01-03-2015

A bit of me time at Ena Salon

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Back in the days of disposable income, my number one expenditure was my hair. And it was entirely worth it. I also took a lot of selfies, before it was even called a selfie.

I had an amazing stylist in Brighton, and when I moved back to London, I found my next ‘perfect stylist’, following him throughout several salon moves, until I fell pregnant and got ‘the guilt’ over spending so much money on my hair. And then later, when I quit my job after maternity leave, just plain old didn’t HAVE the money to have my hair coloured and cut every few months.

It was during this time that I had my most dissatisfying hair salon experiences to date. Maybe because it was so rare that I could find the time away from my children that it REALLY mattered when I got my hair done. Maybe because the money I was parting with meant so much MORE to me during those frugal years. Or maybe it was because, enticed by their discount offers, I was choosing to go to mass market hair salon brands . If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt, it’s that the big salon chains just aren’t that great at bold colour (my record was THREE visits to correct a failed colour attempt that still ended up barely visible), and it is rare to find a stylist who doesn’t just give you the same generic cut they’ve already done five times that day, no matter what your brief.

I haven’t been able to do much about that money-spending guilt or my lack of available time, (I’ve been compromising by sticking to my natural colour), but, these days, I am back to choosing salons that know their craft and place value in great training.

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My latest haircut was done by the lovely Gianna at Ena Salon in Covent Garden. I could tell we were off to a good start when she listening carefully to my rambling ideas about my hair, and then went on to give her own suggestions and talk me through EXACTLY what she was going to do with my hair.

I like a stylist who will tell me straight up if something won’t work, or if something might be improved by using a different technique, etc. I am quite at ease with a dramatic change, and have tried all sorts of things with my hair. I don’t suffer from new style nerves. But I do like to know that my stylist is confident, and that I’m going to get my money’s worth.

Ever had one of those cuts where it’s over in 20 minutes and you feel like they haven’t really ‘done’ much with your hair? Not at Ena – Gianna continued to talk me through each step as she styled. It never felt rushed, or like time was an issue at all.

Ena is based in a Grade 2 listed Georgian Townhouse. It’s unique features set it aside from your standard hair salon. My evening at Ena felt like a luxury bit of me-time. Ena also has a Beauty Salon in the same building, offering nails, body treatments, facials, waxing, threading, etc.

On Mondays, Ena is closed to business. There is no onus for stylists’ to hone their skills during ‘overtime’, they have an entire day dedicated to training. I think this speaks volumes about the way Ena values good quality training. There was not a hint of generic styling to be found during my salon visit. 

My hair cut was exactly what I wanted. My layers have been given some much needed attention, and my hair has a much nicer shape. Most importantly, this cut will keep me going for a good few months.

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The thing that most impressed me about Ena was their attention to detail. From the epic head massage, to the blow drying and styling tips, they went the extra mile whenever they could. Gianna even patiently gave me a little tutorial on how best to apply the products she was using on my hair, all with absolutely no hint of a hard sale (another brownie point to you, Ena).

Whilst I was there, I also spoke to one of the colour technicians about an idea I have for my next style. Our quick chat gave me the confidence that Ena really do know what they are doing.

I think it’s about time to draw a close on my frugal years of boring brown.

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Disclosure: Ena Salon invited me to review their services and I received a complimentary hair cut. 

18-02-2015

What happened when I turned 30

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We haven’t really ‘done’ presents for each other in the last five years. But this year, I was keen to maximise my window of opportunity – big birthday, stable finances, an older baby who can feasibly go without me for a few nights, and no new babies on the horizon for now.

I wanted a trip away with Sam (our third no-kids break. Like, ever. Not even since the kids arrived). I don’t like wasting time on subtle hints with no guarantee that they will be heard. I was spelling things out BIG TIME. How else is Sam meant to know I’m game for being away from my breastfed toddler? Or that I’m turning thirty?

I was angling for a night or two in a nice hotel. Instead I got a five night stay in New York, travelling business class (a tick off the bucket list for this always-economy flyer).

I will blog about New York separately. I should have done it by now but my thousands of photos were temporarily delayed by a Photoshop meltdown. But, in summary, I got to travel somewhere new, and spend time just being me and Sam (two things I do feel I’ve missed out on a bit in my twenties – this has appeased those cravings a LOT). And perhaps best of all, a blissful FIVE nights of sleep on my own terms.

Cheesy pic alert:

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Phase two of the birthday celebrations involved food, lots of food. A Sunday pub lunch with my family, and continuing all the way on into February, a big meal with 20 of my friends. Sam did an amazing job as event planner. There were google spreadsheets and everything. Unfortunately, his thanks was getting to leave mid-way through the meal to tend to a puking Rory who had come down with Arlo’s tummy bug with predictably inconvenient timing.

Even more inconvenient was me going to bed after a great night out, only to wake up with the same bug five hours later. I’m still not talking about those cocktails.

Even MORE inconvenient was Sam getting it the next day and missing his driving test. Yes, this thing took down our entire house, and made sure we’ll NEVER forget how my 30th birthday ended. Well done, germs.

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Five years ago, when I turned twenty five, I clearly remember feeling like I was on the cusp of something. I was craving a big change. I loved certain aspects of my life – I’d just moved in with three of my good friends, things were good with Sam and I, I was having a lot of fun. I had it really good and looking back it definitely feels like I took a lot of that for granted.

Turning twenty five, I distinctly felt that I needed to make the most of those years, that time could easily slip away without me having DONE anything much in particular. I was ready for a big change, and something had to give. I figured that it would be work. That I’d save up and do some more travelling before I missed the chance and it became REALLY important to focus on a career.

A few weeks later, I got a big change indeed. I found out I was pregnant with Arlo. And my life suddenly set out on a trajectory that I hadn’t factored for at all.

It is SO WEIRD to think that that was five years ago now. I am still exactly the same person as I was at 25, but it’s like I’ve added a whole new dimension to my life now. I’m sure this is the same for every new mum regardless of the situation, but I feel like that time has largely been spent assessing my new status as a parent with my pre-baby life, trying to balance the two, with varying degrees of success and contentment.

I think becoming a mum is one of the hugest moments in life, because you can so distinctly separate the ‘before’ and ‘after’. The change happens in an instant, and with that will inevitably come an adjustment period.

Turning thirty is another milestone birthday, so I was kind of anticipating that I might feel similar emotions about wanting to make changes or assess my life as it currently stands. But it’s felt completely different. I didn’t have any panic about reaching thirty.

The fact that I’m now the same age as some of the first mum friends I made when Arlo was a newborn has been weirdly affirming. My life is still very different to that of my friends, and I still haven’t found myself suddenly identifying with a whole new group of mum friends (But who does? It’s such a general factor to have in common). But these things don’t make me feel as uneasy as they once might have. Because I’m generally happy with life now. I’m happy with me.

The last five years has sort of felt like a weird internal struggle to work out where I had gone, because so much had changed so quickly, and it didn’t really feel like I was fully in control of any of it.

I’m happy with turning thirty. It’s been a weird sort of contentment.

11-02-2015

Laundrapp – the on-demand laundry app (It’s like Uber, for your washing pile)

 

I am a big fan of on-demand services, convenience apps…whatever you want to call them.

When I heard about this service, I thought “Of course there’s an app for that. It makes complete sense”. Laundrapp gives you a quote for your laundry, whisks it away and brings it back clean and folded as little as two days later. Door to door service within time slots selected by you, from your phone app. They also do dry cleaning and ironing.

Price comparison: Our local dry cleaners charge £7.50 for one suit. Laundrapp is £11. But our dry cleaners ask for 3 days, and when I go to collect, 3 times out of 5, the reply is “Oh, it’s not ready yet, can you come back tomorrow?”

All things considered, I would happily pay the difference for a guaranteed service from Laundrapp and the convenience of not having to take repeated trips to the dry cleaners and attempt to lug a clean suit home whilst juggling a buggy and a walking four year old alongside a very busy main road.

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How was the service?

I was kind of intrigued as to who would turn up at my door. I’m not entirely sure what it takes to get a service like this off the ground so quickly in an area like London, but I know there must a be LOT of people power behind it.

The driver was a polite and friendly guy, who was very helpful in explaining the best way to prepare your clothes for collection (no hangers, no suit bags – they return clothes in Laundrapp hangers and bags. I hadn’t found any info about this on the app). The clothes were handed over, the driver doubled checked the return date details and gave me a collection receipt, and off he went.

We opted for the ‘9 to 5’ promotion – 1 suit and 5 shirts (cleaned, ironed, and hung) for £18.

Sam’s garments arrived back right on time two days later. I opted for evening time slots as although I never know what’s going to happen with my days, one of us is always guaranteed to be at home of an evening, so waiting in for a collection/delivery is never a problem. The latest collection slot is 9pm-10pm.

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The Laundrapp service was so hassle free, it would have been hard NOT to have been impressed. But seeing as I am unbelievably excited at the mere idea of anything that might make laundry an easier task, all Laundrapp had to do to make me happy was provide a smooth running service and return the clothes in as good a condition as I’d expect from any reputable dry cleaner. They succeeded on both counts.

Seeing as I work from home, outsourcing my general laundry seems a little bit indulgent, even for me. But the excitement level would be akin to ordering a takeaway when you just can’t be bothered to cook. Maybe even better.

I’m not saying that I’m totally ruling out a bit of indulgence every once in a while. I’m rather comforted by the sight of the Laundrapp icon on my phone, ready to deploy with one touch of a button in the event of an emergency…or a very neglected washing pile during a slightly more lucrative month.

For dry cleaning, however, I have been completely won over by the convenience, and what I think are fair prices for a swift and quality service. Next time I get a panicked “I’m going away in three days, I can’t remember if my suits are clean!?” text from Sam, I know who I’m going to turn to.

Laundrapp are constantly running promotions and offers which make the service a lot more reasonable. It’s worth keeping an eye out for those deals.

Like other apps of its kind, it has a ‘refer a friend’ scheme, where you each get a £10 discount upon downloading the app and entering a referral code. That makes your first order a bit of a bargain and for that alone I’d say it’s definitely worth giving Laundrapp a go to see what you think. Use my code and I will LOVE you. It’s SATMCB

Laundrapp launched just last month and was London-based at first, but now they have expanded into Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Download the app to check whether Laundrapp is available in your area.

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Thanks to Laundrapp for letting us trial your service and partnering with Sorry About The Mess. 

 

11-02-2015

Getting prepared to buy your first property – My top survival tips for a first time buyer

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We went to look at a house recently.

A proper family house. The sort of house that would make me feel like a grown up. A house with a porch, somewhere to hang coats and put shoes (RIP shoe pile), an upstairs bathroom, and proper living space.

Let’s call it the One Direction house, because, well, there were a LOT of posters.

There are a lot of things I don’t love about our current place. I would love to have a kitchen that is more than just a glorified hallway. Room for a dishwasher would be nice. A fridge that can fit in the kitchen rather than the dining room. A staircase that isn’t so steep and child-unfriendly. A patio that isn’t a health and safety nightmare.

There’s also the fact that it lacks the living space for a growing, energetic family. All the rooms are square and boxy. Far from open plan living, in winter we spend the majority of our day in one 3m x 3m room. And everyone keeps telling us that we “just can’t contemplate having three children in this house” (which sort of makes the fiercely stubborn side of me more keen to give it a go).

It’s the want for more living space that will see us leaving this house eventually. But no matter how much we desperately crave the extra space, I found that my excitement level for the “exactly what we want” One Direction house wasn’t at a maximum. It wasn’t even close.

I think it’s because we know we’d be seriously stretching ourselves to afford somewhere like that. And because starting down that thought process takes me right back to five years ago when we were attempting to buy our first place.

Thinking about that time makes staying in our current house FOREVER seem a very good idea indeed.

Looking back on being first time buyers when I still trying to come to terms with the HUGE unplanned, life-changing event that was becoming pregnant with Arlo, all the while knowing that we were on a pretty tight deadline to find somewhere to live before he arrived, still makes me shudder. It was a horribly stressful and uncertain time, and I NEVER want to do that again.

Even without the baby complication, trying to buy for the first time is stressful enough. Although our parents were around to advise us, times have changed since they were newbies to the property market, and our buying process was a big learning curve for Sam and I. From one Millennial to another, here are my top survival tips when buying your first place:

1. Talk to a mortgage advisor. Although we aren’t ready to move again just yet, we have spoken to a mortgage advisor who has given us some really helpful advice to action now. Even if you are saving to buy, but not quite there yet, it will give you a really good idea of what you are aiming for. A lot of advisors take a small percentage if you purchase a property with their help, meaning their advice is free before that point. It’s never too early to start working towards getting yourself in the best position possible in order to buy.

2. Credit card debt, student loans, repayment plans, all affect the amount a mortgage provider will be prepared to lend you. If Sam and I didn’t have our current debt (which is just your average student loan debt and a couple of credit cards), we would be able to borrow around £20k more. It doesn’t matter to the lenders that we can afford the repayments comfortably. And that amount is coincidently the difference in being able to upsize in our area or not bothering to move at all. Start paying off debts now, if you can, and think very carefully before blowing your credit limit on a holiday or buying that car on finance.

3. Is there a possibility, however small and distant it seems, that you might think about starting a family whilst in the property you are looking to buy? You may be budgeting your repayments according to TWO full time incomes right now, but think carefully about how the affordability might change if you factor in maternity leave and childcare costs. Could you still afford this place?

4. Is the property priced at the top of your budget, or is there room to manoeuvre if several offers are made at buying price or (eek) higher? The houses we are currently looking at in order to upsize are priced right at the top end of what we can afford, and I often worry about the likelihood of being outbid on our ‘dream house’ time and time again.

5. Do you have the time and money to carry out necessary work, or do you really need a place to be ready to move into? We were looking to buy our first house when I was eight months pregnant with Arlo. Looking back, I think perhaps we weren’t firm enough with the agents about what we really needed (I’m not sure WE really knew what we really needed as we were buying newbies and knew our budget wouldn’t get us anything perfect). We were absolutely stretched to the limits of what we could afford, and were not in a position to live in a building site, yet we kept being shown houses with a hole where the kitchen should be. My mum always maintained that we could live anywhere with a baby and carry out work as we go, as long as we had the basics – a rudimentary cooking setup, running water, and heating. But you also need money to make this happen.

6. Has the property already been double glazed, and if not, can you afford to upgrade the windows? Living without double glazing in an old house is not particularly fun or cost effective. Taking the steps to double glaze will be a serious consideration. Premier Windows have a clever quote feature, where you can send in photos of your property to get an exact idea of the costs involved. No need for a home visit or a hard sales pitch.

7. Do you have enough change left over for an emergency work fund? In the end, we bought a house that was completely ready to go. But the purchase took every last penny we had. We weren’t prepared for an emergency rot situation, which involved a hefty credit card debt that devastated our budget for the next two years.

8. Obviously, things don’t always go according to plan (surprise babies, yay). But, in an ideal world, don’t embark on a house hunt with a time limit. Being free of time constraints when you are looking for a property allows yourself proper time to sit back and THINK about your decisions, and there’s no pressure to find the perfect place before a certain deadline.


Thanks to Premier for partnering with Sorry About The Mess.

10-02-2015

On saving money – in my teens and in my ‘grown up’ life

I’ve teamed up with Natwest to write about my saving experiences – past, present, and future, whilst also letting you know the help Natwest offer when you are working towards a savings goal. For savings advice and tools from Natwest, check out their Fairer Savings page. 

PAST

I’ve always been a conscientious saver. And I’ve always had the drive to take control of my own finances. I was never content to rely soley on the relatively small allowance that I received from my parents. I still remember the monthly conundrum of “Should I blow my whole allowance on one CD? Or will I need money for the bus or the cinema this month?”

The solution was to start earning, and start saving. Age 12, I walked into a local newsagents and became the first girl on their morning paper delivery rosta. At 14, I started doing after school shifts at a local pharmacy – stocking the shelves and serving customers. This led on to more work. I’d work a ten hour shift every weekend, and also during the school holidays.

I actually really quite resented having to work sometimes. Especially when some of my friends received an allowance equivalent to my wages. Although work provided the fuel for my social life, at the same time, it also conflicted with it quite a bit. I lived unusually far from my secondary school. It was over an hour away on two buses. My friends lived a lot closer together. So when we started going out in the evenings, I would bunk over at friend’s houses. If I had an early shift at work the next day, that became impossible, so I missed out.

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What did I spend my earnings on? Well, it was mainly clothes and CDs, and later on, I spent a large chunk on nights out. But there were the occasional big purchases that I was hugely proud to have achieved by myself.

Mario Kart on the SNES was my favourite game ever. When I heard the N64 was coming out, with a new version of Mario Kart, I was desperate for it. I started saving everything towards it. I think it took about eight months, my wages, birthday and christmas money combined, and several jealous games at friend’s houses who hadn’t had to save at all, until I had finally saved enough.

I was also able to go away quite a bit during my teenage years and early twenties thanks to having a steady job. The post GSCE and A level holidays, my travelling stints, all of that was saved for with my earnings.

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PRESENT

We’ve spent the last few years trying to keep on top of our general outgoings, with nothing left to put aside in a savings pot. But that has evened out recently, and we have a bit more financial freedom. Our main savings goals at the moment is to pay off the credit debt that slowly but steadily built up whilst we were trying to keep afloat, in order to get ourselves into a decent position to be able to upsize from our small two-bed to a family house with a bit more room.

As Sam’s job is largely commision-based, it’s difficult to accurately plan how much we can save, but we are hoping to clear our debt by the end of this year.

Natwest have a handy budget calculator that anyone can use to get a clearer picture of your earnings and outgoings and your potential to save.

For Natwest customers, there is also the Savings Goal tool, which works with your savings account to calculate a time frame for your savings goals and track your progress.

FUTURE

We don’t have any grand goals right now, we are just very happy to be in a position where it looks like we might finally be able to save a bit, for the first time ever. I think we will just be playing catch up for the near future, purchasing things we’ve had to put on the back burner, preparing for big purchases that we know will be on the horizon.

It will put our minds at ease to have an emergency savings fund, rather than credit being our only option. We would like to set up a savings fund for the boys’ futures. (We managed to set up a small fund for Arlo, but Rory got an I.O.U when he was born). It’s only a matter of time before our 1998 Ford Focus stops serving us as amazingly as it has. We’d like to be able to prepare for that time with a ‘new car fund’.

The teenage me would have jacked in all my jobs if someone had offered to just give me the same money for free – no brainer. But looking back, I can see that it was valuable to learn a few life lessons early on, and being a conscientious saver in my teenage years has definitely help prepare me for the grown up world, where nothing ever comes quite so easily where money is concerned.

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