22 October 2014

10 Blogging Rules You Can Break

There are loads of people out there happy to tell you how to write a better blog, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself how relevant their advice actually is to you?

Those blogging "rules" are all aimed at aspiring professionals. They tell you that if you want to attract advertisers, you have to knuckle down and make a lot of effort. You can't get away with sporadic publication schedules, meandering blog posts and poorly lit images. And that's largely true.

But if, on the other hand, you're blogging for the fun of it, you're free. If you're in this for the joy of writing or the warmth of the blog community, you can ditch the rules and focus on having some fun.

Specifically, you can consider scrapping all of the following advice:

Find Your Niche

Are you a beauty blogger, a baking blogger or a book blogger? If you're trying to earn the big bucks it helps to know - if you're writing about, say, environmental ethics you want to be approached by vegan shoe distributors not disposable fashion brands. But if you're writing for fun, it doesn't matter. Just as chats with your in-person friends can meander from films to fashion, careers to cakes, so can chats with your blog friends. With so many people bemoaning how samey and sterile a lot of blogs have become, there's something very refreshing about some old school streams of consciousness.

Use Lots of Pictures

Not all readers can be bothered with huge chunks of text. I'll admit: I sometimes find myself skimming enormous blog posts and skipping to the end. Pictures break those posts up and make them easier to digest. They also make your listing look prettier in people's blog feeds. But if you're all about the writing, be all about the writing. Don't stress yourself out trying to find relevant copyright free images or master an excessively expensive camera. Just skip the pictures. I do it all the time and, in fact, my wordy posts are invariably my most popular. Conversely, my photo-heavy posts usually tank - I publish them for my own satisfaction, fully aware that they're going to get little response.

Have a Blogging Schedule

Conventional wisdom states that you should pick set times of day/days of the week and post a little something, regardless of its value or your mood. If people don't know when you're going to post, it is said, they will eventually get bored, give up and stop checking your blog. Only, very few people check blogs these days - most people bung their favourite blogs in a feed reader (Bloglovin, Feedly etc) and rely on that to keep them up to date. If you don't post for a month, most people aren't even going to notice. So, unless you're positioning yourself as a quality alternative to a regular magazine, cut yourself some slack - there's no need to churn out substandard content when you're not in the mood to write.

Keep it Upbeat

If you're trying to sell - actually sell - a lifestyle, you may want to show an idealised version of it. Pretend everything will be rosy in the world if your readers just buy your new screenprint. But if you're writing a personal blog, don't be afraid to write a personal blog. Life can be tough and talking about the hard times can not only be cathartic for you but can allow people in similar situations to feel a little less alone.

Stop Taking Mirror Selfies

Professional fashion bloggers may need tripods, complicated lighting set ups and well practised poses, but somebody who is simply showing off their new shoes does not. Your photography is not the focus here - the shoes are. If you can't be bothered setting up and processing magazine style photos, then don't. There's no point stripping the fun out of your new possessions by turning them into a chore.

Sell to the Day and the Night Crowds

You know when you see a blogger promoting the exact same blog post over and over again at all times of day and across the space of three or four weeks? You know how you seethe for a few months and then unfollow them completely? Don't be that blogger. That blogger is all about having as many links to their site as possible so that Google thinks it's great quality so that advertisers find them so that they can earn more money. You just want to find a few friends and you can do that by chatting to people, not by spamming them with self-promotion. Sharing your blog posts is absolutely fine; ramming them down people's Twitter feeds is not.

You Need Social Media

I love chatting to other bloggers on Twitter. You might like interacting on Facebook or [even] Google+. You might hate social media entirely. That is fine. You do not need to be highly visible unless you want to be very widely recognised. You do not need to have a Facebook page or a Google+ page or a specific Twitter handle for your blog unless it brings you pleasure. You can promote your blog on as many or as few different platforms as you feel like. They can be added bonuses; they are not an obligation.

500 Words is Enough

Or 300 or 800 or 1000 - the exact figure varies. The point is: not everyone will read long blog posts so, if you're blogging for popularity, keep your posts short. If, on the other hand, you're blogging because you love writing, don't set yourself arbitrary limits. I said earlier that I sometimes skim very long blog posts - but I also sometimes enjoy getting absorbed in a well written essay. Your audience may be smaller if your posts are bigger, but it's better to have a handful of readers who love your style than thousands who can't be bothered reading about the things which really matter to you.

Write for Search Engines

If you want to earn money, you need to get Google to like your site. There are various tricks for doing this and they include writing in such a way that your blog is easily and frequently found. This used to mean stuffing your text with key phrases ("There are lots of blog rules. If you want to know about blog rules read this list of blog rules..."); these days it's a little trickier. And I'm not going to explain it to you because, if you care, you should be doing some serious reading up on the subject; if you're writing for fun, you don't need to try tricking the search engines. Connect with new people directly instead of attempting to lure them in.

Brand Your Site

Nicely designed sites are pleasant to visit. Big blogs benefit from having a recognisable look and style. Writers benefit from getting their name widely known. But if you're happy enough having anybody read your blog, you don't need to spend too much time or any money at all designing logos and downloading special fonts and making everything pretty. Left align your text, use dark writing against a plain, pale background and that will do. Most people are going to be reading your blog through a feed reader, anyway, and that strips out all of the painstakingly chosen design elements. So don't stress yourself selecting the perfect palette of colours - just get writing. For fun.

17 October 2014

Small Joys: A Week of Doing Nothing

Monster bowls

Last week, I was off work. There were various reasons for booking that week off and all of those reasons fell through - long stories.

Anyway, that left me with nine gloriously empty days to fill.

This never happens. My weeks off always centre around something which needs to be done. Sometimes a fun thing; usually a great big, boring, practical thing.

I never have nine days of nothing.

But this time I did. And, as I was a bit run down (another long story - I'll get to that soon), I felt not the slightest bit of guilt about taking those nine days easy.

So here's what I ended up doing (with annotations to show what met my "under a fiver" Small Joys criteria):
  • Lunch in a beachfront cafe. (Did this cost less than £5? Well... no... But it was a treat...)
  • A cinema trip. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! Steve got vouchers through work.)
  • Snuggling up on the sofa with a good(-ish) book in the middle of a storm. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free!)
  • A cake date with Laura. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! Cheap, enormous cake!)
  • Going for pizza with Steve. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! Nectar card bonus!)
  • Watching a preview of The Imitation Game. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free through ShowFilmFirst)
  • Walking in the park with Laura. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free!)
  • Uh... taking a load of stuff to the dump... (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free! And therapeutic!)
  • Birthday dinner and drinks with Steve's best mate. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! Hurrah Wetherspoon's meal deals!)
  • Shredding and assorted bits of DIY. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free!)
  • Spending a huge chunk of Sunday watching crap films at home with friends. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! All it cost was a couple of bags of crisps!)
All in all, I consider that a big success. The week may have cost more than a fiver but very few individual days did. And I don't think I've felt so consistently relaxed in... well... possibly several years.

Pink flowers

15 October 2014

What I've Been Reading Recently



And Sons by David Gilbert
This is one of those books which gets described as a "quintessential New York novel" which means: it's about an outsider looking in at a rich family; it makes lots of literary references; and it uses fifty words where one would do. Which doesn't make it a bad book - I was keen to find out what on earth was going on - but did make it a bit of a slog.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Loved this. This is a collection of essays and articles by novelist Ann Patchett in which she writes about her relationships (good and bad), her love of her dog, her choice to remain childfree, being a writer and a whole load of other things in between. It made me want to start writing blogging again.

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller
Might inspire you to read a few novels you wouldn't otherwise have bothered with. Might inspire you to catalogue your own reading more. Might put you off having kids a little (because apparently they eat into your reading time). You might enjoy it. I thought it was okay.

Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant
Narrator Adele takes us through her life from her working class childhood, her university days of consciousness raising and sexual experimentation in the 60s, some dubious choices in early adulthood right up to the modern day. I've read and enjoyed Linda Grant before and I read and enjoyed this... but not as much as I had hoped. I didn't much like any of the characters and the dialogue was a bit Dawson's Creek. On the other hand, there's a really strong sense of each decade and I found myself feeling nostalgic for my own pretentious time as an undergrad.



Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky
A YA book my friend Laura recommended. Maddie lives not-too-far into the future in a world where kids are kept safely at home and taught all their lessons online - she's a bit irritated by her over-protective father but doesn't really question her life until she meets some new, opinionated people in person. This is a quick, easy and fairly engrossing read - I was a bit frustrated by the beautiful-girl-and-enigmatic-hero cliches but not so much so that I've ruled out reading the sequel.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Ooh, now this one was intriguing. The various members of a wealthy extended family spend every summer on their own private island. The adults drink and bicker; the kids run free. But this summer seems somehow unsettling and narrator, Cadence, can't get anyone to explain to her what's gone wrong...

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I've seen about ten different bloggers recommending this book and I agree - give it a read. It's awesome. But, no, just like all the other bloggers, I can't really tell you what it's about. Spoilers and that, you know.



This One Is Mine by Maria Semple
A wealthy housewife is considering an affair; her sister-in-law is trying to marry her way out of debt. From an unknown writer, this would have been given a pastel cover and a swirly, girly font and bunged in the chick-lit pile. From one of the writers of Arrested Development, it gets taken more seriously. Convincing, sometimes exasperating, often thoughtful, this one covers not just relationships but parenthood, debt, addiction, diabetes and asperger's syndrome. A quick read for a rainy day.

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Learned by Lena Dunham
I so wanted to love this book. Successful, opinionated woman writes essays about personal experiences? That's my favourite kind of book right now. But it left me underwhelmed. I didn't feel that Dunham had enough to say to warrant a whole book and I wasn't keen on the way she wrote about some of the other people in her life - it was a bit too "here's one wacky personality trait from which you can leap to your own small-minded conclusions about them". And the stories weren't that great.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
A socially awkward, aetheist dentist is enraged when he discovers somebody is posing as him on the internet and posting strange religious screeds. The first few chapters of this book are dense, frustrating streams of consciousness from a fairly unlikeable man and I very nearly gave up reading. I'm glad I persevered because the story is an intriguing one. Asking all sorts of questions about religion, cults, intolerance and the need to belong, as much as the writing style continued to irritate me, the plot drew me right in.

*all links are Amazon affiliate links. I've made 0p through them in the past but a girl can dream.

10 October 2014

Small Joys: Cultivating Green(-ish) Fingers

When I was about ten, I had a Mexican hat plant called Antonio. I don't remember taking any particular care of Antonio but he thrived regardless and grew hundreds of tiny baby Mexican hat plants all along the edge of his leaves. They looked like teeth. I was horrified when my mum potted them up and sold them all at a jumble sale, ripping apart Antonio's enormous family.

Regardless of this trauma, watching Antonio thrive convinced me that looking after plants was easy. I don't think I had ever even watered him; all I had done was look at him and hope.

It came as a bit of a shock to me, then, when later neglected plants withered and died. My "impossible to kill" lavendar? Dead. My "low maintenance" peace lily? Dead. My "zero effort" cactus? Dead.

I gave up on plants for many years after that.

A few years ago, Steve and I decided to have another go at caring for pot plants. We've killed off quite a lot of herbs, one chilli plant and (rather distressingly) an enormous peace lily which was a centrepiece at our friends' wedding (although that one did come with root rot so we're not taking much of the blame). More positively, we have a cactus and a chrysanthemum which survived the move from the old flat, two very healthy and two slightly poorly chilli plants, a variety of cuttings which could be made of plastic for all we know - none of them have changed in all the years we've owned them - and two spider plants.

And one of the spider plants is flowering. The joy!

Spider plant flower

Not only that but things keep appearing in our grossly neglected garden. And I don't just mean weeds. It's currently awash with kaffa lilies (pictured) and bright pink nerines (the My Little Pony of plants). The nasturtiums which I planted in a fit of enthusiasm this spring are also doing well.

Kaffa liles
Nasturtiums

So I'm feeling pretty positive about plants right now. I feel like maybe - just maybe - if I actually read my gardening books and google a little bit, I might be able to get our flower beds under control.

This being the right time of year to plant bulbs (according to a sign I saw outside a garden centre), I went so far as to buy a load of anemone bulbs/seeds/weird-sugar-lump-shaped-things from Poundstretcher, remove them from their packaging and plant them in the ground. So fingers crossed for next spring...!

Anemone seed packets

And if that goes well, I might even have another go at caring for peace lilies. Third time lucky, you know...

For more Small Joys click here.

05 October 2014

On Writing for Public Consumption

Amber blogged earlier about the differences between writing paper journals and posting online (and a whole load of other things, too, because Amber's personal posts are invariably long, rambling and hilarious). She wrote that, as an established blogger, she's very aware of catering to her readers - she writes posts which she thinks will interest them; she has people complain when she posts things which aren't "blog-worthy"; she has to keep her more private experiences to herself. When she wrote paper journals, on the other hand, she could write whatever she liked because absolutely nobody was ever going to get to read them.

I totally get the first bit. This past year in particular there have been a lot of things I couldn't write about on my blog - there has been a lot of grief and it hasn't all been mine; it wouldn't have been appropriate to spin other people's sadness into my own personal PR.

People have said to me before that they're surprised by just how honest I'm prepared to be on this blog. I will openly roll my eyes at my own moments of idiocy; I will hold up my own unhealthy thoughts for examination; I'm not going to pretend that I'm perfect and have every single bit of this life stuff figured out; I'm not going to pretend I've never struggled.

And I think it's hugely important for people to be upfront about this stuff - acting as though we're always happy and financially solvent and ill health never happens only serves to make other people feel like failures; talking about the tough times lets us all feel normal.

But there are so many things which I don't write about. I don't write about work because, no matter how much I like my job, that seems like a risky thing to do. I don't write about my family or friends unless they have given me express permission to do so because everyone is entitled to set their own level of privacy. I don't write about past relationships or bad dates I've been on because all of the people involved were decent to me and don't deserve to be treated like a joke. I try to use compassion and common sense.

And there is a certain amount of filtering - will you all find this story interesting? would you prefer that I wrote about that? I try not to let that influence me too much but it's there, sometimes, at the back of my mind. I want it to be worth your while, keeping my blog in your feed.

The second bit, though - the bit where Amber said her paper journals were just for her - that I didn't get.

I wrote paper journals right the way through my teens. I bought those thin-ruled, A4, page-a-day diaries from John Menzies and would scrawl my way through an average of four of them a year.

But they were never just for me.

I had this notion that they were going to become important historic documents. I would be one of those notable diarists. I would be the Anne Frank of my day. Future generations would read my angst-ridden, pretentious, self-deluded screeds and think, "Ah! So THAT'S what it was like to be young and intelligent and bored and alternative, living in the sticks of Scotland in the 90s! Thank goodness she wrote it all down! To think there was a time when L7 and The Lemonheads were less well known than The Beatles!"

I thought much the same about my earliest blogs. You know: before all those other bloggers became big hits and got publishing deals and I realised that the market was pretty well saturated.

I don't try to pretend that part of the appeal of blogging isn't the recognition. Of course it is. I love when people like what I write.

But I'm also glad that my early blogs have all been long since archived or deleted.

And I can't even begin to tell you what a relief it was when my mother moved abroad and threw out every single thing I had left in my room - the cryptic poetry, the Sweet Valley High novels and the library of loathsome old diaries included.

I just hope to goodness that she didn't stop to read any of them before they went in the bin. It makes me wince with embarrassment to think about the contents; those diaries are not anything which should ever have been inflicted on the world.

03 October 2014

Small Joys: Baking with Windfall

Recently, I've been thinking about how to get myself back into blogging and one thing which occured to me was to resurrect my "Why Don't You...?" feature. For those of you weren't around back then, "Why Don't You...?" consisted of weekly posts of fun and/or productive things to do which didn't take much time or money but did make your life feel better.

These days, the not taking much time or money aspect is more important than ever so, this time around, my rule is that nothing will cost more than a fiver or take more than an hour of our time.

And I'm renaming it "Small Joys". Although I've yet to create any small or joyful banners.

Bowl of red apples

I was given the perfect push to get started when Steve's mum turned up with an enormous bag of apples from her garden. An ENORMOUS bag. There are only so many apples a day Steve and I can each eat (and as we're both waiting for appointments with doctors we didn't want to actively keep them away).

A week later, there was still a small mountain of apples remaining so I took to Pinterest (here I am) and hunted for ideas. I considered brightly coloured toffee apples (but I'm* suspicious of artificial food colouring), some sort of appley-chocolatey fondue (but we weren't having a romantic sort of an evening) and hanging apples in the garden for the birds to eat (but I was scared of attracting a gajillion wasps so I put out some bread crumbs instead).

I ended up going for the traditional option and making some apple and cinnamon scones. I spent 45p on a bag of self raising flour; we had all the other ingredients to hand.

This was such an easy recipe to follow. Except that when it says to "pat into a round about 3cm deep", I recommend not misreading that as "3mm". My scones were a bit on the flat side. The flat and very yummy side. But the so-flat-it-was-hard-to-cut-them-in-half-to-put-butter-and-our-neighbour's-homemade-raspberry-jam-in-them side.

I was feeling very proud of myself until Steve's best mate accused me of being a hipster**.

Still, at least my subculture stereotypes result in something nice to eat.

*Steve is
**Imagine his reaction if he knew that I was blogging about it, too.

Apple and cinnamon scones

01 October 2014

Books to Read When You Don't Have the Patience to Ease People's Emotional Problems

A few years ago, in the midst of one of my semi-regular career crises, I thought about training as a therapist. I'm fascinated by the ways in which people think and behave and develop over time - and what could be a better job than helping people to seek and sometimes achieve contentment?

I looked into courses and everything.

Then I realised that I was playing a fantasy in my head in which each of my client sessions went like this:

ME: So, what seems to be the problem?

CLIENT: I feel sad/anxious/other unpleasant emotion and I don't know what to do about it.

ME: Oh, that's easy. [Explains best course of action in three to five sentences]

CLIENT: Oh, wow! I feel so much better now! Thanks so much! I'm fixed!

And I realised that that's not how therapy goes. It's not a chance for the therapist to prove how smart they are - it's a chance for the client to talk about the same issues over and over and over again until they finally reach some resolution.

I don't have the patience for that.

But I do still have a fascination with how and why people think and behave the way they (we) do. And I love books which sum those things up quickly.

Here are two I've read recently which I've particularly enjoyed: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz, which is a fascinating look at typical forms of troubled thinking written by a psychoanalyst, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who's Been There by Cheryl Strayed, which is a collection of advice columns which I didn't always 100% agree with but which did all make me pause and consider my own beliefs.

That's it. That's all I'm going to tell you. Because you're either the sort of person who loves these books or you're not. And if you are: just take my word for it and read them.

And if you are: I'd love some recommendations of your own.

P.S. Those are Amazon affiliate links. I really should update my T&Cs to make that clear...

21 September 2014

Stick With Me. Or Skip To The End. I'm Going Somewhere Important With This One.

I had a moment this morning when I cried about Facebook. Burst into tears on Steve's shoulder, cried.

Now, clearly, this had a lot more to do with referendum disappointment and general fatigue than it did with social media, but at that moment the utter banality of "inspirational" quotes was just too much for me.

For the last few weeks, I've really enjoyed being on Facebook. The people who "don't do politics" had all abandoned ship and my news feed was filled with people raising awareness about social inequality, discussing the flaws in our country's current system of government, and debating the best way to take things forward.

In between all of that, there were updates about weddings and babies and charity coffee mornings and quitting jobs to start exciting university courses and tradespeople recommendations and a whole host of other important living-our-life events.

But there were no George Takei quotes or "I Fucking Love Science" shares or offensive "what women say vs what women mean" jokes or hourly updates about which form of housework people were undertaking at that exact moment in time.

It was exactly the Facebook I always wanted it to be.

Which, obviously, is not everybody's ideal version of Facebook - there wouldn't have been so many conspicuous absences recently if it was - but it is mine and I'm the one whose crying fit I'm explaining and I am going somewhere with this (stick with me).

Anyway, after several hours of trying to read a book but really just milling things over, I realised that there's nothing I can do about what other people post; that things which irritate me are going to appear and I can either unfollow people or scroll past their updates; that the awareness raising may well fade back to its normal level and that that is largely outwith my control.

But I also found myself thinking about my own experiences of homelessness and unemployment and needing benefits to top up my minimum wage income, and I got to thinking about the friends who helped me through all of that.

I put the two things together and I decided it was time to say thank you to them. Publicly. Sincerely. On Facebook.

I posted one long status update which thanked the three people who gave me places to stay when I didn't have a home of my own; which thanked the person who gave me somewhere to go one lonely Christmas Day; which thanked the two friends who saw me through my worst period of health; which thanked the two friends who have helped me brainstorm when I felt desperate; and which thanked Steve because he has done all sorts of brilliant things along the way.

And I urge you to do the same.

Take ten minutes to go through your friends list and think about the people who have been there for you when you've found life tough.

And thank them.

You don't need to go into enormous amounts of detail - one sentence is enough.

But don't let self-consciousness put you off. It doesn't look naff. It doesn't make you look weak.

I've rarely felt as relieved as I did when I posted that status update. I've had teary responses and friends deciding to write thank yous of their own.

It makes you feel good (happier than a holiday would, apparently!). It makes them feel good. It makes them think about the people they value in their own lives.

And, quite simply, it's something a little more lovely to appear in friends' Facebook news feeds.

Go and say thank you today.

17 September 2014

Going to the Polls Without a Blog Post? Unthinkable.

It feels frivolous writing about anything other than the Scottish referendum on independence this week.

I, like most people I know, have pretty much heard enough about it now. We've made up our minds; we're ready to vote. But it's an enormous decision and I wanted to mark it here somehow. So:

The vote is tomorrow.

It has been amazing watching (almost) an entire country getting so fired up about politics. There have been proper debates about things which really matter.

People have talked about poverty and inequality as real things which happen to real people, not abstract ideas from old Dickens novels.

People have talked about migration and immigration, right wing racism and the importance of foreign nationals to Scotland's economy.

People have (largely) accepted that that economy is based on a lot more than just oil and American tourists.

Opinion polls put the votes at almost exactly 50/50. A lot of Scots want to stay; a lot of Scots want to go. For that matter, many other Brits want us to stay, many have told us to shove it and many have asked to tag along. 


My own social circle is about 90% "Let's do this!" but I'm not putting money on either outcome.

But, as somebody who believes that getting a chance in life should be a universal right not a rich person's privilege, I am voting yes. Westminster has a track record of tearing apart the things which I hold important while the Scottish Parliament has a track record of protecting them. I've done enormous amounts of reading up on both sides of the argument; I know that neither option is flawless but I can't, ethically, vote for a status quo which punishes the vulnerable and exacerbates inequality.

Perhaps you have reached a different conclusion from me; there are people I respect who have, too, and I'm not going to try to change your mind. But I do believe that every person who walks into a polling station tomorrow has a responsibility to have done their research and talked and thought things through. At length. It's too big a decision to make on a hunch.

And that's why, as tired as so many of us may be of hearing about this, I decided to write this post. Because we can all cope with one more day of referendum rhetoric if it helps the last few people decide.

31 August 2014

How I Bought My Own Home

Recently, Janet nominated me for one of those "11 Things" memes and... well... I haven't got around to it, largely because a lot of the questions were about my blog and most of my blog has been archived.

One of those questions was about my favourite ever blog post and that got me thinking about this one (down below).

Now, honestly, this wasn't one of my best written blog posts but it was one which got a big positive reaction at the time. It's also a topic which has been coming up in both my online and offline lives recently.

So here it is: how I went from a minimum wage job to being a homeowner in the UK's second most expensive city without a huge inheritance.

**********************************************

When I was twenty-seven, I was working a minimum wage shop job.

I had moved twenty-seven times by that point; I was single; I had no clear career goals; the only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to own my own home. I wanted an anchor. I wanted somewhere which was mine.

Unlike most of the homeowners I knew and know, I didn't have a large inheritance or wealthy parents to cover my 10% deposit. Between the deposit, legal fees and general costs of making a new flat a home, I estimated I needed about £15,000. I also needed a higher salary. And I was going to have to do it all myself.

This isn't a how-to post. If you're saving for a deposit, a wedding, a round the world trip, to start a business or you're trying to clamber out of debt, you will find the way which works for you. But, when it seems like an insurmountable task, I think it helps to know that other people have managed it.

It took me three years and this is what I did:

I got in the habit of saving

Working for minimum wage (at that point: £5.35 per hour), it was often a challenge to make ends meet, but I set myself a goal of having something left in my bank account at the end of every month, and of putting that spare money aside. Every single month I managed to save a bit.

I lived within my means

I lived in a cheap flat in a less desirable part of town. I relied on my feet and on public transport. I did without satellite TV or foreign holidays or endless racks of new dresses. I didn't live without luxuries entirely - I stuck to some brand name products and I bought the odd album here and there - but my priority was to save, not to own sparkly shoes.

I changed my job but not my budget

I realised I was never going to save much whilst working on minimum wage; I also wasn't earning a high enough salary to get approved for a mortgage. I switched to temping in offices which gave me the equivalent of a 50% pay rise right away; within a few months, I had been offered a permanent job at an even higher rate. Rather than adjusting my spending to my new salary, I continued living as though I was on a low income and I put the difference straight into savings.

I had a second source of income

For the first year, I continued working in the shop part-time. It gave me a safety net whilst temping and a financial boost thereafter. When the store closed, I started doing freelance writing - it was never a great earner for me, but some money was better than none.

In the interests of full disclosure

For six months, I had a boyfriend living with me. I wouldn't suggest moving in with somebody just to reduce your bills, but it did let me put more money aside.


Living on a budget and increasing your earnings are not revolutionary new ideas. I'm sure you could come up with them yourself. But that's how I went from minimum wage to home ownership in the space of just three years.