Christmas Shopping on a Budget

I was chatting in a money management group the other day about spending habits and someone mentioned that they had recently finished paying off their debts and found that they kept the positive changes they had made during their time of financial hardship and it made me think about Christmas and how much my habits have changed since I started my debt repayment plan in 2015.

Before 2015 I would spend, spend, spend. I always left my Christmas shopping until the last minute and probably every year would either end up with another loan or put the shopping on my credit cards. Shopping was always based on a form of social pressure; to get the biggest, most expensive presents no matter whether they were fit for purpose. Nearly always people just ended up with whatever gift sets were in the shopping mall I happened to be in. Not very thoughtful gifts and no wonder I ended up in debt (one of the reasons).

I think now I am a much more thoughtful gift buyer even if I don’t gift very often. Being in debt and on a budget makes you recognise just who you should be spending your limited finances on. Firstly I cut my Christmas list down to those who were most important to me and of those remaining I made an agreement with siblings that I would only buy for their children (I have 11 nephews and nieces so still a lot!). Over the last few years that has been reduced again with siblings to a family gift so the 11 has gone to 4.

Another thing I have learnt is to shop over 12 months. I don’t set out to buy something each month and put it away but I do take advantage of year round sales or small, small business owner shops or craft fairs. I found that doing this has made me a more conscious shopper not just with the amount of money being spent but actually matching a gift to a person. As an example pre-2015 as mentioned I would blanket buy gift sets at over-inflated prices that whilst nice, you could change the name on the gift card and no one would be any wiser. Post-2015 people will get gift or a gift bag of small items that I’ve chosen when I’ve seen something that fits them perfectly. There is one present I have this year for my best friend. It’s small, cost me next to nothing but fits her perfectly and is something I know she enjoys very much. And probably 1/20th of what I had paid out in the past yet I believe she will get more lasting enjoyment (I’m being careful about what I say as she reads the blog J )

It’s not all positive. I did find when I started this some people took exception to not receiving a present any more no matter how much I explained my circumstances and while I believe that you don’t buy to receive it did amuse me the amount of people who would say ‘well if you’re not buying me one, I’m not buying you anything either’ but said in an incredibly grumpy way that suggests all they cared for was the gift and not anything else. But also funnily enough, they also turned out to be people that didn’t stick around as friends when they learnt that being good and sticking to a budget meant cutting back on lots of things. You certainly learn who are real friends and who are social friends when you have difficulties.

However this is all their problem and not mine. The majority of people accepted my decisions and are grateful for even a small gift. My dad always talks about it is the simple act of gifting and not the size of the gift and he’s right but when the world is bombarded with advertisements and social pressure at this time of year it’s hard not to fall for it.

I have one more restricted Christmas buying year (2019) and then from 2020 I have no budgeting anymore or rather not as strict as it is now. I am hoping that what the guy in the group said about keeping the good habits learnt is true and that while I may have a few more pounds to spend I won’t be silly with it and will stay a more thoughtful gift buyer.


Mindfulness and Crafting

After my anxiety went a bit sky high again this summer I had to have an Occupational Health report done by a doctor. During the chat we talked about hobbies and he remarked that even though it’s good to have hobbies all mine could be classed as solo ones that didn’t help when I would isolate myself when ill. His suggestion was that I look at how I could make them so I got to spend time with people rather than myself. Discussing it with a work friend it then became a kind of joke that I needed to be more ‘people-y’.

I enjoy crafting although I’d at that point only really done some knitting and bead making so I joined the office craft club. In the last few months I’ve been learning lots of paper crafts and created cabochons (clear glass beads that are painted) amongst other things. I’m not very good at it. My cutting out skills leave a lot to be desired and sometimes the finished output does look like it was done by my inner 6 year old than my real life 46 year old self but I love it. It is definitely one of the best decisions I have made this year. I’ve made new friends, got involved in some volunteering by selling poppies and just generally had a laugh. At the end of November I went to a Crafternoon Tea event which again involved paper crafting but with the added joy of tea and cake thrown in. What’s not to love.

Next year I have more of the same but am also signed up to have a go at silk printing and felt sewing. Over the last few months I’ve given thought to digging out my sewing machine and actually learning how to use it (my mother will be stunned, she bought me it 5 years ago and it’s never left the packaging) and just recently I’ve had the urge to bake again. That has to be at least 10 years. I’ve added a few photos below of some of the things made. As I said not everything is perfect but the peace of mind it brings and the stress release you get from crafting more than compensates for any finished product.

365 Ways to Beat Stress

I’ve been reading a book called 365 Ways to Beat Stress by Adam Gordon and while all 365 hints, tips and meditations are worthwhile there were a few that jumped out enough to write this blog. The books isn’t out yet but you can buy it here and the blog review will be on my sister site For the Love of Books on release day.

Keep Something Absurd or Incongruous on your Desk

Our bank of desks at work is full of crazy things that catch people’s eye as they walk past. It started last Christmas when the retail store John Lewis started selling robin ornaments for Xmas which were then given paper kimonos when we drew Japan in the World Cup sweepstake. Currently we have a tree decorated with mini carrots which are the emblem of supermarket Lidl for 2018’s Christmas campaign. For me, on my desk, are the spiders that everyone insists are octopuses (octopii?) which I made for craft club. I’ve a post coming tomorrow on craft club so I’ll say no more for now.


Swings and Merry Go Rounds

This reminded something from when I was around 18 or 19. I think it was in Manchester’s Hyde Park but don’t hold me to that. I remember all of us, new adults, laying on the merry go round, firstly staring at the sky as it spun and spun then closing our eyes. Sinning around with eyes closed felt like we were going in the opposite direction to what we really were. I also remember taking lots of photos as we spun and had some amazing (if I say so myself) pictures of the sky. Sadly my life got very chaotic for a while after that and I no longer have them but it’s a memory I cherish especially on a summers day.

swings 1swings 2

Practise Origami

As part of the craft club I’ve been learning a type of origami called tea bag paper folding. Teabag folding is a paper craft art for embellishing greeting cards using small square pieces of paper (e.g., a tea bag wrapper) bearing symmetrical designs folded in such a way that they interlock and produce a three-dimensional version of the underlying design. I’ve had a couple of goes now and while I still need more practise it definitely keeps you in the now and is very calming.

Lastly Balancing Female Hormones Naturally and Learn Sign Language. I sent pictures of these to my friend. While I appear to be going through early menopause in the manner of my aunt (little to no symptoms) rather than my mum (psychosis) my friend has a terrible time every month. She’s also signed up to learn sign language in January. I love the fact that it is seen as a calming, stress busting activity.

There are so many more things in this book I either do or want to do. I found it a timely reminder to stop every now and then and live rather than just exist.



This has definitely been a year of two halves. I started the year part way through a daily blogging challenge, I had cut out about 80% of sugar and was trying to get in 10,000 footsteps per day in lieu of any other exercise and combined I managed to achieve quite a lot. Then I had some health issues, I wasn’t keen on the job I was doing and was demotivated there, my finance struggles seemed to worsen and looking back since around August I seem to have lost the plot with everything. Blogs have been sporadic and I definitely haven’t achieved my footsteps. In some ways the footsteps wasn’t an issue as I’d joined a gym and was doing 3 half hour sessions per week. However I pretty much sucked back in that 80% of sugar.

I’d got to the point where I’d lost 27lbs – 1lb off of 2 stone in UK measurements. Partly I think I sabotaged myself a bit but I also did what I always do when I’m stressed and I ate. I ate so much crap. Luckily when I’ve stood on the scales I’ve only gained 5lbs. I can work with that and have a mini goal to get rid of that by the end of this month plus that one more pound that takes me to that magical 2 stone figure. Regardless of what the end figure is on New Years Eve, 2018 is the best year I have had for diet and exercise in about 20 years so it can only be a positive

I stopped communicating in many ways whilst my depression and stress levels were high except for my book blog. I read a lot, even more when I’m in a down swing as it’s an escapism so that blog has done wonders. But I think I have more to say and am starting to miss this one so, while I may not get back into daily blogging I should at least be around more. 

I’ve started some planning for 2019. I found a notebook with so many lists of things I’d like to do, or read, or learn. One in particular is a list of all the jobs I need to do in the house. Not everything on these lists is do-able and certainly not in one year but they’re a good starting point for getting out of the house more and engaging with life.

I’ll add to this over the next few weeks as we come to the end of the year. One of the lists was of the things I wanted to achieve in 2018 so it will be interesting to see how much of that has happened. 

Too Many Self Help Books

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about one of my favourite topics; decluttering and mentioned to her that there was no need to keep so many books when you have thousands that can be downloaded free to kindle and the access of a fantastic library system in our home town Leeds. I had recently decluttered several bags of novels to either the local charity shops or to a website that buys them. 

However it got me thinking. I had 2 and a half shelves full of self help style books and over 30 again on my kindle. I have probably read only about 20% of them and some I’ve had for up to 10 years and still not read. It did get me thinking though can a person (who is not in any ‘helping’ professions) have too many self help books and is reading all of them more helpful?

Let’s face it, they do’t all say the same thing. One will conflict the advice in another. There isn’t one style of help that is more prevalent or helpful than any other. It all depends on the individual reading them. And if you read one thing and the next book insists on you doing something in a different way how are you supposed to know what good or bad you are doing to yourself? 

I’ve had therapy and know what my issues are, what triggers them and how (mostly) to deal with it. What I actually need to do is actually do! So my first action was to declutter these books from the shelves. So far I have got everything down to the one shelf with books I can sell and made myself about £18 in the process. Not a lot when I probably spent over £200 on these but it’s £18 I didn’t have in the run up to Xmas. 

Of the ones I have left there are a couple I refuse to part with. I will be keeping my John C Parkin F**K It books as I love the message behind them, my decluttering and Hygge books as they are lifestyles I enjoy and use. I am keeping my crystal books as this is again an area of interest and a potential business area I keep toying with and lastly my Taoism books; the only spirituality I’ve ever managed to connect with. Anything else is in the bag for a charity to sell. 

Within my kindle if it is on my general reading list section it can probably go. I do have a few in my documents that I downloaded fro netgalley so I will need to read them for reviews. And then that’s it. Beyond any I have left for netgalley I want to try and spend 2019 self help book free. Less reading, more doing. I’m going to stop giving myself mixed messages and try and live life in the best way that I think is right for me. It will still be a tough one as it’s my final year of having a debt repayment plan (last payment Jan 2020!) but I want to make it as stress free as possible and it looks like the best way to do that is to stop reading books on how to be stress free. 

New Things November -Action for Happiness @actionhappiness

The latest Action for Happiness calendar is all about New Things November. Last month we were asked to do a number of things that were all about Optimism and seeing the brighter side of life. It was quite well times for me as there was a lot of uncertainty at work and it reminded me that there is more than work and to not bring those issues home with me. 
The first thing on the new calendar is to write a list of all the new things you want to try this month. Easy thing to start with because as of today I start a new team at work. We recently restructured and I’ve moved to a new management strand so there will be lots of new opportunities to try out. 
I’m a  member of a craft club at work. This month through them I’ll be learning to make Xmas pop up cards, an ‘exploding’ Christmas box and some more origami so again lots of new things to try. I’m loving the craft club. Not only is it good for your mental health but it’s fun. Yesterday as it was Halloween we made lights out of jam jars and some pom pom spiders. Mine genuinely looked like a 5 year old had made them. Really not my finest hour but I’d spent an hour with glue, scissors and some like minded people and had some fun. I’m now strangely proud of my messy creations! So I’m looking forward to 6 weeks of Christmas crafting that is coming up. 
I also want to go back to practising minimalism. Whilst that is not a new thing to try I’ve joined a Facebook group (which is a new thing) and hopefully I’ll pick up some new tips. 
Lastly while I’ve been diligent in going to the gym I’ve really lost it with eating healthily. I’ve had far too much sugary items so I have lots of cookbooks and am going to aim to eat at least one new meal from them per week. I also have a bunch of Wii dance and exercise games and the 5 minute exercise sessions on my Sky+ (TiVo) so I can do some new types of exercise. The gym also do exercise classes so there’s even more new things there. 
There we go – lots of new things. I’ve mentioned many times my money worries and the best thing about the list I’ve put together is there is no real outlay other than what I already pay for. A few days ago when I saw this was coming my natural anxiety led thought was I could never afford to do this month as everything costs money. I’ve just proven to myself in a few paragraphs this isn’t true. I’m looking forward to this month and seeing what adventures I can find. 
 Other new free/cheap things to try that I will look at
  • More facebook groups linked to my interests
  • Twitter want to remove the ‘like’ button so more conversations rather than just clicking a button
  • Going for walks on a Sunday
  • Looking for the special offers on the food packets we already buy (my friend has just got 6 free cinema tickets by doing this)
  • Using the Bumble app to make new friends (also a dating app for anyone that wants to look at this side)
  • Talking to strangers
  • Borrow a book by a new author from the library
  • Listen to a new artist on Spotify (or choice of streaming website)
  • Watch a new TV show
 That’s my list, what’s yours?