6 Awesome Free Things I Did This Weekend

Don’t be fooled into thinking that not spending any money at the weekends means life takes a turn for the worse. Sure, it takes some getting used to if your previous lifestyle involved spending lots of money at the weekends – like me – but seven months in I have learned to enjoy all things free. Here are six awesome things I did this weekend that didn’t involve spending any of my hard earned money:

1. Finally finished that book I started this summer. JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy has been sitting on my nightstand for ages and on Saturday morning I made myself a cup of coffee and stayed in bed until I finished it. I didn’t actually like the book overall, but now I can move onto one of the other books I’m dying to read. Next up: The Proposal by Tasmina Perry.

2. Baked my favorite Banana Oat muffins – that’s breakfast sorted for the week 🙂

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3. Added up how much Terry and I have paid off of our debts during the month of October – a whopping £1428.93! – and colored in the Debt-O-Meter!

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Over halfway there!!!

4. Made homemade chili from scratch using tomatoes picked from our garden – everyone’s right, homegrown tomatoes just taste better.

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Freshly picked and ready to go!
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Yummy chili!

5. Made homemade steak-frites and opened a bottle of cava to celebrate paying off nearly £10,000 in debt over these past seven months. The steak tasted especially delicious as – thanks to the miracle of reduced – the entire meal only cost £2.34

6. Caught up on my favorite TV. This week at work was crazy with parents evening and loads of marking, so I made time this weekend to catch up with John Stewart, Heidi Klum  and all of the other TV shows I didn’t have time to watch this week.

What was the best free part of your weekend?

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Month 7 Totals

I thought about writing this on Tuesday at the end of the month, but I couldn’t wait that long! Without further ado:

Mandi’s Student Loans: £714.51/$1160.75 (ironically, I only transferred over £700, but once Scotland voted to stay in the UK, the exchange rate went up and I got a bit more paid off than anticipated!)

Terry’s Credit Card: £714.42

Total for September: £1428.93

YTD: £9886.64/$16,061.34

We are so close to £10,000 that Terry and I opened a bottle of Prosecco we’d been saving for a special occasion to celebrate.

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See the halfway point? We’ve passed it!!!

What would you do with £891.51?

Terry and I have been talking about what we would do with an extra £891.51 recently after receiving the following statement in the mail:

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On the one credit card left unpaid, we paid a total of £785.01 in interest and a further £106.50 in fees last year. Ugh! It’s so easy not to think about interest on a monthly basis, but it’s hard to ignore it on this statement and it’s horrible to see how much of our hard-earned money is being wasted on paying off things that I probably didn’t need in the first place. I think if my student loans sent me these statements I would have an emotional breakdown.

Terry and I have decided that if we had that money in our pockets, we would take a long weekend in Dublin. Of course we won’t be doing that anytime soon, but it helps to think that this time next year we will be credit card debt free and we could take a trip to Dublin with the money we’re NOT paying credit card companies.

What would y’all do with the money you’re currently paying on interest if you had it to spend?

Why I Use TransferWise (and So Should You)

As a resident of the UK with American student loans, I have to transfer money back to the states every month to make my student loan payments. It is not a unique situation that I find myself in, I am one of thousands, if not millions. Although there are many of us in the same situation, it can be really difficult transfer a few hundred dollars home every month.

To avoid paying huge bank transfer fees, I had been transferring the money in pounds to one Paypal Account, then transferring that money to a second PayPal account -incurring a transfer fee along the way – and then transferring the money from my second Paypal account to my US bank account. Sound confusing? It is. And it can take a long time. It’s a frustrating monthly endeavour that I’ve had to go through every month until I recently discovered TransferWise.

TransferWise was brought about by the same people that saved my relationship through Skype – so really I owe them a lot. It allows you to transfer money internationally for really low fees. I first tried it out, skeptically, and not only was the money in my US bank account a full WEEK sooner than when I used Paypal – it cost half of what I had been paying in transfer fees. I was hooked.

Recently, when I transferred my September US student loan  payment home, the money didn’t go through as I had forgotten to enter some information about my US bank.  Fortunately, I have a good window between when I transfer the money through, and when I will need it to make my loan payments. Transferwise was immediately in touch and a normally 2-3 day transfer took a little over a week. It was a minor frustration, at worst. To apologize for the inconvenience, TransferWise has offered to waive my transfer fees FOR LIFE. So I never have to pay money to transfer money between the UK and the US ever again. That act of customer service has blown my mind. I mean, has anyone else ever tried to deal with Paypal’s customer service – it seems like they only hire Disney villains to blame you for ruining their day by having a problem – so this was completely unexpected.

I currently have 15 years left of student loan payments that I am hoping to have paid off in 3 years. This payments will incur hundreds of pounds in transfer fees that I will no longer have to pay.

I cannot recommend this service highly enough and if you, like me, find yourself having to transfer money between to countries for any reason – this is the way to go.

Birchbox Day!

My September Birchbox arrived today! Y’all know I love my Birchboxes – especially since I stopped splurging on cosmetics. I love this month’s box and the theme – Happy Days. Here’s what I got this month:

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My September Birchbox 🙂

1. It’s Potent eye cream by Benefit – this sample’s a small one, but it’s an excellent eye cream

2. Skin & Co Sicilian Light Serum – this serum isn’t enough to persaude me to ditch my Lancome Genefique, however this sample will help me get through this year without having to buy another one

3. ModelCo Powerlash mascara – Birchbox let subscribers choose between this and two different lip glosses and I leaned this way as I’m not really a lipgloss kinda gal. A few extra weeks of long lashes are definitely in store this month.

4. Urban Fruit dried mango – this is an excellent snack to take to work and should make my Monday a bit brighter. Lord knows Mondays need it this year

5. Agave Healing Oil Treatment – I don’t normally splurge on hair products, so I’m looking forward to trying out this hair oil

6. Beauty Blender – Birchbox sent these out a few months ago and I was GUTTED that I didn’t get one, so seeing this (which is worth £26 on it’s own) in the box was enough to make me jump up and down with excitement! Already tried it and know I finally get what everyone is always going on about.

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Ninja’s having a happy day

As an extra in this month’s box, Birchbox threw in a lovely photo clip. I can’t wait to have a look through some old photos and pick one to put on my desk. This month’s box is also specially designed to be turned into a frame – so I’m looking forward to some fun DIY this month.

Thoughts?

Kettle Conundrum

Our kettle died. More specifically, it took it’s own life and the power of the rest of the house while I was trying to boil water for mashed potatoes. I heard a pop, then smelled smoke and all of the power in the house was out. A most unfortunate way to go. Also, this kettle was a wedding present and I, personally, am taking this as a bad omen for our upcoming fifth anniversary. Hopefully our love doesn’t go up in smoke – sorry, couldn’t help myself. It was too pun-tastic to miss. 

For a split second, I thought ‘perhaps we shouldn’t but a new kettle as it’s not really a necessity,‘ then I realized that I live in England and am addicted to coffee, both of which put a kettle into the necessity bracket. So we had to buy a new kettle. We walked over to Sainsbury’s to check out the selection and, as we live in England, the choice of kettles was ridiculous. An entire aisle of electric kettles, ranging from £14-60. I immediately went for the cheapest  as it wouldn’t put too big of a dent in our budget – but it was ugly. Like, bright plastic red ugly. My finances may be improving this year, but my vanity is not.

So I spent almost half an hour eyeing up all of the kettles, trying to work out which was the least likely to die and which would offer the best value for money. Do I buy the cheapest because it’s cheap? Or do I buy a better quality kettle because I can? In the past – there would have been months where paying £20 for a new kettle would have been a stretch and it definitely would have gone on the credit card as there was never any extra money in the bank – but this year has changed that for us and we have enough money in our bank accounts to buy the most expensive kettle in cash if we wanted to. This is  a big change for us – and a positive one.

After a shameful amount of time deciding, we decided on a £30 – marked down from £40 – Russell Hobbs kettle for a few, simple reasons:

1. It was not bright red and/or plastic

2. We could afford to pay for it in cash

3. It was glass and we thought it would be cool to watch the water boil.

Kettle

We were right, it is really cool to watch this thing in action. So now I can avoid worrying about paying for the kettle at the end of the month and/or (hopefully) our new kettle dying any time soon.

What Tastes Better Than Starbucks Coffee?

Free Starbucks coffee, that’s what.

At the moment Starbucks UK is running a really cool promotion on their new Guatemala espresso blend and if you quote Soft Spices between 11-12 at your local Starbucks, they’ll give you a free tall size latte made with their Guatemala Espresso blend. So, after a couple of hours of lesson planning this morning, I walked over to Starbucks, ordered a tall Pumpkin Spice latte and walked out without paying a penny – legally! And it was delicious. Starbucks UK

 

Movie Night

One of the ways we save money is by skipping going out. Ever. Movie night has become a regular weekend activity involving all of the good things about going to the movies without the price tag.

Tonight’s movie is Red, which we recorded last week, paired with a Bose sound system – sometimes previous overspending lifestyles have their perks – beer, chips, Swedish fish and a diet coke.

How do y’all do film nights?

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We Bought a Car

More specifically, Terry and I have just purchased a 2011 Toyota Auris Hybrid to replace the 1995 Nissan Micra that I’ve been driving since I got my UK driving license last year. I can actually hear you thinking ‘but aren’t you not spending any money this year?’ – and you’re right, I’ve decided not to spend money for a year, but I will explain why we made this decision.

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Old faithful – why yes, that is plastic sheeting duct taped to the top of the car to prevent it from leaking….
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Old faithful
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The new car

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Originally, I had hoped to work at a school that I could take public transport to as I hadn’t driven at all for the first 18 months I lived in England and I liked it that way. Then I got my current job at a school that there was no reasonably convenient public transportation to and needed to get a UK license. My US license was only valid for my first 12 months in the country so I had to pass a new UK driving test – which was not a pleasant discovery. When I knew I had to take the driving test, I  intended to learn how to drive a stick shift and pass my UK driving test in that as that’s the norm over here. I only had 6 weeks to learn a stick and pass a driving test – remember how strict and horrible they are about EVERYTHING?!! I was working 80 hour weeks student teaching and I was not going to pass the test in a stick shift, so we decided to just buy me an automatic and take the test in that. So we bought the Nissan Micra – a notoriously reliable care – from a family friend for £475 cash and I passed the test a week later in that.

It is an older car and we expected some problems, sure it’s died a few times but we bought some jumper cables for those occasions. Then, last fall, I discovered that the car leaked from the sunroof. Not a little, but enough to flood the passenger footwell and the passenger seat. The leak would cost more to fix than we paid for the car, so repairing it was out of the question. Terry duct taped some plastic sheeting to the top – in case people couldn’t tell we didn’t make much money, this was a public service announcement to that fact – and it has actually popped on one occasion, leaving the plastic sheeting literally flying behind my car as I drove to work. Mostly, it was effective and the car only minimally leaks now.

When we decided to tackle our debt, we talked about keeping the Micra for at least another academic year until we could afford a good sized down payment on a more reliable car – or, ideally, pay cash for it. Then, while bored at home, I started looking up Hybrids, which is what I had hoped to buy when we could afford it. I found the Toyota Auris and fell in love. This was the car I wanted. We found a 2011 Toyota Auris with 54,000 miles locally being sold for £7795 – the cheapest option, but still a huge chunk of change. Terry and I calculated that we could make a £550 down payment – which is what I have managed to save since we started the year of no spending – but we would need to take out £7000 to buy the car. Taking on debt is not ideal, however I am in a situation where I need to build my credit in the new country that I live in, which further complicates matters. To do this, you need debt. My US credit is really good, however UK creditors don’t take that into account. Terry and I discussed whether it was worth it to take out this loan to build my credit and pay it off early in order to build my nonexistent credit and decided to apply for a loan to see if I could get it. Obviously I was successful.

We arranged to see the car last week and I loved it. I managed to lower the price to £7550 through my excellent haggling skills – thanks, Peace Corps! – and we bought the car. We picked it up on Tuesday and I got to drive it to work on Wednesday – the first day of school.

We did take on more debt to get this car, however, the amount of money it’s saving me on gas – I used to have to gas my car once every 3 days! – pays over half of the monthly car payment and the remainder of the car payment is coming out of the raise that I received this school year, which had originally been earmarked for savings for a new car. So the car payment won’t actually affect our originally debt repayments in any way, which is how we were comfortable making the decision to buy the car in the first place.

Could I have continued to drive the Micra? Of course, but I would have had to continue paying £270 a month in gas to do so, money which is now helping us pay for a more reliable, fuel efficient car. Should we have added to our already large amount of personal debt? Ideally not, but the loan is helping me to build my UK credit so that we can get a reasonable mortgage one day, which is one of the reasons why we want to pay off all of this debt in the first place. It is a huge decision that Terry and I discussed at length. I can tell you that I am sleeping really well not having to worry whether or not my car will start in the morning and knowing that there won’t be a pool of water in there if it rains a lot the night before. I also know that this winter, I won’t have to stop and gas my car in the freezing cold every THREE DAYS. Most importantly, I know that I can afford to make these payments and that by doing so, I am helping Terry and I to build the future that we really want.

Thoughts?