Ways to make extra money after an expensive Christmas

How much did you spend on Christmas this year? A few hundred pounds? Five hundred pounds? Well, according to this article, the average British family spends at least £800 pounds on Christmas, which can really make things feel a bit… tight… when January rolls around.

If you felt under pressure to spend more than you could really afford to (which is nothing to be ashamed of, by the way – the Money Advice Trust’s National Debtline have found that a significant number of us use our credit cards to get through the Christmas season), here’s how you can make some extra money…

Clear out the loft

Most of us return our Christmas decorations to the loft once we’ve taken them down in early January, so why not set aside a weekend to tackle the mountain of junk you’ve got stashed up there? There’s probably a lot of stuff you’re not using – nor ever will use – so dust it down, photograph it and flog it on eBay or Gumtree.

Pick up extra hours at work

If selling things isn’t your cup of tea, might it be worth having a chat with your boss? Let them know that you’re looking to take on extra hours for the next few months.

You don’t have to let your manager know that you’re under financial pressure (and in fact, starting the conversation that way might make your manager feel guilty if they refuse you), but if you can raise the issue of money troubles in a tactful way you might find you’re front of the queue when they’re dishing out extra shifts.

If you work in an office, ask if you can pick up extra work for an increase in salary; managers may be happy to give the work to you rather than the freelancers they usually rely on, and they’ll doubtless appreciate your loyalty and enthusiasm to help the company along in whatever way you can.

Take on a second job

No extra work to be had? Well, why not take on a second job? Sure – time is short and fitting in childcare, chores and exercise can be a harder challenge by working even more hours, but if you have a good support network or a family member who can take on some extra duties at home, an additional part-time job could be the solution.

For instance, working as a cleaner could be a good idea as it’s flexible enough to fit around your other commitments. Companies such as Molly Maid provide you with equipment and pay at or above the National Living Wage, so is worth looking into.  

Do any of these ideas sound like things you could put into practice? Try to set yourself a goal to make it more palatable: how much extra do you need to earn to clear those credit card bills, get out the overdraft of build up your current account again? How many hours’ work is that? Having a clear picture of what you’re doing it for will help to take the pain out of finding the extra cash.

Are you Using The Right Soil? The Beginner’s Guide

Are you struggling to grow plants or perhaps discovering later down the line that they aren’t thriving? This isn’t necessarily an issue with your green fingers, but could be down to the soil you are using. Certain plants need a particular type of soil and so before you go buying the prettiest ones and just planting them, you need to find out the different soil types. There is no point buying beautiful flowers if they have no chance of blossoming. Here are the different soil types to be aware of and what grows best in them:

Clay

Clay soil feels lumpy and sticky when wet and rock-hard when dry. Clay drains poorly and has few air spaces. It warms slowly in spring and is heavy to cultivate. This may sound like planting in clay soil is impossible, however, if drainage is improved plants grow well as it holds more nutrients than many other soils.

Hardy plants do best in this type of soil such as Helen’s Flower, Aster, Weigela, Bergamot and Flowering Quince.

Sandy

This soil is free-draining and gritty to the touch. It warms up quickly in the spring and is easy to cultivate, but it also dries out rapidly and may lack nutrients.

Plants that you may want to consider if you have this soil include; Tulips, Tree Mallow, Sun Rose, Hibiscus and Broom.  

Silty

Silty soil is smooth and soapy to the touch. It drains well and retains moisture and is much richer in nutrients than sandy soil. It is also easier to cultivate than clay and heavier than sand. The soil structure is weak and easily compacted, but ultimately if it is managed well it is a very good soil.

Mahonia, New Zealand Flax, Ornamental Vine and Tobacco plants are all perfect for this soil.

Peaty

This soil contains a much higher proportion of organic matter because the soil’s acidic nature inhibits decomposition, but this also means there are fewer nutrients. It is dark in colour and, like sand and clay, warms up quickly in spring. It is highly water retentive and may require drainage, however it is ideal for plant growth if fertiliser is added.

Heather, camellia and rhododendron are all great for peaty soil.

Chalky

You can quickly recognise chalky soil because it is usually stony and often overlays chalk or limestone bedrock. It is Alkaline, with a pH of 7.5 or more and is free draining. Some minerals are unavailable to plants through this soil which can cause poor growth however this can be remedied by adding fertiliser.

Chalky soil is suitable for the likes of lilac, weigela and Madonna lily.

Loamy

This is the perfect soil – it has a good structure, drains well, retains moisture, is full of nutrients and is easy to cultivate. It warms up quickly in spring and doesn’t dry out in summer.

Wisteria, delphinium and rubus are just a few of the plants that will do well in this soil.

Not sure what soil you have? You should have some idea by comparing it to the descriptions above or by putting it into a large glass jar filled with water and seeing how it looks after it settles. But you can also test this to find out more such as the pH, just don’t forget to test the soil from different areas as this can vary enormously. You can also improve your soil by incorporating organic matter, such as manure or home-grown compost.

Review: Netflix Original The OA

While the kids made merry over Christmas with tons of Netflix Christmas related movies (and none of the adverts that drive them up the wall and me to distraction as some shiny bit of tat attracts their attention), we sat down of an evening to watch another new Netflix Original, The OA.

The nature of the OA is such that it’s very difficult to write about it without spoiling either the set up, main conceit or conclusion but nevertheless I’m going to try and if this reads poorly as a result, I apologise and simply suggest you watch the damn thing.

The OA is ostensibly a science fiction drama that deals with a girl called Prairie who spent 7 years held captive by a kidnapper. When she was abducted she was blind but when she came back, she could see. Prairie tells her story to a disparate group of sceptical people who grow to believe her and the preternatural powers she talks about. View Full Post

Should I Lease My Next Car?

Leasing is one of many choices when it comes to funding options for your new car, and has become popular amongst private purchasers, as well as business and fleet owners. There are various questions to ask and ponder when it comes to deciding whether to: lease your next car as opposed to using HP (Hire Purchase), buying using cash or savings, taking out a loan or using a funding option, such as PCP (Personal Contract Plan).

Here is a quick run down of the main considerations…

Do I need flexibility to fit my budget? – Within reason, you can tailor a lease agreement to match your budget. If you’d like to stick to a certain monthly payment and not exceed it, then within reason you can likely adjust other aspects of the agreement, such as mileage and initial deposit, to arrive at a preferred monthly figure.

Does car age matter to me? – If you prefer to run a new car and change it regularly, then leasing is ideal as you can change cars as frequently as every three or even two years. The rate of new car model launches means changing cars regularly keeps you at the forefront of new car technology.

Can I avoid any hassle? – Of course everyone wants to get a new car with as little hassle as possible, but more specifically would you like to avoid the time and worry of selling or part exchanging cars when it’s time to change. Leasing removes this concern as you simply return the car and move straight into another if you wish.

Do I want to know where I am financially? – Leasing helps ensure your monthly costs are known throughout the agreement. Variables such as maintenance and some replacement costs are removed with lease agreements, including a maintenance option.

Do I want some flexibility in whether I own the car or not? – If so, check out the various leasing options, including lease purchase. While leasing is a method of running a car with no ownership implications, there is flexibility if you’d like to own it at the end of the agreement.

Do I know my motoring requirements for the next two (three or four) years? – It’s not easy to prematurely terminate a lease if you realise you’ve either made a mistake in your car choice or your usage requirements change.

If you’re not sure if your requirements will stay the same for long, then a shorter leasing term would be preferable along with choosing a higher mileage limit than you’re likely to cover initially. This builds in some leeway although it’s worth pointing out that some leasing companies will allow you to adjust your mileage limit and your monthly payment during the course of the agreement.

It’s always an upheaval to change a car soon after you’ve acquired it whatever funding method you use. Even buying outright means you’ll almost certainly suffer significant depreciation; the biggest car cost after fuel purchase according to the AA.

Can I maintain the car in good condition? – If you can’t, then be aware you’ll be charged at the end of the agreement for damage beyond fair wear and tear.

Am I comfortable with not owning the car? – More people are moving to funding high value items like cars with leases even if they have the means to buy outright. It’s a great way of keeping cash in savings rather than being spent in one large sum.

That said, some do feel find it a bit strange not owning their car. It’s worth pointing out though that on a HP agreement you don’t own the vehicle either, until the final payment has been made.

Functional Yet Stylish Clothes for Your Little One This Winter

Dressing our kids can be a little bit challenging at times, can’t it? Unless you have a child who’s happy to wear whatever you ask so long as they can go outside and play, you’ll probably have to convince and cajole your children into wearing their coat or keeping their socks on. With that in mind, it seems particularly important to dress kids in clothes that are functional yet stylish if we want them to love their clothes enough to wear them. Here are the basics you’ll need this winter, and what kind of details you should look for in particular…

Winter coat

You won’t be surprised to see ‘winter coat’ at the top of this list, but that’s because it’s so important to find a good one. You might have to spend a little bit of money on a good winter coat (as even if you don’t spend a fortune, a cheap coat is a false economy), but it will be well worth it. When choosing a winter coat for a child, make sure it’s:

  • Waterproof or at least water resistant
  • Hooded
  • Large enough for layering so your child can wear a jumper or hoodie underneath it
  • Machine washable
  • Breathable

As they say in Norway, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather… just inappropriate clothing’. So, look for a high quality winter coat when you’re shopping for kids, opting for something that’s stylish and designed to last. Start by browsing somewhere like Muddy Puddles – the coats are so well-made that you’ll probably be able to pass them down to younger siblings or make them last a few winters. Encourage your children to pick their favourite design from a few you’ve shortlisted – kids like this kind of autonomy and independence, and they’re more likely to want to wear if if they feel they’ve chosen it.

Wellies

Wellies are indispensable in the winter: they will help to keep your little ones dry when they’re stomping through puddles, traipsing through wet fields during dog walks, or tearing round a waterlogged garden. You’ll also find them handy if snow settles on the ground, and many a morning has been saved by wearing wellies to school after a sudden downpour.

However, you don’t need to buy boring green wellies. Opt for something a bit more stylish, in vibrant colours or eye-catching prints. Look for wellies with reflective strips, grippy soles and padded in-soles, and consider buying the best you can afford rather than the cheapest: your kids will most probably run around in a decent pair of wellies while they’re camping in the summer too!  

Knitted hat

A knitted hat may not sound like the most stylish thing in the world, but they’re undergoing something of a resurgence. However – it needs not to be the kind of hat knitted by your nana… that certainly won’t go down well with little ones, no matter how cold their ears are! Keep an eye out for styles that are colourful or feature a bobble on top: they’re cute and fun and make what feels like an otherwise boring item of clothing feel very playful.

Consider a novelty hat for your children – you can buy knitted hats with quirky features, like cat’s ears, monster teeth and more. Whatever you do, opt for a stylish design in a piece of clothing as functional as this, else you’ll have a hard time convincing them to wear it.

A lightweight raincoat

Finally, a lightweight raincoat is something kids need at this time of year in addition to their winter coat. That’s because a lightweight raincoat can be slipped over jumpers, hoodies and other warm layers, and is the perfect kind of layer if they’re simply hopping from the car into somewhere indoors. As a bonus, you’ll find that a lightweight raincoat is the perfect outer layer as soon as the weather starts to warm up a little in early springtime, meaning they’ll get plenty of wear out of it – even after winter. With this in mind, just be sure to buy one that’s big enough for them to grow into.

 

Panasonic ALL09 wireless speaker (and Amazon Echo related fun)

If you’re a regular reader of mine, you might have noticed that I reviewed the Panasonic ALL05 a little while ago. The ALL09 is it’s bigger brother in a lot of ways. Physically it’s a lot larger, in terms of power output it’s also bigger, a whopping 80W against 20W for the smaller waterproof ALL05.

80W of power is plenty for the Panasonic ALL09 to completely fill a large room. Because it has plenty of ompf, there is no need to push the volume to the sort of excess that will cause distortion. Like the rest of the range, there is WiFi and Bluetooth direct connection to the smart speaker, either via the Panasonic app or Spotify Connect. It’s easy to use, and you get a very easy network play option too if you happen to have your 500+ CDs ripped to a NAS drive like I do (the CDs are all still in the loft, I can’t bear to part with them and I suppose that’s technically piracy if I still keep the rips).

While the ALL05 is waterproof and also has a 9 hour battery life on top of the mains power, the ALL09 also has a unique trick up it’s sleeve and that’s an AUX in.

This means you can hook it up to a CD player or an old fashioned MP3 player- I still have an ancient iRiver H140 knocking about that has 30 odd GB of FLAC (lossless audio) on it. Of course that means literally anything with an AUX output can get connected. Now, the Amazon Echo Dot has an AUX output and I thought this would be a really good chance to put the two together.

Panasonic SC-ALL09 and Echo Dot from daddacool on Vimeo.

It’s great having Alexa speak at a volume that fills the house, and it’s also a lot better in terms of sound that the Echo proper. Of course giving the Echo voice instructions to stop the music when its loud enough to encompass our entire room is a bit too much of an ask but it’s great to sit and play a selection of tracks one at a time.

The Panasonic SC-ALL09 retails for around £300, which is considerably cheaper than a SONOS Play:5. We can’t compare the output directly because SONOS refuse to publish that sort of detail but the ALL09 sounds significantly louder (and better in terms of sound quality) than my Play:3, s0 I assume that the 5 is probably it’s more expensive equivalent.

Christmas Dinners in the UK!

The traditional Christmas dinner needs some key elements; turkey or another meat or vegetarian alternative; gravy; greens and potatoes. However, there’s a debate or two for the perfect Christmas meal to be had.

Debate number one: sprouts or no sprouts? According to research from AO.com, only 7.1% of Londoners believe that Brussels are brilliant and are an integral part of the Christmas meal.

Debate number two: Roast or mash? Roast potatoes were the clear winner here with 44.7% of UK residents believing that roasties are the must-have potato for the plate, while 7.4% are mash fans.

These are two decisions to take, but there are plenty of others: where do we spend Christmas? What’s our favourite tipple? And which areas of the UK put their hands in their pockets and spend the most on their meals? The answers are below.

 

Christmas Dinners in the UK
Provided by Ao.com

Review: Paper Mario: Color Splash on Wii U

paper-mario-2

In all the excitement over the Nintendo Switch it’s easy to forget that the Wii U still has a slow but steady run of top notch games coming out for it. The issue with the Wii U has never been about the quality games, more the volume of them. The Nintendo Switch looks like it’ll have the third party support that the Wii U has missed but that doesn’t stop the games that do come out on the Wii U being (mostly) ace. We’ve had great fun with Mario Kart 8, Mario Maker, Mario Sunshine 2, Yoshis Island, Captain Toad and so on. In fact I’d go as far to say that Mario Kart on the Wii U is probably my favourite racer of this current generation.

Now with the release of Paper Mario Color Splash, we have another absolutely beautiful game to get our grubby mitts on. View Full Post

5 Reasons Why Paintball is an Awesome Christmas Activity for Your Kids

paintballing-action-shotThinking of new and exciting activities for children at Christmas can be difficult, but paintballing is the perfect way to bring something unique to this year’s festivities.

For most parents, the weeks leading up to Christmas turn into an annual routine. Doing the same activities with your kids year after year can become stale for both yourself and them, so why not switch things up a bit and think outside of the box?

Paintballing not only gets you and your kids out of the house for the day, but also provides an exhilarating experience that’s tough to rival. Here are five reasons why paintballing should be on your list of activities this Christmas.

  1. Break the Mould

While there’s no doubt the traditional Christmas activities provide a great overall experience for children, there’s a lot to be said for something unexpected. It’s certainly safe to say that paintballing is something a bit different to your average yuletide fun.

Although it may not have the (jingle) bells and whistles of many of the other festive activities, it does have the adrenaline-fuelled action that will undoubtedly liven up your children’s Christmas.

2 It’s a Fun and Effective Form of Exercise

With an abundance of modern technology giving your kids more than enough reasons to stay indoors, as well as the cold of winter beginning to creep in, getting them to exercise can prove to be a tough task.

Fortunately for you, it just so happens that not only is paintballing for kids is ridiculously good fun, but it’s also a great form of exercise. A day of running, jumping, ducking and diving will prove to be an efficient full-body workout.

It should be noted that if you decide to join your kids for a day of paintballing, they will have energy levels that will far surpass your own. You may well be the man or woman of the house, but in a game of paintball, you’ll find that your kids will run the show.

  1. Get Out of the House for the Day

If your family is fond of the great outdoors, spending your Christmas inside by the fire may not be your cup of tea. If this is the case, paintballing provides your kids with one of the most exciting outdoor activities out there.

The varied terrain and scenarios of the different paintball maps will not only allow your kids to immerse themselves in some outdoor action, but also give them a few hours of fresh air, which can come few and far between during the winter months.

It won’t take long for cooped up kids to become bored and restless, so a day of intense paintball fun will provide them with the ideal outdoor activity to burn off that extra energy and frustration.

Between the present buying and various activities going on over Christmas, you may not want to be paying out for another day out, but paintballing can be enjoyed on a relatively tight budget.

go-paintball-players-and-logo

  1. It’s a Great Bonding Exercise

The value of bonding with your children cannot be stressed enough — and not only that, but helping them to bond with others is an important life lesson, too. A day of paintball provides the platform and scenarios to make it an effective bonding experience.

Team tactics play a vital role throughout a day of paintballing. The excitement and satisfaction of successful teamwork will prove to be one of the highlights of the day for your children. Not only does this add some authenticity to the combat environment, but it also allows them to develop further team-building skills, which can then be applied to other activities.

  1. Time to Blow Off Some Steam

While the life of a child may seem like a care-free jaunt compared to the stresses and strains of adulthood, they still need to blow off some steam from time to time. Many families have a Christmas routine that’s kept to with military precision, leaving kids little or no time to do their own thing.

Sometimes, throwing a spanner in the works of Christmas routines is the best way to make it more enjoyable. Letting them run wild with friends wielding a paintball gun will allow them to enjoy themselves and forget anything that has been bothering them.

If you decide to join in the festive paintballing, you’ll find that it’ll have a similar effect on you, too. Whether it’s problems at work or just the Christmas hustle and bustle getting to you, you’ll be surprised how a day of paintball can help you to blow off some steam.

As you can see, paintballing carries many benefits that go far beyond just running around, shooting your friends with a paintball gun. Your children get to enjoy an activity that breaches the norm of the festive period, bringing a whole new level of excitement to the build-up to Christmas.

Looking for a great Christmas present for the kids this year? Grab some paintballing gift vouchers for just £9 per person!

Clever DIY hacks for the home

One of the many benefits of harnessing your inner DIY enthusiast, besides the cost savings you can make, is the particular pleasure you get from personally creating something attractive or useful, or both, for your home. DIY jobs today have moved on a bit since it was Dad’s role to put up the obligatory shelf, which often ended up having an unwanted wobble or slope. Today there is a whole host of ways in which you can add extra touches to your home and opt for eco-friendly methods of doing this, whether you like to recycle, refurbish or repurpose or whether you want to ensure your materials are from a sustainable source. Here are a few ingenious ideas to help you get started.

Something extra special

Many DIY projects are the result of realising that you, your partner or your children need something in the home. That might be a tool rack, for example, an extra kitchen unit or a play table for the kids. There’s also the situation where you’re not happy with how your home is functioning – maybe there’s not enough storage, doors and windows need better draught proofing or there are underused nooks and crannies that are crying out for attention. Sometimes, of course, you happen on an item that’s worth keeping because it’s decent quality but could easily be converted into something more useful. No matter the reason you decide to do it yourself, there are some fabulous ways to make a real difference in your home.

Look for good guidance

Your first step with any project is to make sure you are equipped with the knowledge, the right tools and sufficient help to carry out the job in hand. One good way to be sure your work will be high quality is to consult with your local suppliers of materials or some of the DIY experts who work for relevant retailers.

Flooring

To make a major impact on your home consider changing the flooring in one or more rooms. Minimalism has dominated interior fashion and design for several decades now and as a result many people have opted to get rid of traditional wall to wall carpeting in favour of hard floors, usually in ceramic, stone or wood, with or without rugs depending on the room.

If you plan to do this make sure you examine the existing floorboards and note the quality. It may be useful to take a few pictures and to consult with a supplier. Small holes should be filled with wood filler, which can then be stained and varnished to match the rest of the floor. If some floorboards need to be replaced aim to source reclaimed alternatives as this flooring always has the most character.

Doors and windows

It’s always worth paying attention to the openings in your home as this is where heat escapes. This is also the case with the roof. Even windows that are already double glazed can allow noise from outside to penetrate and one good solution is to use shutters to dress your windows, as this provides you with privacy, control of daylight and noise and also maintains the clean lines that designers are so keen on. Before ordering always consult a DIY shutter guide that tells you how to measure to make sure the shutters will fit properly.

Furniture and storage

Great ideas for furniture abound at the moment and a quick search of some of the relevant sites offers clever and sometimes quirky ideas to help you create something unique for your home. An old telephone seat, for example, with a slightly raised table at one end can be very easily converted to a play table for children, complete with storage basket for small toys where the table used to be.

To give your bathroom a makeover look for an old chest or dresser that can be smartened up, then plumb it into the available space, replacing the wooden top with a marbled counter including wash hand basin, taps, etc.

Ad old door makes a great DIY headboard if used horizontally rather than vertically. Once it has been sanded down you can remove any old door furniture, add an attractive trim along one edge and repaint it in the colour of your choice.

It must be said that if you have a good eye and a bit of creative flair you will find a wealth of possibilities when it comes to potential DIY projects. If in doubt, take a look around at other people’s projects and always consult an expert when you need help.