Friday, 28 March 2014

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

The humble loaf of bread is one of the few privileged items to attain 'essential' status in our shopping list. Despite our fondness of this ancient staple food, it would appear most of us are quite happy with the poor quality modern rendition that we find gracing our shelves. Stuffed full of preservatives, mass produced and severely lacking in flavour - no one would argue it is anything but a poor imitation of true artisan bread.

The real stuff is expensive though, or is it? What if I told you you could bake real, delicious bread at home and save a penny or two in the process? You will need to spend some money up front, but not as much as you might think.

A decent small bread maker can be bought for as little as £60. That is a manageable upfront cost for a lot of people, and the ingredients themselves work out to pennies a loaf.

You will find you can make a tasty full sized loaf for as little as fifty pence. Now, I know you can buy a loaf in the supermarket for not a whole lot more than that, but the two products aren't even really comparable. The point is, you could be eating vastly superior bread for a fraction of the price. Granted, you will have to put a little effort into making it, but it really couldn't be simpler.

They are easy to clean, require little to no input (just measure out the ingredients and chuck them all in at once!). Let it do its thing and voila, perfect bread every time. If you really aren't fussed by quality bread then by all means continue buying cheap loaves in the supermarket. If you are partial to a freshly baked loaf then I guarantee you will fall in love with baking your own bread.

It will take you a little while to start saving after your initial investment, and I don't pretend that this is the money saving tip of the century, but this isn't just about the money. It's about flavour, health and delicious bread - the money saved is a welcome bonus!

Friday, 14 March 2014

52 Week Challenge - Saving Money The Easy Way

In a world where temptation greets us at every corner it can be difficult to save money. Making that initial commitment and giving up those little luxuries might seem like a daunting task, especially if you are struggling already, but there are ways you can make it more manageable.

One such method is the 52 week challenge. I'm a huge fan of this approach as it allows for almost anyone to save a considerable amount of money in an easy and sustainable way. Here's how it works. Week one you put just £1 in a jar or saving vessel of your choice. Week two you put away £2, week three, £3, week four £4, week five ... well, I'm sure you see the pattern emerging here. Continue doing this for a whole year and by the end of it you'll have saved £1378. That's a decent amount of money to most people. The best part is that it starts out really easy, and the incremental steps make it relatively easy to stick to.

Some people scoff at this method and say "well, why don't you just save £26 each month, or as much as you can afford rather than using this chart" It's a valid point, and if you have the means and the will power to save in this manner then by all means do so. The beauty of this method is that it eases you in to the idea of saving. It's really well suited to those that have never saved before, and those that think they simply can't save.

Having said that, this method isn't perfect. Life is full of surprises, some good, some bad and the truth is we all have those unexpected expenses such as the car going wrong, or a boiler conking out. Don't worry too much if you don't meet your target for a certain week, make it up in following weeks if you can - or not at all. You'll still have a healthy sum at the end of the year and perhaps more importantly you will have proved to yourself that saving perhaps isn't as hard as you might have thought.

Even little things like going without that overpriced coffee in the morning, or staying in some weekends goes a long way. When you have saved enough to earn a nice holiday or to pay off those lingering debts I guarantee you won't regret it!

Another criticism of this method is that it requires you to save the largest amount of money around Christmas time, which for most of us is the hardest time of year financially speaking. That's a valid point but who says you have to start in January? You are free to start whenever suits you. It is just a guide after all, not a religion.

The Reverse 52 Week Challenge

This take on the method simply reverses the chart so that you start off paying in the largest amount and slowly decrease your contributions. This plunges you in at the deep end and eliminates the manageable curve in saving. If this appeals to you more then by all means go for it!

Get Creative

Tailor the plan to suit you, maybe a monthly plan suits you better, maybe you can afford to put away more than the method suggests, double, triple, even quadruple it if your circumstances allow for it. Give yourself breathing space. You might find it easier to just put as much away as you can each month, depositing the suggested amounts whenever suits you rather than simply increasing week on week.