Thursday, 31 January 2013

January Blog Review

It’s been a busy start to the year for Shoppers’ Joy, with many bargains found, products tested and services commented on. In addition to my usual product reviews for everything from cosmetics to supermarket buys, I started a series of DS games reviews. These have proved very popular, and as I have now played over 40 DS games, there are certainly many more to come. During February I also plan to start reviewing some of my favourite books and authors, as reading is another of my passions.

And of course, January saw lots of snow
January has seen the launch of several new magazines, two of which I have taken a look at – Knit & Stitch and Simply Crochet. Knit & Stitch represents especially good value, coming as it does with balls of wool and knitting needles/crochet hooks. If you’re thinking of taking up a new hobby or rediscovering long-forgotten skills, this type of magazine could be a great buy.

In January we often tend to take a close look at our budgets in the wake of all the added expense of Christmas. With this in mind, I wrote “5 Ways To Cut Your Shopping Bills”” and “”5 Ways To Cut Household Bills”, outlining some handy money-saving tips. If you haven’t read these yet, then do take the time to check these out.

There’s a lot more to come next month, so please keep reading. Thanks to you all.

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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

EDF – Customer Services To Complaints

We’ve been customers of EDF for many years and have always found their customer services advisers generally helpful at sorting out queries with bills etc. Until the latest little problem …

A letter was sent increasing our direct debit payments quite sharply, despite our current balance being easily cleared within a couple of months on our existing payments. Never mind, we thought, we’ll speak to them.

Ha! That’s when the fun (not) began. Three attempts were made over three separate days to contact EDF. Each time we waited patiently whilst being subjected to the most irritating music, before having to abort the exercise due to other more pressing matters.

One day, we finally got lucky … sort off. We were actually connected to a customer adviser, it’s just a shame she didn’t seem to have a clue what she was doing. We were (wrongly) told that EDF did not supply us with both gas and electricity – must have been a phantom energy company all this time then! The subject of payment was lost in the confusion, so we requested a chat with a superviser, who was supposed to ring back within half an hour.

An hour and a half later we received a phone call, from a rather irritated individual, who said the original adviser had got it all wrong (you don’t say), but by the way if we didn’t agree to the increased payments, we would be removed from the direct debit system! (I will be featuring direct debit payments in a later blog). Anyway, what she really wanted to do was to ring us back on Monday, for unspecified reasons, but probably because this was 1.30 on Saturday and she was due to knock off at 2.00 and needed to rinse her coffee cup or something before she went.

In frustration, we rattled off an email to the EDF ‘Complaints Resolution Manager’, who actually proved to live up to the title. In less than 24 hours of sending the email, we received a call, which actually quite painlessly resolved the situation, allowing us to keep our existing payments without any fuss.

Yes, of course we would have preferred to resolve the matter with our first phone call, but it’s nice to know that at least EDF’s complaints department is on the ball. Perhaps a little re-training for some of the customer advisers/supervisers wouldn’t go amiss though, so come on EDF let’s have your whole customer services team working efficiently!

Let me know your experience of customer advisers.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Budget Bathroom Buys

Saving money is always an attractive prospect, if not a necessity, so why not swap a few of your big brand name purchases for the bathroom with some less expensive, yet great quality, products?

I love Tesco Provitamin B5 Shampoo and Conditioner, a budget buyers Pantene, each 75p for 300ml. A creamy shampoo and effective conditioner, both with a lovely scent, which leave hair soft, shiny and nourished. Different variants include those for ‘normal’ and dry hair.

Toilet rolls can get quite pricey, with supermarket offers coming and going, but I have found that Superdrug seem to constantly sell 9-roll packs of Velvet Toilet Tissue for just £2.99 (often £4 elsewhere).

Tesco Antibacterial Liquid Soap 99p for 500ml is a great, cheaper priced alternative to Carex, which can range from £1 to about £1.80 for just 250ml. The Tesco version is just as good, I believe, yet much more economical.

My husband likes to have a wet shave and is a big fan of Sainsbury’s Men’s Sensitive Shave Gel 200ml (1.15), which gives a good, clean shave with a moisturising effect. Currently on “buy 2 for £2” offer.

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Monday, 28 January 2013

Buying Clothes – 5 Handy Tips

We’ve probably all had a bit of a fashion disaster at one time, whether we bought into a trend that far from suited us, or were optimistic with sizing, buying something we hoped to slim into.

So many of us have clothes in our wardrobe that we have never worn and are never likely to either. So how can we stop making these mistakes? Here are a few handy tips.

  1. Try before you buy. There are times when this may seem like a bit of a chore, but taking the trouble to try clothing on is the surest way to avert a fashion disaster. What looks great on the hanger may just not suit you at all. On the other hand, I’ve often taken a garment into the changing room to ‘make up the numbers’ only to find it’s the item I fall in love with – better worn than viewed on a rail. These days we don’t have to use crowded, communal (remember those nightmares) changing rooms, but are provided with comfy cubicles, often equipped with seating, ample pegs and a button to summon an assistant for help – or at least have an obliging individual within calling distance. So do try everything on!
  2. Ignore the size labels. Ok, you do have to select a size or two in order to try things on in the first place, but don’t worry about sticking to sizes too rigidly. Sizes can and do vary between stores and even styles and ranges, so be prepared to be flexible with the size you buy. My wardrobe contains garments spanning three dress sizes, all of which fit properly! If you don’t like seeing clothes with larger size tags in your wardrobe, then take the advice of fashion guru Gok Wan and cut out all the offending labels!
  3. Dress for the occasion. If you know what you’re setting out to buy, then wear (or take) the most appropriate items to go with that garment/outfit. For example, heels and tights if looking for a dress (the effect just isn’t the same with fluffy socks – I speak from experience).
  4. Get a second opinion. If you’re setting out to buy something special, it’s always a good idea to take a friend whose opinion you can trust, to help decide whether it’s the outfit for you. Failing that call on an assistant, they may want to make a sale, but it’s not in their interest to send you away looking awful, so they should make some helpful suggestions. If you really struggle with choosing the right clothes, enlist the help of a personal shopper.
  5. Opt for what you feel good in. Don’t buy into a trend, just because it’s a trend, choose clothes that actually make you feel good, and are suited to your lifestyle. Stocking up on fashion fads and clothes designed for occasions/situations that don’t apply to you, is a sure way to blow your budget, whilst being left without ‘a thing to wear’.
Happy shopping!

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Friday, 25 January 2013

Hospital Parking Charges

I previously wrote about the horrendous parking charges in some public places, the worst being at the O2 where we paid £25 for just a few hours!

However, what I find quite worrying is the cost of using some hospital car parks. Individuals attending hospital do so out of necessity, not for pleasure, whether it’s for an appointment, treatment or to see an ailing loved one. It’s one thing to have to pay to park, it’s another thing all together to pay higher charges than you would to visit your local shopping centre, for example.

Parking at my local hospital, Medway Maritime, was free years ago, but as the hospital has expanded, charges have been introduced and risen. For anything up to the first hour, the fee is £1.50, which meant that when we recently attended for a quick test that involved parking for just 20 minutes, this was the charge we had to pay. The next couple of hours after this are charged at 50p each, but after 3 hours you pay an extra £1 per hour, where is the logic in that? The charge is capped at £5, however.

Parking charges at some other hospitals although not exactly reasonable are at least a bit more logical. For example, Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead charges £1 per hour for up to 3 hours, with between 4 and 10 hours charged at a flat £4 fee. Similarly Darent Valley, Dartford charges £1 per hour for the first 4 hours, with a £5 flat fee thereafter.

Whilst not extortionate, these charges are higher than I would have to pay at my local shopping centres (average 70p per hour) and I do object to hospitals that charge an inflated fee for the first hour.

It is fair to say that many hospitals charge a reduced flat fee of £1 per session for disabled drivers and those receiving treatment for conditions such as cancer, but even this can vary somewhat. For example, Medway Maritime no longer gives such concessions, with disabled drivers paying the same as others, which I feel is a bit bizarre.

What are your thoughts and experiences of hospital parking charges?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

DS Games – Secret Files

Continuing with my review of mystery, puzzle DS games, today I’m looking at the ‘Secret Files’ series.

Secret Files: Tunguska The first of the ‘Secret Files’ games sees Nina Kalenkov embark on a journey to discover the mystery behind her father’s kidnapping. The game moves through a variety of interesting locations across the world, in which you collect objects and use them in inventive ways to reach your end goal. There were times when I got really stuck with the combining of objects, as they were not always used in the way that you would expect, sometimes involving quite a lengthy sequence of events, but the level of thought needed made the game really interesting. Hints and help functions are available if you get really stuck, but avoid using these if  you can, because you will get there in the end if you think laterally. I actually loved the challenge of this game, which kept me busy for some considerable time, and would rate it amongst my favourite DS games to date.

Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis This follows a similar format but with a brand new story. This time Nina endeavours to track down an extreme secret society intent on destroying the world. I don’t know whether it was just because I’d already played the first game and was starting to see how things worked, but this seemed easier to solve and I completed it much faster. I was disappointed to reach the end so abruptly, when I felt that I should have had more left to solve. The question is if I hadn’t previously played Tunguska, would I have found this harder? I will never know.

What games would you recommend?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Orange/EE Update

I previously wrote how pleased I was with my Orange £7 monthly Dolphin SIM, providing me with 150 minutes call time, 500 texts and 250 MB internet per month. Whilst I’m still very happy with this package, I’m not so happy with the network change.

Some time ago, both Orange and T-Mobile changed to the EE network, supposedly meaning ‘Everything, Everywhere’, but I beg to differ. Far from getting an improved signal, mine appears to have diminished, cutting out completely at intervals, resulting more in ‘Extremely Erratic’.

The place where I most struggle to get a signal is in my own home. You may not consider this to be much of a problem, what with the landline to fall back on, but my daughters communicate by text whilst out and I rely on having a working phone within reach, in case of sudden joint injury to which I’m prone, due to Hypermobility Syndrome. It’s quite hard to crawl to the phone with a semi-dislocated hip!

So my hope is that the EE service will improve, otherwise it’s a case of ‘great phone package – shame about the network’.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

5 Ways To Cut Your Shopping Bills

We all have budgets to stick to, but we don’t necessarily want to compromise on the quality of what we buy. By remembering a few simple points, it’s possible to trim pounds off your shopping bill, whilst still buying the items you want.

  1. Read labels carefully. Don’t always assume that a bigger pack of something will save you money. Sometimes two smaller packs can work out cheaper than one large one, even when the larger one is supposedly on offer. I recently saw a bag of oven chips marked ‘bigger pack, better value’, although by buying two smaller ones I definitely got a better deal. The trick is to read the label on the shelf where it states the price per 100g/100ml – the maths is done for you – it soon becomes obvious which is the cheaper option.
  2. If you find a big pack of an item which does work out cheaper, don’t be put off from buying it because it’s too large to handle e.g. huge bottles of fabric softener that can be quite weighty to pour. Be sure to keep smaller, empty containers for such items to decant a small amount into at a time. I have done this with squash, coffee and washing liquid too.
  3. Make the most of the ‘3 for £10’ meat and poultry deals offered by some supermarkets. Tesco and Sainsburys both offer good quality meat in their £10 deals, including steak mince, pork chops, casserole steak, chicken pieces and sometimes whole chickens too. All the meat that I have bought from these deals has been of really good quality, whilst feeding the family for a little over £3 per meal. You can always stock up on a few of these deals at a time to fill the freezer.
  4. Stock up on goods on offer. Make the most of half price offers etc when they arise, providing the items have a reasonably long shelf life. Short on kitchen cupboard space? Then find a handy storage space elsewhere to keep stocks, e.g. a cellar, understairs cupboard, spare room or dry shed. Some items come on offer fairly regularly, so by buying these at offer times and storing them, you need never pay full price for them again. In my case, I find this applies to products such as packs of Branston Beans and Heinz Soups, various cereals, Ariel Excel Gel, fabric softeners and tea bags, to name a few.
  5. Look to the floor! Confused? Allow me to explain. Less expensive product ranges tend to be placed on the lower shelves in supermarkets, as stores tend to place premium ranges at eye-level to grab your attention. Budget ranges are often found on the lowest shelf, where they are not as instantly noticeable. So remember – the lower the price, the lower the shelf!

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Monday, 21 January 2013

Magazines: A Couple of Newbies

Every January a new batch of special interest magazines and part-works seem to hit the shops. Some are great, whilst others leave you wondering “why?”

Magazines that I enjoy include those about knitting, crochet, cross-stitch and other crafts, which is why two of the newest publications caught my eye.

Knit & Stitch really got my attention, not just because the first issue costs just 99p (although this helps), or because it came with two balls of lovely Bergere wool, knitting needles and a DVD (though this helps too), but also because it includes several different needlecrafts – knitting, crochet, tapestry, crewelwork and felting. It’s really nice to be able to discover all these crafts in one publication and I really like the fact that the ‘magazine’ is actually a collection of cards, which you separate and file. Containing patterns and tips, this is ideal for all needlework enthusiasts and wannabes. I’m looking forward to issue 2, complete with two more balls of wool and a crochet hook, on sale 24th January.

Simply Crochet has also arrived in the shops, priced £4.99, including two handy crochet hooks. What I like about this magazine is that is has more the appearance of a book, rather than a glossy magazine, and is quite a substantial 98 page publication. With instructions and projects suitable right from beginner level, it will build into a comprehensive crochet library.

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Friday, 18 January 2013

DS Games – The Jewelled Collection

There are a fair number of DS games around that involve matching rows of jewels on a board, until the whole area has been covered (simplified explanation). In some cases, jewel boards form a small part of a wider game, but in others the game consists of little else.

So far in this category I have played:

Jewel Quest Mysteries, Curse Of The Emerald Tear This is the first ‘jewel’ game that I ever played, one of many available in the ‘Jewel Quest’ series. I really enjoyed this game as it alternates between hidden object scenes and jewel boards, offering a bit of variety. It also has a separate bonus game, Mysteryville, a hidden object game with a few twists, further increasing playing time and options. The hidden object levels are really well done, having lots of detailed scenes that are also clear. By finding jewels and coins in these levels, you can ‘buy’ extra help features to use if you get a bit stuck. The jewel boards progress in difficulty throughout the game, increasing the challenge. Overall a very good game.

Jewel Quest Expeditions Having thoroughly enjoyed the first Jewel Quest game I’d tried, I was keen to give this one a go. As it was described as a ‘game adventure through Africa’, I presumed that it would include some appropriate game play in addition to jewel boards. However, apart from a series of rather unsatisfying story screens that I decided were best ‘skipped’, it comprised of just board after board of jewel puzzles. Admittedly, the boards become progressively harder, sometimes involving new twists to the game, but I would have preferred to have some mini games or hidden objects scenes to break the monotony. One of my biggest complaints is that although you can strive to accumulate what looks like an impressive score, there is no way of saving scores and comparing them, making it all seem a bit pointless. More variety definitely needed in this one.

Jewel Link Mysteries, Mountains of Madness The only game that I’ve tried so far from the Jewel Link series. This one again mixes hidden object games and jewel boards, with an extra ‘combination’ level in between. This level allows you to use some of the objects collected, be it in a basic way. It’s also possible to accumulate various bonus features during the course of the game to use to assist in the jewel board levels. I quite enjoyed this game, although I found the hidden object levels not as clear or as interesting as in other games I’ve played.

What games would you recommend?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

January’s Random Thoughts

Easter Eggs! In the shops already! Haven’t we only just done Christmas?

Lovely, but not yet please!
Much as I’m really not a fan of Primark, I do wish other shops would adopt their practice of issuing paper ‘carrier bags’.

If you have a problem remembering a pin number or password, then concentrate on the pattern the number/word makes on the keypad/keyboard. That is often easier than remembering all the individual digits and letters.

What’s happened to the Trattoria Verdi range of pasta, tomato purée etc, which was being stocked by Tesco? The range consisted of some very good products at very reasonable prices, but I can no longer find them. Can we have them back please?

Remember how your mum always warned you about catching those dreaded ‘chills’? “Don’t do this, you’ll catch a chill!” “Don’t do that, you’ll go down with a chill!” The ‘don’t do’ list as I recall included: don’t sit on the cold pavement; don’t go out with your hair damp; don’t drink from a wet cup!!! ??? Surely a cup is wet when it’s got drink in it anyway?

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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

My Latest Beauty Buys

A trip to Superdrug this week saw me bagging a bargain or two from the cosmetic counters. Maybelline Dream Satin Liquid Foundation is currently just £4.99 (30ml), offering even coverage but with a light, dewy texture – great for all skin types.

New on the MUA (Make-Up Academy) display at Superdrug is their Pro-Base Conceal & Brighten Kit, which will be priced at £3.50, but is currently on sale at an introductory price of £2.50. The compact contains three natural shades, two to blend to conceal blemishes and shadows, and the other a highlighting cream to boost your complexion, although I think these could be labelled better. A great addition to your make-up bag.

Meanwhile, in Boots, spend £5 or more in store to receive two No7 vouchers, one for £5 off skincare, and the other for £3 off cosmetics. I’ve already spent my skincare voucher on No7 Beautiful Skin Eye Make-Up remover (normally £8.50 without voucher), a hypoallergenic formula that removes all traces of make-up quickly and easily.

Don’t forget to use your Boots Advantage Card and Superdrug Beautycard to accumulate points for future treats. If you don’t have these loyalty cards, sign up for them today.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Tasty Chocs & Changing Chocs

I must admit to being somewhat partial to chocolate, (OK, slight understatement) and have sampled a fair variety (another understatement). Chocolate is a lovely treat, not only because of its heavenly taste, but also for its mood-boosting properties and health benefits (admittedly, small quantity of ‘good quality’ dark chocolate usually recommended) including lowering both blood pressure and cholesterol.

So allow me to share a little chocolate with you (metaphorically of course) …

Flavoursome Favourites
Marks and Spencer Cherry Chocolate Liqueurs, oh, heaven! Dark chocolate (health drive here I come) surrounding a whole cherry and tasty liqueur – a big favourite of mine.
Asda Chocolate Mint Thins, superior to After Eights in my book, nicer chocolate, less sickly filling and a great price – just £1!
Cadbury’s Wispa, a good chunk of chocolate that you can really get your teeth into.
Galaxy Bubbles, a somehow ‘lighter’ variety of my favourite creamy, Galaxy chocolate.

Changing Chocs
Oh dear! What has happened to Cadbury’s Heroes? They no longer contain Bourneville, Dream or Picnic varieties. In fact, when we had them at Christmas, the tin largely consisted of crème egg (yuk, a term I rarely use in conjunction with chocolate) and fudge (almost as yuk) – a real disappointment.
Terrys Chocolate Segsations, sadly the plain chocolate segment appears to have disappeared from this orange selection, although the two-tone (milk and plain chocolate) segment still exists. Don’t really like the new toffee crunch variety and the jury’s still out on the popping candy option. Personally, I preferred the original selection.

Much Missed
Milk Tray and Plain Choice Bars, bars of chocolate divided into chocolate box style pieces, my personal favourite was the lime barrel. Would love these to make a comeback.
Weekend Chocolates and Candies, a box of chocs popular in the 70s – I used to get one in my stocking each Christmas and loved them (except for the orange and lemon jellies).

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Monday, 14 January 2013

5 Ways To Cut Household Bills

With the cost of just about everything constantly rising, we all need to find ways to save money. By making a few adjustments it’s possible to reduce some of your household bills and save those vital extra pounds.

  1. Ditch your satellite/cable TV provider and opt for Freesat or Freeview instead. After the initial outlay, there are no more monthly costs to find, yet you can still receive a decent number of channels. How many channels do you pay for, but not watch anyway? I changed to Freeview four years ago (following bad service from a provider) and invested in a Humax box – I haven’t looked back. I can pause, rewind and play live TV (as with many subscription packages) and record two programmes whilst watching a third – but without the monthly fee!
  2. Pay your bills by direct debit. If you don’t do this already, arrange to pay all your bills this way, as there is often a discount awarded for this type of payment. By paying all bills monthly, you also avoid being sent a huge bill in one go.
  3. Take out a dual fuel option. Many providers offer a discount if you have both your gas and electric supplied by them as one package. Search online or get recommendations from friends to find a good deal that suits you. Never sign up with a supplier on impulse without researching the deal properly first.
  4. Watch your water consumption. With water meters very much the norm, be aware of your water usage. When we first changed to a meter our monthly payments took a sharp rise, but with careful thought we have now brought them back down to almost what they were before. To save water: collect rainwater to water plants and lawns; avoid using running water to wash vegetable, rinse dishes etc – always use a bowl of water; do not leave the tap running when cleaning your teeth; shower as routine, reserve an occasional bath as a relaxing treat; only use the washing machine with a full load.
  5. Watch your water usage
  6. Remember to use the ‘off’ switch. It may sound obvious, but it’s so easy to get into bad habits with electrical appliances, leaving them on unnecessarily. Remember to actually turn off the TV instead of leaving it on standby, which can use as much electricity as watching it. Turn off lights when leaving a room and switch off the computer/games console etc when not in use.

How do you save money on your household bills?

Friday, 11 January 2013

This January I’m Loving …

Walkers Sensations Caramelised Onion and Balsamic Vinegar Crisps, crunchy and flavoursome, they remind me a little of the Savoury Vinegar crisps I so loved back in the 70s (I was very young then, of course).

Avène MIcellar Lotion, a cleanser and make-up remover containing thermal spring water, a bit pricey at an average of £12.50 (OK, I cheated, I got mine free with a Prima magazine subscription) but very effective. When I first saw it, I thought it looked more like a toner than a cleanser, but the results were amazing, the cotton wool pad I’d used bearing testament to its deep cleansing effect, showing tell-tale grime and make-up residue.

Fairy Sensitive Washing Up Liquid with Chamomile and Vitamin E, is definitely the ‘kindest to hands’ variety that I have used, with its usual Fairy effectiveness at cleaning the dishes.

Cross Stitch, having done so little of this for so long, I have been working through my backlog of kits, and am really enjoying it. For new inspiration I’ve bought World of Cross Stitching magazine (£4.99, but look online for 5 issues for £5 offer ) with Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady flower cross stitch kit.

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Thursday, 10 January 2013

DS Games – Ghosts and Rooms

I’m a big fan of DS games, chiefly of the mystery/puzzle genres, and find getting ‘lost’ in a game is a great way to unwind.

Almost all my games have been bought from Amazon – either new or used but in excellent condition – where I can find almost every game imaginable at a reasonable price.

Many of the games I play contain a ‘hidden object’ element, often with added minigames and features, but there are some that are really quite unique. In the first of my DS game reviews, I look at some of these more novel games.

Ghost Trick (Phantom Detective) – An odd concept, but certainly a different game. The story starts with murder of the character that you then play as, which you attempt to solve, in addition to other mysteries, in the form of a ghost. This allows you to ‘inhabit’ various objects and manipulate them to change the course of events. Some of the sequences that you need to perform take quite a bit of working out, but in a challenging rather than a frustrating way. I really enjoyed the game, despite its odd quality and the irritating character in the white coat, as it’s just so different from others I’ve played, and lasted longer too. I can certainly recommend Ghost Trick if you enjoy a bit of problem solving.

Rooms – An interesting take on traditional sliding puzzles – where you rearrange squares to form a picture – with some unusual twists. Your aim is to make your way to the exit of each set of rooms, with the difficulty level increasing all the time. Extra features include finding keys and explosives to use, swapping the location of rooms and ‘travelling’ through a ‘magic’ wardrobe. I did find this a little frustrating in the later stages and thought the underlying story a bit strange, but enjoyed the individual puzzles at face value. Certainly a challenge!

Zenses (Ocean and Rainforest editions) – I love the somewhat simple concepts of these puzzles, which are anything but simple to master. If you do find a few of the puzzles a bit too easy, just up the difficulty level for more of a challenge. Activities include combining patterns, matching shapes, building stacks and clearing boards of patterns, interspersed with memory challenges. It’s difficult to do these puzzles justice with words, as they are really quite clever – you just have to play them to appreciate them. I definitely recommend Zenses if you love a good, visual puzzle.

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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Cunning Callers

Have you ever received a phone call starting, “I’m calling about your BT/EDF/British Gas account”, only to discover some considerable way into the conversation that it is not actually BT/EDF/British Gas actually ringing?

The question is do the callers actually intend to deceive us into believing that we’re talking to our existing phone line provider/energy supplier, or are they just extremely bad at wording their calls? Personally, when I received such a call I only continued with the conversation because I believed that I was talking to BT about my account. OK, so the ‘rogue’ company got my attention, but fortunately as the conversation progressed I realised that I was not speaking to any representative of BT. But supposing I hadn’t worked this out – would I have been mislead into signing up for a new, unwanted provider, quite unwittingly?

That is certainly what happened to an elderly relative of mine. The name of her then phone company was clearly stated at the beginning of the call made to her, as was the name of a call plan used by that provider. Therefore, when she was given the opportunity to sign up for an 'improved' plan, she believed she was being offered a better deal from her existing provider, and verbally agreed to it.

This was outrageous! She is elderly, hard of hearing and not always as quick to think as she would like to be – but these companies seem to believe it is fine to ‘prey’ on vulnerable, potential customers in this way.

It certainly took me time to realise that I was not speaking to who I’d first thought, even with better hearing and a (hopefully) quicker mind.

It should not be permissible for such calls to be made. Companies should only be allowed to state their own name, clearly at the start of the call, and not introduce their sales pitch by naming other firms, which at best is misleading and at worst fraudulent.

Do take time to check very carefully who is calling when an energy/phone company rings, so that you don’t sign up for a dodgy deal by mistake. Sometimes when I ring a company, I have to quote a password, or at least an account number; perhaps companies that have legitimate dealings with us, should need identifying information that they quote to us too, to verify their credentials and stop other firms from claiming to be them.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

10 Of My Best Blog Buys

Since starting my blog I’ve reviewed many products, commenting on their quality, effectiveness and price, so I thought I would highlight ten of my best product discoveries to date.

The Dart Tag Like many of you I resent the Dartford Crossing charges, currently £2 per crossing per car and set to rise further, but have at least discovered that by obtaining a Dart Tag at you pay only £1.33 per crossing, a reasonable saving if you are a frequent user.

Poundland Shower Curtain I am a rare visitor to Poundland, but was thrilled to discover their shower curtains when I did venture inside, which are available in a variety of designs and are as good as other more expensive versions. They are cheaper to replace once they do get past the cleaning stage too!

Tesco Australian Red Wine A budget buy (£3.99), which I first purchased for cooking, but discovered it makes a tasty tipple too!

Wilko Heat And Relief Pads At 99p for 2 (Wilkinson), these self-heating, adhesive pads are as good as their more expensive counterparts (Cura-Heat are £3.85 for 3) at relieving aches and pains with their warming action. Just apply to your clothing over the affected area. 
STOP PRESS! Have discovered these in local Wilkinsons today for just 70p!

MUA Pro Brow Kit A compact containing tweezers, mirror, powders and gel for eyebrow grooming anytime, anywhere, £3.50 at Superdrug.

Olay Anti-Wrinkle Firm & Lift Day Cream & Serum A great product containing an effective moisturiser and a treatment serum, leaving skin soft and smooth. Normally sells at £11.99, but can often be found on half price offer at Superdrug, Tesco or Sainsburys.

Sainsbury’s (frozen) Stew Pack Vegetables Buy 1kg bag for £1.49 or two bags for £2.50, these are a great cheat for rustling up a casserole or stew with minimal preparation.

Skin Therapy Cotton Wool Pads These large, thick, oval pads are great for make-up removal, performing as well as dearer brands, but cost just 65p for 50 at Wilkinson.

Simple Kind To Eyes Revitalising Roll On This can sell for up to £4.99, which is why I recommend a trip to Savers where it costs just £1.99. Apply to the under-eye area to refresh and revive eyes, without irritating skin.

Ella Valentine Free Range Baking Eggs I was originally buying these for £1.29 for 6, but had to pay £1.59 the last time I bought them at Sainsburys, although they still represent better value than many other free range eggs, as they are large, uniform in size and great for any use, not just baking.

What are your favourite buys?

Monday, 7 January 2013

Mastering Multibuys

There’s no doubt that multibuys can be great money-savers if bought wisely, but don’t be enticed into buying large quantities of items that you will never get round to using, just because of the amazing ‘savings'.

First and foremost, you should reserve your multibuy purchases for items that you regularly use, so that the savings are genuine. It’s good to stock up on items with a long shelf-life (providing you have the storage space), making savings while you can. Toilet rolls, baked beans, cans of soup, bottles of squash and tea bags are all items I regularly purchase on multibuy offers.

Of course, perishable goods may not always be a good idea to buy on such an offer. You possibly won’t get through three bumper bags of casserole veg before they go rotten, although there is a way to make use of this kind of multibuy – join forces with a friend or relative. Just buy the offers between you and split the cost and therefore the savings.

Don't overdo the perishable stuff!
When buying any offer goods, I would advise you to read the promotional labels/posters very carefully. Sometimes ‘3 for 2’ or ‘buy one get one free’ offers exclude certain varieties from the product range. For example, a certain flavour of soup or colour of toilet roll many not be included.

However, another reason for reading the offers carefully is that they are sometimes BETTER than you would first think. The first time I spied a Tesco ‘buy 1 get 2 free offer’, I really thought that I must have read it incorrectly. But no. It really did say that – and deliver it. Do watch out for these offers in Tesco from time to time: so far I have bought cereals, crisps, chocolate, baked beans, instant cappuccino and tinned tomatoes on this kind of offer. When ‘buy 1 get 2 free’ promotions do occur, they tend to be for quite a limited time, much shorter than the other offers, so grab them while you can!

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Friday, 4 January 2013

The Aldi Experience

I previously wrote that I had never bought anything in Aldi, as my only local store was dark and dingy, had the appeal of a badly organised jumble sale and offered no choice of items, i.e. only one type of coffee, one type of tea etc.

However, a new branch of Aldi has recently been built within a reasonable distance from my home and so I decided it was time to give it another go.

First impressions were much better – lighter and brighter, with more space, although the central section still vaguely resembled a kind of rummage sale. Product ranges were definitely an improvement, with some items available in several choices of both known and unrecognised brands and varieties.

I still don’t feel I could do a decent shop in Aldi, but have tried a few products that I feel are worth a mention.

Snackrite Crisps, pack of 24 for £1.99. I loved the variety of flavours – ready salted, salt and vinegar, cheese and onion, chicken, barbecue rib and prawn cocktail all in one pack – in Walkeresque style packaging, and the crisps were really tasty. Verdict: a good, value-for-money buy.

Alcafe Latte, 11 sachets (one free) for £1.49. I really enjoy some of the instant latte sachets around, specifically Nescafe Menu Latte, which can work out quite expensive at £2.99 for 8 sachets (although I tend to only buy it when I find it on offer), so I was keen to give a cheaper version a go. I was not that impressed with the initial flavour, but discovered that by replacing about 1/3 of the hot water with warm milk, it became quite drinkable. Verdict: With a bit of modification I can make this work.

Would rather eat them than smell like them
Lacura skin care range, a handy budget range of skincare items including moisturisers for £1.99 and eye care items from £1.49. So far I’ve only tried the Shimmering Day Cream, which is easily absorbed with a pleasant softening effect, but has a bit of a strange, sickly scent – a bit like fruity boiled sweets –which is a bit of a shame. Think the effect was more ‘sparkle’ than ‘shimmer’ really. Verdict: Am tempted to try other products from the range, but worry they will all smell this sickly.

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Thursday, 3 January 2013

Savvy Sales Shopping

I know that by the time you read this, the sales will have been in full flow for some time, but I always find that I get the best bargain towards the end of the sales.

If you had your eye on a particular item, then you may well have had to make an early sale visit to secure its purchase, but for a general bargain the ‘end of sale rail’ is the place to head.

Some of my best sale bargains have included Per Una from M&S jeans for £5 (originally £38), Marks and Spencer Ankle boots £3 (originally £40), an Anthony Worrall Thompson Health Grill £10 (from £40) and a Boots water filter jug system £3 (from £20). All were bought in the final stages of the sales; all were in brilliant condition and have been well used.

Many of you may have been flocking to Boots to buy reduced gifts sets, but in previous years I have found that by waiting a bit longer items have been reduced by 75% or even 90% in the closing stages.

Whatever sale items you buy and whenever you buy them, it’s worth remembering a few guidelines to cut the risk of buying something that you don’t actually want:
- Will you really use/wear the item, or are you just attracted to the bargain price?
- Does a garment actually fit you now? Don’t buy for a size you hope to be, only buy if the look and fit is right now.
- Will a garment stand the test of time, or is it already going out of fashion?
- Is the item in good condition, or if it is being sold with a fault, is it easily repairable? Small holes in the seams of garments or missing buttons can be put right easily and are often well worth the reduction.

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Wednesday, 2 January 2013

This January Why Not …?

Buy Christmas cards and wrapping paper. I know that we’ve only just had Christmas, but now is a great time to buy for next year for less. It’ll really help next year’s Christmas budget – just don’t forget where you’ve put your purchases!

Get your finances in order. It amazes me when people say, “I’ll have to go to the cashpoint to see how much money I have.” Don’t they know? I recommend buying an exercise book and ruling it up with columns appropriate to you (better than a fiddly little cashbook) and recording transactions as they happen. On the front page list which direct debits are due and when, so that you remember to deduct these as they happen in addition to recording transactions in shops, at cashpoints etc. This way you not only know what money you have in your account, you can also check your record against your bank statement to ensure there are no errors. Mistakes do happen (so do fraudulent transactions unfortunately) so check for these regularly – the sooner they are found the sooner they can be rectified.

Have a winter outing. If you’ve been reading my ‘Winter Outings’ series you’ll know that plenty of attractions open their doors during the winter season, including museums, castles, many English Heritage properties and wildlife parks. Some even operate special winter pricing schemes, one of the best being Drusillas Zoo Park, East Sussex, a fun, smaller animal zoo with a wealth of play opportunities for the kids. Between 3rd and 31st January prices are: individual adults and children £10.00 each, family of 3 £27.00, family of 4 £36.00 and family of 5 £45.00!

Clear out the old. Make room for the new items you’ve received at Christmas, by clearing out some of your old things and donating them to a charity shop. Unwanted gifts? If you are able to exchange them, you local charity shop will be glad of these too.

Plan for the summer. You may be booking your summer holiday about now, or at least wondering whether the budget will stretch to one. But even if money is tight, there are ways to get a summer break, or at least some memorable family outings: be sure to collect and accumulate your Tesco Clubcard points to exchange them at four times their value for days out – making even normally expensive Theme Park trips a realistic option, points can also be exchanged towards booking holidays; start saving bags of 2p pieces for kids (of all ages and sizes) to spend in the arcades on seaside trips; save up all denominations of coins, then bank and save them towards a summer treat. I will be running lots of holidays tips on my blog throughout the year.

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