How I got a top haircut for £8.50

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(£8.50 = US$11 or €10.)

I was back in England recently, and one thing I find hard when I’m in a new place is to find a good hairdresser. I’ve had some real hair disasters the past few years as I’ve moved around a lot. I wasn’t going anywhere near my ‘go-to’ hairdresser in England on this trip, so I looked up an old hairdresser from my second stop, a city where I worked for many years.

He’s now a salon manager (he’s done well, good for him!) but a cut and blow dry with him would cost over £70. Yikes!

Having dismissed that as being way beyond my budget I then decided to have a look for a hairdresser in the first town where I would be staying, a place I had never visited before. Looking around Google maps at the town, I spotted a Further Education college. (For readers across the Pond I think you call them community colleges, but I may be wrong. In Britain that’s where you can go at 16 to study vocational subjects like catering, construction trades and hairdressing.) So I had a look at the college’s website – they do hairdressing and have a salon!

I fixed up an appointment; a cut and blow dry is £8.50 with a Level 2 student, and £10 for Level 3. I was very limited in the range of appointments as there are only a limited number of lessons in the salon – this is after all a teaching environment where students get to practice their skills on real clients.

I went along there on my appointment day and it was a nicely designed salon. I think that the 18 year old Level 2 student who cut my hair will do well in her career; she was friendly and outgoing, but applied great care and attention to the task in hand. As with other FE college appointments I’ve had in the past it took an hour and a half, longer than high street salon appointments, but these students are learning so you do need to allow extra time and have some patience.

The tutor listened in to what I told the student about what I wanted done, and she made sure that the student knew exactly what she needed to do. At regular stages in the cut, the progress was checked by the tutor. In addition to a cut, I asked if I could have my hair texturised to take out some volume; this is an advanced technique so once my hair was dry, the tutor did the texturising and it gave the student a tutorial in advanced cutting.

The final result was brilliant! It’s win-win all round – I got a great cut, the student got real-life practice and the college got some extra income.

High street salons are a lovely environment, but so expensive. If you need to cut back your budget it is worthwhile to consider a college for your hairdressing; I have never been disappointed with a college cut. Many colleges do beauty as well as hair, so if you feel that you have to give up your manicures or back massages, you could consider your local college for an occasional treat. Colleges that run catering courses often have restaurants too, where you can get a meal for a very reasonable price – though maybe not at weekends. Do check out your local college for what they offer, you might be surprised.

If there isn’t a college near you, there are many competent hairdressers who work from home, many do so as they have caring responsibilities for children or other relatives. My go-to hairdresser was a senior stylist at a top salon but she created a salon at home after having her youngest child, and her technical expertise is first class. A cut and blow-dry with her costs £25 – her cuts in the salon used to be about £70. No contest.

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Facebook does not make you famous!

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Well, it could make you famous if you have a post that goes viral, but the chances of that are gazillions to one.

My apologies for being quiet for a while, but I’ve had 3 trips back to England in 3 months. I had to put a lot of planning and organisation into these trips, I got back from the last trip a week ago and even now I feel like I could sleep for a month. At least I won’t be travelling again until the autumn, when I go back to England for good. It’s been great to spend time in various places in continental Europe, but there’s no place like home.

Recently I’ve been watching the BBC programme Shop Well for Less; if you’ve not seen it, the two presenters put overspending families on a week or fortnight of austerity in order to help them to live to a budget that is within their means. Having lived frugally for nearly 10 years now, I am shocked by the families’ spending habits.

One woman on the programme stuck in my mind, she is a beauty therapist and she said that she couldn’t possibly wear the same outfit twice. She explained this by saying that she has her photo taken all the time when she’s out, and so many of them end up on social media, she couldn’t possibly be seen wearing the same outfit twice, she has a reputation to live up to…

Whaaat?? It’s Facebook, not the national press!

I’ve had a great time in England catching up with my friends, one of whom is an old school friend who beats me hands down at super-frugality. We were talking about this programme and I mentioned this ‘different outfits’ comment, and she said “I know loads of women like that”.

So, this was not an isolated example on Shop Well for Less. I explore the effect of society on spending habits in my book, especially of celebrity culture, but even after all my research I was floored at how deeply ingrained the mimicry of celebrities’ lifestyles seems to be in the lives of ordinary people with national average salaries. Having grown up in the 70s (and I’m glad I did) I have seen the rise of celebrity culture as a phenomenon. Of course we admired our favourite pop stars and actors back then, but talentless people generally didn’t get a claim to fame and we never felt the urge or pressure to rush out to buy designer clothes and accessories. It was either Chelsea Girl or the market stalls.

I like a quiet life anyway with my feet firmly on the ground, and I am more interested in the flesh and blood people around me and their welfare than I am in celluloid celebrities. I really don’t get the desire for fame, don’t people realise that it can be hell? If you’re not happy with your life now, having loads of money to buy shiny trinkets will not make you happy. Having a great deal of intrusion into your private life certainly won’t make you happy either.

Finally, I think that everyone likes to hear about dirt being dished on celebrities. (It’s called schadenfreude.) That’s what tabloid journalists are looking for all the time; do you remember the woman in Worcester who was exposed as a lottery cheat? The press really had their knives out for her.

Be careful what you wish for…

“Would you like a receipt?” Of course I would!

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I’ve just been back to England for 4 days, the first trip back for just over a year. Little has changed; I spotted a couple of road improvements, a couple of building sites now have pristine buildings on them, BHS is no more and a few shops have changed names/ownership but it looks pretty much the same. My friends are still as wonderful as ever.

It’s always an opportunity to stock up on things that I can’t get across the Channel so I save up and have a spree. This takes me into several shops and one thing that I noticed at many major retailers was that I was always asked:

“Would you like a receipt?”

Huh? What’s that all about? Of course I want a receipt!

It happened so often that I thought that it’s either a move designed to reduce paper waste (laudable), or a step towards digital receipts. I recently read though about contactless card payments – which I refuse to use – that they don’t show up even as pending transactions on your bank account for a few days.

So… if you’re not getting receipts, how can you keep track of your spending? Just how many people carry a notebook and record every expense as it arises? Is this why a third of young people are too scared to look at their bank balance? Also, if you don’t have a receipt for your goods, how can you prove that you bought them if you’re challenged by a security guard? Do they now have CCTV everywhere in a shop to record everyone’s payment as proof they’re not a shoplifter?

Yes please, gimme my receipt. I’m going to take my fistful of paper receipts for my CASH payments back home, even the one for 25p, and I’m going to record every expense that I made through the day so that I can keep track of my finances. No-one’s going to accuse me of being a thief either, as I can prove my purchases.

How to avoid debt consolidation disasters

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Looking back, some of the worst decisions that I made were to consolidate my debts when they started to spiral out of control. I did that quite a few times before everything fell apart and I was forced to get rid of my debts once and for all. On the face of it, it’s a sensible move – to put your total debt into one loan with a much lower interest rate and pay it off.

Then you’re debt-free, yay!

All well and good, but my best intentions fell by the wayside and I never followed it through to the logical conclusion. I did little to change my spending habits; if I saw something I liked, I bought it. If a holiday took my fancy, I’d book it. I cut up my cards whenever I consolidated my debts but didn’t cancel them. Once the expiry date came round, I would get a new card through the post. I would usually be feeling the pinch because my bank account struggled to cope with all my impulse buys, so the round of overspending on credit started again. I even consolidated twice with secured loans against the house; what a dumb thing to do.

I learned the hard way – if you’re going to get rid of debt this way, you have to see it through to the end!

If you consolidate your debts, don’t take on ANY more debt until the loan is paid in full.

One option that avoids an interest-paying consolidation loan is to consider transferring to a 0% interest credit card and having a blitz on the balance to repay the whole sum as soon as possible. This is a much less expensive option than a consolidation loan.

Debt consolidation can be a good thing to do in some cases, but not all. You really need to be disciplined to avoid entering into any further credit until the consolidation loan is paid off. If you are going to do this:

  1. Before you approach lenders, get advice from a non-profit making organisation such as StepChange or the Money Advice Service. Consolidation may not be the right choice for you.
  2. Don’t take out a secured loan against your home – it could put your home at risk if you become unable to keep up the repayments.
  3. Pay off your credit and store cards with the loan and cancel the accounts straight away.
  4. Prepare a budget and stick to it.
  5. Rethink your spending; only buy things that you need, and set a limit for occasional treats.
  6. Get out of the habit of impulse buying. You can admire something without possessing it.
  7. Once the loan has finished, put the amount of the loan repayment that you’ve become used to paying into a savings account so that you can buy things that you need without resorting to credit.
Disease Called Debt

Sale time! Get Out of Debt Hell reduced for one week on Amazon

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It’s January sale time!

A lot of us are on a tight budget this month, so I am running a Kindle Countdown deal for one week on my ebook Get Out of Debt Hell, and the paperback version will also be reduced for one week too on UK and US Amazon.

UK Amazonebook, 99p and paperback £5.99

US Amazonebook, $1.99 and paperback $7.49

Offer runs from Thursday 12 January to Wednesday 18 January. Grab a bargain whilst it lasts!

Time to practice what I preach – a bad habit successfully ditched!

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Bad habits can be a serious drain on your finances, especially when they impact on your health. This is an excerpt from my book Get Out of Debt Hell:

“You may be in your 20s, 30s or 40s and still feel fit and strong and thoughts of old age and infirmity may be far from your thoughts. It is possible to remain fit and strong from your 50s onwards (barring accidents and health problems) by investing in your health now. From my first-hand knowledge of friends and family who have had the misfortune to have unexpected and serious health problems, I am fully aware of the extra financial costs that ill health can incur and of the ensuing worry and anxiety. With spending cuts, it is looking increasingly likely that you will not be able to expect the state services to solve in an instant any mobility problems that you might have in later life.  Any bad habits like overeating, smoking, lack of exercise, recreational drug use or excessive drinking that harm your health may not be manifesting in problems now, but they will be storing up to blindside you at some point in the future.”

I’ve been good at looking after my health except in one area – I’ve battled with smoking for many years. I rarely drink alcohol, I eat healthily, exercise daily and don’t use drugs (medicinal or recreational), but I could not ditch smoking; I even smoked through the IVA. I wasn’t deluding myself – I knew the risks that I was taking. I had my first smoke when I was 12 but I didn’t form a habit until I was 15, though I wasn’t a heavy smoker back then as it was a habit that I had to conceal from my parents and teachers.

“Just give it up!”

If you’ve never smoked, that’s probably what you would think but that’s an appeal to the rational. Bad habits are not that simple though, they always have a psychological trigger that keeps you hooked and the rational and emotional sides to our personalities are often oceans apart. In my case the triggers were frustration and boredom. A couple of people I’ve known with drink problems both had major disappointments in life that prevented them from the career path that they really wanted to follow.

There comes a time when you get really, really worried about your health

I’ve had a smoker’s cough for years, but I have been feeling my lung function getting worse every winter. Earlier this year I started to wheeze when I put my head down to go to sleep.

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It’s easy to put it off when you don’t feel an immediate threat to your health but these symptoms have worried me. I just don’t know when I’ll reach the tipping point, after which I’ll have a chronic and irreversible condition. In addition to that, a friend’s partner had a heart attack last year and he is about my age. Since then, they have both quit smoking, they eat more healthily and get plenty of exercise; I was able to catch up with them recently and they look fantastic. They were the sort of people that I thought would never quit, but they did it; so I thought, if they can, so can I.

Strike whilst the iron’s hot!

I’ve been across the Channel for a while and tobacco is much cheaper than it is in Britain, so the cost incentive wasn’t so great. However I’ve been closely monitoring how much I spend on tobacco – €60 per month, that’s about £50.

That’s €720/£600 per year going up in smoke!

I’ve recently had a surge of positive news that has helped me to quit. I’ve wanted to change course from what I’m presently doing, but I’ve had various disappointments and obstacles in my way. But – recently, everything has fallen into place! Hurrah!

So, knowing that frustration was a hook to keep on smoking, I decided that this tide of positivity was the perfect time to quit – it certainly was, it was easy. I bought nicotine patches but only needed to use them for the first week. The results so far after quitting two weeks ago are:

  • €30/£25 saved
  • No wheezing when I go to bed
  • Noticeable lung function improvement
  • More energy and clearer thought processes
  • Blood pressure and pulse well into the normal range
  • Skin looks better
  • Clothes and hair don’t smell of smoke

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In addition to all that, I feel much more positive at achieving something that I knew that I needed to do for a long time. All that money that will be saved will be a great help for my plans too!

If you need help and advice on quitting a habit that’s bad for your health, your GP will be able to help. You can also find many sources of support online, the NHS has various resources listed on its website – http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Addiction/Pages/addictionhome.aspx

brokeGIRLrich

Spread the cost of your Christmas food shopping

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All the Christmas goodies are starting to creep onto the supermarket shelves, so if you act now you can start to plan your shopping to spread the cost so that you don’t have a massive food bill in December. Aim to get all your non-perishables by the end of November – then all you have to buy in December are fresh foods with a short use-by date. I’ve compiled my tried and much-tested to-do list based on a traditional Christmas dinner, but if your meal is less traditional there are still ingredients that you can buy in advance.

Step One

Make a dedicated Christmas shopping list of everything that you’ll need and cross things off when you buy them so that you don’t end up buying them twice.

Start to make room now

Reorganise your food storage; tidy it up and use up any food that is near its use-by date. Blitz not only your shelves but also your fridge and freezer. Defrost your freezer and/or fridge-freezer if it’s not been done for a while. Keep any old bread in the freezer for breadcrumbs if you’re making bread sauce and stuffing (well worth the effort to make as they taste much, much nicer than made from a packet and they’re really easy to do). Bread is still fine to use when it has that dried whitish edge to it, it’s just freezer burn that is caused by water molecules leaving the food and doesn’t mean it’s bad or mouldy. Just trim it off if you don’t like the look of it, though you won’t see any difference if you turn it into breadcrumbs.

What to start buying from September

Jars of cranberry sauce and mincemeat

Any tinned foods and packet foods that you might use

Dry ingredients for baking

Dried fruit if you’re making a fruit cake

Alcohol for the festive period (keep it hidden and out of temptation’s reach! Attic, maybe? In a well-taped-up box?)

What to start buying from October

Meat for freezing

Frozen vegetables or fresh veg for freezing

Christmas pudding

What to start buying from November

Table crackers and paper napkins (though you might have got these last January when reduced in the sales!)

Nibbles – nuts, crisps, chocolates and snacks (ditto the advice above for alcohol – hide them)

Desserts that are suitable for freezing

End of Nov – perishables with a longish use-by date such as butter and eggs

December – ahh, nearly done

Once you’ve done that, all that will leave you with is a small shopping list of perishables to get a couple of days before the 25th. Check out the opening time on the 23rd or Christmas Eve, it’s often 7.30am now so get up early and you can get it all done before the crowds descend like an invading horde. You’ll then be leaving whilst dozens of cars are frantically looking for a space.

Struggling to budget? Team up with a buddy.

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I know how hard it is to struggle alone with a budget. Years ago I would carry a little notebook with me to record every daily expense, but I always lapsed within a few days. I would find shopping around for the best deals tiresome – of course, the internet has changed everything and now it is much easier.

Group support is powerful

Think of slimming clubs. You try to diet alone, then one day you’re fed up and you think that one cream scone won’t do any harm, but that’s the start of the slippery slope and then your diet is down the pan. If you join a slimming club though it gives you an extra incentive to stick to it, as you want to be seen to succeed when you go along to your weekly meeting. Everyone there is rooting for you and willing you to lose those extra pounds.

Team up with a friend or relative 

More people are in debt than you think and struggling to manage their money. Ask around if anyone is interested in teaming up to look at ways to save money. If you team up with someone else, you will then have the moral support to keep going in your money-saving endeavour. You could even form a group and get together on a regular basis and compare your progress.

There’s no need for anyone to know that you are in debt

If your need to reduce your expenditure is because of your debt problems, your money-saving buddy (or buddies) don’t need to know the reason. It’s your business alone. There are many reasons that you could give for wanting to save money, here are just a few:

  • You want to increase your savings
  • You want to save up for birthdays, Christmas or a holiday
  • You want to replace your old car
  • You want to build up a fund for emergencies
  • You want to save for a house deposit

Let your imagination run wild and think up an explanation if you feel that you need one – though if you say it’s for something like a trip to Florida, they’ll wonder later why you haven’t gone. Make it plausible!

You can find a suitable budget tool together

Maybe if one of you feels hopeless at preparing a budget, you could work through the method of preparing a budget together. There are many online tools for preparing a budget that will help you. You could look at the online tools for budgeting, here are a few:

StepChange – https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/how-to-make-a-budget.aspx

The Money Advice Service – https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/budget-planner

Citizens Advice – https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/budgeting/budgeting/work-out-your-budget/

Money Saving Expert – http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/banking/Budget-planning

You could also share the cost of budgeting software to load on your PC if you prefer. Have a look for budget planner CD-Roms in charity shops, you might find one there.

You can share the research

List all the areas that you both want to research, for example cheaper insurance, sources for price comparison, money saving tips, how to decrease the interest on loans and credit cards. Divvy up the list so that the  time spent on the research is shared, and each of you can report back on your findings.

If you don’t want to do this with someone you know

You can look at ways in which you can get help and advice elsewhere. There are forums such as Money Saving Expert where you can engage with other users anonymously. There are also various debt support groups throughout the country that can help you to get out of debt and help you to budget. Unfortunately there are not groups in every town (though it seems that an increasing number of groups are being formed to tackle such a widespread problem), but Debtors Anonymous UK hold Skype meetings.

However you do it – do tackle your debt

It does take effort and determination, but tackling your debt now will place you in a much stronger position in the future. You never know if some calamity might be round the corner; this is what happened to me, an unforeseen crisis tipped my debt problem into insolvency and believe me, it is an awful position to be in and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Once you get out of debt, you realise how trapped and burdened you once were by debt and you will relish the liberty. Enjoy the journey to debt freedom!