Bag a bargain
The festive party season is over but don’t be downhearted. A tight budget doesn’t mean spending the first six weeks of the year glued to the sofa. January is the month to snap up a bargain and Karin Goodwin has scoured the country for the best offers, from bargain basement food and drink to learning a new language for free or dancing the tango into the wee small hours. Snap up the best seasonal travel offers, cheapest tickets for cinema, theatre and gigs or follow our tips to learn a useful new skill that will cost next to nothing
Going for a song
January is a great time to check out up-and-coming bands for free. Remember, even the most unpromising nights can be historic. On the west coast, Mono, Stereo, 78, the Liquid Ship and Tchai Ovna all have exciting free line-ups. In Edinburgh head for Bannerman’s, Whistlebinkies or Cabaret Voltaire, where Duty Free, the season of free gigs organised in conjunction with The List, running throughout January. Also go to page 6 for 2 for 1 Celtic Connections tickets or visit www.vicetour.com for free tickets to the Vice magazine new band showcase at the ABC.
Classical fans can enjoy lunchtime concerts organised by Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, and if you’re 26 or under you can nab a RSNO £5 ticket card, which gives you entry to Mahler’s Symphony No 4 at Royal Concert Hall on 9 Feb and the Festival Theatre on the 10 Feb.
If you’re planning a trip to the theatre, choose a bargain slot. Opt for Wednesday and Saturday matinees at the Royal Lyceum and save on Traverse tickets by booking a week in advance. In Glasgow, the Citizens’ and Tron theatres both do discounted tickets for previews of their in-house work, which includes Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Citz in February (£3 and £6 on Tuesday nights). Meanwhile, comedy lovers can save hundreds of pounds over the course of the year by taking out an annual membership for the Stand Comedy Club at just £12.
Clubland is traditionally fairly quiet during January but there are always promotions to be found. One option is to go Latin. Tango socials or ‘milongas’ are springing up everywhere. In Glasgow try the free event in Blackfriars basement every Wednesday. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, there are milongas in the Counting House (above the Blind Poet pub) on Sundays and Tuesdays for a mere £3. Lessons can be arranged at www.edinburghtango.org.uk. The Glasgow-based Dancehouse is also hosting a free taster session of various dance styles above Sloans pub on 19 Jan.
Take a break
So what if you’ve just had two weeks off work? Being nice to relatives and forcing down leftover turkey can be taxing. It’s time for a cheap getaway. Close to home, VisitScotland (www.visitscotland.com) is offering three nights in country house hotels such as the Eileen Iarmain in Skye, the Cluny Bank in Forres or Achray House in Crieff for just £99, and there are also decent discounts on holiday cottages across the country. If you’re heading to London, there are free tickets for grabs for fashion designer Christopher Kane’s alternative celebrity Burns Night party in Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge. The lucky winners get to dance to tunes spun by Pam Hogg and Edith Bowman, drink whisky cocktails and mingle with the likes of Jasmine Guinness and Margo Stilley. You can also win luxury breaks in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Visit www.visit scotland.com/harveynichols to enter.
Plenty of airlines are also having January sales. Book any flight with British Airways (www.ba.com) before 22 Jan and get up to a quarter off, while Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com) also has discount deals. Meanwhile, providing you are flexible, why not try a courier flight? All major courier companies use commercial flights to transport their goods and need someone to hand over the paperwork in person when the plane reaches its destination. In return they offer deep discounts on single seats on mainstream routes. The downside is that the companies only leave for limited destinations from London Heathrow, but if you’re trying to get to somewhere exotic on the cheap this could be your best option.
New Year, new look
According to Mary McGowne, founder of the Scottish Style Awards, the January designer sales, which offer up to 70% in the final weeks, are the time to pick up quality clothing that would normally be out of budget.
‘Try to avoid trendy places as these will date quickly,’ she advises. ‘If they are in the sale they are probably on their way out already. Always ask yourself if you would have paid full price for an item. If not, leave it on the shelf.’
Sale shopping, she claims, should be about snapping up classics that can be mixed and matched with vintage pieces to give you a unique look.
‘Designer shops like Cruise and Harvey Nichols have excellent sales and offer great value for money,’ she says. For a free makeover book and style advisor service, head for Glasgow’s Argyle Street branch of Topshop. An advisor will go over your budget, likes and dislikes when you book and have all the garments in appropriate sizes waiting in the VIP dressing room when you arrive. ‘If someone just wanted a few sale pieces we could cater for that,’ explains Cheryl Coyle, senior sales advisor. ‘We have tops from £6. Or if they wanted to try out a new look they had seen in a magazine we could show them how to copy it on a budget.’ There is no obligation to buy. In the capital try similar services at Harvey Nichols, Frasers and Jenners.
Winter is the ideal time to curl up with a movie. There’s £1 off all tickets at Edinburgh’s Cameo on Mondays, and membership costs £25, which gets you £1.50 off each visit, free access to Sunday afternoon matinees and invites to special events. If you can bunk off work early on a Friday afternoon films starting before 5pm at the Filmhouse are just £3.50. Cineworld’s Unlimited discount card costs £14.99 per month, giving you access as often as you like. For a one-off payment of £30, Glasgow’s GFT will give you £1 off each ticket purchased, as well as limited vouchers to bring a friend for free plus money off in the café bar, while Friday afternoon flicks are a snip at £3.
Glasgow Philosophical Society (www.royalphil.arts.gla.ac.uk) holds regular free lectures at Strathclyde University’s John Anderson building which have proved enormously popular and surprisingly social. On the east coast, tickets for the now annual Edinburgh lectures (www.edinburghlectures.org) almost always sell out. All the city universities offer evening and lunchtime public lectures and both the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) and the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) hold talks tied to new shows and existing exhibits. NGS also offers a Friends package for £35, which gets you a more extensive lecture package as well as unlimited free entry to exhibitions and invites to previews.
If you’re a secret scribbler why not join a writer’s group? The Scottish Poetry Library (www.spl.org.uk) has a good list of free literary circles. Alternatively, check out workshops on such subjects as how to make a film on a microbudget at the CCA on 22 Jan (£2 with a complimentary drink) or the Lighthouse’s design challenges for creative types, which are held every third Saturday of the month. For a tenner, the next session, Old Bag, which takes place on 19 Jan, will help you transform that tired old shopper into something far more glamorous. In a similarly creative vein, closet knitters can come out at a Stitch and Bitch meet-up. See www.stitchnbitch.co.uk for details of your nearest group.
According to Charles Shaw, co-founder of www.5pm.co.uk, January is the best month to eat out on a budget. ‘Restaurants want to fill tables but less people want to go out so they are prepared to offer some great deals to tempt them,’ he says. ‘That means that you can eat a two course meal in some great restaurants for as little as £10. It can actually be cheaper than staying in and getting a take-away.’
Glasgow restaurant promotions currently on the 5pm bookings website include a two-for-one main course offer at Mr Singh’s and £10 for two pre-theatre courses at 78 St Vincent Street, while the Michelin-starred Abode is offering the same deal for £9.95 while Rococo offers a pre-theatre menu for £15 with a free glass of bubbly.
In Edinburgh, the Raj Restaurant has two courses for £10.50, the Shore is offering its 5pm menu for £10 and the Bisque Bar and Brasserie is giving away a free bottle of wine to couples ordering from the brasserie menu. Dine Around Edinburgh, a joint promotion between VisitScotland and the Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association, which is offering two-course lunches and dinners at some of the city’s top eateries for a fixed price of £15 is a January highlight. This year, 30 top restaurants are participating and the promotion will run until 28 Feb. See www.eatscotland.visitscotland.com
In Edinburgh, the Mosque Kitchen at Edinburgh Central Mosque is great value: your plate will be piled high with the curry of the day, rice or naan for just £3. Back on the west coast, go back to basics at the Horseshoe bar with their famous three course lunch for £3.75 or a pie for a pound, back on the menu by popular demand.
Do something for nothing
If you’ve still got free time on your hands, you might want to think about what you can give back by volunteering. No matter what your skill set or interests you’ll be able to find an organisation near you looking for help.
Fancy helping out with drama workshops for people with learning difficulties, researching non-nuclear alternatives for CND, getting involved in a community garden for people with mental health issues or even volunteering with your pet to cheer up old people at your local care home? You could use existing skills to help your favourite charity with fundraising, events organisation or PR.
The opportunities are all there according to Alison Bielecka, programme leader of Volunteer Development Scotland, and most should be fairly straightforward to set up. Enter your postcode on www.volunteerscotland.org.uk and browse the opportunities in your area or drop into your local volunteer centre for advice. ‘And it’s okay to want to get something back from your volunteering,’ says Bielecka. ‘It might be new skills or experience for your CV, a way of meeting new people or even trying out a new career.’
Who says you can’t get something for nothing?
WEB OF INTRIGUE
These sites will help ease the spend and increase the potential for fun in 2008
www.gumtree.com So, you promised to get fit, learn a new skill and make the most of your life but those New Year resolutions aren’t impossible. Joining your local football, hockey or running team can be a great way to motivate yourself when it’s cold and wet outside. Both the Edinburgh and Glasgow sections of www.gumtree.com have a number of posts from people looking for new members for everything from five-aside football teams to horse-riding meet-ups and even joining a band if you are of a musical bent. It is also packed with posts offering language swaps: exchange English lessons for tuition in Spanish, Polish or Arabic.
www.dada.co.uk The first month’s membership is free, after which there is a £5.99 charge though the fee may be waived in the near future. DADA sends out short notice invites to free events such as new bar and restaurant launches, high street store fashion shows and film, theatre, opera or ballet previews. ‘It depends on your interests and profile,’ says Jenny Wallace, head of events, ‘but you could get invites to around seven or eight events a month. The idea is that you get to try out something you might otherwise not usually go for.
Events on DADA’s books in Glasgow in the next month include the launch of the Alea Casino in Pacific Quay, a new magazine launch, and a film club event at the GFT. In Edinburgh, look out for events in collaboration with the Royal Lyceum Theatre and fashion retailers Reiss and Daks.
www.lovefilm.com This mail order DVD service is currently offering a 14-day trial – you need never leave the sofa again.
BEST FOR LESS
Snap up quality products without breaking the bank
If your shopping budget makes even Primark seem extravagant, why not become a mystery shopper and get paid to exercise your consumer muscle as you check out services undercover. Rachel Hudson, business development manager at Mystery Shoppers Ltd, says applicants who sign up need to be flexible. ‘You name it, we’ve shopped for it,’ she says.
Recent client briefs range from simple shopping trips to home cleaning services. The more glamorous include a trip to Malaga to check the quality of in-flight service, while one group of ‘shoppers’ was recently sent undercover to a London table top dancing bar. Pay varies depending on the complexity of the job, from £15 to well over £100, and can include perks such as free goods and restaurant meals. To apply go to www.mystery-shoppers.co.uk or try Field Facts (www.fieldfacts.com) or Research International (www.research-int.com).
If you’re not prepared to work for it, you could swap your way to consumer fulfilment. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have active Freecycle networks (www.freecycle.org); recent users report snapping up a palm pilot, a new mobile phone handset and some stylish wool for a knitting project, all of which would otherwise have gone to landfill. For fashion, check out the newly launched www.whatsmineisyours.com, and, failing that, go DIY and hold your own swap shop. Get your friends round and hopefully end up with armfuls of new treasures. If swapping won’t cut it, check out promotional code websites such as www.retailmenot.com and www.myvouchercodes.co.uk before making any big purchases online. Offers change all the time, but by using the discount codes they let you in on, there are great savings to be made on purchases from major retailers such as John Lewis, Boots and Argos.