On A Budget: Easy Holidays.

From the book in progress, “On A Budget: The good housekeeper’s guide to economizing.”

The previous excerpts were on supermarket grocery shopping, time management, mending clothing, cooking and vouchers and coupons. This one is from the chapter “Holidays”.

2.- Staying at home, revisiting old favourites and exploring.

These are the options we first consider when we want to holiday on a budget. They’re often considered boring or difficult and can sometimes work out more expensive than a holiday abroad if they aren’t done right. So first we’ll address the issue of entertainment and then we will cover the costs.

To make the most of a staycation, as they’re sometimes called, we need to first consider what it is that we get out of a holiday abroad. If you go abroad for the entertainment of a big city, then think of the big cities in your own country that you have access to. If you go for a country retreat, then consider the countryside in your own country. Next we consider what we like doing. If we enjoy clubs and restaurants, then we need somewhere with vibrant nightlife. If we enjoy hikes and trails, then we need somewhere with mountains or at least hills. Whatever you’re looking for, you’re likely to find an equivalent that is nearer and cheaper. Make a list of places you’d like to go.

The next thing to ask ourselves is whether there is any way to make the accommodation easier. You may have a friend or a relative living in the sort of place you want to visit. Or you may have found a voucher for a hotel chain online. Anything to help you narrow down your list to something specific for this holiday.

Now you’ve found a few places where you can do what you intend to do and can stay cheaply, the final stage is to fill in the days. You may go to Cardiff for the nightlife, but what will you do during the day? Where do you want to eat or spend your afternoons? You may go to Cairngorm’s National Park to enjoy a country getaway, but what exactly do you plan on doing when you’re there? By filling-in the holiday you make it more complete, you add things for any other people you’re going on holiday with and you can start to already make plans to have fun without spending an arm and a leg.

Of course, you can work off your same list for several years if needs be, as you will likely uncover many new places to explore in your own country. This way we can make the most of our research, rather than returning to our usual holiday habits next year. It also makes for a more interesting holiday than going to the same place abroad every year, so the excitement of novelty should be enough to motivate you to carry on exploring your list.

The other option for years to come is to revisit some of your favourites. Say you spent a week in London, or a weekend visiting National Trust buildings. If you enjoyed that exact stay, you could repeat it again. Go to the same places, find ways of making them cheaper or easier and explore them some more. This is something people often do when going abroad but rarely get the most out of, as it’s hard to solidly explore a place when you’re relying on tour-guides, anglophone areas and maps to introduce you to new things. For example, I know many people who always go to the same place in France or Spain or Italy for their holidays. Same hotel, same restaurants, same activities. They’ve made it into a habit and don’t seem to enjoy it as much any more. And to boot it costs them a small fortune to go there! Meanwhile, Jon and I sometimes revisit places we’ve been before, but make sure that there’s something new to see, something we missed or that we haven’t been there for long enough so we can find it exciting again.

But the most important aspect is the exploring. Without exploring, anything can become dull, especially if it’s a repeat visit. Think of the difference between staying at a B&B for a few days, seeing a museum and going for a walk twice, and going to the same village twice, but staying at the B&B, seeing the museum and going for a walk the first time and eating at a local restaurant, going fishing and seeing an art exhibition the second time. Even if that isn’t exactly your cup of tea, I’m sure you can see how the double-visit that’s exactly the same would get boring, whereas the two different visits help you make the most of a place.

Likewise, whilst visiting major monuments and going to well-known events the first time you go somewhere is always good, doing it repeatedly gets expensive and boring. When visiting Cardiff, seeing the Christmas market, a rugby match, eating in some of the Asian restaurants and participating in the night life may be a good way to go for your first visit. After all, to visit a place and not experience what it’s known for could be a regrettable experience, especially if some of those things are things you usually enjoy anyway. However, the cost of Christmas shopping, stadium tickets, well-known restaurant food and clubbing every night will burn a hole in your wallet. Once you’ve experienced all of them, exploring can help you make the most of a place.

The easiest way to get to know a place in greater depth and explore is to think of it as a home from home. Go shopping for fruits and vegetables to snack on, visit local pubs and inns, check out museums and art galleries of all classes, go to shows and events, join a course for a few days. Treat it as though you lived there part time. This opens up many more possibilities that you may not have even considered in your home town. For example, if you rarely have time to go to a music event, why not go during your visit to a different town? Or if you’ve always been interested in taking an art course or going hiking, then, again, do it whilst you’re on holiday. There is more to everywhere than the tourist attractions and by enjoying every aspect of a place you can make the most of it.

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Book Excerpt.

From the book in progress, “On A Budget: The good housekeeper’s guide to economizing.”

The previous excerpts were on supermarket grocery shopping, time management, mending clothing and cooking. This one is on online vouchers and coupons, from the chapter “Internet”.

Almost everyone is aware of vouchers and coupons. And anyone who’s shopped on a supermarket’s website or watched “Extreme Couponing” knows that these vouchers and coupons can be found online if you have the time and the inclination. The problem with this is that both of these give the wrong impression. Supermarket vouchers make it seem as though coupons are largely for things you don’t use or need and shows like “Extreme Couponing” make it look like you need to be ridiculously obsessive to do well with coupons. Neither of these impressions is correct. Couponing can be fun, simple and produce useful items at the end of the day.

So, to make it easy, the first step is to find coupons. Most of these are printable, so you just have to save and print any useful vouchers and take them with you when you go shopping. Most social networking sites have groups of couponers and voucher-finders you can follow to get all the news on the latest deals. This also provides the benefit of discussing how to access any hard-to-find vouchers, as well as what ones are more useful and what places won’t accept certain vouchers. However, if you don’t use social media much, these groups may not be particularly useful.

Another way to find them is to keep an eye on websites that track vouchers and offers. An easy way of finding these is just to search for something along the lines of “uk vouchers”. These websites link you directly to where the voucher is, or give you a code to use when next shopping. Just be aware that sometimes vouchers expire and the website doesn’t edit the voucher to tell you this.

Sometimes, the retailer will give you vouchers directly, as you find with supermarkets. So going onto your favourite coffee shop’s website to have a look around can’t hurt. You get to read about the coffee shop, see any current offers and there may be a voucher or two available.

A similar technique is to write a short letter or email to the company complimenting them on the quality of their product or service. This sometimes results in them sending you a voucher so you can enjoy an amount of their product or service for free.

Finally, shops also offer vouchers in their magazines. If you normally buy a gossip magazine, a cooking magazine or are looking at getting a catalogue, it can be good to switch onto your local supermarket’s magazine. A lot of them offer free pamphlets and magazines also, or at a discount with a certain purchase.

It’s also worth having a look through any magazines or newspapers you already buy or subscribe to. Some health magazines will have vouchers for specific supermarkets or brands. The RSPB magazine has discount vouchers for RSPB products and advertisements for bird and garden related companies that offer you a discount or a freebie if you mention the offer in the RSPB magazine. Newspapers often have a vouchers, discounts or freebies section, where, if you collect a couple of days worth of cutouts, you can get a free or heavily discounted product. It’s usually more worthwhile to look for vouchers and discount codes in magazines with a certain focus, as you’re more likely to be interested in bird feed if you subscribe to the RSPB magazine than to be interested in a brand of shampoo if you subscribe to a newspaper. However, it’s always worthwhile to find out where the vouchers and discounts in your regular newspapers are, just in case there’s something you’re interested in, someone you know is interested in or that you could sell.

Next, is the issue of how to sort and store your vouchers. The best place to keep them will be an agenda, a memo board, a fridge door, a wallet or a diary; somewhere where you look on a daily basis before you go shopping or when you’re making a plan for the day. I keep mine pinned to a cork board in my kitchen, because it’s where I keep important phone-numbers, is in a very visible place, in a room I use every day (also the room I go into when making a shopping-list) and right next-to my calendar. You will want to keep them somewhere that you visit just as frequently. Don’t get an agenda or a diary specifically for your vouchers, at least not until you’re used to it. In my experience, getting a new folder or agenda or calendar for them usually means they’re entirely forgotten. However, if you keep important memos on the fridge door, then you’re highly likely to find your vouchers there. How you store them is also important. Most retailers won’t accept a damaged voucher, so you’ll want to cut it out with quite an extra margin, maybe a cm border after the cutout line. This way if you pin them or they peek out of your agenda, the edge that is scuffed or has a hole in it won’t be the actual voucher. Another thing to consider, especially if you’re keeping them on the fridge door, in a highly messy room or have pets, children or out of control adults, you will want to put them in a transparent plastic sleeve, like the ones you get in ringbinders. This way you can see what vouchers are, where they are and keep them clean and safe.

How you sort them is a matter of some debate. Many people sort them by expiry date, but I find this to be more awkward than it’s worth. For starters, if your voucher is pinned to the day it expires, it’s more likely you’ll only see it when it’s too late to use. On the other hand, if you just bunch them all together you’ll find it harder to throw away the expired ones and to find the ones you need on a particular shop. I find it more useful to sort them by shop and by the date you’ll use them. If you stop by a certain shop or supermarket daily, then keep the vouchers you can use there always on you. If only shop at another one weekly or monthly then you’ll want to collect all the vouchers you intend on using whilst there and make sure you go to the shops before ANY of them expire. To make sure you remember them, pin them to a calendar sheet or diary page on the day when you’re going, or pin them to a memo-board or the fridge with a note saying what day they’ll be used. That way, you’ll always use them up or take them with you when you’re going to the appropriate shop. Whenever you get a voucher, think of where and when you’ll use it (“Pet-store; next Tuesday.”) and put it with the other vouchers for the right day and shop.

Now that we know where to get coupons and how to store and sort them, the question is: how do we spend them? Here are some answers geared towards making the most of your coupons and not losing out or getting things you could otherwise get cheaper.

1: Is the product as cheap as it could be?

Sometimes, just because a product is discounted doesn’t mean it’s good enough. As an example, my fiance and I are happy to get value brand mouthwash and soaps from pound stores. This means that, even with a £1 voucher, a lot of the more expensive brands aren’t worth it. However, when multiple vouchers or offers are combined, you can often get the expensive brand at a reasonable price. For example, we had one voucher for £1 off a certain brand of kitchen towels, we also had a voucher for 50p off it. Combined with a discount that was running, a product that would normally cost £3 cost us 50p.

2: Can I multi-coupon or combine it with another offer?

As in the example above, sometimes a voucher is only good if you can use it at a time when an offer is running or use it alongside another voucher or coupon. Almost all coupons say that you can’t do this. However, many supermarkets and stores simply view them as an IOU or a form of alternative currency from the manufacturer. In other words, whilst some stores stick to one coupon per item and one item per coupon, others will not scrutinize them or have a system that will tell them “This person already had a discount on that sweetcorn!” If you’re unsure, get the products, try and apply the coupons and, where the coupons aren’t accepted, return any more expensive items at the till.

3: Is this a product I’ll use?

Sometimes, the product on offer is one you don’t normally buy. Here we apply the same tactics for working out what we need to do as we apply with supermarket discounts and offers. For example, we had a voucher for 50p off brand-name face-wipes. This would have been useful if we used the wipes often, the voucher made them cheaper than the cheapest brand or if there had been another voucher or offer available, to make it incredibly cheap. It’s not like we WOULDN’T use it, if we could get it cheap enough. There are plenty of uses for face-wipes. However, it would still have cost over £2 for a small pack and, at that price, we’d be better off getting the value brand. On the other hand, the kitchen towels in question 1, whilst we didn’t normally get them, were a fairly unique product at such a price that they were worth getting. Not only was there no alternative, but, after the vouchers, they were cheaper than the closest alternative products.