Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Saving Money - A Tale of Self Control and Going the Extra Mile

If you pay any attention to my ramblings on Twitter, you may well know that I'm going to Japan this year. This has been planned for quite a while, and it will require a fairly large lump of money if I'm not to be in debt for the next few hundred years (well...more in debt for the next few hundred years, I went to university after all). So the plan is simple: we kill the spending.

Okay, so flat out "killing" spending doesn't quite work. Spending money to buy random crap you don't need is like a drug addiction; you just need to manage it better and trick/force yourself into no longer caring about the item. Alternatively, find ways to spend as little as possible while still getting the thing you want, or a cheaper equivalent. This is a blog post about some of the ideas I've used to save money.

1) What are you saving money for?

This is super clever, and suggested by my good friend Mhairi last year: Put reminders of what you're saving money for EVERYWHERE! Keep it in your mind at all times by putting reminders on your wall, in your car, on your computer, on your phone, on the toilet, etc. This way, you'll be less inclined to spend stuff because you've got what you're saving for in your mind at all times.

2) Keep track of everything you spend

This used to be a super pain, especially with banks starting to cause payments to be days late appearing in your account meaning you go overdrawn (true story). You could keep everything in an Excel spreadsheet or, if you're keen, a database like Access or MySQL. However, there's something way more appropriate to today: an app. There are apps out there that are really quick to add payments to, both immediate and scheduled. I don't use my bank app any more except when transferring money from my current account to my savings account. I manage my balance by using an app called "Finance Tracker". This is very useful as you can create categories to allow very quick assigning of payments, also allowing you to make reports on what you've been spending money on the most and give you ideas on how to spend money on those things less. It also has the option for multiple accounts. I use this as one for bank account, one for cash, but the latter is tricky to keep track of since cash can go all over the place and quickly sometimes. However, it has allowed me to not go overdrawn on a few occasions and I'm really pleased I have it.

One thing to bear in mind is that applications like this that can give you your approximate balance need you to keep putting in monthly/weekly/whatever outgoings every month up to pay day. I typically do this once I can see my salary in my bank account. I then spend 10 minutes setting up all my known outgoings for the month.

3) Set yourself some restrictions and guidelines, but give yourself the opportunity to bypass it

Restrictions on spending. Sounds scary, but it doesn't have to be. It's difficult to go into generic examples for everyone, so let me talk about my own.

One of the most influential ideas I've had (as in influential on my spending) was the idea that I was not to spend over £20 on anything other than the necessities (so fuel, rent, etc) UNLESS I watch this 1 hour 17 minute video of some friends of mine in Japan having a great time. If, by the time the video is over, I still want the item in question, then I buy it. The idea here is that, by watching the video, it reminds myself of what I could be missing if I don't save up enough. Additionally, it adds a layer of breakage where there's a period of 1 hour and 17 minutes between "I want this" and actually buying it. Quite often, I get to about 5 minutes in and go "you know what, I'll wait until after Japan".

Try to contain your social life. If you've got friends who often want to go to the pub/out to eat, let them know that you're saving up so can't do that too often. Have fewer nights out, or tone them down a bit (maybe have food at home, then go see friends in the pub for example). This is a lot easier for me due to me not having any alcohol whatsoever (you can get some good deals when you're the designated driver by the way) but I used to spend the equivalent on food instead, so that's something.

4) Find cheaper ways of doing/buying stuff. They are out there.

So here's an example of how I'm saving a fair bit of money while still being able to do the things I love, like travelling on trains.

Over the next month, Northern Rail have an offer where you collect 2 tokens from newspapers, print out a form and you can buy a day ticket valid on all Northern Rail services for £10, or £17.50 for a weekend ticket. Most notably, I was planning a trip to Garsdale to visit the friends I'm going to Japan with. To drive, the petrol alone would be in the region of £35, about the same as the train price (only it's quicker to drive). However, by getting 4 newspapers delivered (at £1.06 each, coming from Leeds because none of the newspapers in the campaign are on sale in Crewe) and, thus, 2 day tickets, it works out cheaper than the standard return ticket, and I've got a bit more flexibility than just going straight there. Getting the weekend ticket would allow us to travel somewhere on the Saturday too, and it's still cheaper than the petrol! Not by much, but every pound counts. Previously, I've travelled all the way to Newcastle-upon-Tyne on one of these tickets, then back the next day, so it's a cheap way of getting my train travel fill while spending less than usual.

Loyalty cards, if you don't mind the shops tying your purchases to you for marketing, etc, can be useful for saving money on some purchases. Points are a pain, so I use the Co-Op card to get some money back each year instead.

UPDATE: Your phone probably has a calculator. Use it when doing the shopping. For example, I drink 2 cans of either Pepsi Max or Diet Coke every weekday. This means I will often buy the cans in bulk. However, larger containers are not always better, depending on offers. This is gonna sound crazy, but when at the supermarket I break out my phone and calculate the cost PER CAN. £7 for a box of 24, or two boxes of 12 for £5. You go for the latter, saved yourself £2 there. Sometimes it's less obvious, but you get the idea. Sometimes, the saving is like 1 or 2p per can, but it all adds up!

5) Do odd jobs?

As a side business, I do mystery shopping for certain companies. It doesn't pay much, but it often results in a subsidized/free meal if you go for the restaurant/pub jobs. Just remember that you need to sign up as a company and do a tax return each year. I've got that to look forward to. Fun.

6) Don't stop believing

You can do it, I believe in you.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Peter Shillito's 2014 Aikatsu Awards

Following on from my earlier anime rewards posts, time for the 2014 Aikatsu! Awards!

As many of you may know, I'm kinda, sorta obsessed with Aikatsu! so it makes sense to have entirely separate awards for Aikatsu!

Without further ado~

The 'My How They've Grown' Award for Best Character Development

With the 3rd season now well underway, the characters we've known and loved have now been around for a 2 years in the real world, 3 years in the show world (there was a year timeskip between season 1 and 2 if you didn't know). This led to characters we know from the first series now being 3 years older than when we first met them, along with new characters introduced along the way. One of the most notable changes is Raichi, Ichigo's brother, who has noticably grown taller (there is a height comparison to Aoi at one point both in the original series and the second).
Akari is the obvious choice for this award. Starting off as essentially an "Ichigo wannabe", copying her hairstyle and mannerisms and trying to be her, Akari didn't seem like a character I could really like at all. However, even though she is still technically the Ichigo replacement for the 3rd season onwards in terms of "leader of the main trio", Akari has progressed into her own unique character. From a striking visual change when she cut her own hair (no longer a clone of Ichigo's), to developing her own personality and mannerisms (Akari's thing where she kisses the cards she's about to use is the most adorable thing).

Akari wins The 'My How They've Grown' Award for Best Character Development

Honourable mention goes to Aoi Kiriya and Ran Shibuki as, in late season 3, they have started acting as producers for Ichigo completely on their own, without needing to join a course like those available in Dream Academy. Aoi has also continued her role as the lead character in the Naughty Detective police drama. Essentially, she's standing on her own two feet, in contrast with many others.

The 'Who?' Award for Character Lost in the Gap Between Seasons

RIP Dream Academy. The third season has completely forgotten about the Dream Academy characters it would seem, save for a few mentions of characters where relevant in the plot, but they're otherwise absent. Kii is mentioned in the episode where Akari became the new Pon Pon Crepe image girl, while Seira appeared in a flashback and an in-anime photo. I also have a feeling that she may appear in the Great Ichigo Starmiya Festival due to the appearance of certain cards in the background of some shots. However, everyone else has vanished entirely. I don't even think they've appeared in flashbacks.

Literally everyone from Dream Academy gets The 'Who?' Award for Characters Lost in the Gap Between Seasons

Honourable mention goes to Hikari Minowa who got an entire episode in season 1, even going on-stage, then only ever seen in cameos since. However, she is the mascot for the real world Aikatsu! Style shops to the point where you could get a CD of her singing short versions of various Aikatsu! songs from said shops, but only there. You could argue that she's more forgotten than the Dream Academy characters, however her character wasn't really developed enough for me to care after that one episode in season 1.

The 'Kanzaki Mizuki' Award for Worst Character Other than Mizuki

Okay, so naming the award after Mizuki might be a bit unfair, but I really can't stand Mizuki. Everyone in the show seems to hold her in some kind of crazy-high regard. She's just arbitrarily assigned as "top idol" and has never left the top spot despite her not actually doing anything in ages. So she's default worst character.
This award actually goes to Otome Arisugawa. I've hated her since season 1 and the fact that she became Starlight Queen (essentially the most popular idol in the school) while Ichigo was in the USA was ridiculous. Visually, I dislike the "Happy Rainbow" brand of clothing, her voice is incredibly grating especially when yelling her "love you" catch phrase and everyone seems to like her despite her only activities seemingly being eating sweets and walking places. I'm very pleased she's not in season 3 much, but then the characters I do like from older seasons are also not in season 3 much. It's like they give with one hand and take with the other.

Otome Arisugawa wins The 'Kanzaki Mizuki' Award for Worst Character Other than Mizuki

Honourable mention goes to Maria Himesato from Dream Academy who even the anime admits only got popular due to a photo in a magazine. They never really expanded on her character much. However, she was introduced mid-series and, like all other Dream Academy students, she's pretty much forgotten completely now.

The 'It Sucks to be a Fat Male Foreigner in a Little Japanese Girl World' Award for Aikatsu! Merchandise I'll Never Be Able To Obtain and/or Use

So it was announced recently that a line of Aikatsu!-themed glasses frames were to be released, along with images of said glasses. I've looked them up online, and I can confirm that they look amazing and they also won't fit my giant head. I really appreciate the images with measurement dimensions on for the glasses, as I know for sure that they won't fit me and, thus, shouldn't waste my money on them. I've got nowhere to put glasses on display, so if they won't fit on my head, I shouldn't get them. Another problem I had is that most opticians don't like fitting lenses to frames that aren't theirs due to fears of breaking them, so I wouldn't be able to use them anyway (I wear prescription lenses).

Aikatsu! glasses frames win The 'It Sucks to be a Fat Male Foreigner in a Little Japanese Girl World' Award for Aikatsu! Merchandise I'll Never Be Able To Obtain and/or Use

Honourable mention to all other apparel, such as t-shirts, available to buy at Aikatsu! Style.

The 'Mai Waifu' Award for Best Aikatsu! Character

I don't think there's much point in having this award listed. You all know that Yurika Toudou is my favourite character in Aikatsu! Her ability to remain in her vampire character almost 24/7 is amazing and she's so much fun because of it. She's really cute as well, especially in those rare moments when she's in non-vampire mode with her hair down and wearing glasses (glasses are a major plus for any character in anything ever and I won't have anyone say otherwise). Her clothing brand of Loli Gothic is fantastic, and really suits Yurika, along with the incredible music used (Eien no Tomoshibi is the best song in Aikatsu!). It's a shame she's not appearing much in season 3, but with one of the new trio using Loli Gothic as her main brand of clothing, I'm hoping she'll appear a bit more later in the season.

Yurika Toudou wins The 'Mai Waifu' Award for Best Aikatsu! Character

Honourable mention to Aoi Kiriya, my second favourite character in Aikatsu! Her role as the Idol Professor in the series is pretty fun, and Futuring Girl is a fantastic clothing brand that I actually prefer over Loli Gothic and, indeed, all other brands.

Did you read all that? Huh. Wasn't expecting that. It's just me gushing over Aikatsu!, only in more detail. Why would you want to read that? Oh well. Here's to another year of Aikatsu! - maybe I'll get to see the film at some point~~~