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When you’re running a home and working practically every hour, it’s a pleasant surprise to find something that simplifies your life, rather than taking up time and energy that you just don’t have. That’s why I’ve decided to pull together this handy list of online services that have streamlined my ‘life admin’ and I hope that it’ll help you to make some changes and reclaim your free time!I’ve owned my home for almost 18 months now and have lived here just over 12 months. So, I think that’s the perfect time to take stock of the household processes that I’ve been doing and see whether there’s something I can do to make life easier. I mean, who doesn’t want to do fewer chores and have more spare time, eh?

Sure, I’ve rented homes for years and have always managed to pay my bills on time and keep on top of things. But now that I’m self-employed AND paying a mortgage, I want everything from bill-paying to grocery shopping to be as fuss-free as possible. I want to work, rest and play – not have my precious free time taken up with life admin.In fact, I’ve seen a LOT of mentions of life admin on Instagram. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see a post on Instagram Stories about the life admin tasks that need to be done. And quite often, it seems like the quantity of these #LifeAdmin posts increase around the weekend. Yes, we’re all working harder and longer, and now the only free time we’ve got is taken up with administrative tasks. That can’t be good, can it?I want to change all that. There MUST be ways to make life admin much easier and considerably faster. Who wants to spend their Saturday morning filling in forms and making payments? I certainly don’t! So, I’ve come up a list of ways that I’ve already simplified my life and some new series that I’m planning to try out. Here goes…

BILL PAYING

Argh, bills. Why do we not get more training in bill-paying (and understanding!) at school, eh? The amount of time that it takes me to get through to a call-centre and give them metre readings and discuss tariffs, only for them not to be able to let me know the total cost of my bill and then having to wait for the ‘letter of doom’ to arrive in a week or so. Then I have to arrange to pay it. Argh – so much wasted time.I’ve decided that I need to streamline this process and one way is to make bill paying more convenient so that I can do it whenever I want to. I’ve found an online-only tariff for gas and electricity that I’m thinking of switching to when my current contract is up. It’s called Easy Online and there’s no call-centres, so no more being on hold or pressing the # key to get through to a customer service operator. That doesn’t mean that there’s no customer support when you need them; you can get in touch via live chat, Facebook messenger, text or through the app, and get a reply 24/7, not just during opening hours.I like this feature because I’m usually working during the hours that the call centres are open, and I guess everyone else in the country is also phoning on their lunch break, given the amount of time I’m usually kept on hold in the queue! And the added bonus is that it’s a competitively priced tariff too. Because there’s no call centres or paper bills coming through the post, the tariff has fewer overhead costs associated with running your account, and this saving is passed on to us, hurrah! Plus, it’s paid by direct debit, so you’ll never forget a bill or be late with a payment again, phew!

STUDYING

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a lifelong learner. I love to study something new every year and I just can’t get enough of textbooks and educational courses. That said, I don’t really have the time to commit myself to going to a leisure learning course. If I signed up and paid my fees, I KNOW something would come up after a couple of weeks and I’d have to miss a class, therefore wasting the money I’d paid.  Not to mention the time it’ll take for me to drive to the nearest town and back, and the hours spent in a classroom.Nonetheless, I want to carry on learning so I’m not going to let a little thing like ‘not having enough time’ stop me. So, I’ve enrolled on a course but, because it’s conducted online, I can complete it at my own pace and from home. No travelling, and no missing classes. I sometimes find myself with an unexpected spare hour and it would be so convenient to be able to pick up the course where I left off and fit it in around my life. I wrote more about the course I’m taking on my blog last week so have a read if you’re interested in doing the same.

SHOPPING

Argh, I hate going to the supermarket. It takes hours. The driving, the traffic, the shopping bags, the trolleys, the other people, the queues. And then, you’re back there within a week because you’ve forgotten to buy something, or you’ve already run out of fresh fruit. I find it to be such a waste of time and it was such a revelation to me that when I started shopping online. Now, I admit, I don’t do it all the time and I DO like to use local shops, but for those ‘big shops’ where you’re completely re-stocking your store cupboard with cereals, tins and drinks, you can’t beat online grocery shopping.I even enjoy seeing the van pull up outside my home with the boxes of shopping on-board. It’s like Father Christmas pulling up in his sleigh! Okay, maybe it’s not quite that exciting, but I’m still pretty chuffed with the time and energy I’m saving by shopping online. Admittedly, it takes a while to set up your first order, but once it’s on the website you can easily re-order and add/remove items in the future. As anyone who’s needed to go to a supermarket on a Saturday knows, it’s such a relief not to have to push a heavy trolley down a crowded aisle towards an ever-growing queue.

ENTERTAINMENT

This is a bit of an unusual one but it’s one of the ways that the internet has streamlined my life over the past year, so I thought I should include it in my post. I don’t have a TV aerial. When we moved in, the aerial didn’t work, and we haven’t got around to getting it fixed yet. But now that we’ve lived like this for more than a year, I don’t think we’ll ever get a TV aerial. That’s because we watch almost everything online now.Luckily, we already had a smart TV and we have a decent broadband connection, so we’ve always been able to access the shows and channels we want to watch online. Sure, we might be missing out on the countless Freeview channels that are available via a TV aerial, but we’ve got all the main channels, plus YouTube and Netflix so that’s more than enough entertainment to keep us busy.

I think that having more channels means you’re more likely to mindlessly flick through and find something to watch. And that’s a big thief of time! I feel like I have much more spare time now that I consciously decide what to sit down to watch, and it means that the shows I enjoy are always available when I’M ready to watch it, and my life isn’t dictated by the TV schedule.

There you have it; some easy ways that you can simplify your life and make some easy swaps to save you time and energy during your previous time off. What do you do to make your life admin quicker and fuss-free? Please let me know your tips in the comments below, I’d love to get your advice and streamline my life even more!

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Want to feel reassured that your house is safe when you’re away from home? I certainly do – however, the costs of the installation, upkeep and monitoring of home security systems have, traditionally, not been particularly reasonable. So, what should you do? Simply saying, “it’ll never happen to me” isn’t enough! Here’s what you should do…It’s difficult to know how much is a reasonable amount to spend on a home security system. If you are looking to revamp your home’s security, you need to shop around. Security system prices vary massively and it’s easy to find yourself spending a hundred pounds for just one security camera up to thousands for a total home security system. Fortunately, a I know of a few ways that’ll help you get a price that’s just right for your bank balance. You can use these tricks and tips to get you an affordable price when purchasing security products for your home.

MONITORED SYSTEMS

One of the things you need to determine is whether you require an unmonitored or monitored home security system. Monitored systems are those connected to a company’s call centre or emergency services like the police and fire departments. A monitored system has ongoing costs as you’ll need to pay a monthly service fee. Not to mention the fact that the installation costs will be much higher.

The unmonitored alternative only emits an alarm without alerting the authorities. The benefit of having an unmonitored system is that it costs less. However, you need to ensure that you can rely on neighbours to hear the alarm and ensure that the noise will scare off a potential intruder.

FIND RELIABLE BRANDS 

Reliable brands tend to offer clients high-quality security services and products, but when choosing a brand, make sure you take into consideration the following:

  • Does the company offer the range of security products you need?
  • Can you reach a support team any time of the day and week?
  • Does the company have a warranty and return policy on its products and services?
  • What do people say about the brand online?
WATCH OUT FOR SPECIAL OFFERS

One thing you should be taking advantage of is the fact that just about all home security companies regularly have special offers running. In fact, some companies will offer clients anything between 5 to 20 percent discount at any time. Purchasing your home security system using voucher codes is a great way of saving money so you shouldn’t buy unless there’s a discount available. Or, you can take part in giveaway competitions and win a home security kit for free!To stay informed on company special offers or activities, look at their official website. Most companies also run discounts and giveaway activities on special days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, randomly enough! If you can’t wait around for the special offers or just missed the last giveaway, take a bold step. Contact the company directly by email and ask if they can offer you a discount. You can tell them that you are a fan and that you just missed out on their latest offer. Doing this will increase your chances of getting the 20 percent discount anyway!

WHAT ARE YOU PROTECTING?

Did you know that there are different security systems to protect the different areas of your home? The main components of an alarm system are motion lights, window and door alarms, and motion sensors. Keep in mind that the more bells and whistles a system has, the higher the price. Perhaps you only require placing sensors on your back and front doors? Or a floodlight over your front garden? Plus, consider your furry friends in the home – you probably don’t want a motion sensor alarm in your home if you’ve got pets moving around the rooms at night!

CUSTOMISE YOUR SECURITY

Walk around your home and note the number of entrances, first-floor windows, and possible areas someone can break in – in other words, get to know your space. It helps if you can think like a burglar, so you don’t overspend on security equipment you don’t require. Most security systems on the market have different packages available so only choose the number of motion detectors, cameras and monitors you actually need.

DO IT YOURSELF

Previously, home security system required wiring, installation and repair by professionals, increasing all types of extra fees. Today, the best wireless CCTV home security systems and smartphone apps can help you create an affordable DIY solution. Some cameras offer you live video feed along with features like sound and motion notifications sent to your smartphone. I bet it could get really addictive watching your own home to see what’s going on – especially if you have pets! Such systems allow you to save money on installation, monitoring and equipment.

CHECK WITH YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY 

You can actually save money month-on-month by having a home security system. How? Well, your home insurance provider may offer you discounts when you have extra security devices! So, before you install your system, make sure you check with your insurance company and see what they’d need you to add in order to cut the cost of your insurance. You never know, the discount might be enough to justify purchasing the home security system. If you’ve already installed the system, notify your insurer immediately, so you can start reaping these rewards right away.

So there you have it – get DIYing and use those discounts to your advantage! Did you know that 88 percent of burglars tend to bypass homes with security camera systems installed? That just goes to show that by installing security lights and surveillance cameras can make a difference in protecting your family and home. Best of all, there are products out there available in every budget range so you can do it without breaking the bank. Let me know your money-saving ideas for your home in the comments below, I’d love to hear your tips!

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The lights, the dancing, the band, the voices – I just love musicals! I can’t count how many shows I’ve seen over the years, but I know that I’m waaay off seeing them all. Every year new productions launch and more stage shows go on tour. And that means more tickets to buy! But it doesn’t have to cost a small fortune to see the shows you love – here’s how to cut costs on going to the theatre…

LONDON SHOWS

If you’re going to travel to London to see a musical in the West End, it’s a good idea to book your tickets in advance. If you just turn up at the theatre box office, it’s likely that all the lower-price seats will have been sold and you’ll end up paying £££s for your seats.Buying online means that you KNOW you’ve got the tickets, and you can easily save money with the discounted rates you can find online. For example, ticket seller Encore Tickets often have flash sales on the latest West End musicals so you might be able to grab yourself a bargain if you keep an eye on the site.

CHOOSE YOUR SEATS

Another way to save money on your theatre tickets is to choose the lower-priced seats. This summer I’m going to see Shrek The Musical when it tours and when I booked I paid only £10 per ticket rather than the full price. That’s because I picked those seats in the theatre that are ‘restricted view’.In reality, it isn’t really a restricted view – they’re just not the “best” up-front-and-centre seats, which cost the most money. Your seats could be toward the back of the theatre (in which case you’ll have a full view of the stage from above) or at the sides, or sometimes at the very front. I sat in the middle of the front row for The Full Monty and the view was rather outstanding, I can tell you!

TOURING SHOWS

The way I see it, whenever a West End show goes on tour around the country, you should make the effort to go see it at your local theatre. This is your chance to see a quality performance, famous stars and enjoy a fun night out in the familiar settings of your home town.

MY BUCKET-LIST OF MUST-SEE SHOWS
  1. The first show on my list is The Lion King. I feel like the only person not to have seen The Lion King and I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without heading to the Lyceum Theatre to what this epic show. I loved the Disney film as a kid and I’ve heard great things about this musical from my musical-loving pal.
  2. A brand-new musical has made it onto my list – Tina. It’s the story of Tina Turner and seeing as mum and I went to see her concerts back in the 2000s (including her last ever tour!) I’m pretty sure we’ll enjoy a musical about her life. Especially if it has all her hit songs woven into the story. It’s playing at Aldwych Theatre and is booking for 2019, so that’s one I’ll have to travel to London to see.
  3. My friend and I have been planning to see Aladdin ever since it opened at the Prince Edward Theatre. I’m hoping it’ll tour around the country soon, otherwise I’ll have to combine it with my trip to London to see the Tina musical and make it bit of a weekend of it.So, there you have it; ways to save money on your tickets and a handy list of the shows you simply must see, what more do you need?? Let me know what your favourite musical is in the comments below and I’d love to hear your recommendations for other shows that I can see next!
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It’s Fathers Day on Sunday but don’t worry if you haven’t sorted out a gift for Dad – here are 4 ideas for great last-minute gifts that you can make or organise yourself…You want to show dad how much you appreciate him and Father’s Day on 17th June is a great time to do just that. But, with only a few days to go, what should you get Dad as a last-minute gift that doesn’t cost too much? Here’s how to find the best Father’s Day gifts if you’re on a budget or short on time…

EXPERIENCES

Here’s something you don’t need to have bought and wrapped in advance – an experience. You can come up with an idea and simply write it in his Fathers Day card with the promise of a day out together in the future. It could be a brewery tour – there are so many around the country that a quick search online will find one close to you – or a wine-tasting event at a vineyard. Or you could take a day trip to the coast, buy tickets for the theatre or a sports game, or head to a free museum or gallery.

ACCESSORIES

It can be difficult to pick out clothing for your parents, so stick with something a little safer like accessories. If you’ve got the skills you could knit him a scarf – just use chunky wool to get it finished in super-fast time before Sunday! If you want to make Dad an ipad cover or camera case like the one above, check out my video tutorial to see the simple step-by-step process to sew your own. Otherwise, if you’ve got time to go to the shops treat him to a lovely watch, new leather wallet, travel bag or belt. Or just stick with my favourite ‘cheesy’ gift – socks (with funny faces, like those from ChattyFeet) or a pair of slippers. Birthdays, Christmas and Fathers Day tend to be the only occasion that Dads get new socks etc so why break from tradition??

FLOWERS

Why don’t we buy flowers for men more often? I remember getting my husband a bouquet once and he was so surprised and touched because no-one had ever bought him flowers before. So how about surprising Dad with some special Fathers Day flowers? Or, if he’s a green-fingered guy, a potted plant or a shrub for the garden might be a good idea. That’s something he can enjoy all year round and that’ll remind him of you whenever he’s in the garden.

FOOD

I don’t just mean a meal out – although that’s a good idea too. But a lot of places tend to get booked up in advance on Fathers Day so it might be best to cook a special meal at home for him. You’ve still got time to plan a delicious menu and buy the ingredients and could make it something that the whole family can join in with. If you’re a keen baker, you could take the opportunity to whip up a tasty cake. You can combine food with an experience and pack up a picnic and take it to the park if the weather is lovely.I hope these ideas have given you inspiration for a last-minute gift for dad this Fathers Day. Let me know your plans and ideas in the comments below.

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Imagine a warm summer evening in your garden, with a beautifully illuminated patio and twinkling fairy lights hanging in the trees. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Here’s how to get a lovely ambience in your garden after dark…I’m currently giving my garden a makeover. Well, it’s more like a complete overhaul. It’s basically just an overgrown wasteland at the moment and is in desperate need of some TLC.  Sure, I’ve drawn up the plan of how I’d like it to look but getting there is another matter! Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped me from researching the ways I can illuminate my garden once it’s finished.

There are many ways that you can introduce light into your garden so that you can enjoy those long summer evenings outdoors. Some are practical, and others are just downright pretty, so whether you want to light the way along the paths or create a party atmosphere here’s how to do it:

PATIO LIGHTING

Let’s start with my favourite area to light up – the patio. It’s where I’m planning on eating alfresco for most of the summer and there’s nothing better than lounging on the patio with friends as the sun sets. There are a few ways to add light to your patio, such as with outdoor lamps like the ones in the photo above. It’ll be a fun focal point on your picnic table and provides plenty of light.I also love the idea of having a table that doubles as a light. I came across this one above on the Lights website and thought it was a genius idea. It’s just the right size for a balcony with two seats either side or could be used as an outdoor coffee table if you have enough room on your patio for an L-shaped outdoor sofa. Heck, it could even be used as a contemporary coffee table indoors too!

SECURITY LIGHTING

It’s an essential in all gardens. You want to be able to light up the space so that you can safely use the garden after dark. Even if you’re only bringing your shopping in from the car, having a flood-light will make this task easier and safer. That said, the design of your security light doesn’t have to be dull – why not add a traditional lantern if you’ve got an older property so that it doesn’t look out of place? I’d love to get sleek tube-style outdoor lighting for my garden, to match the mid-century style of the house. Plus, you can add matching pillar lights or solar lights along paths to make it easier to move around after dark.

DECORATIVE LIGHTING

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m quite a fan of fairy lights at any time of year! It therefore shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to you when I say that I want plenty of twinkly, decorative lighting in my garden. I really like the Moroccan style of these outdoor lamps below and I think they’ll look great with the tropical-style plants I want to include around my patio. Of course, I’ll be hanging fairy lights in the trees too, but I will be using solar lights so that I don’t need to worry about plugging them in.

CANDLE LIGHT

Candles can be a great source of light to create a cosy ambience in your garden. And, if you choose citronella candles, they can help keeps bugs at bay. Doesn’t it always seem like hundreds of bugs appear as soon as the sun goes down? Usually at the exact same moment that you want to be serving a lovely alfresco dinner on your patio! Enjoying a candle-lit meal will look lovely, and the scent from the candles will ward off those gnats, too.What do you think of these ideas for illuminating a garden? Have you already got some lovely lights in your garden that you can recommend? If so, please leave me a comment below or share your ideas for adding even more ambience to your garden for the summer.

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When we are busy and stressed we tend to make poor nutritional choices. We look for food that gives us instant gratification like sweets, alcohol, salty foods, etc. These foods can increase actually our stress levels and may cause other problems. Most of us do it due to a lack of knowledge so the next time you get hit by stress, and you crave something unhealthy, try these foods instead…

PAPAYA, STRAWBERRIES, ORANGES & KIWIFRUIT

These fruits are all great sources of vitamin C. This helps to reduce the excess cortisol in the system after a stressful situation or during prolonged period of stress. Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is the water-soluble nutrient that is easily extracted from the body when not needed. It takes part in many of the processes in our body including protein metabolism and biosynthesis of collagen. Due to its antioxidant features it reduces the impact of free radicals and oxidative stress on us, as well as helping us to stay calm in stressful situations.

NUTS 

Nuts are great for stress reducing. Almonds, pistachios and walnuts are good stress-reducing treats when you just need to grab a handful of something. They contain both Vitamin B and E and are known to boost the immune system, reduce tension and lower blood pressure. Many nuts contain magnesium that controls our nervous system and serotonin that improves brain function. But be mindful though: some nuts like almond are high in fat.

DARK GREEN VEGETABLES

Spinach, kale and broccoli are high in potassium, which is especially useful for calming our nerves. You can use these vegetable as a part of a salad, or steam them to keep the nutrients locked in. They are packed with vitamins that keeps our body in peak condition and the high fibre content helps to control blood sugar and aid digestion.

SWEET POTATOES

If you crave something sweet or carbohydrates during times of stress, go and grab some sweet potatoes. Not only does it satisfy your desire for something sweet, but they are also full of beta-carotene, vitamins and fibre. These vegetables help your body to process carbohydrates and you’ll feel satisfied at the end of a meal.

FISH 

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon and tuna can help protect against heart disease and prevent surges in stress hormones. Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin involved in the synthesis of the “happy” brain chemical serotonin and it can be found in most types of fish. So go ahead, make yourself a tuna sandwich – but go with natural sauces instead of mayo.

BLACK TEA 

You probably know the benefit of green tea. Now try some black tea instead! The benefits of black tea were made clear by one study that was based on the comparison results of practical experiment, 4 people drank 4 cups of tea a day over a six week period and their results were compared with 4 people who drank a tea-like placebo. The real tea drinkers reported feeling calmer and had lower levels of cortisol after stressful situations. If that’s not a good reason to put the kettle on, I don’t know what is!One of the easiest ways to make healthy food choices is to have them readily available. So make it a habit – the next time you have an urge to snack, make sure that that unhealthy food is out of sight and reach for something fresh instead.

About the Author: Carol James is a writer and senior editor at writing service EssayLab. She has MA degree in social sciences and she writes articles and reviews on a wide range of subjects. If you have any questions regarding this article please feel free to ask her!

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If you want to add colour and pattern to your walls but want to get a completely unique finish, here’s a way to do it on a budget with stencils…I love to add pattern to my walls – just have a look at the vintage-style wallpaper I’ve added to my guest room – but it can be expensive to wallpaper anything more than just a feature wall. I mean, the cost of all those rolls of paper soon add up, not to mention the time and skill it takes to hang it correctly. Which is precisely why I’ve been researching the idea of stencils to decorate my walls instead.

image source

Pattern is truly the thing that upgrades your home from simple to luxurious. It adds a touch of your personality to the space, as you can choose the colour, design and finish to reflect your own taste. When you think of decorating with pattern, you probably think about wallpaper or tiles, but I’ve found that the lowest-cost way to add a design to your home is with stencils. Okay, occasionally I get lucky and find a few rolls of £1 star wallpaper in the bargain bin at the DIY store (which I decorated my home office with!) but that’s such a rare occurrence. Usually, you’ll only find one or two rolls, and that’s nowhere near enough to cover a wall. So, the next time I want to fill my home with stars but don’t want to spend my entire budget on wallpaper, I’ll be picking up a 50 star stencil like the one below.You can use a stencil any pattern you like, in any colour and in any formation. And on any surface you like, too! Concrete floors can become a chic tiled hallway (my next project!) or you can make wardrobe doors disappear seamlessly into walls when you continue the pattern over the furniture too. If you search on Amazon you can find fabulous ready-made stencils at low prices, and the great thing is that you can wash and reuse the stencil over and over again.Oh, and here’s another design idea I like – using just one huuuge stencil design to add a focal point to a wall. This could be above the headboard (such as the mandala stencil design above) or on the chimney breast. I think it’d look pretty cool on the front of a chest of drawers too. You could pick up a piece of secondhand furniture at the carboot sale or a cheapy flat-pack item and add your own design to the front for only a few pounds-worth of paint.

image source

I love this idea above from Kammy’s Korner blog – she’s painted a wooden floor in grey paint and then used a large ornate stencil to add a carpet-style pattern all over the floor in white. When you consider how little a tub of paint costs when you shop at discount stores such as Wilko or B&M, this could be a very thrifty way to add pattern to a room without spending out on new bedding, wallpaper or curtains.

image source

Don’t forget that there’s nothing stopping you from using metallic paint with your stencils to create a sparkling feature wall. Sometimes the twinkly wallpaper designs out there are a little to ‘glitzy’ for my taste, but I love a matt metallic gold in my home accessories, so why not add it to my walls too?

What do you think of this decorating trend? Have you used stencils in your own home yet? I’d love to hear how you’ve got on and any tips you have for stencilling walls or furniture so please leave your comments below.

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The average Brit spends £345 per year on their garden, however you don’t have to spend a small fortune to add colour and vibrancy to your garden this summer! Here’s how…

PLAN AHEAD

Try to think ahead of the seasons and plan out which plants you’re going to want to grow when and when they will flower. This means that rather than shelling out for new bulbs every year you can encourage any spent bulbs already in your garden to flower again. This can be done by removing their seed heads, feeding and watering them and leaving their foliage undisturbed.

TAKE CUTTINGS

Just like encouraging older bulbs to re-flower, you can use already flowered plants to propagate new ones. Cuttings from tender plants like fuchsias or pelargoniums tend to work best.

GET FREE ADVICE 

If you’re not sure how to take cuttings, for example, there’s simply no need to splash out on expensive gardening manuals. There are a multitude of websites where you can get great advice for nothing! From the basics for the true novices to the more advanced gardening techniques for those who are that bit more experienced. You can also try your local library for gardening books.

GROW FROM SEED

Instead of buying plants it’s often a lot cheaper to grow plants from seed. Try sowing biennial seeds which will flower twice in their lives. This involves some forward-planning, as you’ll need to sow during the months recommended on the packet, but if you start now your plants will be ready to add a splash of colour to your garden at the end of summer and autumn. The same goes for fruit and veggies – plant now to enjoy fresh produce later in the year.

MAKE YOUR OWN COMPOST

If you have the space, making your own compost is a great way to save on money. The perfect ‘recipe’ for compost is a mix of 50/50 greens (tea bags, veg and fruit peelings, old flowers etc) and browns (cardboard, egg boxes, sawdust, twigs etc) added together at regular intervals. If you’re considering making your own compost, invest in a compost bin, it will be worthwhile in the long run!

DON’T MISS DISCOUNT STORES

From discounted garden machinery to terracotta pots and great value gardening tools and accessories, it’s likely that your local supermarket or discount retailer has all the products and tools you need at considerably cheaper prices to your standard garden centre. Shop around out-of-town discount stores before heading to a nursery – you can sometimes even get plants from supermarkets too!

You too can make a planter from pallets – read my blog post here…

There you have it, gardening on a budget made simple (and easy!). Let me know your tips for getting your garden looking lovely without spending a fortune in the comments below.

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I’ve always been a fan of lifelong learning. If I’m not taking a college course or reading a textbook, I’m watching instructional videos or doing research online. I love to learn new skills, expand my general knowledge and add things to my CV. This year I’ve decided to put my writing skills to the test and have enrolled on a course in Online Writing. Here’s why:

1. BRUSH UP MY SKILLS

Sure, I’ve been putting content out there on the web and in magazines for about a decade now, but I’ve never studied writing in any form. I did a management degree and a marketing MA but at no time did I take a journalism module or have any training in writing. So I thought it was about time that I studied the subject in-depth and, having looked through the course modules, I can already tell that there’s plenty of subjects that I don’t have any knowledge of, so I’m sure it’ll be an eye-opener and perhaps lead to new ways of working.

2. ACCREDITATION

I’m proud to have a CV that’s full of courses, certificates and qualifications, but I’m a little embarrassed by my lack of training in writing, even though it’s been my job for SO many years. The course I’m taking will give me a Certificate in Online Writing at the end of the course and I get a second Level 3 Certificate accredited by ABC Awards, a leading accreditation body recognised by Ofqual. I’m hoping it’ll help me to get more paid blogging jobs and commissions from brand websites to write their online content.

3. PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

If I were in an employed position, I’m sure I would have been sent on personal development courses over the years so this is my self-employed version! I believe in investing in yourself so I regularly treat myself to educational books, and this course just takes it one step further. I’m going to schedule time each week during my usual office hours to work through the modules and actually complete it. 

4. TOO MUCH INFORMATION

It seems like it’s possible to learn everything you need by searching online. The only trouble is that there’s SO much information out there that it makes it difficult to find the true gems. You can spend as long searching for something to learn as you do actually learning a new skill. It’s like when you start flicking through Netflix only to find that an hour has passed and you haven’t actually watched anything. Sure you can find YouTube videos and instructional websites on almost any subject, but you won’t get the same in-depth, ongoing learning that you get from a properly structured course.

5. LOW COST

I’ve often sat through educational webinars, making notes and wishing that I could go on to find out more, only to discover that the full course is an extortionate cost and there’s no way that I can continue with it. When I looked on the Blackford Centre’s distance learning website, I was pleased to find some surprisingly reasonable rates for their courses and it was only £50 extra for external accreditation to get that second certificate. I find that if I’ve paid for something I’m much more likely to see it through to the end to “get my money’s worth”! I’ve just had the first modules land in my inbox and I can’t wait to get started on them. I’ve added study time to my work schedule and am going to stick to it! Let me know if you’ve studied online and how you got on with it, or tell me what subject you’d like to learn more about in the comments below.

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Eye-wear can be expensive, can’t it? I’ve winced at the price of prescription glasses many times! But this year been I’ve searching for ways to cut costs on my frames, prescription sunglasses and contact lenses. Read on to hear about the bargains I discovered online…I’m short-sighted and have been since I was a teenager. As I write this blog post, I wouldn’t be able to see the laptop screen clearly without the pair of vintage-style cat-eye glasses perched on my nose. I quite like being a glasses wearer at times (when I want to look especially clever!) and I wouldn’t ever opt for laser eye surgery to correct the problem. Nope, I’m too much of a wimp.So, that leaves me with two options if I want to drive a car, go to the cinema or generally see where on earth I’m going as I walk along the street. Pop on my glasses or wear contact lenses. Oh, or use my prescription sunglasses when it’s a bright day.For many years I was a contact lenses girl. I had the budget-friendly ones that lasted a whole month. The kind needed to be cleaned with solution each night. But, over the past couple of years, I found my eyes felt really dry after wearing lenses all day and I started to regularly see blood-shot veins in the whites of my eyes. I sometimes had to take out the lenses after only a couple of hours because they were making my eyes water.After seeing my optician I discovered that the problem was that my eyes were drying out quickly and that those use-all-month lenses wouldn’t suit me anymore. I was sceptical, as I liked the super-low price of that type of lenses and I thought that the optician might just be trying to upsell the daily lenses to me. But I gave them a go and what a difference they made!I could wear the daily lenses for many more hours without any kind of discomfort. I no longer have bloodshot veins in the whites of my eyes and my eyes don’t feel dry, even after a full day of wear.  Plus, I realised just how hygienic it was to put in a fresh pair of lenses in the morning – now there’s no chance of any bacteria getting into my eyes and causing an infection.I now use Dailies AquaComfort Plus, which come in packs of 30 lenses. I was worried that the cost would be a lot more  than monthly lenses – but, then again, I now have healthy eyes, so is it really worth cutting costs in this instance? Plus, when I added the cost of the cleaning solution to my old monthly lenses, there’s not much difference in the price. My new lenses release moisture through their blink-activated moisture technology – and when you consider that we blink around 30,000 times each day (!) they’re keeping my eyes feeling fresh and moist right until bedtime.And, now that I have been fitted for my daily lenses prescription with my optician, I can order the lenses online and find a lower price. The best rate I’ve come across so far is on www.Lensite.co.uk, where a box of 30 is £13.50 and delivery is free. Plus, they have a 10% discount code FIRSTORDER for new customers too, so I stocked up with 60 lenses when I put in my first order. They retail countless brands of lenses so it’s worth checking if you can get your contacts cheaper there too.

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