Thursday, 31 January 2013

January highlights

I thought I would finish January with a little round up of progress around here, and drop in some of my posts from the start of 2013. Indulge me!

Well 2013 started with a big big band in the form of us deciding to buy a house. Hopefully I have convinced you all to organise your house-moves to make them stress-free and calm:

Organised house move: making sure your letters move house with you.

I then set myself the task of reducing my expenditure in January by not taking any cash out of the bank! This was followed up by the release of my 2013 planner printables.


I started a new series on tips and tricks by sharing some simple tips on having pets and also how to deal with housework when you are ill.

The theme of moving house continued with emptying the freezer - or indeed how to just make sure you eat everything up! And then tips and tricks on packing for safe and secure house moves.


Emptying the freezer.
House move: Packing made easy

Finally January finished up with a somewhat belated section on filing... sorry  no pictures of this one!

I hope you have enjoyed the start to 2013.

Thanks for stopping by,
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Friday, 25 January 2013

Sorting out the filing

So this post has been a long long time coming.

When we moved into our current house 15 months ago, we finally got ourselves a filing cabinet. Before that filing was a bit hit and miss. We used a combination of methods that Mr PTC and I had used pre-marriage, neither of which worked, and none of which made sense for us as a couple.

Having a filing cabinet I was determined that things would get filed away neatly, regularly and in clearly categorised hanging files. Well, 12 months after getting the cabinet we have finally finished! I started 12 months ago, and then left everything for the best part of a year. We knew where the important stuff was, and we had a pile for filing, and that is how it got left for a WHOLE YEAR! I cannot believe that we let that happen.

Crunch time came with applying for our mortgage at the same time as the tax return becoming urgent. You can tell something is wrong when we normally do the tax return in the early Autumn (about the time we have all the relevant documentation to complete the forms), but this time we waited until January when the deadline is fast approaching. We suddenly needed bank statements from 2011 and proof of all sorts of things from the last 5 years for our mortgage. Eeeek!

So filing became a priority.

Well, we have finally achieved it. I have a huge box full of confidential waste (to be burnt as fire-lighter, or shredded), we recycled another huge box full of paper, and the rest is now neatly categorised in the filing cabinet.

My method.

1. Figure out categories. You don't need to keep everything. Certainly, keep bank statements, anything that proves your address etc, but you don't need to be keeping random bits of junkmail from mail order companies. Do, however keep any mail order company details you might need such as account numbers. Then write a list of categories.

For example

  • One file for each bank account (we have a joint account, savings accounts etc.).
  • Credit card statements
  • Council Tax letters
  • Tax returns
  • Warranties
  • Manuals (this might move to a file at some point).
  • Car stuff (includes MOT certificates, insurance certificates etc.)
  • Work (includes bonus letters, contracts etc).
  • Personal documents (paper counterpart to drivers licences, birth certificates, passports, vaccination records)
  • Household (includes our current lease, copies of the inventory from when we moved in).
  • Insurance (contents/home insurance documents

Basically if you have something that doesn't fit, make a category for it. It is a lot easier to find something that is in a labelled file, even if it is all by its lonesome. With our bank accounts, because we have so many, each file actually has the account number on it so I can quickly determine which one is which.

Label each hanging file appropriately, then put in alphabetical order. The exception to that in my book is that I put all of our bank accounts at the front, with everything else behind, but alphabetical.

2. Keep items for the relevant time period. Now for a health warning. I am not a financial adviser, so please take this with a pinch of salt. However, I was completely surprised that we would need to provide the mortgage company with details going back 5 years. This even meant utility bills to prove our address (for some reason bank statements were not acceptable for this for the particular bank we are using). Luckily we had that information, but in the past utility bills have only been kept for 1 year. In general, I would suggest keeping stuff for 5 or 6 years. If you own a business it needs to be longer (I think HMRC can check your business tax return up to 7 years after you filed the return, which makes it nearly 10 years after you actually received the bank statement etc.). If in doubt, ask the advice of a professional.

3. Sort and file. This is the last, obvious, and least enjoyable step. Yes, you really just have to sit there and do it. Once the files are in alphabetical order it is actually quite quick. You just pull out the drawer and sit there and file. Easy peasy. Honest!

That's it. Three simple {ahem} steps. Now I won't kid you this is a boring task, hence why it took me sooooo long. But now it is done I am actually keeping on top of my filing (it has only been 2 weeks). I know myself well enough that this won't last, so I will start using a 'to-file' box at some point. However, hopefully it will never get this out of control again as we now have a system.

To summarise:

1. Categorise: come up with a list of hanging file names and sort alphabetically.
2. Chuck away items that are too old. 5 to 10 years is a great point to start at. 
3. Sort and file.

Then sit back, get a cup of tea and glow with joy at having organised paperwork... or is that just me?

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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Moving house guide: emptying the freezer

So on the theme of decrapification, ahem, maybe just instead making sure we don't throw lots out when we move, I want to empty our freezer.

Now we have a lot in our freezer. This whole move sort of happened accidentally. Now don't let me kid you, we will have had 3 months from deciding to buy a house to house move day, which realistically is plenty of time. But I hoard, and this includes food!

Our big chest freezer (a wonderful thing to allow you buy in bulk, prepare ahead, and save money by buying items reduced to clear) is FULL. I mean like properly seriously FULL. And of course, being little Miss Frugal, the thought of throwing any of that away makes me weak at the knees. It would be criminal.

So we are purging the freezer! This should happen once a year anyway, we are just 5 months late! The whole point in having such a large freezer was to save us money, but I am not sure we use stuff out of it as often as we put stuff in! Silly silly us! So here is my method for using it all  up!

1. Take an inventory. Yes, I know we should totally have one of these already, but we do now! Better still, Mr PTC helped me and it only took 10 minutes. I had a pre-printed sheet with many of the items listed, then space for items I had missed. Its all pretty coloured, and of course matches my 2013 Planner, and you can download you very own freezer inventory here.

2. Get a list of recipes. I went through my recipe binders pulling out recipes, writing them by category. So for example, I have several whole chickens so I had a category for 'chicken' meals.

3. Meal plan the coming weeks. Of course, you are all doing this already right? Yes, so am I {cough cough}. This new meal plan is going to be aimed at using all that freezer food up! So use that recipe list and the contents list, and have a tick sheet to say you have designated that item for that meal on your inventory. Make sure you include items that can be cooked in advance as freezer meals. So for example I have lots of minced beef which I will turn into chilli con carne, and freeze in single-person portions, as I know we will need ready meals in the run up to the move.

4. Cook eat and be merry. Now there is a clear meal plan there is of course no excuse not to empty the freezer!

So there you have it! The same could be applied to a really full larder/pantry. I don't have that problem, well except possibly for baking ingredients - but that would require a lot of cake in the next two months!

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Monday, 21 January 2013

Moving house guide: the simpler way to pack

So it has been at least 10 days since I have shared anything house-move related with you, mainly because with my bout of illness things have stood still here for a while. Please accept my apologies, but keep reading if you don't fall asleep too soon.

Packing. Yup, there it is. The main source of trauma for any house-movers. How on-earth do you pack up your entire life into itty little boxes and remain sane? You are expected to cram your belongings, your loves, your memories, and everything you need to function, into boxes, perfectly and to a schedule! Then you trust someone (possibly yourself and a few willing friends), to cart this to a new location, whereupon you need to find each beloved item a new home.

And we are supposed to be calm about this?

Well one approach, that if I had more money I might consider, is the service some removal companies now offer of packing for you. Yes it really is that traumatic. OK. I wouldn't, even if I had the money. But only because I don't want some freaky people going through all my stuff! And that's a lot of stuff.

Having moved many (erm seven) times in 10 years you would think I would find this simple. It never is. Yes I have a system, and yes it gets better each time, but it is still stressful. I am always astonished by how much stuff I manage to fit into a small space. Honestly, when I pack up it is like I'm taking the actual walls with me I have so much stuff. OK, lets cut to the chase, its mostly junk crap stuff I don't need. Well, maybe not mostly, just a large part of it.

So round one in the packing is decrapification. I forget where I first heard this word, and I apologise if it offends anyone, but it totally gets the point. Moving house is a great time to decrapify your life. It does require a bit of extra time at the beginning, but it helps you no end, and saves time and money by the end of the move. Seriously, you will pack fewer boxes, consequently moving less stuff (and paying less for the privilege), possibly do some good by donating to charity/friends/in need at the same time, and have less stuff to find a home for at the other end. It also enables you to be clearer about where you pack the items that you are keeping as you go along, leaving you with a clearer idea of where things are.

So here are my top tips for keeping the packing simple and under control.

1. Start early. I can not emphasise this enough. You may be a last minute person, but seriously, there is so much to do in the run up to moving, that you need to start as soon as you know you are moving. If you have very little stuff, firstly congratulations because you are waaaaaay ahead of me on the decrapification front and secondly, you may be able to skip this step because presumably everything you own is used on a daily or weekly basis. Well done. Oh you have Christmas decorations - yup they can be packed now.

2. Get boxes for free. Now we enter the land of little Miss Frugal. Yup that is me, well sometimes. Like when it is convenient.

Now seriously, you DO NOT need to buy lots of expensive packing boxes. Seriously, they can charge you about £5 a box if you get them from a removal company. We reckon we will need 70 boxes for this move - that's £350!!! Even online in bulk they cost £1-£2 each. No way. When you can get them for free? Yup free. Firstly, try your work. If you work in an office, then believe me there will be regular deliveries of office supplies, printers, cartridges, paper, you name it, there will be boxes. Find out who accepts deliveries and make friends with them. If that fails, try your supermarket. Again make friends! They will be sending lots and lots of cardboard for recycling (well we hope recycling rather than landfill) everyday, and certainly won't mind getting rid of a few. You may need to be picky about the type, but 10 minutes sorting through a pack of boxes is worth the money saved surely?

3. Decrapification. You knew I'd get this in the list right? Naturally! As you pack, please please purge. I have a system when I pack. I pick a room and enter with 4 boxes (or 1 packing box and 3 other things such as washing baskets to toss things in). As I pack I purge into the 'packing box', the 'I'm so old/broken you really really need to chuck me away/burn me' bin, the 'gift me because seriously you will never ever use this' bin and the 'recycle' bin.

We are so lucky that we have a great recycling collection scheme round here that means very little needs to go into landfill, but find out if your local recycling depot takes things that you wouldn't be able to have collected for recycling. You will probably need several trips to the recycling depot in the run up to your move anyway (if you decrapify thoroughly), so just store bin bags of stuff in the garage for a day trip out! I have found I am only packing about half of the stuff I have at the moment, with the other half being chucked/donated/recycled. Fair enough I am right at the beginning and packing the things that aren't really used much, so there is likely to be more junk, but it is quite impressive. I've donated 8 boxes of stuff to charity since Christmas and the charity shop drop-off is now on my weekly schedule! The bonus of course is that I feel great about donating to charity as well as sorting through all my stuff. It is even better that they now legally have to send me a letter telling me how much money they make from my donations (ok, waste of paper, but total feel-good boost). £87 for my old junk? Seriously?

4. Label label label. I cannot emphasise this enough. Unless you are Martha Stewart, or possibly my Aunt, you will not unpack for days or weeks. OK, for me it might be months. Accept this, don't try and be the angel that will not emerge in the frenzy of a house move, and be realistic. What this does mean is when you absolutely desperately need that pitcher, that usually only comes out at Christmas, all of sudden in July, it will be on a list in a labelled box and you will know where to find it.

There are of course quite legitimate concerns with labelling every box with a comprehensive list, particularly if you are using a removal company. Now 99% of removal companies will be fabulous, and should of course be insured, but it is just a little too convenient when your box of valuables goes missing but nothing else? So, label the boxes by number only, cataloguing what is in a box somewhere else.

I use a system of coloured sticky paper (such as this), stuck on the box, colour coordinated by room and numbered. So each room gets a colour (for example blue for the kitchen), and each box for that room gets a number. I label the sticky coloured sheet with the room name and box number. I put identical stickies on the top and side of the box (so that they are easy to identify in a stack of boxes). Then on a lovely printable, I write the box number and its contents. This way I know the contents of box 10, but the removal men don't. To make life even better, when I want that pitcher in July I just look through my contents sheets and find the relevant box number, rather than reorganising all the boxes to find the relevant label, let alone opening 20 boxes to find it first!

Empty packing sheet - ready to be filled.

The key thing here is use a different colour for each room and clearly label the boxes top and side, so you can see the box colour/room/number from a distance in a stack.

Get a copy of the packing list sheet to fill in here.

5. Set yourself a target. Figure out how many boxes you think you will be packing, or perhaps rooms to pack up (we went for boxes, because we needed this for removal company quotes, and every room contains something we will need in the last few weeks/days). Divide this by the number of weeks you have until you move, and that is your target for packing per week. For example, we think we will have 70 boxes of stuff. Very approximate, but its a start. We have 11 weeks until the move date from now, but will be away for 1 week, and I want to assume that nothing useful will happen in the last week before moving (actually there will be a packing frenzy I'm sure). So I am giving myself 9 weeks for packing. That means 7 or 8 boxes per week for the next two months. That is a lot less stressful (at least for me), than 70 boxes in one week! It also means I am not bringing 70 boxes into the house in one weekend. Instead I will be picking up 10 boxes or so from work a week for the next few weeks and trying to pack all/most of them straightaway.

So there you are. That is my packing method. Sorry for all the words... but I hope it helps to keep the peace!

To summarise:
1. Start soon (NOW!).
2. Get boxes for free from work or shops.
3. Declutter as you go to minimise how much you move.
4. Label your boxes by room/number and have an associate list of contents somewhere else.
5. Set yourself a weekly target for the number of boxes to pack.

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Thursday, 17 January 2013

Tackling housework when you are ill

I had another post planned for today, but I decided this was more pertinent, so please forgive me!

As you may know from my previous posts, I've been rather ill this week. I've never been off work so long and I keep having to go back to the doctors. It is generally very miserable.

One of the worst things about it all, is that when I'm not asleep I'm bored. I'm too exhausted to concentrate on anything, including a good book or meaningless TV, and it is taking me forever to write anything, but I'm still bored. Add to this that the house has gradually descended into a disaster and I got really irritated yesterday and decided I had to do some housework.

Now, I am not a doctor, and by no means is this medically advised, but if you must, like me, do some housework, here are my hints for tackling these things when you are not 100%. I would also suggest that this is only something you do when you are on the road to recovery!

1. Moderation is everything. Small, tiny little tasks are key. Pick one thing that will make the biggest impact to improve your mood. For me it was clearing the kitchen and filling the dishwasher. it made me feel great that 10 minutes had the kitchen looking (nearly) as good as new. I did have to sit down for a good cup of tea afterwards.

2. Set yourself a time limit. Accept you are ill and realise you are not going to have the house looking perfect by the end of the day. Set the kitchen timer for 5, 10 or 15 minutes (depending on how you feel) and see what you can achieve. You'll probably find you achieve a lot less than you normally would in this time, but it means you don't burn yourself out by setting unrealistic goals.

3. Get help on board. You are ill and you are not perfect (however much we might all want to be). Don't be afraid to ask for help. One thing that has really struck me with this illness is that Mr PTC does actually want to help me but he isn't a mind reader. I actually have to ask him to do certain things, which he is then more than willing to do. It is not his fault that he has a different set of priorities than me. If you have loved ones around believe me they want to help look after you, and if that means picking up the cleaning products, then they will do that. Again, don't be unrealistic.

4. Pick ONE thing that is really bothering you and settle at getting that done and nothing else. It is true that by seeing mess and clutter it may well effect your ability to get better, so pick the one thing that will make a big difference to your peace of mind. Tackle it in SMALL doses, or ideally get someone else to do it for you.

5. Take a long rest. Once you have accomplished your task, please don't rush onto the next one. Take a good rest, cup of tea, biscuit, in fact a nap wouldn't be a bad thing either.

Of course, the best advice is to not do anything and concentrate on getting better. But well, we are all too busy for that right?

I'm off to bed now.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Tip & Tricks Tuesday - Pets

So I have a new theme for Tuesdays starting today! Each Tuesday I will be sharing a small list of tips with you that make my life a little easier or that I have come across and think would be useful, although I might not yet have implemented them.

This has all started because I was astonished at Christmas the lots of little tips my mother and I exchanged. My Mum is a constant source of knowledge on everything for me (with the exception of computers, as that is apparently what I get paid to work with). I am always phoning her for little ideas and tips. If I don't know how to do something, I give her a call! Similarly, over Christmas, it was interesting that this has started going both ways now and just occasionally I have picked a little tip up that my Mum didn't know.

So now I will start sharing this love of all things nifty and helpful! Some of them are pretty obvious, but hopefully there will be something for everyone. Many items in the future may come from pinterest or other websites, so please click on any links and make sure other sensible tip-giving people get some internet traffic.

Pets and cleaning

This is a hot topic around here, with two cats, and hopefully more on the way after the imminent house move. How do you cope with pet hair? We also had a bit of a smelly cat problem over Christmas as my parents have a 16 year old who just can't clean herself anymore because of arthritis; so I came up with my dry shampoo!

1. Hair removal from fabric and carpets. To easily remove hair from fabric/carpets where otherwise the vacuum is just not getting them up, put on a rubber glove (marigold etc.) and rub over the surface. The hairs will be quickly lifted allow you to pick them up or easily vacuum them away.

2. Cat shampoo. If you have a smelly cat (such as a very old wee darling, who just isn't able to clean themselves anymore, or a little kitten who hasn't quite learnt all the rules), rather than giving them a traumatic bath, try using a dry shampoo. I use a 50:50 mix of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and talc. The bicarb gets rid of the smell while the talk soaks up the grease and other items that may be causing the problem in the first place. Rub into the fur a little at a time (generally something they love), then use a brush to comb it out.

3. Cat food. Ever have a cat convinced that there is no food left in the bowl because they have eaten the bit in the middle? Rather than giving in and putting more food out, pick the bowl up, shake so it covers the middle of the bowl and put it back down. It works every time!

4. Tablet talk. Have a pet that doesn't like taking tablets? I think this applies to every pet I've ever had (and I had a lot growing up!). Well, responsible cat and dog owners, and possibly the owners of quite a few other pets, should regularly treat for worms, even if they are indoor pets according to my vet, as we carry things in on our shoes.....euh! Anyway, the best thing we have done with our cats, on advice from our vet, is to regularly open their mouths. We have a nightly ritual where we open their mouths and count to five, and then make a big fuss of them afterwards. They are now completely used to having their mouths open and tablets are much much less fuss. There is no wrangling the cat, climbing the curtains, or scratches up and down the arms. Oh and I've never had much luck with the whole mashing it up with the food idea. My kitties are far too suspicious for that!

To start out training your cat (or dog for that matter) to the idea of having their mouth opened, start initially by gently touching the sides of there cheeks everyday. Work up to actually opening the mouth, however briefly, before finally getting to the point where holding the mouth open for a count of 5 is not so bad from their point of view. It takes less time than you think, especially if a treat is received afterwards!

5. Preparing for the vets. On the regular treatment front, another little tip is to regularly play with the pads on your pets feet (be it dog, cat, bunny, ferret... any animal with feet really). The vet will have a good poke around at annual check up time, and in general this is something animals really don't like. Make the trip less stressful by getting them use to it before. We don't do this as often as tip 4, but it probably gets done once a week. It is also a good time to check their paws over for new scratches etc which if they are outdoor pets will inevitably occur.

6. Travelling with cats. Oh this can be a bother! As avid readers of Pass The Caffeine will know, we take our cats on holiday with us. Now this might seem odd, but it has worked out really well. The are so used to travelling now that, coupled with tips 4 and 5, they are so un-fussed about going to the vets that they purr the whole time they are there! It makes for a lot less stress in the house in the run up to vaccinations. It also helped our dear little kitty who needed an emergency operation recover faster as I'm sure she was less stressed than if she wasn't used to being in her carrier.

7. Getting cats accustomed to their cat carriers. The cat carrier comes out and all of a sudden your beloved feline is no where to be seen. Sound familiar? Even if you aren't an avid cat-holidayer, they will inevitably need to go to the vets every now and then, and possibly a cattery. Get them used to the idea of travel a week before by getting the carrier out. You may find that they start sleeping in it anyway. This way it smells of them when they are put in it on the big day and as with tip 6, it all reduces their stress levels. My vet actually recommends leaving the carriers out at all times as part of your cat furniture so they are fully accustomed to the carriers. I haven't gone that far, but have recommended it to my sister as her cats go AWOL as soon as there is a sniff of a carrier.

8. Cleaning up after accidents. However lucky you at some point there will be an accident. It might be illness, old age, kittenhood, puppies, or goodness knows what else. The one common theme is the BAD smell! Getting it out of fabric is a particular night mare of mine. Especially when it happens overnight and you only discover in the morning! NOT nice! Anyway, my failsafe now for pretty much all surfaces is a 50:50 mix of washing-up liquid (I use lemon flavoured which helps) and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). Mix it up to a paste, apply to the surface, rubbing in thoroughly, but not so much that you damage the fabric or scratch the surface with the soda. Leave to dry then hoover up. I have occasionally needed two applications, but in general this gets rid of the smell every time. There are of course other methods out there, but please be careful what you use, not just because of your furniture, but because a lot of products aren't safe for pets. Always read the label!

9. Stop the scratch. Have cats destroying your furniture? Tape plastic carrier bags against the surface. They hate it! Yes it looks ugly but after a month they will stop being interested and you can remove the bags and have a pretty home once more!

10. Dental health. Many pet owners are now aware of dental hygiene for their pets as well as themselves. As we know there is link between gum disease and heart disease in humans (bacteria enters the blood stream via the mouth which damages the heart), it stands to reason that their may be a link in pets too! If you have kittens start brushing their teeth daily. There are great (fish) tasting enzyme based cat toothpastes, and there probably are for dogs too. We use baby toothbrushes on our cats about once a week. Just remember that a little goes a long way. If you have an older cat, learning to accept a toothbrush isn't easy. There are however some great gels that cats love to lick up which helps to clean their teeth. My parents have had great results with Logic paste which the cats just lap up like it is a treat!

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Monday, 14 January 2013

2013 Planner and Organiser - finally revealed

Hello! Well I have finally put the finishes touches to my 2013 planner. I have already been using it, but I decided on a few tweaks before I shared it with you. I have played with the colours to get them to look better once printed and finally persuaded my brand new printer to do what I want! No easy task. Its a lovely printer, but apparently double sided A5-printing that is the correct orientation is beyond my capabilities!

So here we are my lovely, shiny organiser. I've printed it A5, as I have a nice (Martha Stewart) binder that fits perfectly in my handbag. Each month starts with a calendar:

Then we get the week in a double page spread, with a notes section, an 'actions' (basically a nicer way of saying 'to-do'). At the top of the right hand side of the spread there is also a nice little section showing the previous month, current month and next month, so at a glance I can tell where we are and what day of the week a particular date is.

Of course, this organiser would not be complete without some other basics. Firstly, a blog planning page, again with lots of space for notes and ideas that might not immediately fit in the current week. There is a meal plan page, with a handy grocery list printed on the back so the whole thing can be taken out the binder as appropriate:

And finally, in attempt to put some order into my chaotic life a cleaning schedule:

I have had an informal cleaning schedule for years, but having it written down will hopefully mean that I finish it more frequently! Fingers crossed!

And dear readers, because it took me sooooo long to make these up, I thought I would share them with you. Hopefully this will help someone else avoid the time it took me.


You can download the January 2013 planner and associated documents here. The rest of the year will shortly follow (once I create the PDFs!).`

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Friday, 11 January 2013

Apologies for the silence

Sorry for the silence the last few days, but I've been down with something not nice! I've spent most of this week in bed, and so I am way behind on my plans for the pending house move.

However, hopefully this weekend (bug dependent) I will bring you my first taste of house move packing! Yes it is 3 months until we move (well a bit less than that now), but you can never start too early. I also have a little information about sorting out your study space.

In the meantime, I thought I would share with you a few updates on the house. We have a move in date of 28th March (the day before Good friday). I am not sure we will move *on* the 28th as we are still renting and able to overlap if we want. However, moving on 28th would allow us to be in the house and unpacking for Easter, which is quite appealing, even though it will mean boxes everywhere. But we would be unpacking rather than packing! I'm also pessimistic that things will actually complete on 28th. A couple of our friends were due to move today, and have had to cancel everything because the exchange couldn't happen and it has put them in an awful state of limbo. They have had to arrange another day off work, reorganise the removal company, get someone to take the kids and pets for yet another day. It gets quite stressful. And they aren't the only ones. Selling Mr PTC's old house, that was empty and we weren't living in, failed on the first attempt and was moved from a Friday to the following Monday. So I think we might just hold off until after Easter. Just in case! That means I can go in and give the place a really thorough clean before actually moving if things do complete on time.

We are also looking more seriously at using a company for the entire move because it isn't as expensive as we thought (once you get them out for a piano anyway). So there is lots of news and thoughts and processing going on round here!

So come back over the weekend and hopefully I will have a couple of interesting organisation posts for you all.

Thanks for stopping by,
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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Cash free month challenge

I recently completed my annual spending summary, where I chart what we spent by a set of categories over the last year. We weren't very frugal in 2012 because we both had jobs for the first time ever! However, this needs to change in 2013 with our imminent house purchase!

One of the most interesting sources of spending was that the top three spending categories were:

1. Rent = 27% - good job we are moving then!
2. Groceries = 12% - ok, so we like food.
3. Cash = 8%

OK, so number 1 and 2 are not that surprising. We could definitely do with paring down our groceries, and luckily with buying a house, rather than just rent we will be paying for equity as well (although for the first two years 50% of the money we put into the mortgage will be interest, but gradually the situation will become better).

However, CASH at 8% of our annual spend? I could NOT believe that!

To put this into context, I aim to spend as much as possible by card, simply because it makes it easier to track things. I look at the statements for Mr PTC and myself at the end of the month and enter the numbers into a spreadsheet via categories.  So cash should be a tiny tiny tiny bit of our spending, related to places and purchases where it is easier to pay by cash than card.

I should also point out that I take out the majority of the cash in this particular house! And spend the majority of it. Worse still, most of it is spent on lunches, coffees and snacks at work! We can easily spend £50 some weeks on food between the two of us at work if I don't organise lunches. That is *a lot* of money!

When I realised this I had also just magicked away £100 that I took out in cash before Christmas. Sure enough there were very good reasons to spend that £100, but it is a lot of money to just vanish! So just after Christmas I set a little aim for myself to see how long I could go before having to get some cash out. I am pleased to say it has now been two weeks! Yesterday Mr PTC had to pay for parking in town because I didn't have cash, but other than that I haven't actually missed it. Instead I have focused on making lunch to take to work (I need to empty my freezer asap), and whenever I fancy a coffee and cake in the afternoon I remind myself that first I will need to leave my nice warm cosey building, take a cold 5 minute walk outside to the cash machine and then finally get coffee. Its amazing what the threat of bad weather and dodgy hair does to your wallet!

So to continue in this theme I will try to make it to the end of January with NO cash! I'm quite sensible about card spending (OK I might retract that statement at some point), but cash can just be frittered away. Now if I want to spend I need to ask Mr PTC and deal with the frown and annoyance of him having to get his wallet out! Funny, that!

I fully expect to go back to cash, indeed a lot of the time it is necessary. However, I hope a cash free month will instil some frugalness in me that I apparently need!

Thanks for stopping by,
Let me know what you think... leave a comment or send an email to passthecaffeine {at} gmail {dot} com

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Sneak preview: 2013 organiser

Here is a classic case of how unorganised I am... and why I need this blog to keep me motivated. I wanted to make a planner this year that satisfies my requirements rather than those of some stationary company, and so embarked on a plan to make my own with my humble little laptop.

Low and behold I'm only just finishing it off, and we are nearly into the second week in January! The good news is, that I haven't gone back to work yet.... Organisation? Who needs organisation during the holidsay? Pfft! Ahem. Cough cough.

Anyway, I thought I would share a sneaky peek with you all of what is coming, because it is oh so pretty and oh so simple and yet suits my needs perfectly. I will have a double page A5 spread of a week to view calendar:

There is also a meal plan, with a grocery list to print side-by-side to help me plan our week ahead:

And of course, scheduling tools for cleaning and blogging:

I still have some other odds and ends to add, but I am so pleased with how these look. I've been playing with the format for about 10 days now and I think I finally have it the way I want it! Hopefully having a pretty organised file will encourage me to pursue the organisation I desire!

Thanks for stopping by,
Let me know what you think... leave a comment or send an email to passthecaffeine {at} gmail {dot} com

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Moving house guide week 1: Start tackling the mail

So I arrived home from two weeks at my parents to find a pile of letter behind my front door which were a prompt reminder of one of the many tasks I need to face up to for a organised house move.

Heaven? Maybe not... the Christmas cards that we hadn't received before the holiday were lovely. The bills, well, not so much!

However, this has provided me with an opportune moment to start noting all the people and companies we receive mail from. I've created a page to fill in over the next few months to reduce the pain of changing our address.

Of course you can opt for mail-forwarding by Royal Mail, or the equivalent service in your own country. However, it is not foolproof. Last time we moved, I set up mail-forwarding, paying about £45 for the privilege, only to find that about half of our mail went missing. Luckily for us the people that moved into our old flat sent it to our old letting agency who forwarded it to us, but it included items such as a cheque book! I could not believe that both the bank (who were told 2 weeks before we moved house of our new address) and the post office could mess up so badly! So this time I will be more careful.

This starts  with filling in my mail-tracker sheet for the next 2 months, composing letters 1 month before we move and sending them off 2 weeks before. The bank will be getting a visit from me the week before I move house this time, plus we will have a 10 day overlap on our properties probably, though this isn't confirmed yet. Luckily I'm also friends with my current landlady, so hopefully she will be kind enough to forward things along to me.

My top tips for tackling the mail forwarding problem are:
1. Write down notes of the company/contact/membership numbers of all incoming mail as soon as you know you will be moving house. Get a copy of my mail tracker here.
2. Identify sporadic mail. Go through filing to identify companies who write to you rarely, such as banks who you only get online statements from.
3. Stop the spam. Stop as much spam as possible, but don't rely on them stopping. Any mail with your name and address on it can potentially be used to steal your identity. So if you receive an item regularly contact the company and ask them to stop sending, but if you still receive the item, accept it and change your address instead.
4. Write letters. About a month before your move write letters to the relevant companies detailing your move date and new address. Print the letters out, put in envelopes, write on the address, but hold off sending until 10 days before your move date. Remember; letters are your friend. They will save you precious time not spent on the phone or in a shop/bank branch in the run up your moving day. Sometimes personal visits and telephone calls are necessary, but most of the time they are not. Mail merging also saves you a lot of time if you know how to set it up and you already have your addresses in a database.
5. Compile lists. Categorise companies who may/will not accept letters as a change of address notification by telephone/email/online and set aside a time in your move-week to tackle this list. It should be minimal as most companies are happy to deal with a letter. However, never trust a bank to do it by letter, always go into a branch if possible. Remember that you may not have a phone line in your new property when you first move in, so try and tackle this before you move rather than after, even if you have been assured by your Utlities company that they will have the phone operational the day you move (in my experience this is very unreliable!).
6. Set up mail forwarding. Once you are between eight and four weeks away from your move date contact your mail forwarding provider. In the UK this is Royal Mail. You can apply anywhere from up to 3 months before your move date, and the sooner you do it, the less there is to worry about it nearer the time. Royal mail need a minimum of 5 working days to set it up.
7. Print forwarding labels. I don't know what other countries are like, but in the UK if you write 'please forward to.... blah blah blah' on an envelope that has been incorrectly delivered and pop it in a post box, unopened, Royal Mail will forward it to the new address. In fact, it is a criminal offence in the UK to 'stop mail being delivered', i.e. if it is delivered to you by mistake and you bin it! In the past if I have moved out of a property and have friends who still live at the address (this happened a lot as a student) I have printed labels with my forwarding address on and given these to my old flatmates when I move out. This way they just pop it on the envelope, over the original address, and the hardest thing for them is popping it in the post box. As we are friends with our landlady we will be using this tactic once again for this move.

Thanks for stopping by,
Let me know what you think... leave a comment or send an email to passthecaffeine {at} gmail {dot} com

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Moving house guide week 1: brainstorming

First things first, Happy new year! I hope 2012 didn't treat you too badly and that you are all looking forward to a fresh and exciting 2013. If not, don't worry too much!

As promised earlier in the week I am starting 2013 with my guide to house moving. I'm fairly experienced at moving house, having lived at 6 addresses in 10 years. This should make me a pro right? Far far from it I'm afraid. My moves have gradually become bigger and bigger over the years. Gone are the days where everything fitted in a car (Who am I kidding? My Dad hired a van to take me to University because I had so much stuff!). This time I have a real dilemma as to whether we hire a removal company. Its only a 10 mile move, but we have sooooo much stuff... and a piano. My brother in law has kindly offered his services and assures me that he can move the piano with my hubby, but well, I'm not so sure. That's a bridge to cross in the future.

Anyway, to the move itself. Yes it is 3 months away, but given as how we know it will happen (subject to everything going to plan at least), I'm starting now. However hard a try I always run out of time for packing/planning and there is always a last minute rush! I don't know why, but there is. This year, it will be calm (ahem), planned, and vaguely sensible.

The first thing I am doing, as I have the luxury of time, is a plan. I started by brainstorming all the things I think I need to do/remember/organise before and after moving day. This is the starting point for my plan. Because I'm a jotter and an editor, a cross-er-outer and generally don't like mess, I'm doing this electronically. I have been known to throw away and re-write a perfectly good handwritten list because of typo. So electronic saves me time and sanity. However, please feel free to jot down on a piece of paper; do a brainstorm with a big circle in the middle like you did at school. They really do work!
My brainstorm

My brainstorm started out as above. I'm adding to it... slowly but surely, and no doubt I will continue for at least the next month or so.

I now need to turn this into some sort of plan, organised by time and function. For this I am going to create a special section in my home management binder, or possible in a binder all of itself to keep all house-move stuff together. I haven't quite decided yet. However, at least this lays out where I am right now.

There are two things that I am starting right now, before I finalise the move-plan. Firstly, eating my way through our freezer - there is a lot of food in there! And secondly, writing down every little last bit of post that comes through the door. I'll tell you more about the tactics for handling these two things in the coming days.

Thanks for stopping by,
Let me know what you think... leave a comment or send an email to passthecaffeine {at} gmail {dot} com