Last night I watched the channel 4 documentary “Black Gold” about how corporate cartels here in Europe and America are ripping off poverty-stricken coffee-makers in Africa to a degree I am still wincing at this morning. For every cup of coffee we pay between 3 and 4 euro or dollars right? They see none of these profit margins, no instead some fat-cats are feathering their nests from the sweat, toil and vain hope of these hard, hard workers who are paid akin to 50 cent a day.

So you might think, maybe thats enough for them to have a good life in their country ? Sadly that is far from the painful truth, these workers are forced to live in abject squalor – no electricity, no running water, 15 people to a tiny straw hut with dirty mats to sleep on and just one simple staple for food. With no future for their children in the shape of schools or hospitals, they are forced to rely on Foreign Aid, even when they spend backbreaking days producing a crop which takes 5 years to mature, just so we can have our cup of instant in the morning ?

It just made me stop and think. I buy fairtrade coffee because it makes ME feel good, but what about these poor workers and their families ? I hadn’t given them due consideration before, so wrapped up in counting the cost of my own ‘ luxury items’. There is so much more we could do, simply by opening our eyes when scanning for ‘good-deals’ in the supermarket, what about passing on some of our ‘good’ to those that are struggling to keep us in the luxury we have become so used to. Fair Trade tea, bananas, chocolate, hot chocolate, sugar are just a few of the items you can find everywhere now adays. We could help emancipate the very people we are enslaving by our consumer choices. I will start today by looking for Fair Trade products if only to rid myself of some of the guilt of purposefully ignoring a weakened voice, much like the strategy of the World Trade Organisation.

So I hear you say what does Fair Trade have to do with the recession ? Given we have just cut overseas aid funding here in Ireland in order to try and save our own economy, perhaps we could each do something in our own way to give these workers back the dignity and hope that has been so cruelly kept from them, simply by switching to FAIR-TRADE products we make a difference to so many people’s lives.

Happy 2009 !  With falling house, car and oil prices and sales just about everywhere you look, one would be forgiven for thinking spend spend spend ! The consumer probably hasn’t had it so good in a very long time,  but then that ole word ‘recession’ licks us around the chops and we might think to ourselves wait just a second, maybe I’ll shop around or really think about how I spend my hard earned cash before throwing it away on yet another sale item. With the economy contracting, the cash in our wallet is probably undergoing the same process, so now folks is the time to stop and think about the year ahead.

What are your priorities ? What can you pay off asap so that it won’t be hanging like a noose around your neck if the unthinkable happens to you ? I’m busying getting rid of the overdraft, loans and anything that takes money out of our income on a monthly basis. I’m considering whether we really need private health insurance as friends seem to be fairing just fine on the public system. We certainly won’t be queueing up to buy a new car, instead will give what we have a bit of tlc so it will go that extra mile, though I have heard there are great deals to be had on 2nd hand cars from recent years as they just aren’t shifting from the car lots as car-shoppers still seem to believe that all that glitters is gold. So put your haggling hats on out there, there is nothing shameful or embarassing about it, in fact I do believe the recession is bringing about healthy competitive spirit and quite possibly an improvement in customer service as businesses realise they really do need to win us customers over… at last !

Putting that little extra aside if you can, gives a psychological sense of security and a bit of cushioning that could go along way if you are willing to forego some of those DISPOSABLE little luxuries we have got so used to such as coffees, bottles of vino, takeaways, magazines etc.

In this time of growing unemployment, perhaps its an opportunity to look at what we do and to investigate if there is anything we could retrain in?  A few strings to your bow and the opportunity to do something else may all be part and parcel of creating a whole new you. A New Year offers us a new leaf, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start afresh, what would you like to do anew or differently this year ?

Come back soon for my next post on riding the recession highway, drive safely out there and remember most importantly of all to enjoy the ride..

Christmas is THE most expensive time of year and no doubt we can go crazy spending money we either don’t have or which we could use on something much more useful in the future. Here are some tips to help you truly enjoy the festive season :

  1. Setup a Kris Kringle/Secret Santa for work, friends and family gift-buying, it saves you the headache of buying for EVERYONE you know and adds to the fun of an occasion with everyone joining in to view each of the gifts bought – set a budget.. often the lower the budget, the more innovative and fun are the gifts.. there is nothing to be ashamed of.. this is a mindset change !
  2. Setup a christmas DIP for all the children in your extended family, this will save ‘uncles, aunts, grandmas and grandpas’ a small fortune ! Make a list of all the children, set a budget and allocate one giftbuyer and one special gift per child. A really special occasion can be made where the children dip one by one for the gift with their name on it and open it to a round of applause.. how special would that make them feel..
  3. Buy a set of LED (light emitting diode) fairy lights to replace your existing ones, they use 90% lesss energy and run up to 100,000 hours indoors. Use a timer for outdoor lights to limit amount of time they are on. Turn on your lights for a limited time at night (whats the point of having them on during the day ?) and make sure to turn them off before bed.
  4. 2nd hand gifts are this years cool, because it takes a bit of effort to look for a more special gift which can often be bought for a fraction of the cost ! Think vintage clothing, books, cds and dvds… cool!
  5. Use the eurostores to fill stockings and again keep a budget and perhaps buy a smaller stocking !
  6. Preparing your own treat bags eg. bulk buy sweets, toiletries, pot-pourri bags and break these into small parcels – buy cellophane bags and red ribbons, buying travel-size plastic bottles (try boots) you can fill with really nice toiletries and voila you have a ready-made luxury travel set, same for pot-pourri etc. Alternatively collect free beauty samples or bake treat items eg. chocolate truffles are dead easy and parcel these together in pretty bags..
  7. Buy a big bag of cheap nightlights.. these last ages and really help to create that Xmas atmosphere, just place in safe places !
  8. Create a menu-plan that suits you and your budget for Xmas day, boxing day and New Years day and keep the in-between days ‘normal’ it makes the special days far more special and will keep your costs down.
  9. Keep leftovers, turkey pie is delicious especially when you’ve had a break from it for a day or two.
  10. Have christmas parties at your home or  your friend’s homes and agree to each bring your own bottle, the gift is in the fun you have together not lavish banquets that cause a small arm and leg. Lidl do great buffet platters and often one is just enough for that quick nibble..
  11. Use designated drivers and swap this role around so everyone gets a night off, far cheaper than a bunch of taxis all going to the same place and back..
  12. Shop around for cheap booze offers and store these away till the big celebrations eg. online wine buying. Alternatively make your own sloe gin by collecting sloes and finding a good online recipe, same for mulled wine. Buying a bottle of port will go a long way with some hot water, a lemon (slice and freeze and defrost slices as needed) and keep a container of cloves handy !
  13. Choose one santa christmas trip for the season & bring a camera ! these visits seem to get pricier each year and with a lot more tack on sale..
  14. Save your Xmas bags, bows, ribbons, fancy tissue and wrapping paper.. always come in handy again.
  15. Buy cheap christmas crackers.. as long as they provide a BANG do we really care what tacky gift lies within!
  16. Making your own christmas cards, decor (you’ll find fresh beautiful holly all over our country lanes this month, just leave a few berries for the hungry birds..)
  17. Internet vouchers from funky sites save on overseas parcel costs
  18. One simple gift whether something new, second-hand, recycled or created by your loving hands means a million times more than a rash of items chosen hastily by a weary hand..
  19. The gift of your time is the best gift of all.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS to you all & come back again for my ‘New Year – New Leaf savings tips’

By re-evaluating our needs and changing the way we do things, it is possible to save money immediately. Here are some tips to get you started :

  1. TURN OFF any electrical switches and lights you do not need (change over to CFL bulbs as each of your lightbulbs blow)
  2. DRY YOUR CLOTHES ON A WASHING LINE if you have one, otherwise use a clothes stand .. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your clothes dry and without spending a penny.
  3. ONLY TURN ON THE HEAT IN THE ROOMS YOU ARE ACTUALLY USING .. With a young family we congregate in the living room where I work on the computer and the children play.. This is the only room we heat each evening from 5pm when it starts to get cold, during the day we make sure we get out for a walk which keeps our body temperatures at peak and then layer up with extra cardigans etc.. we don’t even notice the cold. We use the bedrooms purely for sleeping, taking off the precious housecoats/cardigans just before we dive into bed, which is hot in minutes once you are under the covers !
  4. TAKE SHORT SHOWERS – a shower timer can be stuck on your shower wall to give you an indication of how long you are spending.. 3-5 minutes can feel like a lifetime !
  5. INSULATE everywhere – we have blocked holes with fibreglass insulator, put heavy curtains over the front doors and I’m now looking into ‘energy-saving’ blinds which presumably stop the heat from being lost. Improve your home energy rating will provide dramatic results on your home heating bills
  6. TURN OFF THE TAP/FAUCET when not in use.. Eg. When you are brushing your teeth turn off the water
  7. CANCEL any services you do not need eg. TV, INTERNET, PHONE SERVICES .. Do you really need the full tv channel package, would the basic package cover most of your household needs? Do you really need top-speed @ top prices on your internet bandwidth? Do you really need a house phone when a mobile might suffice ? Could you text/email during the day and phone at night ? SHOP AROUND for the BEST PACKAGES on offer, you’ll see the savings monthly.
  8. BATHE young children together… its bonding, fun and saves a lot of hot water & electricity

SAVE WHAT IS PRECIOUS & SHED WHAT YOU DO NOT REALLY NEED, YOU’LL REAP THE BENEFITS!

The following tips.. might bring about a revolution in your life.. even if its a small one !

  1. Repair things – yes its true shoe menders are back in business and isn’t it worth it to keep those lovely leathers ticking over?
  2. Save what is precious and shed what you no longer need by recycling @ garage sales, recycling depot..
  3. Bring water, coffee (in a stylish travel cup) and healthy snacks with you to work and you won’t be tempted to chuck all that hard-earned cash into the vending machine
  4. Swapping babysitting nights with friends, neighbours, family will earn you a night on the tiles which won’t cost you an arm and a leg
  5. Walk, cycle or use public transport or carpooling when possible
  6. Changing into house clothes when you get home is not only relaxing, it also will make your ‘good’ clothes last that little bit longer
  7. Use your local library – its come a long way now with you being able to order in books on line, extend the loan period and they even host fun family events as well as interesting cultural events
  8. Identify fun free things you can do such as art galleries/museums, hiking, festivals, cycling, playgrounds etc
  9. Make your own home-made beauty treatments.. the husband secretly loves my avocado mush facial, honey & oatmeal, beaten egg whites, face steaming or just a good ole bath with a drop or two of lavender can provide your very own home spa!
  10. Grow your own fruit & vegetables – we are absolute beginners with a 4ft x 8ft bed of soil (just bought from a garden centre) and reused wooden beams to act as a wall around it.. Already growing lettuces, cabbages etc – organic and FREE ! Even keeping a pot of herbs on the patio, not only looks great, sounds impressive but will reward you with your very own produce ! Also compost anything you can – little compost guides are available at your local garden centre.. it will turn into your very own pure-grade soil.
  11. Keep Chickens- we aim to keep two chickens (females only as no room for a noisy cockerel or chicks!).. This is said to keep a family of 5 flush with eggs for a whole year ! Just make a warm little home to keep them AND plenty of chicken wire to safe-guard from foxes
  12. Bathe your young children together, its bonding and fun and saves the hot water & if you trust yourself cut their hair yourself
  13. Set up a kris kindle with your family friends, its more fun and less pressure for you
  14. Get rid of debt
  15. If you can’t afford it then don’t buy it
  16. Allocate a cash budget and stick to it

The following is a list of tips, that will change the way you shop and should save you some money too :

  1. SHOP AROUND use a mix of stores such as discount stores, local markets, supermarkets
  2. Write a LIST of what you actually need before you go
  3. Allocate yourself a budget before you go shopping
  4. Bring a calculator, it will focus your mind on how much you are actually spending per item
  5. Stockpile essential SALE items eg. nappies
  6. Look for on-sale items (can you change your meal plan to use these instead?) and collect discount vouchers
  7. Collect grocery points
  8. Buy generic ie. non-branded goods where possible (if the kids have a problem then refill their favourite cereal boxes etc with the generic product
  9. Bring your own bags, boxes
  10. Buy RECHARGEABLE, REUSABLE items instead eg. batteries, lightbulbs, silicone cup-cake cases

The biggest thing that you can change to help you ride the recession wave, is your mindset primarily. We are currently stuck in a culture which embraces convenience at every level, the result of this are often expensive choices which often compromise our wealth and possibly even our health.

The underlying question to ask yourself is, if we take money out of the equation, what are the things that make us truly happy ? It’s a difficult question, as it seems we tie money in to a lot of our choices but often the simplest choices offer the easiest route to happiness, the trick is to reevaluate on every level.. Think of it as a chance to spring-clean your life !

REVIEW YOUR MONTHLY INCOME versus OUTGOINGS

  1. Set up a simple spreadsheet with columns date, description, income, outgoing
  2. Each day go into your bank account on-line and update your spreadsheet with the latest transaction, this will familiarise you with what you are actually spending on a day to day basis and also the dates on which your direct debits/standing orders fall due and most importantly who you are actually paying !
  3. Check with your local tax office or revenue website to see if you are entitled to any rebates or tax reliefs, you could be pleasantly surprised !

KEEP SAVING

An emergency rainy day fund is always something good to fall back on.. 6mths of income would be a good metric. At the moment there is a plethora of banks offering high interest deposit accounts.

IDENTIFY YOUR BACKUP PLAN

If you or your partner where to lose their income,  how would you manage to pay your mortgage, loans, credit cards and other monthly outgoings ? What can you get rid of ? Identify what you can start to do immediately to help yourself eg. pay off credit cards monthly etc.

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