Our Christmas Elf

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog for the last few weeks as I’ve been preoccupied thinking about both Christmas and my daughter’s 5th birthday.  The birthday is now out of the way so I’m in full on Christmas mode!  I thought I would do a series of posts telling you about some of the Christmas traditions that we have in our house, and it won’t surprise you to know that they don’t cost a fortune.

Many people these days do the elf on a shelf thing, which looks a lot of fun.  And I’ve heard of others who do a book advent calendar.  Well, we’ve combined the two, and we have our very own elf who comes each day and brings books!

My daughter’s birthday is on 3rd December, so our elf is very considerate and waits until the birthday rush is over before making his appearance in our house.  On 4th December he arrives, bringing with him a letter explaining that Father Christmas has asked him to come and report back to the North Pole on the children’s behaviour.  If he thinks their behaviour has been good enough, then each day while we are eating our dinner, he will come into the house and hide himself somewhere, holding his signature blue gift bag containing a Christmas book.  The children then rush to find him after their tea and read the book as their bedtime story.

Twenty-one days of elf visits means twenty-one books, which sounds a lot and could be expensive.  But not the way I do it… I started this tradition a few years ago when I realised how many Christmas books we already had, both from gifts and some from my own childhood.  Since then I have been keeping an eye out for Christmas books in charity shops and facebook sites and have accumulated a grand total of 35 Christmas themed books!!  Some of them are still a bit old for my kids so I’m saving them for future years, and I have sorted the others out to a book or two for each day.

I didn’t buy the elf specially for this either – he was a Christmas decoration that I bought pre-children who has now been put to good use!

Some days the elf might bring other Christmas goodies too, like Christmas socks, PJ’s or puzzles.

Once all the books have been read and the Christmas period is coming to an end, we have to find a way to get the books put back away for the next year, as I don’t want a house full of Christmas books all year! (It’s bad enough that my 3 year old seems to be obsessed with reading Easter egg books in December!)  So on New Year’s Eve, we hunt around the house, gather together all the Christmas books and leave them on the front door mat.  The elf then comes during the night and takes them all back to Father Christmas, ready to use again the following year.

So now you’ve heard all about our Christmas elf tradition…I’d love to hear about what everyone else’s elves get up to!


Wrap up the savings

If you’re trying to watch the pennies then I imagine you think carefully when buying gifts for friends and family, and shop around for the best deals. But do you consider how much you spend on wrapping your gifts?

Gift bags are always a nice way to present a gift, but they’re also not cheap at around £1 a bag. I had a quick count and I reckon I have given around 25 birthday presents this year. That could be £25+ spent just on gift bags! In fact I haven’t bought any gift bags this year but have instead reused those given to me. Most of them still look as good as new (once I’ve cut off the old tag!)

I also don’t understand why anyone buys individual sheets of wrapping paper! Why would you spend £1 (or sometimes much more) on 2 small sheets of paper when you could buy a roll around 4 times the size for the same price! (Plus it’s easier to wrap big presents with a roll of paper). The best places I have found for cheap, good quality paper are Lidl, Wilko and even Primark. Lidl only do their wrapping paper a few weeks a year but their Christmas wrapping paper is coming up on 16th Nov.

And finally… if you automatically reach for the sellotape when in the supermarket then think again. I’ve just looked at the Tesco website and branded sellotape is currently half price at £1 for 50m which sounds pretty good. But compare this to Wilko’s own brand tape which is permanently 30p for a 60m roll and suddenly the branded tape looks rather expensive! I’ve been using the Wilko tape for a couple of years now and it’s great quality. And while you’re at it, pick up a tape dispenser for £1 from the £1 shop and make your Christmas wrapping easier!

I still like Smithy from Gavin and Stacey’s method of wrapping gifts using tin foil, but if you’d rather stick with more traditional (& probably more socially acceptable) wrapping then why not try the tips above to save yourself a few pennies this Christmas and through the year.

What if your weekly routine was 8 days long?

This is something I have thought about a few times.  Society seems to dictate that we do almost everything on a weekly basis these days.  Weekly classes, the weekly shop, changing the bed sheets…but who’s to say that 7 days is the optimum interval between any of these?  What if you were to ignore the day of the week and just do things when you need or want to?

Ok, so there are probably lots of things we do weekly just to ensure they get done regularly enough – I mean how many people wake up and think “I think I’ll wash the bed sheets today” or “My body feels like it’s exactly the right period of time since I last went for a run, I must go today”!!

But think about your weekly shop for a minute…by the time you do your weekly grocery shop, are you always totally out of food and desperately need to shop that day?  Or could you stretch it for another day?  If we all just bought exactly what we needed to last the period until the next shop then this theory wouldn’t work, but no matter how careful you are, for most people there is an element of impulse or unnecessary purchasing as part of the weekly shop.  Reducing the number of shops would reduce the opportunity for this type of spending.

If you do your weekly shop every 7 days then you will do 52 (or 53!) shops in a year.  By switching to every 8 days instead, you would reduce the number of times you do your shopping down to just 46 a year.  That’s around 7 fewer “weekly” shops and opportunities for spending across the year.

I realise there are flaws in this theory – there’s a risk you may just end up spending one seventh more each time you shop!  Or you may have such a busy schedule that there is only one convenient time in your week to get your shopping.

Whilst for most people the routine of a weekly shop works well for their lifestyle, for others it is possible to vary the time between shops depending on current needs.  All I want to suggest is that before you do your next big weekly shop, have a good look through the fridge and cupboards and decide whether you actually already have enough to last another day or two.

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.


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.