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Life Chez Dee Episode #89: You get what you pay for

You get what you pay for! Right? Of course you do … sometimes; and there again, no you don’t. It isn’t really that simple a question; and therefore there isn’t really a simple answer. The answer is yes, no, maybe, sometimes, depends.

Advertisers are good at what they do … targeting their audience perfectly, getting their message buried deep within our subconscious; working overtime on the plethora of adverts they produce, brainwashing us with brand awareness, brand quality, and why we must buy their product; why we can’t live without it; why it is theirs alone we need, not a cheaper alternative. Premium brands more often than not come with a premium price tag, and we happily pay that price … paying top whack for items because there is trust; there is familiarity; we’ve grown up with these brands; they’ve been around forever.

But why? Why do we put our faith in these big brands, why should we trust them? Yes they’ve been around a long time, so they must be doing something right, but why do we trust them so. Because our very nature is to believe what we are told, especially if we’re told it over and over, especially if there’s even a trace element of relatability to what we’re watching or hearing.

I started ditching branded items quite some time ago. Let’s start with groceries for example, where there are plenty of cheaper alternatives. Beans, tomatoes, pasta, olive oil; all basic ingredients … BASIC ingredients … totally unnecessary for premium products to be bought. Fruit and veg is another example … no need is there to go and pay a premium price for fruit and vegetables … yes buy organic if you want, that’s a justified higher price to pay, but not just for the sake of it; and while we’re at it, why buy pristine onions, and carrots, all standard regulatory sizes, looking pretty … get your hands on veg that’s wonky, or veg that’s reduced as it’s nearing its shelf life; still perfectly good to use.

Who needs a sell by date on a packet of onions, or a packet of carrots? Who even sticks to those use by dates on cream or yoghurt? Not me! Use your nose, trust your instincts, it’s pretty obvious whether these products are fit to use or not, and they’re often perfectly fine way beyond the dates printed on packets – cheese I find is a perfectly good example of that. Get the food which has had its prices slashed on the last day printed on its plastic packet, you’ll save a fortune. Ditch the plastic packets where you can too and buy loose fruit and veg; buy what you need and avoid waste; save the environment and save money, as these goods are likely to be cheaper per kilo too.

I tend to do my weekly big shop in Aldi, with top ups locally. Many, many of their own brand products are very nice indeed, and of exceptional quality, across all departments. The staff are friendly and efficient, shelves stocked, and produce and other products are good quality and good value. There’s the obvious passing off of products as their own, with many own brand items having similar packaging to the well known brand, and are indeed in many cases of comparable quality, but only a fraction of the price. Their own brand Lurpak, Stork, Kit Kats and Tunnocks Teacakes or Caramel Wafers, Tropicana, Molton Brown are all examples of this.

Go through my cupboards, and you’ll find many “brand copies” stocked. Condiments with the exception of their Ketchup; Nutoka, a copy of the branded Nutella, is on Oliver’s list of requests, and indeed he prefers this to the real deal … his words, not mine. No one seems able to copy Marmite, in fact I don’t think I’ve seen an own brand version of that anywhere. More’s the pity really, as we spend a fortune on this, in fact Edward used to get through so much of it; copious amounts of it; to the point I considered buying shares in the company! … that’s a joke!

I don’t really want to turn this into a blog about buying own brands, or turn it into an advert for Aldi, or indeed be a lesson in money saving, but I wanted to talk about balance, being money savvy, and not spending for the sake of it. THRIFT is the word I’m looking for I suppose; the quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully; the essence of this piece of writing, and the reason behind the picture I’ve chosen. Times are hard at the moment for many people; businesses closed; laid off from work; thankfully for most this is a temporary situation we’re in; for some, however, it is a different story and the struggle continues; but whether or not in difficult times, even if affordability was not an issue, I don’t see the point of paying over the odds unnecessarily.

It’s not always about trying to save money on items, but rather looking for ways to not pay a premium. Cooking from scratch for example, is not only better for you, but often cheaper than buying a readymade product … and tastes far nicer.

One area where you’ll pay a MASSIVE premium for products is anything wedding related. Anything and everything associated with your big day will carry a hefty price tag. Well this is where I’ll share with you one of my hints and tips, which we did successfully at our wedding. I could not believe the price of the wedding cake. I know there’s a huge amount of effort goes into making and decorating a wedding cake, but there was no way I was spending hundreds on a cake for it to be sliced up and devoured. Marks and Spencer do the most delicious iced fruit cake, in several sizes as it happens. I bought this cake in varying sizes, built it up with cake pillars, and added some lovely greenery to decorate. It was simple and incredibly effective; it was stunning; and we received so many compliments and comments from people as to how lovely the cake was; a winner all round.

Blinging up a basic pizza, rather than buying a fancy premium product is another example of how to save yourself unnecessary expense, and just as a treat, I’ll leave you with a recipe for the most amazing pizza you’ve ever tasted …. You’re welcome!

Lytham isn’t the cheapest of places to buy property, nor is St Anne’s for that matter. When we decided to move into the area I really fancied a house in Lytham, but we had young children, and I really wanted a house with a decent sized garden. None of the Lytham houses in our price range offered this, or if they did, we’d have to look at compromising in some other way, like less bedroom or no off road parking; which is why we ended up buying a property in St Anne’s, where we could have both. Of course we loved it, and still do, but the thing that swung it for us was the garden, and of course, that feeling we got when we looked round the house … it felt like home (those who have felt this, will know exactly what I mean).

I know the value of a house is dependent on many factors, and indeed is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it, but the main factor affecting value being location, location, location. The price of your house in Lytham could buy you a small castle in Scotland, or a small cupboard under the stairs in Central London. You get what you pay for, and yet there are so many caveats to that sentence.

“If you paid more than xxx they saw you coming!” Words so often said to me by my Dad. Of course, I think it was more that he had no handle whatsoever as to what the prices of clothes, shoes, or food and groceries were … and of course, even if he knew, he’d say this anyway just to tease. You can imagine there has been much said on many occasions, but as we’ve been talking about my money saving wedding cake tip, I thought I’d continue on this wedding theme. Money was also saved in the form of not buying new shoes. Justin had a pair of black shoes he’d hardly worn, and was planning to wear these on the big day … and so as Mum was adamant that Dad was to have a new pair, that was the point he put his foot down, saying that he didn’t need new shoes, and wasn’t having new shoes, and that if Justin didn’t have to have new shoes, neither did he. It’s quite funny … it was funny at the time too … they didn’t need new shoes, there was absolutely nothing wrong with them, but it shows how easily costs can escalate with pressure to buy new.

We can compromise on some everyday clothes and essentials at the supermarkets, and I’d go as far as saying I think they’re the best for school uniform, however, there are some clothes I wouldn’t ever skimp on. When buying outdoor gear, go for quality, you really do get what you pay for, and compromising on outdoor gear will get you a leaky jacket for sure. Same applies to walking boots, coats, sport shoes and cycling gear where paying the extra is well worth every penny … and if you’re looking for outdoor wear, you don’t need to look further than Endless Pursuits in Lytham, where Amanda will give exceptional service and offer her expert knowledge, along with a good chat, and you’ll leave with just what you need.

The best deals are not always found in the supermarkets or online; they’re often found much closer to home. Local shops offer us so much; they’re often good value and have many good deals. Their service is exceptional, often going above and beyond, and really getting to know their customers; and they’re of great benefit to our towns, bringing in shoppers, keeping the hustle and bustle in our town centres, and supporting the community they’re in. My experience has been that better deals on all sorts of stuff have been found locally, and it really isn’t worth buying elsewhere just to save the odd pound or two. Even if you’ve found a great deal online, go and speak to your local business owner, ask if there is room for manoeuvre on price, as you’d prefer to shop local. It’s always worth an ask, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Ok my friends, here it is … my posh pizza recipe:

Get yourselves a plain margarita pizza from anywhere you like … doesn’t need to be expensive, just get a basic cheese and tomato one. Add crumbled goats cheese (I usually buy a slice of it; a flat disk). Then add Parma ham, few olives, and dot with red pesto. Season and sprinkle with a bit of basil and oregano, and that’s it; pop it in the oven and Bob’s your uncle; et voila, there you have it … enjoy x

by Elizabeth Dee

[This piece was originally written for and published by Lytham St Annes News; republished by Elizabeth Dee on Life Chez Dee 19th January 2021]

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