Getting the Most From Your Kitchen Food Storage

5 08 2013

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Image via Flickr creative commons from Phil Hawksworth    

The first step to perfect kitchen storage is to chuck out anything you don’t want or don’t use. Everyone has a jar or tin of something at the back of a fridge or cupboard. If it has been there longer than a year and not been touched – get rid of it.

There are some things, of course, that are only used once in a long while. Cumin, for instance, will store for a long time and the average amateur chef will only require it once in a blue moon. But space is not often at that much of a premium on your spice rack.

Of course, this is not a signal to root through everything and throw away all you don’t need. If your kitchen is not full to capacity, that 5-year-old tin of peaches may come in handy one day. If you are running out of space in your kitchen – now is the time to sort it out.

A lot of people nowadays have more advanced and larger methods of storing their food – such as AGA American Fridge Freezers. There are huge and even harder to fill up than a regular fridge but some people still manage it. Keep your most used items within easy reach – this counts for both food and utensils.

To keep food safe, make sure your fridge is at the correct temperature. Do not always rely on the in-built thermometer, put your own in to be safe. The ideal range is between 0 and 5C. Also, store food in the correct order – meat and poultry should be kept in clean, sealable containers and put at the bottom of the fridge. This will ensure the juices do not drip onto other foods and contaminate them. Cooked meat should also be kept as far as possible from raw meat.

Make sure food is fully cooled down before putting it in the fridge. The heat from the dish will raise the temperature of the rest of the fridge.

Outside of the fridge, there are a lot of other tricks you can use to store the likes of cutlery, utensils and pots and pans. If you have a gap between two cupboards, the type usually reserved for a wine rack or similar, why not make it a hand plate store? This can also work for any thin cupboard.

Insert some wooden slats vertically with a gap in between them big enough for plates to slide in and out of. If you are short on space, consider bringing in some plastic packaging. Cereal boxes are bulky and take up a lot of space, transferring their contents to a handy sealable tub can save on space.

Pull-out drawers in cupboards can also help you make the most of every little bit of space. Often you will find you have utensils and pans that sit at the back of a cupboard forever – never being used. A drawer will allow you to access all parts of the cupboard easily, keeping you aware of space that is being wasted.

If you’re not using it, throw it out.

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5 things that new parents forget to budget for

5 08 2013

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Image via Flickr creative commons from Tax Credits

Becoming a parent isn’t cheap or easy. For the next 18 or more years of your life you are going to be paying through the nose for baby food, toys, childcare, trainers, driving lessons and education. The list is pretty much endless.

No matter how prepared you think you are to become a member of the fully-fledged adult group, there will always be something you have forgotten. It happens to everyone so you are not going to help anybody by worrying about it.

According to the latest estimates, the price of raising a child will smash through the £200,000 mark. So to help you on your way, here are some of the things people forget most often.

Don’t buy too much

Parents to be can get swept up in the excitement of an imminent new arrival and shell out loads of cash on baby clothes and accessories. You will always have more than you need. However much you may fear the baby will get bored – don’t. It’s a baby. Once it has managed to get up on its own two feet and totter about the place, it will find everything interesting. You will sit, exasperated, as little Johnny or Jenny finds the cushions on the sofa more interesting than the £150 stroller you splashed out on.

Childcare is expensive. Very expensive

Even is childcare costs is something you can plan to pay for well in advance, it can be a shock how expensive it is once you come to pay for it. In some cases it can cost upwards of £1,000 a month. Luckily, if you are in full time employment you can find help with this through voucher schemes. Have a chat with your employer about things such as Co-op Childcare Vouchers from Midcounties Co-operative Flexible Benefits.

There are Government-backed schemes in which you can get back up to £1,200 of the cost of childcare a year.

There is a lot you won’t be able to budget for

You may think that you have enough nappies. You do not have enough nappies. Your new addition to the family will like to go to the toilet a lot. It may be a good idea to look at getting your hands on some re-usable nappies. They are cheaper in the long run and are also much better for the environment.

There will also be many things that crop up along that way and keep you off guard such as an out of the blue school trip. It may be helpful, if you can afford it, to keep a little slush fund to the side ot cope with these emergencies.

Bigger bills

You may not think it, but your heating and electricity bills will go up. For one, you will be in the house a lot more than you used to be. What was once okay – for you to sit in an extra jumper – will no longer be okay. Your child will have to be warm

Cost to your free time

Raising a child is a full time job. On top of your own full time job. If you previously used your free time to earn a little extra money on the side, you can kiss it goodbye. But, it will be worth it. Honest.





Everything That A New Parent Needs To Know About Childcare Vouchers

31 07 2013

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Image via Flickr creative commons from familymwr

The birth of your first child brings a whole range of new experiences and challenges. Whilst you’ll need time to share in these experiences with your new baby, there may come a point when you decide it’s time to return to work. This decision could be for a number of reasons, whether you’re in need of a little extra money or you simply love your job and don’t want to lose it. Returning to work however brings yet another challenge, namely, who is going to look after your new-born and how are you going to be able to afford to pay for childcare on top of rent, bills, food and general living expenses? Before you start to panic that you’re going to have to stay at home and look after the baby yourself, while your partner works double the hours to earn enough money to live on, stop. I may have just the solution for you – here is everything that a new parent needs to know about childcare vouchers.

What are childcare vouchers?

If you have never heard of childcare vouchers, it is a scheme set up by the government to help those parents who want to work with the cost of childcare. Some employers may offer you childcare vouchers at the expense of some of your salary. It is not a legal requirement for employers to assist you with childcare costs in return for you coming back to work so it’s worth asking your HR manager whether or not your company uses a scheme such as Co-operative Employee Benefits childcare vouchers.

There is however two other ways in which your employer can help you cover the costs of childcare that do not involve childcare vouchers. If your employer offers you directly contracted childcare or there is an on-site nursery at your place of work then you will not be eligible for childcare vouchers.

How does the scheme work?

If you have children up to 15 years old and require childcare whilst you work, childcare vouchers can save you roughly around £1000 each year. The way it works is by allowing you to pay for the childcare out of your gross salary (that’s before any tax or national insurance is deducted). This ‘salary sacrifice’ means that once you’ve paid for the childcare vouchers, you’re actually better off than if you’d received your usual salary and then spent a portion of it on childcare.

Here is an example:

You sacrifice £1000 of your gross salary which after tax and NI is only worth about £700. You then receive £1000 worth of childcare vouchers, which means that for every £1000 you sacrifice, you actually gain £300 – not bad is it?

Use a savings calculator to work out just how much you could save by using childcare vouchers

Benefits of childcare vouchers

So aside from the assistance with paying for demanding childcare costs, what are the other benefits of using childcare vouchers?

–          Benefits for parents

The childcare voucher scheme allows you to return to work safe in the knowledge that the cost of childcare for your youngster will be met each and every month. There’s no worrying about saving a portion of your incomings to spend on childcare as the cost is sorted before you even receive your net pay (after tax and national insurance). It also saves you some money each month which can add up to a significant saving over a year.

–          Benefits for employers

Your valued members of staff are more likely to return to work after having a baby which means you don’t have to spend time and money on employing someone new and training them each time someone falls pregnant.

–          Benefits for nurseries

Childcare vouchers can be an extra incentive for parents to keep using your services. There are no restrictions as to which provider of childcare vouchers you can accept so you won’t lose out on business either way.





What you should look out for when picking out kitchen tiles

11 07 2013

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Image via Flickr creative commons from Wonderlane

If you’re a bit of a dab hand at DIY, you might be wondering just what your next project should be. Maybe you’ve recently finished a DIY job and you’ve got the taste for more. Perhaps you might want to consider fitting kitchen tiles. Obviously, it’ll take a degree of skill and diligence – so it helps to make sure you’ve got the right tools and that you’ve made the right preparation. You really need to know what you’re getting yourself into when you start DIY work. There are many homes which have been left ravaged by inept attempts at DIY, so you need to make sure you avoid falling into the same pitfalls.

There are several different types of kitchen tile that you can choose from, so it’s really worth looking around to find the one that’s best for you. It might be worth looking online to find design ideas – you can find pictures which will give you a good idea of how you can expect your kitchen tiles to look in your kitchen. According to an article from Freshome.com, there are a few things you’ll need to think carefully about before you decide which kitchen tiles you’re going to install. Firstly, you need to consider where you’re going to install your tiles – whether on the walls, the floor or perhaps even the countertop.

It’s also worth taking a look at the different varieties of tile to see which one is likely to work best in your kitchen. There are ceramic, quarry, stone, cork, vinyl, bamboo, porcelain and a number of other kitchen tiles for you to choose from. Some different materials may work well in combination with one another, so this is something else which is worth considering. You also need to think about your family’s lifestyle, and how often you’re likely to use the kitchen – and you need to make sure you choose kitchen tiles which are suitably resilient to withstand the rigorous of everyday kitchen usage.

Furthermore, you should also think very carefully about your budget. It should go without saying that millions of households are currently feeling the financial pinch – and this is likely to be the case for some time to come. It makes sense, therefore, to ensure that you get the very best deal you can. It’s a good idea to consider just how much money you have to spend on your kitchen tiles before you go out and buy. This should help narrow down your search and it should also help you avoid the temptation of overspending.

An article from Channel4.com points out that handmade kitchen tiles can be very expensive, but there are plenty of other options for those who are looking to stick to a fairly restrictive budget. It helps to carry out a bit of research into what kitchen tiles you can choose from before you buy. You can find out a great deal more about kitchen tiles simply by taking a look online. It’s also worth browsing in a few different places rather than simply opting for the first deal you come across.





Unexpected Garden Safety Hazards to Watch Out For

5 07 2013

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Image via Flickr creative commons from Molecular Audio

Whether you are a full time gardening enthusiast or just like to sit out every now and then when the sun finally decides to shine, there are things you should look out for.

Even if you’re just kicking back surrounded by your finest garden furniture with a glass of something ice cold, there are things that can catch you unaware. If you’re planning to spend a weekend up to your elbows in mud and plants, the amount of things waiting to trip you up increases tenfold.

Here are some things you should look out for when spending time in the garden:

Don’t take shortcuts

Often people see a job and think they have the adequate training and skills, when in reality they don’t. Ignoring risks, not planning properly and trying to get a job done in the shortest possible time are sure fire ways to get yourself hurt. Keep an eye out for hazards you might trip over, this can include loose paving slabs, hoses left out and divots in the grass.

Keep it clean, keep it safe

Similarly, make sure you do not leave tools lying about in the garden – this is especially important when there are children around. When you are using electrical goods, fit a residual current device to prevent being the victim of an electric shock – they will cut out the electrical current should you happen to accidentally cut through a cable. Also, avoid using electrical items completely during wet weather.

Remember, a child does not need a sharp item to injure themselves – don’t let them run about on the grass when it is wet. They could trip and fall on the patio.

Soil safety

If you happen to be the owner of an older house, you have a higher chance of coming across dangerous items – such as broken glass – when digging in soil. If you come across some, make sure you get shut of it as quickly and as safely as possible.

Again, should you be in the garden with children, remind them of the dangers of soil. Although many of the microorganisms there are harmless, soil can contain tetanus. Teach your kids about the importance of washing their hands after spending time outside – especially before eating meals. Any child with a cut should wear a plaster. If helping with gardening, it is safest to make sure they wear protective gloves at all times.

Don’t overdo it

Overdoing it can apply in many scenarios. Even if you are just sitting out in the sun, make sure you cover up with sun cream. Too long in the heat could lead to sunstroke. The danger of the sun is especially prevalent when you’re working under it. Do not over-exert yourself and make sure you are taking on enough water.

Weeding, over a long period of time, can become a strenuous task and can lead to repetitive strain injury. Similarly, be careful about heavy lifting and know what your body is capable of. If you have inkling it might be a little too heavy, leave it until someone is around who can help. It is not worth putting your back out or tearing a muscle.





Picking Out An Engagement Ring For Any Budget

6 06 2013

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Image via Flickr creative commons from Randi Deuro

If you are planning to propose to your beloved, it’s likely that you will want to impress them with the perfect engagement ring. Many people assume that engagement rings cost a fortune, and as the saying goes, a man is supposed to spend, on average, three times his monthly salary on the engagement ring for his bride-to-be. Despite that, many wedding traditions have now been pushed aside. Ladies no longer have to wait an agonising number of years dropping hints to their boyfriends about marriage proposals, as it is common practice for women to do the asking these days. Proposals aside, if you are worried about the cost of an engagement ring, there’s really no need to be. Here’s how to pick out an engagement ring for any budget.

The three month rule

Men who are planning to propose to their girlfriend may very well agonise over the rule to spend at least three month’s gross salary on engagement rings. Well you have De Beers to thank for that when the notorious diamond company launched its “a diamond is forever” campaign back in 1947. However, it is widespread thought nowadays that this rule is a little old fashioned and unrealistic. After all, if a man spends three month’s salary on just the engagement ring, how much is the wedding supposed to cost?

Establish a budget

The first thing you should consider before you buy the ring is just how much money you have to spend. You should try to establish your budget before you enter the jewellers as this will help you not to be coerced into making a purchase that you cannot really afford, just because it looks good. Although the engagement ring itself is a special purchase, you need to ensure that you budget with the overall wedding cost in mind. There’s little point spending a fortune on a ring if you can’t afford the wedding that comes with it.

Determine how you will pay

There are many different payment options available when it comes to choosing how to pay for your purchase.

–          Savings: a good way to budget for the cost of a ring is to save up for several months in advance to proposing. This way will also save you from having to take out a loan or from having to pay a credit card bill later on down the line when you’re supposed to be budgeting for the wedding.

–          Cash back credit card: this way you will benefit from protection should there be a problem with the ring and you have to return it. You will also earn some money back from the card company for your purchase, and depending on how much you’ve spent on the ring, this could add up to a fairly large amount of money.

–          0% credit card: if you can’t afford to pay for the ring immediately and you also don’t have any savings, you could use a 0% purchase credit card to help you spread out the cost of repayments.

Know her style

You may think that the showiest and most expensive diamond ring will be a sure fire way to get you the girl of your dreams, but in actual fact, choosing the wrong type of ring may be your biggest downfall in the relationship yet. The reason why so many men find it difficult to buy a ring for their girlfriend is because her reaction to the purchase is of utmost importance. For example, if your girlfriend is really into the vintage look and you buy her a contemporary engagement ring, it signifies that you pay no attention to her individual sense of style and to what she likes. If you are still unsure of her type of jewellery, you could take a look at the other types of jewellery she usually wears. If she prefers something dainty and understated, choose something similar for the engagement ring. After all, she will be wearing that ring for a long time.





What to keep in mind when turning your loft into a guest bedroom

13 05 2013

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This image via Flick creative commons from Holland and Green

Turning the space above your ceiling into a liveable area which can provide extra accommodation for a growing family, or to be used as space for visiting guests, is an increasingly popular idea.

But  although there is likely to be the minimum of formal permissions required – especially if the work involves little, if any, alterations to the outward appearance of a house – it is vital that such a project is planned thoroughly, and all the potential pitfalls considered and discounted before you go ahead.

Whether the space which is freed up by a loft conversion will be used as a ‘livable space’ or not will heavily influence the amount of work which will be needed.

But in any case, there is a long list of aspects of a loft conversion into a bedroom which have to be carefully considered before the work can begin. These include:

– The condition of existing walls and foundations, and their ability to cope with a change in use of part of the area they support.

– What new floors, beams, walls or doors will be needed to be able to support the extra weight of someone using the room?

– The standard of sound insulation. This is a legal requirement between all habitable rooms in a house. And if you are converting the loft in a terraced house, the insulation between your and your neighbour’s roof spaces may have to be upgraded to meet minimum legal standards.

– What will be the means of emergency escape? When the loft space in a typical two-storey house is converted, plans will have to be put in place for an escape route. So while a proper route will have to be established, new fire-resistant doors, and possibly partitions, will have to be put into place to protect the stairway by which the loft is accessed. In nearly all cases, a retractable loft ladder will not be considered sufficient, so a permanent staircase is likely to be needed. There are also minimum standards to which such a staircase must be built.

– You should also consider that your loft area will need to have sufficient headroom to allow it to be used safely by anyone sleeping in the space, and whether someone using it will be able to move around easily and safely.

– Thought will have to be given to the type of furniture which is used in any guest loft bedroom, as it will almost certainly have to be assembled in situ in order to avoid the common difficulty of not being able to get the furniture up the restricted space available for the loft entrance.

– The materials of which the furnishings in the loft are made will also need to be carefully considered. It may not be enough to simply use flame-retardant materials, and instead it might be necessary to go for safer, flame-resistant alternatives.

– Finally, you will need to extend your home’s power supply to the new loft space, so you should also be sure to get all electrical work carried out by a suitably qualified instructor. This is not only important for the safety of the house’s current occupants, but also in the event that the house is sold in order for it to be able to satisfy the needs of those compiling a home buyers’ report or structural survey.

Specialist companies which have a track record of carrying out similar work should also be contacted to obtain more than one quote for the work. Companies such as Econoloft have been planning and executing loft conversions for various purposes for many years, and will be able to give the benefit of the practical experience and knowledge which they have built up over this time.