Monday, 23 December 2019

The adulting hard wish list and gift guide

I don't know about you, but I've officially reached that stage in my life when I struggle to put forward gift ideas for myself. I remember poring through the Argos catalogue when I was little circling toy after toy, but nowadays I feel guilty asking for anything. I always wondered why I used to struggle to get much back in the way of gift ideas for older members of the family and now I totally get it. As you get older, your priorities change.

As I got older I discovered the difference between want and need (do you need it? 96% of the time you probably don't). And if I do want something, the stubborn Taurus in me would rather get it for myself than subject my friends and family to spending their hard earned money on me.

It sounds weird, but on Christmas day, I'd much rather watch other people unwrap presents than have any myself. Christmas for me is being with those I love. I adore seeing other people happy, that's gift enough for me.

I've noticed this shift for a while now and this Christmas only emphasised it. When my family asked for ideas in October (I kid you not), my list was minimal and I later noticed it contained functional items where I identified things that were past it and in need of replacing (slippers), commonly used household items, or else identifying day-to-day annoyances (the inability to keep food and plates warm when entertaining).

If you find yourself (or anyone else you know) in the same boat, the second category ("commonly used household items") is a good way to go. And these are the sorts of items which sit perfectly within this bracket:


Reed diffusers - I always have multiple on the go around the house so these are forever useful. Not to be confused with incense sticks which I avoid like the plague (increased risks of cancer).

Candles - because you can never have too many candles! My favourite scents include Pecksniff's bergamot and spiced tea candle (brings back amazing memories of my honeymoon), the Winter collection by The White Company and the Oliver Bonas Mandarin & Lotus candle smells like HEAVEN (as does their Seagrass & Amber) and also comes in a matching reed diffuser.

Matches - adult matches are the very definition of adulting hard. Forget a box of matches, how much nicer looking is this jar of matches?

Fragrance - fragrance can be quite personal, but it's one of those things that I won't treat myself to often so it makes a really lovely gift. Jo Malone is my absolute favourite (blackberry and bay for the win) and I love trying new scents I haven't tried before.

Moisturiser - another thing I don't really treat myself to is a decent moisturiser. I use coconut oil (which does the job) but it would be nice to try a branded moisturiser. Something like Liz Earle or Clinique.

Hand wash - I regularly use a 80p hand soap from Aldi which is an excellent dupe for Molton Brown. As simple as it sounds, having an extra special hand wash from The White Company, Molton Brown or Baylis & Harding is a real treat. Plus it's nice having these out for when you have visitors or people over to stay (also a solid gift idea for any friends and family who have had a new bathroom put in lately!)

So if you're like me (or know someone like me) who isn't brimming full of ideas or feels a little awkward asking for things, the above is a good place to start!

What is on your Christmas wish list this year?

Thursday, 12 December 2019

7 Christmas decorations to be wary of if you have pets

GLASS BAUBLES

Cox and Cox lustre glass baubles here (now in the sale!)

Unless you want to be sweeping up broken glass each morning... AVOID 

FROSTED / GLITTER / FLOCKED CHRISTMAS TREES

6ft Rosa Prelit Pink Glitter Tip Tree here

I fell in love with the above tree this year (trust me, it's better in person). Whilst I'm not normally into glittery Christmas trees, the branches were so much nicer on this tree. None of that fake plastic-feeling rubbish or the thin tinsel-like branches. But I couldn't have in my life and I'll tell you why.

Fake snow and glitter on Christmas trees can be toxic to pets. There are varying levels of toxicity so it very much depends on the toxic levels and how much is ingested (a small amount is less likely to cause any issues but it's just not something I want to risk). If you are going for a festive decorated artificial Christmas tree, always check the packaging which should clearly state whether it's pet safe or not. If nothing is said either way, it's not worth taking the risk.

Real Christmas trees also carry a risk for pets (apparently some of the oils in the needles can be toxic to dogs), so if you have a real tree, monitor closely and if doubt, close off the room with the tree if you are not around to supervise.

SNOW GLOBES

Christmas Scene Snow Globe here

Many snow globes contain anti-freeze and knowing my cats, 
they are 96% likely to knock off a shelf and lick the contents. So no.

GARLANDS & HANGING DECORATIONS

Balsam Hill Holiday Poinsettia Garland 6ft - in the sale here

Anything that hangs is risky business for cat owners. And Lord have mercy 
on your soul if your garland contains feathers (see FEATHERS below)

CERTAIN HOME FRAGRANCES

Neom real luxury reed diffuser here

Did you know that certain aromatic oils within reed diffusers, incense sticks or candles can be poisonous to dogs? Whether ingested or in contact with their fur / skin, these are the ones to be wary of: pine, cinnamon, citrus, penny-royal, sweet birch, peppermint, tea tree, wintergreen and ylang ylang. Before bringing anything into your home (or unwrapping / lighting), always check the label first.

FESTIVE POT POURRI

Mandarin Cinnamon Clove pot pourri here

Whilst I'd love to have bowls of scented pine cones and dried orange 
slices out, my cats would treat it as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

ANYTHING WITH FEATHERS

Olivias feather bauble here

Any decorations, garlands, wreaths or ornaments with feathers will be de-feathered by your feline friends faster than you can say Merry Christmas. So if you have anything like this, maybe invest in a glue gun for any possible fatalities!

Are there any other Christmas decorations your pets go mad for?

This post contains some affiliate links. By clicking / buying through these links, I may be eligible for a tiny (and I mean tiny) bit of affiliate revenue at no extra cost to yourself

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

The NOW TV Black Friday offer which gave existing customers the middle finger

What do you think of when you hear the words 'Black Friday'? Chaotic stores with people arm wrestling over the last item on the shelf? A great chance to stock on Christmas gifts for less? So-called bargains that aren't actually bargains? People buying s**t they don't need?


I have always associated Black Friday with reduced price consumer goods and never really thought about it in a services capacity. Enter NOW TV.

I first became aware of NOW TV's Black Friday offer last year, and with savings of up to 60% off, whether you are an existing customer or not, it's definitely one to make you sit up and listen

There are Sky sports passes, kids passes, and my personal favourites: the entertainment and cinema passes. Offers range from a one month pass, a 3 month pass and the ultimate: the 12 month package (the latter being the bandwagon I leapt on last year)

WHAT'S THE DAMAGE?

At the time of writing this, the 12 month entertainment and cinema Black Friday pass rings in at £99. And whilst £99 sounds like a lot of money, know this:

1) The 12 month entertainment and cinema pass usually costs circa £252 (so it's a pretty decent saving)

2) The reduced price works out at £8.25 a month. With the cinema costing far more than this each visit, NOW TV gives me the chance to catch the latest movies freshly released before they've even made it onto Netflix or Amazon.

Since signing up to NOW TV's Black Friday offer last year, I've barely been back to the cinema and can watch many new movies a month than ever before - plus great Sky shows like Riveria (recommend) and old favourites like SATC and The Walking Dead.

THE BAD NEWS

With last year's Black Friday pass soon coming to an end. I hopped onto the NOW TV website here hoping to renew for another year. As an existing customer, I had to log onto my account and then head to the Black Friday offers section (this section personalised to each type of customer).

What first struck me was the lack of offers available to me. Despite being an active user of the cinema and entertainment channels, I wasn't offered anything in these areas - just a sky sports package (something I have never used and never will).  I couldn't see the 12 month Black Friday offer I was seeing splashed about on every TV advert left, right and center. I heard whispers of there maybe being a 3 month offer (also not there)

I did some further research and discovered the Black Friday NOW TV entertainment and cinema offers were only available to new customers and not existing customers.

I wasn't happy. And I wasn't alone. The NOW TV forums and help pages were (and still are) full of disgruntled existing customers left feeling very disappointed this Black Friday.

LAST YEAR

Admittedly last year wasn't exactly smooth sailing either. I had issues claiming last year's Black Friday offer because my existing pass had a certain number of days remaining on it which clashed with the Black Friday promotion dates. However having popped onto the NOW TV chat, I spoke to a very helpful customer services advisor who managed to resolve the issue for me without any fuss, and even sent me a new NOW TV smart stick in the mail.

THIS YEAR

I would love to say this was the same story this year (WRONG). The advisors on chat this time around lacked empathy and were really robotic (likely bored of hearing the same complaint over and over again) and were reeling off blanket responses, likely from some company approved script. I gave it a good go, but wasn't getting anywhere. 

The advisor I spoke to then had the cheek to say "stay tuned for our up-and-coming Christmas and New Years offers". I argued these were unlikely to be as good as their 60% off Black Friday offer and asked what these would be (they couldn't disclose). How can I "hang on" in good faith when I have already done this ahead of Black Friday and then been let down all because I am not a new customer? 

THE REALITY

NOW TV are unable to offer existing customers anything for their previous custom and year(s) of loyalty. There is no thank you or incentive for being an existing customer (rookie error NOW TV).

Not only that, but my existing Black Friday offer comes to an end soon and when it does, I would have to pay more than I did before for the service. As a loyal customer for the last few years, how is this fair?

The whole experience leaves many (including myself) deactivating their NOW TV accounts, not wanting to pay a penny more out of principle. Surely £99 is better than no money at all? Add onto that existing customers leaving NOW TV completely. There is no value to alienating existing customers, it never ends well.

HOW TO BEAT THE SYSTEM

There are several hacks to get around this if you are an existing customer and don't fancy shelling out circa £252 a year (and why should you?)

1) sign up as a new customer - in doing so, you will be able to claim the Black Friday offer (but check the offer is still available first). 

2) sign up for a free trial - NOW TV does free 7 day trials so if you are strategic with when you claim these, you can easily be covered with Christmas movies and entertainment for your family over the Christmas break. 

3) assess your usage and cut back - I have been on the annual cinema and entertainment pass for the last year and on reflection realised that I don't use the entertainment pass all that much (it's only really to binge watch a series like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead). With this in mind, it makes a lot more sense to only purchase a one month entertainment pass as and when I need it. 

4) reduce the cost with Tesco Clubcard - I have spoken at length before here about my love for the Tesco Clubcard system. By shopping at Tesco and also using my Tesco credit card card elsewhere too, I can generate Tesco points which are then converted into Tesco vouchers. On the Tesco Clubcard exchange site here, these vouchers can be put towards days out and a whole wealth of other experiences. Often your Tesco vouchers can be doubled or tripled in value - meaning you get more for your money. NOW TV is currently included as one of the offers on the site and for every 50p of Tesco vouchers, this converts into £1.50 to spend with NOW TV. So say you needed a £9 one month pass (don't quote me on that number!), all you would need to do is use £3 of your Tesco vouchers (essentially free money!). 

WHAT'S NEXT?

I didn't sign up as a new customer out of principle and have deactivated my account. I may go down the Tesco voucher route next year, but will only sign up when I know there is a series or film(s) I want to watch. And even then, I will only sign up for a month pass. Because £10 or less a couple of times a year is still a darn sight cheaper than their £99 Black Friday offer. 

Did you feel cheated by the NOW TV Black Friday sale?

Image source: Pixabay

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The ballet flats that dreams are made of

I first started taking ballet lessons when I was knee high. I quickly discovered that it wasn't for me (I have about as much grace and poise as a tea spoon). Although ballet never worked out for me, I have always respected the discipline required and the sheer amount of hard work it takes to train.

Fast forward some years to the here and now, when one day I came across a pair of soft pink ballet pumps. It brought back all the memories and I couldn't not pick them up could I??

Pink tie leg ballet flats here

I find that some pointed courts can pinch and destroy your feet over time, but no word of a lie, these are an absolute joy to wear thanks to the padded, cushioned built-in insoles which I can only describe as like WALKING ON A CLOUD.


The ties are as buttery soft as the shoe itself, so feel suitably nice whether you wrap the ties around your ankles or higher up your leg. Whilst I don't have the grace or poise to be a ballerina in this lifetime, they do lend a grace to any outfit. They come into their own when paired with a long pleated skirt 

Polka dot long pleated skirt

They also work a treat in a more casual context with a silk camisole and chunky knit cardigan

Vila camisole here
Primark cardigan

Some may call them pink. Some may call them nude. All I know is that they blend in with my skin tone like state of art invisi-shoes. They are so lightweight I sometimes forget I even have shoes on (a far cry from my ballet days where the ballet pumps used to HURT LIKE HELL). 


Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Money diary // curry night, sales and savvy substitutions

Admission time: this week's money diary is from two weeks back (oops) but as it was already written #WasteNot


MONDAY

Remember how in my previous money diaries I talked about my weekly chocolate expenditure? Instead of spending £3-something on a Central London hot chocolate (crazy), I would instead buy a big bar of chocolate for a third of the price and suck on a couple of squares of chocolate to get that sugar fix. I believed the 'couple of squares' lie for a while (and it worked temporarily) but then the chocolate consumption escalated (mostly in correlation with busy days at work). So it was then that I put my foot down and was determined to find a cheaper and healthier snack alternative.

I discover I can buy a big 1kg bag of carrots from Aldi for just 59p which are great for snacking but at the same time, gives me lots of spare carrots for soups, katsu curries and etc during the week. I eat one or two carrots a day and occasionally mix it up with some cucumber to keep things interesting. Switching out sugar has already made such a huge difference. I snack less at work now as I'm avoiding the addictive quality of sugar and I have lost weight since doing so (not my aim here, but not something to complain about!).

Since making this switch a month ago I have spent about £2.36 on fresh veg for snacks. Compared to my previous chocolate spend (anywhere between £6.80-£13.60 a month), this is an incredible saving (and sooo much healthier). If you look at the bigger picture, this equates to £81.60 MINIMUM on chocolate A YEAR whereas the veg option? Less than £30 a year. It's a no brainer and a food swap I intend to stick to.
____________________

Weekly snacks - 59p
____________________

TOTAL
£0.59
____________________

TUESDAY

One of my constant Tuesday outgoings used to be my weekly Tesco home delivery, however I've not ordered from Tesco for the last 3 weeks. Why? I'm finding lots of my items cheaper elsewhere and I'm finding it harder and harder to fulfill the £40 minimum spend at Tesco with just the two of us.

Admittedly our fridge and freezer are looking a little bare, but we have more than enough food to get us by until the weekend when we will hit up Aldi and Iceland (we found some great Linda McCartney mozzarella burgers for just 50p each last weekend!)
____________________

TOTAL
£0.00
____________________

WEDNESDAY

Another no spend day! No bad thing as tomorrow is potentially going to be a spendy one...

____________________

TOTAL
£0.00
____________________

THURSDAY

We have a African & Caribbean cook off at work today which means only one thing: FREE LUNCH. Mine isn't quite free as I volunteer to cook a dish to bring in (a vegetarian Moroccan dish). I buy the veg for it from our local food market so I am able to get massive bowls of veg at just £1 at a time. The harissa spice mix is only £1.20 and I only use 50% of the jar. My total spend is still a lot less than most lunch options in Central London and the recipe makes enough for a small army! The cook off is a success. I enjoy a large plate of jerk chicken, rice and peas, stuffed peppers and various curries (chicken and pumpkin for the win) followed by a slice of sticky ginger cake.


After work a trip to the hairdressers is in order. I only ever go when I have a 50% off voucher because it's not my favourite place to go, it's just near work and convenient.

Mr Curiouser ad Curiouser meets me after work for dinner but there's nowhere in Central London that takes our fancy. Plus spending over £10 on a pizza each irritates the hell out of me which you can buy supermarket pizzas (or make them yourself!) for a fraction of the cost.

Instead we head home and go to our local pub who frequently send out vouchers to locals. We claim one of our buy one get one free vouchers and enjoy a beef and Doom Bar pie each plus drinks for just £16.70 in total (gotta love those out of London prices!). Service is slow that night as only one chef has turned up (!), however the wait is worth it and we don't have far to travel back afterwards #win

____________________

Ingredients for cook off - £3.60
Hair cut - £21.00
Pub dinner  - £16.70
____________________

TOTAL
£41.30
____________________

FRIDAY

The unthinkable happens - my train gets into London is EARLY. I wander around for a bit (which is always dangerous). True to form, I stop in Oliver Bonas and notice two things I've had my eye on for the longest time but have resisted in case they ever came into the sale. And as luck may have it, they are both on sale. I pick up a white broderie dress (£75 £25) and a pair of soft grey espadrilles (£55 £30). I am charged an extra 50p for a bag (kicking myself as I usually always have one with me) and instead of their usual plastic bag, I am given a recyclable paper one, which I'm pretty chuffed with until it pours down with rain on the way home and my bag very nearly splits apart.

___________________

Oliver Bonas - £55.50
____________________

TOTAL
£55.50
____________________

SATURDAY

We head out early to go to Aldi and end up spending a grand total of £28.00. As well as typical top up shop items, this also includes dinner, wine and beers for our evening entertaining that night.

My sister comes over for lunch and we enjoy toasted cheese sandwiches followed by cookies (cheese, bread and cookies bought in today's shop) with a film. Later the rest of the family joins and we work through the vat of aubergine and paneer curry I've planned. Once everyone is done, there are still x5 portions left which are boxed up ready for lunches for the following week.

____________________

Aldi - £28.00
____________________

TOTAL
£28.00
____________________

SUNDAY

After a late night on Saturday, we have a relaxed day in with films and blankets and finish up the rest of the passion fruit cheesecake (another Aldi buy) from the night before. A zero spend day.

____________________

TOTAL
£0.00
____________________

TOTAL FOR THE WEEK
£125.39
____________________

Highlights this week included:

  • Having three (almost four) zero spend days 
  • substituting weekly snacks for cheaper and healthier alternatives
  • seeking out entertainment and food away from London's premium prices 
  • Continuously hunting down vouchers and discount codes to make my money stretch further
  • practicing patience to then find wish list items in the sale for a fraction of the cost 
  • bulk buying ingredients and cooking in bulk to spread the cost and cater for extra meals

The truth of the matter is that this week's spend would have been well below £100 had I not made an Oliver Bonas pit-stop. Saying that, I'm a serial returner and still need to try my new items on... so watch this space!

Writing it all out like this does make the little things hit home. If you decide to give this money diary a go yourself - or have any money saving tips - do let me know in the comments below!

MY PREVIOUS MONEY SAVING DIARIES

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

INTERIORS // A sneak peek inside The Circle apartments

The Circle is back! Ever the interiors enthusiast, I wrote about last year's interior decor (and how the TV game show works) here but this year the interiors are quirkier than ever. Each apartment has its own theme and they are all so different (admittedly with varying levels of success). Are you ready?

I LOVE GOLD


The epitome of luxury with the gold shelving, gold kitchen units and marble worktops. 
Looks like somewhere Goldmember would hole up.

PRETTY IN PINK


Never before have I wanted a pink kitchen (nor did I ever expect to) BUT I DO NOW

BOHEMIAN


I'm not one for white walls (I find them really cold and uninviting) but this interiors scheme has plenty of warmth to it with its use of materials and patterns.

ECCENTRIC / QUIRKY


The most fun out of all the apartments, and it suits its 18 year old tenant to a tee. 
At the start I felt like I needed sunglasses constantly(!), but it's really grown on me

DARK INTERIORS


If I was ever on The Circle, this is the sort of apartment I'd live to be in (or LUXURY below). 
The dark walls are so cocooning and I love the pops of colour with all the pink.

BESIDE THE SEA

There is something quite coastal about this apartment with its white-washed wood, natural materials and touches of blue. I'm not as sold on the ornamental pigeons(!), but other than that, it's a lovely serene feeling apartment.

GLAM


I didn't know how else to describe this apartment. Sort of glam (like its first tenant) and sort of loud and in your face (like its last tenant!). I find that white kitchen units can be quite bland and boring, but backing them against a statement colour like this really makes them pop and gives added interest.

JUNGLE THEME


THAT WALLPAPER THOUGH. Designer wallpaper can be expensive. Sometimes all you need is one statement wall (both cheaper and makes a room look less 'busy'). I love the complimentary other walls painted in a similar shade and the touches of gold for added luxury. And speaking of luxury...

LUXURY


What makes this room 'luxury', you ask? It's the cocooning effect of a darker interiors scheme paired with gold accents and the clever use of designer wallpaper. Statement wallpaper can look a little 'busy' when used in excess i.e. covering an entire wall, or on all walls. By starting the wallpaper only midway up the wall, the dark wall paneling helps balance it, as well as making the yellow accents of the wallpaper really pop.

INDUSTRIAL


Or maybe that should be "industrial?" The kitchen, shelving and bar stools stick to the brief, but the rest of the apartment is veering on bohemian / worldly. The whole thing is a little muddled and the plain white walls just look a little soul less (exposed brick walls would work so much better here). My least favourite of the apartments

Which apartment is your favourite?

And if you are as in love with the statement wallpapers as I am, you can find similar sorts of designs here (they supplied the wallpapers for last year's show!)

All images from the @c4thecircle Instagram account

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

A few days away // a UK staycation

I wouldn't recommend planning a wedding in 6 months or less to anyone, but after a jam-packed few months and the craziness that comes with the Big Day itself, we needed a few days away to unwind (and good job we did, because our honeymoon was delayed to a year and a half later!)

Having just paid for a wedding entirely ourselves, we didn't want to venture too far or spend too much (particularly as we still needed to think about / book a honeymoon), so a UK staycation was on the cards.

WHERE WE STAYED

We stayed somewhere that holds very special memories for the both of us. For me, because of family holidays I had there when I was younger. I later introduced Mr Curiouser and Curiouser one year for a mini break and it's become somewhat of a tradition.

What I love most about the area is the surrounding woodland and the treetop hotel / treehouse hotel feel to it. You walk through floor-to-ceiling glass walkways in amongst the trees and it doesn't matter whether it's raining, snowing or sunny outside, there is always this incredible sense of peace.

The hotel had asked for the nature of our stay and as we were newly weds, they very kindly gave us a complimentary upgrade. And oh my, the room was beautiful.


Purple accents added a touch of luxury to the room, as did the silver dressing table, dresser and side tables. I adored the window seat and looking out in the mornings.


WHAT WE DID

Understandably it was pretty hard to tear ourselves away from our room a) because it was interiors perfection and b) because newly weds(!) We took things at our own pace, enjoying woodland walks by day....


With a stop off at the local zoo


.....and enjoyed the hotel's incredible bar and restaurant as evening fell.

WHAT WE ATE

The hotel is always big on local produce and sources a lot of its meat from Hampshire. This time around we enjoyed a mini farmhouse loaf with groundnut butter, followed by a complimentary carrot gazpacho amuse-bouche, which had the heat of ginger and chilli despite being a cold dish. Bread course and amuse-bouche aside, we had scallops to start (standard) followed by venison with savoy cabbage, parsnip puree, parsnip crisps and spiced figs. For dessert I had pears poached in mulled wine. DELICIOUS.

On this particular visit the hotel surprised us with complimentary champagne to congratulate us on our getting hitched, which we enjoyed in the bar afterwards, taking the rest with us up to our room.

WHAT I WORE

At the time I was going through a floral wrap-around skirt phase and the soft waves and curls in my hair were the product of being caught in the rain a fair bit (who needs straightners?!) <3

White tee (similar here and in petite here) // Floral skirt here

Same skirt as before with the addition of this black knitwear // Grey shoes here

Fluffy white knit (Forever 21) // Same shoes as before // Yet another floral skirt here

We've actually booked our next visit already because autumn is the best time of the year to visit (not too hot, cheaper rates, and excellent seasonal food in the restaurant). EXCITED

What travels do you have lined up next?

Our room upgrade was complimentary as was champagne at dinner, but the rest of the hotel costs, our food and days out were all paid for by ourselves