She heard the distant rumble of the snow pummelling the ground. Wisps of white blanketed in hail, delicate snowflakes too. Like angelic dancers cascading in mirthful laughter. Despite the chill in the air, the rosy cheeked human’s eyes sparkled with warmth. Even with the cost of living crisis, they made do with what they had. No matter what life threw at them, their optimism was infectious. For Christmas was a form of holistic self-care, where families gathered, stories shared. Gifts wrapped in love, roast dinner on the table. For most of her life she grew up on a budget. Working hard to afford her own things even from a young age. Her own laptop, her own camera. Books for research, clothes for shoots. But she didn’t mind that the people around her had so much more. In fact she was grateful. For despite the pull of money that clawed at her pockets, she knew how important budgeting was. Truth was, with the right mindset she didn’t feel like she missed out. She worked hard (and often), so the idea of a budget friendly Christmas came naturally to her.
Even now, she was cost-effective. Crafting a path where festive dreams frolicked. A twinkling golden star above a faux tree, passed down by her beloved Aunty. Sheeny and white, wrapped in recycled tinsel. Baubles thrifted from a nearby charity shop, raising money for animals in need. It was simple. To A Christmas wasn’t about how much money you had, or how many gifts you had. It was about so much more. It was about giving back to others, raising money for charity, and donating to food-banks. Volunteering at shelters, and spending time with the homeless. But doing good was all-year round. Not just for Christmas. Spending time with loved ones did the heart good too. In the face of adversity, where the shadows danced, love glowed. Kisses stolen, red-tinged noses. Biting wind whipping through entwined hair. For loved ones came together like petals. Unfurling with voices that chorused in celestial unison.
Yuletide’s spell had an ancient magic, that transcended time and place. Where the only thing that mattered was love and hope. Though their bank accounts were emptying, and their pockets were barren, they remained positive. She had a new admiration for the adults in her life, who survived on a budget. Their own children, and homes, little money to hold onto. Her Aunty in particular, a shining example. A single mum, who raised her cousin alone. A woman who embodied strength, who survived Cancer, who was always brave. Though she had to give up working full time after her illness, she was always hard-working. Little money for most of her life, that didn’t stop how generous, kind and caring she was. Her own mantra is what inspired A to be content with little too. Be grateful for what you have. Life is too short to not appreciate what is in front of you. I don’t need much to be happy. And she was right. When it came down to it, a colourful Christmas was about the little things.
Being thankful for the people in her life who truly cared. Who stuck around, even in desperately dark times. Who simply just listened. Being grateful for her three beautiful cats, her emotional support animals. All year round, they embodied joy, gave comfort and showed affection. A loving home, where joy clung to every orifice. Golden-sepia toned memories seeping out of hollow walls. Enveloping each guest in warmth and love. Most of all, she was thankful for happiness. For despite the manic demons that leeched onto her mind and body, there were fleeting escapes. Where she ran away from the darkness and twirled into the light. Yes, family, no matter what shape or form it took, was like a halo. A force against evil, a squad that defeated negativity. Together, they would create a budget-friendly Christmas gift guide that was so much more. Each gift had meaning, a special story behind it. A sentiment, one that spanned centuries.
There would be games inspired by first dates. Silly colourful games that made them howl with laughter. Reigniting memories of years past. In the honeymoon period, yet tinged by uncertaintity. How naive they were then. Nearly 5 years later, their own best friends. A couple made in heaven. Whose own hearts had so much love to give. Books inspired by A’s own childhood obsession that transcended into childhood. Her first real friend, books that kept her hopeful even when her real world was a s**t show. An escape from the abuse of her childhood years, the one thing that inspired her to become a writer. Even as she got older, she could always count on her books. Transported into worlds that she could barely dream of. Ethereal realms where she escaped from the monsters in her life. Batting away the deceit of the demons that tried to control her. Inspired by the strength of fictional characters in her books.
There were lighter inspirations too. Remembering the first time she fell in love with food. The sensations that exploded in her mouth. The adrenaline that coursed through her veins. But most of all, the way it made her feel. How she discovered a secret that noone else knew. New cuisines and cultures, always an adventorous explorer. Hungry for more, desperate for cheap food that was like nothing she had before. The alchemy of her senses would reach a culinary high. Where she would paint with textures, and wax lyrical with liquids, a feast through taste, smell, and feel. After all, like the food in her budget friendly Christmas round-up, it was a poetic palette, on which the words would derive. And who could forget the drinks? Hot steaming cups of herbal tea, infused with cinnamon and clove. Fragrant apple ciders enveloped in festive joy. Even as the rain hammered on the window, and her umbrella lay soaking by the door, she remembered feeling joy.
For wasn’t that the point of a Christmas gift guide? To bring joy? Even on a budget, she selected gifts that brought her and her loved ones happiness. Skincare and makeup that was made with love. Flavoured lip-balms harkening back to the 90’s and noughties of her yesteryear. Pineapple on her lips, residue left behind. A gingerbread scented deodrant, that brought Christmas into her soul. Eyeshadows that were pigmented yet cheap, glistening in glitter. Swathed onto olive skin, mascara on the lashes, a layer of foundation, finished with irridescent blush. Yes, from a young age, makeup and skincare made her dance with joy. She couldn’t explain it. The way moisturiser blanketed her skin in a creamy cocoon. The feel of a lip-balm on callused chapped lips. The scent of a perfume ladled onto wrists, floral and fruity. No matter what sense it engaged, the right product was like a love letter to herself. A reminder that it was OK to make yourself feel good. It was OK to treat yourself, even when you had little to your name.
And so, her budget friendly Christmas gift guide had reached completion. An array of colourful, quirky and unique cheap gifts that were all under £25. Non-fiction and fiction books dancing with ridicolously fun games. A light reprieve, a fall into a tale untold, with endless possibilities. Healthy snacks and indulgent treats, drinks fashioned out of manna from the God’s. Gifts for the cats in their lives, whose eyes would widen with unparelled joy. Kissing noses, and tongues that protruded, tails wagging almost akin to a dog. You could say they were happy. Their affectionate meows almost like singing reverberating around the room. Something for everyone, under £5, £10, £15, £20, not a single penny more. Her cheeks flushed, a reminder of years budgeting past. A list of people to buy for, a budget to meet. No matter how much or little she had, she was always creative. Thinking outside the box, embracing Christmas cheer. The time had come, the soul’s song was heard.
Cheap Colourful Games
Ever since she could remember, games felt like home. She fell in love with them at her foster mum’s house. In fact, she could remember the exact moment. Being brought a silver PSP, for her first Christmas with them. Relishing games like The Sims 3, falling in love with the strange human like creatures. In noughties clothes, speaking Simlish, running into ghosts. A Pink Nintendo DS next, with its very own pen. Professor Layton and the mysterious world of puzzles, testing her logic. Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64, with its clunky pixelated graphics. Spyro the Dragon on Playstation One. Freeing fellow dragons from prisons scattered across the world. But there were board games, and card games too. Even now, in her 30th year, games had the same thrall. But this game selection was a little different. Three games under £15, that were silly, creative, and always colourful. After all, just because it was a budget friendly Christmas didn’t mean it had to be boring.
Don’t Be A Dik Dik
Whimsy was her middle name, gravitating towards games that were a little different. No Monopoly or Trivia quizzes. As fun as they were, they didn’t ignite her senses. But games that were weird, had her all a’flutter. The kind of games that weren’t serious. Light-hearted card games that were escapism from real life. Away from the melancholy of an army of darkness. Saying no to the demon with wicked hunger in their eyes. Shoving the incubuses who fed on vunerable humans, watching their eyes dissipitate into nothingness. Instead, for a brief moment in time, there was heavenly light. Like the carolers who would line up outside people’s houses, with lilting honeyed voices. Yes, gaming wasn’t just a pastime. It was a detox from reality, a flash of happiness. Where your eyes shone with unadulterated warmth. The tension in your bones melting away. Just like reading, it transported her.
Don’t Be A Dik Dik, was no exception. It felt like a warm hug, a sanctuary from life’s cruel storm. Touch that transcended all meaning, a balm for wounds that words couldn’t convey. For a brief moment in time, she forgot everything. Lost in the open arms of a card game’s open embrace. Where tears of laughter would stream down her face. Her belly rippling with unspeakable joy. Cards in a rainbow of colours, purples, blues and pinks, a game for grown ups. Truth be told she didn’t feel like a grown up playing this game. Bubbles of giggles escaping her body, bemused by the naughty names on the cards she played. The Sticky Willy making eyes at the Tufted Titmouse. The Large Cockchafer performing a mating dance with the sausage tree. As far as budget friendly Christmas gifts went, this was one of the naughtiest!
She wasn’t making it up. These were all real cards, all real names. With her partner, they went on a gaming rampage, their cheeks flushed with pink. Dividing the deck equally, aiming to get rid of all their cards by making pairs. Strategically passing them onto each with stealth. But wait, what was this? Oh s**t, she got caught holding the Dik Dik, no win for her. But she was determined to get her own back. Until at last, he was left holding the Dik Dik. She could imagine her Aunty, and Cousin’s face at Christmas, when she would force them to play. Not sure whether to laugh or say nothing at all. Their eyes roving over the ‘Screaming Hairy Armadillo’ and ‘Wunderpus’ with great trediptation. Still, it got them into the Christmas spirit. Where emotions overpowered speech. Conversations like festive songs, echoing in the room. After all, theirs was a portrait of love, suspended in time. Etching memories for future generations to discover.
Price: £9.99 via Ginger Fox Games
Giant Beaver Tiny Ass
She met him nearly five years ago. The man who would become the love of her life. The person who was her best friend, partner, and all-round champion. She had never been in love before him, didn’t believe she was capable. In fact, she thought there was something wrong with her. But there wasn’t. She just hadn’t met the right person. Who would have thought that she would meet her soulmate on Tinder of all places? Mind you, stranger things had happened. Their first date was in three parts. The date that he believed she wanted. The date where he started to change. And finally, the date where he was completely and authentically himself. He didn’t care what people thought, and she loved him for that. But there was something special about that first date. Discovering their mutual love of card games. The latter part of their date in a Games Bar in Dalston. Playing Exploding Kittens and Unstable Unicorns.
When she discovered the real him, her eyes were opened. And now, all these years later, they were a love match made in heaven. Their first Christmas together alone two years ago. A special time of year, when the meaning of Christmas changed for her. She was one who struggled during the festive season, lamenting the ‘what ifs and could have beens’. But with him, she never ever felt like she was missing out. In fact, she had not only fallen in love with him, but with the festive season too. Their new seasonal obsession? The comically named Giant Beaver Tiny Ass, that had them howling into the early hours of the night. A card game that at first seemed innocent. Yet, naughty animals were in abundance. Actual real-life animals with the most ridicolous names. She would smirk as she looked at her cards, scanning over the ‘Wrinkly Cock’, ‘Basic Pussy’ and ‘Hairy Tits’. But oh look here. What did he have? Why only the most coveted. The Giant Beaver, and the Tiny Ass. The golden duo, the winner of all cards.
It wasn’t a game for the faint-hearted. Then again, they shared the same sense of humour. Crude, rude, and a little silly. After all she’d leave being a grown up to the actual grown ups. Together, they were unstoppable. But in this game? They were competing to win. Attempting to out-boast each other, racking up the most victories to be crowned leader of the pack. She had high stakes. Lagging behind, after their previous gaming marathon. She had to win this time. Luckily, she was crowned the winner, pouring a glug of spiced red wine to celebrate. Her senses came alive, adrenaline coursing through her veins. The comedown came quickly, her body lulled into sleepy oblivion. Snuggled in tartan blankets, nestled into his broad chest. They put on The Grinch, a smile licking the corners of her face. Falling asleep within the first twenty minutes, slipping into a dreamland of games.
Price £9.99 via Ginger Fox Games
We’re All Going To Die Party Game
In many ways, she was grateful to her foster mum. For saving her from abuse, giving her a loving home and a roof over her head. They didn’t see eye to eye growing up, but looking back she knew it was because she cared. She was over-protective true, and A resented that. But now through the eyes of an adult, she realized that was because her foster mum was worried about her. She could hardly blame her. A child damaged by years of abuse, neglect and abandonment. You were bound to be hyper-alert. But what her foster mum did teach her, was how to have fun. She tried to encourage A to have as ‘normal a life’ as she could, and for that A was grateful. Fostering her love of gaming, channelling her loneliness into games and books. She wasn’t a popular kid growing up. But her games and books helped her with the trauma. Escaping for a few fleeting moments into another world. A pretend-world of make-believe where anything was possible. It quite literally saved her life.
When she came across ‘We’re All Gonna Die‘, it felt like the universe was reminding her. In a lighthearted, jokey and frivolous way, it made light of the situation. We were all going to die, and suffer along the way. But it didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun along the way. What did that have to with her childhood though? Well, she’d escaped death a few times. As morbid as it sounded, she could laugh about it now. It’s why she gravitated towards comedy, and the games she played were no different. The game of dicing with death, that made her laugh out loud. Could she cheat her own death? Darker, less colorful than the other games, she and her partner would work together to defeat the Grim Reaper. A card flipped, the dice rolled. Attempting to get the death-defying combination to survive another day. Would her bungee cord snap? Would she suffer from deadlift over confidence? Or best of all, would an alien anal probe end her days?
There was only one way to find out. She just had to survive 20 deaths by rolling the dice and matching the icons on the dice with the icons on the death cards. Except it wasn’t as easy as that. With frustrating regularity, she died in a Black Friday parade, put a Fork in a Toaster, and licked a toad trying to get high. Yep, it was officially weird. But as the radiator crackled with warmth, they smiled. Today, had been a good day. Their glasses filled with hypnotic liquid, velvety burgundy red in hers. Light yellow clear in his. Legs furled up on the sofa, Christmas music in the background. In the distance their cats raced around the Christmas tree, toying with baubles. Teetering pine branches, a cat balancing on a star comically.Tinsel garlands in gold and silver, wrapped around the needles.
Price: £14.99 via Ginger Fox Games
Mesmerizing Budget Friendly Books
Perhaps you could say that books and writing were A’s first love. Where she would turn well-thumbed pages, to lands unknown. Beneath distant stars, and skies lit up with love. Solace from her abusive home life. The catalyst to her journey as a writer. Her imagination ignited, her senses freeded from the shackles of her prison. Her eyes smiling as she explored infinite worlds, feeling the words wash over her in a purging cleanse. Her real world forgotten, like sand slipping through the hourglass. Stories old and new, the scent of ink wafting into her nostrils. As a child, it was the classics. The Goosebump Series, and Enid Blyton. Roald Dahl, and Phillip Pulman. As she got older, her tastes changed. Young adult fantasy in her teen years. Vampires, and werewolves, shapeshifters and demons in her teen years. Horrors too, Steven King and Dan Brown. But in her adult years, she craved what made her feel good. Guilty pleasure reads, the easy escapisms. Historical fiction weaving lore of Medieval Europe, and Tudor England. Ancient Egypt too. But no matter what she read, her books were always budget-friendly.
Emily’s Algarve Escape
She didn’t know how many people knew, but her heritage was Portuguese. Born to parents from Madeira, a stunning volcanic island. Where craggy cliffs caressed the skies with jutting shards. A sea of green, blues and browns in a place she called paradise. The jewel of The Atlantic, where verdant valleys sang melodious vows. The sun would bathe the island in golden light, but it was the scents that would transport her. Jasmine and orchids in perfumed cascades, Birds of Prey flowers twirling proudly. But it was the sea that transfixed her the most. Remembering Praia Do Seixal, and its black sand. Toes sinking into inky brown, gazing at rugged green fauna. But the waters here? So clear, watching schools of fish in a mesmerizing dance. It’s why she gravitated towards Emily’s Algarve Escape by DCR Bond. A gripping beach read, with a delicious twist, she fell in love.
Not with Emily. She was unlikeable. Someone she saw as a ‘spoiled brat’, who didn’t know how lucky she was. Yet, the story itself was captivating. Watching someone who was used to being rich, live the life of someone else. Someone who learned to adapt, who tried something new. Who evolved from the one-dimensional ‘rich trophy wife’ archetype, and turned into something more. And where was this story set? Why, only in her beloved Portugal. Abandoning her glamorous life in London’s Knightsbridge for the stunning Algarve. Yet it was a culture shock. Without giving too much away, she had to change. Her family in tow, navigating a life abroad in an estranged marriage. Boundaries tested, priorities evaluated. Each Ellis family member discovering their ‘new identity’ away from money, navigating a life they aren’t used to. A read each page, devouring each word like it was a meal. Riveted as the skies turned from golden to inky darkness in a matter of a short few hours.
Her bath water cooled, but still she couldn’t move. Could Emily prevent catastrophe as she navigated a new culture, language and worklife balance? Would her marriage survive? She might not have related to the protagonist, but what she could relate to was coping with change. Learning to adapt and evolve, even when everyone and everything seemed against you. After Emily’s husband Mark got into crippling debt, he saw no other choice but to take advantage of the NHR system in Portugal. A tax break, or ‘financial freedom’, as they believe it would be. Yet, it wasn’t that simple. Tensions running high, relationships tested. Financial strain, and jealousies arising. New partnerships, and a challenging family dynamic, she was hooked from page one. It was odd. It was more than a guilty pleasure read. With underlying notes of classism, finance, and culture, it made for a nuanced and balanced read. She watched the bath water swirl down the drain. Pyjamas at the ready, slipping her feet into house shoes. She smiled, the sensation reaching her eyes. DCR Bond was one to watch, an author who weaved betrayal, love and drama in a hypnotic trance.
Price: £8.99 from Amazon UK
The Weights We Carry
There was something tranquil about poetry. An alchemy of ink and thought, where dreams are woven with delicate rhyme. Stories that transcend time and space, weaving emotions on each page. Even the most harrowing of poems were soothing. Despite the words that would bleed with pain, it would be a cathartic release. Therapy on the page, capturing feelings that couldn’t be expressed in speech. Words that carried like a sorrowful masterpiece, exploring anguish and despair. Yet, poetry was hauntingly beautiful. At Christmas, reading poems were no exception. T.S. Eliot and his Wasteland series were well known. But the ‘Journey of the Magi’ was just as beautiful. Where the camel men cursed and grumbled, in the very dead of winter. Poetry that waxed lyrical about birth and death, during this sacred time of year. There were happier poems too. Clement Clarke Moore’s well known poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ that oozed festive delight.
Though The Weights We Carry by CD Seventeen was not a Christmas poem, she took great comfort in it nevertheless. Ethereal, often abstract poems from a solo bike-packing journey around the Scottish Highlands and the Orkney Islands. Where the poet’s pen was free, capturing a symphony of experiences in immaculate art. She closed her eyes and felt the words wash over her, like whispers in the breeze. The journey beginning in Inverness, and going North, from the East Coast via Rosemarkie, Tain, Brora, Hemsdale and John o’Groats. The journey ending in Burghead in the east coast of Scotland. 22 poems covering 658 miles of Scottish Highlands, like musical notes dancing on the page. She couldn’t describe it. How could a book this short have such a powerful impact? And that was the beauty of poetry. Unveiling secrets from a poets mouth, with gentle verses, a soothing lullaby.
Covering 46 days, colourful emotions explode on the page. A journey that was wrapped up in self-discovery, challenging boundaries, and growing as a person. She could relate, despite not being a cyclist. The themes spoke to her. Reinventing yourself, nurturing your own personal development. Striving to find your own freedom away from the shackles of societal expectations. Most of all, learning to embrace who you are, and being comfortable in your own skin. The most mesmerizing thing of all? It wasn’t just the poems that transported her into a whole new world. But the photos accompanying the poetry were just as equisite. Taken on a half-frame automatic film camera, with purple hued character. Almost faded, cerebreal, like she had stumbled into dreamworld. Capturing the magic of the Scottish Highlands like a gentle caress. So when it came to a budget friendly Christmas gift guide, ‘The Weights We Carry’ was a perfect additition.
Price £13.99 via Waterstones
The Secrets Of Life
From a young age she was told that ‘curiosity killed the cat’. Don’t be ‘so nosy’ they would exclaim, as she questioned everything and anything. What could she say? She had a deep thirst for learning, and a need to know what was going on. She liked being in control, not being kept in the dark. Why did society see people that were curious in a negative way? She lost count of the times she had been called a ‘know-it all’, even though she was far from one. Being intelligent and questioning the way the world worked was important. After all, without curiosity how could we grow and evolve? In ancient times, her ancestors needed this to survive in their surroundings. Today, she needed it to expand her knowledge. The Christmas season was no exception. Her understanding of the festive season evolved throughout her life. As a child, she knew early on that Santa wasn’t real. She wasn’t afforded that same magic that her peers held onto. She had to grow up quickly, and be independent from a young age.
Her first few years in her foster home was different, her first experience of ‘proper gifts’. As an adult, the sentimentality, and desperate need of ‘gifts and validation’ had faded. She loved giving to others, and watching their faces light up with indisguised glee. But what she loved the most? The occasional gifts that had meaning, that still had the ability to catch her by surprise. The Secrets of Life quartet by SS O’Connor, was one of those moments. A budget-friendly Christmas gift for the curious and the curioser. Divided into four books, it explored how life came to exist on earth, in the most approachable way. No case studies, or stuffy references. Just a keen-minded author, and his fascinating views on the world that we lived in. Keeping her engaged as he imagined her questions, and then answered them. Everything from the ‘gene based theory of evolution’, to what made other life forms succeed, and the others become extinct. Yet, it was far from dry and boring. Somehow managing to condense a gigantic mass of genetic, biological, anthropological, game theorectic and even historical evidence in a narrative that was immensely enjoyable.
A’s favourite book in the series? Book 4 ‘So What Does It All Mean?’. Pulling together threads of genetic and cultural evolution, with conclusions of evolutionairy game theory. Ending with an intertwined narrative that explained why the phenomena of their existience might not be the mysteries that we thought they were. In fact, it could have the same logic. After all, why were humans neither good nor bad? What are the problems that arise from our free will? Why are we frequently mistaken in our pessissism about the future? Though the series explored non-human issues, it was nevertheless still human led. She understood it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. After all, who would willingly spend their Christmas reading about philosophy, Science, History and Sociology? A was that person. Though she gravitated towards fiction, when she read non-fiction, it had to grab her attention. And this series had her captivated.
Price: Between £8.16 and £10.99 via Amazon per book. You can buy the quartet via Amazon Kindle for £23.96
Secret Life Of Clutter
A had a complicated relationship with mess. There was something harrowing about an over-flowing washing bin, or a crevice that looked like a hoarders cave. And yet, all too often, she was ten steps behind, drowning in a sea of never-ending to-do lists. Mess that never disappeared, or at least never permenantly. It wasn’t that she was messy per say. She lived with people who were messy, and had three cats. But what she did have mess in, was an accumlation of things. Growing up, she had very little. Little in the way of belongings, least of all photos and memories. Was it any wonder that as an adult she found it hard to let go? That she was constantly searching for more, and more, until she became overwhelmed? It wasn’t in a material or greed way either. It was about making herself feel-good, and the people around her too. But in the canvas of clutter, items became displaced. Surroundings became disordered, like a forgotten letter to how clear it once was before. Though everything was tidied, and ordered, she felt like there was too much in the house. It often added to her anxieties, in scattered dreams where clothes lay in crumpled heaps. Tangled cords and cables. Wardrobes exploding with clothes and shoes. Everywhere she turned she couldn’t escape.
It was true that she had a partner and a friend living with her, as well as three cats. But from a young age, feeling ‘disordered and out of control’ would made her mind spin. So discovering the Secret Life of Clutter by Helen Sanderson, was like godsend. A surprisingly emotive, colourful, and exploratory account of why we have a complicated relationship with our belongings. A knew hers was linked to childhood trauma. But if she didn’t want the possessions to take over her life, then she needed to follow Helen’s advice. After all, her home, and her things reflected aspects of her life, and inner self. The person who constantly strove to be in control, but would spin out, and lose focus. Let’s face it, she was nurturing, but did her home reflect that? Her friend would suggest yes. But to A, she needed to dig deeper into her clutter. What was blocking her in her own home? How could she say goodbye, move on, and let go without regret? Sure, she donated clothes and belongings often. She did big clear outs. But still, there was so much that she couldn’t bring herself to say goodbye to.
But the book, was impactful. Showing her why she sabotaged her efforts to make space. Inspiring her to take action to create a home that didn’t just show others love, but herself too. Change couldn’t happen overnight. But the little things she did, would add up. Clearing out things that no longer brought her joy and inspired her. Getting rid of things she no longer-needed. Quite literally the Secret Life of Clutter wasn’t just a book, but it was a helpline. A guide to a life free from clutter. Not a self-help book. But relatable human stories that would encourage her to reclaim her space, and find her calm. She breathed in, and breathed out. She felt better already.
Price £10.11 via WH Smith
Cheap And Cheerful Beauty Finds
She would look in the mirror, skin marred by redness, and acne scars. But despite its imperfections, she was learning to love the skin she was in. She had a complicated relationship with who she was and her self-image. Yet, skincare had shown her to treat her flaws with care. For these were memories etched on her face and body. Lingering over fresh lesions with more tenderness than ever before. A journey of self-love, a symphony of self-care. From skincare, to cosmetics, with or without it, she had finally fallen in love. The mirror illuminated with the glow of the bathroom light. Light yellow sepia tones, washing over her sallow olive skin. Moisturiser in the mornings, a light touch. Embalming her skin in buttery softness, erasing the harshness. Night cream to sleep, heavier than the morning one. A scented lip balm on days she wasn’t wearing makeup. When she wore makeup, her routine was different. Burnt red fading into golden yellow. Framed by dark black mascara. Foundation, with rosy pink blush. A shimmering golden highlight on cheekbones. Red lipstick, her signature colour. Always cheap, always glamorous. Especially at Christmas!
FRUU Sustainable Cosmetics
It was 6 years ago that she discovered how horrific animal testing was. Silent victims with paws that bled. Eyes that cried, and spoke of desperate need. Locked in laboratories, changed beyond recognition. Bound by metaphorical and physical chains, in an endless cycle of suffering. Vegetarian since she was 17, discovering another form of animal cruelty broke her heart. Many killed after the experiment was over. Some used over and over again, suffering for the point of human pleasure. But when it came to cosmetics, skincare, and household products there was really no need. Sacrificing the freedom of our furry friends, each beating heart scarred with trauma. Entrapped in a maze that would be hard to leave. Puppets of human insanity, suffering etched in screams and cries. It’s why she was so passionate about a cruelty-free lifestyle. Using products that didn’t test on animals. That cared about animals just as much as she did.
FRUU shared the same values. A sustainable, colourful, vegan and cruelty-free natural cosmetics brand that celebrated animals. A portion of proceeds going to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to help preserve natural diversity. Given that A supported animal based charities throughout the year, she couldn’t think of a better way to give back during the Christmas period. The products were just as special. A Pineapple Lip Balm smoothed over dry and cracked lips, with butter consistiency. Packed with wonky fruits that otherwise would have gone to waste. Hand-crafted with pineapple extract to soften the skin. Aloe Vera to calm winter-caressed lips, while vitamin E fought free radicals and pollutants. A Rare Coral Colour Balm too, for a fun pop of colour. Subtle, with wonky watermelons, her favourite kind. Suitable for sensitive skin, the watermelon seed oil and coconut oil enriched and nourished the lips.
But it was the Herbal infusion Moisture + Shower Bar that stole her heart. A textured block infused with soothing lavender, heady bergamot, and spiced clove. Feeling the scent wash over her like whispered secrets. The aroma of the festive season, as she called it, that danced and embraced every pore. She could imagine her budget friendly Christmas day. The smell of vegan turkey, with rosemary potatoes. Pecan carrots, and chilli brussel sprouts. Port wine infused gravy, the chatter of loved ones in the living room. But in the here and now, she was in a sanctuary, where her mind was calmed. Extra moisturising without stripping her skin’s natural moisture. Water-less and plastic-less. The Avocado Almighty Balm was just as mesmerizing. With wonky avocadoes in a smooth and buttery consistiency, blended with natural essential oils. Unscented, for all her dry spots from her lips, to her elbows. Watermelon and avocado oil in a smooth tango. Upcycled mango butter salsa’ing its way to moisture. Shea Butter in an animated Charleston nourishing her body.
Pineapple Lip Balm £4
Rare Coral Colour Balm £6
Avocado Almighty Balm £5.49
Herbal Infusion. Moisture + Shower Bar… £7.99
Salt of The Earth Spiced Gingerbread Deodrant Spray
There were a few scents that A would associate with Christmas. Cinnamon, a fiery hue like sunset’s embrace. Whose aromatic whispers would softly fill the space. Embracing winter, creating alchemized moments. Warming and sweet, weaving magic on the darkest of nights. In a glass of Mulled Wine, infused with orange, star anise and lemon zest too. The earthy scent of sage, with a herbaceous aroma. Crisp, with strong green notes. A dried variant sprinkled over the crispiest roasties, root vegetables marinating too. But it was gingerbread that felt most like Christmas to her. An edible lullaby of the night, cloaked in molasses. Sweet memories infused in a tapestry of warmth, she closed her eyes. Gingerbread from brown sugar’s embrace, with hints of cinnamon. Ginger too, a touch of fire. A nostalgic scent that brought happiness and joy. As she nibbled absentmindedly on her gingerbread man, she smiled. This was going to be a beautiful budget friendly Christmas. She could feel it in her bones.
Salt of the Earth seemed to be on the same page. With a Spiced Gingerbread Deodrant Spray that captured the essence of festivities. Blending sweet and spicy notes, it felt like home. The warmth of the ginger burrowing into the sweetness of vanilla. The richness of cinnamon permeating the air. A limited edition scent, with long-lasting protection, that just happened to be refillable. She held onto its aroma, like essential oils on her skin. Created by an independent family-owned business, and made in the UK. Despite the strong scent, she was surprised to see that it left no white-marks. A clean, yet nostalgic and sweet scent that made her armpits smell like Christmas all day long. Was it any wonder that Salt of the Earth was award-winning? Vegan, climate friendly, and made from natural ingredients, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
She would spray twice a day, revelling in its decadent scent. Infused with natural mineral salt, and magnesium oil. Dancing with aloe vera, in a fresh botanical aroma. The best part? How cost-effective it was. The option to refill once it ran out, using 60% less plastic, better on the environment. There were other scents too. Melon & Cucumber, a refreshing aroma that felt clean. Sweet strawberry, sweet like summer. Ocean & Coconut reminding her of Madeira, the scent of the sea on her skin. But no other scent but gingerbread made her feel like she was in the Christmas spirit. She closed her eyes, and let it wash over her. Taking time to connect with her mind and body, in a meditative state. As she opened her eyes again, she laughed to herself. There was something so revitalizing about scent, that energized her to the core.
Affordable Food & Drink
It sounded silly saying everything changed when she ‘discovered food’. After all, she ate food from a young age. It should have come naturally to her like breathing and walking. And yet discovering food was something different. It was like awakening herself to new cuisines, cultures, and customs. Exploring new aromas, textures and flavours, watching her culinary palette develop over the years. In fact, it wasn’t until she stopped eating meat that she discovered just how spectacular food could be. How she could transform vegetables into the star of the dish. How each dish was a glimpse into heaven, a whole new world. Christmas was no exception. Uncovering baubles with mini chocolates nestled. Relishing the smoothness of the cacao on her lips, smeared slightly. But it wasn’t just sweet treats. Nutty parsnips, in olive oil and thyme. Vegan sausages wrapped in vegan bacon, like pigs in blankets. The cheeses, oh how they tranfixed her. Blues, Red Leiceister and Mature Cheddar too. Drinks that enthralled her. Hot herbal teas with lemon and ginger. Apple ciders crisp, and tart. Warming red wines that mellowed her out. To A, the biggest joy about celebrating a budget friendly Christmas, was affordable food and drink.
OMBAR Chocolate Selection
A was someone who had more of a savoury, than sweet tooth. Who hankered after savoury foods like curries, soups, and stews. Yet, if there was one sweet that penetrated her routine, it was chocolate. From ancient forests, where mighty cacao trees slept. A velvety journey that made its way onto her tongue. Toying with her senses, a seducer of palettes. An enigmatic confection, where enchantment danced. When she ate chocolate, it felt like something awoke within her. Sighs of pleasure escaping her mouth, her body relaxing, lulled into a symphony of sweetness.Where every taste bud was tantalized, a song softly sung. She loved hazelnut the most. A euphoric moment. With hues of warm amber, brown and spun gold. A luscious nut encased in melting chocolate. But really, she loved all chocolates. Oat Milk vegan chocolate that was oh so creamy. Pistachio, orange, and even pumpkin spice too. Plain chocolate, and fruit and nut. Truffles, and pralines. After all, she could think of no other treat but chocolate that embodied Christmas.
OMBAR was no exception. A decadent, indulgent and mesmerizing vegan chocolate brand that celebrated Christmas the vegan way. Sure, it was priced higher than ‘non-vegan chocolate’. But A could safely say that you didn’t feel like you were missing out. It was affordable, sustainable, and ethical. Creating delicious chocolate with organic coconut sugar, made from the sap of the coconut palm tree. Fruity bars that contained real fruit. Chocolate never below 50% cocoa solids. Each chocolate lovingly made from scratch in their very own chocolate factory in Cambridge. She could see why Ombar was so popular. Having been a fan for years, this Christmas was no exception. The first gift, an Oat M’lk Gift Box with some of her favourites, in mini form. Original smooth and creamy, dancing on tongues, filling hearts with pleasure. Hazelnut, her favourite, where a poets dream unfurled in a seductive trance. Fruit & Nut, with secret pieces of raisins, wrapped up in moerish almonds. The last, Salted Caramel Truffle that was sweet and decadent, creating a beautific chocolate melody.
The Oat M’lk Christmas Bauble, containing the same chocolates was just as precious. Plastic-free and recyclable, each gift box sold funding Fundación Jocotoco’s reforestation of rainforest in Ecuador. Less than half the carbon emissions of normal milk chocolate, it tasted good too. But what A was most pleased with? The Oat M’lk Advent Calendar, with 25 scrumptious chocolate mini bars to be pounced on. Christmas couldn’t come soon enough. She had already demolished the mini box, and the bauble too. But this one, was to be savoured. Vegan chocolate that tasted just as good as the real thing. Made with organic British-grown oats, smooth and harmonious. Chocolate vegan or not told a story. In A’s timeline the themes were the same. Happiness, bond-building, harmonious. At Christmas, those themes only intensified.
Oat M’lk Gift Box £9.99 (for 25 mini bars)
The Oat M’lk Christmas Bauble £7.99 (for 16 mini bars)
The Oat M’lk Advent Calendar £14.99 (for 25 mini bars)
Choc On Choc Pigs In Milk & Dark Chocolate Blankets
Ever since she discovered Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, she had been obsessed with the process behind making chocolate. With Wonka coming out on the 15th December, her need to know only intensified. Imagining chocolate like art, fresh pods picked from a cacao tree. Sourcing chocolate that would melt the public’s heart. Roasting, cracking and winnowing the chocolate. But wait! There were four more steps. Chocolate being ground, and coached. Tempered and molded into the chocolate that we knew and loved today. From bitter beginnings to decadent fantasies, the hand of the chocolatier a genius. An ebony god that slithered into your open mouth. Eyes smiling with lust, creamy indulgence, a velvety cascade. But some chocolatiers were on another level. Whose creations mimicked the real thing. Tennis balls, and pigs in blankets. Gaming controllers, and even bottles of prosecco. Chocolate artfully moulded into some of her favourite things.
Choc on Choc, was a master at the game. Who she would define as chocolate artists, that were inventive, creative, and mesmerizing. What’s more, they were sustainable too. Working with the Cocoa Horizons Foundation to source ethical cocoa. Improving the livelihood of cocoa farmers and their communities. Though many of the chocolates were not vegetarian friendly, the ones that were blew her away. Pigs In Milk & Dark Chocolate Blankets particularly enchanting, a nostalgic treat. Handmade and painted in white Belgian chocolate, little piggies that would make a great stocking filler. She could imagine the scene. A bright red stocking trimmed with white like Santa’s beard. Inside the piggies begging to be eaten. She almost couldn’t bring herself to eat them because of how beautiful they were. But the scent lured her in. Their pleading faces begged for her to be tantalized. And so she popped them in, relishing the slow-melting of the chocolate, slipping down her rasping throat.
They smiled in her mouth. Watching the knitted blankets disappear next, until at last, no remnants of chocolate existed. She was left craving more, the family of piggies making a lasting impression all these weeks later. But what would she have next? If it was vegetarian The Chocolate Cheeseboard, an extravagant display. An engraved cheeseboard, the most beautiful thing to look at. A crumbly chunk of chocolate stilton, next to a tasty slice of brie. The mini camembert just as hypnotic, hanging out with a hunk of Emmental. But it was the little bunch of red grapes that were the sweetest touch. A beautiful illusion, almost like the real thing. Still, the little piggies in their knitted blankets were the perfect budget friendly Christmas gift. Creations caressed by talented hands. Where art and chocolate transformed the ordinary into the unexpected.
Cocoba Vegan Chocolate
She remembered her first significant hot chocolate. That fateful year in 2005 where she was taken into care. Her foster mum, who was her childminder when she was 4. Greeted with gifts, that made her heart ache with surprise. A pink Barbie Pencil case tube, filled with orange and green jelly sweets. A mug, she couldn’t remember what colour. But the biggest gift of all, a hug that felt like safety. She never felt like anywhere was her own home until her flat with her partner, but this came pretty close. They sat on the sofa, as she munched her way through the jelly sweets lolling them on her tongue. A Nesquik Hot Chocolate poured into the mug, sugary sweet, drifting into her veins. Chocolate was her one sweet weakness. But it wasn’t about chocolate cake or cookies. It was about chocolate bars, and hot chocolates. Two cocoa delicacies that enveloped her senses in a potion of warmth.
Cocoba, and its vegan chocolate range showed why hot chocolate was so impactful. A Vegan Dark Hot Chocolate Bombe Cracker With Marshmallows, tantalizingly moerish. A festively packaged trio of 55% dark chocolate bombes, blending the decadent notes of cocoa. The sweetness of the vegan friendly marshmallows, melting in her mouth. Together creating a moerish hot chocolate that brought back memories. One of the bombes plopped into a teal blue-green mug, a Mermaid swimming torwards the surface. Steaming oat milk poured over, the chocolate melting to uncover secret marshmallows. It was Christmas in a mug, simmered with love in a cauldron of cheer. The Vegan Christmas Marshmallow Hot Chocolate Spoons, a stocking filler that made her heart sing. Three delicious hot chocolate spoons with vegan mini marshmallows, in one festive gift. Milk, Dark and Salted Caramel, poured into milk once more. The milk spoon the favourite, smooth and creamy, it hot the spot.
Vegan Dark Hot Chocolate Bombe Cracker With Marshmallows £10.95
Vegan Christmas Marshmallow Hot Chocolate Spoons ( 3 Spoons) £10.95
Vegan Milk Chocolate Marshmallow Bauble £4.95
Munchy Seeds Collection
A never met a sunflower that she didn’t like. In fields of gold, where its radiant beauty bloomed for all to see. Standing tall above the rest, wrapped in the sun’s loving embrace. Petals that were kissed by sunbeams, golden sepia tones. A hidden story inside, where sunflower seeds lurked. Like enchanters of souls, they played the long game to be discovered. Petals fading, unfurling in autumn. Flower heads removed, stored in a warm dry place for a week. A sheet of newspaper spread on a flat surface. Gently rubbing the seed head, seeds that fell away easily. Though sunflowers reminded many of summer, the seeds felt like winter. Green beans blanched in ginger and garlic, toasted suflower seeds atop. Maple syrup sticky carrots, with smatterings of sunflower seeds. Roasted pumpkin with sour cherries and crumbly feta, spiced seeds on the plate. And the most wintery of all? A roasted cauliflower, beautifully stuffed with kale, and chesnuts. A topping of sunflower seed and basil pesto drenching the florets.
Munchy Seeds knew what the hype was about. Tantalizing seed mixes that were ready to eat, in salads, soups, and even breakfasts. Her mouth watered, Super Berry up first. A breakfast topper bursting with fibre, protein and Vitamin E. Lightly roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, infused with chia seeds. Sprinkles of blueberries, cranberries and goji berries in a delicious crunch. She added it to a spiced porridge laden with cinnamon. Swirling seeds on top, that plunged into its warming depths. Her cold hands warming up, its iciness thawed out. A hug in a bowl, it was the perfect breakfast. On days where she was running short on time, she would make a berry smoothie, blackberries dancing with raspberries. Adding the Totally Tropical selection for a burst of flavour. Coconut flakes whispering secrets to dried mango. Sultanas stealing the show, dates and bananas dancing alone.
Her partner’s favourite? The Honey Roasted Pumpkin and Sunflower seeds glazed in honey. Was it any wonder it was one of their best sellers. Eaten alone as a snack, he made his way through the pack. Licking his lips, a big grin on his face. The Choccy Apricot another winner, dark and milk chocolate coated roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds with dried apricots. Her chocolate cravings cured in a healthier way, with 65% cocoa solids. But it was the Mild Chilli that stole A’s heart. Vegan savoury roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds with chilli and chipotle. Crunchy and delicious, moerish even on its own. In soups it sparkled. A coconut and butternut squash soup with a hint of chilli thanks to the seeds. In salads it danced. A warm artichoke, blood orange and feta salad crumbled with seeds. It was the festive obsession that A didn’t know she needed. A budget friendly Christmas snack that just happened to be healthy, nourishing and delicious.
Price: All Sprinkle Packs are 125g for £3.50
Honestly Tasty Bestselling Cheeses
There were few things that A loved more than cheese. Dreaming of a cheeseboard, a tapestry of colours rich. From creamy white to aged, each slice unveiling a story, one bite at a time. Velvety brie one of her favourites, a mellow kiss on her tongue. Mature cheddars sharp embrace, crumbling in her mouth. A decadent crumbling blue, its pungent notes a wild caress. Manchego golden and proud, a hint of sweetness. And who could forget the golden-child gouda, that danced with memories? The camembert, creamy, oozing, molten cheesy lava. An aged parmesan a toast to Italian classics. But it was goats cheese that trasnsported her, milk’s alchemy, whispering secrets to start. A marriage with microbes, a metamorphosis fair. Yet vegan cheese was just as delectable. Vegetarian for 13 years, she often ate vegan food, cheese included. Despite people’s opinions that vegan cheese ‘didn’t taste good’, A couldn’t help but disagree. The right cheese was delectable. And a cheeseboard at Christmas was a boxing day classic. Grazing on leftovers, nibbling on party food. Cheese and crackers, slathered in salted butter. Juicy green and burgundy grapes plunged into hungry mouths.
When she discovered Honestly Tasty at a Hackney food market last year, her tastebuds were awakened. The ‘Blue’ award-winning for a reason, matured over several weeks. Smooth and creamy, almost like the real thing. She closed her eyes, tongue running over the molded veins with hues of sapphire. A stark contrast against the creamy white. Crumbled texture, not too disimilar to Roquefort. She would crumble it into a Winter Salad, waltzing with baby spinach, red apple, and candied walnuts. Vegan streaky bacon chopped up for mouthwatering saltiness. A dashing of pomnegranate and a drizzle of chilli, complementing the blue beautifully. Garlic & Herb was next to be tasted. Replacing their much loved Herbi plant-based cheese that she had tried before. Buttery, garlicky and herb flavoured. Spreadable, smushable, and mouthwateringly good. She had no idea how they managed to master it being creamy yet crumbly too. Slathered in a seeded bagel, lemon and garlic rocket, whispering to sundried tomatoes.
But the Shamembert was a delight, rich and earthy, she would bake it fast. Smushed onto a loaf of crusty baguette, her eyes lit up. Finding the confit garlic that she layered inside was like a treasure hunt, a mellow flavour. Bree another tasty find. Revealing inner secrets, indulgent flavour embraced. Her cravings were ignited, tender rind, a gateway to delight. Mellow and soft, with subtle earthy tones. She would make a comfort snack. A vegan Bree and bacon toastie that she smoked and grilled. Layered with spinach and pecan nuts. The vegan cheeses were good the first time she tried them at the vegan market. But the second time round? Just as gorgeous as she remembered if not more so. A far cry from the reputation that vegan cheese had. Even as a vegetarian, she could admit how Honestly Tasty was the bee’s knees. Though the vegan cheeses were higher-priced than supermarket cheeses, it was worth every penny. After all, no budget friendly Christmas was complete without a cheese selection. This one just happened to be vegan.
Garlic & Herb £4.29
ōForest™ Madhūka Collection
She couldn’t remember a moment recently where anxiety didn’t have her in a chokehold. 3AM the time she called witching hour, awake from terrifying dreams, heart racing. The same routine, awake for hours, palpations that left her trembling in its wake. Restless thoughts that caressed her mind in a toxic seduction. Limbs that felt frozen, unable to move. Or there were the times where she couldn’t stop fidgeting. Like a caged bird struggling to break free, she was breathless. Trapped in a cycle of anxiety, PTSD, and depression, not one existing without the other. And yet, the majority of people didn’t see her like this. She was the person who danced on sunbeams of joy. Who would giggle often, whose smile would light up the room. And yet, she was good at putting on a mask. Behind the joy, clenched fists. Behind the laughter, panic engulfing her hungrily. Behind the bright eyes salty tears that were threatening to spill. Still, despite the constant mental pain she was in, she tried her best. Still, she needed moments of calm. Though she was heavily traumatized, she was trying to teach her body that self-care wasn’t a chore. It was OK to have fun, even if her mind and body had different ideas.
With herbal teas, it was one of the rare things that helped ground A. It wasn’t a miracle worker. She wasn’t going to claim that she was magically anxiety free. But what she could tell you is how it was one of her greatest pleaures in life. A simple holistic ritual, that taught her to breathe. It showed her how to slow down, and take a moment for herself. She wasn’t used to that. She was always running at a hundred miles an hour. When she tried to slow down, the panic attacks would threaten to overcome her. Breathe in, breathe out. ōForest™ was part of this calming routine. Madhūka Tea, blended with natural ingredients. Inspired by Ayurveda, with teas inspired by the five elements. Earth, with organic and natural, mellow Madhūka tea. Air, swathed with tart lemon, a palette cleanser. Space, a calming clove and spicy cinnamon blend, that uplifted her senses. Water, with refreshing fennel and purifying peppermint. And finally, Fire, balanced with smooth sea buckthorn and warming ginger.
It was Space, and Fire that she gravitated towards the most. Space, like a calm version of Christmas in a mug. Cinnamon like a warm elixir, ginger like a firey embrace. Fire with ginger too, wrapped around liquorice. A hint of sea buckthorn, sour but slightly sweet. Sometimes, she would drink her teas when reading a book, Eyes cascading over denses pages that were well thumbed. Smiling as she sipped on teas that celebrated the beauty of Madhūka. A naturally sweet caramel sprinkle found in the forests of India. High in Vitamin B3, Iron, Fibre and Potassium to name a few. Even when her heartbeat echoed a drumming cresendo, she would drink the tea, slowly lulled into its tranquil happy place. It wasn’t just the teas that made for a budget friendly Christmas gift either. Madhūka Powder, rich in vitamins and minerals. Sprinkled into blueberry and strawberry porridge, a replacement for cinnamon. A comforting bowl of superfood goodness that wiped A’s tears away with a smile. The Madhūka Nibs just as powerful, a festive boost for her wellbeing. Sprinkled on top of a vegan strawberry cheesecake, with a mango glaze. She was in heaven.
Madhūka Nibs between £6.95-11.95 (depending on size)
Madhūka Powder between £8.95-£14.95
Madhūka Teas £7.95 each
Cranes Apple Cider Gift Set
If there was one thing that D loved almost as much as A, it was cider. His drink of choice ever since he could remember. A nectar born of nature’s brew. Its sweet surrender, a symphony of apples delight. Watching the liquid gold swirl in a transparent pint glass felt like meditation. In one sweet sip, getting misty-eyed. Nostalgic for memories from a past life. Back when he was in Plymouth, not a London Boy. Pints of cider with his old man, grins on both their faces. A potion that began life beneath the sun. Apples dancing, their essence pure. Fruits pressed and crushed into a pulp into amber dreams. A tangy kiss, of bliss and secrets untold. He had his favourite. Aspyalls, that renowned cider brand. Whose apples were crisp and warm like the summer sun. His preference for medium dry ciders, that were balanced.
He found his match in Cranes Drinks. Their Apple Cider Gift Set, a beautiful surprise. Medium-dry just the way he liked it, naturally crisp and fresh. The taste test was looming. Would it live up to the hype? The answer was yes. Crafted using only the finest selection of British apples, it tasted like home. He had never actually been to an apple orchard, but somehow this transported him. One with apple blossoms that rose into the gray skies. A storm cloud brewing, a romantic scene nevertheless. Where rows of trees were like an intricate maze. Though normally caressed by the sun’s tender embrace, the water cleansed them. A sweet duress despite the storm cloud’s tulmotous nature. He could feel the rain matt his hair, as though he was there himself. Biting into apples so fresh and new, so sweet and juicy. Even in its golden liquid form, it was splendid. Where juices burst tracing steps across his tongue. A sanctuary for the heart and mind, his senses dulled.
It was a calming sensation, or so he told her. One where his cheeks flushed with a rosy pink glow on his ruddy complexion. His greenish-blue eyes lighting up with indescrible joy. She always wondered why he felt so strongly about cider. But there it was. Written across his face, a naked expression for all to see. And she couldn’t blame him. Affordable Alcholic drinks for Christmas were a rarity, least of all cider. And yet Cranes was the real deal. With ciders from original apple, to blueberries and apples, and even mulled cider. One she hadn’t tried herself but was on her festive wishlist. Cranberries mulled in oranges, spiced with cinnamon. Full-bodied, served in a quaint mug. A dried orange slice soaking a’top. It would be soothing, like those mugs of herbals teas that she so coveted. Gliding down her coarse tickly throat, slipping into her stomach with ease. But it was an imaginary hypothetical. A drink that was yet to come. One that she had been dreaming about ever since she saw it.
Price: £13.50 for 2 Ciders and a Glass
Low-Priced Pet Gifts
The day she got her cats, her heart was its fullest. Adopting her own furry children, two rescued from the streets. A loving home where they could grow into their own. A place where they never had to worry about when their next meal would be. Instead, showered in cuddles, nuzzled in her bosom. Kisses planted on their wet noses, their eyes seemingly glazed with happy tears. Vibrating purrs that coursed through their bodies, their tails wagging like dogs. Inquisitive, loving, independent animals who moved with grace. The tabby, the youngest with her amber eyes. A delicate young cat that stalked the shadows of the night. The second cat, a beautiful big black cat. Green eyes like emeralds, plodding through the living room. The third a long-haired tortoiseshell, who was poetry in motion. A silent hunter with white paws that struck out. The latter two best friends, snuggling in their Christmas blanket sound asleep. The third curled up on the sofa, a soft snore escaping her lips. Was it any wonder that she wanted the best gifts for her feline friends. One that would have their hearts stirring with delight?
Seed Pantry Catnip Seed Kit
Her three cats were mesmerized by catnip, lured into its cunning trap. Loki, the black male cat’s favourite treat. Still intoxicated by the trio of catnip balls she had got him last Christmas. Paws wrapped around the ball, biting it with his sharp teeth. Green eyes growing wider, a sqeaky purr escaping his mouth. Rolling around on the floor for attention, his belly exposed. His paws in the air, perfectly mimicking a dog that was begging for treats. The other two just as obsessed. Luna the tabby, and Nala the tortoiseshell stealing his treats underneath his nose. The former proudly running away with it in her mouth, to take to her special place. And by special place, she meant the bathroom, where A was luxuriating in the bubble bath. The tabby walking on its ledge, the ball still firmly clamped in her mouth. You could say that the trio was catnip obsessed. A in hysterics rewatching her videos of what they looked like when they played with catnip.
It was if Seed Pantry had got the memo. With a special Catnip Seed Kit to grow catnip and catgrass plants indoors. Like mint, catnip was like a herbaceous perennial, growing 50-100cms tall. She could hardly wait to see how they would react. Already sniffing the box inquisitively before they grew the plant. She would fill the two pots of biodegradable rice husk pots with organic compost. Marvelling at the feel of the peat-free compost in between her fingers. A seed packet opened, several seeds sowed per pot. Seeds covered with another layer of compost, like hidden plant treats. She would gently water them, whispering words of affirmation and love. The cats with their ears pricked, their mouths with the faintest of smiles. Placed where they would see the most sun. It hadn’t been 7-14 days just yet for the Germination Catnip to start reaching its potential. But after 6 weeks, she would move the catnip plants to larger plants, imagining the cats ripping it to shreds. But the Cat Grass would be just as fun, ready in 10-14 days. A grass pot left on the floor for their cats to nibble on. Repeated sowing after 10 days.
Their whimsical dreams would come true, nurturing feline delight. A gift for cats beyond compare, secrets that only cats knew the answer to. A herb so sweet, and playful, that even humans were obsessed. Two teaspoons of dried leaves steeped for 5 minutes. A relaxing blend that even she couldn’t resist. But mostly, the catnip was about the cats. Enthralled in joyful moments, with curious gazes. Enthralled by nature’s call, prodding the plant that had yet to bud. Sniffing sureptiously into the pot, soil on their noses. Even now, they seemed like they were in euphoric bliss. Dreaming of a playground for cats, to call their own. Blessed by the humans that they called their owners. But make no mistake, the cats were the real owners. The rule-breakers and the rule deciders. The bestowers of pleasure, and the equal irritants. She couldn’t wait for the plants to grow. To see their hearts swell with so much happiness, during the festive season. A never knew how affordable catnip could be, let alone grow her own. But without a shadow of a doubt this was a gorgeous budget friendly Christmas gift for a feline friend.
Vets Kitchen Cat Treats
She wasn’t sure why but the cats had gone off their normal food. Toying with their biscuits, spilling crumbs on the floor. Wet food left behind. What would once be a clean dish licked clean, was still partially full. She couldn’t make heads or tail of it. Her cats were well known for their voracious appetite. Particularly the rescues, Nala and Loki. Loki who was left to fend for himself his whole life on the street. Who befriended neighbours, and begged them for food. For months he ate like he would never eat another meal again. With ferocious hunger, helping himself to the other cats food when the humans weren’t looking. Nala abandoned and neglected by her previous owners. Seriously malnourished, and underweight. Cuts all over her body, she cried at the sorry sight. Spending months eating any food that was in sight, nibbling the leftovers of the cats breakfasts everyday without fail.
It was time to bring in the old guns. The cat treats from Vets Kitchen that they were obsessed with earlier in the year. Could it be that she could make them fall in love for the third time? Sensitive Digestion Dry Food in Succulent Salmon up to the task first. They sniffed, cautiously at first. Realizing that the scent was familuar, delectably so. Luna, the most curious of the three sharpening her claws, attempting to break it open. She wouldn’t be surprised if Luna did. The memory of Luna last Christmas still made her laugh. Opening the pet food cupcoard and seeing her inside. Her paws around a treats packet, now opened with half the biscuits missing. She opened it gently, put a biscuit in her palm. Luna got there first, her tongue wrapped around the nugget. It felt like a friend, that familuar taste that she loved before, clamouring for more. The other cats followed suit, wondering what had got Luna enthralled. Watching them all fall in love again was a balm to her heart. After all, it didn’t just taste delicious, but it was healthy too.
With 80% salmon, and 64% freshly prepared, their attention was captured once more. An affordable and budget friendly Christmas gift that just happened to be addictive too. Easy to digest, the dry treats were laced with chicory, like a prebiotic for a healthy kitty tummy. Given that the cats had a tendency to be sick, the treats went down just as well as before. With added dandelion, parsley and balanced mineral levels, it even aided a healthy urinary tract. Hypoallergenic, and formulated without wheat, beef or dairy, it was ever so gentle. But their favourite? Little Heart Cat Treats, in Salmon And Chicken. Their favourite the Chicken with duck, whimpering when she put it away. Begging for one more treat. Their eyes widening, their tails wagging. Bellies exposed, paws in the air. She caved in, ridicolously fast, as they knew she would. Putting treats into their personalized bowls. Did her cats just wink at her? As though they were all in one cunning game? She must have imagined it, their expressions demure again. Looking like butter wouldn’t melt.
Sensitive Digestion Dry Cat Food Succulent Salmon £8.70
Little Heart Cat Treats £1.75
Inexpensive Lifestyle Gifts
She yearned for a lifestyle that was centered around the small pleasures in life. The things that got you out of bed in the morning. That eased all your tension, with one swipe. Though some sought adventure, and excitement, she wanted to slow down. Wired heavily to the point of extreme burn out, several panic attacks a day, a common occurence. But she? She was no longer the person of her youth. She wanted to relax, and unwind, centering herself in tranquility. Yet, whenever she tried to relax, her body screamed out no. Begging her to work herself into the ground. It was all it had ever known. All it thought she was worth. Subconsciously, she knew that wasn’t true. She needed to stop trying to prove herself to others. To stop taking so much on. It wasn’t healthy this workload, a risk to her health. And yet, somehow she couldn’t stop. The lead up to the Christmas season was chaotic, no comfort found in balance. Endless to do lists, and deadlines. A million and one things to do, and no time to do them. But she would take a well deserved break soon. A longer one that would reprogram her mind and body. That would show her it was OK to rest. She knew her lifestyle gifts had to reflect that. Gifts that would help her appreciate the small things. Slowing down even in times of chaos.
Prezzee Smart eGift Card
She was no stranger to a humble gift card. A sheeny token of endless wonder, a cosmic key to another world. A passport to treasures that made the heart rejoyce. Holding potential like a hidden gem, a slender card with promises unveiling. Food, skincare, and makeup too. Restaurants and cinemas, bars and supermarkets. A wonderland of cards with infinite choice. That made you stop and think, thankful for the gift card that your loved one gave you. Some said that gift cards had no thought. A gift like chocolates or flowers, that they branded ‘generic and uninspiring’. But in A’s mind all three of those things were thoughtful and kind. But there was something exciting about a gift card. Having choice over your own affordable Christmas gift, one you would cherish in the moment. A new dress that made you feel like a Queen. A meal with a loved one that had you basking in their glow. And who could resist the allure of a cinema date, transfixed to the screen? For a gift card was a tapestry of dreams unknown yet known. Minutes spent scrolling, sometimes hours, sometimes days. Until at last, you found the right present for you. One that would help you towards that lifestyle that you had always dreamed of. A life that was easy, exubarent and playful.
The Prezzee Smart eGift Card was no stranger to that sentiment. A digital gift card that could be personalised with video, audio and even images. Coming in a range of Christmas designs, redeemed in thousands of locations. Hundreds of brands waiting to be chosen, begging for the green light. She paused and mulled, her mission clear. To choose a gift card that helped her savour the moment. That allowed her to grasp living in the present. Not clinging to the future, or burrowing into the past. The here and now, the prelude up to Christmas. A gift that would put the breath back into her lungs, a sigh of relief escaping her lips. There was one clear answer, the antidote to her hectic lifestyle. The card swapped over for Waitrose, for a delicious meal that always brought her happiness. Would it seem silly that she would use her gift card on one singular thing? She didn’t care a hoot, already visualizing the beautiful specimen in her mind. Juicy Marbles Thick-Cut Filet Plant-Based Steaks, that melted in her mouth like butter. Without a shadow of a doubt, her favourite vegan meat substitute ever.
She would swap the gift card over, her mouth salivating, her steaks almost like the real thing. Sure, this was the lifestyle section of her budget friendly Christmas guide. But the gift card goddesses had spoken. Juicy Marbles for the win. Marbled texture, flaking pieces of vegan meat slurped down her ravenous throat. She would do the classic meal combo, that she knew and loved. The steak grilled to perfection in garlic, shallots and butter. Almonds and hazelnuts roasted, to place on top. A creamy peppercorn sauce with piquant flavour, made from scratch. Lovingly ladled over the meat with heavenly joy. As for the sides? Just as mouthwatering. Vegan cheddary mash, a side of creamed kale and cabbage. Thyme carrot slivers, layered with oregano. A glass of her favourite red wine poured generously into a glass. The meal might have been a countdown to the festive season, but it felt like home. She laughed. She paused. She lived in the moment. Temporarily her demons kept at bay, her cheeks flushed with exultation. For the gift card had led her on a poet’s dance. Where her soul was stirred and her emotions unfurled. Banning the desperation of the anxiety that was clawing at her limbs. The tension leaving her body, a secret dance within.
Jumble & Co Lifestyle Gifts
A’s own personal life was a rollercoaster. Blink, and it was a blur of highs and lows. Sleep, and it was twenty years later, fuzzy memories. She spent so long battling mental health issues that learning to be OK was more difficult than it seemed. Her body didn’t know what it was like to truly let go. Or what it felt like to be anxiety-free. Sure, she was happy. But the emotions she felt were manic. Happiness that quite literally made her anxious. Sadness that ripped her heart of her chest. Fear that loomed over her like dread. The emotions she felt were intense. There was no in-between. More ups and downs than she could count, drifting into an underworld of despair. But all was not lost. For at her very core, she was a warrior. One who realized that it was OK to feel the way that she did. She spent so long hiding from the trauma that engulfed her mind, body and soul, that healing was a lifetime journey. Even now, writing this, the familuar feeling washed over her. The tightening in the stomach. The clenching in the chest. The squeezing of the back, the rigidity of limbs. The recurrent overwhelming thoughts that tried to pull her under. The desperation that clung to her with demonic glee.
But if there was one thing Jumble & Co understood, it was that life was anything but linear. Seeing life for the muddle of emotions that it is. Juggling them together. An emotionally intelligent lifestyle brand, who didn’t judge you, or ‘tell you to find the bright side’. Instead, it created relatable, self-aware and honest products inspired by ‘moods’. There were two products that would guide her to non-judgemental realms. The first, an Ups & Downs Umbrella, that summed up her state of mind beautifully. After all, one minute she was down, the next minute she was up. An umbrella that was so much more. A canopy unfurled above her head, splashes of rain hammering down. Elation coursing through her body, a lightness in her mind. Feeling carefree and young, splish-splashing in puddles. It was a reliable friend, one that just happened to be beautiful too. Available in a range of colours to match your outfit and mood. Gravitating towards green and purple, that made her feel in so many ways.
The Sips & Gulps Water Bottle was just as evocative. In purple and green to match her umbrella, a true emotional sidekick. A water bottle that was a mood-lifter, a motivator to get her through the day. One that would help her weather her emotions, through happy days, and bad ones. A bottle that motivated her to keep drinking, a solace during panic attacks. Big drinks for big dreams they said, and to A that was mastering self-care. Showing her that it was OK to take a breather. That she didn’t need to go at 100 miles per hour all the time. Taking a break was normal. She needed to train her body to be kinder to herself. To know when to unwind. To understand that taking time out for herself was a good thing especially during a budget friendly Christmas. And boy did she need it. Exhausted wasn’t the word for it. Dark circles that burrowed under her eyes. Skin that had lost its healthy pallor. Joints that ached with chronic pain. She decided to stop. Take a minute, and breathe.
Ups & Downs Umbrella £14.99
Jumble & Co Sips & Gulps Water Bottle £8.99
Quirky Budget Fashion
A was living proof that being on a budget, didn’t mean comproming on style. From shopping in the sale, to thrifting, and buying second hand, 80% of A’s wardrobe was affordable. Why? Because she was never someone who had a lot of money, and not much had changed. She wanted to show that fashion could be just as colourful, quirky and beautiful at a lower price tag, than designer fashion. Everytime she would open her wardrobe door, delight would course through her body. Her eyes lighting up, dazzled by the rainbow of colours that burrowed its way into her life. Dopamine dressing at its finest, where personality and colour dancing a cheeky Cha-Cha. A tapestry of art, where sheeny dusky pink ballgowns looked borrowed from another time. Delicate baby blue tulle 50’s style skirts, and irridescent green dresses, spun by Medusa. A blue embroidered dress, handmade, a purple skirt lined with brocade. But A did casual too. Printed dresses with pockets fashioned from the gods. Blues, and greens, purples too. Oranges, and pinks, a rainbow of delights. Floral denim trousers, and sheer matching tops. Purple cordorouy trousers for a fun take on the 70’s, a fuschia pink cord shirt. Tailored orange blazer shorts, and mint green blazers. A plush faux fur baby pink shaggy coat. A vegan suede electric blue cropped jacket. The accessories too, just as vibrant. Forest green chunky green knee high boots. Lime green mules, and sheeny lilac Chelsea boots. Handbags that were novelty inspired. A carton of ‘milk’ and a cupcake. Colourful reusable bags, and crowns that were handmade. And let’s not forget her hat collection, standing tall and proud. As for her Christmas wardrobe? It was just as fun.
A knew that sustainability often had a bad rap. As being minimalist, gravitating towards neutral colours. Often practical, and functional. But the sustainable colourful brands that A supported were just as fun as she was. Colourful, vibrant, often print-led. Accessories and clothes that made people smile, that brightened up their day. She was often asked why she dressed the way that she did. It was a form of therapy, a cathartic release. That made her look and feel good, spreading joy to others around her. She did it for herself, enclothed cognition, that gave her wardrobe symbolic meaning. Brighter colours that she gravitated towards, associated with joy, summer, and energy. A pick-me up, that guaranteed to lift her mood, when she was feeling down. Her accessories were no different, not a neutral in sight. Primary brights like oranges and blues, greens, and purples, pinks too. Some plain, some printed, bags, shoes, and hats too. She was known for her accessories, the glue that put her look together. And sustainable accessories were no different. A penchant for reusuable bags, so that even her food shop felt vibrant and alive.
Kind Bags, with their sustainable and colourful accessories fit the bill. A women-owned and run company, made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Repurposed bags in different shapes and sizes, Colours and prints that made her feel alive. But what was so special about Kind Bag? She would take it everywhere she went, folding it into a small pouch, when it wasn’t in use. The capacity to take more, without compromising on her style. Many friends would joke with her about being a ‘bag lady’ but the reality was that she was one, and proudly so. Still, she couldn’t wait to see the compliments about her latest two additions. The printed bags a collaboration with the female artist Roeqiya Fris, celebrating colour, and the female form. A Dutch-Egyptian artist who conjured magical and lustorous designs. Fabricating a world where animals, people and nature lived in harmony. The first, the Roeqie | Hiding reusable bag. A vidid cobalt blue scattered with pink psychotropical blooms. But this was no ordinairy flower print. Hidden pictures within. A beautiful female form in a printed blue and orange maxi dress. Her head a flower. On top, a Peacock with feathers so grand. A kaleidoscope of hues, another bird layered a’top. Teal, brown and orange too, with a hint of orange.
Roeqie|Two Islands was just as mesmerizing. Two gorgeous woman holding islands above their heads. Their bodies half concealed by pink and green flowers. Azure waters steady and calm, flanked by a beautiful dusky pink sky. The skies framed with red and brown flowers, with stems that looked like hands. The two bags, captivated her as soon as she set eyes on them. Gasping at the vividity of the colours. Immersed in stunning landscapes, and its celebration of feminity. The bags were a talking point. Not just an accessory to do the food shop. But a lifestyle. One where she would pair them with outfits in varying shades of blues and pinks. Made from 6 recycled plastic bottles, both bags were water-resistant and lightweight. It wasn’t just reusable bags that Kind Bag sold either. From tote bags, to lunch bags, weekender bags and even backpacks, their sustainable bags were perfect for a budget friendly Christmas.
*You can get 15% off your entire order with the Discount Code FADEDSPRING15 (Limited to one use per customer)
Little Party Dress
Her practical mind knew that winter was coming. The sun hiding behind a veil of gray, crystalline art beginning to form. Soon there would be landscapes painted in hues of white. Canvases adorned in delicately spun snowflakes, as the Earth slumbered. Branches once threaded with lush green leaves, almost bare. Frost tinging the air, numbness in her joints. Her make up free cheeks red from the cold. Her hair whipped into a frenzy. But in her heart (and mentally), she was still in summer. Dancing in emerald fields swathed in wildflowers. Fragrant whispers, nature making love. The sky painted with the faintest of clouds. Vivid blue skies so bright. But the beach? Her happy place, sand between her toes. Feeling azure clear waters lap at her legs, basking in summer essence. She crashed back to reality, pelting droplets of rain clawing at her window pane. The skies dark, even at 3PM, in the hush of twilights embrace. No matter what time of year it was, it would always feel like summer to her. It’s why she gravitated towards colorful dresses. Floral dresses spun out of sunshines golden rays. Lime green tie dye maxi dresses, the colour of the season. Violet purples, and blush pinks too. Polka dots waltzing with abstract art. Even at Christmas, dresses were her penchant.
Her latest obsession? Little Party Dress, whose affordable inclusive clothes always made her smile. The Crete Maximum Impact Dress was her current favourite, cobalt blues dancing with lemon yellows. Forest greens slipping into reds. Orange gossiping with mauve purple. A maxi dress with a subtle v-neck, a fitted bodice with loose short sleeves. But the accent frills were the right touch of girly, shirring at the back to create gorgeous shape. A generous skirt that dropped effortlessly into a baby doll silhouette. A tiered hemline that floated around her body. The hidden pockets though, were the real magic, her phone slipped inside. A bag of roasted nuts in the other, a snack on the go. Wearing it made her feel like a goddess. One whose essence sparkled in celestial hues. Her touch a cascade of love unchained. Her eyes shimmering like hidden jewels. Moving with the grace of someone who had roamed the earth for a thousand years. There were other dresses that she coveted too. A watermelon maxi, oh so fun. A pink and blue midi dress with retro flair. How could it be that she had never discovered LPD before. Whose clothes were seemingly fashioned from the Gods themselves?
She would pair the Crete dress with orange kitten heeled mules. Sea green nail varnish slipped onto naked toes. Cobalt electric blue on her fingernails, accentuating her olive skin. Long tasseled blue earrings that burrowed into her plaited ponytail. An chunky headband, with a printed orange print. But who could forget the quirky accessories? That were just as vibrant as she was? An orange wooden fan, cascading out of the sky. A mock parody of Sunny D in a bag, yellow, orange and blue. Sure, the weather was colder now, it wasn’t summer. What on earth did she think she was playing at dressing this way in winter? The truth was the dress was freeing. She felt alive, twirling through the streets of London like an impatient ballerina. But the dress was transitional. In the darker, deeper depths of winter, she would wear her trusty cobalt knee high boots. The headband replaced with an electric blue beret. The accessories? Well they would still be the same. She had a vision in mind for the future though. Christmas day approaching, mere weeks away. The dress that would become her budget friendly Christmas outfit. That would make her the Belle of the ball. Sitting there in the comfiest of dresses, spearing garlic roast potatoes into her ravenous mouth.
Price: £27 was £48 ( in their sale section prices range from £11-£37)
And so her budget friendly Christmas gifts were wrapped up in a bow. Working tirelessly though the hush of the frost-kissed hour of night. The magic of the festive season weaving through the air, the world adorned in a snowy embrace. For there was a blanket of stars peeping through the sky, a dull twinkle. A whisper of joy dancing in the winter breeze, her eyes lighting up with childish wonder. The moon was soft, a haze blurred around the edges. In the distance echoes of carols floated in the cold air. Their lilting voices like cracked honey, interrupted by the steady flow of cars that ran across the street. She wandered back into the living room. Hardly believing that the presents were ready this early on. For Christmas was a time of giving back to others. Warm hearts showered in love. A longing to share, to bond, to feel. Letting the emotions wash over her in a healing cleanse. Warming the soul, like a fireside gathering. Joy like crackling embers in a flickering flame. But it was the life lesson that an affordable Christmas taught us that was most important of all. Finding the beauty of life, serene and pure. And that meaning? Compassion and hope, an optimism that never faltered. Bravery, and determination, a mindset that never gave up. This year, Christmas would be the greatest year of all.
What Budget Friendly Gift Ideas Are On Your Wishlist?
AD. Please note I was gifted budget friendly Christmas products in exchange for this blog post, but all thoughts are my own and are not affected by gifting. I was not paid for this blog post.