Monday, 29 April 2013

Frugal baby shopping - NCT Nearly New Sales

You've probably guessed by now that when it comes to spending money, I like to get good value! Shopping for Bobble's arrival, was one of my biggest challenges to date. It's so easy to spend £100s, if not £1000s on baby equipment without even trying. In my book, money spent unnecessarily on baby stuff is money that could be put towards holidays!

There are plenty of ways that you can save money when it comes to baby shopping, but in this post I'm going to focus on one of my favourites - NCT Nearly New Sales. If you're not familiar with them, the National Childbirth Trust is a great charity. They're the UK's largest charity for parents. Many people choose to take one of their antenatal courses, but aside from this, they also campaign as the voice for parents on the issues they care about. Find out more on the NCT website.

This is how the NCT describe their nearly new sales:
"The cost of kitting out your child for the first five years can run into thousands of pounds. NCT Nearly New Sales are the perfect solution, offering affordable essentials and accessories for you and your family, while fundraising to support other parents in the UK. You'll also be helping the environment by recycling your family's old belongings or buying pre-loved items."
Before I give my tips on how to get the best out of these sales, here are some quick Q&As about NCT nearly new sales...

Q. When do they take place?
A. Usually twice a year, once in the Spring (March-May) and once in the Autumn (September-November).

Q. Where do they take place?
A. NCT have branches all over the country. Visit the NCT website to find out when the next sale is on near to you.

Q. Do I have to be a member to gain entry to the sale?
A. No, but it  does help - I'll explain why in my tips.

Q. Do I have to pay an entry fee?
A. This varies from branch to branch. Usually there's an entry fee of around £1, but sometimes members get in for free.

Q. What sort of things can I buy at a sale?
A. So many things! Clothes, toys, shoes, furniture, highchairs, weaning equipment, maternity clothes, books, slings and carriers, pushchairs... The only things that you won't be able to buy are car seats, mattresses and electrical items (not including battery powered toys).

Need to know - my top tips for getting the most out of an NCT nearly new sale

Planning your visit
  1. Become an NCT member. Members get early entry (usually around 10-15 minutes before everyone else) to the sale. Once the masses come in, it's a complete free for all. The good stuff goes really quickly. You will more than get your membership money back if you're buying bigger ticket items like cots and pushchairs.
  2. Know exactly what you're looking for, so that you can prioritise your time. If you're looking for a highchair for example, there will only be a small number and the best ones will usually get snapped up within the first 10 minutes, so look at these first.
  3. Make fast decisions. If you want it, buy it then and there. If you change your mind later on, you can always re-sell it.
  4. You can usually pay by card or cash.
  5. Depending on where you live in the country, you might live near several sales. It's worth going to a few different sales as the stock can vary enormously. I once went to two in the same day!
  6. Go with your partner or a friend - then you can split up and grab bargains from different sections!
  7. If you're taking your baby, put them in a sling to keep both your hands free.
 Buying clothes
  1. With clothes shopping, my approach is to grab everything I like the look of, then sift through it in a quiet corner and put back anything that isn't right. 
  2. Check clothes over carefully. Some seller's opinions of what counts as 'nearly new' condition might be vastly different from your own.
  3. The best bargains will usually be for children aged 12 months and under. I've found it to be fairly slim pickings for 12 months+ - probably because parents are wiser about how much they need and because they are worn for longer, wear and tear is higher. You might still be able to pick up some ok clothes for your child to wear to nursery.
  4. A small number of clothes will still have tags attached - these are the best bargains.
  5. As well as maternity clothes, I picked up a few nursing tops after Bobble was born.
Buying toys and books
  1. Books can be a great purchase. Provided that they're not actually ripped, a well used book can still give great amounts of pleasure.
  2. Check toys over carefully. I've bought a few toys at sales, but wouldn't describe any as nearly new - most are well used. Decide what can be cleaned up, and what is tatty and past its best.
  3. Wooden jigsaw puzzles can be a good purchase as they last well - check all the pieces are there.
  4. In addition to storybooks, you can also pick up childcare and weaning recipe books.
  5. Toys are usually sorted by age (pre-school and older) - think ahead and look for toys that your little one might be into in 6 months time.
Buying big ticket items like cots, highchairs and pushchairs
  1. If you're looking for a pushchair that sells for more than £500 new, you're better off looking at ebay, I haven't ever seen any of the Bugaboo/iCandy/Stokke branded pushchairs at a nearly new sale.
  2. There will be NCT volunteers on hand to show you how the item works - if you need help, ask as they will almost certainly be a mum (or even a dad) too.

How much will things cost?

I'm basing this entirely on my own experience, so there's definitely a disclaimer here that prices will vary from sale to sale! In the past, I have bought the following items from nearly new sales.

Wooden cot: £25
Moses basket: £15
Bumbo seat: £7:50
Sling (brand new baby bjorn): £15
Clothes: From 50p - £4 (t shirts, shorts, dungarees, coat, trousers, jumpers, swimwear)
Toys: £1 and upwards
Books: £1 and upwards

A few of my past sale purchases!
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Friday, 26 April 2013

Top tip - easy access mini herb garden

This tip is so simple, I know I won't be the first to have thought of it, but I'll share it all the same.

I like to use fresh herbs in our cooking when a recipe calls for it. Dried herbs have their place, but you definitely get a much bigger flavour boost when you use fresh. When we moved out of flats and into our first house I was very keen to have a herb garden. In the past I've tried to grow herbs in pots on the windowsill but never had much luck keeping them alive. For me, the problem with growing them outdoors is ensuring they're accessible in all weathers - dashing across a soggy garden in the rain to retrieve a few sprigs of thyme doesn't appeal to the lazy side of me! So I struck upon a smart idea. Make the herbs accessible from the kitchen window.

All we had to do was attach a trough to the wall just below our kitchen window. I then stocked it full of the herbs that we use most frequently that are hardy enough to live outside. In my mini herb garden you will find rosemary, thyme and parsley. Now I simply lean out of the kitchen window and grab whatever I need, whenever I need it. No need to take your slippers off or put a coat on!

I restock the basket once a year in the spring as not everything will survive winter, especially one as long and as cold as the one we've just had. Keep it well watered in the summer and you will be able to enjoy easy access fresh herbs the whole year round.

To make your own mini herb garden you'll need:

  •  A fixed-to-the-wall hanging basket or trough - B&Q sell a 24 inch basket with liner for under a tenner
  • Soil
  • Potted herbs - expect to pay between £4-6 from your local garden centre or DIY shop
  • A watering can to keep your herbs refreshed
  • Different herbs like sun/shade, but there's nothing wrong with experimenting to see what thrives.
Happy herby growing!

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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Baking an important cake - lessons to be learnt!

I love baking, but I wouldn't say that I'm particularly talented at it. I guess I would describe myself as a fairly confident, but safe baker. I can do a mean chocolate brownie and I like making cupcakes, but I'm certainly not the kind of person who would get approached to make an important cake. But when it came to Bobble's first birthday, I knew that his birthday cake had to be homemade.

I've made plenty of birthday cakes in the past, usually for my husband or another member of my family. But I've always stuck to a simple chocolate cake, which I know that I can make and I know that will be wolfed down appreciatively. For Bobble's first birthday, I set my sights a little higher. I wanted the cake to look the part. After all, Bobble will have no memories of his first birthday, there will only be photos and videos. Decoration was to be key, so I set about some research. After browsing through several pages of Google Images I decided that a lion cake would be achievable and within my limited experience of cake decorating! Further research led me to discover that I couldn't just bake a basic Victoria sponge - it would collapse under the weight of the icing. I needed to make either a Madeira cake, or some other more solid 'celebration' type cake that could support the icing.

On Baking Day (the day before Bobble's birthday and 2 days before the party) I ran up an impressive catalogue of disasters which included...

  • Cake #1 (Maderia cake) - recipe didn't provide oven temperature guidance for a fan assisted oven and I forgot to make allowances. End result = 1 overcooked and barely risen cake. Number of eggs used so far: 4.
  • Cake #2 (Easy vanilla sponge - receipe to follow) - I got distracted and rather than putting in two separate quantities of plain and self raising flour, I only put in plain flour. End result = Pancake. Number of eggs used so far: 9
  • At this point I ran out of the key ingredients eggs and butter.
  • Cake #3 (Easy vanilla sponge second attempt) - there were tense moments as I wasn't sure how long to cook the cake for due to using 2 round tins rather than 1 square tin. End result = Finally! A cake that I can use. Number of eggs used in total: 13.
My day of disasters wasn't over yet...before I went to bed I also encountered the following:
  • Assumed garage burglery that turned out to be a case of me failling to lock the garage door. Twice.
  • Assumed oven breakdown that turned out to be a case of me accidentally turning the oven on to timer.
  • Hands that made me look like a Simpsons character due to their yellow hue (food colouring to blame).
After all that, I'm not sure that the cake could ever have been as perfect as I hoped, but it looked the (homemade) part. And I hope that when Bobble is a bit older, he'll look at it and know that it was baked with love, and a whole lot of eggs!

The recipe

This receipe calls itself an Easy Vanilla Sponge. I'd question the use of the word easy, but it did taste good.

View the recipe on the BBC's Good Food website 

So, if you've got an important cake to make, I reckon you can learn a thing or two from me!

  1. If you're making a cake that you've never made before, and you've got the time, do a trial run.
  2. Leave yourself plenty of time! Baking and icing on the same day whilst looking after an 11 month old isn't ideal.
  3. Have spare ingredients to hand... just in case.
  4. Concentrate! So many of my mistakes were down to rushing and not paying attention. Just pretend you're back at school.
  5. Remember that homemade is not just made at home, it's made with love. And it doesn't have to look perfect.
Happy baking.

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Monday, 22 April 2013

Top tip - gift shopping for a newborn

When my first niece was born almost 6 years ago, she was the first baby that 'legitimally' granted me access to baby shops. Before then, even venturing into the baby section of a department store would set my other half's pulse racing and make cold beads of sweat appear on his forehead.

Have you ever noticed how baby shops are a bit like carpet and tile shops? Until you become a homeowner, these shops are invisible. Mothercare, Mamas and Papas and all the rest - you just don't see them until you need to. Once that veil is lifted and you enter The Baby Section, it's a world of confusion. But for a lot of ladies (and I'm definitely including myself in this) the sight of all those adorable teeny tiny clothes can set your biological clock into overdrive!

What I didn't realise until I became a mother, was what sort of gift would be useful to new parents. Without bordering on the side of ungrateful, I thought I'd share some tips on the kind of presents that I would now buy for a newborn, and what I might avoid.

What to avoid

First of all, I'll start with the things I would be very careful when buying. I would like to emphasise that of course, no presents are ungratefully received, I'm just passing on my advice of what the new parents might really love to receive. I am definitely guilty of making these mistakes, so don't feel bad, it's definitely the thought that counts!
  • If you're buying clothes, definitely buy at least a size or two up (3-6 months or 6-9 months) but beware of the seasons! Work out what time of year the baby will be at that size so that you can avoid buying a thick jumper for the summer, or a pair of shorts for winter. It is tricky because the clothes available in the shops are usually for the current and next season, so it's really easy to make this mistake.
  • Booties, scratch mits and hats while incredibly cute, are not actually that useful (in my humble opinion). Booties fall off. Scratch mits fall off and a lot of sleepsuits now come with built in mittens. Babies only need to wear hats outside and the parents will probably have plenty already.
  • Cuddly and soft toys... maybe a slightly sensitive one, but bear in mind that the baby won't play with these for almost a year... unless you count chewing and dribbling. UPDATE: Actually, I'm going to backtrack on this one as we did receive some lovely soft toys that Bobble does now play with. I guess I'm just wary as I know some parents that received loads of soft toys - I'll let you decide!
  • White and neutral clothes. If the parents didn't know whether they were have a blue or pink flavoured bundle, they will probably have already got quite a lot of white and neutral sleepsuits and baby-gros. Why not buy something bright and colourful instead?
  • It's not mandatory to dress babies in either baby blue and soft pink!
  • Any kind of shoes. Like booties and hats, you can get some incredibly cute shoes, but for me, I didn't want the hassle of another thing to wrestle with during nappy changes.
So what should you buy... these are my ideas of what would go down well.


  • A lot of people don't bother to dress their baby in anything other than sleepsuits or baby-gros for the first few months of their life, so if you're going to buy an outfit, buy it in a 3-6+ month size.
  • Babies wear sleepsuits at bedtime for at least the first year of their life, so these are a very safe bet.
  • Vests are worn underneath clothes for at least the first year too, and while they're not the most exciting present to buy, you can get some pretty funky ones out there.
  • Dribble bibs! See my other post about beating the dribble.


  • Any kind of teething toy will be appreciated. Everything goes in the mouth for almost the whole of the first year, so something specificially designed to be chomped on is great.
  • Lamaze make some wonderful, brightly coloured toys and many are suitable from birth. 
  • Musical instruments - basic rattles or bell toys will give pleasure right the way through to 12+. 
  • Anything with a mirror on will go down well. 


  • You can't go wrong with books. While it will be a long time until the baby is reading, something simple that the parent can read to the baby during storytime will be appreciated.
  • Books with flaps, pop up bits and finger puppets are fab and will delight the baby.


  • Not the cop out you might think! New parents receive so many presents - I found the generosity overwhelming - so a voucher that they can put aside and spend a few months later on something they later discover that they need for their baby is a great option. Some of the places that I'd love to receive a gift voucher for would include Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury (incredibly lovely and good value clothes in the Tu range), Mothercare/ELC, Mamas and Papas, John Lewis and Debenhams.

Other ideas

Why not get creative and think outside the box with one of these ideas?
  • Pampering session for Mum.
  • An offer of an evening or day of babysitting.
  • A voucher for a trip to a pottery painting cafe - see my other post about making memories.
  • If you've got great photographic skills, why not offer to come and take some photos of the baby and mum and dad?
  • Chocolates - the appetite of the breastfeeding mum is enormous!
  • A platter of soft cheeses and pate if mum was a big fan of these banned foods!
How have your present buying habits changed since you became a parent? Or what has been the best present that you received for your newborn? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Photo credit: TangoPango / / CC BY-NC   

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Penny pinching - shopping online

I like saving money. I love the thrill of the chase of getting a bargain. TK Maxx - a real marmite shop isn't it? Well I love it. Rooting through the rails in search of the ultimate bargain, preferably at a 70% discount, or more!

Online shopping is all about sniffing out the best offer, so quite naturally, I love this too. So imagine my delight when I discovered one of the easiest ways of saving money online - cashback. Like anything that appears to be simple AND pays cash direct into your bank account, I was very sceptical at first. However, I can hand-on-heart say that there is nothing dubious about cashback websites, or at least not the one I use anyway.

How do cashback websites work?

In the world of online, retailers have recognised the fact that when a customer makes a purchase, there are many factors that can come between adding an item to their basket, and actually paying for the item and making the purchase. These distractions are far stronger than those found in an actual shop. Imagine having an item in your hand - from here (queues aside) it's a fairly short journey to handing over your money and leaving with your new swag. Online you've got everything from your favourite programme starting on TV to phone calls and last minute checks of other websites to make sure you've got the best deal. So how about a little bit of temptation for the customer, in the form of saving you some extra pennies? Retailers are more than happy to take this little hit if it results in a purchase. In short, they pay a commission to cashback websites in return for the cashback website referring a sale to them. Everyone's a winner.

What do I need to do?

Very little. You can still make all of your purchases on the website that you intended to buy from. All you need to do is visit the cashback website first, so that it can track your purchase. Oh, and obviously you need to sign up to a cashback website first and create an account. Once the purchase has been confirmed, the payment is made to the cashback website, who in turn pass the money on to you.

Is there a catch?

There really isn't. Some of the cashback sites charge an annual fee, others don't. You have to be 16 to open an account and resident in the UK.

How much money can I make?

It's best to regard cashback websites as a bonus. It's certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme, nor should you resign from your job to become a professional online shopper! To give you a quick snapshot, in the last year I have tracked almost £1000 of online purchases through Quidco (that's the amount of money that I have spent online) and from this I have been paid almost £70 cashback. That's £70 I have received simply for shopping online, as I would have done regardless of belonging to a cashback website or not.

Find out more

The wonderful website has a complete guide to cashback websites.

Read the moneysavingexpert guide to cashback websites

I hope this posts helps you to pinch some pennies!

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Top tip - Beating the dribble

Today's post is a slobbery and wet one. No, I'm not talking about kissing, I'm talking about dribbling. Specifically baby dribble. Anyone who has observed young babies usually comes to the conclusion that for most of the time, they are either leaking from their nose or their mouth. Lovely. Bobble was no different and so far seems have suffered from back-to-back colds in winter and regular dribbling since he was about 3 months old. Colds I can't help with, but dribble I can. Well I can't stop it (apparently it's because swallowing excess saliva caused by teething isn't a skill they're born with) but I can make them look a little cuter.

The answer is dribble bibs, bandanna style ones. What's so special about these? Well firstly they're a little more stylish than regular bibs. And secondly, they're designed to cope with dribble rather than food or drink spills - they sit much higher up to catch the dribble direct from the source! The best ones are fleece-backed, which stops the dribble soaking right through to their clothes.

Before Bobble came along, I hadn't really seen bandanna bibs around that much, but now they seem to be everywhere from Tesco to Next, and all the other shops selling baby clothes. When it came to buying some bibs for Bobble, I asked around for the best place to buy them and one place came up time and time again - Funky Giraffe.

Here's why I love Funky Giraffe dribble bibs:

  • there are loads and loads of different designs to choose from - with new ones being added all the time
  • they have poppers on them, which are much harder for babies to remove than a Velcro fastening (Velcro is a nightmare in the washing machine as it sticks to everything)
  • they are fleece backed
  • the more you buy, the cheaper they are - giving you an excuse to buy one for every outfit!
  • Bobble looks incredibly cute wearing them.
I'll be doing a longer post about this topic later on, but I'd definitely include some dribble bibs in a present for a newborn. The parents will find them much more useful than a soft toy or a pair of booties!
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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Things to make you smile

What is more delightful than the sound of a baby laughing? Absolutely nothing! If this video doesn't make you smile, then you need your funny bone checking!

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5 minute craft - birthday cards

Are you saving things to go into a memory box for your child? Their identification bracelet from hospital, congratulation cards, first birthday cards, your favourite sleepsuit etc. It all mounts up and (if you're anything like me) gets stuffed into an old shoe box. The hardest thing I find to store is cards. We were sent so many congratulations cards when Bobble arrived, then more for his first Christmas and more recently, his first birthday. They're the hardest thing to store as the piles soon get mixed up. But I couldn't bear to throw any of them away - I already have bags of my own cards from birthdays past. I'm definitely going to transfer this idea and do the same with my cards. This 5 minute craft will neaten things up in your memory box, and couldn't be more simple.

I'm not particularly crafty, but I would like to be. So when I saw this smart little idea on pinterest, I jumped on it as something that even I could do!

  • hole punch
  • ribbon
  1. Use a whole punch to punch holes in each card.
  2. Thread ribbon through the holes.
  3. Tie ribbon
  4. Ta dah!
You could create a separate bundle for each birthday, or just untie the ribbon and keep adding to the back of the bundle.
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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Through the lens - New Zealand

Still catching up after a busy Easter weekend, so this is a quick photo post. This time we're going down under to New Zealand, which I think has to be one of the most stunningly pretty countries that I've ever been to. Even the sheep were amongst the most attractive that I've ever seen! This is Lake Matheson, which lies in the shadow of Mount Cook.

Lake Matheson, South Island, New Zealand

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