Friday, 25 October 2013

Money Smarts

I've been struggling to decide what the theme of my next entry should be about as my mind has been occupies lately by a whirlwind of things, and it's actually been pretty hard to shut them all off and try to just relax.

I was catching up on a few blogs this evening and found an entry on Confessions of a single mum which kind of prompted me to make this post.  I suppose all the things in my mind have been connected by one thing..... money.

Yes, the thing we would all like to have a little more of, and there never seems to be enough no matter how hard we work.

Since my return from holiday in September I've done overtime most Saturdays, and tomorrow is no exception.  Christmas is coming, a baby on the way, and it feels like it won't be long before I'll be going on maternity leave and we then not long after that reduced pay for a while.

I've never been brilliant at making the most of my finances and getting the best deals, not on services anyway.  I'm cracking at grocery shopping and finding things I need for the house etc either free, or for an absolute steal.  But services, and dealing with people on the phone, not so much.  That's where D my other half comes in.  He's come to my rescue in the past, most notably with BT for my phone service, and Sainsbury over an incident in their car park.

Recently we talked with someone about their water bill and discussed how much they paid.  On return home I decided to check how much I was paying.  I was shocked to find that my bill was nearly 3x their's.  D rang them for me and queried it, and got a rebuff.  We did some checks on our water meter and established that despite the stop tap being off, and no water getting into the house, the meter was still turning.  On that basis the water company agreed to send someone out to investigate.  Lo and behold there's a leak, and if our sums are right there;s been a leak for about a year now!  We rang them tonight and asked to cancel our direct debit while we're waiting for the repairs and they persuaded us to reduce our payments instead.  We said we were happy to do that, but only on the basis that they understood we would be making a claim for reimbursement and compensation once the repairs were completed, and that once our average usage could be worked out the payment would drop again.  We're by no means at the end of our journey with them yet, but definitely on the right path.

It got me thinking about what else I could change, and like Kairen at Single Mum I hit upon gas & electric.  It's a basic service that I just take for granted and never really question.  I've been exceptionally lax about it to the point I rarely submit actual meter readings, and until this week wouldn't have been able to tell you what I actually pay for it.  After looking into it I've managed to get my current provider to charge me approximately £30 less a month, and I'm looking at moving elsewhere as they are no longer able to offer me the cheapest package.  I'm in credit to them and am expecting a fairly decent cheque off them which will go straight into the baby fund.  One provider I'm looking at is not the cheapest, but it's still cheaper than my current provider and gives me cash back 3 months after joining them, with no tie in on contract or fee to leave.  If I don't find a better option within a day or so I'll be making the move.

I've made the switch to more showers, less baths, running the dishwasher and washing machine only once a week where possible, and the only thing left that I think I can easily change is my gym membership.  My gym doesn't have a pool, and in my condition I'm not lifting weights, running, or rowing etc, so there's no point in going.  I am already paying nearly £5 a week just to go use a pool once a week somewhere else, so really why am I wasting my money there? I've got my fingers poised to send that cancellation email just as soon as I've hit post here.

So in the current climate where wages are not increasing in line with the cost of living, what changes are you making to keep your head above water and still be able to relax and feel comfortable?

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Keeping your chebs in place

When I found out I was expecting I knew that there would be a stage which meant I would struggle to find clothes to wear. .. never did I imagine my first issue would be my underwear! !
At only 11 weeks I was measured and found that I'd gone from more than a handful 36DD to a rather explosive 38GG! To my utmost horror the bra fitter of a well known high street chain told me I had to stop wearing my underwires and brought me two maternity bras to try on.

If this wasn't bad enough the bras were horrid.  I asked if they had any others and the answer was "Yes" but not in my rather large size.  As I was rather desperate I bought them but now I'm fed up and want something pretty but practical.  This is proving much harder than I realised without breaking the bank!

So I've been doing a little research.  My boobs are only going to grow more, and now I'm finding I need to wear something at night too.  So I need comfy bras during the day, something to sleep in, and ultimately I'll need something for nursing.

If I wasn't so well endowed I could just shop in M&S and buy some fairly pretty bras at a not back breaking price.  So I turned to look at Department Stores, and online retailers like figleaves and bravissimo etc... To say I'm a little unimpressed is an understatement.

Come on people.  It's obvious... pregnant women = big boobs (generally), so why not provide more bras, nice ones, in those larger sizes?

So first off - sleep bras.  A quick google brings up M&S, Mothercare and Mamas and Papas as well as some other online retailers I've not come across before.  Looking at the ones we know, the bras are.... functional, which let's face it for night time - who really cares?  But in terms of a GG cup, that's a big fat no to M&S.  

The other two have their heads a little more screwed on and use clothing sizes so go up to 18 at Mamas and Papas, and 20 in Mothercare.  Mothercare do a pretty good value two pack for £20 which isn't too ugly either (but not super pretty): 
Mamas and Papas look much more comfortable and more supportive and are only £4 more for a two pack

Day to day comfortable maternity/nursing bras next then.  A whole host of providers come up under this category including, M&S, Mothercare, Figleaves, Debenhams, John Lewis, and Bravissimo.  

  • M&S one rather plain and unappealing style at £28 for a two pack; 
  • Figleaves lots of choice and prices ranging from £24 - £34 per bra, and some even have an underwire; 
  • Mothercare at £28 for a nursing bra, while they don't do double cups above the D, they do go in single cups up to a J; 
  • Debenhams have a few styles to choose from across a wide range of sizes and have a good value double pack for £22.40 in their Blue Cross Sale at the moment; 
  • John Lewis offer a FF in an Elle Macpherson bra which is gorgeous but is a rather frightening £40, but very little else available in those bigger sizes
  • Bravissimo - they have four styles in my size, not too bad, prices from £28 - £34 per bra, with no double packs on offer - so not exactly great value.

So all in all it ain't cheap and it ain't particularly pretty.  For the sake of a matter of months of wear pretty isn't essential, but the price needs to reflect that!  No-one buys a single bra - they have at least 3 or 4 day wear ones, and a couple of sleep bras.  Retailers and manufacturers have got a long way to go to making mums to be and new mums comfortable on a budget.  I think I'll be scouring ebay for secondhand!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Getting sorted on the high street

We were recently invited by Mothercare to attend a late night shopping night and encouraged by the lure of a goodie bag and vouchers.  Ordinarily I'm not a fan of shopping for a large number of things in one place and like to shop around and find deals on the interweb. But a discount and a goodie bag encouraged me to at least take a look.  We had already spied a travel system that we liked which was Mothercare own brand after all so we could at least order that and get a discount.

I took my mum and D and we were welcomed at the door by a lovely member of staff with my bag of goodies and a 10% voucher on all shopping, on top of the 30% across certain items.  Good start!

We were quickly nabbed by a lady from Water Babies encouraging me to guess the number of sweets in the jar, for free,  and potentially win a water babies swimming course.  Worth a punt!

Upstairs first stop had to be the travel system we've earmarked. D gave my mum a demo and I got busy writing our shopping list.

There was so much to look at and plenty of staff available to answer questions and offer advice without being pushy and in your face.   We'd done some research ahead on prices and we're prepared to only purchase that which really was the best deal.

We had lovely chats with people who had pop up stands,  from pamper ladies offering treatments for pregnant ladies,  NCT people and even NHS staff who I was able to make an appointment for my feeding advice session.   All really interesting and useful with plenty of literature to pick up.

Very quickly we'd added a mattress,  a steriliser and a breast pump to the list.  We tried to focus on the big more expensive stuff and tortured ourselves to not add lots of tiny cute things to the list. We did add a bath set and a changing mat to the list and headed off to the till.

The hard part was making my mother and D stop playing with all the toys!

The only thing I was disappointed with was that some things couldn't be ordered in the payment plan.  The breast pump came off and the bath set and changing mats too.  We really wanted the breast pump as it goes with the steriliser I'd ordered so had to buy that there and then.

Still we'd ordered the big expensive things, set a delivery date, paid the deposit and had a really fun, interesting and informative shopping trip.  Would definitely go to one of these Mothercare events again in the future and recommend them to mum's and dads to be.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Spending, Spending and Saving!

Blimey, this having a baby malarkey isn't half expensive isn't it?  It's no real surprise, and it's something I've thought about a lot.  We're determined not to get carried away buying loads of stuff we don't need for ages, and stuff which is just "silly".

So far we've got a cot bed, the car seat and isofix bars, and that's it, but we did get absolute killer bargains!  The cot bed is secondhand and will either be varnished or painted to match other furniture.  The car seat was a steal and includes rain covers etc, and will fit the travel system we intend to purchase.

We're off to an open night with Mothercare next week which will give us the opportunity to order anything we want from there and put it on a payment plan so that we can budget easily.  I'll also get a little a goodie bag, and some vouchers too which will no doubt come in handy!

We've just started putting together a list of everything else we need, and we're going to start researching to see where will give us the best deal, including second hand where appropriate.  I'm really keen to find out which things parents bought and actually wish they hadn't wasted the money.  For example, the item I'm not sure we "really" need is a nappy bin.  OK they're not mega expensive, but every penny saved is a saving, and really, what's wrong with just putting the nappy in a nappy bag and placing it in the bin?  If the bin gets emptied everyday, surely it's not a problem?

What have you bought that you wish you hadn't bothered?