Planning the perfect – and affordable – Valentine’s Evening

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, love birds all over the country are beginning to plan special celebrations. Dinner, drinks, dancing, a show – all of these are traditional Valentine’s Day options, but they can often be quite costly. In fact, many businesses raise their rates on Valentine’s Day in order to cash in on what they think is a captive clientele!

Here a few ways to avoid those price hikes and celebrate in style – and on a budget.

  • Do your research and avoid set menus – Nearly every romantic bistro and atmospheric restaurant will be offering up set menus in order to serve as many seatings as possible – and earn a big profit whilst doing so. Set menus are often over priced and mediocre, and can set you back more than double what they are worth on a normal night. Call around to your favourite places and try to find one that is not offering a set menu; an a’la carte option will be more affordable and probably taste much nicer. Alternatively, select an option from Jay Rayner’s list of Britain’s best value restaurants.
  • Book your transportation in advance – Don’t make your beloved take public transport on Valentine’s Day! Splash out on a taxi – but definitely book in advance, as February 14th a very busy night for cabdrivers. Booking ahead will also get you the best rate, keeping money in your pocket for flowers and choccies.
  • Think outside the box – Red roses will be at a premium in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, so thinking outside the box can really save you some cash. Stunning orchids, lilies and gerberas are all likely to be more affordable and just as lovely.
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Chinese New Year in London – How to survive the crowds and have a great time!

February 8th marks the advent of Chinese New Year, a lunar festival celebrated by over one billion of the world’s population! All across China, Singapore, Taiwan, Southeast Asia and in the countless diasporic Chinatowns around the world, people are gathering with their families and preparing to enjoy a huge feast of dumplings, fresh fish, spring rolls, and niangao, a special New Year’s cake. It’syear of the monkey – as this is a clever animal, it is believed that 2016 will be a time for smart decisions.

London is known for its sizable ethnically Chinese population and its alluring Chinatown, and the capital knows how to throw a New Year’s Party like no other. Here are some top tips to help you enjoy this auspicious day with your loved ones.

  • Get there early for the parade – The annual Chinatown Parade will take place on Sunday, February 14th at 10:1, and like always, it promises to be a riot of sound, colour, light and magic. Little ones (and those young at heart) will be fascinated by the roaring dragon dance and pounding drums – just make sure you arrive early to secure a great viewing spot.
  • Book in advance – Are you dreaming of a gorgeous Chinese meal to help you ring in the year of the monkey? So too are many others! In order to ensure you get a table at your favourite Chinese restaurant, book in advance. In fact, the same advice goes for taxis – as this is sure to be a packed event in Soho, taxis will be at a premium. Book a taxi in advance to avoid hassle and to get a great price.
  • Celebrate with a beautiful lantern – Stunning paper lanterns are a beautiful and traditional way to help ring in the Chinese New Year. Between February 3rd and March 6th, Chiswick House Gardens are hosting a Magical Lantern Festival to honour the season.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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Ways to cut back in the New Year

Let’s face it – many of us probably over spent over the holiday season, whether it be on luxurious gifts, extravagant nights out or holidays abroad. In January, most people around the country are examining their bank accounts in shock and horror, and wondering what they can do in order to get their finances back on track. Here are a few surefire ways to cut back and get your pocketbook in better shape.

  • Shop for food at the end of the day – Whether you are singleton or the chief grocery shopper for a family of six, shopping for groceries at the end of the business day can save you heaps of money. All of the supermarket chains mark their food down near to closing time, and you can get excellent prices on meat, dairy, produce and ready meals. As long as you have space in your freezer you can reap the benefits and feed your household on a shoestring.
  • Order in advance – Whether you are planning to order train tickets, a holiday or a taxi cab, booking in advance helps you to get the best price possible. If you wait until the last minute, you are sure to pay extra surcharges and unfair fees – avoid these by planning ahead.
  • Head to the charity shop – Planning a big night out and need some new duds? Need a new set of crockery? Children outgrown their shoes? Head to the charity shop! By shopping at a charity shop you can save tons of money while still filling your shopping cart with high quality, gently used items.

By electing to cut down on spending and saving money in savvy ways, you can make a big dent in any debt and even start setting aside funds for a summer holiday.

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How to book a cheap winter holiday

Now that the annual Christmas and New Year’s whirlwind is over for another season, people are settling back into their regular routines, heading back to work, school and the daily grind. All of this monotony may have you craving a winter holiday, but is this possible on a tight post-Christmas budget?

Absolutely. Follow these simple tips in order to seek out a holiday that won’t drain your bank account.

  • Sign up for deal websites – Online vacation wholesalers such as Travelzoo, Secret Escapes and Amazon Local can all help you to book a lush hotel or tour for pennies on the pound. Whether you want to stay in the UK or travel abroad, these sites will save you a lot of money.
  • Book your transport in advance – As soon as you have flights or train times booked, make sure you pre-book any coaches or taxis that you will need to get to the station or airport. You can save a lot by pre-booking – make sure you get the best rates.
  • Travel light – Checking a bag costs hefty extra fees when you are travelling on one of the many budget airlines serving the UK – pack light and save money.
  • Scope the review sites for restaurant deals – Review sites such as Yelp and Tripadvisor can be a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down into – they often feature endless carping by nitpickers! That said, you can learn a lot about affordable restaurants, happy hour specials and two for one offers by doing your research on review sites.
  • Be flexible – Can you travel on Monday or Tuesday, instead of a Friday or Saturday? Midweek prices are often much lower than the same options booked on the weekend.
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Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Now that 2016 has begun, people around the planet are valiantly trying to stick to their New Year’s Resolutions and lose weight, gain muscle and give up unhealthy habits. That said, financial resolutions are often what people need the most, and cultivating a healthier relationship with money should be on your list if you truly want to kick off 2016 healthier, happier and less stressed.

Here are some easy financial resolutions that you can use to kick start your personal fiscal revolution!

  • Stop the online shopping – If you make one financial resolution this year, make it this one! Limit yourself to purchases made in person, and only shop online when the deals on objects you actually need are fantastic. Let the item sit in your ‘shopping cart’ for at least 48 hours before clicking “buy” – you’ll be amazed at how many ‘must-have’ items are actually forgettable. Here is a great list of tips to help you quell your online commerce addiction!
  • Book your travel plans in advance – Booking your travel in advance will save you money, whether you are planning a holiday, a taxi ride or a flight or train home to see your family. A few pounds here and there can really add up.
  • Visit with a financial planner – Yes, even college students and those without huge investment portfolios can benefit from a chat with a financial planner. Your bank or workplace HR department may even offer this service for free, and you can get on track to really start saving money, planning for retirement and getting your financial affairs in tip top shape.
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Last Minute New Year’s Eve Tips

It’s that time of year again – the hazy days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve when everything feels a little bit festive and most of the UK’s commerce grinds to a halt. It seems that the moment Boxing Day passes we all realise that New Year’s Eve is just around the corner, and if you are like most people out there, you may be caught unprepared!

If you are one of the millions out there who put off their New Year’s planning until after the chaos of Christmas, don’t fret – there is a still a small window of time in which you can make sure you are prepared for the big night. Don’t brave the night unprepared; follow these survival tips in order to enjoy December 31st to the hilt.

  • Plan your activities around one general area – Planning to eat supper in Soho, visit a house party in Walthamstow and finish the night at a bar in Balham? Probably isn’t going to happen on NYE! You should try to centre your activities around one general area in order to save time and engage in the maximum amount of revelry.
  • Make bookings whenever possible – While it may be edging towards the ‘last minute,’ you can still find great restaurants and bars that have space for a sumptuous NYE meal – despite thinking it would be impossible, I just booked an 8 course tasting menu at a hot new restaurant that has been featured all over Time Out London. Have hope, and give your top choice a bell.
  • Pre-book your transportation – Getting home after a late night of partying can be a real pain, not to mention cost a small fortune. Pre book your cab as soon as possible in order to guarantee your ride home at the best price possible.
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Last minute Christmas shopping survival tips

It’s the final stretch before Christmas – the last few shopping days remain before the big day, and hopefully you have finished buying presents and stocking stuffers for everyone on your list. If you still have a little (or a lot!) of last minute Christmas shopping left to do, here are some survival tips that can help you to get everything sorted in time for a lovely Noel.

  • Shop online with priority delivery – Many gift websites are offering next day or even same day delivery in the lead up to Christmas. You might have to pay a few quid extra, but the convenience and peace of mind is well worth the cost.
  • Forget the mall and head to the station – The shopping mall is one of the most hectic, chaotic and downright unpleasant places you can visit this time of year. Instead of braving the mall, visit the shops in your local large station. Great gifts from Lush, Oliver Bonas, Paperchase, Hotel Chocolat and more will put smiles on the faces of everyone on your last minute list.
  • When in doubt, head to the bookstore – Everyone loves receiving books at Christmas. Pair a couple of new releases with a classic or two, a bag of posh tea, a big mug and a pair of cozy socks – you’ve just created a perfect reading experience for your loved ones.
  • If you need to head into the thick of it, book a taxi – Don’t even think about braving public transport or driving your own car to the shops! Pre book a taxi in order to save money and ensure you aren’t left in the cold with bundles of gifts.
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Best Christmas Window Displays in London

One of the most magical things about the Christmas season are the stunning window displays that pop up in the department stores across the country. Dripping in details and featuring consumer goods that are guaranteed to tantalize everyone in the family, holiday window displays are a time honoured tradition across the UK. Here are just a few of our favourites in the capital.

  • Harrods – No list of Christmas windows is complete without featuring Harrods Department Store – their holiday displays are legendary. This year their theme is “Once Upon a Christmas,” a curious reimagining of classic fairy tales featuring their iconic character, Peter Pumpernickel.
  • Selfridges – This year, Selfridges has decided to do things a little differently for their world famous Christmas windows – they have decided to theme their décor around the Christmas star with “Journey to the Stars.” The windows are bedecked with astrological signs, constellations and glittering astral bodies.
  • Harvey Nichols – This Knightsbridge institution has spared no expense on their windows this year – according to the Independent they have utilized “one million flakes of glitter, over 300,000 sequins, 15,000 gift boxes, 620 mirror balls, 540 baubles, 15kg of glue sticks and 30,000 staples” for their window displays!
  • Hamley’s – For the kids in your life (or the young at heart), a stroll past Hamley’s Toy Shop is the highlight of any trip into central London. This is never more apparent than at Christmas time – the shop’s windows are transformed into a magical winter wonderland filled with more toys than Santa’s workshop!

    As always, travel into central London during the holidays can be a headache – the tube is crowded and taxis are in short supply. Pre book your taxi and save money and time!



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London’s Best Christmas Cheer

If you are having a hard time mustering up a sufficient amount of Christmas cheer this yuletide season, fear not – we have compiled a list of the best places in the capital guaranteed to transform you from Ebenezer Scrooge into Kris Kringle!

  • The Geffrye Museum – Every December, Hackney’s lovely Geffrye Museum hosts itsChristmas Past exhibit, a look at“400 Years Of Seasonal Traditions In English Homes.” Stroll through the galleries and witness how your ancestors have enjoyed the season for many generations.
  • Winter Wonderland – Hyde Park’s annual celebration of all things glittery and bright is one part delightfully cheesy and one part genuinely festive – and 100% good times. Roller coasters, ice skating, musical performances and a German Christmas atmosphere – Winter Wonderland is good fun for the whole family.
  • Mulled Wine Experience at the London Eye – Soaring above London and taking in the frost covered sights can only be made better by a cup of Christmas cheer in the form of spicy, fragrant mulled wine. This area can be very crowded at all times of day – book your taxi in advance to ensure that your London Eye experience doesn’t go south!
  • Stroll past the lights – Many of London’s most iconic shopping promenades go over the top when it comes to dazzling Christmas lights – Regent Street, Bond Street, Oxford Street, Covent Garden and more, you can get all of your shopping finished while bathed in a beautiful glow.
  • Go to see a Pantomime – Going to see a Panto is the perfect way to celebrate Christmas, evoking childhood memories of holiday silliness, slapstick opera and festive fun. Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin and Peter Pan – here is a comprehensive look at all of the pantos on in London this season.
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Five Wonderful Christmas Markets Across the UK

‘Tis the season for mulled wine, bratwurst and rosy cheeks – the Christmas markets are upon us! Originally a German tradition, these seasonal celebrations are now a firm favourite amongst families and revelers across the whole of the UK. Whether you are a fan of the carousels, the cheery songs or just the holiday spirit in general, here are five of the best Christmas markets in the country.

  • Winter Wonderland – The splashiest of them all, Hyde Park’s annual celebration is one part Bavarian market, one part campy tat and one part amusement park – and 100% fun for the entire family.
  • Manchester Christmas Market – The award winning Manchester Christmas Market is spread across 200 stalls and features an impressive array of international food and local crafts.
  • Edinburgh Christmas Market – The Edinburgh Christmas market is arguably the event of the season for Yule lovers in the UK – taking place over 6 weeks and featuring fireworks, Santa visits and the largest ice rink in Europe, this market has the enviable backdrop of the stunning Edinburgh Castle.
  • Oxford Christmas Market – Decidedly Germanic in style and substance, Oxford’s Christmas Market features choirs, artisans, and local food that will impress traditionalists and fun seekers alike.
  • Belfast Christmas Continental Market – Cultures from around the world are celebrated at Belfast’s Christmas Market, and festivities are heavily centredaround the culinary offerings of the globe. Make sure you pay a visit to Santa!

Remember – these Christmas Markets can get quite busy, and accommodation, pubs and transportation are often in short supply. Book your taxi in advance with Cabmania and you won’t have to worry about getting stranded in the cold!

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