Being the best version of myself: the results

best version of me

Last week I had a plan. The plan was to aim to be the best version of myself with some small achievements every day. It was just a bit of fun really, but I enjoyed it! You can read the original post here. The results are below.

Exercise: a daily walk.

It has helped that the weather has suddenly become more spring like. Sunshine and the hint of daffodils poking through never fail to make me feel happy and positive. However, I didn’t manage to get out every day. When I didn’t I did some simple, gentle yoga stretches (along these lines).

We did have the most fabulous walk on Sunday with Mr S’s brother and discovered the most beautiful tucked away mill pond, call the Distillery Pond. The houses were absolutely gorgeous and you would not believe they were so close to town. I have lived in Colchester for almost 25 years and I am still finding interesting parts that I don’t know. Always good to be a tourist in your home town!

best version of me

We also had a lovely walk along the seafront from Frinton to Walton and back. I feel very luck to live so close to the coast, especially on a lovely day.

Semi fail. Not too worried about this, as I have been as active as possible bearing in mind I have an ongoing trapped nerve problem. I need to move, but if I move too much I suffer for it.

Two litres of water every day

I was surprised to find that I easily drink two litres of water. Generally I keep a pint glass next to me all the time so I sip throughout the day to keep hydrated.

When I was younger I suffered from a lot of headaches. Looking back, I realise they were probably dehydration, so I heartily recommend drinking lots of water every day.


A gratitude journal

As I said in my original post, I completely believe in the benefits of positive thinking. Being grateful for all the good things in your life is a sure fire way to lift the spirits. I easily found 3 things each day to be grateful for, from having my two silly cats, to a supportive partner, a nice house, a beautiful garden, lovely work colleagues, no debt, being able to pay all my bills each month to having three gorgeous daughters.

Gratitude is a good habit to cultivate if you are inclined towards depression and negativity. Everybody can find something to be grateful for.


A daily meditation

best version of myself

As I said in this post, I have been practising meditation for a while using the Calm app.

I did this enthusiastically for the first few days, then realised that last thing at night was a better time for me to meditate. It helps me drift off to sleep. However, I only did five out of seven days.

Semi-fail, but again I am not too worried and felt the benefit of a regular 10 minute meditation. I absolutely recommend a meditation app such as Calm or Headspace, particularly if you are a beginner.

One household chore a day

This was easy because I am not working at the moment. Cleaning one room a day or doing one chore (such as cleaning the oven, which I hate) is much better than having to do the lot on a Saturday. When I am organised I also do this when I am working, but sometimes I am busy or just too tired. I will try to keep it up when I go back to work as it means I have Saturday free for something more fun.


Taking a daily supplement

I decided to take a magnesium supplement this week. I ordered it through Amazon and it arrived on day two.

It is claimed that magnesium can help with a multitude of conditions, including  trapped nerves and muscle spasms, but also fibromyalgia, both of which I have. This article explains more.

It may be my imagination, but I think my muscle spasms have definitely been less severe over the past few days. I plan to continue to take this for a while and see if there is a sustained improvement.


There are many things I would like to do in reality to be the best version of myself. For example, lose the extra half stone that I am always trying to get rid of. This week’s meal plan was super healthy but I have only lost a pound. This may be because my colleagues from work brought me round a load of chocolate. Got to love ’em!

What would you like to do to be a better version of yourself?

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A meal plan to lose weight

Meal plan to lose weight

This week’s meal plan has got to be healthy! I need to stop reaching for comfort food like chocolate and… no, it’s just chocolate that is my downfall at the moment. so I need a meal plan to lose weight.

As I am home a lot and nowhere near as active as usual, I have been piling on the pounds and I don’t like it. No jeans with elasticated waistbands for me, thanks.


I have been taking a daily walk, as I said I would in my post Seven Days to be the Best Version of Myself.

Time to develop some better habits with my eating too. Also, potentially time to feel hungry a lot!

I hate dieting. However, when I have needed to drop a few pounds in the past sticking to an eating plan has been the way to go.

A meal plan to lose weight

Better snacks

Snacking is my downfall. will make sure I have lots of chopped up fruit and veg around for snacks, as well as some fat free Greek yogurt. I will also buy some crackers for the evenings when I snack the most, with a low fat topping such as lactose free cottage cheese.

Breakfasts will be muesli or porridge with fruit, as usual. Lunches will be a sandwich with a hard boiled egg or some low fat grated cheese and lots of salad.

This week’s meal plan isn’t a hundred miles from what I usually eat but I will cut out a lot of the cheese and some of the carbs. I will also keep my portion sizes small.

meal plan to lose weight


Mozzarella, basil and courgette frittata with a large green salad for me and some new potatoes for Mr S.


Salmon with lots of vegetables. Mr S can have more new potatoes with his.

We always have a dessert on Sunday, so fruit and yogurt.


Chick pea curry with a chapati.


Vegetable and aduki bean bolognese. Broccoli.


Vegetable stew with a small portion of mashed potato. Mr S will have some baked chicken with his.


More veg stew with a piece of baguette.


Cod fillet with home made tomato sauce and lots of veggies.

It sounds a pretty healthy meal plan to lose weight, doesn’t it? Now all I have to do is stick to it!

Are you trying to lose a few pounds? Do you follow a particular plan?

As usual, I am linking up with Katy Kicker for her weekly meal plan linky.

Being the best version of myself?

best version of myself

I am very proud of my lovely daughter, Chloe*. She has been working on her writing career and now throws out fantastic content for some of the biggest names in the magazine industry. This one made me laugh and particularly piqued my interest, ‘I tried to be the best version of myself for a week and this is what happened‘.

Putting what I know about my daughter aside (making her bed every morning? Really?), I thought it might be fun to steal her idea and try something similar.

I have tweaked some of her goals for the week. For example, I am off work sick at the moment so I’m not getting up at 6 am if I don’t have to. More sleep most definitely helps me be the best version of myself. Especially with all the meds I am taking!  Also I generally make my bed already.

Social media? I maybe spend 15 minutes a day on Instagram, maybe 5 or 10 on Twitter, and hardly ever look at Facebook these days. I need to do something whilst I am at home, so I won’t kick my social media habit just yet.

What do I need to do to become the best version of myself?

Exercise: a daily walk.

Being at home and not moving much (and putting on weight), I would say an hour a day in the gym would be beneficial. However, anything other than simple stretches when you have a trapped nerve in the neck is asking for trouble, so I will go with a short daily walk.

Getting outside and having a brisk walk helps me at any time, physically and mentally.

Two litres of water

At work I always have a big bottle of water on my desk. But two litres? Not sure if I drink that or not. I will measure it out.  It seems that being the best version of myself will mean frequent trips to the loo. At least that will be more exercise.

A gratitude journal

I completely believe in the benefits of positive thinking. Being grateful for all the good things in your life is a sure fire way to lift the spirits.

I will try this each morning. Not buying any fancy special journal. I will use an old notebook I rescued from my lodger’s recycling!

A daily meditation

best version of myself

As I said in this post, I have been practising meditation for a while using the Calm app. But I am not in a routine with this so will have a go at meditating each morning, before I get ready for the day.

One household chore a day

At the moment I can’t manage a good clean through of the house in one morning, as I usually do. Just cleaning the bathroom the other day sent my shoulder into a spasm. But it is important to me that things don’t get too messy. I will aim for a small achievement each day. Mr S is good at hoovering so he can do all of that. Today I will dust the bedroom and change the sheets.

Taking a daily supplement

I already take a ton of supplements. However, I was reading recently about the benefits of magnesium. It seems many of us are deficient in this vital mineral. This is because levels are much lower in the soil (and thus in our food) than they used to be.

It is claimed that magnesium can help with a multitude of conditions, including a tendency towards trapped nerves and muscle spasm, and also fibromyalgia. This article explains more. I am in, and have already ordered some.

So this is my plan for the next week to begin to achieve the best version of myself that I can manage with a trapped nerve :). I will let you know how I get on next week!

*Before the other daughters start complaining I am super proud of ALL three of you!

OnlyNaturals Review: ecofriendly cosmetics and toiletries

I recently discovered a lovely company called OnlyNaturals, a family run British company based in Berkshire. They only sell natural and organic skincare and cosmetics containing no harmful chemicals. This is the direction I am trying to move towards with the products we use here at Shoestring Cottage.

CBD balm

Regular readers will know that I have been struggling for months with pain from a trapped nerve in my neck. I have tried all sorts to get relief, from massage and acupuncture to an array of drugs from my doctor.  Next stop is an MRI scan to see if I have damaged discs. I am not used to spending so much time with medical professionals – I am usually so healthy! However, this has proved a tough issue to relieve.

onlynaturalsI have been using CBD oil orally, but had heard that CBD ointment applied to the skin can be helpful for pain. With a bit of research, I found that  OnlyNaturals sell it!  I am trying a small pot first, so have ordered the 10g balm for £13.99. They also do CBD oil in capsule form, which might be worth exploring as it tastes vile!

Fewer nasties

Looking at the OnlyNaturals website, there are so many beautiful cruelty free products with fewer artificial ingredients. all of their products need to fit the following criteria:

  1. No Parabens
  2. No SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate)
  3. No Phthalates
  4. No artificial Colours
  5. No artificial Fragrances
  6. No Mineral or Petroleum Based Oils
  7. No contaminated Talc or Lanolin
  8. No animal ingredients (other than milk based ingredients and beeswax)
  9. No animal testing

only naturalsBecause they use only the best, natural ingredients, their products aren’t cheap. However, if you want to do natural beauty on a budget, you can do some savvy shopping with their offers. This Sukin Love Your Skin set is on offer at £15.99, down from £23.99. It consists of a foaming facial cleanser, hydrating mist toner and moisturiser. Pretty good value for three products I think.

onlynaturalsThey have some great value items in their sale too, so it’s worth a look. I wear lipstick a lot and really love their Lily Lolo natural lipsticks at £9.50 each, which I think is pretty reasonable. This one, Demure,  is in the sale for £6.50 and is just my colour!

Sound environmental policy

I like the OnlyNaturals policy on the environment as well. They choose products made by companies who are environmentally responsible and their packaging is either recycled or comes from sustainable sources. They ship products in cardboard and recyclable jiffy bags and use packing material inside the boxes that is fully biodegradable and dissolves in water.

Check them out and tell me what you think! You get a 10% discount on your first order.

This post isn’t sponsored but it does contain some affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase using my link I will earn a small commission. Thanks!



Twenty tips to cure a Blue Monday

cure a blue monday

Is Blue Monday really a thing? It may be true that January is a dull month. The weather is rubbish and the days are short, we are all feeling a bit skint after Christmas and maybe we have already failed our new year’s resolutions. If you are feeling a bit low this Blue Monday, here are some simple ideas to cheer you up and make you feel more positive.

Twenty tips to cure a Blue Monday

Go for a walk in the woods

cure a blue monday

For me, there are few things so uplifting as a walk in the woods, at any time of the year. You can find woodland to explore all over the UK through the Woodlands Trust. Also check out the parkland owned by the local council, which may also be wooded, and your local Wildlife Trust.

Bake some cakes

You don’t have to be Bake Off standard to make a decent cake. There is something so satisfying about transforming eggs, flour and fat into something delicious. You can cheer your friends and family up too by sharing your creations.

Crumb by Ruby Tandoh – one of the most successful contestants from the Great British Bake Off – will encourage you to be more adventurous in your baking endeavours.

Practice yoga

It is well documented that a regular yoga practice can make you feel better both physically and mentally. You can find a class by looking on the British Wheel of Yoga website. If you want to give it a try first, have a go at this gentle yoga practice on You Tube.

Learn to meditate

You don’t have to become a Buddhist to meditate, or even find a class. Instead there are various apps to help you get started, such as Calm and Headspace (both have free versions to get you started).

Meditation is said to lift  your mood, lower blood pressure, improve concentration and help you cope with stress. It’s not easy to begin with but if you are prepared to be patient and practice regularly you will soon reap the benefits.

Go for a bike ride

Can you remember how exhilarated you felt as a kid on you bike? Whizzing down hills, racing your friends and getting some great healthy exercise and fresh air without even realising?

If you don’t already have a bike you can find them cheaply second hand. You might even get one for nothing on Freecycle. Once you have one you can get from A to B much more cheaply than driving or using public transport.

Learn a new skill

What have you always wanted to learn? Blue Monday is a great time to challenge yourself to learn a new skill and find something to get your teeth into. Your local adult education college will run many hobby courses, from painting and photography to gardening and pottery. You can do free courses on all kinds of topics online through Open Learn  and also Future Learn.  The University of the Third Age runs a ton of courses for older people and also encourages you to share your skills.

Practice positive thinking

When you are feeling low, consciously practising positive thinking can be hugely beneficial. I love Normal Vincent Peale for his uplifting and powerful positive thinking messages. You can hear him on You Tube or purchase one of his books. I am currently enjoying You Can If You Think You Can.

Do some crafts

Sometimes doing something with your hands can be soothing and uplifting. The act of creating, whatever you make, could be enough to cure a Blue Monday. Knitting, sewing, card making, painting, crochet, cross stitch, candle making – the list of potential crafts is endless. What do you fancy?

Grow some sprouts

Sprouting your own super-nutritious seeds is easy at home. There is an easy guide on how to do it here. Your little sprouts are full of vitamins and antioxidants to help cure a Blue Monday! You can buy mixed packets of seeds such as this one from Amazon, which contains a variety of microgreens.

Phone a friend

In a world of the speedy email and the text , how often do we bother to pick up the phone and actually speak to someone? Ring an old friend and have a chat. He or she might have the winter blues too!

Book a massage

I have really come to appreciate the benefits of a good massage as I have had a painful trapped nerve in my neck for months. It’s super relaxing, alleviates your aches and pains and gets your lymphatic system working. If your finances don’t allow for a trip to the beauty parlour, try your local beauty college for a cut price one with a student.

Go for a swim

You might not be drawn to a cold, wet swimming pool when it is the middle of winter. However, the benefits of swimming might change your mind. Swimming allows you to exercise without putting strain on your joints – great if you are overweight or suffer from arthritis. Propelling your body through water is a brilliant way to strengthen your muscles and improve your fitness, and a good work out releases feel good endorphins.

Invite friends for a pot luck supper

When you feel low, being around friends is sure to cheer you up. If you don’t have a lot of spare cash, a pot luck supper is the ideal way to have a gathering without breaking the bank.

Start a gratitude journal

The simple act of writing things down that you are grateful for, and doing this regularly, can have a hugely positive impact on how you feel and your mental health. It makes you focus on the good things in your life, rather than on the negatives.

Have a clear out

You don’t have to be a Marie Kondo fanatic to reap the benefits of a good declutter. Choose a small area so that you don’t get overwhelmed. You could choose to do one cupboard, the whole of a room or to tackle a larger area such as an attic or shed. Whatever you decide to clear out, you will feel a renewed sense of control once you have done it. You an even sell some of your unwanted stuff to make some extra cash.

Have a home facial

Treat yourself to a nice face mask and have a home facial. Cleanse your face, exfoliate, give yourself a facial massage and finish off with the mask for a rejuvenating facial that will leave your skin glowing.

Buy yourself some flowers

cure a blue monday

Well, why not? You can get a nice bunch of flowers really cheaply from Aldi or Lidl to cheer yourself up.

Set yourself a budget

I know it’s a bit dull, but a budget can make you feel in control of your life and your finances. Just the thing if you are worrying about money after Christmas. There are lots of apps to help you budget now, such as Yolt or Money Dashboard. Alternatively, the Money Advice Service has an online budget planner that’s really easy to use.

Plan a trip

It’s great to have something to look forward to, even if it’s just a couple of nights away in the UK. Make sure you research prices online to get the best deal. AirB&B is always a good bet if you are on a tight budget. We are looking at using this to go to France in the summer.

Rehome a pet

cure a blue monday

Squidgy Dora loves a cuddle

A pet is such good company. We have two rescue cats and we wouldn’t be without them. They are guaranteed to give me a bit of love when I need it!  If you have the time to commit to a pet, why not check out your local rescue centre? There are all sorts of animals in need of a loving home.

What tips do you have to cure a Blue Monday?

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A flexitarian diet? This week’s meal plan

The Flexitarian DietA flexitarian diet?

Did anybody see the story in the news this week about the ideal diet we should all be adopting? This so-called ‘flexitarian diet’ promises to make us all healthier, feed 10 billion people and prevent the catastrophic damage our current food and farming practices do to the planet. You can read the details here.

It reminded me that my new year’s resolution was to eat vegan twice a week and has inspired me to get on with it. Because we had the cheese mountain left over from Christmas I didn’t start it as I didn’t want to waste the cheese. We still have some but it is at a more manageable level, so now is the time to belatedly start my resolution. I am going to do it on Sundays and Mondays as a minimum.

Now that I have heard of the flexitarian diet, it seems it is well established, with a plethora of books available to get you started. I like the look of this one on Amazon,
The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way To Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, And Add Years To Your Lifeflexitarian diet

I like the idea of losing weight and adding years to my life!

When I go shopping I will buy almond or oat milk for my breakfast porridge. I can’t stomach soya. I already have some vegan margarine that needs eating. Otherwise, I actually eat quite a lot of vegan meals at dinner time anyway. I will buy some dairy free dark chocolate though! A girl needs a treat, flexitarian diet or not.

A pot of humous should be fine for my lunches with pitta bread and salad.

I have to be mindful that this is my resolution and not Mr S’s. He doesn’t want to give up meat or dairy altogether although he is happy to eat more vegetables and grains.


Vegetable spaghetti Bolognese, made with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, celery and half a tin of mung beans that have been frozen. This could be vegan, but I will grate some of the cheese up to eat with this. Mr S has a meat Bolognese batch cooked from the freezer.

We have strawberry yogurt in the fridge that needs eating for dessert.


Sarah Brown’s spiced almond risotto with salad. Mr S will have a couple of chicken thighs with his.

For some reason we have a ton of ground almonds, so I plan to use some of them up in this vegan lemon drizzle cake. No idea how it will come out without eggs, but I am happy to experiment. This will be good for dessert this week or just a snack with a cup of tea.


Chick pea curry, with added spinach and chapatis.


Probably chick pea curry again. Chicken curry for Mr S.


Penne with tuna and black olives. Steamed broccoli.


Leftovers. Whatever is hanging about from this week’s meals.


Baked potatoes with an omelette and large salad.

So there you have our meals for this week. My version of the flexitarian diet. Not strictly vegan or even vegetarian, but incorporating a lot of plant based meals and not much meat, fish or dairy. Hopefully, this will make us healthier and perhaps a bit leaner. What are your thoughts on trying to feed yourself and your family using the flexitarian diet?

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at her blog.

This post contains affiliate links.


Budget home remedies and medications

budget home remedies

Now that we are moving towards winter there already seem to be more bugs about. Coughs and colds and the winter vomiting virus (awful – been there, done that!) seem to be rife. This got me to thinking beyond those particular maladies to home treatments generally. Some things that might be considered old wives tales do seem actually to work very well, and you don’t need to spend much money to get them. I have asked some of my blogger friends for the best budget home remedies and over the counter medications that they recommend.

Best budget home remedies

Neti pot

Possibly the least known of my list of the bet budget home remedies and medications, I learned about this one when I was training to be a yoga teacher. For colds and sinus problems I swear by my neti pot, used with  cooled boiling water and salt. A neti pot is a small jug used to wash out your nostrils. It may sound gross, but it is easy and effective. There are some instructions on this WikiHow post.

For over 10 years I have been using a simple plastic one like this one from Amazon. If I was buying again though I would get a ceramic one like this.budget home remedies


Money savers will already know about using bicarbonate of soda as a cheap cleaning ingredient. However, did you know that its antacid problems make it a good home remedy for cystitis? Many of the over the counter cystitis remedies are based on it anyway. Note – it’s not suitable for those who need a low sodium diet because of conditions such as high blood pressure.

Food grade bicarbonate of soda can be bought online in bulk packs quite cheaply, like the one here.

Coughs and colds

Fiona Elizabeth Hawkes from goes for old fashioned chicken soup.  “Chicken soup is scientifically proven to make you feel better when you have a cold. I always keep home made chicken stock in the freezer so I can easily make some when I’m feeling poorly. I usually add wok ready noodles, ginger and chilli for a super quick Asian style broth.

Hannah Tasker from knows how to relieve a bunged up nose: “Eucalyptus essential oil is brilliant for relieving congestion. Just put a few drops on a handkerchief or spare piece of cloth.” 

Jo and Leisa Creed from swear by a recipe called Nature’s Penicillin. ” This is basically honey, onion, whole citrus fruit, cayenne pepper and garlic all blended together and kept in the fridge in a jar. Take a tablespoon of it as soon as you feel like a cold coming on.”

Cas from Diary of a Frugal Family has a couple of great tips from her blog: “I make my own homemade version of Vicks vapour rub as well as lemon, honey and chamomile ice lollies for sore throats.” These look amazing!

Helen Nuttall from Budgeting is a Challenge goes for the traditional cold remedies: “Lemons sliced and placed in boiling water. Leave them to infuse for a couple of hours. Then pour when you need, heat up and stir in a generous amount of pure natural honey. Sorts out my colds and sore throats also and very cheap. I get sore throats a lot! Also, I often have a spoonful of honey if my throat is sore. It is naturally antibacterial and lubricates your throat for a couple of hours.”

Emma from the Money Whisperer swears by Vicks rubbed on the soles of your feet for coughs. “Works a treat for my kids!”

Helen Dewdney from the Complaining Cow  is positive that whisky (and alcohol generally) is good for colds. “If you are drinking wine anyway it will also help alleviate annoyances!”

Caster oil for detoxing and digestion

I had never heard of this tip, but it seems that castor oil is great for detoxification. Emma Maslin from The Money Whisperer says: “I buy castor oil in large bottles from Amazon and cut up old towels/muslins to make castor oil packs for when we’re feeling under the weather”. If you place the packs on your belly it is said to aid digestion and caster oil can also be taken orally for constipation.


I find peppermint or ginger tea perfect to help settle indigestion. Or Goren from swears by ginger for travel sickness too. He says, “Ginger works wonders against nausea and motion sickness. I buy sliced, sweetened pieces (preferably without sugar), or you can always slice the ginger yourself. We always make sure we have some with us when going on a long train ride, a flight, and even for indoor cycling sessions…”

Hannah Tasker from also rates ginger: “Ginger has anti- inflammatory properties, and can be added to honey and lemon to help relieve sore throats.”

Morgan Woods says, “I always keep fresh ginger in the freezer ready for a sore throat. It’ll be mixed with hot water, honey (or maple syrup) and lemon juice. This is also great for digestion issues and period pain. Super cheap to buy and keeping it in the freezer helps it last longer.”


Kaya La Roche from uses raw garlic for toothache.  She says, “I’ve had the kind of toothache that had me seriously considering pulling it myself at home, it was awful. Raw garlic held in the ‘bite’ and on the gum is the best pain relief. Eat some too if  you can stomach it. I found it on Google when desperate and couldn’t believe it worked!”

Oil of cloves was recommended when I had terrible toothache, but I have to say it didn’t work for me!

Dry skin

Lesley Negus from goes for glycerin as one of her fave budget home remedies:  “Put equal quantities of glycerin from the chemist and water, with a little squirt of perfume if you like, in a small vapouriser. Shake it all well and you have the best moisturiser ever. Not glamorous, but very very effective and extraordinarily cheap.”

Aches and pains

budget home remedies

Hot water by itself is good for arthritic pain, achy joints and period pain, but the addition of Epsom salt makes it even more effective. Epsom salt is one of the best traditional home remedies for aches and pains, arthritic joints, rashes and bruises. For more on the benefits of Epsom salt and why it works see here.

I dissolve a cupful or two into a really hot bath for aching joints, and I am finding this great for the trapped nerve in my neck that crops up every now and again. You can get Epsom salt with all kinds of fancy fragrances added, but the plain stuff works just as well and is cheap as chips, like this one on Amazon at £4.49 for a kilogram.

A hot water bottle is also a go to remedy for aches and pains. Every home should have a couple!

Foot fungus

Mr Shoestring’s mum was told by her GP that Vicks can counter fungus on feet and nails. I couldn’t believe this could work, but she swears that it does. This is a much cheaper remedy than many of the creams and potions sold specifically for the job. It needs to be applied every day and can take some months to work, but it is much gentler than some of the over the counter remedies for nail fungus.

Over the counter remedies

From the above, it seems every home should have a pot of Vicks vapour rub, but you can buy cheaper supermarket versions.  My blogger friends agree that avoiding brand names saves money when it comes to over the counter drugs.

Michelle Rice from Utterly Scrummy Food for Families says, “Buy generic versions of painkillers, decongestant tablets, etc. Most supermarkets sell painkillers from 40p a pack. Also, don’t get sachets of Lemsip. A lemon and honey drink combined with a paracetamol or two will do the same thing.”  You can find Michelle’s honey and lemon recipe here.

Sara Williams from Debt Camel agrees: “Supermarket painkillers are identical to branded ones at two or three times as much. Ibuprofen or paracetamol is exactly the same drug whether it is packaged as tackling headaches or backaches. So don’t be fooled, go for the cheapest generic drug you can find.”  I agree, and have found that pills for period pains contain the same as those for migraines, but for some reason are cheaper!

Ruth Hinds from Ruth Makes Money has another tip: “Check the PL numbers on medicine packaging. Often you’ll find the exact same medication for a much cheaper price, packaged by a different brand. A lady in the chemist told me this years ago and I’ve found it to be true lots of times! 

Jane Wallace from Skinted Minted Mum goes for other common over the counter remedies: “My mother always made us gargle with aspirin for a sore throat. Or with TCP for general illness prevention. I think the first one used to work, the second was a bit patchy!”

What are your favourite budget home remedies? Where do you find the cheapest over the counter medications? I would love to hear so let me know in the comments below.

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Eight easy ways to relieve stress

relieve stress

We all suffer from stress from time to time. For most of us life is very busy. At other times a particular circumstance or life event causes a lot of tension and anxiety. None of us is immune to it, so what are the best ways to relieve stress?

As a trained yoga teacher and confirmed stress head, this is a subject I have given a lot of thought to. If I allow tension to build up I suffer sleeplessness, headaches, a lack of concentration and I feel generally anxious and miserable. So, no different to anyone else then!

Spotting the signs

In my experience, recognising the early signs that you are suffering from stress is important. When I feel I am running around like a lunatic just to stay in the same place, reaching for one too many glasses of wine at the end of a busy day and comfort eating bags of crisps I know it is time to consciously relax.

Stress can create real physical symptoms that can be quite distressing. For example, you can experience chest pain, insomnia, palpitations, stomach aches and indigestion, dizziness and forgetfulness.

Key techniques to relieve stress

Here are some key techniques I use to relieve stress that really work.

Just breathe

A sign of anxiety can be shallow, rapid breathing. For some people, this can work itself into a full blown panic attack.

A simple way to calm your mind and your body is to take some slow, deep breaths. If you can sit somewhere quiet and close your eyes it helps, but you can practice this technique sitting on a noisy bus if you have to. Count your breath in as one, your breath out as two, the next breath in as three, all the way up to ten. Then repeat at least three or four times. You can follow the breath in this way for several minutes as a form of meditation.


Talking of which, a regular meditation practice isn’t as hard as it sounds. When you are stressed, it can feel really hard to stop your mind whizzing. If you are starting out, I recommend using an app – I have a post on this here. Meditation can reduce agitation and increase your concentration levels too.  You can find a full list of the benefits of meditation here.

Move to relieve stress

The benefits of exercise, whatever you choose to do, aren’t exaggerated. Movement and exercise is fantastic for stress relief. When you exercise, you release endorphins into your system. These relieve pain, create a sense of calm and lift your mood. Endorphins aren’t known as feel good hormones for nothing.

Exercise also relieves muscular tension and eases joint pain. I like a nice, brisk walk or a good yoga session. Mr S enjoys a cycle. I am not a runner, but I am told the endorphins released by a run create a natural high – maybe I should take it up!

Get outdoors

Fresh air and daylight (especially in the winter months) are really beneficial to your mental health. A walk round the block or, even better, in the woods or by the coast is a brilliant stress buster. Gardening or getting out into nature can massively relieve stress and lift your spirits.

Because I am pretty much office bound during the week, I make a point of parking 10 minutes away from the office and having a brisk walk in. I can’t tell you how much better I feel when I do this. It can feel like an effort to walk somewhere rather than driving, but you will reap the benefits of being outdoors.

Write a list

The act of writing down all the things you have to do, or even the things that are bothering you, can make you feel more organised and in control. I totally believe in the power of writing a list, and usually have several on the go!

Practice positive thinking

We all know somebody who appears to be a ‘glass half full’ person. They tend to see obstacles in every situation rather than opportunities. But it is possible to change the way you think and cultivate a more positive way of thinking that will help you to cope with the situations that might bring you stress.

I have been reading a lot about Wayne Dyer recently, and listening to him on You Tube. He said, ‘If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’  He suggested saying and writing positive affirmations such as:

I know I am not alone.

I have faith that all is for good.

I give no energy to the negative because I know all is in divine order.

Whatever makes you stressed and unhappy, write a positive affirmation and try saying it every night before you sleep. Write it on a post it and stick it on the fridge or the mirror!

release stress


If you are feeling stressed or anxious, a problem shared is a problem halved, as the old saying goes. Arrange to meet up with friends, suggest a drink with colleagues, give a family member a phone call. Even if you don’t talk about how you feel, connecting with others can distract you from your own issues.


Laughter really is the best medicine. In fact there is some research showing that laughter boosts the immune system as well as reducing stress. But you might not feel like laughing if you are suffering from stress. Do as Norman Cousins did and laugh yourself well with a funny book, TV programme or film.

If you have ever had a good belly laugh or laughed so much tears ran down your cheeks, you will know how much tension it can release!

What are your most effective ways to relieve stress?

Eco-friendly beauty on a budget

Eco-Friendly Beauty

I won’t lie – I’m a low budget kind of girl when it comes to beauty and personal care. This doesn’t mean I don’t like to look and feel nice; I just don’t have a fortune to spend. However, I am also becoming more aware of all the chemicals we put into and on our bodies. How do they affect our health and are there any negative impacts on the environment around us? It isn’t purely money that affects my choice of products nowadays, and I am on the look out for eco-friendly beauty products. They need to be full of natural loveliness, not tested on animals, not over-packaged and easy on my purse!

I put out a plea to some PR companies for some natural products to review, so some of the below are gifted. Some are products that I already use and purchase regularly. I hope they will give you some ideas of how you can increase the number of eco-friendly, more natural items in your bathroom.

Shampoo bars

Eco-Friendly Beauty

I have been using these on and off for years. My favourite so far is the Godiva bar from Lush. Lush says, ‘It’s stuffed with butters and oils to condition, moisturise and soften the hair: cocoa butter, cupuaçu butter, shea butter, camellia oil, organic macadamia nut oil and extra virgin coconut oil.’ It certainly smells nice and doesn’t make my hair feel greasy and full of products after a day, as many cheap shampoos do. However, it does still contain sodium laurel sulphate, which I know some people are keen to avoid.

Another advantage of shampoo bars is that you don’t have a plastic bottle to dispose of. I am determined to reduce the amount of plastic that we all bring into the house.

At £7.50 for a 55g bar, you might think this more expensive than other shampoos. However, I have found these bars last for ages. Try not to let them sit in water though. They are good for travelling too – Lush sell a little metal tin for the purpose.

Eco-friendly beauty products for your face

Eco-Friendly Beauty

I was gifted some lovely items from the Ayurvedic brand, Urban Veda, which harnesses ‘the holistic and therapeutic properties of plants’.  All of their packaging is recyclable and their bottles are made out of post-consumer recycled plastic. The brand prides itself on its sourcing provenance and all of their cartons are Forest Sustainability Certified.

I have been using a couple of them most days. I get a lot of dry, flaky skin around my nose, especially when I have hay fever. This is where a good face scrub comes in handy. Urban Veda’s soothing exfoliating facial polish is lovely. Very gentle on the skin whilst doing a good job of getting rid of any dead skin, and you can smell all the plant oils as you use it. Thumbs up for this one. It is currently priced at £10.90 for a 125ml tube on Amazon.

Another Urban Veda product that I love is the Urban Veda Reviving Day Cream. At £18.99 it is loads more than I usually spend. However, it is a quality product and once again smells divine. I am using it sparingly to make it last longer. This is one for the Christmas present list, Mr Shoestring!

A slightly more budget friendly moisturiser that I have used in the past is the Jason Natural Cosmetics Organic Aloe Vera Cream. All of the Jason products I have tried have been very good and they are a great price considering they use a lot of organic ingredients.

Organic cleansing

Whilst doing research for this and my recent post Can you do eco-friendly cleaning on a budget?  I discovered a company called Beauty Naturals. They sell an amazing range of cruelty free, natural skin care at extremely good prices.

One of their own brands is Skin Revivals. I was gifted their organic facial cleansing oil for review. Initially, I was sceptical as I had never used a cleansing oil.  I thought it would leave my skin feeling greasy. However, I was totally wrong and I am a facial oil convert! This cleansing oil contains organically certified ingredients including rosehip and avocado. It is very effective, you only need to use a tiny amount and it leaves your skin feeling very soft. It is usually £12 for 100ml but is currently on offer for £8.

An eco-friendly beauty brand that I find very budget friendly is Lavera. Their 2 in 1 Cleansing Milk contains organic oils and is vegan as well as 100% silicone free, paraffin free and mineral oil free. This cleaning milk is £6.99 for 125ml.

Super frugal from the larder

Eco-Friendly Beauty

In the mornings I don’t bother with a proper cleanser. I usually use cheap as chips rose water on a cotton wool pad. This one came from the Asda food aisle and cost just £1.14. It is a good skin tonic for after your cleanser too. Not much plastic packaging, apart from the lid, as it comes in a glass bottle.

Another food grade product that I use as an all round moisturiser or bath oil if my skin is really dry is almond oil. Again, it comes in a glass bottle and costs just two or three pounds from food stores. This with a few drops of lavender essential oil in the bath feels quite luxurious but costs hardly anything.

Eco-Friendly BeautyI was gifted some Olverum bath oil, Winner of Tater Beauty Awards 2018  Best Bath Oil. Now, this is a beautiful product that really is luxurious.  You can smell the natural essential oils before you even open the bottle (which is glass). My daughter likes a bath rather than a shower and she totally loved this. You only need a few drops to soften the water and make it smell gorgeous.

However, this is not a budget product and most definitely a treat! It is priced at £32.00 for 125mls.

Make up

It is hard to source natural cosmetics in the shops locally, but I have discovered some good ones online. Thank heavens for the internet.

Lavera makeup is 100% gluten free, cruelty free, and all natural. They produce some nice mineral eyeshadow, for example. They also do a 100% natural lipstick range. I am going to be trying some of these. They aren’t expensive at all.

So Eco are a vegan and sustainable makeup tool brand using 100% ethically sourced materials. I was sent some of their brushes to try, including a stippling brush and a couple of eye brushes. They have wooden handles and natural bristles, which are very soft and good for sensitive skin such as mine. I have been using them for over a month with no signs of wear.

My daughter found the eye brushes a bit too soft for blending, but she is a bit of a cosmetics queen and likes precision. I found that the stippling brush was perfect but used it for powder rather than foundation. I like their ethos and was very pleased to find the packaging 100% recyclable – a rare quality, even for natural beauty brands.

They aren’t particularly expensive and are competitively priced. You can purchase them individually, but Amazon has the So Eco Face Brush Set for £15, which seems reasonable.

In truth, you are always going to have to pay more for eco-friendly beauty products. Organic and sustainably-sourced ingredients cost more money. However, there are some budget friendly options if you do your research.

The curse of the plastic container

One thing I am still dissatisfied about is the amount of plastic packaging being used in most beauty products, even those aiming for natural products made from organic and low chemical ingredients. It seems that at the moment there is an element of compromise to be made. Sure, much of the plastic is recyclable, but many companies seem to be quietly ignoring this part of the issue. I think this is because other biodegradable types of packaging aren’t suitable for liquids. The are some alternatives being developed but they cost more. Glass is heavy so costs more to transport, as well as being easier to break of course. I would love to see some progress on this.

Do you have eco-friendly beauty brands that you prefer to use? Do you make your own? If so, please share your tips in the comments below.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission in some cases. Thanks.

Meditation apps – can they really help you stress less?

meditation apps

Do you suffer from stress, anxiety or insomnia? We all do from time to time, but for some of us a constantly busy or stressful lifestyle can make it hard to relax. Practically everybody I know seems to struggle with handling stress from time to time. With this in mind, I have been looking at meditation apps to see if a regular meditation or mindfulness routine can help create a sense of calm.

As a yoga teacher, I am not new to meditation and I understand its benefits. However, although I do a regular physical practice, which has a calming effect on me both physically and mentally,  I am not great at making time for pure meditation. I often don’t sleep well, so I decided a few months ago to make this a priority and try to get into a mindfulness routine.

My first meditation app: Calm

There are many meditation apps advertised on social media, so I thought they seemed to be worth exploring. Maybe one of these could help me get into a routine?

I decided to try Calm, as it was free. I started with the 7 days of meditation and it was great. I even used it in the middle of the night if I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep immediately. I liked the voice of the guide, Tamara Levitt, and found the meditation, based on watching the breath, really easy.

I wanted to move onto explore the sleep stories. Most of them were only available if you subscribed for the year, but a couple were free. These were even better at helping me conquer my insomnia.  One of the free stories was narrated by Stephen Fry.  I love him and would never have thought he would send me to sleep. However, his soothing tones telling me about the lavender fields of Provence did just that.

I have been so impressed by how effective Calm is that I have now subscribed for the year at a cost of £37. It is money well spent in my view. Calm has been amazing at enabling me to lower my stress levels and really helped me to manage my insomnia.

I can now access a whole host of meditations and lots of sleep stories (although I have yet to hear the end of any of them, which proves that they work!). Calm also has a range of soothing music to help you towards relaxation, which I have used less but will explore at some point.

Other meditation apps and recommendations

I have been asking on social media about meditation apps to find out what other people are finding works for them. There are so many – I was amazed!


Or Goren from Cord Busters has found Headspace really useful. ‘I’ve been using Headspace for about a year and it’s wonderful. For years I was very sceptical of meditation and mindfulness, but surprisingly (for me) it really does help. Besides the long “packs” that focus on a specific topic, Headspace also helps me during stressful moments, such as on my commute, or waking up with worries in the middle of the night.

‘When I got stuck on a train for 30 minutes one day and claustrophobia started creeping in, the first thing I did was load up the “Panic” recording. While it doesn’t do any miracles, it really did help keep things in check.’

Michelle Rice, who blogs at Utterly Scrummy Food for Families, says that Headspace has been great for her children. She says, ‘My teen has used Headspace for insomnia and anxiety, and it helped for my tween too. They just used the ten free sessions. It is helping with exam stress at the moment.’

Nikki Ramskill from The Female Money Doctor also rates Headspace: ‘I love Headspace- there are a huge amount of guided meditation options and sleeping is one of them. I’ve used it for anxiety and self-esteem. It takes work and effort, and ideally daily practice, but I certainly think it is useful. I’ve recommended it to my patients with mild problems that they can work on at home. You get the first 10 days free to see if you like his style, then it’s a monthly or yearly fee.’

Headspace wasn’t  everyone’s favourite. Sam Jefferies from the Money Nest  says, ‘Not a fan of the voice on Headspace so had to look for alternatives! I now use Calm.


Cass from Diary of a Frugal Family prefers Insight Timer. ‘It is a similar thing but has more free sessions and lets you select how long you have and what you want to focus on. I don’t pay for it but I might if I used it more as it really does help clear your mind. We should all look after ourselves a bit more in this way.’

Ruth from Ruth Makes Money has found that music helps her to sleep: ‘ I’m using BrainFM at the moment. You can select tracks of music depending on how you want to feel and what you want to do (focus, sleep, relax, etc). I’m really loving the sleep one, and have found that I’m dropping off to sleep much quicker than I usually would. I’m still on the free trial, but thinking about upgrading! You can’t put a price on a good night of sleep really, can you?’

Donna from Savvy Mum UK says ‘I don’t use any meditation apps but I have subscribed to Michael Sealey on You Tube. He has some amazing meditation videos for lots of different scenarios. I find that If I am suffering from insomnia I will pop him on and listen. He tells me how to relax from head to two and once I’ve done that I’m asleep within minutes. What I have now started to do is try and remember those techniques for when the opportunity doesn’t allow me to listen to him. His channel is here.

Kaya La Roche from Earning By the Sea agrees: ‘I don’t use apps any more, but if you want an alternative I use You Tube meditations daily and they are free. I like that I can read the comments on videos from other users and find a different meditations depending on my intention.’

Cat Plummer from Penny Wise Life Rich had this to say: ‘I have used Headspace and it is really good. You can get the first 10 days for free.’ Like Cass, she rates Insight Timer: ‘ I use a free app called Insight and I love it. It has really helped me with anxiety and stress as well as insomnia when I was struggling recently. The Insight app has thousands of guided meditations for specific things as well as being able to just set your own timer. Regular practice definitely reaps rewards.’

Emma from TuppennysFIREplace thinks you shouldn’t need to pay: ‘I downloaded audiojoy – 1000 Guided Meditations – as it was free and had some of the best reviews. I like that there are different voices, different length of meditations from 2 – 20 minutes, including some without voice. They definitely help me to relax enough to sleep. I’m not sure I would pay for an app given there is so much available for free!’

Apps to help your mental health

Although it’s not a meditation app as such, Emma Drew has found a useful app for panic attacks: ‘I use Beat Panic when I feel a panic attack coming on. It cost 99p from the App Store and it really helps. Whilst it is running I can’t see the time, see notifications or anything like that. I HAVE to focus on the app and the prompts, which helps me so much.
I can’t bring myself to pay the fee for Calm to help me sleep, so I’ve downloaded a rain sound app called Rain, Rain for free. It has plenty of sounds to choose from.’

Sara Williams from Debt Camel had this to say: ‘This isn’t a meditation app but for some people it could be a useful alternative. A friend told me she was finding it very good.
“Anyone with anxiety/depression might like to try the Woebot app – it’s free. You chat with the bot whenever you want about what’s bothering you. This can be late in the evening or in the middle of the night, times you can’t talk to a therapist and don’t want to bother your partner/friends.”  I love this one! What a great idea.

If you don’t fancy any of these digital options for relaxation, Lynn James from Mrs MummyPenny offers this idea: ‘Not an app, but I have a beautiful chunk of amethyst that sits on the shelf right next to my head, and I have been sleeping wonderfully since getting it. You have to go to a shop and choose the piece that draws you.’

I hope this round up of meditation apps and other resources will help you if you suffer from stress and anxiety. Is there anything that you would recommend?

For more ideas on self care on a budget, take a look at this post from Wanna be Debt Free.

Cheap ways to get healthy in the New Year

The Christmas treats may be mostly eaten, but too many Proseccos and Quality Streets may have taken their toll on your waistline. Your wallet is likely to be feeling fairly flat though, even if your belly isn’t. Here are some ideas for cheap ways to get healthy this new year.

Everybody knows that exercise makes you feel loads better. We all understand the benefits of a good diet as well. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to get started. The new year is the perfect time to find your motivation!

Write down your goals

If you want to stick to your new year’s goals it can be helpful to write them down. Put them where you can see them. By the kettle or on the fridge door are good spots.


This is my favourite way to keep fit. I love to get outside in the fresh air, whatever the weather. Apart from a comfy pair of  shoes and a warm jacket, walking is free. If you choose a good route it can be interesting too.

We started the new year with a 6.5 mile hike yesterday. Our aim is to take a walk of at least 5 miles each weekend.

I wish I was close enough to the office to walk there and back each day. I aim to do a brisk mile at least three times a week over lunchtime. If you can build walking into your day it won’t even feel like exercise.

We use Map My Walk to record our mileage. It’s a great free little app if your budget isn’t up to a Fitbit or similar.


I am not a runner. I have dodgy knees! Otherwise I would be very tempted by the NHS’s Couch to 5K, a nine-week running plan for beginners. There is so much great information on this site to help you get fit for the price of a decent pair of running shoes.

You Tube

Whatever form of exercise you want to try, there will be a You Tube channel with some bouncy young thing showing you the way. From yoga (my exercise of choice) to aerobics, from pilates to boxercise, it is  more than possible to do a full work out from the comfort of your own home. I found this article, which gives suggestions of some of the best You Tube workout channels.

Eat less sugar

There is much evidence to prove that high levels of sugar are bad for your health. From John Yudkin’s classic book Pure, White and Deadly: How Sugar Is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It* to a recent NHS report suggesting we should all halve our sugar intake, there is good reason to at least cut back.

Last March I went sugar free for a month. I felt very much better. The biggest surprise was the improvement in my IBS symptoms. However, I have gradually allowed my sugar consumption to rise, especially over Christmas. I don’t intend to go completely sugar free, but I am going to reduce the amount I eat dramatically.

If you want a bit more inspiration, a few years ago Zoe over at Eco Thrifty Living lost 16 lbs giving up sugar.

Eat your five a day

I know some people think it is too hard to get their five a day on a budget. I don’t believe this to be true and blogged about it here. Meat is expensive! An apple is cheaper than a chocolate bar, and frozen fruit and vegetables are excellent value.

I find it easy to get my five a day because I incorporate fruit and vegetables into my meal plans. It is easier still since I decided to become vegetarian. I always take a couple of pieces of fruit to work and often a home made vegetable soup, so that’s three portions with very little effort. I dollop a bit of stewed apple or a chopped banana on my morning porridge then have some veg or a salad with dinner.

Get more sleep

This is something I struggle with. As a long term insomniac sleep sometimes eludes me. I make the situation worse by crashing on the sofa when I am tired in the evenings. Annoyingly, I often spring into life when I go up to my bed!

My New Year’s resolution is definitely to tackle my insomnia. Sleep hygiene is key. Not eating late at night, turning off my phone and PC a good half hour before I go to bed, getting more exercise and avoiding stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine can help with good sleep.

If you sleep well, you function better in the day – it’s common sense to try to get your 7-8 hours a night.


A regular meditation practice has many benefits. It helps with anxiety and depression, can improve sleep and gives you a more positive outlook on life. There has even been some research done suggesting it can lower blood pressure.

I have times when I practice meditation most days and then I don’t do it for weeks. I know I feel better with a 10 minute meditation at the end of my yoga practice.

A really great little free app I have found is Calm. The reason I like this so much is that a soothing voice takes you through short or longer relaxation sessions. All you have to do is find a little time and a quiet place to sit.

The app offers 7 days of calm, 7 days of sleep, 7 days of gratitude, etc. I can’t recommend this enough.

Drink more water

We are always being told to drink more water, but how many of us actually do this? If I allow myself to get dehydrated I get tired, grumpy and my head starts to throb. I keep a big glass bottle of the stuff on my desk at work and make sure I drink throughout the day.

It is claimed that drinking lots of water helps keep your skin clear, prevents constipation and makes you feel fuller – great if you are trying to lose weight. If you want a boost, drink plenty of water. It is free from the tap, although I tend to filter it.

Give up smoking

I hate to preach so I will keep this brief. Smoking is literally burning money and makes your body more susceptible to many cancers and diseases. If you want to give up, the NHS has some good advice here.

What are your cheap ways to get healthy?

So these are my cheap ways to get healthy in the new year. What are your tips for getting fit on a budget? I would love to hear them so please add a comment.

*This is my affiliate link.


Aiming for frugal health and fitness

I have felt my fitness levels falling over the past few years. With a busy life and a desk bound job it is sometimes hard to find the motivation and energy for a lot of exercise. I do practise yoga but I could do with exercising a lot more.

A new leaf

So today I have turned over a new leaf and am resolved to get fit again! I don’t want to spend money on a gym membership at the moment so it will be DIY exercise and frugal health and fitness at Shoestring Cottage.

Running is no good for me (got dodgy knees) so I have decided to do workouts at home. I started with this one in Women’s Health. The press ups nearly killed me so I clearly have some work to do. I also used the weights I bought in Aldi in the new year to tone my arms.

Some yoga stretches topped it off and I felt great after. I am going to repeat this workout three or four times a week.

I went for a 20 minute brisk walk at lunchtime and will repeat this three times a week as well.

Healthy eating

In addition I am cutting the carbs and eating really healthily. Today I ate porridge with fruit for breakfast, an egg salad with vegetable soup for lunch and fish with a vegetable stir fry for dinner. I am eating whatever I like as long as it is healthy. I have also snacked on nuts, yogurt and fruit. None of these foods are very expensive and easily fit into my frugal health and fitness regime.

I have found some inspiration on Instagram from @healthybyfifty (pictured). She is a 47 year old super fit wonder woman. The workouts she does would finish me off I think! Still, if she can do what she does I am sure I can go a long way to improving my fitness. Perhaps I will aim to do this in a slightly less dramatic way.

One of the things I like about her is that she exercises in her back yard with minimal equipment, rather than a fancy gym. She wasn’t overweight to begin with. However, you can see the cellulite has melted away and her muscle definition has improved hugely. I will probably never be so determined  to be super fit as she is, but I will keep an eye on her anyway when I need some motivation.

What do you do to stay fit and healthy? Can you get fit without spending a fortune and what are your tips for frugal health and fitness?

Home spa! Giving myself a treat 

I had a late night yesterday as my friends were round for dinner, followed by an early start with my daughters at a boot sale, so I am a bit knackered! I thought I would give myself a cheap treat, so I have nicked some of my daughter’s posh products and some of my own for a lovely home spa.

home spa

I started with a deep bubble bath and washed my hair, then put on a hair mask – I used an organic avocado and honey one, which was lovely and not at all expensive.  Next I applied a snail face mask – sounds gross but was actually quite nice! I used some of the gorgeous Body Shop shea butter body scrub I had for Christmas. It leaves your skin so soft. I had a good soak then rinsed it all off and applied somebody Body Shop shea body butter. Bliss!

Paying attention to my feet

Then I used my Ped Egg on my feet to get rid of all the  hard skin and some nice foot lotion, did my nails and I am currently chilling with a nice glass of white wine.

You need a treat every now and then, but it doesn’t need to cost much to have a nice home spa.

I bought more bargains at the boot sale to list tomorrow. It was a bit grey and I thought it might rain but it held off. The girls all bought loads of clothes but none of them spent more than a tenner. I love a boot sale! I am going to have a lie in tomorrow though!

What cheap treats do you enjoy?

Sugar free Easter

Well, why not go sugar free when there is so much sugary chocolate about?

I recently blogged about how I had a sugar free March. I didn’t find it difficult generally and lost a couple of pounds, even though I ate as much of everything else as I wanted. Mr S didn’t do it as strictly as me but he also felt a lot healthier.

Less bloat

I noticed that my IBS symptoms improved massively, which was a big surprise. There are a lot of foods that I now avoid (cabbage, onions, milk products unless they are Lactofree, cauliflower and highly spiced food are some), but I had never considered that sugar might irritate my sensitive gut.

I have allowed myself some sweet stuff again in the past couple of weeks – mainly chocolate, which I love – and have had an upset tummy most days. It’s hard to avoid the realisation that these two things are inextricably linked!

We ate half a Lindt Easter bunny between us last night and I feel awful today, so I am going to cut sugar right out of my diet starting now.

Researching sugar free living

I now realise there is a whole area of research around sugar, candida and yeast infections which I intend to research. Perhaps that is the root cause of my IBS?

Speaking to a colleague today, he has also given up sugar. He was advised to start to exercise and eat healthily as he was diagnosed with diabetes. A couple of months in, his blood sugar is normal, he no longer has diabetes and he has lost a stone! Living proof that a high sugar intake and a poor diet have massive health implications.

sugar freeSugar sneaks into many foods, even savoury. I bought some cup-a-soups on a whim recently as I had run out of home made for work. They are full of rubbish (plus they taste horrible). Sugar is the third ingredient! Whatever possessed me I don’t know but I won’t be buying them again. I will try to avoid refined sugar wherever possible.

I have told everyone that I don’t want any more chocolate over Easter. We will have a fruit salad for dessert on Easter Sunday.

Has anyone else gone sugar free? How have you found it?

Going sugar free: giving up the drug…

Sugar really is a drug, so going sugar free is a challenge! It being Shrove Tuesday, we had our pancakes with lashings of lemon, sugar and Nutella last night.

But today is the day – I’m going sugar free for a month. I am a bit nervous as I think I am going to find it really hard! I rely too much on a mid afternoon  biscuit or a bar of chocolate when I need a boost.

going sugar freeSavoury alternatives

I popped to the supermarket and bought some savoury bits and bobs to take to work: poppy seed crackers, breadsticks, cheesy oatcakes, hummus and soft cheese. I am terrible for snacks so  I need to be prepared. Hopefully I will lose a bit of weight but not if I snack too hard on the savoury stuff. I will have fruit and vegetable sticks too. Honestly. Talk about first world problems!

Some swine has been at my bank account. They got hold of my bank details somehow and went on a spree at Boohoo. Fortunately the bank spotted that this is not normal for me and stopped the card quickly, but it’s annoying as I now have to go to the bank in person when I need cash. I got some cash out at the weekend just before my card was blocked but not enough. Let’s hope the new card arrives soon. In the meantime this will focus my attention and keep my spending to a minimum. I have had two no spend months, so will carry on as before!

I hope whoever cloned my card enjoys their new clothes. Hopefully everything will be just a little too tight or very itchy 😀. Have a good day!

More DIY hair cutting

DIY hair cuttingMy daughter watched my recent efforts at DIY hair cutting with horror. She was sure it would all go horribly wrong! When it didn’t she agreed to let me cut hers. She has the most beautiful hair in generally excellent condition, but it had a few split ends and was so long it was getting in her way.

DIY hair cuttingWe watched a couple of You Tube videos where long hair was pulled into a very tight pony tail at the front of the head, and a lump was taken off which created layers. There are a lot of folk practising DIY hair cutting it seems.

DIY hair cutting

We decided to be quite cautious and only took 3 inches off this time. It is still very long but looks a bit neater. We will take more off next time but first I will purchase a better pair of hairdressing scissors. The ones I have were sharp enough for my hair but not sharp enough for her very thick locks. I have quite a lot of points on my Boots card so I am hoping this will cover it! More DIY hair cutting may follow!

DIY hair cuttingA  kitchen let down

I don’t know when we all stopped eating bananas, but I had a pile of black ones this week to use up plus some I had put in the freezer. A recipe from Nigella Lawson’s  How to be Domestic  Goddess for banana muffins looked promising. However, I wish I had stuck to the usual recipe I use as these were just weird: chewy and bland. The recipe uses no eggs or sugar, although it does include honey. They are ok if you cut them open and smear a bit of jam on, but not my favourite! Disappointed, Nigella!

Happy Sunday everyone! Anyone else done any DIY hair cutting?

Frugal beauty products that last and last…

Frugal beautyLast April I blogged about buying a solid deodorant bar from Lush. Ten months on, it is still going strong! I have occasionally used a roll on deodorant on hot, sticky days but other than that I have used the Lush one. Not bad for a £5.50 investment. I will definitely be purchasing another one of these when it eventually runs out. As well as being a frugal beauty product it has less plastic packaging.

It made me think about other health and beauty products that seem to last forever. One I tried and really wanted to get on with (but didn’t) was a Mooncup. I love the idea that these produce no waste and, after the initial investment, cost nothing. However, I didn’t find it comfortable to wear. I also tried washable sanitary pads and these lasted quite a long time, but were awkward when I was out and about so I eventually gave up on those.

Making hairdryers last

I make my hairdryers last for years – in the past I have gone through them in under 12 months. Now I make sure I buy one with a two year guarantee and never use it on full power, as this is what makes them blow. My current one is four years old but I hope it will keep going for a while yet. I do blow dry my hair every couple of days so work it quite hard.

I have had the same plastic hairbrush for ever – easily 15 years I should think. I remember brushing my daughters’ hair with it when they were younger. It’s practically a family heirloom!

I make other things last too. I have been known to water down shampoo, shower gel and conditioner, I squeeze the last drop of toothpaste out of the tube by snipping the top off and the same with foundation. I found that putting a little baby oil on the mascara wand as it neared the end made it last ages longer.

Do you have any frugal beauty products that are reusable or that just seem to last and last? Do you dilute products to extend their use?

Cutting my own hair

I am getting so into this no spending lark I couldn’t quite face booking myself in for a £30 cut and blow dry. I haven’t even been that happy with my last couple of haircuts. But my locks were looking a little lank and frizzy so I thought I might have a go at cutting my own hair.

After all, I have witnessed many haircuts over the years. I have watched how my layers have been cut by pulling sections of hair up and cutting them straight across. I always cut my own fringe as hairdressers tend to take it too short.  How hard could it be?

cutting my own hairCutting my own hair using You Tube

I had a look at some of the many tutorials on You Tube and decided cutting my own hair wouldn’t be that hard. There are many videos showing  long hair being dragged into a high pony tail and cut, creating a few shorter layers.

Mine isn’t that long so is perhaps a little more complicated. I decided to divide it into four sections with a fifth section at the top of my head where the shortest layers are. I pulled this section up towards the ceiling and cut an inch off. I took the side sections and pulled them horizontal and took an inch off those too, then pulled the back sections out and up on the diagonal and snipped those. 

cutting my own hairI was cautious as it was the first time I had attempted to be my own hairdresser but it seems to have turned out OK so I will take a bit more off next time 😄. At least the dry ends are off!

Anyone else cutting your own hair?

We got our new (to us) freebie sofa yesterday. It needs a throw but is really comfortable. I also got a call back from the British Heart Foundation to say they can collect my old one after all on Wednesday. Until then our sitting room looks a bit like a furniture shop but we will cope!

How about you? Any good freebies? Have a good Sunday everyone.

Reducing plastic waste and saving money on toiletries

reducing plastic waste

Almond oil makes a good cleanser and moisturiser

A while ago I blogged about trying to reduce plastic waste.. I knew that this could save me money too, and it has! I focused on my toiletries and stopped buying handwash and shower gel, instead reverting to good old fashioned bars of soap.

Reducing plastic waste with shampoo bars

I began buying solid shampoo bars from Lush. These aren’t that cheap to buy at around £6.50 a bar, but they do last a long time. I am on my second bar since April and think it will last me another couple of months. I like them! I did try a solid conditioner bar but this was not a success. It didn’t feel like it was doing anything. They are a good way of reducing plastic waste as they come packaged just in paper.

I also tried almond oil purchased in a glass bottle but it made my hair rather lank. I am back to cheap conditioner in plastic bottles and still looking for a decent alternative that isn’t expensive. I know you can use vinegar to get a good shine but my hair is dry so I need a bit of moisture.

reducing plastic waste

The solid deodorant has so far lasted 3 months

Almond oil

The almond oil has proved a decent cleanser and I also use it as a body lotion. Mine cost £2.50 for 250ml from a shop in Hackney.

My solid deodorant, again from Lush, has been a huge success and looks as if it will last at least 6 months. It really works and I use it on my feet too so no more expensive aerosol sprays. Mine is based on bicarbonate of soda but they have others. I’m not sure they would work as well.

I have explored other items sold in glass or metal containers which look nice but are far too expensive for me. They tend to be hand made or luxury items. What a shame the mass producers don’t think about their environmental footprint when producing and packaging their goods.

Any more ideas?

Come on ladies, don’t be fooled by that pseudo science!

pseudo scienceThe skincare and cosmetics business is a racket! Wild claims of eternal youth using pseudo science to back them up means companies can charge a lot for a pot of cream. On the very rare occasions that I venture into a department store I am always stunned by the cost of products on sale. £45 for tiny tub of miracle moisturiser? I could feed myself for a week for that.

I don’t buy them anymore, but I know the pages of the high end glossy women’s magazines are full of impossibly beautiful, photo-shopped models and celebrities selling products claiming to reduce wrinkles, to revitalise your skin, to ‘replenish, hydrate and protect’, to ‘firm and lift’. One product I found claims to renew cells overnight; I’m sure that happens anyway!

A pseudo science racket

My daughter worked as an assistant in the beauty department of a national newspaper as a student. They were sent hundreds of such products to review and she brought me some to try a couple of times. One was an anti-aging serum which retailed at, wait for it, £120!!! I used it a couple of times but i didn’t rate it. I truly prefer my £1.99 Aldi face cream. Another freebie was a ‘natural’ moisturiser which was so highly perfumed I could only stand using it as a hand cream. This one would have cost £48 to buy.

I wonder if the pseudo science claims of the companies producing these items have ever been scientifically tested? I doubt it.

I do think it is a good idea to use some form of moisturiser and also sun protection. But you can purchase these things for less than a fiver. I have been using my Aldi creams for about five years now and I swear I don’t look a day over 25 😉. Don’t waste your money on moisturisers backed by pseudoscience.

There are lots of ways to be beautiful on a budget. So ignore those fancy ads and take a holiday with what you save!

Losing weight, not money!

I mentioned a month or so ago that I had joined a slimming club with a few work colleagues. We have a weekly weigh in, pay a pound a week and the person who has lost the most at the end of the month wins the pot. It has proved a good incentive for losing weight.

I have found it easy to lose weight steadily without spending lots of money on organised slimming clubs, special diet foods or an expensive gym membership. I have lost 8lb  and I can really feel the difference in how my clothes fit.

I am planning another 4lb and then I will be on target. Any more and my mum will start telling me I am too thin and trying to feed me up!!

losing weight  I haven’t followed a particular diet or felt deprived in anyway. I have simply stopped snacking during the day and now just eat fruit, I have reduced my portion sizes and avoided anything fatty or heavy and given up sugar and chocolate. I have allowed myself the odd glass of white wine in the evening plus maybe a Ryvita with low fat cheese or a bag of Aldi French fries, which are only 65 calories. This way I have lost 1 or 2lbs each week with no pain. I guess if I was very heavy I would be more stringent, but I only need to lose 10-12 lbs. I would like to get just under 10 stone, which is fine for my height and build.
  I have increased my exercise with a short walk most lunchtimes and a long one with Mr Shoestring at the weekend. I am also doing my usual yoga practice but trying to make time to do this more often. I feel better all round when I do.

Yesterday we had an epic walk – longer than intended! We thought we would try the Flitch Way near Braintree, a long straight walk along a disused railway track – all the way to Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire if you do the whole thing, which would be a 30 mile trip there and back. We decided to walk about 3 miles and find a pub for lunch, a nice manageable 6 mile trek. However, a lack of preparation meant that we failed to find a pub at all – at 4 and a half miles we discovered we would need to walk another 2 to get to one in Felstead, so we turned round and headed back to Braintree.

 We stopped at the little café in Rayne and called a few places nearby to check they were still serving food but they weren’t. At this point we gave up and stayed at the café for tea and sandwiches! It was 2.30 by this time and we were starving, so they went down a treat.

By the time we reached the car park at Braintree station we had walked over 9 miles! We had also burnt about 800 calories each so I was happy. Got blisters though!

Home made cosmetics from the larder

Can you use simple, home made cosmetics to save money? Or use items that you keep in the larder? A recent blog post about budget beauty led to a suggestion from Lizziedolittle that almond oil made a great cheap cleanser and moisturiser. On investigation it appears this is true. You can spend quite a bit on it if you buy almond oil packaged for this purpose, or you can get a small bottle for cooking much more cheaply and splash that on instead – it is just a couple of pounds in Sainsbury’s. If it’s good enough for eating then it’s good enough to use on your face, surely?

 home made cosmeticsPerusing the larder for home made cosmetics

It got me thinking about what other cosmetics you can make cheaply at home rather than splashing the cash in the shops and I have come up with the following. I haven’t tried them all, so it would be great to hear if you use any. I am thinking here about speed and simplicity.

It is possible to make all sorts of fabulous and luscious home made cosmetics such as bath bombs, soaps and body butters. I used to make beautiful soap before I started working full time, but I want to explore the quick and the cheap! Scouring the internet I found the following, some of which I have tried, some I use regularly and others are completely untested, by me anyway.

Instead of buying shoe deodoriser, sprinkle bicarbonate of soda in your footwear, leave overnight, then just tip out the excess before you wear them.

Dip your toothbrush into bicarbonate of soda and brush, or dissolve a teaspoon in a glass of water and use as a mouthwash. You can make proper toothpaste from bicarbonate of soda  too and there are lots of recipes out there.

The power of porridge

Oatmeal and water makes a quick hand scrub for when you have been gardening and it leaves your hands soft too.

Oatmeal also makes a nice face mask. Mix about quarter of a cup of instant oats with 2 teaspoons of runny honey. Leave 5-10 minutes then rinse.

Cold used teabags or cucumber slices really can reduce dark shadows under your eyes! Just leave on for 10 minutes whilst you relax then rinse and moisturise.

Lemon juice acts as a bleach. If you want a few lighter streaks in your hair try this on a sunny day. Mix a cup of lemon juice with quarter of a cup of water in an old spray bottle. Spritz you hair all over then sit in the sun for a couple of hours. Rinse off and repeat weekly. You will need to do it a few times before you notice the difference.

Hot oil treatment for dry hair: wash and towel dry your hair first. Warm some olive oil very gently in a pan. You want it warm, not hot! Rub it all over your hair from roots to ends then wrap in a warm towel. Leave for 15 minutes. Then wash your hair and dry normally. You can repeat this once a month. This would work well with almond oil too.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to home made cosmetics from the larder. Now I am wondering why I buy any commercial products when they are expensive and full of chemicals! What are your top tips for making natural beauty products?

Budget beauty

budget beautyI have said it before: I am a low budget kind of girl when it comes to make up and toiletries. I am into budget beauty.

Don’t believe the hype

At my age I have tried so many products and I no longer believe the pseudo science or advertising hype. All I need is a cleanser of some kind, some cotton wool and a moisturiser without too much fragrance in it. I don’t get on with soap for this as I have dry skin.

I use an exfoliator once or twice a week – the St Ives apricot stuff is fine. We have shower gel in the house as the others like it but actually I still prefer soap and a flannel. I always use body lotion, again because of the dry skin.

Because I tend towards being too pale and showing any tiredness immediately I always wear a little makeup. I use a razor and soap to get rid of the fuzz, pluck my own eyebrows and do myself the odd manicure and pedicure. It would be nice to visit the beauty salon to be waxed and preened but it’s not in my budget.

I quite fancy getting my nails done, but I know I would wreck them in 10 minutes doing the garden! I dye my own hair but draw the line at cutting it…

budget beautyBudget beauty at Aldi

When I was in Aldi the other day buying the night cream that I use I had a good look at their range of toiletries. They are excellent value. This particular moisturiser costs £1.99 and is as good as anything else I have ever tried, including the Clarins range that I used to spend a small fortune on.  Home Bargains is another that I like for shampoos, shower gel and conditioner. They also sell the hair colour that I prefer.
In Aldi this week you can buy shower gel for 33p, face wipes for 89p, permanent hair colour for £2.39, hairspray for 79p, sanitary towels for 69p for 14 and an impressive looking beauty serum for £3.99, among other bargain beauty buys.

Check out the supermarkets

I look out for bargains in the supermarkets for makeup. The foundation I have now is really nice and was on offer for  £6.99. I know people who will spend £35 on a small pot of this stuff! Very recently I also discovered the MUA range in Superdrug which is incredibly cheap. £1 for a lipstick and £2 for a cream blusher! That will do me!

My daughter raves about the budget beauty bargains at Cosmetics Fairy and they do seem worth investigating.

Fragrance – the prices! I am sure you shouldn’t need to sell a kidney to smell nice! I go for the Body Shop range fairly often. Another good ploy is to buy the gift sets of fragrance and body lotion after Christmas. You can usually find them massively reduced. Perfume either smells good or it doesn’t. Who cares if Britney’s name is on the bottle?

You might think I am tighter than the proverbial bit of the duck’s anatomy. But if you need to watch the pennies  you can save money with a budget beauty approach. Start at Aldi. You may be surprised at what you will find!