Three steps to financial order

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Everyone is good at spotting bargains, whether it’s the infamous BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) or three for two offers, or clothes in the sale. What people are less good at is working out their cash flow and establishing what they might need over the course of a year, planning accordingly.

It goes without saying that buying things for cash, handing over used readies in the process, gives the best sense of what things are actually costing. It can also be sufficiently painful psychologically to ensure that your spending is limited. However there are times when using a debit or credit card is very useful, for example to take advantage of free guarantees or to keep a better record of when something was bought, in case it goes wrong. The way around this is to set yourself a regular sum for housekeeping expenses, and then try to stick to it. If you keep a cash book that is updated once a week, listing all purchases and expenses, you will get a clear idea of what money you have coming in and what is going out, which will help you keep on top of your finances and reduce the likelihood of frightening credit card bills in the future.

In this new age of austerity, you also need to put some money by in case of emergency. Many financial advisors would suggest that three months’ net salary is a useful goal to aim for. However for many people in the present financial climate, the emphasis needs to be on paying off debts rather than saving money, and a savings goal such as this is an impossible dream. Here is a three-step plan to financial organisation (with acknowledgement to my husband, who has been designated Head of Finance in our household while I am Head of Procurement – we found that having joint Heads of Finance just didn’t work).



  • Pay off your debts in order, with the ones accruing the most interest being paid off first.
  • Consider getting a second job such as babysitting, bar work, or taking in a lodger to speed this process up.
  • Avoid consolidation loans without taking independent financial advice, as these may end up proving to be more expensive than you think, and also encourage you to carry on spending at the unsustainable rate you were before, when instead you should be calming your spending down.
  • If you are having trouble meeting the minimum monthly payments on your credit cards and other bills, seek professional help or visit the Citizens Advice Bureau immediately, as this is very serious (not to mention worrying).
  • Double check you are on the cheapest possible deals for gas, electricity and water, and pay by direct debit to get a discount if possible.



  • Put a certain sum of money aside to cover things like: unexpected illness and dental treatment where the NHS doesn’t cover you, temporary loss of employment or late pay cheques, home repairs, Christmas and birthdays, holidays and day trips, school uniforms, replacing the car.
  • Make sure you always pay any necessary taxes on time, to avoid heavy fines.
  • Investigate life insurance policies and savings plans, with professional advice.
  • Investigate pension options and make arrangements for retirement accordingly.



When you find you have spare funds, put aside a sum for investment – this should include high, medium and low risk options. The proportion of medium to high risk investments you hold in percentage terms should be 100 less your age, therefore if you are 35, 65% of your money should be in medium to high risk investments, and 35% in low risk investments. For further advice, consult the myriad of financial books on the market, or see an independent financial advisor.

Image: Rob Wiltshire /


Handbags at dawn

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Does your handbag weight more than a small child? It doesn’t have to. Hoarding is usually the problem, but if you have a tray to empty the contents onto each evening it makes it easy to transfer a streamlined set of basics into the new one. Be wary of always carrying a huge farthingale of a handbag with most of your worldly goods inside, because it will be do damage to your back in the medium term. Here is a handbag checklist of the basics that you will need, and it is sensible to keep as near to this as possible rather than adding too many extra things:

  • Purse with at least £10-£20, a debit card and a credit card (only to act as emergency alternative payment if your debit card doesn’t work)
  • Driving licence or other photo ID
  • Mobile phone
  • House and car keys
  • Train or bus pass
  • Pocket pack of tissues
  • Tampons and/or panty liner
  • Dose of paracetemol
  • Plaster
  • Safety pin
  • Spare pair of neutral tights
  • Small brush or comb
  • Small umbrella
  • Pen
  • A spare five pound note and one pound coin (emergency parking or supermarket trollies)

Image: Suat Eman /

Sunday night organisation

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I mentioned in an earlier post that  it can be useful to give your hair a careful blow dry on a Sunday night to boost morale and save time the next week. Here is a more extensive plan for Sundays to help you organise your time and effort so things are less stressful on a daily basis. Once you have got into the habit, the organisational part  should take you about at least 20-30 minutes in total and this is best done in the early evening. If you add the beauty and grooming regime to it, you need to add at least another 20-30 minutes (an alternative is to do this in two stages with beautification happening during your evening bath once the kids are in bed). 

To start this process, set up your ironing board near your clothes, and have a sewing kit and shoe cleaning kit close to hand. You will also need a notepad, pen, chequebook and envelopes, your diary and/or your smartphone, if you use one, and finally a laptop connected to the internet if possible.

DIARY – Look through and update your appointments for the week. Think about whether you need to book dental checkups, routine health screening  or hair appointments in the near future. Make sure you have completed any slips or cheques that need returning to school or elsewhere, and entered any trips or holiday information into your personal diary. Think about any pick up/drop off problems that might be looming, or times when it looks as though you might have too much on, and try to consider whether there might be some sort of workaround. This might involve making a couple of phone calls to organise sharing lifts with another parent or colleague, cancelling activities you are not completely committed to, or changing dates to a more convenient time. Remember, if there’s too much on, it is perfectly possible to slow time down so you are functioning more on your own terms.

TO DO LIST – Write out Monday’s to-do list, merging work and home commitments and prioritising them 1-4 (1=Urgent and important; 2= Urgent but less important; 3=Not urgent but important; 4=Not urgent and not particularly important).  This should be redone every evening ready for the next day ahead.

CLOTHES – Choose seven outfits, one for each day of the week, and assemble them onto hangers with all the accessories required. Check over the clothes and shoes to make sure they are clean, pressed and presentable, and in good repair (this is where the ironing board, shoe cleaning kit and sewing kit come in). Then line up the outfits at one end of your wardrobe ready for the week ahead, with the matching shoes if there is space. It is also sensible to check that you have enough pants and bras ready, including such refinements as nude coloured underwear that won’t show through light coloured clothing, as well as black bras when wearing dark tops with a neckline that slips, for example. You will need to check your stock of tights as well, to make sure that you have a pair for each outfit that requires them, as well as one or two spares in case the inevitable happens and you snag them with your nails as you are putting them on.  If you fund you are running low on regular cosmetics, sanitary protection or tights, you can order them in bulk online there and then to save time, if you have a laptop to hand.  Double check your children have enough underwear and school outfits/supplies for the week ahead as well.

Image: Ambro /

Be your own valet

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Looking after clothes and shoes well can mean years of extra life. Here are some hints and tips for maximising your investment with minimal time and money input.

Lingerie and delicate woollens– Wash by hand in the sink with specialist washing liquid, liquid hand soap or shampoo. Some lingerie can be put into washing machines in a net bag, if you are prepared to risk it.

StainsThere are many specialist products on the market to deal with stains, but if the item is white or very light coloured, and funds are tight, consider using a weak solution of bleach to get rid of things such as tea and puree stains. Otherwise just keep in stock two: one for organic stains (grass, juice, tea, coffee, baby food, sweat and so on) and one for non-organic stains (biro ink, nail varnish, etc).

Whites – These can be bleached by the sun. If you start your washing early in the day, when it promises to be fine weather, you will be able to hang it outside and allow it to be aired very thoroughly whilst benefiting from the sunshine in this way. Plus it always feels virtuous to have a row of sheets flapping in the breeze, and there is the added pleasure of burying your nose in the pile secretly and sniffing it after you’ve brought it indoors (or am I the only one who indulges in this?)

Pressing – Not all items can be ironed in a straightforward manner, or they will rapidly become shiny and shabby. Dark woollen and tailored items (such as formal trousers or a school blazer) should be ironed on the back, or if a crease is required down a sleeve or trouser leg, you should use a pressing cloth. This involves getting a clean tea towel or old cot sheet, soaking it in water and then wringing it out, and then placing it on top of what you want ironed, pressing onto that rather than the garment below. Also be careful with t-shirts with transfers on the front, as these tend to melt when a hot iron is applied.

Shoes – Many fabric shoes such as trainers and plimsolls can be washed in a normal domestic machine if they are placed in a pillowcase or specialist net. Again, there is an element of risk but they nearly always come out looking better than before. Leather shoes should not be washed in a machine, however, as they invariably shrink. Instead, try wiping them over and then using cheap handcream to bring them back to life. This also protects the leather.

Shoe care – Always keep a simple shoe cleaning kit to hand, and have a once-a-week shoe cleaning session. The best polish is the cheap wax in little tubs, and you should also have at least two brushes per colour (one for applying polish and one for removing it) plus a soft duster for buffing to a shine. If you don’t have shoe polish, you can use milk or even old hand cream. It makes sense to keep various pairs of spare laces at home as well, as annoyingly it will always be on days when you are in a hurry that your laces go just before you have to leave for work. If leather shoes get wet, stuff them with newspaper and leave them in a warm room to dry. Do not put them near a direct source of heat, or they will crack and shrink.

Home dry cleaning – If you have a tumble drier, dry clean only clothes can be refreshed and simple spot stain removal can be carried out using special kits available in supermarkets.

Sewing box – At the very least, this should contain white and black thread, a packet of pins, a packet of needles, some safety pins, buttons saved from old outfits, some sewing scissors, and some iron on hemming tape for emergency trouser repairs. Keep one in your clothes cupboard as welll to do simple running repairs upstairs.

Name tapes – If you want to protect your investment in your children’s school uniform, it is vitally important to label everything, and woven name tapes are the best option.  Fold each end underneath, oversew with little stitches all the way round, and make sure you do a double stitch at each corner.

Box of Last Resort

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This is a clever little tactic that will save you a great deal of stress and grief at inconvenient times of the day and night when you are running out of something crucial. Get a medium sized box with a lid and before you hide it away from other members of the household for safekeeping, put inside small sample sizes of things like the following (depending on who is in your household and what you usually need to ensure you have a supply of). Promise yourself faithfully that if you use anything in this box, you will replace it the next day, otherwise the box will lose its magical ability to reduce your stress. Also there’s another advantage. Having a stash of these items will also help your resilience, in that if you have to evacuate your property with practically no notice (for example if there is a flood or nearby explosion), you can scoop up the box on your way out, and it will contain quite a lot of the things in it that will make your life easier as you spend an enforced night in a school sports hall or whatever. It may be paranoid, but it’s reassuring …

  • Guest soap
  • Shampoo and conditioner sachets
  • Toothpaste
  • One or two cheap spare toothbrushes
  • Dishwasher tablet
  • Bin bag
  • Toilet roll
  • Kitchen roll
  • Washing powder tablet or capsule
  • Disposable cleaning cloth
  • Washing up sponge
  • Travel pack baby wipes
  • Nappy
  • Medicated nappy cream
  • A couple of tampons
  • One day’s supply of any important medication
  • Sachet coffee
  • Tea bags
  • Little cartons of milk and/or coffee cream (the type in some self service cafes)
  • Sachet sugar
  • One day’s dinner money for the children
  • Small amount of change for the utilities meter (if you have one)
  • £5 or £10 note
  • A couple of first class stamps and envelopes
  • A working biro
  • A spare printer cartridge and half a dozen pieces of A4 printer paper
  • Small bar chocolate

Image: renjith krishnan /

What’s on your kitchen bookshelf? Here’s mine …

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Here’s my collection of wierd and wonderful books in the kitchen. Look on Amazon for the out of print ones if you fancy tracking them down.

Ager, Stanley and St. Aubyn, Fiona (1980)

Ager’s Way to Easy Elegance (New York, Bobbs-Merrill)

Conran, Shirley ( 1975) Superwoman (London, Sidgwick and Jackson)

Holcombe, Gill (2007) How to feed your whole family a healthy, balanced diet with very little money …. and hardly any time, even if you have a tiny kitchen, only three saucepans (one with an ill-fitting lid) and no fancy gadgets – unless you count the garlic crusher: simple wholesome and nutritious recipes for family meals (Oxford, How To Books)

Hitching, Wilena (1910) Home Management Manuals, Volume II: Second Year’s Course (London, W and R Chambers)

Innes, Jocasta (1993) The Thrifty Decorator: A DIY guide to style on a shoe string (London, Conran Octopus)

Jeremy, C (2003) Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes (London, Kyle Cathie Ltd)

King, Aileen (1961) Better Home Management (London, Mills and Boon)

Luard, Elisabeth (1986) European Peasant Cookery (London, Bantam Press)

Oldknow, Jay (Ed) (1984) Toshiba Book of Microwave Cookery (Frimley, Toshiba)

Oliver, Jamie (2001) Happy Days with the Naked Chef (London, Penguin)

Smith, Delia (1977) Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes (London, Coronet)

Surety, Sarah (1997) Feng Shui for your home (London, Rider)

Tee, S (1987) Good Food Fast (London, Ebury)

Wilkes, Angela (1994) The Children’s Step-By-Step Cookbook (London, Dorling Kindersley)