Eat out for less

Eating out in cafes and restaurants is a luxury. One that many of us used to enjoy regularly before having children. But once you have children, often your disposable income drops and with more mouths to feed the cost of eating out increases (especially with the amount my kids eat!), making it a habit that most of us can no longer afford as often as we’d like.  Here are some ideas to help cut the cost of eating out as a family:

Choose your meal – If you usually go out for dinner, why not consider trying to go out for a light lunch instead, or even better go for brunch.  Brunch in a cafe works really well as a family meal, what kid doesn’t love a sausage sandwich?  And the best thing is that brunch is almost always cheaper than other meals  – there’s no temptation to pay for expensive alcoholic drinks or puddings!

Discount codes – Most of the big chains now offer discount codes for meals out.  Before you go out, check the restaurant’s website for offers.  Also O2 priority and 3’s Wuntu apps often have discount restaurant offers as well as others.

Tastecard – For anyone who doesn’t know about this, Tastecard is a scheme whereby you pay around £30 a year for a card which gets you 2 for 1 or 50% off food in a whole range of restaurants.  If you’re eating at the big chain restaurants, you can often get similar offers direct through free discount codes, but Tastecard also includes lots of small local restaurants and pubs.  It’s down to your personal situation as to whether it is worth paying the £30 a year for a Tastecard, but you can almost always get a free trial to see whether you would use it. (In fact I think I’ve had 3 free trials in a row this year somehow!!)

Choose between starter and dessert – Starters and desserts generally cost around £5 each.  Try to choose either a starter or a dessert rather than going for both (or why not get the best of both worlds by sharing one starter and one dessert between two of you?)

Drinks – The drinks bill in a restaurant can easily come to as much as the food.  Try limiting yourself to just one alcoholic drink each, or if you’re really serious about cutting the cost, enjoy the restaurant food and just drink soft drinks or tap water while you’re there, and then have a glass of wine when you get home instead.

Dine in – Don’t always assume you need to go out to have a luxury meal. For our last wedding anniversary we opted to cook a nice meal at home instead of going out to a restaurant. We bought some lovely expensive Ocado steaks and a good bottle of wine and enjoyed good food and drink in the comfort of our own home instead of a restaurant. Despite spending much more on ingredients than we would for a standard meal at home, the meal was much cheaper than if we’d gone out. Plus we didn’t have to worry about who was driving, or taxis or babysitters.

We used to eat out regularly, to the point that when asked what she wanted to do at the weekend my daughter would often say “go to a cafe”.  Since keeping a closer eye on our spending we have tried to limit eating out to make it more of a special occasion treat.  It’s amazing how much more you appreciate a nice meal out when you do it less often.

 

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Six dos and don’ts for autumn money saving 

September is here and with it comes shorter days and the start of autumn. But don’t jump straight into winter mode just yet. Here are my dos and donts to save a bit of money this September.

DO keep having picnics. September can have some beautiful sunny days perfect for picnics in the park. You just might need a cardy!

DON’T start using the tumble dryer just because your washing no longer dries in a couple of hours outside. Hang it out on the line as early as possible in the day and leave it out until mid-late afternoon.

DO make the most of beautiful sunny autumn days. If you have preschool children who like nothing better than collecting stuff then take them for a walk to collect all the different colour leaves, conkers, acorns etc that you can find. It’s a great free way to spend a morning.

DO start thinking about Christmas! It may seem a long time away but now’s the time to start keeping an eye out for little bits and pieces for stocking fillers. Otherwise you’ll end up spending a fortune on a load of last minute tat! Most of the best offers on toys last year were in October and November.

DON’T give in to putting the heating on just yet. Yes the evenings are getting a bit cooler, but before you get into the expensive habit of putting the heating on, try wearing a jumper, having a warm drink or snuggling under a blanket instead.

DO look at the summer clothing now in the sale. If you think you can predict your child’s size for next summer then there are some great bargains to be had. 

17 shower gel bottles, sitting in my cupboard… ♫♫♫

September is upon us which means the summer holidays are finally over!  I’ve tried not to spend too much over the summer, but even without having big expensive days out I seem to have ended the summer with a smaller bank balance than I would have hoped.

I’ve decided to try to make up for the extra spending over the last few months by having a frugal September.  This didn’t get off to the best start when the bath tap broke, meaning we have to pay for both a plumber and a new tap, but all the more reason to try to reduce costs elsewhere.

One of the ways I’m planning on saving a few pennies this month is by using up what’s already in the house and only buying things if I really don’t already have a suitable alternative.  Some examples below;

Food – I reckon there is at least enough food for a week’s worth of family dinners, maybe more.  And there are plenty of ends of packs of rolls and wraps etc to last a few days.  I’m not planning on eating them all in one week, but increasing the number of times ‘freezer tea’ appears on my weekly meal plan should help..

Cleaning products – Over the last few years I seem to have accumulated a whole cupboard full of cleaning products, many of which claim to do the same thing.  Not only will using up the old bottles save me a bit of cash but may even free up some space in the cupboard, so the door may even shut!

Shower gels, moisturiser etc – Every girl seems to get given at least one gift set of toiletries each birthday and Christmas.  I have been given some really lovely ones over the last few years but for some reason stashed them in a drawer and never got round to using them…until now!  My bathroom cabinet is stocked with enough bottles to keep me going for quite some time! (and with my birthday and Christmas coming up in the next few months I’m bound to receive some more to add to the stash!)

This approach alone is not going to save thousands this month, but it should help a bit and should also help to clear some of the unnecessary clutter around the house.  If I manage to free up enough freezer space, then keep an eye out for a future blog on my trial of doing a bulk monthly online meat order!

Make sure you get what you pay for!

It’s all very well carefully planning all your purchases to spend your cash wisely and get the best deals, but what if the product turns out to be poor quality? When meat goes off before it’s use by date, or electrical items break after just a few months, how often do you bother to go back to the shop and complain?  Well you should!

I’m not talking about being a difficult customer who is always complaining and trying to get something for nothing.  But if you’ve paid good money for a product or service then you should expect to get what you pay for, and if you don’t then the retailer should put that right.  Here are some examples:

On several occasions I have ordered chicken in my weekly shopping, but when I’ve come to open the packet it has clearly gone off, despite being before the stated use by date.  Given that a large pack of chicken breasts can cost upwards of £5, that’s a lot of money to put in the bin, so you should always contact the shop and request a refund.  If you ordered online this is really easy as can be done via the shop’s website or via webchat (I love webchat for complaints as can multitask complaining with shouting at talking to the kids at the same time!) If you bought instore then its a bit more of a pain but you could throw away the gone off meat and just return the packaging next time you go to store.  I think Asda actually give you a refund as well as a replacement in this scenario, or at least they used to.

Just this week I ordered a pack of kiwi fruit in my online shop and helpfully they packed them in the same bag as the frozen chips, so unsurprisingly they arrived damaged.  A quick log in to the Ocado app and I was able to request a refund.

You can also benefit from being on the ball with other purchases.  I have had several experiences of purchasing household electrical items which have broken within less than a year.  In this case, it is worth being aware of the relevant bit of the Consumer Rights Act – if the item is less than 6 months old then the fault is assumed to have been there from manufacture and it is up to the retailer to prove otherwise. Most retailers therefore will replace or refund without question.  Even after the 6 month period the product should be expected to work for a “reasonable” period of time, and the retailer will therefore often replace or refund with less persuasion than you may expect.

I bought a kettle a couple of years ago which I used every day for around 8 months.  It then started being extremely noisy and was clearly not working as it should, so I returned it to the retailer who replaced it free of charge.  Then another 6 months or so later the replacement kettle had the same issue, so again I returned it, and again they replaced it, this time for a different model.  The kettle originally cost around £30, so I was very pleased I didn’t have to fork out £60 for two replacements within such a short period.  I also had a very similar experience with irons some years ago with a different retailer.  (Not sure what happens to appliances within our house!  The kettle admittedly gets quite a lot of use but I can’t say the same for the iron!)

I could think of lots of examples to share, but instead of dragging this out longer than is necessary I will share just one more.  We bought our daughter a maxi micro scooter for Christmas.  These retail at an eye watering £120, but thankfully using discounts and voucher codes I managed to get it for just £60!! 🙂  However just six and a half months after purchase, it broke, much to my daughter’s disappointment.  And it got worse when I read that the manufacturer’s warranty was only valid for six months from purchase. Agh!  I was all set to buy an expensive new handle when it occurred to me that the retailer might offer a replacement so I contacted them and unbelievably they replaced the scooter without question.

So keep doing the research and price comparisons to make sure you’re buying the right items at the best price, but also when you receive the products and start using them, ensure that you are getting what you paid for.  And if not then contact the retailer as soon as possible – you might be surprised by their response which could save you a lot of money.

5 Months ’til Christmas!

Christmas is coming….Ok so maybe not just yet but once the summer holidays are over the Christmas decorations will start creeping into the shops and then it just escalates from there!

Don’t worry, I am not actually thinking about Christmas yet (although I have bought a couple of stocking fillers already but I’ll probably forget about them by December and find them around Easter time next year!)

There’s no denying that Christmas is expensive.  There are lots of ways to cut down on unnecessary expenditure at Christmas, but unless you are going to go full on super thrifty by making all your presents from stuff you’ve foraged in the woods, then you are going to have a peak of expenditure during December.  Do you plan for that extra expenditure, or do you get to December, spend three times as much as usual and then go through January (and possibly February too) feeling poor?

Ideally if you’re going to plan ahead for Christmas expenditure, you should be thinking about it from January each year, but even now at the end of July there are still things you can do:

  • Christmas is now 153 days away – how about putting £1 aside each day from now on?
  • If you put away £10 each week from now until the end of November, you would have £180 extra to spend in December.
  • Put aside any cashback rewards such as from Quidco or from a cashback credit card or bank account. Still not using cashback sites? Find out what you’re missing out on here Free money! (via cashback sites)
  • Have a clear out (baby equipment is often a good seller) and put the money towards the festive season.  It takes a bit of effort to sort through and sell it all so start now. Have a look at my tips for selling here Cash in the attic
  • This one is too late for this year, but worth mentioning anyway – if you pay your council tax by monthly direct debit over 10 months you will have two months a year (February & March) with no payments.  If the council aren’t taking the money from your account, then why don’t you take it, put it in a savings account and it will be ready to spend at Christmas next year.

The above are just a few suggestions.  What I’m trying to get across is don’t let the increased expenditure in December come as a shock.  You shouldn’t have to use expensive credit cards or overdrafts if you use a bit of simple forward planning and budgeting instead.

 

Kids birthday parties without the adult price tag

Have you ever totted up how much you spent on your child’s birthday party? If you hired a venue and/or had an entertainer and paid a professional to make a cake, then you could easily have spent in the region of £150-£200.

This post is really about parties for babies, toddlers and pre-school children.  I imagine that as your child gets older it becomes harder to find something exciting to entertain a group of children for a couple of hours, and at that point it is harder to avoid the expense.  So while your children are young enough that they are unlikely to remember the party, it’s a good time to bring the cost down where you can.

Venue/Entertainer – Hiring a venue and/or an entertainer is by far the easier option as you don’t have to worry about fitting children in your house, clearing up or keeping a group of small children occupied for a few hours.  I have nothing against hiring venues or entertainers for a child’s party so long as you can afford it.  When we looked into hiring an entertainer for my daughter’s birthday last year, many of the quotes came in at around £150 which is half of my monthly food budget!  Personally I would rather have a simple party at home and spend the money on something else. If you’re worried your house isn’t big enough, it might be worth checking out local village halls and scout huts as alternative venue options as they can often be hired quite cheaply for a couple of hours.

Cake – I am constantly surprised by the number of requests I see on my local facebook page for professionals to make birthday cakes for their young children.  I have to admit that the cakes they make look absolutely amazing, but does your toddler really appreciate the professional look? (or the hefty price tag that goes with it!)  I like making cakes, but I am in no way artistic and generally don’t worry too much about the appearance of my creations.  But by shamelessly copying someone else’s designs on pinterest I have produced some pretty good cakes over the last few years (even if I do say so myself!) and at a fraction of the cost of paying a professional.

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As a child I remember my Mum always frantically working away the night before my birthday trying to complete the cake that I’d chosen from her cake book, and when I look back now at pictures of my childhood birthday parties I love the fact that she put that effort in for me (and produced some pretty good results!)  Again, if you can afford it then great, but if paying for an expensive cake means you have to make lifestyle cuts elsewhere, then why not look at other options.  Most supermarkets now sell some pretty good birthday cakes too!

img_8433Paper plates – Using Paw Patrol as an example (as I will likely be doing a Paw Patrol party for my son’s 3rd birthday later in the year!), to buy Paw Patrol plates, cups and napkins for my family party of 17 people would cost £10.50 even at the cheapest I could find in Wilko.  Alternatively, Asda sell paper plates and cups in almost every colour imaginable at really good value so why not use plain coloured plates and cups and just the Paw Patrol napkins.  This would come in at only £5 for my party of 17. Better still use normal washable plates!

Pass the parcel – The fun of the game is in the unwrapping and the sweets inside each layer.  No need to buy an expensive prize for the middle (the Range do great cheap toys ideal for pass the parcel).  Also, don’t use your posh thick wrapping paper (why are you buying that anyway?!) instead why not pick up a couple of cheap rolls of wrapping paper from the £1 shop.

img_8432Party bags – There is a huge business in shops selling what can only be described as “tat” designed to fill kids party bags!  In my family the excitement over party bag toys generally dies down within about 24 hours and then the toys are gradually binned.  I’ve been to parties where they’ve given out books instead of party bags which I think is a great idea.  You can get books in the £1 shops or cheap from places like the works or the book people.  At least with a book your know your money won’t be thrown in the bin after a day or two!

If you’re reading this then you are likely to be watching the pennies, so why not think a bit harder about how much you spend on your small child’s next big day.  If you have two children and spend £150 per party then that’s £300 that you could be putting towards a family holiday instead.

 

Holiday essentials

It’s that time of year again when everyone seems to be going on holiday. I can’t help with booking the holiday as in our house that’s Daddy Saving Money’s job, but packing is mostly my domain so that’s where I can offer some ideas.

Let me start by saying that I HATE packing…whether for one night or two weeks, I get very stressed out by it and the fear that I might forget something.  So when I pack it does tend to involve everything but the kitchen sink, but that does mean that we have everything for all eventualities, thereby avoiding those trips to the local resort shop to pick up something that at home would cost about 50p, but in the resort somehow costs £3!  So here are my tips for a few bits to pack in your suitcase to avoid being caught out at the expensive resort shop.  (Some of these don’t apply so much if you have access to a supermarket while you’re away, but may still save you some valuable beach time!)

Suncream – everyone packs suncream for holiday (I hope!) but make sure you have enough.  It’s amazing just how many bottles you get through when you have kids. Don’t forget the after sun too!

First aid kit – I’m not talking a full on briefcase sized first aid kit here, although we just take the one that lives in my car.  But in the event of a headache the morning after drinking too many cocktails, do you really want to be searching round the resort shop trying to find the Spanish equivalent paracetamol?!  A few essentials would include paracetamol, calpol, plasters, anti-histamines, diarrhoea tablets.

Washing up – even if you’re staying in an all inclusive resort, if you’re staying in an apartment you may still need to wash up cups etc.  Squeeze a bit of your usual washing up liquid into a travel bottle before you go and throw in a cloth too, then you wont have to buy a full size bottle and a whole pack of cloths while you’re away which will inevitably get thrown away when you come home.

Hand wash – this is one thing that we often forget, but if you’re in an apartment you probably wont be given soap for hand washing.  Buy a cheap bottle at home, or decant some into a travel bottle.

Pool toys – if you think you might want your own pool inflatables while you’re away, consider buying before you go.  You can buy a beach ball on ebay for £1.39!

Bucket & Spade – these are surprisingly easy to pack into a suitcase as you can fill the buckets with clothes.  Buy a set from the £1 shop before you go and you will save yourself a fortune compared to the resort prices!

Blackout blind – if you have a travel blackout blind then don’t forget to take it for your kids to avoid the 5am starts.  But if you don’t have one then just take a roll of cheap tinfoil instead.  It works brilliantly at blacking out windows, although people walking past may wonder what on earth you’re up to!

Car seats – if you’re hiring a car while you’re away, consider taking your own car seats with you.  When we go away this year we’re hiring a car for around £70, and hiring seats for both of our children would have cost around the same again.  Most airlines let you take a car seat onto a plane at no extra cost, and if you use your own seat then you know its history too so can be sure its safe.

Snacks – Make sure you have enough snacks with you for the journey, but also if you have kids then pack a few small boxes of raisins etc for when you’re there.  If you don’t get a meal on the plane, consider buying a Boots meal deal at the airport and taking it on board.

Holiday credit card – this one is not so much about packing, but if you’re planning on spending a lot of money while you’re away, on meals etc, then consider applying for a specialist overseas credit card so you won’t get charged fees on your spending.  Have a read of this for more info http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/travel-credit-cards

Presents – for some reason it has become customary to buy presents for family and friends from holiday, but it can cost you a lot of money.  Before you splash your cash, just ask yourself if the person you’re buying for will really want your gift, or whether you’d be better saving that 10€ to buy yourself some food at the airport on the way home!

Hope these tips are helpful.  They won’t save you a fortune, but in the words of Tesco, “every little helps”!  And if nothing else they might save you some time and effort while you’re away.  Happy holidays!