year!

After my week at bootcamp I will NEVER need to waste my money on that again.

It was TOUGH! But simply one of the most brilliant (and at times… most awful…) things I’ve ever done.   You detox and by day 3 you FEEL it – the caffeine, the booze, the refined sugar all leaving your system and the headaches kick in.  24 hours later, despite my aching muscles, I woke up with more energy than I have had in years and felt like a new person – by 6.30am I was DESPERATE for exercise (WHAT!).  After 4 kids in 4 and a half years… I had abs for the 1st time in years and my stomach looked like it did pre–children.  I nearly cried!

I spent the days doing hardcore exercise and the evenings reading, relaxing and sleeping.    One day I did half an hour ‘warm up’ and half an hour of squats, circuits and a 20 mile hike followed by an hour and a half boxing and circuits – that was the easiest day.  There was more boxing, assault courses, ‘buns of steel’ and cycling, a lot of running – sometimes on the beach, sometimes at the house – and LOADS more – no hour was the same.   We were kept suitably refreshed by the delicious food and snacks cooked by the excellent chef – the portions are SMALL but you soon learn that they are adequate.  I fantasised about whole roast chickens during my entire stay.  You live off 1200 calories a day (if you want to lose weight that is… the hard core athletes who go to this bootcamp eat A LOT more).  When you consider you’re burning 1000s of calories a day I must be honest and confess that there were moments when I found myself STARVING and took to foraging for berries… somehow foraging didn’t seem like cheating! Blackberries from the side of the road have NEVER tasted SO wonderful.

Boxing

It’s suitable for ANY level of fitness, the trainers are genius and will push you to the point where YOU think you have nothing left (regardless of your fitness level) but they always find more.   When you hit a low they pull something fun out of the bag and you forget the ‘pain’ and you keep going.  I met a wonderful group of men and women of all different shapes and sizes, some who’d never exercised and some really fit.  They inspired me and encouraged me through my detox and made me want to work hard in the team games.   Most were there to lose weight and to kick start a healthy lifestyle – I literally watched weight fall off them and by day 5 everyone was glowing, thinner and had LOADS more energy than they did when they arrived.  It’s proper life changing stuff.

It is pretty pricey with a week costing just short of £1,000 but as an expert in money saving, I can truthfully say it was worth every penny.  I lost 9.2lb and 10 inches and came back feeling fabulous – some people lost a stone, others 6 pounds but everyone loses inches and inches from ALL over – arms, legs, hips, stomach. My skin was glowing, my eyes were bright and I felt pretty invincible and full of talk of doing an iron man!!  3 weeks later I’ve not put the weight back on and I’ve continued to exercise 4 times a week.

You leave armed with knowledge on food and a pile of delicious recipes.  You have enough information to be able to never join a gym or even go to a class every again.  You understand that interval training is better than slow running, that your body weight is enough to transform your body and leave you feeling fit and strong and that only 10 minutes of GOOD exercise most days (and you learn what GOOD exercise is!) can change your life.  All about quality.  I have enough circuits using my body weight only to last me forever.

One boot camp has changed my whole way of thinking and I am able to now motivate myself to get out and exercise for free and eat delicious nutritious meals that don’t cost the earth. I reckon I will recoup the cost of the boot camp within less than a year and after that I will be SAVING about £1,000 A YEAR because of my change in attitude.  Money well spent!  If you want a quick fix and something to kick start a better way of living, then this is for you.  For more ideas you can read my guide on fitness for less 


03
Oct 13

Stoptober savings when you quit smoking

October marks the start of Stoptober when the NHS has a big campaign to help stop people smoking.  Today, a fifth of all Britons smoke.  This is DESPITE the health warnings plastered all over fag packets and the common knowledge that smoking is an EXPENSIVE habit to have.  It causes cancer, lung disease and heart disease and reduces fertility considerably, yet millions of people all over the UK continue to smoke. I am lucky that smoking has never really appealed to me, which means I am in the fortunate position of not understanding how truly hard it is to give up. However, I have LOADS of friends who are struggling to stop and who just can’t find that extra bit of willpower. When I chat to them though, I have found the one thing that does make them sit up and listen is when I talk them through in detail the HUGE pressure it is putting on their wallets!

stopping-smoking-large

  • A 20 a day smoker will spend around £50,000 feeding their habit over the next 20 years!  That is enough for a brand new sports car!
  • If that smoker INVESTED the money into a simple low-risk cash ISA, that 50K would have become £70,000 after 20 years!  BIG MONEY indeed!
  • On top of that, friends who pay into life insurance policies or pay monthly for mortgage protection are actually DOUBLING their premiums by continuing to smoke.
  • Even a casual’ packet a weekend’ type of smoker could quit and SAVE enough after a year to treat their other half to dinner and a stay in a top hotel.  That’s got to be worth considering surely?!
  • It costs OVER £100 a month to smoke 10 fags a day.  This money could go into an ISA and EARN OVER £4,000 in just 3 years!

It is definitely food for thought.

Calculating the cost of smoking

There are LOADS of things out there to help you stop smoking like nicotine replacement therapy (patches and gum), workshops (Allen Carr is GREAT and you can even pay using Tesco Clubcard points) and through willpower and support from the Stoptober campaign. LOADS of celebs have been tweeting about joining Stoptober so if you are giving up, you are not alone!  Good luck to anyone quitting – AND REMEMBER, YOU CAN DO IT!!


18
Sep 13

Is the Bank of Mum and Dad a thing of the past?

Financial company AXA released their Big Money Index last week revealing that parents are worried they won’t be able to provide for their children’s future.  I was really sad to read that more than four in ten people would feel like they’d let their children down if they couldn’t help them out financially. We are putting SO much pressure on ourselves.

As a mother to four young children, I too am thinking about the ways that I hope to be able to help them out as they get older.  University, cars, houses…….the list is endless.  As a young adult, my parents helped me out and I have always wanted to be in a position to do the same for the next generation.

Piggy Bank for College

However, this isn’t the eighties anymore and people just don’t have as much cash in their pockets.  I think the Bank of Mum and Dad is sadly going to become more of a luxury and less of a foregone conclusion unless people can find a way to increase their savings.

I know it sounds SO BORING but when it comes to planning for the future, you really are never too young to start saving. The earlier you start, the longer your money has got to grow.  If you start saving at age 40, you would need to put aside £290 a month to get a pension of £10,000 at age 68. However, if you started at 30, you’d only need to save £149 a month to get the same figure.

But PLEASE don’t despair, I am ending on a high!! There are LOADS of ways to save like ISAs, savings accounts, premium bonds and even peer-to-peer lending where you lend out your money and get it back with interest much higher than most savings accounts (trust me, it is pretty good!). If you have ANY spare cash, then you need to get it put away TODAY! It’ll be worth it in the long run.


05
Sep 13

Keeping fit and losing weight

With my kids back to school I have been able to reflect on the summer holidays and can honestly say that I have had a GREAT summer break! We spent a glorious few weeks in Barbados and were then lucky enough to head off to France for a week to see my dad, who has a place there. It was amazing, we BBQ’d, I have chilled out, basked in the sunshine and spent time with my gorgeous family, which even during the sibling arguments has somehow been blissful! However, I have a confession.  My name is Sarah and I have overindulged this summer!

Mmmmm, a lovely summer BBQ

Mmmmm, a lovely summer BBQ

Before the hols I was working out a lot as we did a not too shabby 12 mile assault course race called Tough Mudder in June! It meant I was training before work and really eating healthily so by early July I was definitely at my fighting weight and really happy with how I looked and felt. However, I have taken a break over the summer but am now keen to get back into the training and weight loss regime as soon as I can. It is my September resolution – I have decided that September is the new January! I am all about detox and getting fit again.

THIS is what I had to get fit for!

THIS is what I had to get fit for!

I am pretty lucky as when I decide to get fit The Dane usually joins me so we can eat healthily together and spur each other on.  It makes a big difference to do something with a buddy and I have friends who swear by Weight Watchers (as you can join with a friend and split the cost).

There are actually LOADS of cheap ways to keep fit like free YouTube classes in yoga or aerobics and being able to do classes online is a MASSIVE help if you are a busy working mum too. I have a friend who runs Sleek Technique which is a fantastic and fun ballet based exercise class online – think Black Swan!

It has been a LONG summer so now it is time to take control of my fitness again. I’ll let you know how I get on!


21
Aug 13

Family snaps: Prince George looks picture perfect

The photos released this week of William, Kate and Prince George are AMAZING! The sun is shining, the smiles are broad, baby George is peacefully asleep and even the dog is sitting nicely!

William and Kate with Prince George and Lupo

William and Kate with Prince George and Lupo

These pictures have truly captured a moment. They show a young couple happily enjoying the sunshine in the garden with their new son. The look of love and joy is obvious. It isn’t heavily posed, there is no airbrushing and yes, shock horror, Michael Middleton took the photo into the sun. Oh no! Actually who cares? Spending hundreds of pounds on photographs when your baby is a few weeks old is a big old waste of money. I think that candid family snaps are so much more genuine!

Capturing a special moment in time

Capturing a special moment in time

Professional photoshoots can be expensive – upwards of several hundred pounds! Whilst it is lovely to have photos of your newborn baby, you might not be feeling camera ready post-birth (I know I wasn’t – still the size of a small country six months later!) and after a few weeks of sleepless nights having a big photo session can feel like a big nightmare. They said that they didn’t want to interrupt their special family time by getting a photographer and these gorgeous snaps are just perfect – natural, happy, quick and they didn’t cost a thing!

Walking in the sand pic to be captioned – the precious first of sand between the toes

Walking in the sand pic to be captioned – the precious first of sand between the toes

When I had each of my babies, my favourite newborn photo was always the one of the baby sleeping soundly all scrunched up face and a bit pink that The Dane took shortly after birth. To some the images might not be taken in the best light or the babies might be a bit crinkly but to me they are perfect!

Snapshot of the freshly delivered newborn!

Snapshot of the freshly delivered newborn!

TOP TIPS FOR TAKING THE BEST PHOTOS

• Take LOADS and delete! You can never have too many ‘perfect’ shots
• Keep the background clutter free
• Use the ‘edit’ button to ‘warm’, crop, zoom in and out and reduce red eye as often as you please
• Keep your camera phone with you at all times to capture the precious moments and download an app like Instagram and let it work its magic
• Remember, it’s not just about the newborn baby it is also about your family. We are 6 and it is not easy to get us together but everytime there’s a chance we get a friend to snap away
• Most importantly, PRINT YOUR PICTURES! Photo books of each year are AMAZING and cheap to create. Calendars, collages and even mouse mats make great presents so look for offers at places like Snapfish, Photobox and Printerpix


07
Aug 13

Celebrity holiday on a family budget

We have just had 3 weeks in Barbados living life like a celebrity – sun, sea, sand, watersports, amazing food and drinking cocktails from a coconut!  Although it sounds like it cost a fortune, especially with four kids and The Dane (my husband) in tow, it actually cost no more than a fortnight Eurocamping in France!

How?  We home swap!

The view from our house swap - a beautiful Barbados rainbow!

The view from our house swap – a beautiful Barbados rainbow!

Basically, we go and live in someone else’s house whilst they come and stay in yours.  We use a website run by my friend Debbie called lovehomeswap.com and also homeexchangecom (the biggest site in the world) and we have total faith in how it all works. Once you swap, you just won’t stop – ha ha!

We cashed in some of the airmiles we’ve saved from spending on a credit card and shaved several hundred pounds off each ticket! And we even swapped cars this time at no extra cost AND they looked after our bunnies.

Beach life on Barbados

Beach life on Barbados

Loads of people ask me about letting strangers live in their home, people sleeping in your bed etc. Don’t forget you’re in their home too – usually at the same time!  We let our insurance company know, lock away any personal papers, sentimental stuff and valuables and away we go!

With 4 kids we need SO much ‘stuff’, but the beauty of home swapping is that we swap with other families.  There’s a ready made princess room, pirate room, trampoline in the garden and loads of toys.  And most important is that it’s CHILD FRIENDLY so I’m not stressing.

The kids!

The kids!

We always do our research;  looking at Google Maps and checking out the property, the area and the owners and we use Skype to chat with the family we are swapping with. Your instincts can tell you a lot.  Of course there’s an element of trust but 5 swaps later and we’re still going, we’ve made some great friends and met some wonderful people.

I’ve managed to persuade lots of friends to do it with great success with all types of houses all over the country.    What do you think? Would you consider a homeswap as your next holiday option?


11
Jul 13

Royal memorabilia and the royal baby

I love babies! I have had four of my own and now, like the rest of the world, I am going royal baby mad! Apparently we will collectively spend a massive £243 million in celebration when the baby is born. WOW, that’s a lot of money! So what are we going to spend it all on? Well, I know a few people already planning royal baby BBQs, and sales of celebratory fizz will no doubt go through the roof! However, we are expected to plough the majority of our hard-earned cash into memorabilia. There are already chocolates, children’s books, mugs, plates and tableware and, when we know whether it is a Prince or a Princess, there will no doubt be even more pink and blue goodies for us to choose from!

royal-plate

Despite my excitement at the royal baby, I am starting to wonder whether this merchandise has more than just a sentimental value. Am I actually buying all this tat as an investment? I have been having a look on eBay to see just how much this kind of commemorative stuff makes a few years down the line and asking myself whether I should be buying up everything I can get my hands on to make some sneaky pocket money in the future.

royal-jugs

After a few hours trawling the internet I am still not really sure whether my collection of William and Kate wedding tea towels and Golden Jubilee scarves are actually worth the room in my drawers. Even a Prince William Royal Grafton birth vase is only selling for £14 with a beautiful Prince William silver birth spoon only fetching £4. Although some of the rarer Diana bits are still making big bucks, I think these things are only really worth something years and years later.

nirvana

The major money seems to be in music and film memorabilia. A used 1991 Nirvana concert ticket made over £100 today and a signed Al Pacino poster is going for £250. Sports stuff can also be pretty valuable with a mini rugby ball signed by Martin Johnson is fetching around £89 and a genuine 2012 Olympic Torch is still expected to fetch over £4,000! Royal goods just don’t seem to have the same level of interest that you get from cult films or celebs.

blue-dress
But don’t fear, although royal memorabilia might not make you a millionaire, there are LOADS of better things to spend your money on to celebrate the royal birth. Why not buy a pretty tea dress in the sale at Boden to wear at a royal-themed garden party. Their resale value can be MASSIVE (someone in the office has sold two recently for more than she paid for them). Instead you might decide to splash out on a feathered fascinator à la Duchess of Cambridge – very stylish and easy to rent out afterwards using a site like zilok. With the chance to make money from your fashionable purchases, you now have the perfect excuse for shopping!

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