Top 10 Frugal & Cheap Hobbies

One of the true joys of frugality is reducing your expenses to the point that you can work less.

After all, we can all earn more (or less) money, but we can’t create more time. In many ways, having plenty of free time is the ultimate luxury, but there’s a potential problem.

Our hobbies and pastimes – if we’re not careful – have the potential to eat up significant amounts of our disposable income. Think of golf, with all the costs associated with equipment, club memberships and green fees. Or hobbies involving “collecting” where you’re continually spending money to build your collection.

These hobbies may be fun, but they’re hardly frugal. Today, then, I wanted to examine some popular hobbies that either have minimal costs (when done right) or that can even earn you a small profit making them cost-neutral.

So let’s dive in and see which of these frugal hobbies may be worth considering for your own free time…

Gardening

It is possible to spend huge amounts of money on gardening. Buying large, expensive plants. Laying paths and decks. Buying greenhouses and sheds. But it’s also easily possible to do so on a budget.

The beautiful thing about plants is that they reproduce naturally. Once you get to know other gardeners it’s easy to find yourself a steady source of new plants either by taking cuttings or by collecting seeds.

There are even regular “seed swapping” events in many areas where you can give away your unwanted seeds in exchange for new varieties. if in doubt, try joining your local gardening club or society in order to meet like-minded individuals for mutually-beneficial swaps. If you know where to look there are even places to get seeds for free from people you’ve never even met.

Photography

Photography, like gardening, can be expensive. After all, camera equipment isn’t cheap. But buying a decent camera on Ebay can easily get you started. Furthrmore, thanks to the wonders of digital photography there’s now no longer a need to pay for film or processing fees.

Personally I spend a surprising amount of time out in the countryside taking photos of wildlife. Once you’ve bought your camera the hobby is virtually free. And in addition to this I’ve been lucky enough to even have some of my photos used by others in exchange for a small payment.

Reading

Reading is arguably the ultimate frugal hobby because not only is it enjoyable but you’re also able to learn new (money saving) skills along the way whether that’s cookery or car maintenance.

There are many ways to keep the costs of reading down, including joining your local library, perusing thrift shops and garage sales or even buying books cheap online if you know what you’re doing.

Metal Detecting

Metal detectors may not be cheap initially but they’re a door into a fascinating world of ancient history. And once you’ve got your detector there are few or no ongoing costs associated with this hobby. When you consider the value of what you might find, it’s clear that metal detecting cane be one of the most intriguing and cost-effective hobbies around.

Animal Breeding

I’m an animal lover at heart and keep quite a range of pets. And while pet care costs aren’t cheap, by allowing some of my animals to breed each year (under carefully-controlled and ethical standards) I’m able to sell some of the offspring, with the money I make basically paying for the upkeep of my collection.

Crafting

You need to be careful with crafting. As with some other hobbies, it’s possible to spend a lot of money on buying supplies which isn’t very frugal at all. That said, if you’re willing to use a little creativity and re-use objects from around your home it’s possible to create some beautiful objects virtually for free.

A friend of mine even makes jewellery as a hobby and earns a nice side-income from selling their work at craft fairs and farmers markets.

Keep Fit

Exercise has so many benefits from making you feel good, to improving your health, to reducing stress. But there’s no need for $100 running shoes or expensive gym memberships.

It’s easily possible to kit yourself out for next to nothing and then enjoy a regime of walking, cycling or running on a regular basis. Check out Meetup.com to see if there are others in your area partaking in outdoor exercise which will not only help to motivate you but also meet like-minded people in a cost-effective manner.

Volunteering

How about doing something for other people in your spare time? Volunteering can be a great way to do something positive as well as meeting lots of new people. Personally I’ve done some animal shelter volunteering and countryside management as well as helping people out with their gardens. The friends you make – and the buzz you get – make this a great hobby even if it wasn’t so frugal.

Programming/Web Design

Are you computer literate? If so why not build a website, start a blog or learn a new programming language? If you’re that way inclined not only can you learn new skills, but these can even turn into little side businesses or even a whole new career for you.

Continued Learning

One final frugal hobby worth mentioning is that of continued learning – namely signing up for courses in your local area. Sure, some of them are very expensive but many communities also run free (or low cost) training courses. Your local library or community newspaper can be great places to find these, and also don’t forget to pick up some prospectuses from local colleges and universities.

What are your hobbies? Have you hobbies changed over the years to fit within a certain budget? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below…

6 Easy Ways To Make Money Online

One of the most pervading dreams to be able to make easy money on the internet.

Sadly, as any failed blogger or internet marketer will tell you, making money online is nowhere near as easy as the gurus with their shiny courses and expensive software will try to convince you.

Making a sizable income online takes years of learning, trial-and-error and quite possibly a fair amount of luck too. Not that it’s impossible; just that if we’re being realistic then earning a living online will probably take far more effort than most people realize.

However if you want to make a little extra money each month – to cover a car payment, pay off a little debt or start putting into your savings – then there are a number of strategies that work. You’re unlikely to get rich from them but there are some easy ways to make money online if you know where to look.

Easy Ways To Make Money Online

Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of different schemes for earning money online. Not surprisingly most of them have fallen flat on their face – often after a considerable investment of time or money from me. So let’s cut straight to the chase and reveal the best easy ways to make money online that really have worked for me…

Surveys

One of the oldest yet easiest ways to make money online is by filling in consumer surveys. You tell the survey company about your shopping habits, or your opinions on a new advert or suchlike, and you earn a little bit of money in exchange.

Generally these surveys are pretty quick and mindless to fill in – so they can easily be done while you’re watching TV or suchlike – and the sums you earn can add up pretty quickly if you’re willing to put some time into it.

However there is a problem with making money online by filling in surveys; there are a lot of unscrupulous companies out there who either pay peanuts or who have very few surveys you can actually complete.

So while it is possible to make easy money by filling in surveys the most critical element is signing up with the right survey companies in the first place.

Based on my own experiences if you like the idea of filling in surveys the best survey sites to sign up with are:

Product Reviews

Product reviews are big business online. So many consumers look for product reviews before actually purchasing a product that the site with the best reviews will likely make a lot of money.

Equally, not only are independent reviews far more valuable than those written by a specific company but of course a single company could never hope to review the millions of products currently on offer.

Thankfully there are a couple of sites then who recruit average consumers like you and me to write reviews for them. And in exchange they’ll pay you for your opinions.

And while they may not pay a lot, it’s a quick and easy way to earn some extra money online simply by telling someone what you think of a specific film, book or whatever. To get you started, why not sign up with DooYoo and Software Judge.

User Experience Testing

Big internet companies spend huge sums of money on building and marketing their websites so they want to know that they can turn as many visitors into customers as possible. And one tool they use is user experience (UX) testing.

In essence these companies want to see how normal people interact with their website. So, you’ll be asked to visit a certain website and, for example, download a discount coupon they’re offering.

They’ll record your computer screen so they can watch you moving around their site. They’ll analyze how easy people find it to complete the necessary action and they’ll take on board any experiences you have along the way to try and make their website as user-friendly as possible.

Surely when it comes to easy ways to make money online, simply visiting a specific website and letting them record your thoughts is about as simple as it gets?

If this sounds of interest to you then you can sign up as a tester at the following companies:

Microjobs

A “microjob” is a task that takes a matter of minutes to complete. An example might be sharing something on Facebook, drawing a cartoon sheep or uploading a photo to a specific website.

As each microjob is so simple and so small, they don’t pay very much individually. However its possible to complete dozens of them each week in your spare time and you’ll earn extra cash with no real experience or skills required.

To find out more about microjobs and to set up a free account try visiting:

Freelancing

Seeing as this article focuses on “easy” ways to earn money online I did struggle as to whether to include freelancing here. After all, many professional fulltime freelancers would certainly balk at the idea that it’s “easy money”.

But these are the people earning full-time incomes (or more) from it. If you just want to earn a little pocket money on the side then freelancing is a perfectly viable solution.

Probably the easiest freelance jobs of all are writing gigs – producing articles for people to post on their blogs and websites. Having said that, if you have any special skills or interests you’ll be able to find freelance graphic design jobs, computer programming, web design and more. The more “technical” a job is the more it pays.

Every freelancers has their own preferred site for finding freelance jobs but my personal preference is for Elance. I’ve had an account there for years and have done some really interesting work. I also managed to land a $1,200 writing gig there within a week of getting started so there’s certainly a lot of potential for the right people.

Selling On Amazon

The last of these easy ways to earn money online that I’d like to recommend is selling your unwanted goods on Amazon. After sorting through tons of old books I owned a few years ago, I was trying to decide what to do with all of the titles I didn’t want any more.

Garage sale? Give them to charity of my local library? Or try to sell them online? As an experiment I signed up for an Amazon sellers account and listed them online. And I did surprisingly well with orders coming through regularly for my unwanted books.

It can be a bit of a pain going down to the post office all the time to send them off, but it’s an easy way to not only declutter your home but also make some easy money along the way.

How do you make money online? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below…

9 Secret Ways To Save Money On Dry Cleaning

There’s no two ways about it; dry cleaning is expensive.

Luckily though, there are all sorts of creative ways to save money on your dry cleaning bill.

You see – what you may not know about me is that I spent two years running a dry cleaners not so long ago. That meant I was in the perfect position to spot all sorts of potential money-saving tips – which I’m now going to share with you.

Be Realistic About What Dry Cleaning Actually Does

Too many of my customers seemed to believe that dry cleaning was some magic elixir that could make any garment look brand new. Not surprisingly, it can’t. Dry cleaning can be good for removing everyday dirt and marks and it certainly reduces color loss in sensitive garments but it’s not perfect.

It isn’t very good, for example, at getting rid of really ground-in dirt and it also isn’t as effective as wet-washing for getting rid of smells (body odor and the like). Consequently if any of your garments are suffering from these kinds of problems you may well be disappointed with the final result.

The fact is though that no matter what the result, your dry cleaner will almost certainly expect you to pay for the cleaning charge, even if the improvement is so minimal that you’re basically going to take the garment home and throw it in the bin!

By understanding what dry cleaning can and can’t do, you’ll know you’re only paying to clean garments that will benefit from dry cleaning in comparison to good old fashioned washing.

Learn Your Your Care Labels

While some items must be dry cleaned, others simply can be dry cleaned.

It’s an important distinction.

Many customers would drop off a garment to us that could either be dry cleaned or washed in a standard machine – and in most cases a proper machine wash will actually get rid of more dirt than a dry cleaning cycle.

But how are you to know? Quite simply take some time to get to know your care labels. Ask your dry cleaner to help explain a label or ask the assistant when you buy a new garment.

Knowing which items can be washed or dry cleaned gives you the upper hand. You can opt to dry clean the item if you like – which will cost more but help to reduce color fading. Or you can machine wash at home which, over the lifetime of the garment, will save you a fortune.

Beware Of “Danger” Fabrics

Some fabrics can cause dry cleaners like me to break out into a cold sweat. They’re fabrics that basically won’t hold their color – meaning they’re virtually impossible to treat for stains and marks.

We don’t like to add any chemicals at all to these garments – quite often they’ll get a standard dry clean and if there are marks remaining then that’s just too bad. Treatment would likely leave a nice white patch on your favorite garment. And land us with a bill for the damage.

So what are these danger fabrics and how will knowing about them save you money? The two riskiest fabrics of all for stain removal are silk and linen. The color literally leaches out if you’re not careful.

That means that taking a stained linen or silk garment into the cleaners means that once again you might pay through the nose for an item that looks almost identical to when you took it in.

That also means that if you’re considering buying a silk or linen garment, you’ll either want to limit it’s use to only the cleanest of environments or select a white garment. I can attack a pair of white linen trousers all day long without risk because there is no color to be lost.

Sneaky Money Saving Trick: silk garments such as gentlemen’s ties or ladies blouses have a nasty habit of suffering from water marks. These may be rain drops, sweat marks or whatever. However dry cleaning alone generally won’t get rid of these water marks while machine washing them would ruin them. So what’s the answer?

Take the garment and hang it up on a clothes hanger, then spray it with fresh water from a houseplant mister. Then allow the garment to dry naturally. Some hours later you should find that the water marks are noticeably improved – if not gone altogether. Repeat as necessary; a few tries may be needed to eliminate serious water marks.

Frankly, this is exactly what most dry cleaners will do behind the scenes – except you can do it yourself at home and save a fortune!

Plan Ahead

Many dry cleaners charge a premium for “rush” orders. If you’re willing to wait a little while for your cleaning you’ll often be charged at a lower rate. So don’t leave your dry cleaning to the morning to that wedding reception; try planning well in advance so you can make use of the slower – yet cheaper – cleaning service available.

Ignore Tempting Add-Ons

Dry cleaners love to try and sell you more than just your dry cleaning. Many of them (including me, not so many years ago) are set targets for add-on sales so they’ll constantly try to “recommend” other services and products to increase your bill.

Be strong. Ignore the lint roller, the scented drawer liners or the semi-permanent crease in your trousers. You probably don’t really need it – no matter what they tell you – and even if you do it’s probably cheaper at the supermarket.

Ask About Workplace Vouchers

Some larger companies have schemes in place that will entitle you to either free or discounted dry cleaning. If in doubt, try asking your boss or checking out your benefits to see if any such offer exists. If not, try suggesting it as an idea for the future; you’d be surprised how much discount some dry cleaners are willing to offer to win a whole new crowd of customers.

Look For Incentive Schemes

Dry cleaners operate in a competitive market; in many ways one dry cleaner is the same as another. To win business, then, many will operate a permanent incentive or discount scheme, or alternatively one-off promotions.

So try visiting different dry cleaners in your area to see if what offers and discounts they have available. Sign up for loyalty schemes and keep an eye out for vouchers and special offers.

Clean Matching Sets Together

Pairs of curtains, jackets and trousers, cushion covers; many items taken to a dry cleaners are used together. And while dry cleaning generally causes less color loss than machine washing, that won’t always be the case. Repeated cleaning can worsen the problem further.

You try dry cleaning your suit trousers each week, but do your jacket only once a month and pretty soon your “suit” won’t match any longer. Clean one curtain from a pair to “see how it comes out” and when you put it back up it’ll likely either be a slightly different color or it will be a few inches shorter than the other one.

Color loss and some minor shrinkage are a fact of life with dry cleaning; and especially for soft furnishing can be tremendously difficult to predict.

The key lesson is this; dry clean matching items together. If you choose not to, it may be that soon enough you’ll need to buy a new set and start all over again. You have been warned ;-)

Look For Machine Washable Clothing

Finally the most obvious way to save money at the dry cleaners is to not go at all! Once you’ve learned how to identify care labels so you know whether something is dry-clean only before purchase, try buying only machine washable clothes.

This may be easier for some garments than others; many shirts, trousers and jumpers can easily be machine washed. But even some machine washable dresses and work suits are now available if you look hard enough.

How much do you spend on dry cleaning each month? What are your favorite strategies for spending less on dry cleaning? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below…

Frugal Living Tips: October 2014 Edition

October is only just beginning and I’m already excited. How come?

Firstly, last month was an expensive one.

What with two major birthdays (my sister and my girlfriend) and my old laptop giving up on life I’ve spent far more this month than I wanted. I’m also still waiting for that tax money that I mentioned some months ago!

So while September wasn’t disastrous, I didn’t manage to save as much as I’d like.

The fact that Christmas will be here before we know it is scary in itself. I normally take November off any kind of budgeting, and “loosen my grip” so to speak. I do all my Christmas shopping nice and early and then get back to budgeting in December.

Seeing as I get paid at the end of each month, that means that I have just two more pay packets left to add to my savings before 2015 rolls around! That’s a rather sobering thought! But I’m so up for this. I’m fired up and ready to make the last few months the most productive ever.

I Hope We Don’t Go Off Butternut Squash

Normally at about this time each year I’m putting the vegetable plot to bed. I then pretty much ignore it over winter, and get started afresh in the spring. But this year I’m going to try something a little different; we’re going to try growing some winter crops and see how we get on.

Having picked up a gardening magazine a few weeks back (because it came with free seeds worth more than the magazine!) I learned that some people plant onions at this time of year. They overwinter fine (apparently) and mean earlier crops and larger onions next summer. Sounds great to me! Even better, I found a supplier that is offering free red onion sets if you cover the cost of postage so I find myself with 100+ onions to go in over the next few weeks.

Last week I spent a backbreaking few hours sorting out my strawberry bed. I started off with literally about half a dozen plants a few years ago, yet at this time every year they put out “runners” with several baby plants on each one.

This year I’ve been over-run and reckon (conservatively) that we’ve got about 40+ new baby strawberry plants (for free!). So I spent a backbreaking few hours carefully removing them and setting up a brand new strawberry patch! There are so many they wouldn’t all fit in the old space!

All this means that unless something goes hideously wrong, in 2015 I should have enough strawberries to sink a battleship! Now I do love strawberries, but when you consider I still have home-made jam from last year, let alone what we made this year, well – we’ll see!

squelfie-1 Lastly, I finally got around to harvesting our butternut squashes. Out of the six plants that we grew this year, we ended up with a total of 14 good sized squashes. Who am I kidding, most of them are monsters – seriously they’re bigger than my head!

Just have a look at this snap! Firstly, this isn’t a camera trick – our squashes really are that big! Secondly (potential claim to fame here!) am I the only person who has ever taken a selfie with a squash?! If not, please leave your link in the comment section at the bottom of the page!

Either way I’m calling shotgun on the phrase “squelfie” – defined as a selfie taken with a squash :-) Lol!

Big Up Hayley!

The ever-fabulous Hayley over at Disease Called Debt was kind enough nominate me for a Versatile Blogger award. Don’t worry Haylay – my post about that will be coming up shortly. Thanks so much for mentioning me! Oh, and I couldn’t agree more with you about not being great at sleeping! At least I’m not the only one…

Family Visit

This month I’m taking a week off to spend some quality time with the family so I might be a little slower than normal responding to comments etc. I’m pretty excited about spending some time with “the fam” and hopefully the beautiful sunny weather will continue on just a little bit longer.

Top Frugal Living Tips From The Blogosphere

While it’s been a busy few weeks, and I must admit that I’ve got behind on my reading, I’ve still managed to stumble across some truly awesome personal finance articles. So, in the interests of “sharing the love” here are the posts that grabbed my attention over the last month…

Living Lean Without Being an Outcast

If you live a frugal life like me then you’ve no doubt experienced that uncomfortable feeling when your friends suggest doing something that you consider financially foolhardy.

How do you manage to balance your frugal lifestyle with an active social life? Some interesting tips and observations here.

Making Extra Income An Interview with Michelle Schroeder

Once again Hayley provides some top quality advice. Here she interviews Michelle Schroeder of Diversified Finances fame, about how she’s been able to transition from a paid employee to a self-employed business owner earning just shy of $15,000 a month. Go Michelle! :-)

How I Graduated College With $100k in Savings

We all know that going to university is expensive and that every year it seems students are completing their degree with more debt than ever before.

I think that’s one reason why some people are starting to go staright into the workplace now; they’d rather get earning from day one than start several years later than their peers, and with more debt than they know what to do with.

But what if there was an alternative? What if you could come out of university in profit – if only you knew what you were doing? Fortunately, you can, if you follow Will Lipovsky’s advice.

5 Simple Reasons A Guaranteed Paycheck Makes Us Poor

Wow – now this article from Monica really got me thinking (always a good sign, I find). She claims (with some validation) that knowing we’ve got money coming in on a regular basis can make us lazy and disorganized. If you get paid regularly, read Monica’s article and ask yourself if you need to make some changes to your own financial life.

Debt Fatigue: Getting Out of a Debt Payoff Funk

Like losing weight, starting a new job or meeting a new partner, there’s always an exciting “honeymoon period” when you first start paying off debt. It’s exciting that you’ve finally stopped spending money unnecessarily, you’ve started to budget and save money and now you’re watching your debt disappear.

But hang on there just a second. That honeymoon period doesn’t last. It never does. And if you’re not careful, you’ll be cramming your face with donuts in no time. Don’t worry though, help is at hand from Stephanie who reveals her own strategies for staying focused when paying off debt.

The 10 Habits of Frugal People

I won’t give you any hints here from this awesome run-down – all I will do is encourage you to check out the list, answer honestly just how many habits you can tick off and which ones you need to work a little harder on from now on!

Quit Trying to Save Money

Are you struggling to save money? If so then this super-simple yet devilishly effective tip from Jackie will get your savings account growing in no time.

Why Its Vital to Learn to Grow and Preserve Your Own Food

I think we’ve already established multiple times here on the blog just how much I enjoy growing my own vegetables. So it should come as no surprise that Laurie’s excellent article caught my eye. The thing is, even if you don’t grow your own food, it is still worth learning how to preserve it. Don’t believe me? Read on to find out why.

How to Prevent Freezer Burn 

I haven’t yet plucked up the courage to buy a pressure canner. Most of my fresh produce gets frozen, ready for the winter. But if you’re freezing fresh fruit and vegetables you’ll find one of your greatest enemies is freezer burn, which can ruin your carefully-stored supplies. Here the ever-inspirational Mavis gives tips for avoiding it. Mavis, if only I had your garden…

Pushing the Button: What It Feels Like to Quit Your Job

Over the years I’ve cycled from employed to self employed and back again on several occasions. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but oe of the most heady feelings is that of actually quitting your job. The mixture of nervousness and excitement is heady stuff, and here Jefferson does a magnificent job of explaining how it really feels to quit your job.

Ten Steps To Turn Financial Disaster Into Financial Independence

Do you long for financial freedom? I know I do. Packed into this one article – and it’s 10 simple steps – you’ll find a veritable goldmine of tips and advice on achieving it. I’d rate it as one of the very best articles on financial independence I’ve ever read – high praise indeed from a grump like me! :-)

Living on Only $460 a Month? Really?

You know the fastest way to achieve financial freedom? Basically, it’s to reduce your expenses down to virtually nothing. Because if it costs you almost nothing to live each month, you don’t need too much coming in from investments and side hustles to make ends meet.

Of course, while the concept is a lovely one, nobody can reduce their expenses too much and still maintain our Western living standards can they? Actually, Derek says you can. Read on to find out in what gets my award for the most motivational personal finance article of last month :-)

How was your September? Did you hit your financial goals? What are you doing to hit your end-of-year goals? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts….

How To Save Money On Magazines

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with magazines.

On the one hand I find myself constantly drawn to their shiny covers and tempting headines. On the other hand I know magazines are a massive luxury. They’re incredibly expensive for what they are, they’re full of adverts trying to sell you more products and there’s so little to actually read in them that you’re all done within an hour or two. Hardly what I’d case a wise investment.

What is a (frugal) boy to do?

Fortunately over the years I’ve discovered a number of ways to save money on magazines so you can still enjoy your favorite publications without paying $5+ for something that will end up in the recycling bin within a few days of purchase.

Share With Your Friends

Your friends probably have similar tastes to you. If you ask around you might be surprised by the wealth of magazines they buy regularly, then leave gathering dust on their coffee table.

Why not simply speak to your friends and ask them to pass on to you any unwanted magazines they have? Many will be glad to get rid of the clutter from their homes, you’ll suddenly gain access to all manner of new magazines and – worst case scenario – at least you can ensure any finished or unwanted titles are properly recycled.

Check Out Your Library

Increasingly, public libraries aren’t just for borrowing books. From CDs to DVDs, from language courses to computer software, libraries are diversifying to become a complete “knowledge hub” for their local community. Increasingly, this includes offering a range of recent magazines that you can take away to enjoy at home without the cost.

So if it’s some time since you last visited your local library, go and exlore it now to see just what sort of services are currently on offer. Ask if they have a magazine section where you can read – or even borrow – the latest titles. And if they don’t yet offer magazines as part of their service, ask who you need to speak to in order to make a suggestion.

Sign Up For Online Magazines

Possibly the best way to access all manner of free magazines with the minimum of fuss is to download them from the internet so you can read them at home on your Kindle or tablet computer.

As always, in these areas, there are rather a lot of “dodgy” sites that aren’t authorized by the publisher. Rather like illegal movie download sites I recommend staying away from these; both to avoid the risk of legal repercussions as well as to protect your computer from the assortment of viruses these sites often harbor.

However that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to download magazines from the internet. Indeed, there are actually a number of impressive websites and apps that allow you to legally download a wide assortment of free magazines to enjoy at your leisure.

Of these, Issuu is probably my favorite as they offer a massive range of publications. You can use their app or simply sign up free at the Issuu website to open up a whole new world of free reading material.

Another site well worth a visit is the free magazines section of Magzter. At the time of writing there are over 300 free magazines available though there are arugably fewer well-known magazines here than elsewhere.

Next Issue

Next Issue is basically Netflix for magazines. Pay a small monthly subscription fee and you’ll gain access to over 300 top-quality magazines – including a massive selection of their back issues. That means that for less than $10 you’re basically getting access to more magazines than you could ever read!

Next Issue is currently available in the USA and Canada though hopefully will be rolling out to other countries very soon. Find out more here.

LeKiosk

Fortunately UK readers need not shed a tear just yet at the lack of Next Issue access; new kid on the block Le Kiosk offers a similar service to UK magazine readers. Whilst there currently aren’t any “unlimited” packages like Next Issue, a monthly subscription to their service allows you access to a broad range of well-known magazines for as little as £1 per issue; still a lot cheaper than buying the print version.

Subscribe And Save

Magazines live and die by their subscribers; they’re a source of reliable, predictable income that helps magazines to stay afloat and budget for the future. And because subscribers are so much more valuable than one-off purchases, you’ll often find all sorts of incentives to sign up.

Almost without exception, subscribers will receive a free gift and/or a discount on the cover price of every issue. So if there is a magazine you’re particularly passionate about, it may well prove cost-effective to actually stump up the readies and take out an annual subscription.

Take Free Trials

You’d be surprised at how many magazines try to snag new subscribers with tempting free or discounted trial memberships. Here in the UK there are regular “3 for £3″ offers and similar bargains to be had. Keep an eye out in your favorite magazines for current promotions and see if you can land a number of issues, carefully posted to your door, for next to nothing.

So if you are going to become a subscriber to a magazine in order to save money don’t sign up for the first offer you see. Instead, shop around and take your time. There are often multiple offers available for a certain title and it pays to investigate every option to find the most beneficial deal for you.

Keep An Eye On Special Offers

A number of magazine subscriptions are sold online for much less than the standard subscription price so this is another avenue worthy of investigation.

Both Amazon and Magazines.com (or Magazines.co.uk in the UK) offer subscription rates of 20% or more less than the sticker price. Be sure to consult these sources before adopting a subscription to get the best deal possible on your favorite titles.

Advertise

This is a rather sneaky technique that I coudn’t decide whether or not to include so please use it with caution. A few years ago I was running an online business and fancied the idea of advertising in a number of magazines in my niche.

So I emailed every magazine I could find that targeted my customers to ask about advertising rates in their publication. Pretty much every magazine in question responded not just with a rate card but also at least one recent issue of their magazine for reference.

While I wouldn’t suggest that you use this technique unless you really are considering placing an advert in them, it’s amazing just what these companies are willing to give you in the hope of attracting your advertising dollars.

As you can see there are all sorts of ways to save money on magazines and either get them for free – or at least far cheaper than you’d pay in your local newsagent or supermarket.

The one final thing I would mention is that many of these money-saving strategies have been put in place by the magazine publishers themselves in the hope of “tricking” you into a paid subscription. So before you take out a trial subscription or request a free copy just be well aware of the implications and ensure you keep your subscription numbers under control.

How have you managed to save money on magazines? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below…

Best UK Personal Finance Blogs You Should Follow

If you’re like me and love to read personal finance blogs then one thing rapidly becomes apparent; it’s dominated by US-based bloggers.

I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing. After all – some of my favorite blogs are written by American bloggers and I’d be sad to see them go.

But being based in Britain, I recently got thinking about UK personal finance blogs. I knew about (and subscribed) to a few – but surely there had to be plenty of other crazy blogging folks like me scattered around this “green and pleasant land”?

So I went in search of gold. And over the last few weeks I’ve been making full use of Google and Technorati to seek out the best UK personal finance blogs I could find.

Not surprisingly I found some absolute gems out there! Now whether you’re looking specifically for UK-based frugality and early retirement advice – or whether you’re just looking more generally for a few new blogs to read – I can tell you that I’ve stumbled across some remarkable blogs recently.

And today I want to “spread the word” about them – in the hope that I can connect some of these fantastic, hard-working bloggers with a whole new audience of readers. Because, let’s be honest, doesn’t everyone benefit from the arrangement?

So, with that said, let’s take a look at the top UK personal finance blogs I’ve found. Prepare to be impressed…

A Thrifty Mrs

Covering everything from thrifty home decor, renovation tips, fashion and gifts, Uk blogger El provides a wealth of frugal-living advice for the budget-conscious individual. A post that really stood out out to me was What To Buy in Aldi (And What Not To Buy).

The Money Principle

This was the first UK personal finance blog I stumbled upon some months back and it’s been a firm favorite of mine ever since. While it may be a UK blog, the information it contains cross borders effortlessly, with Maria and the team putting out some brilliant posts on a regular basis such as 15 Ways To Make Money To Fill Your Fridge.

Frugal Queen

UK-blogger Jane and her husband Mike managed to pay off an impressive £45,000 of debt in just two years. And this is the story of how she lives a very comfortable life without it costing too much. I was particularly taken with her detailed meal breakdowns like this one, showing how to feed your family on the cheap (with a complete cost-breakdown of each meal).

The Diary Of A Frugal Family

Cass describes her blog as “a mish mash of family fun, money saving tips and foodie ideas with lots of cupcakes and smiley faces thrown in too” and I think that’s a great description. Loads of great content here – not least of which was the breathtaking Find The Beautiful in Every Day.

A Disease Called Debt

Hayley’s blog about her journey to pay off debt is one of my favorites; after all, I seem to mention at least one of her blog posts in every month’s roundup. Follow her for a full-on dose of honesty, motivation and advice on getting your spending under control, getting out of debt and enjoying life on a budget.

Finance Girl

This elegantly designed blog is the work of Julie Cheung from Manchester. She covers everything from frugal food to understanding Bitcoins but it’s articles like Everything You Need To Know About New ISAs that makes this blog not just entertaining but also very educational for UK readers.

theFIREstarter

Surely I’ve written the name of this blog wrong? Nope, because we’re not talking “fire” like the hot flames – we’re talking FIRE as an acronym for Financial Independece, Retire Early.

But what a little firecracker this blog is, with some serious attitude and fascinating articles like How To Save Money On Alcohol With A French Booze Cruise (sorry friends, it’s a British right-of-passage ;-)

Budget Breakaway

Graduates Fi and Jo are on a mission to get their finances in order so they can live the good life. Already debt free (impressive!), they share some very UK-centric finance advice, as well as book reviews and their ongoing challenges like this one.

Moneystepper

I first discovered Graham’s blog when he wrote his acceptance post on the Yakezie blog and I’ve been a subscriber ever since. As a UK accountant, he brings quite a unique perspective to the whole UK personal finance bloggosphere. He posts less about frugality and more about finance on a wider scale such as his article entitled Your Commute Officially Makes You Miserable.

The Savvy Scot

This UK personal finance blog may have been recently sold by it’s original owner but it’s still awash with great-quality articles like this one on how to make the most of customer rewards. Just as good, it’s been taken over by the fantastic Pauline from Make Money Your Way so you can be sure there’s plenty more good stuff on the way.

So – who did I miss? I’m sure there are some fantastic personal finance blogs I either didn’t uncover or didn’t realize was written by a Brit.

Please leave your suggestions and recommendations in the comments section below so we can all benefit from your knowledge!

Four Premium Foods You Can Easily Grow At Home

I’m often surprised by just how much time (and money) some people spend on growing very cheap vegetables.

After all, while there’s a beauty to being self sufficient you could argue that the work involved in growing things like carrots and potatoes simply doesn’t make any sense when they can be bought so cheaply from your local supermarket.

But that isn’t the case for all foods. Some cost a ridiculous amount of money to buy, yet they can be grown by virtually anyone with a little piece of land available.

And it’s these premium foods that I like to focus a lot of my efforts on; and that I recommend you consider growing yourself. Because when you grow your own you’ll be able to not only eat like royalty but you’ll also save a lot more money than you would just growing staple crops.

So what are these budget busters and how do you grow them yourself?

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

As a child I always hated broccoli; unfortunate as my parents virtually force-fed it to me my entire childhood because it was “good for me”. Parents just don’t understand, do they?! ;-)

But in contrast to “normal” broccoli, the purple sprouting variety stands out for a number of reasons. Firstly it’s very slow growing. While normal brocolli will shoot up producing a tasty crop in a matter of a few months, purple sprouting brocolli can take 9 months or more between planting and harvesting. And that’s a long time to tie up some land – hence the reason why it’s so expensive to buy.

But there’s more. Purple sprouting broccoli is ready to eat in the spring which makes it a really great crop to grow. You struggle through the long, cold winter and finally the weather starts to break. Looking around the vegetable plot virtually everything has already been harvested or has perished in the cold.

But not our broccoli.

No, our broccoli is thriving. It’s the one thing that’s ready to produce at this time of year. Suddenly the buds burst forth and you find yourself drowning in ever more delicious fronds of purple sprouting broccoli.

From a dozen or so plants that we grew last year, and when compared to supermarket prices, I’d say we turned a single pack of seeds into $100+ of purple sprouting broccoli – and best of all it took virtually no work at all.

Simply plant the seeds in spring in good quality seed compost. Keep them warm and moist and soon enough the seedlings will be showing their little heads. Once they get to a few inches tall and the frosts have passed simply plant them out in full sunshine. I recommend putting a net over the young seedlings as your local wildlife population may well take a shine to them afterwards though once they get going the net can be safely removed.

Keep them watered and weed them every week or two and your purple sprouting broccoli will merrily grow away all through the summer, aumtumn and winter and produce a bumper (and very valuable) crop the next spring. Nothing could be simpler.

Mange Tout

There’s nothing I like more than a delicious, crunchy stir fry filled with bean sprouts, peppers and mange tout. Except mange tout are not only obscenely expensive but are also often flown half way round the world to get to your plate. Many of the mange tout we eat in the west has been grown in Africa before being flown to your local supermarket. Talk about a carbon footprint!

There’s something else you should know too. Mange tout and their cousins the sugar snap peas are naturally high in sugar and ar some of the sweetest vegetables around. However just like sweet corn, once the crop leaves the plants the sugar content starts to drop. In other words the sooner you can eat them after picking, the better they’ll taste.

Which means that growing your own mange tout makes sense from so many angles; it’s better for the environment, they taste better and you’ll save a heap of money. What’s not to like?!

Of this list, mange tout are probably the most problemtic crop to grow – for me at least. It seems that everything is against me. Heavy rain damages the plants. Hot weather dries them out. The snails and slugs love to attack them and there’s a regular ariel raid by pigeons and sparrows.

However a bit of netting – just like we put on a purple sprouting broccoli – should keep most of the pests off. A packet of seeds can be bought early in the year with the seedlings started easily either in compost or even easier on damp kitchen towel on your windowsill.

Once they sprout, transplant them into long neat rows in your vegetable garden, add the netting both to protect the plants and to give them some support and hand weed them as necessary.

It may be a little more time intensive to keep these sensitive plants healthy through the season but you’ll go from seed to harvest in a matter of a few months. By planting a new batch of seeds every few weeks you can keep your plates full right throughout the summer and early autumn.

Baby Sweet Corn

Here in the UK it’s easy to pay £1 or more for a few baby sweet corn heads. And while I love it in stir fries and eaten raw, dipped in red pepper humous, I hate to pay those prices.

Luckily once again baby sweet corn is quite simple to grow and seems to suffer from very few pests or diseases. Even as a complete amateur when it comes to gardening I’ve managed to grow a healthy crop every year for quite some time.

For a full guide to growing baby corn check out my previous guide.

Asparagus

When the fresh asparagus tips start to appear in the supermarkets I know that the good weather is on it’s way. Fried, steamed or gently boiled for a couple of minutes then tossed in melted butter they really are a meal fit for a king.

However before you start to grow the asparagus fern you should be aware that this is a long term investment. When you buy and plant the crowns you’ll be waiting several years before your first small harvest.

In other words if you want to grow asparagus you’ll need not only time; you’ll also need some space because you’ll need to leave your asparagus bed well alone for a long time to come.

But for those people who are willing to wait a few years before their efforts are rewarded this is one of the most interesting food plants to grow; both tasty and beautiful. And it goes without saying that you’ll be able to save yourself an impressive sum of money down the road.

What food plants to you grow? Have you tried growing any of the premium foods mentioned above? Please leave a comment below with your experiences…

Frugal Living Tips: September 2014 Edition

August has been a crazy month for me as I’ve been getting used to my new job.

The downside is that I’m burning through more cash than expected driving to and from work each day. On the flipside I’m preparing my own lunches at home and am finding that I’m also eating less due to my more sedentry lifestyle now.

I’m also sleeping a lot better now that my body has got used to the 7am start (rather than my old 3.45am alarm call!). All things considered I’m very happy I made the jump.

Financially my budget has shifted around quite a bit this month and it’ll probably take a little while till it calms down properly; I am carefully tracking my expenses again in order to modify my existing budget to meet my new lifestyle – without spending any more money each month.

This is key because the saving continues in order to provide that nest-egg I seek, so that I can set up my own business in the next few years and fast track my journey to financial freedom.

On the vegetable growing front things are really going well. I’ve got fresh red peppers and tomatoes coming out of my ears right now. We’ve also been feverishly harvesting and freezing sweet corn, green beans and rainbow chard to see us through the winter.

Add to that the fact that it looks like we’re going to have the best crop yet of leeks, butternut squash and cabbage, combined with what we’ve already got preserved and we’re going to be saving tons of money on food over the next few months.

I’ve even started saving seeds for the first time ever – so we’ll be able to spend less getting the garden started again next spring. It all adds up I assure you!

But that’s enough of my babbling. The main reason for writing this “round up” post each month is to highlight some of the best blog posts I found since the last edition.

I do this both in the hope that you, dear reader, will find some excellent new articles to read but also as a way of “bookmarking” them for myself so I can easily return back to them in the future. There’s nothing more annoying than searching the internet for a particular blog post you’ve read before but now can’t find!

So without another moment wasted let’s dive into the goodies from last month…

Firstly I wanted to highlight a few “vanity” posts that I have either written or been featured in over the last month. A big thank you to the bloggers below who kindly featured my work.

How To Save Money By Avoiding The Convenience Premium

I can’t believe how much people are willing to pay for convenience. If you’re serious about being more frugal and getting free of debt then a key strategy can involve avoiding this “premium”.

8 Ways To Save Money At The Gym

Gyms are expensive, but for some people they’re necessary. As much as I’d love to exercise at home or run in my local area, the size of my home plus the unreliable British weather makes this a struggle. So here I decided to discuss some of the techniques I’ve picked up over the years for paying less at the gym.

Side Hustle Ideas

Many of us obsessed with personal finance maintain some kind of “side hustle” to maximize our earnings. Here, Pauline discusses some of the most unusual side hustles around – including a few of my own.

With those out of the way, let’s look at what else caught my interest last month…

Thirteen Strategies for Financial Independence Through Self-Sufficiency

While I’m a long way from self sufficiency, I love to grow as much of my own food as possible. This article, however, takes it a step further and shows how to use self sufficiency as a key tool for gaining financial independence.

How to Save Money on Expensive Prescription Drugs

Here in the UK prescriptions are cheap but I understand that my friends across the pond can pay a lot of cash for basic medicines. This article grabbed my attention therefore, with all sorts of tips for saving money at the drug store.

How I Made $200 This Week for Doing Nothing

“Nothing” may be an exaggeration but when you understand the process it’s still just about the easiest “free money” available right now.

Why Working for Yourself Isn’t All That its Cracked Up to Be 

Over the years I’ve spent some of my career working for others, and some of it working for myself. And while being self employed is a dream for many people, it isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be. This honest article discusses the pros – as well as the cons – of working for yourself.

Don’t Burn Your Bridges When You Leave Your Job

Having just left my last job – which I didn’t enjoy – it was very tempting to leave on bad terms. While I’d like to think I am too professional to just walk out of a job, it should come as no surprise that this article about quitting your job grabbed my attention.

Job Loss and Debt: Could You Pay Your Debt Without a Job?

Hayley discusses the often sensitive subject of job loss. These days, very few of us are ever 100% safe in our careers, but the higher your debts are, the harder that being laid off will hit you. In this thought-provoking article Hayley discusses her own experiences of unemployment+debt and examines some simple solutions.

Living on Last Months Income

Well this was one post that just went crazy this month! And it’s no surprise! Many of us manage to save a percentage of our monthly salary – either for paying off debt or putting towards future investments – but what if you could save it all and live on last months income instead? Tempting? Read on to find out how.

The Retail Therapy Trap

Monica may not post very regularly at the moment but every article she publishes is worth it’s weight in gold. Here she discusses the temptations of (and solutions to) those who rely on retail therapy to relax, unwind and reward themselves after a hard week.

Thanks for reading my round up. I hope you’ve uncovered at least a few articles that you didn’t know about or mean to re-read but never got around to. Normal posting will resume next week. Oh and if you’re looking for a guest blogger to write on your personal finance site, why not get in contact?

How To Reach Financial Independence On Minimum Wage: My Plan To Escape The Rat Race

Have you ever felt just a tiny bit jealous of people that have taken early retirement?

I know I have…

Imagine the feeling of never having to work again (unless you want to).

Imagine not having to worry about bills.

Imagine never having to get up while it’s still dark.

Imagine all the quality time you could spend with your family and friends.

And how wonderful it would be to fill your day with “passion projects” rather than the drudgery of everyday work.

Just imagine!

I think we can agree that life would be rather different to what it is now!

But of course we know from Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme and Mr Money Mustache that you don’t need to be retirement age to retire. And you certainly don’t need to be a multimillionaire to do it earlier.

The wonderful thing is that with some hard work, dedication, frugal living and some epic budgeting anyone has the potential to retire early – as in decades earlier than the average population believe is possible without a lottery win.

The Surprising Math Of Financial Independence

I’m no financial whizzkid but the dudes that are throw around two basic formulas for calculating how much money you need in savings/investments to actually retire completely.

They are:

300 times your monthly expenses

or

25 times your annual expenses

And while this might sound like huge numbers for those living expensive, consumer lifestyles, for those of us willing to be rather more frugal these numbers are surprisingly reasonable.

You’ll have to excuse my “cute old British ways” but I live perfectly comfortably on less than £1,500 a month. If I was budgeting hard, I could reduce this to £1,000 without too much sweat.

Taking that £1,000 as a base figure, that would mean I’d need £300,000 (just over $500,000 at current exchange rates) to retire on at the low end of the scale. £450,000 ($750,000) in investments would be comfortable.

While that’s still a fair old chunk of cash, it’s nowhere near the “millions” most people assume you’d need to quit the rat race early.

My Plan To Escape The Rat Race

When I first started in the work place, I earned only a tiny bit more than minimum wage. It was a depressing situation – and it’s a rut that some people remain in their whole lives.

But I wanted more. So I worked hard and by winning promotions and payraises, as well as making several jumps from one company to another, I’ve managed to raise my income from minimum wage to above the national average.

Not “minted” in any way – many people I know earn far more than me. But I’ve more than doubled my salary in the last ten years. And this increased income has also brought increased opportunities.

Over the last 4 years or so I’ve scrimped and saved and have succeeding in paying off all my consumer debt. With a frugal lifestyle leading to very low monthly overheads, I’m now in a position to start saving roughly 40% of my income each month.

That’s a lot higher than the average Brit (and something I could never have done all those years ago when I first started working) but according to this chart, it still means that I’ll have to follow this plan for 22 years in order to achieve financial independence.

Better than never, but I want to do a lot sooner than that.

So my plan is to keep saving, but rather than simply putting my money into passive investments, to actively invest in a franchise. I have some ideas in mind for what I want though I’ll reveal more as the time approaches.

But in essence I’m going to leverage as many of the skills I’ve picked up in the workplace as possible in order to become a business owner and (I hope) reap the financial rewards that come from that.

Becoming a business owner will, I hope, double my income or more, allowing me to save 80% of my money. Which, going back to the original chart, should mean being financially independent roughly 5 years after starting the business.

Now there are a lot of variables here. When will I have saved enough to invest in a business? How much will the business make? Will I be able to keep my living expenses down? Will I have the discipline to save so much of my income?

All of these variables could speed up or slow down my progress. Or derail it altogether.

But at least I have a plan of action now. Something to focus on. A reason to save. And a potentially bright future.

And that’s how I plan to go from minimum wage and serious debt to financial independence – hopefully by the age of 40.

Are you aiming for early retirement? What is your master plan? Please share your thoughts in the comments below…

The Best Things In Life Are Free (…Or Are They?)

My skin is tingling right now.

I can feel tiny little pin-pricks in my forehead.

And my face is flushed the color of a beetroot.

And I ache. Boy, do I ache. From all the walking I’ve just done. Through the countryside. In the sun. With my girlfriend.

And you know what? Sitting here, sun-kissed and tired, I just realized that it was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in years. And even better it cost us virtually nothing apart from a packed lunch.

So while some people are only happy when they’re out buying new shoes or visiting an over-priced theme park, some of my absolute favorite things cost next to nothing.

Becoming totally immersed in a good book. Admiring the beauty of nature. Sitting around the table with my family and laughing till my cheeks hurt. Those little loving text messages your partner sends you. The taste of my freshly picked strawberries.

For me, at least, the best things in life really are free. I don’t need to spend (much) money to enjoy myself.

If I won the lottery tomorrow I wouldn’t feel the need to buy myself a Ferrari or a mansion to feel happy. The biggest benefit to me of winning the lottery would be the freedom to be able to work or not work as I saw fit. The freedom to be able to head out in the sunshine rather than to the office. The freedom from money worries.

For me – money buys freedom not things.

So somewhat ironically while the best things in life are free, I would maintain that in our Western, consumer culture we still need money to buy us the freedom to be able to enjoy these things.

Because after slogging my guts out at work for 12 hours, the strawberries never taste quite as sweet. The jokes are never quite as funny. And I barely notice the hunting kestrel or the butterfly hatching as I race home through all the traffic.

Which, I suppose, is the whole point of financial freedom. Or financial independence depending on which phrase you prefer.

It’s about earning money but not spending it. It’s about living frugally so you can save as much of your income as possible.

For many people that seems a ridiculous situation. Why earn so much money only to not enjoy it? Why not buy all those things that most of the population desires?

The fact is though that you are buying something with your money. The more money you have invested, the more passive income you have. And the more passive income you have, the more freedom you have. It’s just a different way of looking at the same problem.

So don’t be put off by the naysayers. Don’t let them mock your frugal attitudes. Don’t let them knock you off course just because they can’t understand why you think spending $5 a day on coffee is ridiculous.

To them, freedom is spending power. To us – the few who have seen the alternative – freedom is something totally different. Not just different – more.

And besides, people obsessed with consumer culture, spending money and always having the latest and the best will never appreciate the freshness, the sweetness and the juiciness of those ripe, ruby-red strawberries you take so much pleasure in. Unless they cost $20 a punnet ;-)

Frugal Living Tips: August 2014 Edition

Welcome to my regular roundup post, giving a brief insight into what happened in my part of the world over the previous month, plus links to my favorite personal finance articles published recently.

Vacation Time!

What a busy (and expensive!) month July has turned out to be!

Firstly I took my very first (frugal) vacation in what must be 5+ years since I decided to get serious about becoming debt free! It certainly wasn’t a “luxury” vacation – we went camping in Jersey – but it was great to take a break, relax in the sun and not worry about all the normal everyday stuff. I also got to drive my car onto a ferry for the first time; quite an experience!

(I should say to my American readers that I mean the “original” Jersey – not “New Jersey”!)

Here are a couple of photos of Jersey – talk about peace and tranquility!

jersey-channel-islands-1 jersey-channel-islands-2

A New Job

In other news I landed myself a new job! I’ve mentioned before how much I hated my previous job but that I was sticking it out for as long as possible because it paid better than any other job I’ve had before. However life there was simply getting worse and worse as our staffing levels kept getting cut while the workload continued to increase.

After talking to my boss about how unhappy I was, and him basically telling me there was nothing he could do, I went home one night and decided to see what else was out there. As it turns out, I found my “perfect” job almost instantly and within the space of a week I had an interview, got offered the job and then resigned from my old job. How quickly things can move sometimes!

There are so many upsides to my new job it’s not even funny. I get to work “normal” hours (no more 4.30am starts!). I get weekends and public holidays off. I’m working in an office doing far less physical work so I should get less tired. I’m working fewer hours than I was before. And they managed to match my old salary!

It feels like a major lifestyle change that I’m so excited about.

The only potential weakness I can see here is that it requires some commuting, unlike my old job which was within walking distance of home. That means that my traveling costs will go up – though I’ve already found all sorts of cuts I can make in my budget. For example my car insurance renewal is due shortly and the quotes I’m getting are far cheaper than last year.

Overall I’m pretty darned excited; I start on Monday so wish me luck :-)

Sadly I’m expecting this to be another expensive month because I’ve just had a load of work done on my car so it’s ready for some serious daily abuse and I’ve also (for the first time in 18 months!) actually gone out and bought some new clothes for my job. I haven’t gone crazy; I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did – but from someone who basically spends nothing on clothes each year it’s still going to make an impact on my budget.

I’m already looking forward to September, when I’m a little settled in my new job and can get the budget back in order.

Best Personal Finance Blog Posts

July hasn’t just been an exciting month in my personal life; there’s also been plenty of good stuff going on in the personal finance bloggosphere. Hayley was kind enough to include me in her “Editors Picks” for the Carnival of Financial Camaraderie – (thanks Hayley :-), my Pinterest followers topped 600 and growing and there were all sorts of top-quality blog posts related to frugality, debt elimination and budgeting.

Here are my favorites that I strongly encourage you to check out…

Lock In and Escaping the Trap

In this rather deep yet educational article, Trent discusses the sticky issue of losing control of your spending when life is going well, only to realize that your financial responsibilities have locked you into a lifestyle you can’t escape from. I wrote along a similar theme here.

10 Essential Personal Money Management Apps

As a tech nerd I love to find new apps to make life easier. Here we find out some of Jason’s favorites. Well worth a look if you’re a smart phone owner keen to get your finances under control.

Breaking Bad Habits: How to Stop Overspending

It’s all too easy to overspend these days with credit cards and loans so easy to come by if we “need” them. But overspending doesn’t just have financial consequences; they can also be behavioral. I love Hayley’s take on the subject and her tips for avoiding overspending.

Saving Tips to Allow You to Live Your Dream

A relatively new blog in my feed reader, Christine is “living the dream” after getting control of her finances, saving up a load of money and then heading off traveling. Here she discusses some simple, proven tips for successful savings. And, if that interests you, you might be interested in my own tips which I wrote about here.

Music for Free Comparing Nine Free (and Legal) Online Music Options

I look around at my local record stores sometimes and wonder how they’re still in business. I mean; who really buys CDs any more? Digital isn’t just easier, it’s also much cheaper. While I love Spotify and iTunes, they do involve spending some money; how refreshing then to find this impartial review of some free music download services worth checking out.

5 Tips to Becoming Wealthy

Somehow every month it seems Derek manages to sneak in to these roundups; it seems that somehow his writing always manages to speak to me. Here he gives some “tough love” on the realities of gaining weath.

What Or Who Do You Rely On To Earn An Income?

When you think about it, many of us rely on a variety of resources in order to actually earn our incomes. For example you might need a car to get to and from work or you might need childcare help if you’re working long hours. Here Mr CBB puts together a thought-provoking list of considerations to keep your earning potential as secure as possible.

Anyone Can Buy That

Blog superstar J. Money writes a blazing post about not getting jealous of people with all the bling. As he says, anyone can buy that stuff if they’re willing to take on debt or makes loads of other compromises. By not buying all that stuff, you get ever closer to freedom. “Freedom from stuff, freedom from your job, and freedom to do whatever the hell you want with your life.” Amen!

How I’m Saving as Much as 13% on Everyday Purchases

What do you do if you win/get given a gift card but you’d rather have the cash? If you’re like many people you’ll try to sell it on eBay, accepting less than the face value of the card. Find out how you can benefit from the process here by buying gift cards at discounted prices, using to pay for your everyday purchases and saving a ton of money as a result.

The Costs of Being Disorganized

Stephanie hits the nail on the head with a powerful post about how being disorganized can cost you money. She gives plenty of examples and tips for getting yourself organized and, as a result, saving money.

We’re Done Christmas Shopping in July

One of the personal finance lessons I’ve learned time and again is about time. Pay your bills late and you’ll likely pay a surcharge. Put something expensive on your credit card because you don’t have the cash right now and you’ll likely end up paying interest on it.

But the reverse is also true; get organized and shop at the right time and you can save a ton. Here’s how Vanessa has saved loads of money this year by getting her Christmas shopping done (very) early :-)

Hate Your Job? Here Are 6 Things You Should Do Today

“I hate my job”.

You’d be surprised how often I’ve heard that phrase over the years. I’ve even been known to utter it myself a few times.

When you consider just how long we spend at work and yet how necessary a paid job is for most of us, it’s not hard to see why working at a job you hate can be such a demoralizing situation.

So what should you do when you find yourself in a situation where you hate your job?

Consider Why You Hate It

I must admit that once or twice I’ve changed jobs – only to find that my new role was just as bad (if not worse) than the job I’ve just moved from. After this happened a few times I came to the realization that it’s important to consider wy you hate your job.

Ask many people what they hate about their job and they’ll say “everything”. But on deeper questioning it turns out that’s almost never true. You might hate your boss. You might hate your salary. You might hate the hours that you work or the new role you’ve been given or the increased workload that’s been dumped on you.

But on the flipside you might have a deep affection for your peers, you might love the location of your job and you might get a deep sense of satisfaction from your efforts.

You see, if you want to avoid jumping “out of the frying pan and into the fire” it’s important to spend some time really thinking about what you really hat about your job. Only by truly understanding how you feel can you hope to make lasting, positive change.

The simplest way to do this is to take a piece of paper and a pen. Draw a line down the middle of the page and label the two columns and “love” and “hate”. Then brainstorm everything you can about your job and categorize them appropriately.

Doing so will not only help to highlight all the positives about your job but also it’ll hopfully provide you with some guidance about the areas you need to change.

Examine The Alternatives

After your careful analysis you’ll be in a better place to examine alternative jobs. Whether that’s doing a similar job for a different employer or whether that’s a whole new change of career will depend almost entirely on the results of your analysis.

And remember that you don’t have to jump ship straight away. There are almost certainty things about your current job that you quite enjoy – even if it’s just a work colleague you get on well with – so try focusing your time at work on these positives while you brush up your resume, put the feelers out and keep an eye on upcoming vacancies that may suit you.

Consider Coming Clean With Your Boss

Depending on your boss, it may be worth scheduling a meeting with him or her to discuss your feelings. It may turn out that your boss values your contribution more than you realize and that a little positive encouragement may make you feel a whole lot better.

It’s possible that they may also be able to make some changes to help accommodate your situation. If this is possible then it can be a lot easier than actually going out and finding a new job.

On the flip side they might treat your concerns with contempt. They might belittle you or gloss over the issues without seemingly taking them to heart. In these cases it can be a clear indication that looking for a new job may well be the best possible solution.

Start A Side Hustle

Whether you start a blog, create a product or do some freelance writing, I believe that side hustles are now more important than ever before. Think of them as insurance for your career.

If I crash my car, my auto insurance will repair or replace my car for me; I won’t be carless for long.

Having a side hustle can not only make life more exciting but it can also provide additional funds for you. And if you end up quitting your job – or losing it through no fault of your own – at least you’ll still have some form on income each month.

And let’s not forget that a surprising number of side hustles can actually turn into full-time businesses with enough effort meaning you won’t need to worry about working for someone else ever again.

Bleed It For All It’s Worth

Very few people can get annoyed at their job one day and land a new one the next day. So in all honesty there’s likely to be a transition phase. You may well find yourself treading water at your current employer for some weeks or even months until the right vacancy arises.

If this is the case – and you’ve made the decision to leave as soon as possible – then it makes sense to try and bleed it for all it’s worth. By this I mean trying to extract as much benefit as you possibly can before making your exit.

For example consider requesting a pay raise (if you get declined, who cares?), working plenty of overtime to rack up some extra funds or even cancelling any vacations booked so that you’re owed extra wages when you finally leave.

When I left one of my jobs I was owned so much vacation time that when it came to resigning I told them I could either leave that very same day and use up my outstanding vacation as my notice period or I could work my notice but expected to be paid for the vacation time I was owed. I ended up getting paid for an extra two weeks of vacation time that came in very handy when I left.

Additionally, consider attending any courses or training sessions available as well as taking on extra responsibilities if you think they will make you more employable in the future. Base your decisions on the job vacancies you’re seeing and aim to plug any holes you can at your current employer.

Immediately Cut Unnecessary Expenses

The flip side of getting as much as possible from your current employer is to consider cutting your personal expenses. Combining the two principles will help you save far more money as an emergency fund.

So while I’d caution you against quitting your job without having another to go to, having some extra funds in your account can make quitting far easier and less stressful.

To give you an example, one job that I quit required only a two week notice period instead of the standard month. I told my new employer that I could start in a month (which they were perfectly happy with) and I took two weeks off between jobs to “decompress” and enjoy life.

I started my new job with far more energy and focus than I otherwise would have done and yet thanks to banking money for some time before quitting this two weeks of relaxation had no negative impact on my finances.

Have you ever had a job that you hated? How did you manage to stick it out? What was the final straw that made you quit? Please leave a comment below…

What Are The Real Costs Of Your Job?

A couple of years ago I found myself getting ever more fed up with my job and eventually realized that it was time for a change.

I spent some time investigating the available options and eventually settled on two different roles that would suit me.

One was the “passion” job – one that I’d love yet didn’t pay very well. The other one was far less “me” yet paid almost twice as much. What to do?

In a perfect world of course we’d all choose the role we’re passionate about and to hell with the finances. Money – as they say – isn’t everything.

But we don’t live in a perfect world and, especially when it comes to jobs, the salary can be a major influence on which role we eventually sign up for.

This is especially so for those of us who are obsessed with personal finance, getting out of debt and building a strong financial future. We know that money is a tool and when appropriately applied can lead to future freedom and stability.

So it should come as no surprise that eventually I put my personal opinions to one side and opted for the better paid position. Regular readers will know exactly how well that worked out ;-)

Surprisingly, based on my feelings about my job a few months ago, things have actually got worse. I kid you not. I won’t go into specifics (right now) but I’m now considering some alternative roles. I won’t jump ship for just anything, but it makes sense to at least see what opportunities are out there right now.

Which brings me (finally!) to the point of this post…

Finances are important. On that we can agree. Nobody wants to get into debt or rely on a credit card to make ends meet. And very few of us could work for free if we wanted to. But looking just at the “dollar” value that an employer is offering you won’t necessarily give you all the information you need to make an informed decision.

Just because one job is offering $30,000 and another starts at $40,000 doesn’t necessarily mean that the second offer is better – though it may seem so at first.

You see, any kind of job has “costs”. Sometimes they’re financial; other times they’re time costs or emotional costs. But let’s not be under any illusion here – when you work you’re always exchanging your time/energy/skills for money.

It’s a transaction where your employer expects you to provide more benefit to them than they’re paying you for. Don’t believe me? Right now, I’m expected to make the company at least $300 for every hour that I work. And believe me – they pay me a lot less than that per hour.

They have the resources, the contacts and the economies of scale – in exchange I’m expected to make them back many times what they pay me each day. They’re certainly not paying me wages out of the goodness of their hearts.

The point is that when you’re trying to make a decision about a future employer (or even a promotion with your current employer) the money they’re offering you should only form part of your decision-making process.

After considering the “input” (money) we also need to consider your “output” – the costs of actually doing your job. The best job – from a purely Machiavellian perspective – is the one that has the best cost:benefit ratio – or putting it another way, the one that will bring you the greatest “profit” when the costs and benefits are compared.

So what are these factors? What should you be including in your cost:benefit analysis when selecting a new job? Here are some worthy of consideration…

Transport To And From Work

Unless you’re very lucky you’re probably going to have to travel to work. This will cost you money as well as time – as most employers won’t pay you to get to work. You travel to work on your own time and then clock in.

So consider how much time you’re going to spend commuting each day. Will you be travelling in rush hour, where the journey will take longer, or is there some flexibility where travelling off-peak – or working from home some times – will save you money and time.

Also – how are you going to get there? If you’re going by public transport, does your employer have any kind of scheme to reduce the costs here? If you’re driving, try to estimate your fuel costs and also examine the sticky issue of parking. Working in a big town or city, free parking can have a lot of value when compared to people who have to pay exorbitant rates to park in public car parks every day.

And as well as the physical costs consider any emotional costs. Are you happy to sit on a crowded train or in busy traffic five days a week or would this eventually crush your soul?

Work Attire

What are you expected to wear to work? And how does that make you feel? If you’re provided with a uniform, for example, how much do they provide? Some employers provide only minimal uniform forcing you to do laundry far more often than normal (more of your free time gone). And if you are provided with uniform is it comfortable and practical or will you spend your whole life feeling embarrassed, hot and itchy?

If you’re expected to wear a suit and tie every day, don’t forget that business attire can be expensive – not just to buy but also to dry clean. And don’t forget that popping to the dry cleaners is arguably even less practical than being able to pop your work clothes in the washing machine at home.

And let’s not forget how some people feel in business attire. While some people love to be well presented and love to wear a well-tailored suit, others will feel uncomfortable or out-of-place and what about wearing a tie in the heat of the summer?

Perks Of The Job

Every employer claims to offer “perks” – some non-financial benefits of working for them – though the value and range of these can vary massively. For example some supermarkets claim that giving you a couple of items of uniform is a “perk” though this always seems a little cheeky to me.

But what else might you find? Free coffee? Opportunities for continued education? Free nights out? Car pooling? A company car even?

Some of these perks may have real value for you. Others? Not so much.

And remember that while some perks like a company car has the potential to save you a lot of money each year others like professional development may have no immediate financial impact but can make your work more rewarding as well as providing opportunities for growth (and pay raises) in the future.

Equally, appreciate that some “perks” can be quite the opposite depending on your personality. For example I’ve had a number of jobs that gave me a free cell phone – the problem being that the company then expects to be able to contact you at any time – even if you’re on a day off.

Or consider that company car. If you’re planning to stay with the company for a good long time then it may be an excellent perk. But what happens when you leave? You’ll need to buy your own car. Or, alternatively, if you already have your own car you’ll need to decide whether to sell it and use the company car instead or leave it rusting and depreciating in your driveway.

Decompression

Depending on the industry you’re in there’s a fair chance that you will finish the day feeling emotionally or physically drained. To some people that’s fine. For others that’s an issue and requires considerable time to recover from.

And then of course there are the times spent outside of work but still in some way engaged in work. Maybe that’s answering emails or text messages in the evenings. Maybe that’s finishing off some paperwork at home. Maybe it’s as simple as finding yourself lying in bed each night mulling over the day and planning for the next.

None of these things are “paid” – you clocked off and left work hours ago. But they’re still robbing you of your free time so they should still be considered a “cost”.

I remember some years ago moving from one company to another. The first company basically took over your life and a lot of my days off and evenings were spent answering phone calls or emails. The second company put more emphasis on a fair work:life balance and tried not to contact you when you were off.

The difference between the two companies was amazing – and the feeling of freedom I got with the second employer was surprisingly heady. As soon as I walked out of the door I was free – rather than the previous company where I expected to have my personal time interrupted regularly because it was “the done thing”.

Time Flexibility

What are the things that you really love to do outside of work? For example, are you a keen follower of a specific sports team? If so, do the hours that your new job expects fit around watching the games or will you have to miss some/all of them? How does this make you feel?

I’d argue that missing out on your passions like this has a high cost – and I’d expect a sizable increase in salary to accommodate this when compared to the employer who gives you every weekend off like clockwork.

Conclusion

The aim of this article isn’t to be negative and point out all the bad things about your job. It’s to highlight a range of issues that I’ve experienced over the years that can affect how much you enjoy your job.

Sometimes a lower wage with a better working environment is truly worth it. In other situations a little “discomfort” at work in exchange for a decent pay raise may well be worth it.

I don’t want to scare you off any new job – no matter what the working conditions may be. We’re all different and the job that suits one person may be totally wrong for another.

But the biggest take-home point here is this: when it comes to finding a new job and comparing different employers, the amount of cash they’re offering you should only form part of your decision-making process.

The other part should look analytically at the working conditions so you can make a fair and educated decision about which role will bring you the greatest “profit”. That is to say consider which job offers the biggest salary with the smallest “cost” – though what counts as a “cost” will vary between individuals.

What non-financial elements of your job do you value? What drives you nuts about your current job? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below…

How To Save Money By Growing Your Own Vegetables; A Guided Tour Of My Vegetable Garden

July is the month when all my vegetable-growing efforts start to come to fruition.

Oh sure, I’ve already picked a lot of strawberries by now. I’ve also had a few fresh-from-the-pod peas.

But July is in many ways the “high point” of the vegetable gardening year for me – where all sorts of things start ripen and become overrun (in a good way!) with fresh, homegrown produce.

So, after starting out in April this year, clearing away weeds, planting seeds and planning for the forthcoming season I thought that some readers might be interested to see what I’ve got growing at the moment to give you some idea of what’s possible with a small vegetable garden and very limited time.

Oh yes – don’t go thinking that I’m a hardcore vegetable expert. Nothing could be further from the truth. In total I probably spend around 4 hours a week working on the veggie plot, with my girlfriend checking in just to water an harvest every so often.

So even if you only have just a few hours a week it’s entirely possible for you to save a surprising amount of money (as well as feel a surprising sense of satisfaction) by growing your own vegetables.

What I’m Growing Right Now

Firstly let’s talk about my trusty greenhouse. In here I’ve got some seriously good-looking tomatoes that are growing every day. They’ve still got a while till they’re ripe enough to eat but all the signs are pretty hopeful!

tomatoes

Next my capsicums (sweet peppers) are looking the best ever. Don’t ask me why; here in the UK I normally struggle even with a green house but it seems through a combination of trying a new variety this year (Californian Wonder), getting started early in the season and adding plenty of organic fertilizer we could be in for our best year yet of fresh, juicy peppers.

capsicum

This is an outside view – showing just the end of the greenhouse in the distance. While it may look a bit of a mess – thanks to the purple sprouting broccoli in the foreground that I’m waiting to collect seeds from – what you can see growing away here in rows are leeks, peas, rainbow chard and mange tout. The peas haven’t been too successful sadly but I’m still harvesting so fingers crossed they’ll continue.

Also note the butternut squashes in the foreground. They’ve been slowly establishing themselves and are now just entering “growth spurt” phase!

peas & beans

Next up comes one of my trusty courgette (zucchini) plants which are just starting to go wild. Normally I’m so excited to get the first few off the plant but by the end of the summer I’m sick of death of them ;-)

courgettes

I’m growing two kinds of sweet corn this year. I’ve gone for both “standard” corn and also my old favorite the baby corn. All of it is doing really well and seems to be twice the size of most other people’s right now. I hope to be picking corn by the end of the month though of course it’s pretty weather dependent. Also, note the tomatoes in the foreground which are doing almost as well as the ones in the greenhouse.

sweetcorn

I’ve got brassicas on the go too. This year I’m doing calabrese (broccoli) which has tiny little heads on and we should be harvesting in the next few weeks. There’s also purple sprouting broccoli in readiness for next spring, savoy cabbages and purple cabbages for a late summer/early winter treat.

The bugs tend to eat my brassicas to shreds during the summer – hence the reason for the “cage” to keep them safe. So far, so good…

brassicas

Here’s a snap of my little strawberry patch. You can’t tell from the photo but I’ve got four different varieties there that produce fruit from June almost through to Christmas.

strawberry plants

I’m a big fan of beans so this year I’m trying pole beans for the first time ever. The plant in the photo is still a youngster – in the last couple of days since I took this picture it’s shot up and is over a metre in height now with plenty of flowers coming. I’ve got a row of about 10 plants going so I have a nasty feeling I could have overdone it on the bean front this year!

pole beans

Alongside this we’ve got melons, red onions, broad (fava) beans, beetroot and a few other bits and pieces on the go.

So there you have it – an investment of a few hours a week in exchange for a bounty of fresh, money-saving vegetables.

Do you grow any of your own vegetables? How far along are yours in comparison to ours? Leave a comment below…