DIY Heaven

There is a common theme to articles about saving money: do shit yourself instead of paying others to do it when you can. Now, I am not suggesting you start cutting your own hair or doing your own dental work, but there are definitely things we can do to ease back on the reliance on others and start saving cash.

It surprised me that getting your nails done was not classed as a luxury here. Coming from a country where nail salons aren’t as prevalent, having a manicure was a special occasion type of thing. If you have a special event or want something intricate, by all means go to a salon, but learning how to paint your own nails for the times in-between is a no-brainer. I loved nail polish as a kid so I’ve had many years of practice to get a professional result from my DIY efforts, and there is no reason you can’t either. Drug store brands like essie and OPI are affordable and used by salons, and you can even get the gel versions if you want. Practice makes perfect, and it’s a rather relaxing thing to do!

It still boggles my mind that people consider daily trips to Starbucks as necessity. I understand that caffeine is a necessity, but c’mon y’all. Make it at home! Starbucks sells its coffee from stores and supermarkets for you to get the same taste in your travel mug, and you can also help cut down on disposable cups an straws. Start slow by going every other day and go from there.

Ordering takeout is tempting, but it really adds up. We all know the advice to make a big batch of something and eat throughout the week, but this can get boring. Freezing some of your leftovers is a good alternative to quick meals that you haven’t been eating all week. It’s quick to defrost, and healthier too!

What are your DIY tricks and tips?


Expat Existence: Sizing Up

There is this perception in America that if something exists here, then it exists everywhere else too. There is a almost always a look of disappointment of their faces when they discover I grew up with biscuits (or “cookies”) that weren’t Oreos (and were IMHO better than Oreos), without Target or Walmart (ASDA was the closest thing?), and most of our kids TV shows were completely different.

But I’m not here to knock on the “if it’s in America, it’s everywhere in the world because America IS THE WORLD!” mentally that is hopefully waning due to the Internet informing them Hershey’s is shite, and WTF is an Olive Garden.

I’m here to explain shopping is tricky when you move here, not just because all the stores are different, but because the US uses an entirely different sizing structure. Hopefully, my explanation and conversions can help anyone else new to the country or even any American heading off to Europe themselves.

First, the shoe sizes are totally different and annoying not consistent. I made a little chart based on my experiences, but there are a few caveats.

shoe sizes(women)

So, I was a size 7 in the UK which always translated nicely to a Euro 40. This meant that I was a size 9 in the US in “mall brands” like Nine West, Steve Madden or Jeffrey Campbell. However, some department stores translated a Euro 40 to a US size 10 (so adjust everything up one notch) which meant shopping online could be a bit of a crapshoot when they just listed the US size.

Sites like Zappos have ‘sizing converters’ like the graphic I made, but it doesn’t take into account that some of the brands they stock do the wacky size down move. The best advice is to get familiar with the brands IRL so you can shop online more easily. Note to the ladies: if you are buying shoes from the mens department then the Euro sizes are the same and the US mens size will correspond to your UK size. So I’m a US 7 when shopping in the mens section (a good place for sneakers!).

Where the shoe sizes wanted to sound bigger in the US compared to the UK, the opposite is true for the clothing. I can not even attempt a size chart for this since no store is consistent (true in both the UK and US!) and even jeans sized with numbers like 25 to denote a measurement aren’t always reliable either. Is it also my imagination, but are more clothes sized using XS, S, M, L these days?

General tips:
1. UK people, size ‘up’ for shoes and size ‘down’ for clothes.
2. Sales tax is added AT THE TILL (cash register) so remember that little addition to the total.
3. Sales associates are way friendlier in the US. I know this feels like they’re getting up in your business, but just tell them you’re browsing if you want to be left alone.
4. As always, if someone was helping you do mention their name to give them the commission. It’s just common courtesy.
5. High end department stores are usually the best for consistent shoe size calculators.
6. Yes, even your bra size is different. I’ve not purchased a bra in the UK for many years so I’m not a good authority. Just try a bunch on, ok?


List Making

I am a big fan of writing out lists old school, pen to paper. Not only is it harder to ignore than a digital list on an app in your phone, but it is much more satisfying to tick off once completed.

Some people who want their lists to be a bit extra are turning to bullet journaling techniques, but you don’t need a pretty list for it to be effective. That said, using the list as a canvas for your creativity is a great way to relax and soothe anxiety. Making a physical list is a great way to chill out your mind before you go to bed, and concentrating on an art project is a good way to decrease device-screen time too!

In the spirit of things, here is a list of tips for making lists. It’s just a little bit meta.

  1. Break out big tasks into smaller list items. For example, don’t just put ‘clean house’ but put down ‘clean bathroom’, ‘clean kitchen’, etc. This helps things feel less daunting so you’ll procrastinate less, and more manageable in a timeframe. Plus, more things to tick off!
  2. Keep the list were you can see it. This might be stuck to your fridge, on the coffee table, or by your bed.
  3. If you have a deadline for some items, put that on there too. You can order items with levels of urgency, or just create a column for inserting the date.
  4. If you need incentives, you can reward yourself when you have checked off all the tasks on your list.
  5. Some people find that using a sticker or something more fun than just a check, motivates them to complete the tasks to award themselves accordingly.
  6. It sounds like cheating, but I always put a couple of tasks that I’ve already done onto the list. That way, you can tick them off straight away. Your list looks much less daunting when there are already a few complete tasks!


Cake Slices: Basic Cooking

One thing that stood out to me when I moved to America was the amount of times people seemed to go out to eat, or order take out. Having come from a place where meals out were saved for special occasions, and from a family for whom regular take out was not financially viable, it sort of blew my mind. On the flip side, I’ve blown the minds of some people here who can’t believe that it’s possible to cook for yourself for more than 6 days running. I wish that was a joke.

Therefore, the next slice of the self-improvement cake shall be cooking. It honestly isn’t that difficult, and luckily there are a whole lot more resources out there now. There are the food services, like Blue Apron, which would be a good place to test the waters for yourself and create the habit. I like the idea of these in theory, but they produce so much waste with the individually wrapped ingredients that it turns me off.

I once was told “if you can read, you can cook” and then handed a recipe book. Thankfully, there are so many recipe websites and inspired week menus to help you out with planning and making your meals. While no recipe has a guarantee of success, I’ve found that if you follow the instructions then more often than not you will get something edible. There are so many reasons to eat at home more: save money, reduce waste, relaxation, healthier, and time away from a screen.

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  1. Choose a day to do a weekly grocery shop on, and make a menu plan before you go so you can list out all the ingredients you need. The added bonus of a precise list is that you’re less likely to have impulse purchases!
  2. Start with simple recipes to build up your confidence.
  3. When planning your week, think about how leftovers can be repurposed for other meals. Tacos can become a taco salad for work the next day. A roast chicken can last through a variety of meals and days.
  4. If you have a busy week at work, plan accordingly! Make a big pot of soup or stew at the weekend you can heat up easily when you get home, or have frozen leftovers thaw during the day for a quick microwave when you’re home.
  5. Be safe with reheating leftovers, especially meat and rice.
  6. Bookmark successful and tasty recipes for you to reuse in the future.
  7. Give each day a theme to make it easier to think of new meals. Such as “Meatless Monday”. That said, if you like a meal and want to repeat it, then go forth and enjoy.
  8. Wash up as you go, or put things into the dishwasher as you go, to keep the kitchen tidier as you cook and to avoid having to do it all in one go.
  9. Don’t oversalt!
  10. Miss your fave take out meal? Look online for a dupe recipe and try making it for yourself at home! It will probably be healthier, and you might even like it better.


Cake Slice: Learn Easy Skills

If you want to be the girl with the most cake, aches and all, it’s important to not neglect your slices. A cake slice can be anything in your life, from hobbies to goals, but it’s a nice bitesize (nom) way of approaching things.

The first cake slice I want to talk about is the slice of easy skills. There are some really easy-to-learn skills that less and less people are learning, and they can save you money, perhaps become a hobby, or allow you to help your friends out. It’s a win-win-win situation.

The first skill is one I learned in school, which probably dates me even if it was quite rare for my age to be taught in school to begin with. The class was Home Economics, and the skill is sewing. I am not a fancy cross-stitcher by any means, but I can sew on a button, make small alterations, and fix holes and rips. It’s incredibly easy to learn how, and you’ll probably become the go-to lifesaver in your group of friends.

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via Apartment Therapy

Most drug stores have little sewing kits for sale, which is the perfect place to start. I’ve seen them at Walgreens, CVS, Target, and Walmart. It will come with thread, needles, scissors, and maybe even a placement button or two. It’s common for the thread to be already threaded into the needle, which is very thoughtful of them.

There are lots of great tutorials online – both video and infographic formats – to teach you, and they can probably teach you better than anything I can do. While there are some very tricky sewing techniques, learning a simple stitch for a button or hole is incredibly simple and logical to learn. It will likely take you less than an hour to get the hang of it! If you’re feeling more ambitious, you can try out a sewing machine which is also easy to use. Although threading the bobbin is a huge pain in the arse, but modern machines may make it easier than the older ones I learned on! You may also discover you really love it, and go on to do the fancy cross stitching.

So, I highly recommend your first easy-to-learn skill to tackle is simple sewing. It’s a very small cost and time investment to get started, and the internet can provide you all the info you need. Knowing how to fix simple clothing issues yourself can save you time and money in the future!