Thrifty Christmas: How To Make Brown Parcel Paper POP

This is how I wrap my presents every year: I like how it looks, and I also like saving money on Christmas wrapping paper.

When you tot up the costs of Christmas gift-buying, it is easy to forget to include the costs of Christmas gift-wrapping. It adds up though, the cost of the shiny sparkly wrapping paper and ribbon and gift tags and so on. In my experience, this additional cost is felt all the more acutely when your £2.99 roll of shiny sparkly stuff turns out to be roughly £2.89 of gift-wrap roll insert, with enough paper to wrap no more than a few gifts. And let’s not mention that year you thought you’d cleaned up in the discount store, with an armful of bargain-basement Christmas wrapping paper, only to find once you got home that it was so thin, you could see the presents through it…

Instead, this is what I do. Every year I go to the Post Office and I buy a 6-metre long roll of brown parcel wrap.

It’s cheapTake a look here on the Post Office website: at the time of writing, a 6-metre roll of brown parcel paper is just 65p. I’ve linked to the Post Office website because if you have a lot of gifts to wrap, you can go all out here: at the time of writing, the website also sells 35-metre rolls for £3.49. I am tempted to invest: a 35-metre roll would last me for many Christmases to come…

Brown paper rolls are also available from supermarkets such as Tesco (here) and Asda (here), but tend to be more expensive: around the £2.00 – £2.50 mark.

It’s strong. After all, it is made for wrapping parcels. Brown parcel wrap is sturdy: it doesn’t tear easily and, in my experience, it is easier to wrap presents neatly using thick brown paper than it is using low-end gift-wrap, which can be flimsy and fragile.

It’s long – oh so long! To put it into context: that single 6-metre roll of brown parcel wraps as many presents as one of the 3-packs of 2-metre roll sold in shops up and down the UK. Parcel paper has no cardboard insert so, although it looks like a small roll, it goes on and on…

Then I make it look pretty. This is easy to do, even if you aren’t a crafty type. First, I wrap the presents. Next, Thrifty Kid and I stamp the paper with gold ink, or whatever else he has knocking around in his craft set.

If you need to buy a suitable stamp, by the way, there are a a couple of thrifty options. At this time of year, craft magazines often have them as freebies on the covers. If you don’t want to splash out on a craft mag, you can make a stamp for free: find a pencil with an unused rubber on the end, and use that to make polka dot patterns.

Finally, tie with string or ribbon. In the picture above, I’ve used a ball of string. Other years, I have used free ribbons, collecting them in a pot throughout the year. (It always surprises me how the jar is full by the end of the year, with slips and lengths of ribbon from gifts, delivery boxes and so on.)

Retirement Planning: Your New Year’s Resolution for 2017?

It turns out I’m not the only one with pensions on the brain – or am I? A new study has found that almost half the UK population has an “ostrich mentality” when it comes to saving for the future.

The Skipton Building Society Retirement Tracker, which monitors the retirement savings behaviours of more than 6,000 people up and down the country, has revealed that 48% of us have our heads in the sand when it comes to the dreaded ‘P’ word (pensions), with retirement savings that are either meagre or non-existent.

Skipton Building Society asked me to team up with them to help raise awareness of the dire state of the nation’s retirement savings, and this is a campaign of which I am proud to be a part. Heck, I’ll shout from the rooftops about it! As regular readers will know, retirement is a subject close to my heart: I am currently taking (somewhat overdue) steps to boost my own pension pot.

I must admit, that 48% statistic made me gulp. With no private pension plan and no savings, that is a lot of Ostriches who, if their savings behaviours do not change, will be throwing themselves upon the mercy of the State Pension when they reach retirement. As I have written previously, this is a dangerous game: not only is the State Pension modest but, as hundreds of thousands of women born in the 1950s have discovered to their horror, governments can move the goalposts and change the eligibility criteria according to their whims.

What saver are you?

The Ostriches are one of five groups of retirement savers identified by the Skipton Building Society Retirement Tracker. The crème de la crème are the Wise Owls.  Members of this group tend to have a “more sophisticated portfolio with a broad range of investments and savings.” Nearly half (47%) are saving to fund retirement through a Cash ISA, more than a third (37%) through a personal pension and almost a third (32%) through investments in stocks and shares.

Are you a Wise Owl? The five groups of retirement savers break down as follows:


Ostrich Mentality (48% of the sample)

·         Not saving for retirement or their savings are falling short

·         The majority have nothing saved to supplement the State Pension


Savings Snails (18% of the sample)

·         Saving the minimum they can afford

·         More than a third (35%) believe their retirement savings will be less than they need by the time they retire

·         At the same time, they have no set target for retirement savings

·         The majority have nothing saved to supplement the State Pension

Zero to house-buying hero: how to save a mortgage deposit

This time 10 years ago, we were buying a house: our first home, in North Yorkshire. The floors were bare boards, the walls were covered in yellow vinyl wallpaper, and the gas and electricity were on pre-pay meters (on a frozen January night when all the newsagents were closed, I discovered this the hard way). The garden, used by the previous occupants as a landfill site, was devoid of lawn and covered in knee-high brambles.

We had saved a 10% mortgage deposit and bought our red-brick terrace at the top of the market, just before the credit crunch came whomping on house prices and equity. When we sold up two years ago to move to Greater Manchester, the house prices in the local area had just drifted their way back up to pre-crunch levels so despite all the home improvements, we made little on the sale.

Were these trials and tribulations? Pah! Not at all. They meant nothing: instead, I was (and am) grateful, relieved and rather amazed that we’d managed to claw our way onto the housing ladder in the first place.

As it turns out, our house-buying timing was beaut: a week after we moved in, banks began tightening lending requirements and pulling fixed-rate repayment deals left, right and centre. While we made little when we sold up, we had built up a good chunk of equity via mortgage payments and when possible, overpayments.

It was difficult enough to be buying a house back then; it’s even tougher now. The economy is looking dodge, mortgage lenders want would-be customers to walk through fire – and on top of it all, increases in the cost of living make the prospect of saving a mortgage deposit seem more daunting than ever.

Something I have learned, however, is that while the prospect of saving for a mortgage deposit can be daunting, the truth is that unless you are set on buying in London or somewhere else with crazy prices, it can be done. Drastic lifestyle changes, budget makeovers and the sourcing of extra streams of income may be required, but it can be done. In my case, we moved up north, where you could – and still do – get a lot more bang for your buck. I lived extremely frugally, to pack away as much of my salary as possible. I did a lot of eBay selling, reselling and more besides. We got there.

Gleeson Homes, a housebuilder with a strong base here in the North of England, approached me to make some short videos about my tips and ideas for saving for a deposit. It was an interesting company with which to collaborate: Gleeson specialises in low-cost homes for first-time buyers on modest incomes. In a Guardian profile, which you can read here, the chief executive describes the typical customers as “a Sheffield bus driver and his shopworker wife on a combined income of £34,000 a year.” (See what I mean about bang for your buck? Move north. Come join us!)

If you are currently saving for a mortgage deposit, or know somebody who is, you can find all six videos playlisted on my YouTube channel. I have copied partial transcriptions below. There are a number of tips here and, although they won’t all be suitable for everyone, there are plenty of tips to go around.