Thursday, January 28, 2016

Budgeting and Saving Money - My Tips

Not Sponsored/No Samples


A while ago, I was asked by someone on Facebook if I could put together a post with some of the money saving/budgeting tips I've shared on Snapchat. I just want to start by saying I haven't been paid or sponsored by any of the companies mentioned in this post, this is how I manage money for our household and this is what I personally do, it's not in collaboration with anyone.


If you're an Electric Ireland customer, there's a way you can space out your payments instead of having to pay that dreaded lump sum every 2 months. If you email them on or ring them on 1850 372 372 (8am-8pm Mon-Sat) with your account details to hand, you can request an EasyPay card. They'll send you out a plastic card the size of an ATM card that you can use to lodge money into your Electric Ireland account at the Post Office. We put €20 in every week and we're nearly always in credit with them when the bill comes in - I think our highest bill since 2014 was €45. It's much easier to budget for €20 a week than it is for a massive lump sum that needs to be paid within a few weeks. They also now have an app available that lets you keep an eye on your usage, so you can reduce bills further.

* Thanks to Dawn Ryan on Facebook for letting me know that if you have an online account with Electric Ireland, you can make payments to your account too if you can't make it to the Post Office. 


If you're a regular Tesco shopper and you use your Clubcard to build up points, you'll know about the vouchers that are sent out a few times a year. Instead of getting them a few times a year, you can join the Christmas Saver scheme and have them all saved up and sent out to you at the end of November. As well as that, you can top up at the till to a maximum of €360. I started topping up in August last year - even if I didn't do my main shopping in Tesco, I'd nip in and put €5 or €10 (you can put in any amount, from 50c up) and by November I had €153 in vouchers to spend at Tesco. That took a massive amount of pressure off at Christmas - it freed up that week's grocery money for presents, it covered one big weekly shop, plus I stocked up on essentials like nappies, wipes, detergent - all from loose change I'd put in during the year along with my clubcard points and the bonus Tesco give (either €3 or €6) when you top up by a certain amount. You can sign up for the scheme in store, or by phone at 00800 0059 1688 with your clubcard details to hand. The only thing is, I'd recommend keeping a record of what you lodge into the scheme, because there's no way to check your balance. You'll still get money off and extra points coupons with your mailings during the year, just not the cash vouchers.


Fancy €260 to spend on something nice? That works out as €5 a week for 52 weeks. You could use that for a bill next January, or to pick something nice up in the sales, or to help with children or an event. The original version of this challenge suggests that you put an amount from €1 to €52 in a jar every week, but there's never going to be a week that I'll be able to save anything above €10 and not miss it. Instead, I save €5 or €4 into a can every week. This is how I was able to afford my Canon camera last January in the sales, there's no way I could have done it otherwise. I haven't started this yet this year, but I'm only 4 weeks behind so I could still have a nice amount saved if I started putting a fiver away now. I tried to do this last year but ended up dipping into it all the time, I'll definitely try and be more rigid this year. Even if you do dip into it, it's really handy to have an emergency can there for an unexpected "teacher says I need €2 tomorrow".


This is something I'm very new to, but I recently joined the Shop & Scan panel. The idea is that you are put on a waiting list (I was on it over a year) and then when they need somebody in your area, you're sent out a book and a scanner. You'll need to keep your scanner plugged in at all times, and the data is transferred wirelessly at night. You don't need a phone line or broadband. You scan all the barcodes from your grocery shopping, and the data is used for market research. In return, you get points, which are converted into vouchers for a shop of your choice (some available options are Argos, Amazon, Boots, New Look, Debenhams, One for All, Brown Thomas, plus a number of charities). Every 100 points = €1, I've only been a member since November and I've redeemed £30 in Amazon vouchers already (Kindle books sorted for the week year!!). Customer service is great, I've had to contact them a few times when I couldn't get my scanner working and they sorted it straight away. They've also emailed me when I wasn't scanning (I was sick) to check if everything was okay with the scanner. It is tedious, and it's time consuming, but I find if I cross items off my receipt as I'm putting them away I get it done quickly. You don't have to do loads of grocery shopping to receive points, you just have to promise to scan regularly. If you want to find out more, you can sign up at


We've had Sky for over 12 years now, and we've never had any customer perks from them. In fact, In 2015, we were still using the old Sky Digital box and dish that had been installed in 2004. We'd never had any money off, despite offers for new customers coming in the door every week. I got annoyed and decided to cancel. They will keep you on the phone for AGES so you'll get tired and hang up - but hang in there, it's worth the price of the call. They don't want to lose customers. In the end, I got a new Sky + HD Box, a new dish, engineer installation, and a reduced package rate for 9 months. For free. Originally I was quoted €50 for a box and another €35 (approx) charge that would be refunded to my account - I refused to pay anything and suddenly they didn't need the €35. If you're finding it difficult to meet monthly payments, ring them up. They do not want to lose you - negotiate a better package for yourself by calling 0818 719 819 and telling them that you'll move to a different provider if they can't help you. If it were up to me I'd get rid of it altogether, Netflix and Saorview are more than enough, but there are others in the house who watch Sky.


I have a maximum shopping budget every week. I think it's important to know the price of things you buy regularly, that way you'll always know if there is better value to be had somewhere else. I always bring a list. I start off with nappies and wipes, then work my way around the house. To find out what weekly offers are on, I look at the Tesco and Lidl websites (I don't shop at Aldi for personal reasons). I signed up for a Tesco online account even though they don't deliver my area. I input all the things I want to buy, and I write the prices down on my list. Then, I go to Lidl and I buy everything that comes up cheaper than Tesco, and I get the rest in Tesco. I get my meat and chicken from the local butcher, most of them will be happy to do you a deal if you go in and give them a budget - I go in every 2 weeks and get chicken fillets, mince, diced beef, gammon, etc. This sounds like a lot of messing but it just keeps my spending in line and makes me stick to a budget. Caitriona at Wholesome Ireland does a weekly post every Monday in which she lists all the fresh food offers and some special buys from the main supermarkets. This week's post is here.

Hopefully this has given you a few ideas on how I like to save, I got a few comments on Snapchat at Christmas asking me how I could do so much shopping - this is how!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Books I Read in December


This is a bit late due to sickness, but better late than never! I read 18 books in December.

I have a brand new shiny book page for 2016, you can find it on the sidebar under the "books" header. I'll update monthly, and I'll include clickable covers so you can find reviews of anything. All the December books will be going on the Books 2015 page, so if you want in-depth reviews on anything just have a look there and it'll take you to my full book review on Goodreads.

On with the show!

The Rick O'Shea Book Club

I managed both choices this month, I had bought the Donal Ryan one for myself for Christmas so I read that towards the end of December.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
A short book about the disintegration of a marriage, told from the point of view of "the wife", who remains unnamed. I didn't like this at all, I thought it was disjointed and pretentious, like finding someone's diary but half of it is in code only they'd understand. It has many, many fans - I'm just not one of them.

A Slanting of the Sun by Donal Ryan
One of my favourite authors, this latest offering from Donal Ryan is a collection of short stories. Each story is a little insight into someone's life, be it the traveller girl who has never dealt with prejudice until a moment in a scrapyard; the care assistant that appears to live a mundane life; the man who is responsible for the death of a teenage girl; the group of men who take it upon themselves to punish a rapist - every story is different and every one a masterpiece in its own right. One of my favourites of 2015.

Short Stories

Both of these were under 100 pages, the Lucy Diamond came in around 90 and the Gillian Flynn was under 70.

Christmas Gifts at the Beach Café by Lucy Diamond
I hadn't read the other Beach Café book so I wasn't familiar with the characters, Evie and Ed. They are spending Christmas apart - Ed is going to his recently widowed mother, while Evie's sister and her family are coming to Evie's house. This tried to pack an awful lot into a small book, so I never really got a feel for any of the characters, but I'd say people familiar with the other book would like this.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
I like Gillian Flynn's writing style, so I was delighted to see this on offer for £0.99 on Kindle. It's about a foul-mouthed ex-prostitute who is forced to make a career change when she suffers an injury. She begins to claim that she can read Auras, and succeeds in making a living until one client proves to be more difficult. If she can pull the job off, she could be rich. If she doesn't, she could be dead. This was genuinely very creepy around the middle part, I did get a little freaked. The ending wasn't ideal but it was a good read.


These were both picked to fulfil prompts for my reading challenge (a book published the year I was born, a book my Mum loves). Breige very kindly sent me some Sweet Valley High books last year and I hadn't gotten round to reading them yet, so it was great to revisit! If you were a fellow SVH fan back in the day, keep an eye on Red Lemonade - she's reading the books in order and does fantastic hilarious reviews.

Sweet Valley High: Double Love "by" Francine Pascal
Ghost writers were used for the whole series, with outlines provided by Francine. The books were all typical fare - blonde twins who should win awards for being gorgeous, one a busybody, the other a bitch. In this one, Jessica screws Elizabeth over on multiple occasions, big bro Steven almost shames the family by dating an undesirable, and Dad may be having an affair because his divorced work colleague is divorced and therefore could only be interested in Ned sexually, not because she's actually interested in working.

The Secret Island by Enid Blyton
The copy I had as a child belonged to my mother, by the time it got to me it had been read so often that it had a cover made from a Cornflakes box. Three siblings are unhappy with how their mean Aunt and Uncle treat them, so they take off with their neighbour Jack to a secret island and build a home for themselves. It's obvioulsy very dated but still a great little read.

Christmas Themed Books

I think I had my fill of Christmas themed books in November, but there were two more in December.

Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Jumper by Debbie Johnson
A woman knocks a man down, he turns out to be a dreamboat, and she ends up taking care of him over Christmas. An absolute cheesefest but thoroughly enjoyable of a cold December day beside a fire! Perfect after reading something heavy.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
I've seen many adaptations on TV but I don't think I've ever read the original before. We all know the story - mean old Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who teach him not to be so miserable. Enjoyable and surprisingly easy to read considering how old it is.

Young Adult

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Amy's father recently died, and she blames herself. Her mother is selling the family home, and needs Amy to drive their car to the new home. Amy refuses to drive, so her mother enlists Roger, the son of a family friend, to drive with Amy. A boy and a girl alone in a car, hmmmm...wonder what's going to happen here then? Parts are predictable but I really enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would (mainly because my sister thought it was shite) - but I liked the road trip element and I liked the metaphorical journey Amy went on.

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
Evie is 16 and slowly coming off her medication for OCD. She keeps a recovery diary and attends therapy, but all Evie wants is "normal". As she begins to unravel it's uncomfortable, and it's hard to read in places, but it's a very honest very believable portrayal of mental illness. It also addresses the way people misuse terms like OCD and "I almost had a panic attack", which is important. Recommended for teenagers.


The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood
I was overjoyed when my Netgalley request was granted for this book, I would have bought it anyway because I'm a huge Alex Marwood fan. This, her third novel, focuses on two weekends. The first, in 2004 when 3 year old identical twin Coco Jackson goes missing on the wekeend of her father Sean's 50th birthday celebrations. The second weekend is set in the present day, when Sean's daughter Mila is attending his funeral. Full of secrets, twists, and very uncomfortable to read at times, but recommended.

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton
Set in 1994 in The Falklands. Children keep disappearing, but nobody seems to know anything. Catrin Quinn is a marine scientist, dealing with the breakdown of her marriage and the loss of her children in a terrible accident a few years before. She blames her former best friend, Rachel, for the accident. Told from the perspective of Catrin, Rachel, and Catrin's kind-of-boyfriend Callum, this is a book full of revenge and twists, but Callum's chapters let it down and the ending destroyed it for me. Not an enjoyable read, very uncomfortable and full of dread. Incredibly confusing last paragraph.

Other Fiction

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
Set in Australia in the 1950s. A young woman, Tilly Dunnage, returns to her hometown after being told to leave years before. She is back to care for her ill mother. The townspeople despise Tilly due to her part in the death of a young boy, but when they see her fashion creations, they decide that she could be useful. Described as a story of "revenge, love, and creativity", this took a while to get going but it was an okay read.

Solace by Belinda McKeon
Set between Longford and Dublin, Solace is a story about love and survival. A young man meets the love of his life at college, but as they begin their future together tragedy strikes. A nice portrayal of rural vs urban Ireland and lovely to read familiar place names. Highly recommended.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
I've seen the film a few times but wanted to read the book, it also fitted in with one of the reading challenge prompts. A love story that spans several years, Noah and Allie are smitten with each other but their affair is brief. Years later, they become reacquainted and their story is then told to an old lady in a care home by an old man. I swore I wouldn't cry but yep, bawled like a baby. More at the thought of having alzheimers', to be fair, but if you've seen the film, it didn't deviate much from the book apart from the ending.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Don't ask me how I've reached 32 without reading this, but anyway - another challenge prompt, but I wanted to read this book in 2015 anyway. The story of Atticus Finch, lawyer called upon to defend a black man after he's accused of raping a young white woman, is told through the eyes of his young daughter Scout. It's a lazy, southern, late summer read that reminded me a lot of the way Stephen King writes those coming-of-age smalltown parts in his books. A great book, a great read, but I won't be touching her second book with a barge pole. Atticus Finch in this book is perfect, I don't want to read how he could have been.

Out of My Comfort Zone

Finally, I had to read a graphic novel and play for my reading challenge.

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoet
A beautifully illustrated graphic novel about a group of tiny creatures who live inside a young girl. But this isn't Inside Out - it's gory, macabre, and creepy. The creatures have to move out and find another home after the girl is killed, so the story turns into a Lord of the Flies type thing where survival is priority. Genuinely the weirdest thing I've ever read.

Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley
A short play about a Priest suspected of inappropriate conduct with a student. Is he guilty or not? Very thought provoking.

That's it - that's the last book roundup of 2015, see you in February to see how 2016 is starting off!

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Body Shop Advent Calendar 2015 - Was it Worth €99?

Not Sponsored/No Samples/Competition Prize


Back in November, I was lucky enough to win one of Alison's many fantastic giveaways. I won the Body Shop 24 Happy Days Advent Calendar, and I was delighted because The Body Shop are a brand that I don't get to try very often.

Apologies for the poor lighting.

Once again, we in Ireland get the short straw when it comes to pricing. The Body Shop aren't the only brand to do this, there are many others - but this was £60 in the UK so should have been around the €80 mark. It was €99.

So............was it worth €99?

The packaging was gorgeous, a really sturdy outer box that closed with ribbon. Inside were 24 different sized boxes, all containing a treat and a little inspirational quote with a hint to what was inside.

The contents blew me away some days. There was a fantastic variety - from little soaps, to perfume, body butter, eye cream, soap, lip balm, nail polish - if you saw me open this daily on Snapchat then you'll know that the sizes were decent, the products were decent (except the nail file) and every day was a real treat. Not pictured is the mini shower puff (one of the lads ran off with it).

Frosted Cranberry Shimmer Lotion, Frosted Plum Shimmer Lotion - these lotions smell delicious but have a little too much shimmer for my taste. I'd imagine they'd be gorgeous on legs though.
Vitamin E Hydrating Toner - I don't use toner apart from Serozinc so I was happy to get this.
Fuji Green Tea Body Lotion & Shower Gel - Love these, was delighted to get both so I could layer.
Wild Argan Oil Shower Gel - Really lovely, have used this several times.
Shea Shower Cream - one of The Body Shop's iconic scents, a gorgeous shower cream.

All of the above were 60ml samples, really generous and more than enough to get a feel for a product to know if I'd want the full size.

Almond Hand & Nail Cream - if you like the smell of marzipan, this is the hand cream for you. It was NOT the hand cream for me. Death to marzipan.
Strawberry Hand Cream - more like it - really fresh,  non-synthetic strawberry scent and a lovely hand cream.
Shea Body Butter - a lovely decent size and a gorgeous body butter.
Soaps - white, red and purple - I'm listing the colours because I couldn't tell what the scents are. The white one is creamy and comforting, the other two are fruity.

Vitamin E Moisture Cream - nice sample size, haven't used this yet but always happy with moisturiser.
Vitamin E Night Cream - ditto, I'm still trying to use up that Trilogy one.
Elderflower Unperfumed Eye Gel - was delighted to see this, my Green Angel one is on its last legs so I've popped this into the fridge.
Red Nail Polish - haven't used this but it looks like a pretty colour.
Italian Summer Fig Perfume - this is GORGEOUS. I assumed from reviews that it would be similar to Roger & Gallet's Fleur de Figuier but it's much more rounded and grown up. It's stunning and I would definitely buy a full size if I didn't have an embarrassing amount of perfumes to get through.

Mini Nail File - crap, compared to everything else. I mean they're handy & all... but no.
Honeymania Lip Balm - I love The Body Shop lip balms, so this was welcomed.
Strawberry Lip Balm - Gorgeous, really nostalgic and fruity.
Eyeshadow Brush - I never knew they did makeup brushes! I haven't used this yet but it looks great.
Eyelash Curler - I already own a great one from Kevyn Aucoin so I passed this on but the recipient was delighted.
Eye Definer in Black - Would you believe I actually didn't own a full size black eyeliner? Not that I wear it very often, but I was happy to see this.
Mini Shower Puff (not pictured) big enough to wash all the credentials, I was glad to see it in the box.

Overall, would I buy it? I'm loathe to say yes because that price increase is just unfair, but I would. I don't think I'd fork out €99 in one lump, I think this could be a lovely thing to start up a savings jar for. A tenner a month from now to October would be doable, and I might just do it for next year! It was lovely to have something to look forward to every day and the products will last me ages.

Worth it?


Thank you Alison xx