How to plan your finances effectively as a student

I’ve been studying full time now for over a month and I have to say that the change of pace to my life is dramatic. I’m currently trying to balance running my household, with school runs, laundry and meals to prepare, alongside attending lectures and wanting to read as much as possible around my subject. One thing I do not like to think about is my money, or the lack thereof.

This time last year I was in a full time job and would think nothing of pausing for a drink in a coffee shop or buying lunch on the go. My income has drastically changed now and I am living on student finance which here in the U.K. is something every student can apply for in order to cover tuition fees and a maintenance loan. I know we are very lucky to have this, but at the same time this does not cover the full cost of living at the pace you are accustomed to and so budgeting has to happen.

It’s also worth noting that student loans are repayable – wherever you study – the advice on this changes regularly but it’s usually recoverable as a percentage of your salary once you earn over a certain threshold. So where does this leave students. Individual subjects and university’s can offer grants and bursaries. This is worth looking in to – I found out today that next year, students who are studying my exact course will be eligible for a £15,000 bursary because the subject is in demand. Of course this is a little sting in the teeth right now for me as I won’t get that support but it’s great for future applicants to know that this is an option.

I am of course trying to manage my “side hustle” which is blogging right here whilst I continue to study. This is perfect for me as I can fit in work around my busy schedule and being freelance, I can pause when I need to focus on my studies. Many students take a part time job to support themselves and many university towns have a thriving hospitality industry. The first time around I worked in restaurants and bars where I could get free or heavily discounted meals to avoid the student budget friendly food. Working along side studying can be tough in terms of time management but it helps cover the little perks such as that coffee shop trip which I couldn’t otherwise justify.

One thing I will say now that I am older and wiser is that it’s really easy to get stuck financially as a student. I wish I had been more savvy the first time around. Banks offer student accounts with overdrafts and credit – offering incentives such as student rail cards to open accounts – all I will say is do some research and do not spend money which you don’t have, because at some point the interest and debt will come back to bite you. There’s many online comparison sites which will help you compare different financial offers.

One of my biggest regrets first time around was getting a computer on a finance agreement. I thought I needed it for my course when in fact the University had all the resources I could need available. The technology was out dated before I even finished the course and I was still paying for it. This time around I have spent the minimal amount on a second hand laptop, only in order to work from home with online lectures. Lots of students end up having financial regrets so ask yourself “is it worth it?” with every decision you make.

Think very carefully about mobile phone contracts too. Everyone always wants the latest technology, and these contracts can tie you in for two to three years. You end up paying a monthly fee which covers the cost of the service and the device sometimes up to three fold. If you can, look for a second hand device from a reputable retailer – one upfront cost – and then invest in a sim only contract which can be as low as £10 a month. You’ll save more in the long run, and you really do not need the best device – you’ll probably drop and break it anyway. Of course try and avoid making the mistakes of purchasing items from scammers – it’s easy to fall in to this trap too.

It goes without saying: Plan your food shopping, create meal plans and budget accordingly. Do not wander around a supermarket when you are hungry. Try budget shops with own label items rather than paying over the odds for branded products. Work with your housemates to plan meals and be more cost effective. Learn to be thrifty. The same goes for clothing – there is a huge market for reselling clothes now, and if you head to charity shops in “nice” areas you’re likely to find designer brands and high quality items. In the same vein of thinking, use online apps to sell items you no longer need and earn some extra cash.

Of course leaving university with student debt can be a daunting thought but it does not have to be. There is some great advice here which will help with managing repayments of student loans for my American readers, but also applies to my U.K. readers who are struggling to manage debt too. There seems to be a real stigma applied to discussing debt, but almost every home owner has a mortgage and car owner has a finance package. People use credit cards to build up their credit rating and anyone who’s attended higher education will have tuition fee loans.

Thirty days of mindfulness

I’m a huge fan of thirty day challenges, I’ve written about all sorts of different things I’ve tried in the past – from squat challenges which get increasingly tougher to more creative challenges where your skills develop as you try out a new make up technique every day. One thing I’ve been really focusing on is mindfulness. Over the lockdown I found compulsory online zoom calls for this appearing in my work calendar and I used to scoff at it because I didn’t really understand. I’d pop the sessions on, mute it and scroll through Instagram instead. Then when I left my job in December and suddenly felt the pressure and workload from work was lifted I realised just how stressed I had been.

I began to explore mindfulness and different techniques to find my inner calm. I started wearing a Fitbit to track my fitness but at forst I found it more interesting to monitor my sleep patterns – being a self confessed social media addict I realised I was going to bed and not “switching off” until way past midnight most evenings and this was having an impact on my sleep patterns. My scores were terrible. Releasing I had a problem is the first step but doing something about it isn’t quite so easy, especially when social media is a viable income source and I had committed to blogging and freelance writing projects in between my changing career plan.

I don’t know if it’s ironic, but using technology has helped me massively. I set myself personal boundaries on my phone – you can monitor your screen time from settings and then set yourself time limits for apps – I have a daily limit for social media which I have stuck to for six months. I also have a “down time” – I can only access essential apps between midnight and 6am unless I ignore the reminders – and so far I’ve managed to exert some self control and stick to my limits more often than not. This is despite me using my phone to run my blog and social media accounts.

This time away from my mobile screen has enabled me to explore other things – I have been writing from my laptop and have spent some time creating myself a home office set up, so that when I do need to work I’m in a productive environment and not hunched over a mobile device. This also helps massively when working from home with children – Arlo knows that when I’m in my office space I’m not to be disturbed, I set him up in his room next door with an invitation to play and he likes to independently create his own small worlds with his train sets and fire station. Once my work is done, I step away and can join in with him. Previously I would have tried to work from my phone in a shared space with Arlo and it just wouldn’t be productive. Now I can get something done and dusted in half an hour with some focus.

So once I finally got myself in to a decent work / life balance routine it was just around the time that the gyms opened up again – I signed myself up and started to head out to workout classes. I realised quite quickly that I needed to do more, Cardio was a major issue for me, and I found myself struggling at first. I had what was diagnosed as “atypical” pneumonia in February of 2020 and it took me about three months to fully recover – of course the sceptic in me thinks I probably had some sort of long covid but at the time I wasn’t able to get tested. Then almost a year of lockdowns meant that my fitness levels had declined – I struggled to participate in a short 40 minute Zumba class whereas before I would do two hour long classes back to back and jog home, not to mention participating in mud runs at the weekend for fun.

Again I went back to technology – monitoring my heart-rate and steps during workouts is a great motivator – you can see how many calories you’re burning and try and beat your own targets in every class. I noticed improvements as the weeks passed and in about six weeks managed to lose a stone in body weight, inches from my waist and just felt an overall sense of well-being. As my overall fitness improved I found my breathing also improved naturally and I’m back to doing two classes back to back. I’m not quite ready to sign up to a tough mudder but I can see it on the horizon! I do realise however that for some it’s not been quite so simple. The long lasting damage that the new “C who shall not be named” has done is something which we will be researching for years to come.

This topic is one I’ve discussed with many people and something I’ve been hearing lots about is the Powerbreathe breathing trainer – and being such a fan of technology given my own personal experiences I was keen to find out more.

Powerbreathe are a company who have been making Inspiratory Muscle training (IMT) tools since the 90s, and they were recently recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a great tool in COVID-19 recovery. The POWERbreathe has a wide use of applications for a wide range of people. IMT is scientifically proven to benefit patients with respiratory illness and healthy people, including athletes at all levels of competition, including Olympians.

I’m not an Olympian by any means but learning about this did get me to thinking about my breathing and my mindfulness again. I’ve been setting my watch to remind me to participate in guided breathing exercises – I have my own personal mindfulness tracker where I have learnt the basics of meditation and it all starts with breathing. I’ve also tried out some yoga and body balance classes – at the gym and online over the summer and been applying breathing techniques during these which I find helps me to focus, get deeper stretches and I’ve recently noticed that my balance seems to have improved as I focus on my breathing.

I like to approach things like meditation and mindfulness now with an open mind. I create my own versions of a thirty day challenge and I find that if I commit to something new for this short duration then it quickly becomes a habit and a lifestyle change. I start with a couple of minutes of a single simple exercise a day and then build it up and by the end of the month I notice the positive impacts and these new lifestyle changes quickly become a habit rather than a challenge.

Breathing is something I didn’t even really think about until I found myself gasping for breaths and reaching for an inhaler last Easter and this last eighteen months has taught me not to take anything for granted anymore.

A journey to health and wellness

I’ve written previously about how I lost a sense of self over lockdown. A year of sitting at home with nothing to do but bake really had an impact on my waist line which in turn had an impact on my identity.

As the world tentatively re-opened I decided I needed to turn things around and completely overhauled my lifestyle. I started at home with thirty days challenges for myself. Some based on fitness and others on my mental health, and some just for fun. I also began to change the way I eat and incorporated exercise in to my routines.

Then the summer holidays arrived and all routine went out of the window. With a four year old snack monster it would have been easy to slip back in to old habits and I certainly struggle to find time to head to the gym but I was set a little challenge by the team at Everyone Active. We participated in their week long everyone is family challenge – designed to promote health and wellness and make it fun for all the family.

There are four different week long programmes you can choose to participate in, each with a range of activities designed to make it fun for families to engage in sports and healthy activities together, at your local leisure centre or even from the comfort of your own home.

We chose our activities together from the adventure programme (of course) and decided to attempt a family swim session first of all. Arlo and Paloma are both aged 4, Lincoln is 6 and Logan is 9 so it’s been a challenge finding activities this summer which are appropriate and engaging for all of them to enjoy, but they all love the water so it was a great place to start.

On our first visit to the leisure centre we noticed the clip and climb walls and not being the type of kids to shy away from a challenge they insisted we book in for a session. With even the little ones feeling confident and wanting to brave the heights. There’s nothing more energising than getting to the top of a wall! We had a great time cheering each other on and conquering the heights.

This week we have also been participating in fun together outdoors – the activity planner suggested a bike ride but I couldn’t get four in the car to take to the park so we opted for scooters instead – the beauty of these activity plans is that they’re flexible and can be adapted to suit your family. We have been touring our local area and enjoying open spaces. I wear my fit bit and keep an eye on my step count so even if I can’t get to the gym I know I can hit my 10,000 step target which is easily achievable when chasing after these kids.

Of course I managed to squeeze in a couple of hours for myself, and I’ve been doing group exercise classes. I find working out in classes to be really motivating, I always want to finish the sets and pull another rep out of the bag when I see other people beside me putting the work in. I’ve been attending group classes since gyms’s opened their doors back in May and the support from others attending the classes is incredible too. It can be really intimidating attending a class for the first time but my advice is always to just go for it.

After all of this activity it seemed only fair to book in to visit the spa at Bromsgrove Leisure Centre, purely to give the place a thorough review. A couple of hours to myself relaxing and enjoying a treatment is just what I need after all of that hard work!

Everyone Active has leisure centres across the U.K. with a full schedule of family friendly activities and adult workout out classes to enjoy this summer holiday – and beyond. Check out your local leisure centre and find out what’s on, you could start your own family challenge, get the kids active and start your wellness journey.

Membership provided for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.


The important things you forget to consider when you have children

Noone likes to think about emergencies and unplanned circumstances when you’re wrapped up in the joy of a newborn baby. I’m writing this as a parent to a four year old and thinking about how much my circumstances have changed in that short period of time is crazy. I could never have anticipated a global pandemic, never mind a burglary, three house moves and a complete career change.

Prior to having children I was a go with the flow kind of person, if anything bad ever happened, I was able to manage and adapt as it was only me to think about. I had a decent paying job and if my washing machine blew up I could go and replace it using a credit card and just cancel a night out and a shopping trip to cover the costs.

One time my whole apartment flooded – I was having a new shower installed and the fitter managed to drill through a water pipe and hadn’t turned off the mains supply. He stood trying to plug the hole with his finger and by the time I he got hold of me to find out where the mains tap was my apartment was flooded throughout. I think it took a good three weeks to dry out the water damage. I did have insurance to cover the cost of new flooring and redecorating but it all took a while to get assessed and organised. In the meantime I showered at the gym or at work, and tip toed around the apartment when it resembled a building site.

The thought of having no water for even a day now when Arlo is such a magnet for mess fills me with dread. Every time I plan to decorate I make sure he’s well out of the way. Everything I do now requires a lot more planning, trying to anticipate the worst so that if anything does go wrong I’m not left in an awkward financial situation. This came in handy a couple of years ago when I was the unfortunate victim of a household burglary, where thieves entered my home and stole belongings, personal possessions as well as helping themselves to my car keys.

The car insurance policy I had in place covered a delivery of a courtesy car the very next day and I also was covered for replacement of car seats which would have been expensive to replace. We also had a locksmith come out and change every external and internal lock at a considerable expense, again covered by insurance. Admittedly I did have to learn the hard way a couple of years ago about “gap” insurance. When a previous car of mine was written off in an accident the insurance payed out the value of the car at the time, which wasn’t enough to cover the money I owed in car finance. Luckily I only had a small amount to pay off – but I was left with no money to fund a deposit on a replacement car and had to dip in to my savings. I’ve never made that mistake again.

Talking of savings – my rainy day savings depleted very quickly before Arlo even arrived. Nothing prepares you for the amount of stuff a newborn baby needs – my advice to all of those expecting their first child is to not go crazy but of course everyone wants to when it’s your first. Making sure you’re household insurance covers the value of all of the extra items “just in case” is a great idea – cots, prams and car seats are amongst the most expensive purchases I’ve ever made. When you’re on maternity leave with a very limited income, if anything goes wrong you need to know you can replace it immediately with the right protection and cover on household appliances.

I actually keep a paper file which has all the household appliances and guarantee certificates. From the TV to the kettle and everything else in between. I check the cover and guarantee certificates which comes with large purchases and add a calendar reminder in my phone to alert me a month before they expire. I recently had my boiler serviced within its guarantee time frame, and the technician found a part needed replacing, the cost of which was covered. If I had waited for it to go wrong, and Sod’s law it would go wrong the day after the guarantee runs out then I would have had to cover that expense myself.

It therefore makes sense to also protect yourself too against any unforeseen circumstances. Getting life insurance policies and changing the beneficiaries of your will to include your children is something which makes complete sense to organise. Not a nice thing to have to talk about in the but a necessary one. Income Protection is also another type of insurance to put in to place – covering your essential outgoing expenses should you be unable to work due to sickness or injury.

Prior to having Arlo I worked full time and had all sorts of employee benefits and insurance policy covers, but after maternity leave I dropped my hours to part time and then eventually changed my job – just like many parents end up doing. That’s a whole new topic to discuss another day, but it’s important to recognise that many part time or zero hour contracts which are sadly more likely to be occupied by mothers have sick pay policies which fall short, often paying out less than you anticipate.

I never would have thought that I would find myself making plans for lockdowns, for working from home and for school closures. Is impossible to predict what the future may bring, but you can make plans to be able to get yourself and your family through whatever the future holds.

How to express your personality through your choice of brooches

When I got my nose pierced at 19 years of age, my father didn’t understand it. I told him it was an act of self-expression, something that made me look more like the person I felt I was. In his mind, that meant it must have been a sign of insecurity; I must not have been comfortable enough with what I looked like sans piercing, therefore I was insecure in needing it. I told him he was wrong. The way I see it, I will only ever live in my body for my entire life, so you’d best believe I’m going to decorate a little and personalise this vessel to my tastes.

Needless to say, the topic didn’t come up again.

Self-expression is an important part of any human’s life, whether that self-expression is done through wearing jewellery, or questioning other people’s decisions to do what they want with their own bodies as legal adults that can make their own decisions (looking at you, dad). Telling the world who you are through jewellery is a fun practice that boosts your confidence and your mood instantly.

So, let’s get to the brooches.

Using brooches to express your personality can be as fun and playful or edgy and serious as you are. Over time, there have been so many different iterations of the brooch concept that you’re bound to find something that’s right up your street. With brooches coming back in a big way at the moment, there’s no better time to start learning about what they can do for you.

Victorian Victories

In the world of antique brooches, there are so many different designs, styles, shapes, and sizes to see you through. Some of the oldest brooches widely available on the market today are from the Victorian period. These beauties are likely to have all sorts of neat themes; nature was a big influence on the Victorians, with birds and flowers being most prominent on their brooches. Bows come in a close second, making Victorian jewellery very twee and romantic for the wearers of today.

Victorian brooches are perfect for: Granny-chic styles that let everyone know you have wisdom beyond your years.

Edwardian Effervescence

The transition from Victorian to Edwardian brooches can be seen through the quality of the pieces themselves. At the turn of the century, platinum started to be used in great quantities when making jewellery, and it was strong enough that designs could become exceptionally intricate and detailed whilst still maintaining their structural integrity. In Edwardian brooches, you’ll find lots of platinum, diamonds, and fine details like floral designs and delicate curves and arches littered with diamonds.

Edwardian brooches are perfect for: Traditionalists who enjoy the finer things in life such as being refined and elegant at all times.

Art Deco Allure

The Art Deco period, stretching roughly from the 1920s to the 1940s, saw innovations of all kinds in the design world. Symmetry reigns supreme in Art Deco brooches, with complex patterns made up from simplistic geometric shapes. The white-on-white aesthetic was a big part of Art Deco jewellery, with diamonds and platinum coexisting in perfect harmony. You’ll find duette brooches here too, where one single brooch comes apart into two matching pieces that can be worn individually. Innovation was key to the Art Deco period, and even a century later, there’s nothing quite like it.

Art Deco brooches are perfect for: Cutting-edge style queens who like to be at the forefront of fashion as much as possible.

Vintage Verve

As we enter the midst of the 20th century, we step into the real delights of vintage brooches. Yellow gold becomes more prominent than it has been for a while, with the warmth of the metal being welcomed back into the fold. Animal designs remain popular, particularly birds (there’s something about birds and brooches – you can’t keep them apart). Carved gemstones in the form of flower petals are also a feature, with colourful enamel being used as a popular accent. Generally, brooches from this period were playful and cute, with highly feminine designs.

Vintage brooches are perfect for: Tea-dress wearing, feminine ladies who enjoy all things adorable in life.

Whatever element of your personality you’d like to express, brooches can be of service to you. Wear them on jacket lapels, incorporate them into your hairstyle, attach your scarf with them, whatever makes you feel like the most authentic version of yourself!

My small business – SnotRagz

Setting up a small business is no mean feat. I started during my maternity leave as I needed something to do which could be worked on from home and occupy my time, as I was finding myself up at all hours unable to sleep, and it seemed that this midnight hour was also the time a lot of mums were online and available to talk to so I ended up finding a fabulous online community which led to forming friendships and more lucrative opportunities.

My business was originally all about finding clothes for Arlo as I was really disappointed with the clothing on the high street. The boys sections in particular seemed to be awash with navy, denim and cartoon character t shirts, none of which helped express his personality. With a background in graphic design and my illustrator mum to help I started creating my own designs and sharing them on my Instagram business page, and so my business evolved to become what it is today.

I’ll never forget the day I asked Arlo what he wanted on his t shirt for the day and he insisted on having a giant ant with all its body parts labelled, I was horrified at first but thought that it was very suited to him and it became an instant hit because so many little ones love hunting for bugs and creatures. Opening up custom order slots or surprise /mystery parcels was one of my favourite things to do as it gave me full creative licence.

After lots of trial and error I think I’ve nailed the sublimation process which is how I print my designs on to white t shirts – I’ll write about that in more detail over the summer but I do also love working with heat transfer vinyl because there’s more versatility with texture and I can use different coloured t shirts.

I’ve paused my small business recently as I have decided now to venture in to pastures new, and will be training next year to become a design and technology teacher. I’ll be sharing lots of creative craft projects and small business hints and tips whilst I have the summer off and I’m going to re-open my small business for a short time. To celebrate I’m offering one competition winner a free personalised t shirt. (Terms and conditions apply)

Click here or the picture below to enter

Looking after your teeth during pregnancy

I’ve written before about my horrific pregnancy experience. I suffered with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is basically extreme sickness throughout the entire nine months, and not limited to just mornings either. I was so weak and dehydrated that I was hospitalised several times. It wasn’t a great time for me.

Of course during this period I was extremely anxious and worried about a multitude of things, mainly concerning the baby growing inside me, and how feeling so unwell was affecting my ability to do my job but also spent a lot of time feeling anxious about my own health and well-being. My hair started to become brittle and weak and my teeth became something of a fixation.

Oral health needs particular attention during pregnancy. Teeth and gums are especially vulnerable to problems during this time. The reason again is hormonal: during pregnancy, women experience a significant boost in female sex hormones. In fact, women produce more estrogen during a single pregnancy than throughout the rest of their lives.

This surge in hormones is designed to help ligaments relax and to improve the formation of blood vessels, all of which allows a baby to grow and thrive in the womb. It’s good for the baby, of course, but not for the gums, which are at increased risk of periodontal disease as a result. The problem is compounded by the fact that during pregnancy we have a reduced flow of saliva, whose natural antimicrobial and antiviral properties would normally help to protect the teeth and gums. To make matters worse, women often crave high-energy, sweet foods that pose additional threats to the teeth.

“Maintaining good oral health during the prenatal period improves the oral health outcomes of the mother and the baby and may potentially improve pregnancy outcomes.” – Applied Nursing Research 2010

As well as this I was also concerned about the impact increased vomiting and excessive saliva was having inside my mouth, and I felt the need to brush my teeth much more often, but being extremely sensitive to taste and smell this act in itself made me wretch. There are some obvious and less-obvious solutions to hormone-induced oral health issues.

 

First, maintain a thorough home-cleaning and hygiene regime: brush your teeth regularly and use floss and interdental brushes.

 

Second, visit your dentist. This has become more difficult during the period of the pandemic, but dentists are best placed to advise on, and alleviate, any oral issues caused by hormonal changes. During pregnancy and twelve months post part in you are entitled to free NHS dental care which is a bonus.

 

Third, and perhaps less intuitively, chew sugar-free chewing gum. Research by the Department of Dentistry at King’s College London in 2019 found that people who chew sugar-free gum develop 28% fewer cavities than those who do not. The equivalent figure for fluoride toothpastes and other supplements was 24%.

Sugar-free chewing gum alleviates inflamed gums and dry mouth by stimulating saliva production by up 10 to 12 times the normal amount. This saliva neutralizes acid, soothes inflammation and rids the mouth of bacteria and plaque.

 

Multiple studies show that good oral health means a healthy oral microbiome, which in turn translates into good overall health. This is even more pronounced during periods of stimulated hormonal change in women. This is normal and there are effective preventative measures to hand, such as home-care and sugar-free gum. These can alleviate symptoms and prevent to onset of more serious problems.

As a woman it’s important to take note and maintain good oral hygiene as fluctuating hormones throughout our lives can also have an impact, from puberty and menstruation right through to the menopause – If you’ve ever noticed swollen or bleeding gums during your period, or ulcers, or swollen salivary glands, hormones may be to blame.

Top Tips to Enjoy the Sun Whilst Working From Home

We all wait for the summer months to arrive so we can bask in the British sun and get our money’s worth out of the deck chairs that spend most of their time stuffed into the garage. However, the reality is often really different when you’re stuck behind a desk for seven hours a day – even when you’re working from home. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of top tips that will help you to enjoy the sun and warm weather whilst still ticking off all of your to-do list.

Tip #1 – Make the most of your lunch break

As tempting as it is to make a quick lunch and collapse onto the couch with Netflix during your lunch break, or worse, skip your lunch break altogether, it’s one of the best times to get outside and enjoy the weather.

So prepare your lunch in advance, or prep something quick before grabbing your trainers and walking socks and heading out for a brisk lunchtime walk. This will allow you to bask in the beauty of the Great British weather whilst simultaneously getting some physical activity into your daily routine.

Tip #2 – Work outside

Ultimately, the best way to enjoy the sunshine when you’re working from home is to combine the two together. If you can work using a laptop, just move your office outside for the day. This could be in your garden, on a flat balcony, or even in the local park.

Lots of outdoor spaces have free wifi, especially if you can situate yourself near a cafe. Alternatively, use your mobile phone as a data point for your laptop. This is a great way to soak up some Vitamin D, and reduce your sunshine FOMO.

If you’re worried about screen glare, you can use this helpful hack guide that shows you how to create a DIY Laptop Sun Shade using household items, or alternatively set yourself up under a parasol such as this beautiful option from Lakeland Furniture.

Tip #3 – Work near a window

Sometimes, your day is just too jam packed with meetings and deadlines to get outdoors. If this happens, the best thing to do is make sure you’re working near a window so that you can still enjoy some sunlight exposure without disrupting your daily routine.

Research shows that people who sit in close proximity to a window are more likely to find creative solutions to problems at work, whilst also experiencing better sleep patterns than colleagues who sat away from their windows.

Plus, you can often feel the heat of the sun through your window, so grab your favourite summer outfit and your sunglasses, and settle in for a bright, sunny and productive day working from home.

Whilst it may not be possible to head to the beach during your working day (unless you’re feeling brave with your mobile data!), it’s certainly possible to add some extra sunlight to your daily routine, brightening up your work day.

Virtual First Dates

I was asked to think about online dating by some of my friends when I became single a couple of years ago and I brushed off the idea very quickly. Then lockdown happened and suddenly I’ve become used to having my social life existing online. In fact technology made lockdown almost bearable and suddenly the notion of online dating didn’t seem quite so daunting to me. With a little bit of encouragement from the “group chat” I started to think about what my perfect man would be like and wrote a tongue in cheek list.

Of course I have other important non-negotiables and this was only meant as a joke but then the girls group chat got out of hand and we started planning imaginary first dates with my “perfect man” – and we concluded that I would have to visit Belfast! Where else can you find the original locations for the Game of Thrones Set and that accent which is enough to make you fall in love? In fact it’s worth checking out this Belfast dating site

Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

An hours drive from Belfast is this gorgeous scenic rope bridge and you can book a guided tour which takes you along to some of the Game of Thrones filming locations. I can’t think of a better first date idea than getting out and about, and doing something like this which gives you plenty of opportunity to talk about a mutual hobby and share a new adventure, a great opportunity to really get to know someone.

The Botanic Gardens

In the centre of Belfast the perfect spot for a romantic picnic for me would be on the lawns outside the Botanic Gardens. I would suggest that my date and I bring each other surprise baked goods. If the way to a mans heart really is via their stomach then I could impress – but I could also test out their cooking skills too and that’s important to uncover because I’m never going to be a housewife.

The Giants Causeway

Back to the great outdoors. I haven’t visited for a long time but I remember being overwhelmed by the scenery in this spot. I reckon you could get an awesome #couplegoals selfie at sunset in this spot and then find a nice quiet pub en route back to the city to have a cosy drink and meal. There’s plenty to be found in and around Belfast and that’s probably a more traditional date idea.

The Grand Opera House

I love live music and events, and so any date of mine would have to accompany me to various different kinds of shows – from mosh pits to river dance and everything in between. Belfast has many live music venues and none more special than the Grand Opera House which has hosted some awesome music events.

Of course the city is a vibrant place and there’s plenty of more traditional opportunities for Belfast Dating. A thriving restaurant community and bustling city centre for shopping, not to mention clubs and bars galore. What started as a little joke between friends has now firmly planted a trip to Belfast on to my bucket list.