On a budget? Seven cheap but romantic date ideas

Hey guys!

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Photo by Lea Khreiss on Unsplash

So, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, we’re getting a little bit romantic today on A Little Mad Smith. First off, I have to apologise to all of you who are already sick of Valentine’s Day! I have to be honest, I’m not much of a Valentine’s Day person myself; I was one of the kids who never received a Valentine’s card while I was at school,  meanwhile some of the other girls were receiving teddybears and chocolates in abundance. Safe to say it put me off the celebration somewhat- we’ve all been there, right? 

Skip to the present day, and I still don’t eagerly mark the 14th Feb on the calendar in gleeful anticipation; but one thing that I certainly do enjoy doing is going on dates with my boyfriend Jason. Hence today’s post!

But before we begin, a little disclaimer! These date ideas are more aimed at couples who have been dating for a while rather than those wishing to woo that special someone. I’m not one to speak for others, but your Valentine might not enjoy spending your first date cycling!

BUUUTTT today is for those of you for who are all loved up and looking forward to spending some oh so important quality time with your partner this Valentine’s Day. Today I bring you my favourite cheap date ideas, for those who want a little romance without breaking the bank!

Cycling Date– One of my favourite days spent with Jason was about three and a half years ago, on the day we finished our GCSEs. We decided to go out for the LONGEST bike ride ever! It was bloody exhausting, but great fun. Neither of us really cycle much in our day to day lives- it’d been a few years since I’d last rode a bicycle before Jason and I decided to go out for a ride!- but it made a lovely change to our usual routine. If you’re lucky enough to be living somewhere warmer than ‘freezing your you-know-whats off’ this Valentine’s Day, why not pack some sandwiches and sweet treats in your backpack, have a cycle down to a local park and enjoy a mini picnic! Great exercise and great fun.

Indoor picnic– This is probably one of the most romantic things I’ve done for Jason, he’s usually the romantic one (he’s gonna kill me for saying that). To mark three years of us dating, I decided to lay out an indoor picnic in my living room to surprise him when he came round for lunch. I laid out blankets and lots of cushions, brought out my record player and the picnic baskets, and put on a load of good food. I also made some of his favourite coffee cakes. Wanting to up the romance a bit? Go all out with candles and rose petals. Put on an array of their favourite treats and have a romantic song playing when they walk in; wayyyy cheaper than a meal out, and way more intimate.

Go for a walk!– I know, I KNOW, this is so obvious. But you’d be surprised at how nice a walk just the two of you can be, especially while its chilly out. Enjoy each other’s company without getting distracted by phones and the buzz of everyday life, before coming home to a warm drink and lots of blankets! Who doesn’t love getting cosy after you’ve had your fingers fall off from frostbite? At least that would be the case with the current weather we’re having in Lancaster.

Iceskating– If you’re lucky enough to live near an ice rink like I am, then iceskating makes a really great date idea! Great fun, cheap entry and good exercise! All the while it gives you an excuse to cling on to each other for dear life- win win win win, right? 

Go to watch a little known singer or band– As some of you may know, I live near Manchester in England. This means that there are an absolute shedload of up-and-coming artists who perform at venues throughout the city all year round. Jason and I recently went to see Nina Nesbitt, with our tickets costing £12 each. I know it isn’t THE cheapest date idea, but its always a great night out for music lovers. Plus the fact the artist is up-and-coming means that the performance is likely to be in small, intimate venues, making for a great atmosphere. Don’t forget, Ed Sheeran started by gigging in pubs and small venues, so you could be watching the next big thing!

Museums and Art Galleries– If you and your SO have a shared interest for a particular artist or period in history, museums and galleries make a great date idea! Plus the best part is that they’re usually free to enter! Jason and I have visited a good few museums and galleries in our time, as we both enjoy that sort of thing, and it’s great to learn new and interesting facts together.

Movie night in– An oldie but a goodie. Who doesn’t love buying loads of junk food and sitting down to watch a film together in the comfort of your own home? Jason and I are movie addicts; we love going to the cinema to watch new releases- that’s actually what we did for our first ever date! But when money’s a bit tight, there’s few things better than stocking up on microwaveable popcorn, dimming the lights and enjoying watching a classic Rom-com.

That’s all from me today guys! I hope some of you found this post helpful and no one hates me too much for writing about Valentine’s Day! Back to normal next week- no more of this lovey dovey stuff. 

What’s your favourite date activity? Will you be celebrating Valentine’s Day this year? 

Let me know in the comments!

Best wishes to you all,

Maddie x

5 Top Tips to save money and stay healthy on a student budget

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Hi all! Seeing as it’s a new year and all that, I thought I’d do something a bit different for today’s post. So, who’s been making New Year’s resolutions? I’m one of those people who only makes resolutions that I can keep, to save me from being disappointed in myself when it gets into February and I find myself surrounded by empty chocolate wrappers even though I swore I’d cut out chocolate this year- we’ve all been there. Last year my resolution was to start a regular home yoga practise, a resolution that I’m very proud to say I managed to keep! I now practise yoga daily. My only resolution for this year is to drink more water, something that I know I really should be paying more attention to.

I’m pretty sure that one of the most common new year’s resolutions is to be healthier, whether it be eat better or start a regular exercise routine. Another popular choice seems to be save more money! So today’s blog post is bringing you a little combination of the two- how to eat healthily and save money!

As some of you will know I am currently a second year student at Lancaster University, England, studying Theoretical Physics with Mathematics. Following moving out of my family home for the first time and learning to look after myself, I’ve come to know a few tips and tricks that have enabled me to really save my pennies when it counts. I also like to eat a well balanced diet, so I’ve gotten used to shopping in a manner that allows me to make plenty of healthy meals whilst saving my money.

I’ve put together my top 5 tips that I have learnt during my time as a student that have allowed me to make my money go further, whilst also maintaining a healthy and well balanced diet. Enjoy!

Meal plan! This is without doubt the most important thing I could tell you about budgeting. Weekly meal planning has saved me so much money over the past year, as it ensures I won’t go hungry while keeping waste to an absolute minimum. I will not buy anything unless I know I will definitely be using it for a meal that week. Make a plan, write your list and stick to it. Meal planning also means that you can concentrate on making meals which all use the same basic ingredients, and also ensuring that you will be eating a wide variety of healthy foods over the week ahead! Almost everything I cook will feature the same basic ingredients, whether it be a curry, chilli, risotto or quiche. I purposely buy veg that I know will work well together and in a variety of different recipes, such as onion, red pepper and mushrooms to name a few. Cook with the same kind of oil all the time to save you buying several, whether it be vegetable oil or olive oil. Purchase a few carefully chosen spices that are good all rounders, such as black pepper and mixed herbs. These will allow you to add favour to your dishes without requiring a full spice cupbpard to store them in!

Buy veg individually and focus on carbs Purchasing your vegetables individually will keep costs low. Buying just one or two carrots every week as opposed to a pack will mean that less food is wasted and also less money. I do this will all my vegetables, and usually only pay a few pence per item. You’ll already know exactly how many of each vegetable you will need thanks to your meal plan, so stick to it and don’t get carried away buying 3 for 2 cauliflowers when you know you’re only going to eat one. Opting for veg instead of fruit is also a great way of eating your five a day whilst on a budget; it’s cheaper and can be used to make several different dishes. Focusing on carbs such as rice and pasta is also a good way of maintaining a healthy diet while on a student budget. You can purchase a kilo bag of pasta for just a few quid, and it will be a great foundation for so many meal possibilities! The same goes for rice; open up your mind to curries, chilli and risotto, all using the same main vegetables, of course.

Learn the lifetimes of your groceries This is something that you will get to grips with within your first two weeks of moving away, though you probably won’t have given it much thought before. Think about it, if you live in a house with four people and you all drink milk, you’ve probably never seen that milk go off before, seeing as you all drink it daily. But if you go and buy yourself a 4 pint of milk just for you, you’re probably not going to drink it all before it sours. The same goes for your eggs, fruit, veg and meat. Learn the lifetime of your food! Once you know how long things will last, you can evaluate if its worth you buying 12 eggs or 6, and if its really worth buying a full pack of bacon just for you.

Make in bulk I have to be honest with you, I don’t freeze food. I wish I was more confident with that, but it’s just not something I’ve ever done. I do still, however, make food in bulk. Cooking for just yourself is strange, you’re dealing with much smaller portion sizes that will probably only require, like, a quarter of a pepper or something. I make things like veggie chilli and pasta salad and keep these in the fridge in tupperware for about three days. This means that I can still use full vegetables when I cook, and it gives me some really quick and easy no-cook meals later on in the week! To avoid getting bored of eating chilli three nights in a row, I’ll mix it up by serving it with rice one day, sweet potato another day and maybe tacos on the third day. But, of course, if you don’t fancy eating that much of the same thing and you’re comfortable freezing your food, by all means, go for it!

Buy the cheaper brands– OK, so I know this is probably not the piece of advice that you wanted to hear. You like your Heinz tomato ketchup and your Kellogg’s cornflakes, I get it. But cutting down costs does means that you have to make some sacrifices. I’m not saying you have to give up everything; decide which brands you cannot live with out and which ones you’re open to change with. I don’t like cheap baked beans as much as Heinz baked beans, so I still buy Heinz. But I purchase the supermarket’s own brand of bolognese sauce and honey. Making these decisions and being open to trying new brands really will cut down your weekly spending.

There you have it guys, my top 5 tips to help you save money and live healthily on a low budget. Going from living at home to managing your own finances at university can be challenging, and daunting for some, but with these top tips I guarantee that things will be a little easier.

So remember: implement your meal plan and stick to it, don’t buy perishable items in bulk, learn the lifetimes of your groceries, make large batches of food for the fridge or freezer, and be open to making sacrifices.

I hope that you’ve found this helpful, whether you be a student or simply looking for a way to cut down your weekly spending!

If you would like any more advice on food shopping on a low budget, or anything else for student life, please get in touch in the comments! You can also check out my other post on student life, Packing for university, here

Best wishes to you all,

Maddie x

Super Easy Christmas Craft Ideas

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Hey guys! It’s official, I’m in full on Christmas mode. Following a weekend of tree decorating, Christmas films and winter crafts, it’s safe to say I’m feeling incredibly festive. It’s less than two weeks now until I come home for Christmas and I cannot wait!

As some of you many know, I travelled home from university this weekend to spend it with my family and Jason. I always have the BEST time at home, so I’m always a little sad when I return to my student halls on the Sunday night. But I have to say, with all the Christmas cheer, crafting and baking that’s saturating my Instagram feed, I’m finding it hard to stay sad for long. My social media at this time of year is absolutely bursting with festive DIYs, gift ideas, bakes and makeup looks. I should probably be fed up of it by now, but instead I’m just becoming more and more inspired to share my own Christmas themed blog posts with you all!

So I do apologise if you’re totally over all the Christmas fever already. I will try and get some travel posts up over the next few weeks to keep you guys entertained too! 

As luck would have it, this weekend my sister, Hannah, was tasked with making some Christmas items that could be sold at her place of work, with the proceeds going towards charity. She wanted to make something easy and quick, but something that would still get people into the festive spirit and help raise money for a good cause. And y’all know that I LOVE a quick and easy craft idea. And since becoming a student, ‘frugal’ has become my middle name. So what great timing that I would be home and able to help with the process!

Super cute Christmas tree decoration idea! Really cheap and really easy, perfect for the kids to help with.

Between Hannah, my mum and I, we managed to create plenty of Christmas makes that were sure to earn some money at work! First up are these super cute Christmas tree decorations! How lovely are these? I think these would certainly make an adorable addition to anyone’s christmas tree. And even better, they were ridiculously easy to make, meaning Hannah could whip up a good few to sell.

To make these, you will need:

  • Sticks/ twigs
  • Scraps of ribbon
  • String
  • Pompoms
  • Glue

To make these, Hannah began by gathering some sticks from outside before double knotting different lengths of ribbon around the stick to create a ‘branch’ effect. To make a small Christmas tree decoration like we did, you want your stick to be about 5″ long, and your first piece of ribbon for the top branch to measure around 4″, with each piece of ribbon below that getting gradually longer. Once you have tied all your ribbons on, you can use scissors to trim the edges to create a neater, triangular tree shape as shown here. Once you have attached all your ‘branches’, tie a loop of string to the top of your tree, so you can hang it as a decoration! Add a pompom on top if desired, or maybe a little star!

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I absolutely loved how these turned out. I think it’s especially great that you can choose your ribbon to go with whatever colour scheme or vibe you want for your Christmas decorations. Hannah chose a bright and colourful colour scheme for her ribbon, as we like our Christmas decor to be full of colour in our household!

Hot chocolate reindeer bags for Christmas! A

Next up, my mum and I also made these adorable hot chocolate reindeer bags! My mum came up with the idea for these and I love how they turned out! My mum is really great at coming up with creative ideas, she’s inspired many of my craft projects over the years, and these were no exception. Again, these were super easy to make and it took no time at all to create ten of them for selling.

To make these, you will need:

  • Clear, disposable piping bags.
  • Red pompoms
  • Googly eyes
  • Glue
  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Pipe cleaners

We began by gluing a set of googly eyes and a pompom on each of the piping bags, before letting the glue dry completely. Once it had done so, all we needed to do was fill each of the piping bags with instant hot chocolate mix (we used approximately enough for one mug) and top off with some mini marshmallows. After we had filled our bags, we twirled some pipe cleaners around to fasten them and give the effect of antlers! Told you it was easy!

I think that these hot chocolate bags were a great idea, and would make a great gift for kid’s friends at school. You could also fill them with oats and glitter instead of hot chocolate mix, and gift them as bags of reindeer food!

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We made some other bits of bobs for selling too, but I don’t want this post to be too long. And besides, I’m sure you’re just itching to try out these cute new craft ideas, am I right? 😉 So I’m leaving it here for today, do let me know in the comments if you would like to see what else we made though! I would be happy to share it with you in a future post!

Very best wishes to you all for the month of December, I’ll be back next week with another Christmas themed post for you all!

Maddie x

DIY Advent Calendar

 

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Hello my lovelies! It’s finally that time of year! The time when you can start to get Christmassy and nobody can get on your case about it, because it’s practically December, so it’s totally allowed! And we all know what that also means, it’s almost the start of advent!

I actually love the start of advent, it’s the time when I begin to get fully into the Christmas spirit and excited for the big day. And of course, who doesn’t love getting a chocolate every day for 24 days? Side note: Yes, I am 20, and yes, I still get an advent calendar. But besides the chocolate, that’s what I really love about advent. Having a daily countdown reminding me of how close we are to the 25th is something that still excites me now, and I never start to feel quite as festive as when I open that first door!

I’m super excited as I’m writing this because I’ll be travelling home from university on the 1st December to spend the weekend with my family and Jason. We’re going to put the Christmas decorations up, which normally involves lots of cheesy Christmas music. My parents, Hannah and I have always done this together for as long as I can remember; it’s really the start of the festive season in our household. This will also be the fifth time that Jason’s helped out with it- I love having us all together.

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So, with all that talk of advent, you’ve probably already guessed that this post may have something to do with it (or maybe you just read the title). This year I really wanted to make my own advent calendar. At first I’d considered sewing one, but I don’t have room for my sewing machine up at university, so it wouldn’t have been too practical. I’m also not exactly swimming in free time, so I wanted a project that would help me get in the Christmas mood without taking an age to create! I’m also broke, so cheap was a necessity!

Enter my toilet roll tube advent calendar! The definition of frugal. Inspired by my toilet roll tube bats, this advent calendar was completely free to make, seeing as I already had some Christmas craft paper in, and I’ve been saving up my left over loo roll tubes since returning to uni. Side note: For another free craft project, why not check out my previous post? DIY Conker Wreath.

I’m actually pretty happy with the result, I really love the homemade festive vibe it adds to my room. The best thing about this calendar is that you can fill it with whatever you want, be it a festive poem for each day or a small christmas trinket. Or, of course, chocolate. Adding a little christmassy tissue paper inside each of the ‘parcels’ makes it seem a bit more upmarket and less toilet roll-y. 🙂

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There’s not much to say about how to recreate this advent calendar; I’m sure you can suss that out for yourself! But I thought I’d post it more as an inspiration for yourselves if, like me, you’re wishing to create a frugal and alternative Christmas countdown for this festive season. (Or maybe as some inspiration for next year!) I’ll still include some basic instructions though for those of you wanting to recreate this craft project!

So what did I do?

You will need:

  • Toilet roll tubes.
  • Christmas paper.
  • Scissors or pinking shears.
  • Small advent numbers. I had these in my crafting collection, from Hobbycraft, but you can purchase similar from most craft stores at this time of year.
  • Some acrylic paints- optional!

Ok, so lets get started! I’ll forgo my usual numbered instructions here and resort to giving you a basic description of what I did.

Firstly, the more observant of you may have noticed that my advent calendar only actually has 15 days- shock horror! No, I did not get lazy and couldn’t be bothered finishing it- well, maybe a little… 😉 – this is actually because I’m only up at university until the 15th December, so I decided just to make parcels for those days.

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The first thing I did when making my advent calendar was put on my Christmas music and settle down to paint some Christmassy designs on a few of my cardboard tubes. I opted for holly berries and snowflakes. Obviously this step is completely optional, but I really enjoyed this process, and I love how these parcels turned out! They are definitely my favourite.

Now all that’s left for you to do is the super easy and quick part! Cut out strips of Christmas paper, I used pinking shears for this but you could also just use scissors. Glue a strip of paper on the front of each of your tubes. I also chose to cut a small square of paper to go on my painted tubes.

Add your advent numbers, before folding the bottom of your tube in to get the nice, pointed corner, parcel shape that I had. Fill each of your parcels with a little tissue paper and a small gift, before folding in the top of your tube in the same manner as the bottom.

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Ta da! It’s actually that easy. Blu tac your parcels up like me, or pin them to a cork board. Or why not tie some string around and hang them from a ribbon on your wall?

I love how this advent calendar turned out! I think it adds a really sweet, homemade and cozy vibe to my room. And it was super cheap and super easy! You really can’t complain at that!

Are you guys looking forward to the count down to Christmas? Have you been doing any festive crafting recently? You know I would love to see your own seasonal projects, why not link them in the comments?

Wishing you all the very best of days as we head into December,

Maddie xxx

DIY Love Heart Conker (Chestnut) Wreath!

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Hello you lovely people! Lil’ disclaimer- I got a tad carried away with the intro to this post. So if you would like to forgo my waffling and skip to the good stuff, you just scroll on down! 🙂

I don’t know about you guys, but I am just not feeling quite as festive as I’d like to be at this time of year. There’s something about being at university that really zaps the fun out of the Christmas season, or any season for that matter. All I want to be doing is shopping for Christmas decorations with my family, enjoying mulled wine at the Manchester Christmas markets with Jason, and making a start on my Christmas projects; but instead I’m overwhelmed with deadlines, coursework and the responsibilities of being a fully functioning adult living on my own.

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It’s not just a lack of free time that’s the issue though, when you live away from home it kind of feels like you’re missing out on…well, life. At least for me. Not having my car up here with me makes it difficult to get out and about, and I really miss the mundane things like Sunday afternoon trips to a garden centre with my parents.

But, with all that said and done, I am really trying to get in the Christmas spirit! I mean, really trying. My flatmates have been subjected to me blasting Christmas songs from my room, and I’m trying my damn well hardest to start a few Christmas craft projects!

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Which brings us to today’s post: my DIY conker wreath! Despite it being nearly December, this wreath would’ve been a super cute edition to your decor throughout the Autumn season (and it would’ve been, if I’d got my act together and made it sooner!). But this wreath is also a perfect way of adding some Christmas cheer to your home, which is EXACTLY what I am in need of right now! Plus, this was super cheap to make! I actually had all of the stuff in for this already, so it was actually free for me! And even if you don’t have some scrap fabric lying around, you would have more than enough if you purchased a quarter of a metre! 🙂

I collected most of the conkers for this wreath back when Jason and I were holidaying in France, in late September. I have always had magpie-like tendencies when it comes to things like conkers and acorns; I remember rummaging around for them back when I was a kid- I was a pretty weird kid. Collecting conkers is something I will always associate with my childhood and Autumn, but even though I am now twenty, I still enjoy filling my pockets with shiny brown chestnuts! Skip forward a week of conker collecting in France, and I had about thirty of the beauties, and no idea of how to use them.

Enter my DIY conker wreath:

You will need:

  • Conkers
  • Strong cardboard. I used the cardboard from a shoe box.
  • Hessian/ Burlap.
  • Assorted fabric scraps
  • Ribbon
  • A glue gun
  • Scissors/ Craft knife

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  1. Draw out a heart shape on your cardboard to whatever size you want your wreath to be. Mine was about 10″ high and 10″ wide at its widest point, but this is totally up to you. Take into consideration how much fabric you have to hand and how many conkers. You could also print off a template for this if you’re not too confident in your drawing ability! 🙂
  2. Draw a smaller heart shape inside your heart so that you have your desired wreath shape. Cut around your wreath using scissors or a craft knife. Cut out the centre of your wreath.
  3. Place a blob of glue at the top of your wreath, on the front and back of the cardboard, and attach a loop of ribbon here so that you can hang your wreath.
  4. Now that you have your desired wreath shape, begin to cut out strips of hessian/burlap. You will be wrapping these strips around your wreath, so ensure that they are at least twice as wide as the wreath itself (enough to go over the front and the back of the cardboard).
  5. Using your glue gun, glue a strip to your wreath by folding it in half and placing the fold on the inner edge of your wreath, so that one half of the strip is glued to top of the cardboard and the other half is glued to the back. You want it so the ends of the strip are on the outer edge of your wreath.
  6. Repeat this with as many strips as necessary, until all of the cardboard is covered. You should have some nice texture around the outer edge of your wreath thanks to the raw edges of the hessian.
  7. Now you can start to glue gun your conkers onto the wreath! This does require quite a lot of glue, but I love the finished effect. I must say though, this isn’t a foolproof method. Some of the conkers can become a bit loose when the glue dries. I’d recommend ensuring that they are securely stuck down with lots of glue, and of course being careful with your wreath when dry.
  8. Now that you have added your conkers, cut out some strips of assorted fabric. You want these strips to be about 3″ long.
  9. With one strip, twist it in the centre so that you have a little bow shape. Pop a blob of hot glue in the centre, and press it onto you wreath (use a pen or similar to press the fabric down, you don’t want to burn yourself!). This is how I added the texture to my wreath, as twisting the fabric strips and attaching them in this way gives a charming 3D effect.
  10. Repeat this with as many fabric strips as you like, until you are satisfied with the overall appearance of your wreath.

Ta da! Easy as that.

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There you have it guys! Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this post! What’ve you been making in anticipation for Christmas? Let me know in the comments!

Best wishes to you all, filled with lots of festive cheer!

Maddie x

Get festive with this DIY chestnut wreath! A great craft project for Autumn and through into winter. Bring some Christmas cheer into your home, or why not use it as a table centre piece for Thanksgiving!