How to make gift cards work hard for you

img_4550.jpg

So, what do you do with all these gift cards you’ve been earning on Swagbucks or given for Christmas? Today I’m here to explain how to make them work harder for you. It’s tempting to hit the sales with them immediately after Christmas and before New Year, when the shops are pushing the fact that they have a sale big time. And whilst, if you really want a certain thing (especially something that’s bound to be popular) and want to be sure you don’t miss out, then that’s a good idea. Generally, it’s not – by this point in January most retailers are getting desperate to shift their old stock. We all know from the news, that retailers in the UK are generally having a very tough time out there and so, most of them have shed loads of stuff still left to shift.

By waiting until this point, and picking your day – you can hit retailers when they mark things down to 70%-75% off (or greater if you’re prepared to wait another week or so). This is when stuff becomes as cheap, or cheaper than buying it second hand in charity shops. So, take that stash of gift cards and hit the shops (but only if there’s stuff you really want or need).

Marks and Spencer went to 70% off in-store and online yesterday. I shopped both methods and found that the discounts were greater (nearer 80% in store, where they have shed loads of stock) and slightly less online (usually differing by between £1-£2). Mothercare have gone down to 75% off. Debenhams and H&M are at 70% off. You get the gist of it, most retailers will be dropping their prices now, on the stock that’s left. Just be aware that you have more rights when purchasing online, as they still have to give you 14 days to change your mind, under the distance selling regulations. Whereas, if you buy these items in-store – you’ll likely be told they’re non-returnable (unless faulty). This is certainly the case in M&S. So try things on, if they’re clothing or take the sizes you need with you, or a tape measure!

img_4550.jpg

Zero Waste Wreath

I fancied a wreath for Christmas this year, I’ve bought cheap (£6-7) before and they’ve fallen apart in about a week being outdoors as they are just glued onto polystyrene. I also wanted to avoid plastic, as much as possible aiming to be zero waste. I had half fancied making my own, but I’d left it a bit late this year. Plus, a wreath holder costs around £5, plus any other materials on top – even if I foraged the natural materials and raided my fabric scraps for ribbon, I would have wanted to buy cinnamon sticks and oranges. Cinnamon sticks are not cheap – around £1 for 3 or 4. This option was starting to look expensive.

I found this wreath going in Morrisons for £5 instead of £15- it was from their ‘The Best’ range. I think I bought it about 2 weeks before Christmas, so maybe that’s the time to look? It is comprised of natural foliage, with cinnamon sticks, pinecones, ribbon, raffia and yes, unfortunately just a few polystyrene and plastic adornments. However, it was the best option I could find. As you can see, it was all sitting on this wire frame which I plan to re-use year after year. It is painted green to blend in with the foliage.

In taking the wreath apart to compost the foliage, I was able to learn about its construction – vital as I will be making a homemade version each year from now onwards. It was actually comprised of very short sections of foliage, each clamped between the metal prongs that stick up. These are easily bent down with pliers. Then the decorations are wired and simply push into the foliage. I have carefully removed all of these and stored them in a cardboard box for next year. Rather than buying an expensive wreath hanger, we simply wrapped a long piece of twine through the wreath, over the door and tied it through the letterbox. It didn’t budge, even in strong winds!

So this is my top tip for next Christmas, or any other time of year you fancy putting up a wreath. Buy a good quality one, on sale and re-use the parts. Or maybe you can find the parts on sale? This frame could be re-used for any occasion – maybe I’ll try a Valentine’s wreath next?

Lush

Today I want to write about a local, ethical and sustainable business called Lush. Chances are, you’ve probably heard of them already- I think they’re best known for the bath bombs and the amazing smells that emanate from their stores!

Ever since I read Bea Johnson’s Book about a year ago, I have been looking for Zero Waste toiletries. Lush immediately sprang to mind, as I knew a tiny bit about them- in the recesses of my mind, probably because they are local. I’ll admit that I wasn’t that keen on them- I found the smell in their stores completely over-powering and even walking too close, when passing by was too much for me! I’d even been given the odd bar of soap and not liked the smell, so sold it on eBay.

However, things were different this time- I wasn’t looking just to purchase toiletries- I was looking for a more ethical, zero waste purchase. They are in-fact pretty unique, as most organic toiletries are still packaged in plastic. As shampoo and conditioner were the things I was about to run out of, I tried their solid shampoo and conditioner bars. They were fab, completely unpackaged, free of silicones and very convenient- as they last much longer than bottles. We have never looked back, even though we’re paying slightly more for our toiletries. I now have total peace of mind that we’re doing our bit for the environment and are supporting a local business, thus also keeping our carbon footprint as low as possible. They are actually made about 3 miles from my house- although I have to drive over twice as far to get to a store!

I recently placed my 1st online order as they had a sale and I wanted to share this with you, as a great example of a sustainable company working towards zero waste.

IMG_3013

A recycled cardboard box arrived, sealed with paper tape. The first thing that hits you is the gorgeous smell coming from the box- unfortunately I can’t convey this over the web!

IMG_3014

Inside was a copy of my order and ingredients lists for all the products I had ordered, all printed two-sided on recycled paper. I felt this was a little unnecessary for me personally, as I am perfectly capable of going online to check these things. I am going to contact them and ask if they could provide an option to opt out of paper communications in your order.

IMG_3015

Your order comes packaged in what looks like polystyrene chips, but they are in-fact Eco Chips! They are completely biodegradable and one of their assistants recently gave me a demo in-store, where they dissolve completely in water. They are made from potato starch and also biodegrade quickly in soil. I will be keeping mine for re-use, in one of my many eBay parcels. I will make sure I make a note to tell their future recipient about them.

IMG_3016

This was my order- all safely stowed underneath. As you can see, most of the products I ordered are solid and come completely unpackaged. In the top right are solid conditioner bars, but because I ordered so many (I stocked up at 1/2 price!) that little cardboard box contains 8 more. Disappointingly, it is sealed with plastic tape- another thing I will be contacting them to ask about!

IMG_3017

So here are all my goodies in their unpacked glory. I have got my first unpackaged Lush soap to try- it’s the rectangular one in the middle and is marzipan fragranced. Above this is a yellow, citrus ‘massage bar’- this is actually a solid body lotion. The bright pink and green items are solid conditioners, as you can see it’s stamped on them. I’ve got the pink one to try because at 1/2 price it’s a good opportunity to do so- as Lush recommend. This is also why I bought the gift set.

IMG_3018

The Winter Garden gift set is a giant metal bauble and is packed inside with Eco Chips to protect the contents. I will re-use this to make a gift for someone in the future.

IMG_3019

Inside, a tub of hand cream, a rose jam shower gel and an Elder and Bergamot solid soap. Lush pots are made from 100% recycled black plastic (polypropylene) which is far more easily recycled. They have also changed their labels from paper to plastic, so that they can all be recycled together. Lush seek to make their  plastic recycling activities closed loop, in turn creating zero waste and so customers are encouraged to return empty, washed pots to their store. They offer an incentive of a free face mask for every 5 full-sized pots returned. This initiative is mentioned on a sticker on the side of their pots. They also moved production from China to a factory in Poole, 1 mile away from their own- so their carbon footprint has been massively reduced too. this in-turn is further supporting the local economy. There is also a mini brochure containing details of most of their products available in store. Again, I would prefer not to have this but I understand they might want to promote their products to people who wouldn’t normally purchase them and don’t know about their ethics.

This little lot cost me around £50 in the sale, including delivery which was a really good deal. Lush only have a sale once a year and it only contains short-dated products and Christmas gift sets. This is because they believe that they are charging a fair price all year round, for their ethically sourced, handmade and zero waste products. I find it really helps me when I’m shopping, as I’m not tempted to buy things that I don’t need and I’m not (normally) tempted to stock up. As their items are made using minimal preservatives, they are best used fresh. But solid items do have a longer shelf-life, since they don’t have as much water in them. If you go in-store, they will package your solid items in a recycled paper bag or  you can buy metal tins to fit them which you can then re-use. I also take my paper bags back each time and re-use them until they fall apart.

Overall, I feel enormously proud to be supporting this local company. They have been around for over 20 years- let’s hope they are here for many, many more!

Frugal Living Tips 2

Here’s the next installment of my frugal living tips!

  1. Does that item have a 2nd use? Use your old toothbrush to clean up the grout in your bathroom and all those tough places to reach, like round the taps. Re-use carrier bags as bin liners. Re-use that newspaper when painting or cleaning your shoes.
  2. Shop around. Take this example, my local superstore stocks several varieties of tinned coconut milk. If you go to the obvious place in the store, you will pay the maximum price. However, look around in the specialist sections for different nationalities (like Polish or Caribbean) and you will find the same product (albeit a different label) for half the price!
  3. Shop yellow stickies! Go to your local supermarket or corner shop and look for the reduce section. Daily, you will find an ever changing array of foods that are close to their use-by date, at a hefty discount! Put the perishables in the freezer and just take out what is needed. Fruits and veggies are easy to tell when they’ve gone off and it’s rarely at their use-by date! They will keep for a few more days, no problem. You can also find items with damaged packaging at a fraction of their usual cost.
  4. Sell your unwanted items- try eBay, car boot sales, freeads, friends- whatever!
  5. Trade-in your old books, CDs, clothes, computer games & DVDs. Try sites like Zapper, WeBuyBooks & Amazon.
  6. Sign-up to survey sites and add £100s to your income each year! Try YouGov & IPSOS as good starting places.
  7. Adopt my motto- never pay full price for anything! Wait until the item you need comes on sale or offer. After of course, shopping around for the best price!
  8. Down-shift a brand. Do you always buy brand names- then you’re paying too much for most things! Try the store brand of baked beans, stuffing, mustard. No doubt you’ll find it’s just as good. Already buying store brands? Then try the basic or economy range. 7 times out of 10, we can’t notice any difference and often there are less unpronounceable ingredients!
  9. Stock up! When that item you use regularly is on offer, stock up! Put it away in a cupboard and you’ll thank yourself later on.
  10. Batch cook. Make double what you need and freeze half. You’ll soon see the savings on ingredients and electricity or gas adding up!