2 Years and counting…

I can’t believe we’ve been married for 2 years.

2 years.

And now I’m on bridesmaid duties for my little sister!

Where does the time go? If you’d asked me 2 years ago where I thought we’d be now… it probably wouldn’t have been living in a mobile home in my parent’s garden with a sassy pomeranian. That’s just it though- we can plan all we want but it might not work out as we expect it to, and our wedding pretty much went that way too.

About 10 weeks before our wedding date my lovely Granda was diagnosed with a brain tumour – the third time in his life that he’d had cancer, and although he’d beaten it before, deep down we all knew what it meant. So the wedding was off, then it was on, then it was off, then it was on…off, on, off, on, off… and finally we sat down with Nanny and asked what we should do, because literally no-one could give us an answer. She told us Granda wouldn’t have wanted us to postpone the wedding and to go ahead, twelve short days after he passed away in the wonderful Southern Area Hospice.

The next morning was weird. All of a sudden there were no more hospital visits, no more days in the hospice, no more visitors trailing constantly through the door and we had to get into wedding mode. We had to get excited, or at least try. My plan all along had been to make a lot of things by hand myself and whilst I’d been futtering (footering? How do we spell that one?) at what I could, there was still a lot to do and it was a bit of a scramble to get to all together.

We wanted a wedding that was sparky and festive but, as per usual,  we didn’t want it to break the bank, and somehow we achieved it, despite it all. It was strange day without Granda, but we managed to enjoy it and find ways to honour his memory, including a collection for the hospice that looked after him so carefully.

My dress was a sample dress- originally a £1400 strapless fishtail that I had altered to a fit and flare with a boatneck top and sheer sleeves, and the bridesmaid dresses came from eBay, collectively costing about half the original price of my dress. I didn’t go looking for a sample sale, but I was chuffed at finding my dress that way.

The week before the wedding saw many 2am bedtimes (so much for ‘beauty sleep’ before the big day) as I sat making the crocheted flower hairpieces and assembling the bouquets for bridesmaids and flower girls from the bags of white crochet flowers my aunt had been helping me with. I wanted something unique for my bouquet so made it entirely from roses that I crocheted myself, with lace, pearls and angelina fibres woven through it- and I still love it.

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Paddy and I had gone down to our church the day before and decorated it with holly and ivy around the front steps, tea lights in jam jars decorated with silver bells on the window sills and baby’s breath sprayed with sparkling, silver glitter held on the end of each pew by a floaty white organza bow.

Our reception was held at The Mill at Ballydugan, a beautifully renovated old 18th century mill, with rustic stone walls and low wooden beams. We had little to do to get the look we wanted as they had already decorated with Christmas trees and garlands, but we made our mark with DIY centre pieces (glittery baby’s breath in a jar of diamonte and glitter water, sitting on a log slice surrounded by tea lights),  our seating plan was a 4ft tree (featuring Santa and his reindeer) and our favours were little personalised wooden decorations.

The biggest hand-made hurdle of all was the cake; with the help of a talented friend, it too was homemade. We spent 13 and a half pain-staking hours, baking, icing and decorating our wedding cake. If you take nothing else from this post, remember this: never, ever make your own wedding cake. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but nothing is worth that level of stress. And then you realise you have to transport the thing.

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Our wedding wasn’t exactly cheap as chips, but it wasn’t the £20,000-£50,000 extravaganza that weddings can be, and we still have lots of the little bits and pieces we made for the wedding floating about the house (well… mobile… you get the drift). How many brides can say they still have their wedding bouquet sitting in their living room? It was lots of hard work, stress, tears and a couple of tantrums but it was so completely worth it to say we made our day ourselves.  Strangely enough, we’re just as married, and just as happy as everyone who spent 5 times the amount we did, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It was a weird, exciting, sad, happy, joy-filled, tear-filled, LOVE-filled day that we’ll always cherish.

Gillian x

P.S. If you make a charitable donation at Christmas, please consider a local hospice – they help the families through difficult times as much as they do patients.

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The Savvy Shopper: Christmas

Remain calm.

We’re now using the C-word openly. With only 2 paydays left, it’s time to talk about everyone’s favourite task: Christmas Shopping.

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I always start my Christmas shopping early (I actually had my sisters’ Christmas presents bought and hidden by March one year- fluffy blankets are a whole lot cheaper when the weather’s getting warmer). If I’m honest, if I haven’t got at least the majority of it done by Hallowe’en I freak out a little. I love buying gifts for people and combining that with my favourite time of year and my love for a good bargain makes Christmas shopping something I actually really enjoy. Here are a few of my tips for keeping the cost down at the most expensive time of the year.

1.Make a list (checking twice optional) and set a budget.

It’s so easy to get completely and utterly carried away with it when it comes to Christmas shopping. Why do we think everyone’s going to be offended if we don’t buy them something? If anything, they’ll probably be relieved they don’t have to send money on a gift in return.
Make a list of who you need to buy a gift for, and be brutal if you have to – you probably don’t need to buy your neighbour’s granddaughter who visits once a month a perfume set. After you know who you’re shopping for set a budget for each person, and stick to it, otherwise it can still get out of hand.

2. Plan ahead.

Now that you know who you’re shopping for and how much you’d like to spend on them, think of what you’d like to buy them, and write it down before you even go near a shop. It’ll save you from wandering around (or internet browsing) aimlessly, before potentially overspending to buy something you think they might like out of desperation to get the job done.

3. Work the offers.

FYI: this isn’t an ad, and I’m not being paid to say this next bit (I wish!), I’m just a major fan!
One of my favourite shops, especially for Christmas gifts, is Boots. I collect advantage points throughout the year and hit Boots for their 3 for 2 offers on everything from Nando’s sets, to toys, to the Laura Ashley photo frames that they pull out of the woodwork for the season. If I have 3 £20 gifts to buy, I only have to pay for 2 of them, and if I’m paying with the points I’ve collected, they’re completely free.

Happy days!

I’m sure some other shops do the same, I just know of them..yet. (Give me a break, I live 5 miles from the nearest town, shopping is a great adventure from where we are.)

4. Outlets and discount sites.

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If you’re in N.I and remotely local, Kildare Shopping Village is only a couple of hours drive away, and filled with great outlet shops for designer items. Junction One and The Outlet are fairly handy too, although outlet stores can be hit and miss, but sometimes it’s nice to just have a Festive day out.
Your best bet for designer discounts is outlet websites – Secret Sales, Brandalley, Achica, etc. I’ve briefly mentioned them before, but they have surprisingly good discounts on massive brands and a huge variety… just be careful with their shipping times as sometimes it can take up to 6 weeks for an item to arrive.

There’s also old faithful TK Maxx (the Aladdin’s cave of shops- you just don’t know what you’ll find!), and of course bargain shops like Home Bargains and B&M Bargains, which are especially good for toys. Buying in a bargain or discount shop doesn’t mean you’re being cheap on someone’s gift, or that you didn’t put any thought into it, it just mean’s you’re being smart about it.

5. D.I.Y

Make something! Anything! Fudge, chutneys, shortbread, a scarf, a candle- even putting together a little hamper of goodies can make a beautiful gift. The possibilities are endless and if you’re stuck for ideas consult Pinterest, knower of all things arts and crafts! Handmade gifts are usually less expensive but will cost you more in time, and will mean so much more to the recipient because you made the effort to make something especially for them.

As per usual I could go on (I’m a bit of a blather, really), but I’ll stop. Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be a chore, and it doesn’t have to cost your savings either, you just have to know what you’re looking for and where. Happy shopping!

Gillian x

The Savvy Shopper: Clothes

Like most women, my wardrobe is more expansive than I’ll admit, and more varied than it probably should be. It ranges from 8-year-old Hollister hoodies (they’re over-rated, but you can’t dispute their durability) to last week’s Next delivery (I have problems with restraint when it comes to their Autumn/Winter collections), from Primark to Michael Kors.

 

I love clothes, shoes, handbags, scarves (especially scarves… Paddy has intervened on occasion), jewellery – everything that goes into an outfit – but with so many brands and designers you could easily spend the price of a decent car on one outfit. The obvious way to keep costs down is to get to the sales, but when the sales just aren’t working with me I stick with these tricks:

  1. Ask yourself.

When I’m in a pickle and find something I really like, but wasn’t particularly looking for, I ask myself 4 questions. Generally, if I can answer “yes” to 3 out of 4, it’s a purchase, if not, it goes back on the rail for someone else to love instead.

“Do I need it?”

If yes, could I find something similar for less? If definitely no, it’s on to…

“Do I want it?”

I don’t mean wanting it because it’s on trend, or wanting it enough to buy it, but never wearing it because you changed your mind, I mean actually really wanting it, because you genuinely love it and can see yourself wearing it again and again.

“Can I afford it?”

Hint: If you have to eat Pot Noodle for a month, then the answer is no.

“If I leave here without it, will I regret it?”

This is usually my decider; I put it back, try to walk away and if I just can’t do it, it’s coming home with me.

2. Know your Investments.

Socks are not an investment. A vest is not an investment. A polyester jumper is not an investment.

A winter coat, shoes or a handbag? They’re investments. They’re something that you can wear and use year after year if you take care of them. One of my favourite winter coats is a sheepskin coat my dad bought for my mum 30 years ago. Mum looked after it and wore it for years, and after saying how much I loved the faux sheepskin coats in Marks and Spencer last year, Mum revealed she had it hiding in her wardrobe for years, and it was mine if I wanted it. A solid investment there, Dad!

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3. Outlets and Supermarkets.

Back in my ‘Savvy Shopper: Food’ post, one of my tips was ‘don’t be a snob’. It’s the same thing here, really – why wouldn’t you shop where it’s cheaper? Whilst outlet shops often have last season stock or items that just didn’t sell well, they often have lots of hidden gems. Why pay full price for designer jeans when you could get them at an outlet price? No-one will ever know.

There are people who would be embarrassed to say their clothes from Tesco or Asda. If you can get over your brands, supermarkets have some fantastic clothing ranges: Florence and Fred at Tesco, George at Asda and the Esmara range at Lidl have been putting out some seriously heart-eye-worthy clothes in the past few months, at really low prices.

4. Google it.

When all else fails, or I want to see what’s out there, I google it. Their shopping search can bring up some unexpected results. My most recent search for ‘wedge ankle boots’ lead me immediately to a pair reduced from £49.99 to £8.99 on M&M Direct (which I have enjoyed rediscovering lately). I could have spent all evening opening a new tab for every shoe retailer known to man, but all it took was one search… and my boots arrived 3 days later. Of course, you’re not going to magically find exactly what you’re looking for every time, but it’s worth a shot!

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As with my last Savvy Shopper post I could go on, but I’ll not. Clearly, I’m very passionate about being a cheapskate.

Happy clothes shopping!

Gillian x

P.S. secretsales.com and brandalley.co.uk. If you haven’t heard of them, you can thank me later.
P.P.S. I still have nothing to wear.

 

The Savvy Shopper: Beauty

As a self-confessed beauty enthusiast, I love buying makeup, trying new skincare products, making a DIY hair mask (which can get pretty messy) – even if I were completely skint, I could find the money for any makeup, hair or skin care products I need. Whilst there are some things I can’t compromise on (due to a girl’s best friend: temperamental skin), I have my ways and means around the rest.

The obvious answer to saving money on beauty products is simply not to buy them as they aren’t considered a necessity.

Good one.

Let’s be real: I’d rather go without chocolate for a month than not buy my Double Wear. It’s hard to tell which would cause more tears.

It isn’t pure vanity, although I do like to look ‘good’- it’s more that I feel comforable, confident and ready to take on what the day has for me when my hair is shiny, my skin is clear, and my eyeliner is winged.

Some products out there cost serious dolla, so here’s how I keep my stash stocked, without breaking the bank:

  1. Samples.

Ask for the samples. Don’t be embarrassed about it; all branded counters have magic little drawers that are just brimming with freebies. And don’t just do it in one shop the once- make sure you ask in every shop you go into on every trip. Some brands are more generous than others and some counter staff are too, but generally, you’ll end up with a handful of products that would do you for at least a few days.

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Clearly, I have no shame in asking… and this is a run-down version.

2. Hunt the offers, but check the price.

Particularly at this time of year gift sets come out for Christmas. You could buy your Clarins moisturiser now… or you could wait a few weeks and get a full size toner and cleanser with it for the same price. (You’ll find me hovering around Boots in my spare time waiting for this for the next few weeks.)

On the other hand, you have the fake offers. £1 for a bottle of your favourite shampoo? Yes, please! … but it may not be as good as it seems. Check your prices per 100ml: the 150ml bottle may be £1, but the 450ml bottle may be £2.50 so you’re actually getting less for your money with your ‘deal’.

3. Know when to compromise.

As I said before, there are things I can’t compromise on, like foundation. I stick to Estee Lauder Double Wear and that’s that. If you want me to use something cheaper talk to my grumpy skin, and then come back to me. I do however cheap out on powder, bronzer, concealers, blush, etc. If I have a good base application, the rest will stick. Boots Natural Collection, Collection 2000, Rimmel, Nyx – all cheap and cheerful, and all work as well as I need them to.

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4. Mix your products.

Okay, this one is a little weird. I have my ‘luxury’ and my ‘low-cost’ skin care products, aka, Clarins and Simple. I would love to use Clarins skin care range all the time, but at £25+ for each product, that just ain’t gonna happen. Cue the Simple range. All under £5 and used when my skin is generally clear. If I’m going out somewhere, having a wee spa night, or have a bad breakout, I’ll indulge in the Clarins products. Otherwise it’s a routine of Simple cleanser, toner and moisturiser every night, meaning I can draw out the expensive products for longer and not have to make a ‘big purchase’ so often.

5. Palettes

You can buy your bronzer, blush and highlighter separately, or you could get all three in one palette for less than their combined price. I also prefer to buy eyeshadow palettes rather than individuals – they give you the option for different combinations and although there may be one or two stinkers (I’m sorry, but I’m never using the righthand side of my Morphe palette), you still get a whole lot more for your hard-earned cash.

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I probably could go on, but I’ll stop here because if you’ve read this far you deserve a medal.

Now, go ask for your freebies!

Gillian x

The Savvy Shopper: Food

There are a few things I’m good at: crocheting, the violin occasionally, and some days I can even cook, but one thing I’m really good at is shopping. I don’t mean that in the sense that I can spend a fortune in a short space of time – that’s something most of us can manage – I mean spending as little as possible and still having everything I need. I get a weird buzz out of saving money, and I’m a little bit proud of the fact that my wee Nanny calls me the ‘bargain hunter’.

To be fair, I’ve had worse nicknames – you’d be amazed at how much can be made to rhyme with ‘Gilly’…

I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks for saving money when you’re out shopping and break it down into a series of posts (I’m getting cocky with this whole blogging thing now, eh?): Food, Clothes and Shoes, Hair and Make-Up, Home Decor and (dare I even say it) Christmas and Gifting.

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way: food shopping. I hate it. There’s nothing I loathe more than trotting off around Tesco. Don’t get me started on self-service tills. Here’s how I stop the weekly shop from getting out of hand…

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1. Don’t send Paddy.
Or your equivalent. You might not think you need 4 300g bars of chocolate, but he does. Don’t go hungry either – that does just about the same damage.

2. Plan your meals, and make lists.
Yeah, you’ve heard this one before- but it works! Think about what you would like to make throughout the week, and write out everything you need, then just follow your list. Try and make a little extra too, then you’ve got your lunches covered as well.

3. Keep it local.
I try as much as possible to get into the local fruit and veg shop. Their food is better quality and usually offers a better price because lots of their produce is locally sourced.

4. Pound Shops.
They don’t just sell out of date foods, although do check, no-one likes their Crunchy Nut to be chewy. Biscuits, crisps, cordial, canned foods, sauces etc can be nearly half the price of the supermarkets.

5. Don’t be a brand snob. 
I’m guilty of this. I fought Paddy on the Tesco brand Jalfrezi sauce thinking it would be pretty nasty, even though it’s half the price of the branded ones. Turns out I was… wrong, not that I would admit it at the time. It may not be the case with everything, but it’s worth a go!

And that’s how I keep tabs on our food spend. You don’t have to be completely miserable with your purse strings – set yourself a budget and if you come in under it, go back for the donuts – but money saved on food is money to spend on a house, holidays, shoes, clothes, days out… you get the idea, fun things!

Gillian x

P.S. I don’t particularly love Tesco, it’s just the only place within 10 miles of home!

P.P.S. Sorry there’s no pretty pictures to look at- there’s nothing overly pretty about a food shop. 🤷🏼‍♀️