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How to Save Money on Work Lunches – Skint Style

24 Apr

Without wanting to sound scrooge-like I’ve become increasingly resistant recently to paying more than I need to be at work. By that I mean shelling out for parking, posh lunches and all the other things that I wouldn’t be doing if I weren’t at the office. Things came to a head a few months ago when I got a parking ticket for £75 right outside myworkplace. Having parked there cos I didn’t want to be late , it was a lesson in how being conscientious doesn’t always pay off. (Oh, and a lesson to be on time in future too!) Anyway, that bill prompted me to start looking at my other work-related expenses, and it didn’t take long to see that a massive money eater for me was lunches and coffees.

Though I’m only in the office three days, my canteen bills were steep. So I seized the chance to get all nerd-like, logging what I spent at the café over the course of three days and the damage read like this: 

Wed – coffee £1.80; soup £2; yohgurt 80p

Thurs – coffee £1.80; banana 60p; baked potato with tuna £3

Fri – Tea £1; soup £2; chocolate 60p

Total = So, £13.60 for three days. On Mondays and Tuesdays when I’m at home I also go out for lunch to get a break, and probably spend about another £8 a week on that. Let’s round it right down to £20 a week (to make me feel better); that’s still £80 a month, and I’m not hugely enjoying any of these snacks or lunches. I could easily boil up some pasta in the evening for lunch the next day and I’d be happier taking in my own coffee actually, making it stronger and less milky than the work stuff. Or I’d rather make my own food four days a week and go out for a proper restaurant lunch with colleagues once a week – I still reckon that would come in cheaper than £80 a month.

retro lunchbox

And by taking your own lunch you get to dangle this from your arm every morning too!

After doing these sums I screwed on my sensible head and got to work coming up with ways to slash my weekly spend on work-related costs. After all, we’re meant to be at work to make money, not spend it, right? On some of those big lunch and parking ticket days I was coming home with less than I’d set out with that morning. Not smart.  

When I thought about why I was wasting money on something that I could so easily do at home, the answer came down, as it so often does, to time. At 7am it’s hard enough hauling myself out of bed, never mind thinking ahead to lunch. But with just a teensy bit of planning I could be saving enough money to buy something fabulous every month or, even better, putting the cash saved straight into my holiday fund.

The thing is, as well as taking time to organise, packed lunches can be a tad uninspiring, can’t they? I can still clearly picture lunchtime tomato sandwiches at school, how I’d lift them out of the Tupperware box and be confronted with a sodden mess of wet red bread. So I’ve turned to a couple of sites to help me out with some more creative lunch ideas and thought I share them. Firstly the magnificent lovefoodhatewaste, is a site worth checking out not just for its lunchtime ideas, but also its thoughts on how to cut down on the food waste that currently costs UK householders £12bn a year (£5.5 bn of that is lunch, my friends).

The BBC Good Food site is full of interesting lunchbox ideas too, so now instead of boring sandwiches I’m stocking up on pittas, wraps, oatcakes and ricecakes. And with fillings like hummus, guacamole and feta now stashed in my fridge I’m ditching Coronation chicken for good.

Skint in the City

Or this one! I might just splash some of my savings on a couple.

I’m trying to get into the habit of cooking extra pasta the night before too, then mixing it with whatever’s to hand: cherry tomatoes, sliced red peppers, pesto or tuna. And whilst I used to throw out leftover main meals I now box them and take them for lunch. Aside from the cost and health benefits I’ve found another unexpected bonus to taking my own food. By avoiding the queue for the sandwich shop I’ve discovered that my entire lunchtime is now my own to read a book, take a walk or go window shopping. And the difference to my bank balance at the end of the month is really noticeable.

How do you keep on top of your office lunchtime spending habits? Or don’t you? Are you happy to spend £100 a month on lunches? I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips – go on, share your smarts by leaving a comment below.

Skint Tip: If you’re a real rushbaby and already know you’ll never have time to make morning sandwiches, prepare sandwiches at the weekend and freeze them in clingfilm, then just take what you need out of the freezer before leaving the house each morning. By lunchtime they’ll be ready to eat.

If you want Skint updates straight to your inbox from now on just click the Follow Skint button or RSS at the top of the page and they’ll be with you quicker than Dorothy can click her heels.  


Top Money-Saving Websites

20 Feb

Hiya skint pals,

Today Skint wrote a round-up of top money saving websites and apps for the Daily Record’s Record Women section and I thought I’d share them with you, since they’ve really saved me a bundle. Some of these I’ve mentioned before on this sites, others are making their debut. With salaries squeezed and prices climbing, these are some of the sites that I think can help us all to survive and thrive in the tough times. – Next time you shop online for food, check out this site, which lets you enter your shopping list, selecting from five main supermarket chains, then keeps a running total of what your items cost in each store. When you’ve finished, this clever site tots up where you can get the whole lot cheapest and redirects you to the supermarket that will give you the best deal. It takes the same amount of time as doing a normal online shop and can typically save you 5-10%. Genius! 

Homelink  –  House-swapping has really taken off in the recession and there are now plenty of websites where you can meet people happy to hand over their keys for a fortnight – in return for you doing the same. With house-swapping you can go pretty much anywhere in the world, staying in places you’d normally only dream of. From villas in Florida with an outdoor Jacuzzi and pool, to city pads in Berlin, all it costs is a small fee to the house-swap agency, then your plane fares. Many holidaymakers car swap too, meaning no car hire costs. A reputable agency like will keep you right. Membership costs £115 – not bad for potentially three or four free holidays a year. With the weak dollar, there’s many a skint UK woman who wishes she could grab herself some Carrie Bradshaw style by shopping direct from the USA. The problem? Many US sellers’ won’t post goods to Britain, either because they only deal in dollars or just consider if too much faff. That’s where package forwarding services come in. For a one-off fee of around $10, services such as set you up with your own US address, then forward items to you faster than you can say I’ll-take-that-in-red.

top money saving websites

'Um, our broadband seems to be rather slow this morning.''

theappliancedepot Loads of people are put off by a scratch on their furniture. Me? Ooh, I’ve learned to love ’em. Whether it’s appliances or dining room tables, shopping at outlets that specialise in slightly imperfect items can save you a ton. Last summer I saved hundreds on a fridge freezer because it had a tiny scratch on the side – and I mean tiny. For slightly imperfect fridges, washing machines and so on, scratch n dent sites are the way to go if you want to save a ton.  If you’ve got an opinion on everything, why not get paid for giving it? Companies across the country want to hear what you think of their products – and they’re willing to pay. Doing online surveys is never going to make you rich, but it could be a nice sideline whilst watching telly. Typically you’re paid £5 per completed survey. An internet phenomenon, retailers pay these sites for sending them shoppers, then the sites pass some of that cash back to you! The percentage paid back can be as much as 20% of the price of the goods you’re buying, making for huge savings.

Red Laser – This simple app lets you scan the barcodes in shops and tells you if the item is cheaper anywhere else. Just swipe your phone camera over the barcode and let it get to work. Happy shopping!

Skint hasn’t been paid or perked by any of these sites mentioned – just sharing the love . . .

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Last Minute Valentine’s Day Money Savers

13 Feb

Remember the film Wall Street? And the excruciating Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, who was always going on about how lunch is for wimps and how time is money? Well, I’ve been thinking this weekend that he was sort of right. Not about the lunch bit, obviously. Anyone who tries taking my lunch away won’t live to see high tea. But about the time thing.  

money saving valentines ideas

Buy glitter! Sell roses! Cheesy Valentine's hits are for wimps!

See it takes time to make money, but also to save it, and when time’s running out, when I’m pressed, or panicking, or on a deadline, all of the usual money-saving strategies fly out the window and I find myself chucking money at a problem to make it go away.

Never Skint chums, will this be more evident than today – the day before Valentine’s – when last-minute lovers the world over find themselves making emergency calls to florists and being conned out of £90 for a dozen blooms. Or ringing round every restaurant in town, to discover that the only table left for tomorrow night is at the Michelin starred swank palace in the poshest part of town – then making a booking anyway cos, well, cos choices have run out.

Don’t do it to yourselves! There are still ways to score in the romance stakes without paying last-minute prices. It’s the duty of skint folks the world over to resist the pressure of tomorrow’s big spend and find savvier ways to spread our love. So, with 24 hours left to get your Valentine’s Day sorted, how to do it without busting your bank balance?

First up, cards: Those giant padded shop-bought ones can easily set you back around £20 and anyway, the queues at the card shop will be out the door today. Instead, head for the art store to buy a sheet of plain coloured card and some glitter, then get to work tonight sticking on a couple of your favourite pics and a handmade heart. Then all you need is a poem – and a deadline is great for creativity. Ta-dah! You’ve got a card which will melt hearts far more than those padded Hallmark flummeries  – all for less cash than a coffee.

Next, flowers: Oh, it’s a happy Monday for florists today. By all means, add to their joy by buying some blooms but avoid the moneyeaters, ie red roses – a dozen long-stemmed ones cost around £70 just now, plus delivery. Save money by getting a nice mixed bouquet with maybe three red roses in it – less than half the cost at £30. Or go for a flower not traditionally associated with Valentines Day but which your partner loves.  And whatever flowers you choose, deliver them yourself. Delivery typically costs six pounds. And of course everyone, no matter how skint you are, no matter how last-minute your plans, should avoid flowers from the garage forecourt – unless you want to end up wearing saving valentines cards

With gifts, I’ve always found the best tactic is to invest thought not cash and with only a day to go it’s the speedy option too. Raid your belongings tonight to find favourite photos of you and your love together, then pop them into a frame (whip a photo out of one you’ve already got if you don’t have a spare), or make a mix CD of your partner’s favourite music and popping it in the car CD player so it comes on tomorrow morning morning. Other ideas include coupon books with ten to fifteen coupons, which your partner can redeem throughout the year. These might include coupons for a back massage, an offer to clean the house, a token for breakfast in bed etc. Cost – nada. Or make up a love box. Just take a shoe box, line it with posh tissue paper and fill with: chocolates, photos, a coupon book, a mix CD inside, a homemade card or a love letter – all individually wrapped. Alternatively you can write your sweetheart a love letter and stick it in their pocket, handbag, wallet or under the windscreen so they find it at some point on Valentines Day.  I know a girl who found an admiring letter from a stranger under her windscreen one morning – she married him a year later.

Now for the Valentine’s celebration. Forget that Michelin swank palace. Stay at home and cook a meal, then go out on Thursday – the prices will be slashed, the food will be better and you won’t have to listen to that 100 Romantic Hits CD the restaurants bring out every year. Tomorrow, cook your favourite meal at home, light candles, get dressed up  – I’ll leave the rest to you. But if you’re a traditionalist who feels that Valentine’s Day isn’t complete without a meal out, what about lunch instead? Taking a long lunch will feel more decadent – and be far cheaper too.

So, even if you’ve left it all a bit late there’s still time to have a fabulous, skint Valentines Day, if that’s your thing. Basically invest thought, not cash and steer clear of tacky. Expect the same. If anyone buys you a helium balloon on a stick tomorrow, or a teddy of any description, you are well within your rights to ask them for the receipt and march it right back to the shop. Ha. Maybe there is a little bit of Gordon Gekko in me after all. Have a happy day, skint pals. Valentine’s love to you all.

S.W.A.L.K. x

To get all the regular updates from Skint, just hit the Follow or RSS buttons at the top of the page. And if you’re feeling warm and fuzzy this Valentine’s I’d love you to share the Skint love with a pal or two by telling them about Thanks for reading, xxx

The Curse of Groupon: When Saving Money Goes Mad

11 Sep

I’m bleeding money this week, struck down by a particularly nasty condition known the Curse of Groupon.  Now, I love group-buying sites and all their money-saving spin-offs. In fact Skint sang their praises here a few months back.   

But signing up to these sites is a bit like having the January sales visit your inbox every day. A meal for two for a fiver!  A fish pedicure for the same price as a bag of chips! Who could possibly say no? Not me, it seems. At least, not as often as I should. I’m coming to realise that my pride in living the skint life has made me a Groupon marketers dream. I need only see the phrase 50% off to be clicking my little mouse and Paypalling my way out of another £20.  

Trouble is, I sometimes forget about what I’ve bought. Boy, I’m sure that Groupon loves me. As I found out in this fascinating article, if vouchers aren’t redeeemed Groupon keeps 100% of the profits, and doesn’t have to share with the participating restaurant/cafe/whatever.

Today, after realising I’d just passed the deadline for redeeming a Groupon deal, I got to thinking about all those times that group-buying sites were the winners in our little arrangement. The reading’s not pretty:

1) Bought a family photoshoot as a Xmas gift. Short deadline, bad weather and general slovenliness meant deadline passed before voucher could be redeemed.

2) Purchased deal for a cut and style at hair salon, only to forget to take the voucher with me. Discovered at the till, post-cut. Unforgiveable really, that one. 

3) Bought a hotel break. Hotel inundated with bookings meaning no vacancies left at the times I could manage. Gave vouchers to pals for free.

4) Bought voucher for some heavily discounted moisturiser. Out of stock by the time I redeemed it. 

Hmm, a sorry list there, huh? And the lesson is simply, act fast. Or if like me you’re genetically incapable of doing so it might be best to either avoid these sites or set up some sort of reminder system –  a sort of Groupon klaxon – that goes off two or three weeks before the expiry date.  

Happily, I have had some real successes with group-buying too. The highlights?

1)  A set of ten make-up brushes for £16. Top of the range ones, worth more than £100. They’ve made such a difference to my mornings and I know I’ll have them for many years.

2) A two night stay at a favourite hotel for a rock bottom price. This is Groupon bonanza – when a deal comes up on something you’d be doing sometime anyway. To hell with using group-buying to try new experiences – give me well-loved hotels over sky-diving any day.

3) Carpet cleaning for a snip. Glamorous, no. But oh so welcome. 

How about you? Group-buying sites – love em or hate em? Ever been seduced into buying a deal that you’ve never redeemed? Share your pain honey – it makes me feel better.  And if you’ve got any tips on how you avoid the curse of Groupon we’d all love to hear them.

Welcome, Skint Girls!

23 Aug

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome! To all of the lovely readers who have joined our little Skint hub, it’s great to have you here. See, it’s been busy at chez Skint over the last week or so. After blogging last week about the rumoured return of Sex and the City, Skint’s comments made the New York Post magazine’s site as well as many UK sites, which has brought a host of new subscribers. (Wonder what the collective noun for a group of Skint girls is? A pride? A pride of Skint girls – it’s got a nice ring.) 

Whether you’re following Skint via subscription, Facebook or Twitter, it’s great to have you with us, new girls. And don’t worry, there are no initiation rituals. No heads down the toilet, no being forced to eat twelve pizzas in a row. We’re a friendly sort round here. It’s all about sharing the best tips and deals around: finding creative ways to live the high life – even if your budget’s tighter than your skinny jeans. Please leave your own tips and comments any time by clicking the comments box which appears at the end of every post. If you know something great, please share the love.

And if you’ve got any Skint pals who might like the site, do let them know. It’s great to have you on board.

The next post looks at how to save money on salon colour – skint style. See you then.

Sex and the City Returns – with Added Recession Chic

15 Aug

Rumours are everywhere today that Sex and the City is to return to our TV screens. Apparently Sarah Jessica Parker is looking towards a
new series, which got me wondering: in these recessionary times, is SATC just
too bling? 

Times are a-changing, girls (and maybe that's a good thing if it puts a stop to outfits like these)

When Carrie and the girls hit the Manhattan high spots a decade ago we drooled with envy at their lifestyle, their apartments, their shoes, but there’s a distinct possibility that their lavish lifestyles might just seem crass these days.

That’s why Skint in the City is reaching out to the SATC team and suggesting that they change their behaviour a little to reflect the times we’re living through. Skint can imagine Carrie and crew trying to live large on a shoestring budget: freecycling their way around Manhattan, shopping at Target and relying on Groupon for their restaurant deals. Here are a few ideas for forthcoming episodes where the girls are keeping it real:

Street Life: With the value of her investment portfolio slashed, Charlotte is forced to find an alternative means of furnishing her apartment – skip diving. Taking Carrie along for moral support the duo trawls the skips and pavements of the Upper East Side, looking for ‘vintage’ furniture. The resultant haul includes a bedside table with potential and a hoover that might simply need a new belt. Charlotte is hooked.

Bye Bye Big Shot: Mr Big is made redundant. No-one ever knew what he did anyway. Carrie and Big are forced to economise and soon become addicted to extreme couponing, travelling miles across NYC to snag the best discounts. Heck, they even go to Queens. 

Farewell to the Hamptons: No-one can afford the Hamptons these days. The girls book a last minute deal, destination anywhere, and end up at a holiday camp. Samantha lusts after the senior Redcoat, attracted by his considerable colour-blocking skills.  Sadly she gets confused at the
masked ball and ends up in a compromising position with portly campsite
comedian, Uncle Benny.

Bang Bangs: Unable to afford their exorbitant salon fees, the girls decide to cut each others’ hair. They all have a cocktail or three before they begin. The results aren’t pretty.

To Thrift Mart, to Thrift Mart: Little Brady eats too much – food bills are through the roof. Miranda ditches her organic veg box and starts shopping at Thrift Mart. She discovers that the own-brand red pepper quiche ain’t at all bad.

An American Girl in the Kitchen: Carrie is forced to cook. Will the strain prove just too much? Will that bouillon blow her budget? The series ends on a cliffhanger.



Cool Butter and Book Groups

9 Aug

This is as important as that it keeps butter cool.
That’s what you’ll see if you go to Skint in the City’s facebook page right now. It’s not a coded message or stage one of instructions on how to make shortbread, it’s just Skint taking part in a Facebook promotion for National Book Week.

Usually Skint avoids these viral thingies  – except when they’re to do with books, because books are what Skint likes best.

The rules of the National Book Week challenge: Grab the closest book to you. Go to page 56. Copy the 5th sentence as your Facebook status but don’t mention the book. Then post these rules as part of your Facebook status. 

Carrie dresses down for a trip to the library

As if we’d planned it this way, Skint’s book group just happens to be gathering this Friday night. Book groups – the ultimate cheap night in. Good pals, a bottle or three and a big tome to talk about this time: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which I read ages ago and adored. Can’t wait to discuss it.

As great Friday nights go, does anything give you more bang for your buck than a book group? (Try saying that after a couple of glasses). Sure, trying new bars is fun but sometimes on a Friday night, especially if the week’s been a bitch, you just want to save your money and your make-up and kick back with pals instead.

In honour of National Book Week here are some bookish sites Skint loves: The independent site for book groups in the UK. If you’re looking to find a book group near you, this site’s brilliant. – Open Library has big plans – it aims to build a web page for every book ever published. More than a million free titles to download here too.

bookcrossing – if you love a book, set it free – that’s the bookcrossing philosophy. Read a book, finish it, then label it and set it off on a journey to who knows where. The label lets you follow its progress.   

Will you be trying the page 56 challenge? Go on, just for the hell of it, and post your sentence in the Leave a Comment box below to share with others.

Giving the City the Slip – Cheap Holiday Guide, Part Three

14 Jun

Phew, I did it! In spite of leaving it till the last minute (again), the summer holidays are finally booked. Skint will be heading Francewards for a fortnight of cheap plonk, culture and starry nights under canvas. Yep, not only is Skint leaving the city – she’s going camping!

Why, it's a complex all of its own. And is that chair strung from the ceiling?

Now, camping in the UK has a terrible reputation: freezing nights shivering under a sleeping bag, soggy sausages and queues for the loos. Hammering in tent pegs in the freezing cold? Forget it! Fighting with a butane stove just to get a cup of coffee? Not a chance! But before you write them off completely, there is another way to enjoy a camping holiday and that’s to do it in hot places. In my early twenties I worked as a holiday courier on campsites in France, from the gorgeous windsurfer’s paradise of the Vendee to the impossibly glamorous (and hideously overpriced) St Tropez on the Cote D’Azur. I spent ten months living under canvas and I adored it.

Now I am not a particularly outdoorsy kind of girl but I found that there is something about living outside which feels incredibly free – especially if it’s somewhere sunny. You wake up in the morning, make a coffee and drink it out of doors. At lunchtime you enjoy fresh bread and smelly cheese al fresco and in the late afternoon you take a walk or a cycle through the pine woods. Then in the evening you gather round the table as the stars come out and talk about your day, pour the local wine (two euros a bottle and it goes down a treat) and tell each other secrets. It’s quiet here and special – you can talk.

Some of my most special memories stem from this time. I remember a night spent sleeping outside high in the hills of the Cote D’Azur, learning to bodyboard in the Vendee and talks long into the night with new friends from all corners of Europe. (Right enough, I also remember digging trenches round tents to keep them from flooding. And um, chickenpox.)

After ten months of living in a tent I couldn’t conceive of going back to a solid roof. Of course, I got used to it again fast enough, but every now and then I like to take off abroad for another camping fix. It’s cheap, great fun and nearly all of the campsites have swimming pools and tennis courts. The one I’m heading to next week has a gym as well. By bagging a cheap flight or a budget ferry deal camping holidays can be cheap as chips. 

This year I’m heading back to the Vendee, followed by a few days in Bordeaux. Here’s hoping the weather will be kind. By waiting till the last minute we snagged a 20% reduction on the campsite – though I’ve got to admit that this year’s tardiness was a result of disorganisation rather than design. Still, I put a few other Skint tricks to use to save money on the flights:

Losing the Luggage – We’re flying good old Ryanair, and there’s no way I’m paying £30 each way per person to put a bag in the hold. So it’s one 15kilo bag between us for £20 then hand luggage for the rest.  Ryaniar give 10 kilos hand luggage allowance which isn’t bad – and what doesn’t fit in the hand baggage will be going in my pockets. Seriously. They don’t weigh people. Last timeI flew I had a book in one pocket and my make-up bag in the other. So I might have looked a little hefty round the hips, so what? I just blamed the Brie. 

Ryanair's new summer 2011 fleet. Stop laughing.

Frequent flyers and hand luggage afficianados might want to check out this multi-pocket waistcoat – at less than £20 it’ll pay for itself in one flight. You can find similar in army surplus stores and camping shops – they’re often called fisherman’s jackets. I think fishermen use them to store bait etc when they’re out in the water. Nothing wrong with a little budget airline-baiting, Skint thinks.

Scan the Skies: Skyscanner allows you to find the very cheapest flights to your chosen destination on your chosen day. It trawls every airline in a matter of milliseconds – with the exception of Ryanair, who choose not to play. It cuts out a ton of work.

Max your Money: New gem from the moneysavingexpert empire is the MoneyMax service, which  zips around all of the online currency sites in milliseconds, much the same as Skycanner does for flights, then does the maths to work out which deal is best for you. It takes fees into account as well, which can be rather mind-boggling. Honestly, what did we ever do without Martin Lewis?

Giving the City the Slip – Cheap Holiday Guide, Part Two

7 Jun

Welcome to part two of Skint’s guide to saving cash on holidays this year. Personally, my holiday planning is no further forward – mainly because I keep getting engrossed in other writer’s blogs. Oh, and I got some great news: one of Skint’s posts has been named as a Post of the Week by top US finance site, Budgets are Sexy. This  generated a ton of new traffic to Skint in the City, and the ensuing excitement overshadowed the holiday planning for a few hours. New readers, who are now followers as a result of that link – welcome! It’s great to have you here.

Now, down to business. In yesterday’s post I shared a couple of ways to snag free or cut-price holiday accommodation. Well, the good news, Skint pals, is that there’s plenty more where that came from!  Here are some other ideas for saving a bundle on your holiday accommodation:

Supersize it. Renting a big cottage or villa with a group of pals can work out cheap as chips per head. This is an especially good thing to do with friends who live in other parts of the world/country, as it’s a chance for a reunion as well as a cheaper holiday, so synchronise your diaries and get planning! You’ll save on everything, from rent to food to car hire: it’s a great excuse to buy crates of wine boxes and jumbo-sized bags of crisps. And because you’re going away with friends you’ll likely want to cook and eat together round a big kitchen table – much cheaper than a romantic getaway a deux, where you end up forking out for restaurants every evening.  Big sociable meals, plenty of booze and maybe some board games or tall tales round the fire -sounds good to Skint.

Instead of looking on the websites of tour operators to find a villa, go to community sites such as Gumtree to find local people who are renting out their holiday homes. It’sguaranteed to be cheaper than going through a holiday rental firm.

And you can even catch a train straight back to your chalet - now that's service . . .

Hi-de-hi – Try a holiday camp. No, hang on, you – stop laughing at the back! Holiday camps are enjoying their biggest ever revival, with some chains reporting a thirty percent rise in bookings since the rcession struck. Major investment programmes, which include swish hotels as well as chalets and fancy new pools and saunas, have seen holiday camps soar in popularity with a younger crowd. Special, themed events like Northern Soul Weekenders and mini festivals like All Tomorrow’s Parties are giving holiday camps previously-unheard-of street cred too. All the old favourites are still there though: the bingo and the boating pond and those dinky little trains that take you round the site. Oh, and holiday camp breaks are cheap cheap cheap – low enough to take a risk  without losing much. Why not give it a shot with a group of pals and spend four or five days reliving your childhood? I think the knobbly knees competition has been ditched, so you’re safe to bare all too.

Work it baby – Yeah, I know we go on holiday to escape the daily grind, but a working holiday can be a brilliant get-away-from-it-all, whilst learning new skills and making a difference at the same time. From conservation projects to volunteering as a steward at Glastonbury just think where you want to go, then see if you can get there for free by volunteering. I know a couple of students who worked at Glastonbury last year, and now most of the major music festivals recruit stewards, who normally work a shift or two with plenty of time off to see bands . See this site for a round-up of how to snag work at the UK’s top festivals.

 Holiday at home – If your budget – or lack of planning skills – prevents you from getting away at all there is another option. Staycations are the new jetting off – or something like that . . . Basically, you take a week or two off work and instead of queueing at airports then getting eaten alive by mozzies you relax at home. I do think for a staycation to really pass muster you have to give yourself some treats, like stocking the fridge with goodies, calling a halt to the cleaning and organising a babysitter for at least a couple of nights – or full days – and get some time to yourself. Then just take advantage of all the free stuff your home town has to offer. Arrange to meet friends, go to matinee showings at the cinema, do a spot of vintage shopping and check out the museum exhibitions you’ve been meaning to catch for weeks. For a staycation to really work I think you have to be uber-disciplined about not doing any work in the evenings, not plugging the computer in and not tidying the house too much. With the money you’re saving on travel you can afford to splurge a bit on nice food and drink and some extra help with the usual household chores. Oh, it’s sounding like just the ticket . . .

If I’m going anywhere this year I really must get it sorted pronto. Will update you soon – together with the third part of Skint’s cheap holiday guide – hasta luego!  


holiday camp poster

I'm sensing a theme with these holiday camp pics. A hovering-inexplicably-over-the-water theme. Ah well, takes all sorts.



Giving the City the Slip – Cheap Holiday Guide, Part One

7 Jun beach holidays

beach holidaysHow did it get to be June so fast? And how come I don’t have any holiday plans sorted? Every year I’m the same; full of great intentions to get my hols organised in January – and every year I’m scrabbling a fortnight before I want to go. Of course I’ve already promised myself that 2012 is going to be different – honest it is – but for this year I’m having to dig deep into my bag of tricks to try and pull off a last-minute break on a budget. Fortunately, the web has opened up so many new ways to save on accommodation – here of two of the best:

House Swapping –  As the recession bites, house swapping is really taking off and there are now plenty of  websites where you can link up with people who are happy to hand over their home to a total stranger – in return for you doing the same. That reciprocity is the key – because you want people to treat your home with respect you tend to treat theirs with the same. With house swapping you can go pretty much anywhere in the world for a fraction of the cost you’d normally pay, staying  in the kind of places that you could never normally afford. From villas in Florida with an outdoor Jacuzzi and pool, to city pads in Berlin, all it costs is a small fee to the house swap agency, then your plane fares and some nice thank-you gifts for your hosts.

 Many holidaymakers car swap too,  meaning no car hire costs.  House swapping also looks like a great option if you have a young family – you can search for properties with cots, high chairs etc, and leave yours at home for your guests. Wouldn’t it be great to travel light and pitch up at your holiday property, knowing that everything from sterilisers to stair gates was already in place?

As house swapping becomes an increasingly popular option with the savvy traveller the number of agencies matching swappees is fast increasing. One of the first and most reputable is Homelink – several of my friends have used it and been happy – I’m thinking of making this year my first. The idea of handing my home over to strangers doesn’t actually worry me too much. The house swap sites have a code of conduct that everyone signs up too and I think that most people would respect thier holiday property. Certainly none of my pals who’ve given it a shot have ever had a bad experience. The major drawback for me? Having to thoroughly clean the house before going on holiday! Membership of Homelink costs £115 a year – not a bad price for potentially two, three or four free holidays a year. 

Of course, you needn’t make house swapping as formal as signing up with an agency. I’ve stayed in friends’ houses in different cities while they’ve been away and returned the favour too.

Take a Lucky Dip:  If you’re just after a night or two away rather than a fortnight it’s worth checking out some secret location websites, which offer you lucky-dip hotel accommodation. You specify the city and area where you want to stay and – hey presto!- the website matches you with a hotel, guaranteed to be four or five star, for a budget hotel price. You only find out exactly which hotel it is after you have booked, but with the guaranteed star rating it’s not going to be a dump. I’ve used this service to bag great  rooms in London and Barcelona for less than half  the advertised rack rate, and have never been disappointed. Topsecret, run by is the best-known of these sites, and – because nothing really stays secret on the big old gossipy interweb for long, another site  has already set up revealing the identity of the top secret  hotels so you can check them out before you go! Ah, the wondrous web  – what did we do without it?   

You got any great holiday tips to share with fellow Skint readers? We’d love to hear from you – just post a comment. And I’ll be posting more cheap holiday tips tomorrow.

Pyramids Egypt

I quite fancy house swapping with this hot property . . .

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