Wednesday, 18 August 2010

An Eco-Worrier's Budget

I'm finding it hard to achieve a balance between the Ying that is fairtrade, locally sourced, organic produce, and the Yang that is BOGOF, rock bottom prices and money-off coupons.

Since growing up outside a small Midlands town where jumble sales were a major event and it was a mile's walk to the nearest bus stop, I have always loved a bargain. Discounts, sales, free gifts, Ebay, Home Bargains, Asda Smartprice - bring 'em on. I enjoy the challenge of living frugally and making my money go further.

Yet the more ethical, Mother Earth-loving, eco-worrier is uneasy with this kind of consumption. While I'm saving pennies, who is losing out? Who made the things I'm buying? Who profits? If I don't try to live more ethically, I can't moan about the state of the world. I have to set an example to my children, so I need to put my money where my mouth is.

But, we're a one income family, with two children. It's so hard to buy eco-products and organic food when they cost much more than their bargainous counterparts. On the one hand our bank balance is saying we can't afford to live a truly green lifestyle; on the other hand, the planet is depending on everyone to do just that.

"The main way we can care for the earth is by using less of its precious resources", says Marie Sherlock, in her book Living Simply with Children. Here are my tips for living ethically on a budget; I hope they'll inspire you.

BANKING. When NatWest, with whom I've banked for over a decade, wrote to me to let me know they were no longer offering any interest on my current account balance, I suddenly lost interest in them. It doesn't cost anything to switch bank accounts, although it does take several weeks, so you need to prepare for the change over. I am in the process of switching to the far more ethical Co-op bank. It doesn't matter if you don't have a Co-op bank branch near you, you can use the Post Office or the internet to manage your account.

SUPERMARKET. I am still stuck in the supermarket habit but have recently changed from Sainsburys to Waitrose. This is something I truly felt we couldn't afford to do. However, I was keen to support the John Lewis Partnership's ethics (Waitrose is part of John Lewis). Instead of having shareholders, the Partnership is owned beneficially by its employees; Waitrose believes that "the long-term future of the Partnership is best served by respecting the interests of all our stakeholders: Partners, customers, suppliers and the wider community. We look actively for opportunities to improve the environment and to contribute to the wellbeing of the communities in which we trade."

I have found that by shopping online each week, I have managed to spend about £25 less per week than I was spending when I pushed my trolley round Sainsburys. This is partly because Waitrose's least expensive range (Waitrose Essentials) is such good value, but also because I can keep an eye on what I'm spending, it's easier to stick to the list, and there's no clothing range to tempt me. With Waitrose Delivers, delivery is free when you spend over £50, and they often offer discounts to loyal customers.

DOUBLE-UP. Look for natural, ethical and eco-friendly products that have several uses, instead of buying lots of different items. Weleda's Calendula Shampoo and Body Wash is one such example. It'll save you buying a shampoo and a separate shower gel for a start. And although it's been dermatologically tested on infant skin prone to eczema and dermatitis, Weleda's Calendula range is perfect for adults too. So there's no need to buy separate products for each member of the family. What I especially like is the natural fragrance - it doesn't smell like a baby product. There's a fresh, lavender top-note, an underlying fruitiness, and a floral base that leaves hair and body deliciously fragrant, cleansed and soothed.

DON'T SHOP. Make sure you and your kids have better things to do than go shopping. Going round the shops and spending money can become a treat or a hobby, when in fact it is just consumption. The high street is designed to make you feel special, guilty, inferior, superior, indignant - whatever it takes to get you to open your purse. So comparison-shop, get at least three quotes, and buy on-line whenever you can.

SWITCH. The money you save by using comparison sites to get the best deal on insurance, utility bills and so on, can be spent more ethically. Saving over £400 recently by using to switch my home, contents and car insurance providers, means that I have £400 extra to spend on eco-versions of the groceries etc that I'd normally buy.

BUY USED. If your self-image does not depend on the type and quantity of possession you have, then you can handle buying second-hand. It's a great ego-state, very liberating - and cheap! Books, CDs, DVDs, clothes, bedding, furniture, cars, bikes, toys; none of them have to be new. If I can't find an item I want second-hand on Ebay, freecycle, amazon or local charity shops, I take that as a sign that I need to reconsider whether I really need it.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Blow Your Own Trumpet

When you're a mum, you never get a pay rise, a bonus or a promotion. You don't get much recognition, and it's hard to ask for praise or thanks, even if you'd like them. We don't want to show off to our friends but sometimes we do manage to do things that make us feel good, as mothers or women. I find it easier to be open about my failings than about my successes. It is perhaps an English thing.

I want to encourage all Mumtopia's readers to blow their own trumpets today. Whatever your week has been like, you will have achieved something, even if it doesn't feel like it.

Here are my achievements this week so far:
  1. I took my kids swimming on my own.
  2. I planted a silver birch tree to offset my carbon footprint.
  3. I made a cottage pie from scratch and the whole family ate it.
  4. I didn't start smoking.
  5. I went to the gym a couple of times.
  6. At counselling I made a lot of progress, which was painful but essential.
  7. I joined a more ethical bank.
Share your achievements here - big or small - by leaving a comment, and we can all give you a round of applause.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Skincare to Go

I'm not advocating lipstick application at the wheel, but if your house is anything like mine in the mornings, you too need products that multi-task and get the job done quickly. I can't be the only person who finds herself putting the kids' shoes on, looking for her keys and cleaning her teeth at the same time. So here's a run-down for my fellow run-down mums: time-saving skincare.
  1. You know what a boon baby wipes are, well I'd say the same for your skin. Cleansing wipes really come into their own when you are pushed for time, as you can walk round the house, badgering the kids to get dressed or eat breakfast, whilst washing your face. Simple's Radiance Brightening wipes cleanse and gently exfoliate the skin, and contain mango extract, a skin-loving nutrient. For mums like me, who have problem skin, Simple's new Spotless Skin Quick Fix wipes contain zinc and chamomile for visibly clearer skin. They even remove waterproof mascara. Cleanse and tone in one step, with no unnecessary or harsh chemicals.
  2. One of my favourite products is a winner with many mums - Nivea Soft intensive moisturising cream. What I love about it is that you can use Nivea Soft on your face, body and hands, so there's no need to buy three different creams. It's quickly absorbed and a really useful addition to your handbag. Just one product to apply instead of three.
  3. For spot treatment on the go, I recommend Witch Naturally Clear Blemish Stick. You can dab on this bacteria-fighting stick as often as required, as soon as blemishes first appear. Simple's Spotless Skin Rapid Action Spot Zapper is tough on spots but gentle on your skin, with results in only 4 hours. Keep one of these in your bag so you can tackle spots quickly and effectively.
  4. Instead of moisturising and then applying perfume, why not use a body cream that you love the smell of. My favourite at the moment is Coconut Ice Cream by N-Spa, which is gorgeous and just SHOUTS summertime for me. It does a great job and there's no need for perfume. You might also like Superdrug's Blueberry and Smoothie body butter from their I Love... range. Two products for the price of one!
  5. I know that slices of cucumber or cooled down tea-bags are great pick-me-ups for puffy eyes, but who has the time to do that? You can reduce puffiness with Simple's refreshing eye gel which is formulated with cucumber extract, and comes in a rollerball. Kind to Eyes Revitalising Roll-on is easy to apply and suitable for even sensitive skin.
  6. Still on the subject of eyes, eye make-up remover pads are great for when you're too tired to bother with cotton wool and lotion (or in my case, had one pint too many on a rare night out). The ones I use at the moment are new from Simple, in their Radiance Brightening range. They are gentle but effective, although I still look hungover in the morning...

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Stopping Tantrums with a Timer

Week two of the holidays is about to begin. Take heart, they're back to school next month.

This is a new tantrum-stopper I thought of on Thursday, which you might like to try.

Scenario: Child A is whining because she wants to watch TV/
Child B is crying because his half-hour computer time is up/
Child A is shouting that she has been hit on the head with a skittle (no witnesses) and is determined to wreak revenge/
Child B is slamming metal cars into your foot despite your having asked several times not to/
all of the above.

That kind of thing.

You need: a timer. I use the buzzer on the cooker. I suppose you could use your watch or phone or an egg timer, but it is best if it emits an alarm of some kind when time's up.

First, whatever you normally do, like a warning that the unwanted behaviour is to stop.

Second "Okay, I'm setting the timer. You have got one minute (or however many minutes you think it'll take to get them to calm down ). Then the buzzer will go off. If you haven't stopped making a fuss/ shouting "poo poo face Mummy"/ kicking the underside of the table by the time the buzzer goes off, you have to go to your room (or the naughty step or whatever you do). "

Third, set the timer and ensure it is out of reach but within earshot.

Fourth, go and do something else, like you don't care.

The timer goes off. The child has usually stopped acting up by this point. If not, do what you threatened to do.

Repeat to fade.
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