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Six steps to a thrifty Christmas

For the first time since we were students Tim and I are REALLY having to reign it in, money wise. We don’t have a lodger for the first time since having this GIANT mortgage, both of us only work part time and we just spent every last penny on a beautiful van called Betty. Of course, we aren’t poor, we just don’t have any dosh, if you know what I mean. We could get all entrepreneurial, and take extra hours and craft things up and sell and things, but Alan Sugar we’re not. Every spare moment is bound up in Enjoying Life and Committing to the Things We Value, of which money simply isn’t one.

So, this Christmas is becoming Seriously Frugal. Fortunately we have been practicing for a few years now, and here are six ways we are doing it:

Christmas Trees
Every year for the last few years we have picked up a discarded tree from a school or college. It does mean waiting a bit longer- at least mid-December but sometimes you don’t find one until the 20th. But these trees are ENORMOUS and WONDERFUL! Big fatties, we had to push it through our giant front window last year as it wouldn’t squeeze down our hall. The schools are normally thrilled to have it taken off their hands. We gloat as we sail past other massive trees going for £70.

Presents
For the last 3 years we have only do Secret Santa in our family. We agree a price and use an internet service so it is all proper hush, and someone else is in charge. (The one year I did it I managed to know exactly who was buying for who, I well messed it up.) This way someone gets something really thoughtful and there are not piles of pressies sitting around that provoke only pseudo-thanks.

For other people, dear friends and children, I don’t tend to do much, and if I do it nearly ALWAYS involves a jar. (These 18 ways to upcycle your jars should provide some ideas.)

Tim and I have never done proper Christmas presents, we stick to a £10 budget, and I suspect we will do the same with Ramona. I feel pretty passionate about helping Ramona to understand that Things don’t Equal Happiness, and that love can be shown in millions of ways even throughout a traditional period of gift-giving.

Decorations
I haven’t bought any Christmas decorations in my life, I am the opposite of my sister who is obsessed with them. But I have crafted some up over the last couple of years using pegs, old fabric and scrabble letters (sound gorgeous, don’t they?!) and have been rather pleased with myself! This search on Pinterest will hook you up with millions of possibilities.

Food
I have only hosted one family Christmas before and we simply shared the food gathering out. I think this is becoming increasingly normal, as people struggle to find the bulk of money to lay on an exceptional festive spread at their party.  I have a friend who every year does Christmas with  her old school chums and each year each one brings a different traditional contribution. Just this weekend someone wrote in to the Guardian Money supplement, questioning this practice and the overwhelming response by readers was that guests contributing food made for a special and wonderful celebration. Don’t be shy.

Wrapping
I am officially the world’s worst wrapper  (Wrapper that is, not Rapper- in terms of Rapping I am actually rather excellent, particularly with Do the Bartman and Ice Ice Baby). Often my gifts look like I have pulled them out of the bin (I usually have) (JOKES, honest, I only get things out the bin for myself.) (Cor, now I sound bin selfish) because wrapping requires a finesse I don’t have. I always use recycled paper and my pressies always look ugly.  However, I have a dear friend who wraps everything with newspaper and her gifts look AMAZING! Just check out the possibilities of using recycled wrapping.

Christmas Frocks
Christmas time is a time to look nice, no? To feel happy with your outfit, to feel fresh. For me, a new frock is synonymous with the festivities and has been since I was a tot. If this is the same for you I have to say: Get ye to a Swap Shop now! I already have a swap organised, at a local cafe down the road. A little google could show up one in your region, and if not just organise one for your street or even just your friends. It is THE thriftiest way to clear out your wardrobe and get some new things in, and have a whale of a time whilst doing it. I could not be more of a fan!

As you can see, I only have 6 areas that I have attacked with my Wand of Frugality. I am sure there are a million more. For those of you who have been doing a thrifty Christmas for yonks, how do you do it? Would love to collect some ideas on here.

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A posh ceremony and bargain glamour

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It is not every night you tuck a loofah under your hair and get on the bus to a posh awards ceremony, eating dry Wheetos out of your handbag in case the three course dinner takes a while to arrive. I was excited and nervous in even measure- like the equilibrium people have when they carry a bag of supermarket shopping in each hand, and you ask if they need help. “Noooo! It’s fine-  I’m all balanced out.”

I was heading to the MAD blog awards ceremony. I was SO looking forward to meeting the tens of other bloggers I interact with almost daily on Twitter, but there was a tiny bit of anxiety about not knowing anyone in real life, and a big bit about whether I would be the kind of person they think I am! Such a strange thing.

Turns out, every single person I met there was in fact EASILY equal to their Internet presence. Lovely, funny, intelligent. The Real Life to Internet and back again vortex doesn’t really distort people very much at all.

I met a whole load of bloggers and Tweeters from scratch too- my whole table was full of people I’d never come across before and I can not tell you what fun we had. I genuinely laughed until I had tears streaming down my face and had to rest my forehead on the table.

I am afraid to tell you that I didn’t bring back any gongs in the two categories I was in, but rest assured they went to absolute GIANTS in those areas – Red Ted Art for Craft and Queen Frugal for Thrift. And getting to meet my rival crafty and thrifty nominees was just a total, magical joy.

I keep thinking about the chats I had with all the different souls dotted about the room and smiling.

I am going on a bit, I know. Sorry. It is just, people are great, aren’t they?  I’d link to them all but I am too lazy. (Obviously, not that great. HA TOTALLY JUST KIDDING.)

As if I am some kind of fashion blogger…  I feel you all were so diligent in your advice on what I should wear I need to update you on all that:

Despite pretty much every single one of you reckoning on The LoveBoat, I chose Princess Royal. (What, think this is some kind of democratic utopia?) I was fully prepared to do it, in order to make you all proud, and then I woke up with the MOTHER of shoulder pimples, putting that strapless number right out of the picture.

Also, I love fashion, I do; colours, fabrics, patterns, new clothes. But when I leave the house I want to also leave my thoughts about my outfit there too. I spend a bit of time getting my gear on, but then it is on and I am done with it. No tugging, tucking, straightening, smoothing, standing up tall, holding tummies in, for me. That it why I will never be a true fashionista.

Every single thing I own is second hand, and it fills me with total glee to surprise people with that. If they like my on-trend coloured trousers, and I can say they were £5 from the Hospice shop, that pretty much makes my day.

I wanted to hit the glamour stakes on Friday in order to be a walking advocate of  the pre-loved life and the Oxfam Fashion Team with their seriously chic Boutique in Notting Hill massively helped me do that. I couldn’t normally give two hoots about designers but wearing something that is ordinarily well dear did make me feel The Business  (I guess that is how the whole brand thing works, eh?)

Just so you lot wouldn’t think I was a total wuss for ditching the saucy frock I went BIG TIME on the locks. This, a huge amount of liquid eyeliner (Okay, actually I am too cheapskate for that, I just put a paintbrush in my mascara) and gluing glitter on my shoes added the razzmatazz the dress needed.

 

Is that bargain glamour and the BIGGEST BEEHIVE IN THE WORLD OR WHAT!!!

I started work on it at 3pm, thinking it would take several goes and hours to do, but I was so happy with it after 15 minutes – and some help from a loofah and a pair of tights- that I left it. Which meant I spent the afternoon peering down at Ramona from my lofty space instead of getting in the den with her, lest she touch it. It wasn’t the “Seen and not heard” philosophy that made parents of the Sixties so aloof with their kids- they just didn’t want them bashing in their boufs.

I can totally understand.

I needn’t have worried- Even even the wind turbine of the Northern Line didn’t make a single dent and it arrived in tact and the bits and pieces didn’t fall out once. HOORAY!

Linking up with all those other marv second hand lovers over at Lizzie’s place. 

Sew old skool

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I have been sewing since I got my first second hand machine for my eleventh birthday. I got into it immediately, once my aunty passed on her know-how. I felt such achievement whipping up easy pencil cases and cushion covers. I never excelled at sewing in school though – I found the projects inane (why get teens to sew a picture of a house?? Rather than a boob tube?) So I spent most of the class hand stitching my fingers together.

Still, on the quiet, I kept at it through my teenage years, mixing up typical clubbing (er, I’m gonna be honest with you here: slightly chavvy) attire with the odd home made number. I have ZERO skill – I simply can’t get my head around patterns, but get by with my fair share of stitching a line/ trying it on/ unpicking/ stitching another line…

I left that original sewing machine at my In Law’s home in NZ, they are kindly looking after it for me. So for our last 5 years here we have been on the hunt for the perfect one – ending  up with a bit of a collection. (Even though since motherhood my sewing has mostly been ornamental – cards out of vintage  kids books and the like- or 5 minute jobs – like whimsical lace flapper bands.)

I began with this beautiful old singer on the top shelf- my mum gave it to me for my birthday, it was a bargain £15 from the Oxfam in West Wickham. I can’t seem to find out how old it is. There is no pedal, only a hand wheel, so quite old- possibly early 1900s? It came with a beauty bundle of little bits and peices and a stunning wooden box.

Just days after being given this my husband saw a similar wooden coffer by a wheelie bin on the street. He bought it home and we had some fun trying to gently break into this locked box. Once we did we discovered an almost identical but just much less loved machine. There he is on the bottom shelf.

Whilst they look incredible, they are a bit slow to work with! For my next birthday Tim found me this beautiful retro Singer on Gumtree:

Like most electric Singers it is an absolute DREAM to work with. We have much fun, this old machine and I. However, it doesn’t do Zig Zag. I use Zig Zag stitch quite a bit so I do miss it. When we came across a machine in a charity shop called the ZIG ZAG O MATIC, we did have a bit of a laugh and pounced on it immediately. (Read all about that adventure here – it was my first Magpie Monday link up. Ah, fond memories!)

It ran well for a while but then started playing up, getting all clunky and it quickly got relegated to the bench.

And our fifth and final machine is also tucked under there, keeping Zig Zag company. He was another discarded box on the street, hauled home and broken into. We borrowed the motor from Zig Zag to get him whirring again and now he is a happy little mite.

Ramona loves fishing out the reels of cotton from their jars, popping them on every sticking out thing she can. She turns their wheels, fiddles their dials. Learns a lesson about not playing with sharp things every time the needle pokes her. (BAHA, jokes, we have removed those, promise.)

We are a loving rehab for old sewing machines. I think they are beautiful, filling little corners of my home with their history. I love imagining the stories they’d tell – the hands working their wheels, the hundreds of  fabric, fashions of the day, they would have had fed through them, who they first belonged to and who eventually forgot them.

Meanwhile, my quest continues. My dream machine is retro enough to look beautiful on our side board but new enough to work smoothly and have zig zag. Can you keep your eyes peeled for me?! Or if you’d like to do a swap, let me know…!

Linking up with the magical Liz and Magpie Monday – celebrating all things secondhand.

Charity Shopping in London: three spots for making a day of it

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If you are stuck for something to do this weekend and love a good thrift check out my three top spots for making a day of your charity shopping. These aren’t necessarily the VERY BEST shops (another post in the pipeline) but these are my favourite because they are either part of a route of charity shops or close by to some other fantastic activities. I have gone the extra mile for you, beloved reader, and have created some google maps. No one likes traipsing around with only the rumour of a vintage palace spurring you on.

Pimilico Charity Shop Circuit
Pimlico – such an easy area to get to, just a five minute walk south of Victoria. I know this circuit like the back of my hand- I get to do the rounds at least once a week on a lunch break. What a treat!

There are EIGHT, yes, EIGHT, shops in this tiny circuit. Fara really rule the roost here with Fara Retromania (with a fun £5 rail outside), a normal shop and a Fara Kids. The Oxfam shop is excellent for shoes, and smart clothing. The Sue Ryder is a fairly cheap one, the Trinity Hospice is great for fabric ends and wool, the Fara Kids has brilliant -if pricey- stylish kids clothes (but jawdropping sales.) I have bought lots of lovely items from the normal Fara and a few crazy bits and bobs from Retromania. I have worked in this patch for FIVE YEARS and it was only last summer that I found out about a sneaky little shop hiding one block back, where I have since found some beautiful jewelry. I felt so ripped off, imagining five years worth of bargains I had missed out on!
Here is the public Google Map of the Pimlico circuit for you.
It is easy to make a day of it by having a delicious lunch at the market by Fara Kids and then a wander a bit further down towards the Thames to Tate Britain, where they have a spectacular crafty kids corner.

Blackheath
There are only two shops here but I count this as one of my favourite areas as thrifting fits so easily into a wonderful fun day. There is an Oxfam here and a Cancer Research, both of which can be a tiny bit more expensive (average £7 trousers/ £4 top) but the quality tends to be quite high. We will often train into Blackheath, hop the shops, grab a delicious lunch at one of the delis, then wander over the Heath via the icecream van, into the wonders of Greenwhich park and down to the antique markets. This is a whole Saturday with something for every member of the family. I have highlighted the shops on the map here.

Central London
This is not a route for the faint of heart but for the stoic bargain hunter wearing hiking boots. But I guarantee you will find some swag! Begin at Goodge Street, there is a wonderful Oxfam where I never fail to buy something (often brand new stuff), a Sue Ryder and a Notting Hill (both of which are good for a browse but can be quite dear- average £8 trousers, £5-6 top). There is also a high end vintage shop on the other side of the road.

Head south west down to Oxford Circus stopping at the Salvation Army on Princes Street. It is worth the diversion this is quite a massive shop and they often have brand new designer items, alongside average shoddy (but cheap!) gear. They often have very glamorous shoes and boutique dresses. Whatever you do though, DON’T USE THE CHANGING ROOM WITHOUT ASKING. You will be embarrassed if they catch you (!!!)

If you still have wind in your sails, grab some lunch and keep heading west, but back North a little to Marylebone. This is a little area jampacked with charity shops. They are filled with designer goods and the prices do reflect this but if you are looking for some good quality shizzle, Marlybone has your name on it. It is also full of lovely little independent shops and is right on the edge of glorious Regent’s Park where you can catch some music in the bandstand, or collapse under a tree with your bags of bargains!

Check out the route here and PLEASE add more if I have missed any gems!

What do you reckon- have you visited these patches? Have you got a favourite circuit you do or a place you could wile away a whole day?

PS: If you like my thrifty ways, would you be able to nominate me in the THRIFTY category of the MAD blog awards? Love you forevs 🙂