Family days out without remortgaging (part 2)

Hopefully if you’re reading this you’ve already seen Family days out without remortgaging (part 1), giving you lots of ideas of things to do that won’t cost the earth.  But once in a while we all want a day out to a big attraction, and these usually come with a hefty price tag.  I don’t have any magic answers to save you paying the high entry prices, but I do have a few other little tips to stop the cost of the day out from soaring any higher:

Plan & Budget – If you decide to go on a ‘big’ day out then make sure you can afford it. Plan ahead, budget, and try not to go during the same time as all your other big expenses hit.  I try to put aside the money from when I sell items and I use this for one-off expenses like big days out.

Look around for discount tickets – Cereal packets, O2 priority moments, McDonalds etc often have offers on (particularly for Merlin attractions) such as 2 for 1.  You can also pay with Tesco Clubcard vouchers at many attractions, but you may have to convert your points in advance so don’t leave it too late!

Book in advance – Most attractions now offer a discount if you book online. Sometimes you have to book a day in advance but sometimes it will let you do it just before you leave the house, or even on your phone when you arrive.  We visited Thomas Land at Drayton Manor theme park a little while ago where an adult ticket is £25 in advance compared to £39 on the gate!

Pre-school tickets – If you’re going with children who are not yet at school, try to visit at off peak times as the prices are often significantly cheaper.  Some attractions also offer reduced rates for pre-schoolers with an accompanying adult at certain times.  Eg Thomas Land adult ticket advance rate is £25 and child age 2-3 is £7.  However, during term time they do an adult and toddler ticket for just £20 for both.

Annual membership –  these often look very tempting, but always look at how many times you would need to visit in the year to make it financially worthwhile.  Taking Whipsnade zoo as an example, an annual membership for 2 adults and 2 children is £243, so you would need to go 4 times to make it worthwhile.  Now I love the zoo more than most people, but I’m extremely unlikely to go 4 times in a year, especially given that it’s an hour’s drive away.  Merlin have an annual sale on their passes in January, so if you’re considering membership at any of their attractions then that may be worth a look.

Take a picnic!  – This seems so obvious that I almost feel silly writing it, but often it takes so much effort to get the kids out of the door that making a picnic as well is just too much effort.  But if you plan ahead (make it the night before?) then not only can you save significant sums of money but also time (& prevent hungry whinging children!).  We recently went to the Cotswold Wildlife Park, which was a fab day out.  Due to a number of factors, we ended up buying lunch costing around £30 for chicken nuggets and chips for 4 of us.  It wasn’t even particularly nice and I had to entertain a hungry 2 year old for around half an hour while Daddy queued up for the food.  Never again!  You could always take most of the picnic and just buy some chips as a special treat accompaniment?  Or promise ice creams (or hot chocolates!) instead of lunch in the café?

The dreaded gift shop – Kids always love the gift shop, but how often do you end up buying an expensive cuddly toy or some other overpriced tat which then sits unused in your child’s bedroom for years to come?  Why not give your child a set amount of money (something small like £2) to choose something they want.  They can choose a pencil or a pocket money toy, so they have something to remember the day by but without wasting money that could be better spent on something else.  It’s good for your kids to understand that the toys they’re looking at are really expensive and that if you buy that then you won’t be able to spend the money on something else. (see my previous blog post on “teaching our kids the value of money“)

We’ve had some lovely family days out already this year, some of them to places with high entry fees.  But by budgeting, planning ahead, and trying to keep the expenditure down while we’re there, we haven’t had to make sacrifices elsewhere in our daily lives to fund them.

Family days out without remortgaging (part 1)

With half term and then the dreaded summer holidays looming not too far away, parents will be looking for ways to entertain the children.

I was shocked recently when I learned that a family ticket for Whipsnade zoo now costs a whopping £70.50!  Add in travel, lunch, snacks and souvenirs and you’re looking at over £100 for a family day out which means they become a rare treat for most people.  This got me thinking about ideas for cheaper family days out…

Park/picnic

My kids are only 2 and 4, but they love a trip to the park, especially if it’s a new one they haven’t been to before.  Add in some friends and a picnic and it becomes a proper day out and yet costs virtually nothing.  And all you have to do is change the park (& the company!) and you can repeat this one several times a week during the holidays.

The Beach

A trip to the beach can be lots of fun and doesn’t have to cost anything other than travel (& the obligatory ice cream!)  Just make sure you pack a picnic, bucket and spade, spare clothes, hats, sun cream, plenty of drinks (including hot drinks if it’s traditional British weather!) and try to pick an area of unspoilt beach that isn’t surrounded by cafes and arcades.  That way you won’t be tempted to waste lots of money on high priced tat!!   You will probably have to factor in the cost of parking though.

National Trust

We are very lucky to have the National Trust property Cliveden very near to us, and as such are regular visitors and members.  They always put on activities during the holidays and even if there aren’t any special events going on, there are lots and lots of NT places with large open spaces for the kids to explore and often great playgrounds too.  People are often put off by the entrance fee for National Trust properties, but if you buy annual membership it can be extremely good value at less than £10 a month for a family membership.  And if you have membership, make sure you explore as many places as you can as your entry will be free!

It is also a great idea to use NT places as stop offs on long journeys – so much nicer than motorway services and gives the kids a chance to let off steam before getting back in the car!

If you can’t/don’t want to pay for membership yourself then keep it in mind next time you’re racking your brains for your next Christmas present from your parents.

Gruffalo spotting

A simple walk may not sound overly appealing to kids, but add in the excitement of hunting for gruffalos and I’m sure they’ll be much more enthusiastic about it!  Have a look at the Forestry Commission’s website for locations and details.  And best of all its free!!

Geocaching

I haven’t tried this yet but I really want to.  Get out and about hunting for real life treasure!  Just download the app and follow the instructions.  I’ll keep you posted when I finally get round to doing it!

Open Farm Sunday

One Sunday a year, farms all over the country open their doors (or rather gates!) for families to go and explore.  We did this for the first time last year and it was great – cows, chickens, goats, rabbits, tractors, go-karts, even the local countryside police were there letting people sit in their car!  Most of the farms have free entry with some optional payable extras, and there’s often a BBQ where you can get locally produced lunch!  This year Open Farm Sunday is on 11th June 2017.

 

I could spend all day writing ideas for days out, but I think you get the idea – you really don’t need to spend a fortune to have a fun family day out!  Whatever you choose to do, make sure you take enough food and drink with you as well as any extras you might need (like buckets and spades) so save any unnecessary costs once you get there.

Watch this space for part 2 with ideas on how to cut the cost of visiting theme parks and other attractions.

Teaching our kids the value of money

This post is going to be a bit different from my others so far.  It’s not going to contain any money saving tips, but I believe it’s something really important to think about while your kids are still young.

When I was growing up my parents were (as far as I know) comfortable financially.  We lived in a nice house and had nice things, but my parents were always quite careful with how they spent their money.  I don’t remember them splashing their cash on new things very often, and our holidays were generally spent camping.  It’s this upbringing that has given me the attitude towards money that I have today.  Just because you have money it doesn’t mean you have to spend it.  And you certainly don’t have to spend money to have fun and have nice things.

My children are only 2 and 4, but I’m already conscious of the impact of them seeing how we spend money and learning from it.  We went through a period where we ate out quite regularly in cafes and restaurants, and it became my daughter’s favourite thing to do!  This felt like a dangerous habit for her to fall into (especially aged 3!) and I want her to understand that eating out costs a lot more than cooking a nice meal at home and that it should be a treat rather than the norm.

We live in a nice house and I’m well aware that we have more toys than many playgroups!  Many of these have either been given to us or have been bought on offer or second hand, but my kids don’t see that.  Their norm is that they’re always surrounded by nice things, but what they don’t understand is that in order to get them, someone had to work hard to earn money.

Not only do I think it’s ok to say no when your kids ask for something, but I actually think it’s important to do so sometimes, and to make sure you follow it up with an explanation that if you buy that you won’t be able to do something else.

I sell a lot of things on local Facebook sites and so my kids are used to random people turning up at the door to collect items.  I try to explain to them that we’re selling the things we no longer need and that we can use the money to buy new things.  We recently bought my daughter a new bike, and she knows that we bought it using money earned from selling toys she’d outgrown.  I did, however, make the mistake of saying that if we wanted to buy more new things we would have to sell some more stuff first – cue long list of toys that 4 year old suddenly wants to sell (many of which she still regularly plays with and would be very sad to lose!!)

Something else I have just tried out for the first time was offering money as a reward.  I was always against this previously as didn’t want to be bribing my children with money or new toys, but thought I’d try a slightly different approach.  If my daughter got 10 stickers on her reward chart I said I would give her £1 to spend on whatever she wanted from the charity shop.  She was very excited by the trip to the shop and spent 75p on 2 books which she spent all day reading.  The 25p change went in to her piggy bank to add on to the next £1 that she earns (whenever that may be!)

I’m by no means a parenting expert and I don’t have any answers to the right and wrong ways to teach your kids about money.  I believe we should help them to understand that by spending money on one thing, you are choosing not to spend it on something else, and this will help them to develop their own sensible attitude towards their own finances later in life.

Kneading the dough

Hello fellow readers, inspired by the recent blogs by the Mummy Saving Money I thought I would share my one (and only) real money saver.

I will confess at this point that I love pizza and particularly take away pizza (Papa Johns if you’re wondering) and as you know they can be pretty expensive, albeit you can get some cracking 50% off and buy-one-get-one-free deals from most chains.

As a teenager a good friend of mine taught me how to make pizza from scratch, but it wasn’t until our kids were born that it occurred to me that making pizza for the family was not only a healthier choice, but also a great way of getting the kids involved in cooking, so I starting making pizzas from scratch – now, this might sound impressive, but actually it’s a really straight forward recipe and in keeping with this blog, a much cheaper option than take-away!

Basic ingredients to make 2 decent size pizzas are 450g of strong white bread flour, 1 tsp of salt, 15g of yeast and 250ml of warm water. All these are thrown into a mixing bowl and kneeded together until a compact ball is formed, I then cover with a tea towel and put is somewhere warm (like the airing cupboard) for a couple of hours to prove and the base is then ready to roll out.

IMG_8799

We tend to get small tins of tomato puree for the base and that will easily cover 2 or 3 pizzas, you’re then free to choose your own toppings.  We generally go for ham, peppers, (frozen) mushrooms, slices of mozzarella and topped with grated cheese – from here you can experiment to meet your own tastes, but we’ve tried wholemeal flour, pepperoni, cooked chicken, sweetcorn, sausage and pineapple (controversial of course).

IMG_8530I don’t have quite the same flair for costings as MSM, but by my rough estimates, the cost of a takeaway pizza is around £10, whilst all of the ingredients above are generally in our house (or I tend to use what we have) I would say each pizza costs around £2 to make and as I said, I think you get a much more authentic taste from home made and have a much greater control over levels of salt and ingredients than that from the chains.

So there you have it, my simple way to save money and if you eat as much pizza as I do you will be saving yourself a fortune in the coming months…

Have a look at MSM’s last post, “What’s for tea?” to see what else we’re eating this week!

DSM

What’s for tea? (Meal planning!)

How often do you find yourself mid-afternoon thinking “what shall we have for tea tonight?” And if you’re busy or not really in the mood for cooking (or making decisions) then you delay it so long that the only options are fish finger sandwiches or take away. Meanwhile all that nice fresh food you bought in your weekly shop ends up going off and being thrown away. Or if you do feel inspired to cook, you finally decide on a recipe and start chopping away only to find you’re missing a key ingredient (can you have curry without rice?!)

The above used to be me. Especially when I was working. I would come home from work and just couldn’t be bothered to make decisions about what to cook let alone actually do the cooking. Then one day hubby (or daddy saving money (DSM) as he’s started referring to himself!!) bought me a fancy meal planning notepad and since then things have been very different.

Each week before writing the shopping list for the weekly shop (which obviously you know all about from my previous post “The Weekly Shop – my way” ), we write a plan of what we’re going to have for dinner each night of the week. I’ve started getting the kids involved in this too recently, which ultimately means we now eat more sausages, pasta and burgers than we would otherwise, but it makes the decision making a bit easier and keeps them happy.

Here’s what we’re eating this week… (not the healthiest week to show the world!)


My shopping list is then based on whatever I need to make the meals we’ve planned.  We don’t buy lots of stuff we don’t need and won’t use in the week, and equally we don’t often find ourselves short of key ingredients and having to pop to the shop mid-week, where not only do the ingredients cost more but the temptation to buy extra bits is far too high!

The pad that DSM bought me has long since run out but we’re very much still planning our meals.  We’ve moved onto a mini magnetic white board now, which makes it easy to swap meals around when our plans change.  And I’ve started writing the dates as well as the days as it helps when unpacking the shopping to check whether the meat will go out of date before we’re due to eat it and therefore needs to go in the freezer.

Sometimes I try to get really clever in my meal planning and match the ingredients across different meals..so if I’m making something where I know I’ll need to buy a pack of something fresh, I’ll try to plan another meal a day or two later which will use up the other half of the pack.  We always try to have a roast on a Sunday if we’re at home, so sometimes I’ll try and buy a bigger joint than we need and plan something with the leftovers on Monday or Tuesday.

And finally…I always plan a freezer tea for the day before the next shop.  This way I don’t have to worry about keeping ingredients fresh for a whole week, and don’t end up with an endless supply of leftover meals building up in the freezer.

If you don’t already do some kind of meal planning I would really recommend it.  Whilst it sounds a bit dull and geeky, it has made a huge difference to our routine, saved money on shopping, and I can’t remember the last time we got a take away because we couldn’t be bothered to cook.

11 foods I never knew you could freeze (until recently!)

Your freezer should be one of your best friends if you’re trying to save money on your shopping. We all know that it’s useful for loaves of bread and pots of leftover meals (who doesn’t enjoy “freezer surprise” for tea every so often?!) but my eyes have recently been opened up to a whole new world of foods that can be frozen, therefore reducing waste and saving money. 

1) Mushrooms – how often do you buy a pack of mushrooms, use a few and the rest go off in the fridge? Did you know you can buy packs of frozen mushrooms instead (or presumably freeze your own when you first buy them before they have a chance to go off)

2) Garlic – I use quite a lot of garlic in my cooking but I still find that often by the time I get to the end of the bulb, the cloves are starting to grow shoots, which isn’t ideal! You can freeze garlic cloves whole to prevent this happening, and can even use straight from the freezer and crush frozen cloves to put straight into your cooking! Great if you don’t use garlic that often.

3) Banana – we get through a ridiculous number of bananas in our house. But if there’s any change to our routine I end up with loads starting to go black. I always think I’ll make banana cake (one of my favourites) but by the time I find the time the bananas are often too far gone even for cake! But now I’ve learnt that as soon as they reach the point where they’re too soft to eat but perfect for cakes, I chop them up and put in the freezer. Then they’re perfect for making cakes, smoothies or banana ice cream.

4) Wine – so apparently you can freeze leftover wine! Freeze it in portions and use in sauces, risotto etc to add a yummy flavour.

5) Iced sponge cakes – useful if you find you’ve over catered for a birthday party or been a bit too generous buying cakes at the school cake stall! Sponge cake with buttercream icing freezes really well and will come out just as fresh as when you put it in. It defrosts quickly too so great to keep a few iced fairy cakes in the freezer for when you have a cake craving.

6) Eggs – I’d never even thought about freezing eggs until I did some googling before writing this. You have to take them out of their shells but then either freeze the white and yolk together or separately. Ice cube type containers are a good size for this. So no more excuses for throwing away half a box of eggs that you bought just to make a cake!

7) Herbs – If I’m making a special recipe I often find myself buying a pack of fresh herbs, using a few and the rest end up in the bin. I’ve tried growing my own herbs but they never end up looking very appetizing! (I will try again though!) Now I’ve read that you can freeze most fresh herbs just as they are and then take them out ready to use. I will definitely be trying this next time I buy some.

8) Grapes – There is a lot of talk online about freezing them whole and eating them frozen. In the interest of research I have just tried this. And my verdict… bit odd but definitely something to try! Might be better on a hot summers day. Or even use them as edible ice cubes!

9) Corn on the cob – buy it fresh when it’s in season (ideally from a local farm), freeze it in the husk in a freezer bag and cook from frozen. Simple! (Might need to google the exact method!)

10) Houmous – my 4 year old loves houmous and always asks for it when we go to the supermarket. But as it apparently goes off so quickly we always end up wasting loads. But surprise surprise apparently you can freeze it! Spoon into portions on a tray and freeze until hard, then transfer to an airtight container. Then just defrost individual portions when you need them. Amazing!

11) Cheese – grate it, freeze it, and then use straight from frozen in cooking

So go on, I dare you to try at least one of these! (And let me know if there are any other slightly obscure things that you’ve discovered freeze well!)

Free money! (via cashback sites)

A few times recently I’ve had conversations with people where I’ve asked “do you use Quidco?” and been met with a blank look.  So I thought it might be a good topic for a blog.

There are various cashback sites, but the one we use is Quidco.  When I looked at our Quidco account today it said we have earned nearly £1700 in cashback since opening the account in 2007.  That’s £170 a year of FREE cash for virtually no extra effort!  All you have to do is register with the cashback site and then remember to click through Quidco (or whichever one you use) whenever you make a purchase instead of going direct to the retailer.  And that’s it…then they give you free money!

Because I’m really cool (& an accountant who likes spreadsheets!) I took Quidco up on the offer to download all the transactions since opening the account so that I could pick out a few to mention here.  We average around £100-£200 cashback a year, but there are definite peaks in 2012 (buying baby equipment!) and 2015 (buying appliances for our new kitchen).

The kitchen appliances are a good example…we had plenty of time to look around for deals, so the ones we went for were the best prices and special offers we could get on our appliances.  But as well as getting the best price from the retailer, we also went via Quidco and because they also had special rates at the time, we got a total of £300 cashback for buying our kitchen appliances.

But it’s not only the big purchases where you can make money.  If you remember to go through the cashback site for every single possible purchase, the pennies can soon add up.  Over the last 10 years, the purchases where the individual cashback amounts have been less than £2 have added up to over £200 of cashback for us.  And Quidco also have a reward scheme where if you make a certain number of purchases, regardless of value, you get a cash reward, so it’s definitely worth getting in the habit of going through Quidco every time.

A few years ago we went to buy a new sofa from Harveys.  We walked around the shop and left knowing exactly what we wanted to buy.  When the sales guy asked why we weren’t ordering it from him in store, we told him it was because we knew that we could go home and order online and get £50 cashback!  (He wasn’t pleased that he was losing out on a sale, but £50 isn’t a small amount of money to lose out on.)

The biggest individual amounts we’ve received are £95 for Sky, £91 for a Vodafone contract, and £80 for a new BT broadband contract.  It’s always worth looking at the Quidco offers when taking out a new contract, be it TV, phone, broadband or insurance.  Just a word of warning though that the cashback doesn’t always come through as it should so don’t rely on it too heavily.

The best rate I’ve seen so far is a few weeks ago Superdrug were doing 50% cashback for a couple of hours one lunchtime.  I quickly stocked up on everything including expensive razor blades for the hubby and sun cream.  The cashback hasn’t yet been paid on that one so fingers crossed it all goes through ok!

So in short…Quidco (and other cashback sites) really do give you money for nothing.  So get yourself registered and get in the habit of making all your purchases through them and you could earn yourself a nice bit of extra income!