Cassiefairy's thrifty lifestyle blog

Cassiefairy's thrifty little lifestyle blog – DIY crafts, sewing, food & fashion – what more does a girl need??

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Better choices & better deals: How to become an empowered customer

As customers, we always want to make sure we get the best deals possible when making a purchase, especially when we spend a large amount of money. But how exactly should you go about becoming a more empowered customer?

The initiative called ‘Better Choices: Better Deals’ was launched by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills in April 2011, and you can read the complete document here. The essential aim of the initiative was to put consumers in charge, increasing their power when making decisions in a changing economy, and providing help for the most vulnerable. Most of the information in the document contains good common sense advice, and overall it is aimed at empowering consumers to get better value and better customer service from businesses when they make decisions or request assistance.

The initiative is now a few years old, and it is well worth reading through the document to find out if there is anything that you could be doing differently. After you have read through it, as well as putting the ideas into practice there are a number of simple things that you can do to become a more empowered customer.

vintage shoppingimage source

Always ask questions

Often people feel embarrassed about asking too many questions when they buy a product or service, but you should ask as many questions as you can think of. You can only be an empowered consumer and make the best choices when you know the full story, so don’t assume that what the salesperson says is everything you need to know.

Don’t be put under pressure

Never allow yourself to be put under pressure to buy something. Many salespeople use high-pressure techniques, but you don’t have to fall for them. Only buy when you are really comfortable, and never worry about saying no and walking away.

Use technology to find deals

Mobile phone apps, websites and social media can all be put to use to find a greater number of special offers that may not be on display in the shops. Use the tools available to you to find the best deals and make better decisions.

vintage christmas shoppingimage source

Always compare

It is easy to compare products and services these days. Rather than going from shop to shop, you can simply look online and rapidly find the best deals. For example, you can easily compare energy tariffs by looking for Tariff Information Labels in your area using the web tool from npower. Remember not to just go with the first option you see, and always try and find the better deal.

Know your rights

Always ask about the returns policy and know your rights when you buy something. Knowing the store’s policy can help you to make a more informed decision of whether you want to buy the product in the first place.

Become a more empowered customer

To become a more empowered customer, don’t allow yourself to be pressured into anything, always know exactly what you are buying, and make sure you spend the time searching for the best possible deal, especially with larger purchases. That way you can always ensure you make better choices and get better deals.

Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-15

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Pieday Friday ~ Snowball meringues

Today I’m preparing a special recipe for the weekend, something I’ve never made before and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will turn out okay. I’m talking about meringues, which are notoriously difficult to get right, and take a lot of hard work with a whisk! Luckily, I’ve got my new Russell Hobbs stand mixer to try out and I’m hoping that having a new bit of kitchen kit will make all the difference to my baking.Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-3I found the recipe online at and it was so simple to follow. These are the ingredients: 4 large egg whites, 115g caster 115g icing sugar. Yes, really, that’s it.

The Russell Hobbs Aura Hand and Stand Mixer that I’m using combines a hand whisk and a mixer stand, which has a bowl that rotates as the whisk gets to work, so I didn’t even need to do any work to whisk the egg whites into peaks – I just kept an eye on it while I got on with the washing up! Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-6 Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-7Once the egg whites are forming peaks when the whisk is lifted out of the mixture, add the caster sugar one tablespoon at a time, mixing for a few seconds in between each addition. I took the mixer off the stand at this stage so that I could mix the sugar in all directions, as the sugar seemed to want to stay in the centre of the bowl. Mix until combined, smooth and glossy. Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-8 Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-9Sift the icing sugar into the egg whites in thirds, folding in with a spatula before adding more icing sugar. Be careful not to mix too hard and definitely don’t use a whisk for this! Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-10 Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-11

Spoon into a piping bag and pipe rounds onto greaseproof paper – or just dollop on with a spoon if you prefer.

Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-12 Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-13These were baked in the  oven at 100 degrees for around minutes to an hour (just keep an eye on them) because my meringues were quite small, but if you want to make bigger meringues simply increase the baking time up to 1 and a half hours or so until the outside is crisp and slightly golden.

Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-14

Allow to cool and then whip up some double cream until it’s thick and spreadable, then spread onto the base of one meringue before sandwiching on a second meringue to make a ‘snowball’ shape. You can serve them like this, or with a dusting of icing sugar on top. I’ve decorated my meringues in a few different ways to try out some festive ideas. Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-15

The first one (my favourite) was drizzled with icing and then sprinkled with edible glitter – that’s the kind of snowball that Elsa from Frozen would eat, I’m sure! I dipped the top of one snowball into the icing and then added silver balls (very nice for a New Years eve party!) and my final festive decoration was a drizzling of runny icing and a scattering of red, white and greed hundreds and thousands, which looked super-Christmassy.Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-16

Overall I was very surprised at how easy it was to make meringues, considering that I’ve avoided baking them my whole life! I think that having a stand mixer helped a lot because I didn’t need to put much effort into the whisking. Seeing as this is usually the most laborious task which is where meringues often go wrong, I was very pleased that the stress has been taken out of the process and now I can imagine making meringues all the time – I’m already thinking about what flavours I could put into my next batch! Recipe for snowball meringues Christmas pudding dessert-18Will you try out the snowball meringue recipe for yourself this Christmas? Are you already a huge fan of baking meringues? If so, let me know what interesting flavours and decorating techniques you’ve used so that I can try them out for myself! Please leave me a comment below and tweet me a photo if you try baking this recipe for yourself :)

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Live Fearless

Last week I was invited to join in with a fantastic campaign which encourages women to Live Fearless and I jumped at the chance to take part. As someone who truly advocates going for your dreams and being the best version of yourself, I was delighted that Bodyform picked me as one of their bloggers to take part in a Live Fearless challenge. They believe that women shouldn’t hold themselves back in life, whether it’s taking a daring career step, or simply trying something new and according to their survey nearly half of women admit that just saying ‘yes’ to a new challenge makes them feel ‘fearless’. I completely agree and I said ‘yes’ straight away, without any clue about what the challenge would be. When my challenge pack arrived in the post I was delighted and couldn’t wait to get started! Live Fearless bodyform challenge

With 41% of women agreeing that culinary experiences appeal to them most, Bodyform was keen to challenge me to try something new the next time I go out for a meal. I always find myself going to the same places when I’m eating out and I almost don’t even need to look at the menu any more because I pretty-much know what I’m going to eat before I even sit down! Although I’d never really thought about it before, just saying this out loud sounds monotonous and boring to me and I’ve already started to feel more adventurous. It seems like a waste of my time and money if I’m choosing the same meal each time I go out when surely I should be trying something new or going to a different restaurant?Live Fearless bodyform challenge-2Bodyform has challenged me to ‘venture far and go somewhere you’ve never been before’ for my next meal out and although there were plenty of choices in my nearest town, such as Ask Italian, Nandos or Pizza Express, I wanted to follow the brief properly and instead of taking the ‘easy’ option I’m planning a trip to Jamie’s Italian in Norwich. I’m such a huge fan of Jamie Oliver (yes, I’ve already been watching my Jamie’s Christmas DVD to plan my festive meal!) and it would be really exciting to try the dish that Jamie and Genaro Contaldo have created – I’m especially keen to try Gennaro’s tagliatelle Bolognese and found out how a real Bolognese should taste!

jamie oliver italian norwich

Jamie’s Italian in the Royal Arcade, Norwich – image from Thetford & Brandon Times

Okay, it’s a lot further away to travel to Norwich so it’ll take me longer to complete the challenge, especially as I’m already struggling to find a spare day between now and Christmas, but it’ll be a treat to travel to a distant location, do a bit of exploring around the city’s landmarks and enjoy the bustle of the famous market. Just knowing that this trip is on the cards is making me very excited and I can’t wait to try out something new when I visit Jamie’s Italian – perhaps some antipasti that I’ve never eaten before, such as salami and fennel. I will be sure to let you know how I get on with my adventurous meal and share some snaps of my visit soon!Live Fearless bodyform challenge-3

What have you done to Live Fearless recently? Have you been somewhere new or tried out something you’ve never done before? Do you have a big career move on the horizon or have you booked a far-flung holiday? Please let me know how you are living your life to the full and leave me a comment below or get involved with the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #LiveFearless. Plus there are plenty of changes to win fantastic prizes for Living Fearlessly so check out the @bodyform profile on Twitter too and keep an eye out for more chances to win!


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His stocking ~ Gifts for the guys

What will you be stuffing in your fella’s stocking this Christmas? I’ve come up with a gift guide that combines both high street and web-based shopping for the men in your life.  I’m hoping to be able to give my male family members Christmas presents that they will enjoy receiving this year, rather than the standard Lynx set, chocolate coins and multi-pack of socks, so I’ve done the leg-work and found some bargains that will be gratefully received – check these out:

Firsly, I came across a website that realty caught my eye – - yes, they are specialists in mini bottles of alcohol and I immediately thought that these would make excellent stocking fillers for my husband. This is a great way to buy unusual and specialist alcohol without investing in a pricey full-size bottle or spending hours searching for a rare blend. There’s something for everyone on this website, with all the famous brands alongside more obscure flavours sourced from far-flung distilleries so I’m sure that I will be able to find something for each of the men in my life – there’s even miniature soft drinks for the youngsters and non-drinkers. I’m even thinking of recreating my Christmas Cracker tutorial using miniatures as the gift in the centre for a fun after-dinner tipple!

Next, I took a look at the John Lewis website and found a very helpful ‘stocking fillers for him’ section. No need to look any further, it was all there! From Mr Natty’s Shave Oil to Reindeer silk ties, leather wallets to bobble hats, I filled up my online basket quicker than you can say “I’ll take a Monty the Penguin please“. And on that note, there are a couple of super-cute Monty and Mabel t-shirts and jumpers available and I’m not sure I can resist them! There are also lots of fun retro toys and classic stocking fillers on the website so I’m sure to find plenty of goodies to pop into the Christmas stockings of all my family members – everyone loves a set of juggling balls!

Finally, I decided to take a look on Etsy to find unique homemade or vintage gifts for my family. I discovered a whole range of independent sellers who have Christmas all wrapped up. One of the first items that caught my eye was this Christmas gift set of natural vegan soaps and handmade washcloth. I am always surprised to find such fabulous quality gifts at a considerably lower-than-high-street prices for something so special. I especially love the personalised items available such as this leather travel journal with recycled paper, which can be engraved with the recipient’s name and a special message. I’ve even found one of my husband’s ‘big’ gifts on Etsy, but I can’t tell you what it is because he sometimes reads my blog!

What do you think of these gifts? Would someone you know love to receive something like this? Do you have any suggestions for blokey bargains this Christmas? Please let me know and leave me a comment below :)

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Tuesday Shoesday ~ Chatty crackers

homemade DIY festive crackers for christmas-14This week’s Tuesday Shoesday blog post is a little bit different. This week I’m sharing a DIY tutorial for making Christmas crackers. But it’s not as far removed from a ‘normal’ Tuesday Shoesday article as you’d think, because I’m filling my festive favours with ChattyFeet!homemade DIY festive crackers for christmasYes, those cheeky little socks that I’ve posting Instagram pics of all year have found their way into my Christmas celebrations and I actually can’t think of a better gift to give to your guests around the festive dinner table. I’m having an early Christmas celebration with my niece and nephew because I won’t get to see them on Christmas day so I thought that this would be the ideal time to create a cracker tutorial and share my ideas with you all.homemade DIY festive crackers for christmas-21. First of all, decide on a pair of ChattyFeet for each person around your dinner table, I’ve gone for funky matching ‘Meggy’ socks for father and son, pink ‘Venus’ socks for mother and daughter, plus some funny celebrity’ socks; Kate Middle-toe, Professor Brian Sox, Sigmund and Yoko Mono. I’m already giggling to myself just imagining all the shenanigans around the Christmas table!homemade DIY festive crackers for christmas-32. I’ve also gathered together some cracker essentials – joke, hat and toys – which I’ve taken out of last year’s leftover Christmas crackers. You could always pick up a cheap pack of crackers from a pound shop and either add a pair ChattyFeet, like Meggy below, into these bought crackers (be sure to take out the snap though!) or dismantle them and use the fillings in your own crackers. I’ve added a couple of chocolate coins to each cracker too for an after-dinner treat, yum!homemade DIY festive crackers for christmas-123. To make the crackers, use two cardboard toilet roll middles – one for the centre, and one cut in half for the ends of the crackers. If you don’t have that many empty loo rolls lying around, you can use cardboard to wrap around one loo-roll template and tape it together to create your own cardboard centres. homemade DIY festive crackers for christmas-114. Fill your centre tube with a pair of ChattyFeet socks, a hat, joke (maybe write your own), stickers for the little ones and chocolate coins. Again, no snap is needed – this might singe the socks and we definitely don’t want that, do we?! homemade DIY festive crackers for christmas-55. Position the tubes on the reverse-side of a rectangle of festive wrapping paper with the two smaller pieces at the ends and leaving a gap between these and the centre tube. Use double-sided tape or a glue-stick to attach the paper around the tubes and roll up. Tape the end of the paper down.homemade DIY festive crackers for christmas-66. To make the cracker shape, squeeze the paper in the gaps between the tubes and gently twist the paper before tying up with ribbon bows. I’ve used a different colour ribbon for each guest or you could even add a name tag to ensure that each recipient receives the correct pair of socks!homemade DIY festive crackers for christmas-8homemade DIY festive crackers for christmas-9The crackers look great on my festive table and they were so much fun when we pulled them open during our early Christmas dinner. Everyone was very surprised to find a pair of ChattyFeet rolled up inside their crackers and immediately slipped them onto their hands to use as puppets at the dinner table. It was great fun hearing my husband reading out his cracker joke in his best Prof. Brian Sox voice! christmas dinner chatty feet crackers_ christmas dinner chatty feet-4 christmas dinner chatty feet-2Everyone appreciated the homemade nature of my Christmas crackers and we all enjoyed getting an unexpected Christmas gift at the table – it made the meal even more special and definitely added to the fun festive atmosphere, especially when I put a Christmas hat on La Diva, and my brother attempted to eat his entire meal whilst wearing the socks… on his hands! christmas dinner chatty feet la diva christmas dinner chatty feet-3 christmas dinner chatty feet-5Let me know if you have a go at making your own Chatty Crackers and I’d love to see photos of your own festive DIYs so please leave me a comment or tweet me @Cassiefairy