Budget Buys: Personalised Pampering Gift Set

I love making up hampers and gift-sets as presents for friends and families – it looks like so much more effort has gone in that picking something up off of the shelves, and you can personalise it to their individual tastes. I thought over the next few weeks I would do a few posts on some of the gifts I have made up over the years, and some products I would recommend. First up is a girly-night-in pampering set!

2013-11-25 14.19.41Basically, this little series is going to be all about what I would love to receive in a gift like the ones I am describing!

If someone was going to make me a gift set of pampering goodies, I’d love them to go more on the treats rather than the beauty products (I find they are such a personal thing – I for one hate really scented body lotions, which are commonplace  in most pre-made budget options).

I’d love a pair of slippers (I treated myself to the ones in the picture in Primark, for £2), some girlie magazines (if they have freebies, so much the better!), a cute mug (Cath Kidston is the obvious choice, but Wilkinson’s have some great ones too!), and some chocolate goodies.

On the beauty side of things, I personally would prefer to be given nail polishes, maybe a nail file – things that aren’t going to irritate skin or cause fear that the recipient smells! This set was £2 and I talk more about it here.

I reckon you could make a great set for £10, and I know this is the type of present I love to receive!

 

Do you make up your often gift sets or hampers?

Budget Beauty Buys: Current Favourites

As you all know, I love saving money. If I know I can get something cheaper I will, so I really enjoy comparing budget buys with branded products. Recently I’ve been branching out in terms of where I buy my beauty products, and have ended up finding some very cheap and surprisingly good little gems. Here we go…

IMAG0451First up are my beloved Rimmel Soft Khol Kajal Eyeliners (can be found easily, especially in Boots). I’ve used these ever since I started wearing eyeliner, simply because my mum always used them too! Granted they smudge easily, yes they aren’t the longest lasting, but they offer what I think is a great everyday look, but also look great when used heavily to define eyes. I have worked out they heavily applied, powdered, and applied again makes them last longer. My everyday look is to line my upper waterline with the grey, then add a light coat of mascara. Eyes done!

Next is a BB cream by Lacura, found in Aldi. I’m actually not sure if they stock this anymore, because I found it on it’s on, with a greatly reduced sticker on it – I paid £2.99 for this tube.

2013-11-09 08.20.56Even at the original price of £4.99, I would still consider this to be a bargain. It does seem as though regular use of it would break me out, so I save it for special occasions as the coverage is surprisingly good. It works well for a day out, when you don’t want to be too made-up but still want to look nice, and it lasts all day too! I’ve found it works really well mixed into my normal foundation (Bourjois 10-Hour Sleep Effect) as it adds the pink tone my skin needs.

2013-11-09 08.21.16I hope the above photo portrays the best thing about this BB cream – the fact that its pale! I have a huge problem getting BB creams to match my skin tone, but this one really is pale!

Back to eyes now…I have used Natural Collection mascaras for years, and at £1.99 you really can’t go wrong. My absolute favourite is the Lash Curl one, as I prefer the wand. I do find them gloopy when new, but a wash of the brush under the hot tap and a shake of the tube normally helps!

2013-11-24 20.31.05Next up is a set of my new favourite nail colours – from Primark. I absolutely love these colours, they look classy and elegant, but are still different. However the formula is pretty bad (though for 50p each, can’t complain!) and even with a base and top coat they chip within a day. That said, my top coat is pretty cheap, so I’m hoping the Seche Vite one will come my way soon!

 

That rounds up my current favourites. Would you like to see more beauty posts?

PS: Happy Birthday to me!

 

 

 

Fun Fortnightly Finds (#2)

This post was really well received last week, so I’m hoping it’ll be a regular occurrence. I really enjoyed writing it, as although I always read LOADS of blogs (it helps pass time in boring lectures…) I find noting down what ones to include made me pay a lot more attention!

I have, however, decided to only do this once a fortnight, just to prevent my blog from getting samey. Plus I do have some studying to fit it! So, what am I loving this fortnight?

Christmas

2013-11-20 21.39.35

My boyfriend picked up an order in Cath Kidston last week (a birthday present for me apparently, looking forward to it!) and I persuaded him to give me the bag it came in, as it’s so damn cute and festive. I am normally a bit of a bah humbug about Christmas, and being an early-December baby I like my birthday first, but this year I’ve been getting very excited about Christmas already!  I still have three weeks left of this university term, so it’s a long way off, but I’m already planning outfits and festive baking! I have have a few budget gift guides scheduled for posting, so keep an eye out for those!

Shopping

Related to the last post, I’ve been getting out and about doing little bits of Christmas shopping lately, and last weekend we headed out of town to do a mammoth present shop. A new dress may have slipped in the basket too! There’s been some great bargains around already this year, which I’m hoping to blog about soon.

Saving Money

2013-11-20 15.58.25As a student, I’m often on a tight budget, so saving money where I can is a must for me. I realised this past fortnight that some of my methods have saved me a ridiculous amount over the last term, and I’ll definitely be sharing these ideas with you soon! Not only do I feel smug, I’m also able to treat myself. That new dress feels more justified now…

And now to the blogroll – what I’m loving from other blogs:

  • I know I link to her quite a lot, but I really do love Rosie’s posts (plus she’s probably my favourite blogger, end of!). This Mac’n’Cheese sounds just up my street, gloriously unhealthy and easy. Plus as it’s made with less milk than normal, it should agree with me more (dairy overload does not agree with me!). I’ll definitely be adapting this recipe to my student budget soon!
  • I should stop reading beauty blogs, as I’m becoming a sucker for high-end products that I really, really just cannot afford. I’ve fallen in love with Naked 3, with the best preview I’ve seen being on Vivianna Does Makeup. If anyone wants to treat me to this (my birthday is next week, it could be a joint birthday/Christmas present!) then please feel free…
  • I’ve been reading Miss Budget Beauty’s gift guides with great care recently, as I’m on a very tight budget. Check out her Under £10 guide here. However I saw these vintage-style brush rolls and fell in love. I know I’m getting lots of make-up brushes as a gift this year, and something like this would be perfect for me! I’m now browsing that website and wishing I’d never found it…love so much of their products!

Recipe: Chicken & Sausage Pie

This seems like a bit of a strange recipe to write on a student blog, as it seems so expensive – and I must admit the price did make me wince slightly when buying ingredients. But actually it makes a huge amount, and the cost spreads out. Each portion of pie is roughly £1.50, and whilst that’s not the cheapest meal around, its far cheaper than buying a ready meal.

Pies are so fun to make too! There’s so many different stages, but none are complicated (unless you are attempting to make your own pastry, with a cling-film roll instead of a proper rolling pin), and you can tailor the flavours to your own tastes completely. They are perfect for crowds – I made this when it was my turn to cook the house Sunday dinner and it was very well received. Not only did I make enough to feed four hungry girls, I made four individual pies for my freezer too – 2 hours work (and a lot of washing up) but I filled my freezer, relaxed from revision, and generally made a mess in the kitchen. Something I recommend!

2013-11-24 19.16.25And who wouldn’t want a dinner like that?! Served with plenty of mash and veg, this would have actually served at least another person, so I got at minimum nine servings out of this recipe, and I can’t wait to eat some of the ones I have stashed away in the freezer! I originally made a similar recipe from a Times magazine – I no longer have that recipe, so improvised with what was in my cupboard and what I remembered!

Ingredients

2013-11-23 16.16.15

  • Four chicken breast (£7 from Tesco)
  • 6 sausages (I bought 16 for £5, also in Tesco, working out at £1.88)
  • 1 slice of bread, this recipe is perfect for using the ‘end bit no-one wants’ (5p)
  • Two regular onions (40p)
  • A large knob of butter (20p)
  • A handful of the cheapest mushrooms, optional (20p)
  • 2 chicken stock cubes (10p)
  • Two tablespoons of flour (5p)
  • Some herbs and seasoning (5p)
  • 1-2 packs of ready-rolled puff pastry (£2 from Sainsburys)

Splitting the recipe into eight servings, this works out at £1.49 per serving.

Let’s make pie!

First of all, cook your chicken – preheat the oven to 200C, and get four large squares of tin foil ready. Spread each with a little oil, place a chicken breast in the centre, and season with salt and pepper (I also added a bit of thyme). Wrap the foil into a parcel, it should look a little like a Cornish pasty in shape. Cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then leave to cool.

2013-11-23 16.20.42Meanwhile, finely chop the onion, and sweat down with the butter until soft.

2013-11-23 16.44.00And while that is going on (see, we’re multi-tasking here!) remove the sausages from their skins. Pulse the bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs, and mix this into the sausage meat – a kneading movement works well here. If you want, add a bit of lemon juice to this mixture – but don’t worry as it’s far from essential. Shape the mixture into balls – it makes lots, the picture below shows half of mine…

2013-11-23 17.03.57By now your onions should have sweated down. Make the stock up (you need 1.5-2 litres). Add the flour to the onions and stir to make a roux, then slowly add the stock whilst stirring. Once it’s all in the pan, add some herbs, salt and plenty of pepper, and your mushrooms (if using). You could also add vegetables at this point, I imagine some chopped carrot would work well.

2013-11-23 17.06.11Leave your sauce to simmer on a low heat for a bit, whilst you brown the sausage balls in a little oil. Make sure the pan is hot when they go in, or the bread will absorb oil and the final result will be greasy.

2013-11-23 17.34.48Back to the chicken. Remove it from it’s foil parcels, and drain any grease on a piece of kitchen towel. Cut up into bite sized pieces.

2013-11-23 17.43.15Once all of your elements are prepared, put some chicken and sausage in the bottom of your chosen dish.

2013-11-23 17.49.14Ladle in the sauce until it is roughly this full…

2013-11-23 17.49.19And bake for around 30-45 mins at 160C. If you are making a day in advance, keep the filling in the fridge, top with pastry when ready to cook, and bake covered with foil for 30 minutes, and then uncovered for 30 minutes. If freezing, use pastry that has NOT already been frozen (I made my own for my individual ones), defrost fully before cooking, cover and bake for 40 minutes, and then uncovered for 30 minutes. Remember to only use my timings as a guide – everything should be fully cooked and piping hot.

2013-11-24 19.10.14If you want, you could get fancy with your pastry and make some pretty shapes on top…mine was a little rough looking though!
2013-11-23 19.17.58Serve with plenty of green vegetables and mash, and you have a filling dinner for under £2.

2013-11-24 19.16.25

Having made this, I’ve been inspired to make more pies – I’m planning on making some steak ones over my Christmas holidays! Does anyone else make double portions and freeze meals to save time?

Saving Money: Buying & Eating Meat on a Budget

I’m hoping this post reaches you all before you do your weekly shop!

This is somewhere that I should make note of the saying ‘practise what you preach.’ I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of eating meat simply because of its cost – I generally have a list at the end of term of the meals I want to eat at home. Beef stew, belly pork, toad in the hole, roast chicken. I generally really struggle to justify the cost of meat. However during the last year of university I really noticed the difference that a diet lower in protein made, and so this year am making the effort to buy and cook meat more often, and hopefully grab some great bargains and learn some lovely budget meals. So far I think it has been going well, as some of the posts I’ve linked to above will hopefully show.

I would like to add that I ate remarkably healthily compared to quite a few of my fellow students. I just shied away from eating meat under the pretence that it was too expensive. I’ve learnt that on the whole I was wrong, and today I am going to give you the tips that I have learnt so far.

  • Check out the clearance section. I always tend to pick up some really good bargains here – just yesterday I managed to get 750g of Tesco Finest lean steak mince for under £4. I will be getting at least 10 meals out of that, so under 40p for a portion of meat is I think excellent value. Obviously only buy things that (1) you know what to do with, and (2) you will have room in the freezer for.
  • Have a browse in the butchers. I never thought that meat from a butchers would be  cheaper, but it actually seems to be. For certain things at least (not, as I unfortunately found out, fresh chicken). One of the main advantages in shopping in this way is that you can buy exactly the amount you need, you get advice about how best to cook things, and they often have cheaper alternatives ‘out back’ if you discuss exactly what you need. That’s how I got the steak for my beef stew.
  • Bulk buy. This is in conjunction with the first point really – if you have space, buy things when you see them cheaply. At the beginning of term I like to take advantage of the “three for £10” offers that all supermarkets have. Of course check the shelves first to grab any bargains!
  • Make the most of your freezer. I couldn’t live without decent freezer space. I like to make up meals and freeze them as ‘ready meals’ and I also like to freeze meat bought cheaply. I buy these bags, which make freezing meals easy, and take up far less space than boxes. Normal freezer bags are fine, but its difficult to prevent spillages when they haven’t quite frozen.
  • Bulk out meals with inexpensive ingredients. I always try and throw a spoon or two of lentils into a mince based dish, my beef stew is well bulked out with carrots (I LOVE slow cooked, stewed carrots) and I like spinach in my curry. Not only do these additions mean I need to use less meat per meal, but they also add a lot of health benefits.
  • Buy better quality. Two contrasts points next. Buying better quality is something hugely important to me. For one, I just think better quality meat tastes nicer. I also like to think that the meat I buy is as cruelty-free as possible. And secondly, I find spending just that little bit more than your basic price means that the meat is less fatty and gristly. To put it simply – I believe that cheap meat is a false economy.
  • Buy cheaper cuts. This appears to contrast with the statement before. But it does mean different things. Buy the best quality level of meat you can afford. But stick to cheaper cuts. For example, boneless chicken thighs are just as good (if not better) than breast, and there are multiple cuts of stewing steak that work differently in different situation.

Does anyone have any tips for buying meat on the cheap?

Recipe: Potato Curry (+ Tomato Free Curry Pastes)

This was another recipe I made on a whim that turned out pretty damn amazing, even if I do say so myself. This time, luckily for you, I did decide to take photographs of the process, and so can share the recipe far more easily with you (rather than with this noodle recipe!).

I found this to be quite quick (definitely around the half an hour mark, and that was with taking photographs and trying to keep things tidy!), really filling (you definitely don’t need the rice with it, but I had a microwaveable packet that needed using up), and healthy. If I was organised I would potentially cook some lentils up the day before and add these, but it isn’t necessary, and would only serve to bulk it up a bit more. Mine tasted pretty much exactly like a takeaway bombay potatoes, and I’m definitely cooking it again. It’s cheap and healthy, where can you go wrong?

2013-10-17 19.18.17

Again, I will try and work out costings for you, but I reckon off the top of my head this will be pretty damn cheap!

Making Tomato Free (with the help of Marks & Spencers)

2013-10-17 19.03.02

I’ve always had a big issue with finding tomato free curry pastes. I don’t really want to make curries from scratch all the time, as I find the ingredients are expensive, and they are so time consuming. Sometimes I want the convenience of a paste. Thai curries, and Malaysian ones (I love, love, love Massaman curry, and really want to try making one at some point – does anyone have any recommend recipes?), always tend to be safe for my tomato allergy, but when you are craving an Indian style curry, only that will do! Marks & Spencer came to my rescue on this occasion – at the time of writing (please ALWAYS check the label yourself!) their Tandoori and Balti pastes were both free from tomatoes. I prefer their Tandoori one, as I find the extra oil means it keeps better once opened, but both are good and well worth the slightly extra pennies you have to spend for M&S products! If anyone has any other tomato-free pastes or products they recommend, feel free to leave a comment.

Ingredients & Costings

2013-10-17 18.27.00

  • Curry paste (discussed above) – you can get a decent one for under £2, and you use less than 1/4 of a jar (50p)
  • I used a new discovery for me – tinned new potatoes. I initially turn my nose up at things like this, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. And at 15p for a big tin (which served me for two meals) from Aldi, you can’t go wrong (8p)
  • Half an onion – I buy four big onions from Aldi for 59p, but the average price for this amount of onion would not be more than 10p
  • Half a pepper – probably around 20p
  • Some oil (price negligible)
  • Half a bag of spinach (around 50p)
  • Optional – some dry spices, and lemon juice (around 10p, if that)
  • To serve – a naan bread. I buy 6 for £1, but average price maybe 20p

Price for the recipe: approx £1.70. I reckon you could easily make this for under £1.50 per serving though, by shopping around for curry pastes, and not using extra spices.

Method

Chop up your onions, and fry off in some oil, until softened. You don’t want crunchy onions here – they’ll take around 10 minutes.

2013-10-17 18.34.46

Meanwhile, drain and wash your potatoes (to get rid of any brine-y water).

2013-10-17 18.39.37

Chop your peppers and add to the pan – cook for around another five minutes. Keep stirring the pan occasionally (I should have mentioned this before!) to prevent sticking and burning).

2013-10-17 18.55.58

Choose your dry spices. I used these:

2013-10-17 18.42.29

Add your dry spices to the pan, and fry whilst stirring constantly for around 2 minutes until fragrant. This cooks them out and stops the finished tests from tasting powdery.

2013-10-17 18.59.18

Add your curry paste, and stir round.

2013-10-17 19.02.51

Throw in your potatoes, and mush up with spoon as they heat to make the consistency you want. Make sure they are heated through properly too – I recommend cooking for five or so minutes.

2013-10-17 19.04.37

I ended up with mine looking a little like this…

2013-10-17 19.09.34

Throw in your spinach and your lemon juice, and let it wilt, around 2 minutes maximum.

2013-10-17 19.16.22

Serve up with naan bread, and rice if feeling greedy, and enjoy your homemade takeaway!

2013-10-17 19.18.17

Does anyone have any yummy curry recipes?

Budget Beauty Buys: Skincare

This is a post for the girlies out there! Over the last few months I’ve realised I’ve never taken care of my skin properly. Sure I’ve cleansed reasonably often, but definitely not morning and night, and even more naughtily I’ve often forgotten to take makeup off. Not only has this left me with blocked tearducts, but I feel it has had a drastic effect on my skin. Dry patches, oily patches, a few lots spots. This has been made worse over the past summer by bruising and swelling from my operation leading to me wearing more foundation, not taking it off, and then really clogging up my skin. So I’ve recently began to revamp my skincare items, on my tight student budget, and here are my favourite products so far.

2013-10-02 07.43.02

 

Firstly, I’ll mention the ‘stand out’ item in that photo – the multi-vitamins! Now we all know students may not have the best diets, and although I still manage to eat well I always recommend a multivitamin supplement, particularly in the months leading up to exams. I use one with extra iron and Vit C, as I find it works well for me. Now onto the more exciting things!

2013-10-02 07.46.10

First up is something I have used for many years, and despite occasionally venturing to other newer products (cleansing balms and oils currently have my attention – does anyone recommend any?) I always come back to it. It is cheap and cheerful, probably around £2-£4 depending on offers, lasts a long time, and is simple to use. None of these complicated instructions, I feel some beauty products these days require a degree to use! It has a light floral fragrance which doesn’t last when applied, is gentle on the skin, easy of the eyes (although I don’t recommend you use it directly on the eye area!), and is reasonably moisturising for a cleanser. It removes just about all traces of my makeup, and whilst it struggles a little with mascara it is my go-to cleanser when I need a simple one-step can’t-be-bothered refresh.

I also occasionally use the toner of this range, but it tends to dry my skin out and so for that reason I don’t thoroughly recommend it (although it sorts out caked foundation when gently pressed on, so possibly worth having for emergencies!). The moisturiser is also very good, but being in a pot lets it down big time for me – I can just imagine a lot of germs!

2013-10-02 08.24.28

 

This is a product you won’t see on most student’s dressing tables! Due to my operation I have had increasingly puffy eyes and dark circles, which I’m desperately trying to do something about – so recommendations of a decent concealer would be gratefully received! This moisturiser is light enough for my young skin, but seems to be slowly solving my problems. It stings a little if it goes in your actual eye, but is nice and refreshing, lasts for ages and is a great budget buy. I shall definitely repurchasing, as for an eye cream it is spectacular value for money.

2013-10-02 07.45.28

Recently I have developed a liking for good old traditional soap used to wash and cleanse. Granted this can be a little drying, but it seems the most natural thing to do (especially with my favourite range at the moment – Dr Organics) and is proving a lot cheaper. I buy these soaps at Holland & Barratt, and their full price is roughly £2.50, with offers pretty much constantly appearing. They last for maybe 6 weeks, depending on the storage you use (I definitely suggest a soap dish!) and obviously are easy to transport as they don’t have to be packed into a suitcase for flying. To use, I splash my face with warm water, lather the soap in my hands, and then massage in. I either wash off straight away using a flannel (rubbing for a bit of exfoliation) or leave it to dry (ala a face mask) before rinsing away. I also use this all over body in the shower, and find it wonderfully cleansing without feeling sticky or smelling sickly – and it doesn’t make the shower slippy which is a massive bonus for someone as accident prone as me!

My usual buy is the pictured pomegranate soap, which I love as the ingredients seem to combat a genetic skin condition that I have been lucky enough to inherit. I have however recently purchased the Vit E version, which I look forward to trialling soon.

2013-10-02 07.44.32

 

As mentioned above, washing with soap can be a littleeee drying on the skin, so I’ve been on the hunt for my perfect moisturiser. The hunt has been unsuccessful, but I have found four which I like to keep on hand, and then alternate depending on how my skin is feeling. The Garnier Moisture Match range has been around for a few months now, but for me is a revelation, particularly as a few formulas are oil-free. It isn’t exactly the cheapest option, with full price tubes being £5.99. However a limited range of the selection can often be found in Wilkinsons or Savers for £3, and they are regularly on offer in Boots, Superdrug (which they are at the time of posting, plus remember your 10% NUS discount students!), and various supermarkets. As with all things, it pays to shop around! I’ll give a brief overview of the moisturisers I love (keen eyes will note one is missing, as the formula was definitely not for me!) and you can choose the ones you’d like from there! Going from left to right…

We have the blue one! This is a pretty simple and generic moisturiser, for normal to dry skin, generic fragrance-free smell (doesn’t there always seem to be a smell?!), and I tend to use this after my nightly cleanse if my skin isn’t too dry, or if I used the Garnier cleanser above.

Then there’s the yellow one! This is probably my current favourite. It’s been an absolute revelation to find an oil-free moisturiser with SPF and illuminator. I have been using this both with (mixed in) foundation, and instead of foundation, and it really does give a lovely finish and glow to my skin. I wouldn’t recommend this for bedtime use due to the SPF, and it feels a little sticky, but I definitely can’t complain!

To the orange tube! This is a gel based formula, very light and non-greasy, and lovely and refreshing on hot days. It also gives a good glow to the face, although at the same time manages to be matte (nope, I don’t understand either!). It mixes well with foundation, and spreads out evenly (probably better than the other types) but I definitely wouldn’t say this should be the only one you should buy as it definitely isn’t very moisturising, although I do have drier skin. Oily types, this is definitely one to try! One thing I will say is that I’m not a huge fan of the smell, it reminds me of the bright yellow antibiotic medicine I used to force down as a child…

And now to the pink corner! This is the richest moisturiser of the bunch, for dry to very dry skin. I have to say this is true – I wouldn’t use this except at night, and definitely not every night. But it is wonderfully softening and soothing, and gets rid of all my dry patches. I’ve found to excellent for the dry places on my body too, particularly the elbows. I believe that for dry skin this moisturiser could be a godsend!

 

And that is my best budget skincare (so far!). Does anyone have any recommendations?

 

 

Student Shopping: Tips on Auction Sites (And My EBay Addiction)

Sorry it’s been so long again. This operation really has taken a lot out of me, and coupled with trying to get on top of shifts at work (I don’t qualify for sick pay anymore, so wanted to make up for the shifts I missed!) I’ve had little time for blogging. I really have missed it, but my energy has been non-existent and the last thing I want is to be posting flat and tired posts. Hopefully this one won’t be too bad…

 

Over the few weeks between getting home and having my operation, I was tasked with clearing out my room. My parents aren’t planning on chucking me out anytime soon, but they are well aware I’m a little bit of a hoarder, and they also plan on redecorating my room next year. Embarrassingly, it took 3 trips to the dump to throw all of the non-decent stuff (and even more embarrassingly, only half of my room has been done – and it’s a small room!) and many black bags to house the various piles labelled ‘sell’ and ‘donate.’ Quite a decent pile of my stuff made its way to various charity shops, which always makes me feel like I’m doing my bit. I can’t say I give to charity as much as I’d like, sadly I can’t afford to donate often, but giving my unwanted goods for shops to sell makes me feel a teeny bit better. I also try and check out their clothing rails when I pop in – there’s often some excellent deals to be had!

I also had a lot of really, really good bits and pieces) that I felt I could get a bit of money for. I mean, most bits still had tags on! I have a really bad habit of buying things that I ‘might’ wear and then never wearing/using them, and although I’m growing out of that phase now (mainly as it’s my own money I’m spending!) it’s still left me with a lot of things to get rid of. Enter EBay. Not only did I find it an excellent way of getting rid of my unwanted things, I also found myself acquiring a few bits and pieces others didn’t want, which I did. This blog post will be a not-so-short guide to buying and selling on EBay.

 

Selling On EBay

  • Make sure it’s something that someone will want. Cheap items do sell, but is anyone really want to buy a broken Primark dress, pay postage, and repair it when they could buy a brand-new one for under £10. Special occasion items, like this here (I love it!), seem to sell well.
  • Set a reserve price just right. No point starting off your old ‘best’ leather jacket at 99p. But equally no point starting a well used t-shirt at £5. Judge it properly, and you’ll get interest.
  • Don’t charge ridiculous postage fees. It costs me £3 to post a small parcel (shorts/dress/t-shirt) and £3.50 for a pack of five postage bags. So to me, when someone asks for £5.50 postage for similar items, I get annoyed and put-off bidding. The ones EBay suggest are good estimates, and there for a reason, so do consider using them!
  • Take decent photographs, and lots of them. If you’re selling a patterned item, make sure your photos show it clearly. I also suggest taking photos of size/brand labels if possible, to avoid being accused of false advertising.
  • If selling clothing, please wash it before posting it off. I know people (me at least!) will most likely wash it when they receive it, but no-one will give you positive feedback for items with your dinner down them!
  • Make sure any items don’t smell. I won’t state which, but a clothing item I have received in the last few weeks had clearly been stored in a damp environment. Three washes and airings later it’s far improved, but I can’t stay I was impressed upon opening!
  • Don’t be disheartened if things don’t sell – list again, and again, and again, adjusting the reserve price if you feel it needs it. Remember that at certain times of the year (holiday periods) bidding will be less.
  • Ensure items are posted out quickly after payment is received. I always try to time my auctions to finish on a Saturday or Sunday, ensuring I have postage bags ready, so I know I can send them out the day after payment is received.
  • Keep an eye on items, as potential bidders may ask questions. It annoys me hugely when I ask a seller a question, they don’t respond, and so the item goes unbid on.

 

Buying on EBay

  • When searching, always try to be specific – don’t search for skirts, search for ‘floral skirt’ or ‘maxi skirt.’ No point wading through hundreds of entries you’re not interested in! Ideally, search for your favourite brands/shops too.
  • My biggest piece of advice is to include the size you’d want as a search term -you don’t want to find the perfect item and then it be miles too big/small for you.
  • Ask questions before bidding, especially if the seller won’t accept returns.
  • I don’t bid on things I like straight away. I add them to my watch list, set a phone alarm for just before bidding ends, and then bid at the last moment. This helps me to avoid a bidding war, and keeps me to a budget.
  • To keep to a budget, decide on a maximum bid and stick to it. Entering the auction with minute to go lowers the chance of you being outbid, and so removes temptation to spend more than you would have.
  • Don’t bid on everything you like – consider where it is from, and how well it will be made. I’m sorry if you think I’m a snob, but I would not buy a second-hand, used item from Primark for £5+postage, as I know perfectly well I could get one for the same price that hasn’t been worn before.
  • Last of all, always, always, please, please, please give feedback to your seller!

 

That’s my basic guide to selling/buying on EBay. I will admit the majority of things I have been interested in are clothes (I am a girl after all!) and here are the three items I have won this summer.

2013-08-02 18.27.35

A lovely vintage-style Urban Outfitters skirt. I just adore the different buttons on this, plus it’ll be far easier when I inevitably lose one!

2013-08-02 18.28.35

A less vintage, but equally lovely (and apparently one-off) unbranded skirt. This is a little on the tight side, but I got overexcited and ignored the ‘to fit sizes 6-10’ in the description as it was the first item I bid on.

2013-08-02 18.29.11

An absolutely gorgeous (the photograph doesn’t do it justice) mini-dress from Mango. I can’t wait until the winter to wear this with thick tights and boots!

 

I have also used EBay to try and find some items of sentimental value.

2013-08-02 18.31.31

Since I was very little, I’ve had one cuddly toy, and it’s the only one that I ever truly loved. It, or he, came everywhere with me, experienced things a bear shouldn’t have to experience (being stuffed in a drawer after getting lost in Marks and Spencer’s, and being posted from Cornwall for Leicestershire after I left him in a holiday cottage) and was basically glued to my hand when I wasn’t losing him. I loved, and still love, Bear. Yes, my bear’s name is Bear. I was an imaginative child (the story is, he was actually bought for my mum when she announced she was expecting me, I fell in love with him as a child, but I wasn’t allowed him until I said the word ‘bear’ – it ended up being my first word, and the name stuck). Anyway, I decided to search on EBay to see if I could find another, and found several straight away. I duly purchased, not to replace my Bear (he is irreplaceable!) but to store for the future day I have children, in the hope that they too have a cuddly best friend to see them through their childhood and beyond. See, EBay can be used for sentimental reasons too, and that just shows how soppy I am at heart…

 

For all of you Filofax fans out there (and I know there are a lot thanks to Philofaxy publicizing my blog on their round-up posts) EBay is also a great source of cheaper Filofaxes. I greatly aim to get hold of a vintage Filofax one day, and probably spend a little bit of time twice a week searching for these on EBay. I’ve not found the perfect one at the perfect price, yet, but I’m sure I will one day.  I want something like this…

Filofax

Image from here.

I will say though, I’ve seen a few try to sell non-leather folders expensively by mis-describing them. I’ve also seen multiple sellers listing other folders (i.e. cheap store bought ones) as “Filofax-style” in order to try and gain more money. So do be careful with what you are buying – Philofaxy has a great advisory post here. My biggest piece of advise if buying a Filofax is to definitely ask on Philofaxy, or on one of the Facebook groups, just to check that you are getting the real deal.

 

So that’s it, my rambly guide to using EBay. Hope that helps the potential bidders in my readers!

Battle of the (Own) Brands

Let’s face it, students have to watch their pennies. Or in my case, watch their pennies leave their pockets as quickly as they’ve made it there (damn Canterbury rents being so expensive they swallow up my entire loan, and more…). So I thought I’d do a post on good-for-the-pocket-and-the-mouth food buys. And maybe some household and cosmetic items too.

So here it is, my cost-saving guide to shopping!

First of all, my first point is to always check the clearance shelves. You can normally find things that you would have considered out of your budget there – like two plaice fish fillets (fresh fish is SO good for you) for £1.20 as apposed to nearly £6. Okay, still not the cheapest meal option. But perhaps having a ‘treat’ meal on your shopping day will keep you satisfied with cheaper items.

I would also advocate looking in ‘cheap’ shops. Aldi is my favourite, along with Poundland, simply because I can easily get items from them.

My parents bring me my favourite from Aldi, seeing as the one here is unhelpfully located in terms of bus stops. I love their own-brand cereal and instant hot chocolate. Their branded bread tends to be far cheaper than other shops too. And according to my parents, their meat is the best quality they’ve had in the last few months. I’m unable to vouch for this, having not tried it.

Poundland is great for things like cereal bars, branded cereal (because who doesn’t like Chocolate Minibix…), and crisps.

I’m now going to completely contradict myself. PLEASE don’t avoid shops deemed as ‘expensive.’ And by that I mean Waitrose and M&S. They can have some seriously good buys, and in some cases work out cheaper than Tesco.

Who knows the much-longed-for Tesco deal of 3-for-£10 meats, mix and match? Its on for a couple of months, spread about throughout the year, or it is as far as I’ve noticed. Well Waitrose does the same deal. But it’s on permanently  And the choice is much greater. You can buy turkey breasts (healthier than chicken, unfortunately out of stock this weekend), and various cuts of meat. There is more weight in the mince and chicken included (550g mince as opposed to 500g). This weekend I purchased two packs of mince, and one of mini chicken breast fillets; this has made two portions of chicken/mushroom casserole (along with two portions of the sauce for pasta), two portions of chicken curry (two portions of the sauce made into vegetable curry), four portions of chilli, three cottage pies, and four portions of bolognese. I personally find some of their vegetables bigger and cheaper than Tesco too, though do check before buying – I notably saved money on the cabbage from Waitrose, and it was far nicer than Tesco! I also must mention that Waitrose do the best dried noodles ever!

M&S is less useful, and I mainly use it for their tomato-free curry paste (the Tandoori is lovely, the Balti is yet to be tried!). However, their Dine In For £10 is excellent, and is the monthly treat when my man comes to visit!

Now…(Own) Brand Winners!

Garlic Bread

Tesco Value (30-something pence a loaf, serves 3) is lovely, cooks great, not too strong, not bland, not greasy or dry – its a winner! Just avoid ASDAs equivilant…

Naan Bread

I must confess I have only tried Tesco’s, but it is very yummy. Their standard ones are the right size for a single portion, the garlic and coriander flavour is just enough, and they are 6 for £1 and freeze really well.

Yoghurt

For individual pots, ASDA is great. I like their 6x125g pots of low fat vanilla/toffee for £1. They do packs of 4 for a £1 too, with slightly more variety in flavour. For bigger pots, I like Tesco’s lemon, as it has just the right amount of bitterness.

Chocolate Mousse

Tesco is the clear winner here, at 24p for four value mousse, that are absolutely yummy. They’re also great frozen!

Scampi

I recently ‘risked’ some Tesco Value Scampi Bites, at £1.25 for two portions. I say risked, as cheap seafood scares me. However, despite oozing some dubious looking liquid during cooking, and having to be turned regularly to prevent going soggy, these were surprisingly nice, and definitely worth buying – I won’t bother with more expensive stuff until I can afford it! That said, if you don’t need to cut pennies too much, go for more expensive versions.

Southern Fried Chicken

Aldi and Tesco’s (both frozen) is very good, as is Waitrose (also frozen, and considerably more expensive).

Pies

Now, nothing beats a Pukka pie. Especially as they’re tomato free. Most other supermarket deep-filled ones are, so I tend to buy (when I’m not treating myself) the shallow puff pastry ones. They’re usually priced at around 2 for £1.10, and whilst they aren’t full of meat, they’re okayish. The chicken ones tend to be far nicer than the steak.

Squash

I love ASDA’s Lemon and Lime double concentrate. Be warned it is very strong, and tastes very nice with vodka. ASDA’s Blackcurrant high juice is another favourite and has been for several years – I don’t drink normal Ribena, only this.

Curry Sauce (Korma)

As I am allergic to tomatoes, I only have a few options here. Tesco Finest Royal Korma sauce has a very, very odd texture – it tastes floury. It is also very expensive! ASDA normal brand Korma is a bigger jar, smells amazing, and tastes okay. It is a little bland, but I tend to marinate my chicken in Mark’s and Spencer’s tandoori paste, which helps. As does adding onions, peppers and chillies. Yes it perhaps bumps the price up a little, but it also bulks it out, so the meat goes further – bulking out meals is something I really, really suggest when cooking on a budget.

Cream Cheese

Bit of an odd one. Philadelphia is lovely, lovely, lovely, and you can honestly tell the difference. But at 1/4 of the price, Tesco’s value version isn’t too bad, just buy the full fat!

Cookies

The best packet of cookies I have ever, ever bought is from Aldi. They are around 30-45p a packet for 20 cookies, and honestly taste far superior to Maryland. They stand up well to dunking into drinks too….

Hair Styling Product

One for the girls. If you have curly hair, humidity is a nightmare, and causes a lot of frizz (and tears). Boots Curl Creme (it is pink) is the only thing that helps me. Apply to wet/damp hair. Only use a tiny tiny bit and rub in between your hands first, so it goes white. It’s very, very cheap and lasts for ages. I have about 5 tubs as a few years ago there was a discontinuation scare.

Hot Chocolate

ALDI for the win! Their big tubs of hot chocolate are £1.09, as opposed to a more general price of £2+, and it does taste very nice. However their individual sachets are really not pleasant, and for here I reccomend Options, which are very pricey. I only buy sachets for taking to work, so it’s not too much of an issue, but definitely wouldn’t ‘live’ off Options hot chocolate as I do the Aldi stuff.

Washing-up Liquid

I personally would never, ever buy Value range washing up liquid, there’s something so sad about getting so little bubbles in the bowl. However, ASDA’s own Lemon washing up liquid is my current favourite. Very bubbly, cuts through grease well, and smells gorgeous (although coming from a family where citrus products are banned, maybe I’m just addicted to the scent!).

Tea Bags

I love Yorkshire tea. It’s my absolute favourite. I can’t afford it. Even after my student loan comes in, I know perfectly well that if I buy it I’ll drink a huge pack in a week, and that’s just too expensive. So I stick to Tesco’s standard brand, or Aldi’s. They are stronger though, so brew for less time.

Cheese

Please, please don’t waste your money buying cheaper stuff. It is awful, and really doesn’t taste nice. More expensive cheese really is the only thing to go, and thats why I save it for a treat (or when the parents pay for shopping!). If you eat a lot of meals that include cheese in the cooking, buy a packet of ready grated parmesan, provides cheesy flavour for a much lower price!

Things to AVOID

  • ASDA Smart Price Garlic Bread – just horribly strong tasting, but not strongly of garlic!
  • Own-Brand White Lasagne sauce – I’ve never found anything close to Dolmio!
  • Own-Brand Chocolate – it’s alright to cook with, but not for eating.
  • ALDI flour- makes Toad in the Hole soggy and watery, and makes pancakes sticky.
  • ASDA Smart Price chocolate mousse – so bitter its inedible!
  • Own brand pesto – bleurgh!
  • Value branded washing up liquid – no bubbles!

Baking: Banana Nutella Oat Muffins

I’ve been looking for recipes I can bake which will do for an on-the-run breakfast, or quick but filling snack, when I go to lectures. My second-term timetable is pretty evil; 9am starts four days out of five, and 5pm finishes most days. This means making things ahead is a must for me (my freezer is currently stuffed full of meals – another blog post!). Now, last week I bought some bananas, thinking I would eat them. I always get cravings for bananas, but never eat them. I tend to want them at ridiculous times (who gets up at 3am just to have a banana?!) and so they just go overripe. As these ones did. However, I’m now a student. I can’t afford to throw away food. I quickly went through what was in my cupboards, did a bit of googling, and decided to adapt The Londoner’s recipe (found here) to make them a bit more substantial. Basically I made it, threw in some oats, and reduced the nutella slightly. Here’s what I did, and what I ended up with:

Banana Nutella Oaty Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 230g flour (I used plain, and added 3-4 teaspoons of baking powder and a splash of milk)
  • 150g sugar (I’d reduced this down next time, probably to 120g, maybe 100g)
  • 2 tablespoons porridge oats (could add more – I will be)
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 115g melted butter (I used salted)
  • 2 eggs (I used medium sized ones)
  • 2 tablespoons of nutella

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Peel, break up and then mash the bananas straight into your mixing bowl. Don’t worry too much about lumps.
  3. Melt the butter, and add to the bananas. Let it cool for a bit if its a little warm, or you’ll scramble the eggs.
  4. Break the eggs, beat lightly and add to the bowl. Mix everything together briefly.
  5. Add the flour (and baking powder if you’re using plain flour) and sugar, and mix until everything is just combined. It will look a bit like sick – don’t worry, it definitely shouldn’t be smooth! 
  6. Mix in the porridge oats – it will look even more like sick now!
  7. Prep a muffin tin by putting in paper cases. You could use the posh silicon ones, but that’s too much washing up for me!
  8. Add one tablespoon of the mixture to each case.
  9. Melt down your nutella slightly. Add a bit (around a teaspoon, definitely a good dollop) to each case.
  10. Top the nutella with around another tablespoon of the muffin mixture.
  11. Get a teaspoon and turn it upside down, and use the handle to swirl the muffins, making a marbled pattern with the batter and the nutella.
  12. Put the tray in the oven, cook for just over 20 minutes (mine took 22).
  13. Bowl licking time – the nutella one can’t just be washed of course, needs to be as clean as possible beforehand! 
  14. Let cool until you can handle them, eat warm if possible. 

 

I thought these were really good. I would maybe want them more substantial. Next time I will reduce the sugar, add at least double the amount of oats (and probably a little more baking powder), and maybe add some chopped nuts. There’s another version of this recipe which uses no flour and no butter (but does add low fat yoghurt) which I fancy trying, but that means digging my blender out of the cupboard. This recipe took about 15 minutes to mix up (rushing up and downstairs locating ingredients), and then 22 minutes to cool, and comes in at a reasonable 205 calories per muffin (the mix made 14 muffins). Alongside an apple, I reckon they could be a decent breakfast for days I wake up too late to make porridge. They’re definitely a good snack for a long weekend-day of maths!

These are amazingly quick to make, and a great fuel for the mind – I’ve made them lots during the exam term as they’re great to make when you need a break, and great to eat when you need cheering up!