Upcycling a Child’s Table to Make a Board Game Table

We’re big board game fans in this house and we regularly have friends over for ‘Games Night’. We’re all feeling our age and finding it a bit hard going to sit on the floor for hours. Our dining room table is quite small, as there’s just the two of us normally and it gets used for food on these nights. So we’d been keeping an eye out in all the usual places for a suitable ‘games table’. My idea had been that we would acquire one of those retro card tables from the 1950s or earlier, which have a felt top and often fold out. However, as they’re mostly designed for Bridge – they tend to be quite small. All of the ones we saw were also in poor condition or had very high asking prices! We also looked in charity shops for some kind of gate leg table, but as minimalists – it would be a big decision to bring another large item of furniture into the house. They also require chairs and we really wanted something more like a coffee table height, so people could either remain in armchairs (or sit on the floor – more on an answer to that later).

I spotted this child’s play table in a charity shop locally and knew instantly it was a great find. I described it to my other half, but he was unconvinced (mostly because I’d shown him so many unsuitable items on eBay! lol) They were also asking £25 for it, which seemed quite steep to us. Still, he dutifully agreed to come and look at that weekend.Well guess what – the shop was closed! We then got tied up with well, life and totally forgot to go back until we were passing about a week later. Helpfully the table was still there and they’d reduced all furniture to half price, to try and clear some space in the shop. We expressed an interest in the table and asked if we would pull it out, to fully check the condition of it. The manager said we could have it for a tenner! (She obviously wanted rid of it).

It turns out that this little beauty is made of solid wood and retails for about £150 when new. You can also be lucky enough to pick up second-hand ones on eBay for around a tenner too, if you look at the right time. The legs come right off, so we can fold it down and tuck it out of sight, when not needed. The top was a little scratched and we didn’t love the green colour. So we decided to send it a little upmarket, with its own blue felt top which has the added advantage of stopping the board games from sliding all over the place. You can see in the photos above, that we are part way through our little renovation/ upcycling job. The felt cost under £3 from my local fabric shop and we already had the all purpose glue at home, from other craft projects.

My other half announced that some bean bag cushions would mean we could all sit comfortably, at the right height. You could easily pay £15-£25 each for these in the shops and I have an abundance of leftover material from other projects. So I picked out some that matched our lounge curtains, some heavyweight corduroy that I picked up in a charity shop for a song and another piece leftover from some bedroom curtains. I purchased 6 zips, at a cost of 64p each and 2 bags of beans at £6.50 each. Perhaps I will do a tutorial soon, but for now here is a picture of 2 of the cushions I have made. They take a couple of hours each, but the savings are evident.

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And lo, we are the proud owners of a custom games set-up, all for the princely sum of £20. Can’t be bad eh?

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Are you a Home Bargains shopper?

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No? You should be! My shopping habits have been revolutionised since they opened up a store near me. They sell everything from stationary, to groceries, toiletries, toys, cleaning products, hardware, home furnishings, pets and more!

One of regular purchases here is 4 packs of John West tuna chunks. They sell 3 varieties – in brine, in sunflower oil and in spring water. All are £2.79 for a 4 pack, that’s 67p per tin! The next cheapest I could buy is an economy, supermarket brand at around 80p per tin, although the price has come down recently and you can buy Asda Smartprice or Tesco Value for 65p per tin. However I don’t think the quality compares, as economy brands are usually grey mush and barely resemble a tuna steak. I rarely see John West for less than £4 in the supermarkets. The tuna is pink and meaty, definitely top quality!

I use a lot of mailing bags and tissue paper for sending eBay items. I used to buy my mailing bags at Wilko, as I found them the cheapest. Their A4 mailer bags x5 are £1.50 are and A3 x5 are £1.75. The same at Home Bargains are 49p for 6x A4 and 89p for 6x A3. They sell 10 large sheets of tissue paper in a rainbow of colours for 49p, the next cheapest I can find is at a local bargain store for 99p. There’s just no contest is there? You can see how the savings start to add up!

I regularly buy sweets and chocolate here, as they are so much cheaper than the High Street. They have a HUGE range! I also love my oatcakes and I can buy them for 65p per box here. Compare that even to Poundland, where surprise, surprise – they cost £1 a box! They have a huge range of cheap biscuits and top brands too. As someone who eats a gluten-free diet, I often spy gluten-free items in Home Bargains at a mere fraction of the supermarket cost. A while back they were selling Nutribix for 79p a box! They cost £3.79 a box in the supermarkets- they had a slightly shorter best before date of 1-2 months, but what does that matter when you’re going to eat it soon anyway?

I buy some of my toiletries here too, dental products are much cheaper than the high street and I always pick up big name toothpaste for £1 a tube, like Colgate, Sensodyne or Arm & Hammer. They often have bumper sized packs going for this price too.

Do you use Cif cream cleaner? They sell it here for £1 a bottle. You might find it for £2 in the supermarkets if you’re lucky and occasionally £1.50 a bottle at Wilko. But other than grabbing it from time to time, in Poundland – you won’t find it regularly, this cheap. They also sell Dri-Pak Soda Crystals at 65p for 1.5kg which is way cheaper than £1 a bag at Wilko. These have so many household uses and I’d never be without a bag.

In the pet section today, they had pet carriers for £20 and scratching towers for the same price. They are always cheaper for treats here, like Weebox sticks at 79p per pack, next cheapest is 99p in the supermarkets or Wilko.

I regularly pick up Sequin Art kits here for £6-£7 instead of the £15-£18 they are full price. I have had lovely hardback Disney notebooks for £1-£2. If you check out http://www.moneysavingexpert.com and look on the ‘Quick Grabbit’ forums, you will find a Home Bargains thread where members post the hottest deals. But I want to encourage you to go there anyway for your everyday basic items because they are much, much cheaper! Oh and be sure to come back and tell me what you’ve found 🙂

The Truth about Frugalwoods and other US ‘Financial Independence’ Blogs

If you are like me, you read a number of financial independence blogs for inspiration. I admit to reading the occasional bit of Frugalwoods or Mr Money Mustache. However, the more I have read the more I have pondered whether these US blogs can bear any relevance to UK readers hoping to achieve financial independence? Today, I hope to uncover more of the truth about this for my UK readers. This is as much to put my mind at rest, as yours.

Frugalwoods say that they own a large detached homestead with land in excess of 20 acres The only equivalent I could see here in the UK is buying a VERY large country property or ex-farm, with a lot of land. I’ll plump for the farm option, as they state they have outbuildings (from their photos it is a very large barn, the size of 2-3 massive houses here in the UK), as well as woods and more. From their photos, I would estimate the main residence to be twice the size of a large UK house, although that is not unusual by US-standards. Actually here is their run down:

Frugalwoods Homestead Specs:

  • 66 acres of primarily wooded land in central Vermont, 35 minutes from Hanover, New Hampshire (where Dartmouth College and every attribute of the ‘big city’ are located)
  • A 4 bed, 2.5 bath, 2,300 square foot house, built in 1991, with two woodstoves
  • An 1,800 square foot barn/shop with a woodstove
  • One pond
  • Many streams
  • Countless apple trees, several plum trees, and a forest of sugar maples
  • Two acres of cleared “yard” with extensive garden beds

They paid $389,000 for their homestead which equates to £300,000. So now you start to see how these US financial independence blogs are laughable here in the UK. I mean, no-one but a multi-millionaire would own a piece of property that large over here! And you’d be lucky to get a normal 3-bedroom, semi-detached house where I live, on a tiny plot of land. I doubt that would even buy you a studio flat in London. They would have put around £97,000 down as a deposit.

They also have a rental property in a US City, which they paid $466,500 for and that equates to approx £360,000. They only put a £50,000 deposit down on it. So, now we’re looking at that owning around £660,000 of property but none of it is full paid for. They have 30-year mortgages (the norm is 25 years here in the UK). They are in their mid-thirties, so they’re looking at carrying that debt until they are 75. I wouldn’t want that noose around my neck until well into retirement!

You can read the reality is then that they worked solidly from University to their mid-thirties to be able to put £147,000 cash on houses. I’m not knocking that, but I expect most people in the UK would be able to sock that away as a deposit too, if they had the luxury of a well-paid job. 20 years of  2 people working full-time and saving 65% of their income, means they were only saving £7,350 a year. That’s as little as £3,675 per person. Undoubtedly achievable here, if not more- it’s just that you would never be able to buy a home or retire on that here!

The truth is that both of these properties still belong to the bank and they’re only a few years into the mortgages on each. If anything happened to prevent them from keeping up payments, they could lose both in a very short period. For example, if they couldn’t get tenants for their city house – one wonders if they would be able to cover the mortgage? They also only keep around 6 months worth of liquid cash which is a very small amount. The rest of their ‘net worth’ they have ploughed into stocks and shares. Whilst it is all very nice to base your ‘net worth’ on what the current selling price of the shares is, it’s all pie in the sky really. In 10 years the value of what they have put away could halve or worse. They are basing their ‘net worth’ on a projected rate of return of 7%, but the reality again is that if anything happened to the stock market (which I think is very likely given the volatility of world markets lately) they could lose a significant proportion of their money or the whole lot! They won’t even have the properties they live in to sell because they don’t own them. I bet you would then find they have stopped blogging and had to go back to work. Probably renting somewhere and lamenting their former choices, except they wouldn’t blog about that!

In actual fact, I think they are quite dangerous examples of how to live. Unless you like an extreme level of risk. I wrote this because I don’t want UK people to compare themselves to some unrealistic ideal. Unless you are planning to move to America, then you’d better expect to be working the rest of your life to pay off a small piece of modest UK property. I don’t think anyone lives under the illusion of early retirement here anymore! The best you used to hope for was retiring at 50, but certainly not 35!!!! You are better to pay off your mortgage before making too many other investments so that at least you have something solid that you own. I think it’s safer to pay into a pension, than invest all your money into stocks and shares.

Aiming for Financial Independence

A huge part of being minimalist is that you are spending less. As I see it, there are 3 options as to what you can do with your money.

  1. Spend it
  2. Save it
  3. Give it

Obviously, minimalists are doing a whole lot less spending it! Whether you wish to give some money away is a really personal decision and there are a huge array of possibilities which I won’t go into now. Although if you are spending less, it may mean you can work less and give your valuable time away also. In order to reach this sort of position, you will want to be aiming for financial independence.

I am not a financial expert, but I do try to apply common sense to life. It’s been 4 years since I  discovered minimalism, started reading about alternative lifestyle choices and earnestly started trying to boost my income in any (legal) way possible (using lots of methods, including those I have already described on my blog). Since November 2012, I have added over £30,000 to our household income. I would absolutely not have believed this myself, had it not been for the fact that I have kept spreadsheets detailing every single penny that I’ve made (and lost) along the way. £30,000 may not have got us to our goal of financial independence yet, but it certainly has pushed us a lot further towards it! I imagine for a lot of people reading this blog, £30,000 would go a long way to a deposit on a house, paying off a mortgage or clearing personal debt.

The thing is, when you stop spending money on things that mean very little – you realise that you possibly don’t need to be working so hard or so long. You can start saving and if you get serious about this, you could aim for financial independence at a younger age than most people (that is if you are still young! But if you’re not, there is absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t be good to be financially independent too). The working until you’re 65 thing (or even older now) is so ingrained in our culture, that many people don’t even question it. Your goal doesn’t even need to be that you never work again, but minimalism might allow you to pursue a job that you’ll love, volunteer your time or money or do something even more amazing. Aiming for financial independence is about acquiring freedom  – to choose when, where, what and how much work you do, along with freedom from cultural norms and expectations. The truth is you can buy freedom through frugality (and investments).

That’s not to say that you won’t need to work hard at it, but I wanted to write this post to say – a little bit of effort every day goes a long way. Just filling out a few surveys, meeting your Swagbucks target, selling items you don’t need on eBay and using some shopping apps to get free food – it doesn’t take many minutes out of your day. In 4 years time, why don’t you write and tell me how much you’ve made! 🙂

How to buy a brand new Siemen’s fridge/freezer for free!

OK, so this month has been killer for us financially. We are doing major renovations on our house – now these were planned and budgeted for. However, then we found out one of our pets has a terminal illness cue a small fortune in vet’s bills. The kind where they give you a quote and it ends up being double. Now I wouldn’t change anything because our pets are part of the family, but if I didn’t save money like it’s going out of fashion – we would not have been able to pull these kinds of sums out of a hat. So when on top of all of this, our fridge/freezer decided to say goodbye – we could have been turning to Freecycle or worse, trying to do without. Or I suppose actually, most people would just put it on a credit card and end up paying many times the item’s original price. I’m writing this post to show you exactly where a little bit of on-line earning can get you in just a few months. I bet I’m not the only one facing unexpected strains on their finances, or you might just want to avoid getting into debt over Christmas.

I was just able to buy this Siemen’s Fridge/Freezer from John Lewis for free! Yes, you read that correctly- FREE! (If you are reading this tomorrow 29/09/16 onwards, then unfortunately their great deal will have ended. But here is something similar on Amazon and you can save up Amazon vouchers from all of these sites towards your purchase).

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I want to show you something really tangible, more so than me just giving you the figures for what I earn online. Although, this fridge/freezer represents less than half of what I can earn online each month, just to give you an idea. But I’m not sharing this to boast, I’m sharing this because if I can do it – you can too! You can effectively give yourself a pay rise and make thousands of pounds every year, from the comfort of your sofa or bed!

The majority of my gift cards which were put towards this purchase came from Swagbucks, with a little from Pinecone, a little from a site called Valued Opinions (comment or message me if you want a referral link, as it must be sent to your email address) and 1 voucher from The Wise Society (comment of message me if you want to join up, if they ask for the name of your referrer and I will give you my name. I am not currently certain if they are taking new members). I will aim to write a little more about those last two survey sites ASAP. The small remainder was covered by sites like Newvistalive and Populuslive which pay in cash.

I was lucky enough to catch the last day of a deal offering a 3-year extended warranty for free, taking it to 5 years in total, free disposal of my old appliance (normally £9), £70 cashback which I was given instantly off the purchase price at the checkout and free delivery which is also standard on any item over £50. John Lewis comply with the UK Government’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations which came into force in 2007. This means that all recyclable elements of our old appliance will be recovered to make new consumer goods. I also love the fact that John Lewis offer eco delivery slots, so I was able to choose a time for delivery when they are already in my area – meaning that more fuel is saved. How very Zero Waste of me!

I am looking forward to receiving my fridge/freezer next week – not least because it will work, but it is an A++ rated appliance and should only cost about £22.50 per year to run. I don’t know what our current appliance rates at, but it’s around 10 years old and undoubtedly won’t be as efficient. I hope that this appliance lives a long life, as I hate the throw away and disposal nature of our society. We inherited our last appliance, so we didn’t have any choice, but it was a cheap brand not known for their longevity. Here’s hoping we have made a better choice. I know none of this makes our purchase ideal, but we are doing our best, along with having chosen an ethical retailer who is doing their best.

I hope this post encourages you to start using some of the methods I have mentioned recently. I will be posting about a lot more and although it seems overwhelming at first, just try to incorporate 1 at a time. Once you’ve built it into your daily routine, you can add another. Until it just becomes normal to check these sites in your spare time. I hope that by starting in the order I am listing them, you will get some good earners in place quickly and see the fruits of your labours. Please comment and let me know how you are getting on! I would love to hear how others are being helped by my posts. That’s all for now folks!

Newvistalive- Survey Site

Newvistalive is another good survey site, in my opinion. They don’t run quite as frequently as some, but they do pay £1 per 5 minutes of your time which is good. I find their survey template well structured, clear and easy to complete.

Once again they require you to reach £50.00 before you can be paid and they insist on sending it by cheque to your home address which takes some time. I probably only cash out with them once a year, on average because I do get screened out of a lot of their surveys. The good thing is that they screen you out early on, so you’re not wasting a lot of your time. I would still definitely say they are worth bothering with!

When you sign up, you instantly get £5 credit on your account which goes a long way towards getting you started. They also run a prize draw which you get entered into if you get disqualified from a survey, although I’ve never won it- I suppose it’s a nice touch.

Populus Live – Survey Site

Populus Live is another great survey site. The advantages of this site are that they are amongst the highest paying out there. The surveys come relatively frequently, I get at least 3 per week I would say and often more. Their rule is that they pay you £1 for every 5 minutes of your time. Most of the surveys are between 5-10 minutes long, so you can easily fit them in to your day. Occasionally you get longer ones which are obviously nice, as they pay more!

The disadvantages of this site are that you are required to earn £50 before you can be paid. You must be paid by cheque and you have to wait for this to be sent to you, by post which normally takes at least a month after you have reached the payment threshold. They do screen you out relatively frequently, but usually early on in the survey. They also have a hugely irritating template layout for their surveys which makes them very slow to load. In addition, they have even more vexing sets of questions to test that you are paying attention which basically feel like they are ‘trying’ to catch you out. However I put up with this due to the high payment for each survey.

Overall, I’d urge you to give this site a go since they pay well for surveys completed. If you’d care to share your experiences with the site, then please get in touch!