Sunday, 31 January 2016

Money management

My university term officially starts up again tomorrow and the foreboding reality of lectures, seminars and essays soon to come has brought me abruptly back down to earth. I want to sort out any non-academic concerns before I get back into the routine of uni so I can make myself focus on all that important literary, writerly stuff. One of these little concerns has been money management.

In the weeks since Christmas I've been a little too frivolous with my spending and haven't really kept track of my outgoings. Since I'm a student and only work during holidays, I have to be careful about how much is going out of my bank account when... well, there' s nothing really going in. This is where my termly budgeting comes in.

Now, there's something you need to realise. I'm not a well organised human being. I find budgeting quite difficult because I'm useless at estimating how much things will cost. I've looked online a few times over the years for a budgeting calculator that might help me, but the problem with these is that they all want exact figures of how much you will spend within each 'category' every week or month. There's a downfall to this method: does anyone, especially a student, actually know exactly how much they'll spend on each and every thing? I'm not one to make all my plans in advance so it'd be impossible for me to determine where every penny is going to go for the whole term. I like life to be a little more impromptu than that - what if I want to go out one night but haven't budgeted for the occasion? It didn't take me long to decide that this kind of exactitude wouldn't work for me as a money management technique.

I realised that I'd have to figure out my own way, to make my own sort of Budgeting for Dummies. I'm usually utterly rubbish with money but I've found that keeping track of my spending in a simple way really helps me to stay on top of it all.

At the start of each term the first thing I do is make a note of my balance. I then minus any absolutely essential outgoings from this. Usually for me that's just monthly rent, and I sort bills and food etc. within my weekly spending. The next thing I do is look at how many weeks there'll be in the term and work out my ideal weekly budget based on my remaining balance (always leaving a bit spare to compensate for the odd over-budget week and emergencies).

After I've sorted that part out, I put my weekly budgets for the whole term into an app called Monefy. This app is a total godsend and if you're an Android user I'd absolutely recommend it. As far as I know, the Spendee app is fairly similar and that's available for iOS, so don't fear if you're an Apple aficionado.

The best thing about Monefy is its simplicity. I've included two screenshots below of the app showing my week's spending from back in December. The first is the main page that you see when you open the app, which gives you a breakdown of your balances for the current week and shows you a handy colour coded chart. This makes it easy to assess within which categories you're spending the most. The plus and minus symbols allow you to quickly add any incoming or outgoing expenses. If you tap the green 'balance' button the app shows you the page on the right, which gives you more precise details of your spending.

The way in which the app breaks down your spending for you by letting you categorise each expense is incredibly useful for learning more about your spending habits, and how to better organise and control them in future. The problem I'd had previously was not knowing how much I'd be spending within each of these categories, but after using this app for a few weeks the emerging spending patterns are easy to observe. The whole interface is clear and makes tracking your expenditures so much less of a chore! Another feature that I love is the widget which you can add to your phone's home screen (screenshot below). I use this to quickly add even the smallest of spends before I forget about them - things like a cup of tea bought during the uni day or one off necessities. If I was trying to track everything myself with pen and paper, there's no way I'd remember all the small things. Seeing the widget there at the bottom of my page whenever I look at my phone reminds me to put everything in.

I used this method for the whole of last term and it worked really well. Being able to see where my weekly balance stands at any time gives me peace of mind and means I can make decisions about purchases in an instant. Best of all, it means I can worry about the more important things and pretty much let my budgeting take care of itself! I hope that all I've learned on my way to better money management is helpful. Let me know if you use any apps to help you budget, whether you're another cash-strapped student or just want to be a more savvy spender in general.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

DIY: Scoop neck t-shirt

Have you ever been there, done that and bought the t-shirt, only to find that the t-shirt sits in your wardrobe forever without once being put on? If this is the case, I'd put money on your t-shirt being a strangling crew neck, donned once every few months only for you to take it off again immediately, because no amount of time passed between attempts makes it look any more flattering. I've been there, so many times.

Band tees and tops from events that I've been to are what usually cause this problem for me. I tell myself that the shirt has a cool pattern or that I really need one to remind me of how great this gig was, but they always end up becoming pyjama tops or lazy day clothes, never to be seen by the outside world. I'm not a fan of really high necked t-shirts on myself, which these tops often are. I'd go so far as to say that they're a bit of an enemy of mine. It's always seemed a shame (and a huge waste of my money) that I hardly ever wear them, so I decided to tackle the problem and try a little customisation. 

I'm not particularly crafty at all when it comes to textiles, so I was taking a bit of a risk in taking a pair of kitchen scissors to my clothes. I reasoned with myself that these are tops I don't wear anyway, so if I ruined them it wouldn't be the absolute end of the world.

If you want to try this, all you really need is your irritating high necked t-shirt and a good sharp pair of scissors. Fabric scissors are ideal, but I didn't have a pair with me at university so I just used a normal pair and didn't really have any trouble.

I'm using this cute David and Goliath t-shirt as an example. I love the print on this top but have only wore it once or twice, its shape putting me off every other time I've tried it on.

   It's a bit creased but I'm honestly just the worst at ironing so I didn't bother (sorry).

The first thing to do is to take your t-shirt and fold it in half lengthways. The easiest way to make sure you're folding accurately is to grab the top by its shoulders and make sure that the shoulder seam on one sleeve is in line with that on the other. In the picture below I've covered the shoulder seam in blue so you know what I mean - the opposite sleeve's seam should be directly behind the one that is visible to you on top.

Make sure the area around the collar is pretty smooth before you start cutting so you get as even a line as possible. I didn't get pictures of the next part but it's super easy, trust me.

Place two of your fingers under the existing collar, take your scissors and make a small cut beneath your fingers. You'll be making this cut from the centre of the t-shirt (the left side in the picture above). If you have a design on your shirt that starts higher up than the width of two fingers allows and don't want to cut into it, make the gap a bit smaller, that's fine. Make sure in your first cut that you're not cutting upwards towards the collar because this would give you a v necked shape. For a scoop neck, the first cut should be in a straight line, and from there you want to just keep cutting, curving upwards. Follow the curve of the collar to help you keep the right shape.

As you approach the shoulder seam you want to start closing the gap, moving your cut line closer to the line of the existing crew neck collar. As you cut through the shoulder seam and continue past that point, make your line follow as close to the bottom of the crew neck collar as possible so that the back of your t-shirt doesn't become scooped as well.

When you're done you should just have two pieces of fabric - your newly improved t-shirt and the collar that you've removed. If your neckline ends up a little jagged you can tidy it up but it should be fairly smooth, and depending on the material of your top it might roll down a little anyway which should hide any imperfections. I gave my t-shirt a bit of a pull along the new cut to stretch it out a little and make it that bit comfier, but that's up to you.

The finished product - not a bad first attempt!

I was pretty pleased with the end result! It's not totally perfect but it feels so much comfier and I definitely prefer wearing it in this style. I'll actually wear this top out of the house now instead of letting it sit sad and unloved in a crinkled ball at the bottom of my wardrobe. You wouldn't believe how easy it is to do this little bit of DIY. I'm horribly clumsy and prone to crafting disasters so if I can do it you definitely can! I've already made another scoop neck with an old band tee of mine and was even happier with the result.
This is a great way to reinvent a t-shirt that you barely ever wear. Now, stop putting perfectly nice tops into the pyjama pile and try it out for yourself!


Monday, 25 January 2016

Introducing: Music Mondays

My music taste is pretty eclectic and I pride myself on my readiness to listen to almost anything at least once. I've always made an effort to immerse myself in new music and ensure that I'm in the know regarding what's fresh and exciting, particularly in the realm of alternative rock and its peppy little indie pop brother.

Over the past year or two, however, I've noticed that my efforts have dwindled and increasingly I realise that I'm listening to the same dozen bands over and over again. My days of making new monthly playlists have somehow passed me by without notice, but I'm not ready to settle down with my favourite records just yet. I know there's more out there and it's time to shake things up. 

I'm making Monday into an opportunity. No more will we have our Monday morning ritual of hiding under the duvet to stave off the coming week that little bit longer. No more will we groan in despair when we realise that there are five whole days until the weekend. Mondays are getting a dose of excitement, and I will be administering the injection. Music Mondays are here!

Every Monday I'll be recommending a single here on the blog: a track to brighten up a dreary Monday and make the week that bit newer. Last week is behind you, this week anything could happen. Listen to the track, take a deep breath. Revel in Monday's possibilities. See? It's going to work wonders for both of us.

I'll be making the single a recent one when possible, but if I'm particularly struck by something older that I feel deserves to be shared, I'll chuck that in a post instead. The idea is only that we give something new to us a chance. Let's not become set in our ways just yet!

This week's single, 25/01/16:

Glades - Drive

Tomorrow is National Australia Day and I see no better way to celebrate than by listening to Sydney alt. pop trio Glades. Karina Wykes, Cam Robertson and Joey Wenceslao released new single 'Drive' last week, a follow up to 2015 singles 'Her (Loving You)' and 'Falling Away'. It's early days for Glades but their unique poppy tracks are to be taken seriously: theirs is a sound which could well be bound for the limelight. Karina's voice has a Goulding-esque manipulation to it: its uniqueness the kind that makes the listener briefly wonder whether an effect has been added to the sound. Of course, it hasn't, but electronic instrumentals layered beneath complement it perfectly. 'Drive' makes for a great first listen to Glades and is an appetizing taste of who they are and what they have yet to come. Listen on Spotify here or on the band's Soundcloud here.

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