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.


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!

Bring the Sunday roast back home!

One of my best memories growing up is sitting down as a family every Sunday for a roast dinner.  My sister and I would go to church with my Mum on a Sunday morning and my Dad would stay at home doing jobs around the garden with a note on the kitchen table instructing him what time to switch the oven on and put the meat in.  By the time we got home we were always welcomed by an amazing smell of meat roasting when we opened the door.

But it seems like the traditional home cooked Sunday roast is falling out of favour and that weekend family meals are more about easy take aways or meals out.

I enjoy going out to the local pub or carvery for a roast as much as the next person (if not more!) but it’s so expensive in comparison to eating at home, and you miss out on the benefit of the leftovers too!

Since having children I have been conscious of the importance of sitting down to eat as a family as often as possible.  I’m really lucky that my husband works really close to home so we are able to eat all together almost every evening, but I know that many are not that lucky, and so the opportunity to eat together at weekends is golden.  What better way is there for your children to learn good table manners and conversation than by sitting down together and sharing stories and thoughts while eating yummy home cooked food.

This week we had roast chicken.  I got a medium chicken from Waitrose as part of the 3 for £10 offer, and there was not only enough meat on it for dinner for the family last night (2 adults and 2 children) but also Daddy Saving Money had leftovers in his sandwich for lunch today and the remainder went into a risotto for tonight’s dinner.

img_8074-1In fact, the total cost of our Sunday dinner this week was £5.73.  That included chicken, stuffing, roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots, brocolli, cabbage and apple strudel for pudding.  If we’d gone to the (albeit quite good value) carvery down the road, it would have cost us £23.16 for the roasts plus about the same again for drinks and puddings. The kids would have got bored in the queue and it probably wouldn’t have been the relaxing family meal out we all dream of!!

I know it takes a bit more effort to cook at home than to go out for dinner, but there is very little skill needed to successfully cook a roast.  You basically stick it in the oven, set a timer and forget about it until the timer beeps!  If in doubt, consult Delia who is the Queen of traditional cooking and roasts!

So next time you think about going out for a Sunday roast, at least consider cooking it at home instead.  Even if you buy a more expensive joint of beef or lamb, it will still be cheaper than eating out.  And always buy a slightly bigger piece of meat than you need, as the opportunities with leftovers are endless…pie, risotto, curry, pizza toppings…yum yum!!

Value veg

Have you ever thought about how much the veg you buy costs per portion?  I hadn’t until recently, but when you start to be aware of it, there is a staggering variation between different varieties.

img_8037.jpgIf you think back to the veg that your grandparents used to serve, you probably think of things like cabbage and carrots. These are native to this country, easy to grow and therefore cheap.  Much of the veg available now is imported, and when you look at the cost per portion it is significantly more expensive.

You could save a lot of money just by thinking about the veg you’re buying and how many portions or meals you will get out of it.

Carrots and Brocolli are super cheap at around 5-10p a portion.  Tenderstem brocolli however is much more expensive.

Cabbage is often overlooked these days but full of goodness and only 10p a portion.


Cauliflower surprised me when I looked at it.  On the assumption that you can get around 6 portions out of a cauliflower, that’s around 17p per portion.

Green beans used to be a regular weekly purchase for us, but are actually quite expensive compared to other veg available at around 20-30p per portion.


I think there is often an assumption that frozen veg is inferior to fresh.  But often this is not the case, in fact sometimes it is the opposite.  Frozen veg is frozen so quickly after it is picked that often far more goodness and vitamins remain intact than in the fresh equivalent.

img_8038Everyone should always have a bag of frozen peas in stock, and frozen sweetcorn and spinach are also great to have in as well as good value.

If you often find you end up throwing away fresh vegetables because they’ve gone off before you get the chance to eat them, why not buy enough fresh for 4-5 days of the week, and plan to use frozen veg the other days.  You’ll probably find that your fresh veg lasts for more meals than you expected, and this way you won’t end up wasting food and money.

Best before dates

Please ignore any best before or display until dates on fruit and veg.  They are there to help the shop make sure they only stock fresh items, but most veg will be fine for days and even weeks after this date.  Don’t throw it away just because it’s gone past the date – if it still looks ok then it is.

Loose vs pre-packed

Loose veg is often, although not always, cheaper than pre-packed.  Make sure you check the price per kg.  And even if something that comes in a pack seems really good value, ask yourself if you are likely to use the whole pack, or whether you really only want to buy one or two, in which case you are better to buy loose.


I realise you might not want to pick your veg purely on price, especially if you’re conscious of the nutritional content.  But next time you’re shopping just work out a rough cost per portion in your head and you might find yourself changing your shopping (& eating) habits.  I am confident that you can still buy a wide variety of veg, and manage to eat the suggested rainbow of colours, whilst still keeping the costs down.

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t shop at Waitrose!

I will say right from the beginning that I know there will be people who read this and don’t agree, or don’t see why you would choose to ‘pay  more’ to shop in Waitrose.  I agree that if you’re on a really tight shoestring budget then there are cheaper options than Waitrose for your shopping, but I also think that if you play their offers and vouchers right that you can get some really good value shopping there.

If you’ve ever done a food shop in Asda on a Sunday morning you’ll know it’s a traumatic experience…shopping in Waitrose however is a much more civilised affair (once you’ve worked out how to get round the middle class old ladies trying to choose which cheese to buy!)  So it’s no surprise that I choose to shop in Waitrose when I can (and Daddy Saving Money is a big fan – it makes him feel classy!)  People always assume that Waitrose is a premium shop where everything is more expensive, but here are my tips to slash the cost!

Choose wisely

There are some products which there is no denying are expensive in Waitrose – some fresh meats, fruit and veg and cooked meats definitely cost more, so unless you really need them I would suggest either buying an alternative or going somewhere else.  But they also do the same 3 for £10 deal on fresh meats that other supermarkets do, and they regularly have offers on, so if you stick to those you won’t pay any more.


My Waitrose – discount vouchers

If you haven’t already got one of these cards then sign up!  They regularly send me (or actually hubby for some reason!) money off vouchers, and while the minimum spend value seems to vary, the discount nearly always comes to 15%. This time I have 4 x “£9 off when you spend £60” vouchers to use within a 4 week period. If I have a really big shop to do (or want to stock up on gin) then I have no shame in asking the cashier to stop when the total reaches £60 so that I can split my shopping into 2 transactions and use 2 vouchers.  Before Christmas I had the most helpful cashier who told me to lay out all my vouchers and she would work out the best way to put the shopping through to get the best discount!  She saved me a fortune 🙂  She also told me that the value the till takes as ‘minimum spend’ to use the vouchers is the total before multibuy discounts and My Waitrose discounts are taken off, but you need to find a helpful cashier to get away with this one!

My Waitrose – pick your own offers

Waitrose offer a scheme where you can choose a selection of 10 items to get 20% off.  Not every product is available for this but there is quite a large selection.  Download the app on your phone, then select the offers as you’re going round the store to make sure you’re getting the maximum discounts off the products you’re actually buying.

Often the items available to choose for the 20% off are already on offer or are on multibuy.  If they are on multibuy, the till will take the 20% off the full value of the item rather than the discounted multibuy price, which means you can bag a real bargain.

Eg.  Waitrose Breaded Ham £2.99 per pack is always on a 2 for £4 offer and is also available to choose for the 20% off through pick your own offers. But the till will take the 20% off the £2.99 price, so the total you actually pay for 2 packs is actually £2.80 – less than the full price of a single pack.  Crazy isn’t it?!

Good value items

Some examples of things I think are good value in Waitrose:

Waitrose Toilet roll – pack of 9 for £3.75 – 20% = £3 a pack for really soft good quality toilet paper. (Also often on offer at 2 for £6.50 making it even cheaper)

Pork Mince – 500g is £3.19 or 2 for £5.  Combine with the 20% My Waitrose offer and it works out at just £1.86 for 500g.

Activia yoghurts – a pack of 8 is £2.90 or 2 for £5.  Combine with the 20% My Waitrose offer and you pay £3.84 for 16 yoghurts (24p each).
This morning I did my weekly shop in Waitrose.  The full value of my trolley was £73.35, but after multibuys, My Waitrose offers and a £9 discount voucher, I only paid £55.38.  I got quite a lot of shopping for this and some really good value offers.

If I’m trying to get the cost of my shopping down to a minimum then I will choose Lidl for my weeekly shop.  But if I’m looking for best value rather than minimum spend, and if it’s a week where I’ve been sent a voucher, then I will always choose Waitrose.

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.