Friday, 1 June 2012

Making peace with high spending

It’s been a quiet few weeks for me. Following knee surgery I’ve had some time in bed, some time off work, and lots of working from home. Now, however, I’m returning to the world of active people, and going into the office more and more often. This has been great in many ways, I was pretty bored of being a hermit, and it’s hard to work properly at home. Unfortunately the downside of returning to the office is...taxis! I am ploughing rather a large amount of money into taking taxis between train stations each day. I was stressed about this for a good few days. Many people feel guilt over large expenses and sometimes we assume that spending less is always better.

This is a bit different though. It’s a completely necessary expense for me (I’m definitely not ready for several thousand people on the tube yet). I have to go to work, and it would be very foolish to risk falling and injuring my still-slightly-broken bone for the sake of some money. It’s really a form of healthcare cost, and certainly not frivolous. So why was it bothering me so much?


Although I knew I had to take taxis, I hadn’t taken the time to estimate the total cost and mentally accept it. It wasn’t sitting comfortably in my ‘plan’ (it would be a bit optimistic calling it a budget yet). In addition, I kept being faced with the expense two or three times a day, so it was difficult to get away from the uneasy sense that it was out of control.

I did some sums, and given the money I save on a tube fare, and the saved commuting costs from when I was working from home, I will be much less out of pocket than I had feared. I also have huge respect for the cab drivers, most of whom I chat to and are skilled drivers who have worked many years, and are suffering financially in the recession. So I know that I can bear the cost, and actually I can enjoy the power of being a part of the economy, able to influence the industry of others in a positive way. Oh, and I enjoy it much more than the tube because London is beautiful, and cab drivers all have advice on recovering from surgery!

I think it has taught me that thinking through a financial decision carefully will make me take heed of money, but then stop worrying about it because the decision has been made! It was also interesting how painful handing over cash was, when I normally use cards as much as possible (no manual entry into my software then). I’m taking out about four times as much cash as I normally would in a week, and seeing it all disappear reminds me how unreal plastic is, and how you lose the sense of what you’ve spent!

Anyway, Happy Diamond Jubilee to the Queen, and to all the cab drivers in London, thank you for being so great at driving my limping self around, and I hope you’re not working on Sunday when they close half the city up!

Image credits [1]

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Decorating when you are renting

Recently I have been thinking a lot about decorating. A spell on crutches means I have been unable to take action or make anything really happen, and have lived a little too much inside my own head. This inevitably leads to both dreaming and plotting, and I’ve been thinking about what decorating I’ll do when I can walk again.

God is the great creator; He made the world, and since we are made uniquely in his image, it is not surprising that we want to make the spaces around us more beautiful. Interior design is a huge subject; complicated, subjective, potentially expensive. It can be something that we put off, usually because of the expense, and because we think we will get it wrong.

In the past year, I left home and rented ‘properly’ for the first time (i.e. not a student room). I am lucky to be renting a room in a lovely family home, but much of the owners’ furniture has gone with them, and the result is a little spartan. So, here is my action plan.

1. Dream big!

First, you need to work out your personal style. That way you can ensure you only invest in things that you will be happy to keep with you when you have to move. It is tempting to look at your space and try to fix the problem areas, but if you are driven by your current home then when you leave there is no guarantee that anything will be useful in making that home beautiful too.


Instead, start from a blank canvas. I have been browsing some interior design blogs to get some ideas. My favourite interiors are usually quite feminine, with lots of white and grey, classic furniture, the odd splash of colour, and lots of glass and gold or silver for a light feel. I love the glamourous feel that a few special pieces can give an otherwise quite simple room.


2. Work out your restrictions

Unfortunately, that lovely home is probably not going to tumble straight out of the magazine into your rented corner of the world. What are the limitations you face?

Some properties are furnished or partially furnished, which will significantly restrict the style. Although my home is furnished, there is a bit of space in an attic room, so if I buy one or two items of furniture I will be able to move surplus items up there. Paint colour can be another restriction, but if you ask then most landlords will be okay with you painting a property if you return it to a neutral colour before you leave. Luckily my dream style can work with the neutral paint colours I’ve already got.


Obviously there is also a budget to consider! I really have two budgets; one for items which I will love and keep for a long time, and a second for temporary fixes. On the first category I’d happily spend a few hundred pounds if I find good quality items which are flexible enough to fit into my next home as well. That budget means that things like the green sofas and almost all furniture will stay the same, but cushions and decorative items I can spend money on. Anything temporary, like shelves which I can’t take with me, has to be really cheap, unless the item is from a charity shop, in which case it’s a bit of giving and I don’t mind so much.

There are also practical issues - I have a cat and don’t want to invest in dream bedding since he will probably love it too, and then it will have holes in it (oh wait, that already happened, and there are holes in it, thanks for that cat). I’d like to get a rug for the living room, but given the dog and the fact we eat in there, it will have to be practically disposable!

3. Pick the key elements

Almost all of my inspiration pictures have glass vases, mirrored or glass lamps, and artwork with lots of white and pastel colours. I can therefore invest in them now, knowing they will still fit in to other places I end up living. Top of my list are therefore a better bedside lamp (since I know the kind I really like), and decorative items in my favourite style to fill some of the bare shelves in the living room.

Although a rug in the living room would make a huge difference, it is too likely to get damaged, so instead I’ll look for an off-cut or maybe carpet tiles which are cheaper. For my bedroom, I’d consider a ‘forever’ rug since I’ll take good care of it, but even the non-designer alternatives are so expensive I’ll have to save up for a bit longer, so that is on hold for now. Or maybe requires a lucky ebay find...

4. Keep an eye out

For me, collecting things as I spot them is half of the fun, so I’m not planning to go on a big shopping spree looking for specific items. Instead, I’ll keep popping into charity shops looking for glass or metallic accessories which I particularly like.

The only furniture I actually own is a lovely walnut desk which I bought at auction (much cheaper than the John Lewis ones I liked, and much nicer than an Ikea approximation). I love that it has some history behind it, that it has imperfections. The quality is also far better than a modern alternative, with the top cut with a central seam and folded out to make a lovely symmetrical pattern in the wood grain.

Now that you have your plan, enjoy the slow transformation, and hopefully patience will lead to perfection, a bargain, or maybe both!

Picture credits [1], [2], [3].

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Shopping Part 3: Willpower

This is the third post in a three part series about shopping. The first post was about shopping and women and the second was about shopping and emotion

I almost never go shopping just for the sake of it, and am reasonably good at only buying reasonable things rationalising any purchases I make. However, one place I seem to fall down again and again is in Boots where I seem unable to leave without dropping £30 on toiletries. This is despite ‘deciding’ not to buy any more. So why does my willpower always crack in Boots?

Location of purchases

Supermarkets know that slowing people down increases their purchases, and so they place popular items halfway along aisles to force people to walk past more goods. A research company tracked the positions of mobile phones to plot how long people were in the store, and found that as ‘dwell time’ rose 1%, sales rose 1.3%, so this effect is worth pursuing for retailers. I usually go Boots because I genuinely need 2 or 3 basic items such as shampoo or toothpaste, but its supermarket style layout never has those at the front! Once I’ve treked to the right sections, the bombardment of choice often paralyses me for a while, dithering over cost per 100ml, offers, and jojoba oil vs ... who am I kidding, this jojoba conditioner is by far the best I’ve ever found. Unfortunately, all of that ‘dithering’ time quite quickly increases the chance of you me buying more stuff.

Peer pressure


To be honest, I like to think I’m immune to this. I don’t tend to feel pressure to keep up with people, and I buy Vogue which contains fashion so expensive that I see it more as an art book than a magazine of things I would ever purchase. Unfortunately, if I examine myself more carefully, I am influenced by what I see, and unfortunately what I see is quite expensive. The environment I work in, and my tendency to follow the most beautiful blogs means that I start to ‘normalise’ unnecessary items such as a loved aubergine handbag for work. (Unnecessary given that when I bought it I already had a black, a red, a brown and a yellow one appropriate for work)./p>

There is a great article here about spending based on who you are, not who you want to be. As J.D. points out, you have no way of knowing if the Jones have funded their lifestyle on debt anyway, so the notion of ‘keeping up’ really makes no sense. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this at some point...


The biggest Boots I know is right beside my office and is open late, so when I need something I will usually pop in at lunchtime or after finishing work. Either way, my blood sugar is probably low. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for Boots, self-control is a finite resource, and is depleted with various behaviours, including making many choices, fixing attention or controlling thoughts. This energy model was tested by psychologists who found that just like a muscle, self-control can be strengthened, and gets tired as it is used. Earlier studies showed that acts of self-control caused reductions in blood-glucose levels, which in turn predicted poor self-control. Increasing the glucose in the blood (yay, chocolate) counteracted this fatigue.

This goes some way to explaining my madness in Boots - they confuse me by sending me around the whole store, I’m surrounded by things that I think I need for shiny hair and sparkly eyes, I’m tired with low blood sugar, and so have no self-control. And a large amount of toiletries already at home. Much as I would like to say this means I need to eat chocolate before going to Boots, it seems as though I’ll just have to make sure I go to a smaller shop at the weekend when I’m awake. With a list!