January 06, 2017

Get Fit Without a Gym Membership

It's that time of year again. You ate and drank too much over the Christmas holidays and now you're set on getting fit. New year resolutions like that often lead to expensive gym memberships which often end up being a waste of money. It's easy to sign the gym direct debit form, but is it easy to actually make yourself get down to some fat-busting exercise.

I won't be signing up for a gym membership anytime soon, but I will be trying to make the little changes in my lifestyle that will help me avoid prematurely popping my clogs.

Do Some Aerobic Exercise

You can spare 30 minutes for three times a week. You don't have to fork out the cost of a gym membership to get your body into shape. There are plenty of cheaper (often free) alternatives. You can go for a bike ride, run around the park, get down to your local swimming pool or even just dance around your living room. People claim that they don't have the time, but you can make time. And even if you can't manage 30 minutes of getting yourself into a sweat, you can surely manage to set aside some time every work for a bit of a workout.

Get Active in Daily Life

There are plenty of everyday activities and leisure pursuits that can help you become more active. Particularly if you have a sedentary job, sitting at a desk all day, it pays to take every little opportunity you can to move yourself a little more. Always take the stairs. Take up gardening, volunteer to clean a park, do something.

Buy Some Dumb Bells

You don't need a complete home gym to build those muscles, but there are few things you can get for your home that will help you shape up. And you needn't break the bank stocking up on kit. Start out with some dumb bells, perhaps a stability ball and maybe some resistance bands.

Watch What You Eat

You don't need a fad diet to get in shape. Losing weight and staying in shape just takes a little common sense. It's obvious really. Don't eat too much and eat the right things, like fruit and veg, and avoid the bad things like sugar and too much salt.

Have the Occasional Treat

The reason why most people give up on diets is that they are just too unrealistic. You might start out with the best intentions and eat nothing but light salads at the start of your new health regime. But that's unlikely to last. You're going to break. For many, when they crack after a couple of days and eat something bad, they give up on the health kick completely. When they've given in to temptation and eaten a bag of chips or a donut, they think they've failed and end their healthy living plan right there and then. A much better approach is to just allow yourself the little treats every once in a while, just so long as you know that after that you are going to go back to healthy living.

Picture: Fit Approach via Flickr, CC-BY-SA 2.0o

October 14, 2016

Save Money on Train Travel

Train travel in the UK is super expensive and the prices seem to keep on going up and up. If you want to bring the cost of your family rail travel down, you need to plan your trip well in advance.

Buy a Railcard. Getting a Family & Friends Railcard is a good investment if you know you are going to be travelling a lot by train. The card can be used by up to four adults when travelling with up to four children aged 5-15. You get a third of adult tickets and 60% off for kids on most rail fares. A Family & Friends railcard costs £30 for a year.

Book your Trip in Advance. If you know that you are going to be travelling some time in the future, it pays to get your tickets well in advance. Cheap tickets become available around 12-weeks before the date of travel. If you don't know you'll be travelling that far in advance, you can still get your ticket a little cheaper if you book even one week earlier than your travel date.

Split Tickets. If you're travelling a long distance, it is often cheaper to split up your journey.  Say you are travelling from London to Manchester, instead of getting one ticket for the journey, it might work out cheaper to buy a ticket from London to Birmingham, then another from Birmingham to Manchester. You could even stay on the same train, but end up saving money because you've split your journey into two parts.

Do Your Research Online. You can use National Rail's website to find the lowest possible fare for all UK train operators on all routes. When you book your train tickets online or buy a railcard, make sure you do it via a cashback website such as TopCashBack.

Picture: Matt Buck via Flickr, CC-BY-SA 2.0

October 07, 2016

Make the Most of Your Loyalty Cards

My wallet is bulging. Not because of money. No. I should be so lucky. It's loyalty cards that are weighing my pocket down. I've got cards for all the supermarkets. Cards for coffee shops, book shops, hairdresser's, restaurants. Way more than you'd expect from someone who was loyal.

Truth be told, loyalty doesn't necessarily pay when it comes to loyalty cards. Last year Sainsbury's halved the number of points customer can receive in store. That made many people wonder whether being loyal to one supermarket had any advantages. I still scan my cards whenever I do my shopping though. Why not? I reckon that if you use your loyalty cards wisely, you can still enjoy plenty of benefits from them.

Get Free Tea and Coffee With Your Loyalty Card

My missus likes a cup of tea when we’re in town. Those nice people at Waitrose let MyWaitrose card holders have a free one, even without buying anything, which is nice. I usually make the most of the free newspaper whenever I shop there. MyWaitrose cardholders are also able to receive 20 per cent off 10 items from a list of 1,000 goods every time they shop in store. Many people have two cards in different names so that they can increase the number of items which they can get discounts on to 20.

Using Two Cards Gets You More

Having two cards within a household can also be advantageous because it enables you to rest one card for a while. They may be called loyalty cards, but being loyal to one supermarket doesn't always pay. Sometimes, when I don’t use my Nectar card because I don’t shop at Sainsbury’s, I get sent vouchers as a way to try and lure me back into the store. If I’d been a loyal customer who shopped there regularly, I would get nothing. In fact, it pays to not shop at a supermarket for a while.

Boost Your Points

While you can use the points you earn from supermarkets to get vouchers to spend in the same supermarket you earned them in, you can get more value from your points by boosting them. With a Tesco clubcard, you can receive up to four times the value of your vouchers which you can then spend at a range of selected partner companies. These include things like cinema tickets, experience days and restaurants. For example, you can use £2.50 of Tesco vouchers to get a £10 to spend at Cafe Rouge.

Don’t Shop in Just One Place

Never choose where you shop because of your loyalty cards. I have a Boots Advantage card which I pull out whenever I buy something from there. I think it’s the best card in terms of payout. You get 4 points for every pound you spend. But if I see a product at £1.90 in one shop and £2 in Boots, it’s obviously better to buy it in the first shop rather than Boots, despite being able to pick up four pence worth of points from there. It is always important to be aware of the prices of things in different shops. Remember stores like Aldi and Lidl don’t use loyalty cards. They just have low prices. Don’t let the loyalty cards in your wallet dictate where you shop. It always pays to shop around.

Resist the Urge to Spend, Spend, Spend

Supermarkets didn't introduce loyalty cards because they wanted to give back something to their customers. Loyalty cards exist so that the retailers can gather market research information and get people to spend more. I'm comfortable with the fact that the supermarkets are keeping track of what I buy. If it enables me to get a little money off my weekly shop from time to time then I'm happy for them to have that information. But I only ever buy things that I was intending to buy. I don't buy things for points and don't pay attention to offers that supermarkets have selected based on my previous shopping habits. Keep using your loyalty cards, but don't overspend because of them.

September 23, 2016


Read Magazines for Free Thanks to Your Library

Libraries are great. Books galore to borrow for free. You can rent DVDs and CDs at a reasonable price. You can duck in there on a rainy day and read magazines.

Lately though, I've been reading digital magazines online on my iPad at home - FOR FREE - thanks to my local library. Many libraries throughout the country offer this service, thanks to a partnership with Zinio. On my local library website, I can download magazines like Esquire, The EconomistHow It Works, Total Film, Men's Fitness, What Car? and Good Food Magazine.

Check your local library online for more information.

Picture: Michael D Beckwith via Flickr, CC-BY-SA 2.0