Money Makeover Part 2 – The Food Shop

Food prices have soared in recent years and feeding the family now takes a large portion of the income of many households. With prices still on the rise and food waste still sky high, there’s no denying something has to be done.

Step 1 – Know What You’ve Got.

Week after week we drag ourselves to the supermarket with no idea what is in our cupboards and no idea of what we actually need to get. By the end of the trip we are in such an exhausted (and often hungry) state that anything we spot that we’d usually buy makes it into our trolleys. I have so many tubs of passata in my cupboard it practically needs it’s own shelf yet I still catch myself wondering “Should I get some passata?” every single week. So before your next trip be sure to check your meal plan and take a quick peek in your cupboards. Make this a habit!

Step 2 – Make Offers Work For You.

You won’t go shopping anywhere without seeing some form of special offer – BOGOF, 3 for 2, 10% off and extra loyalty points are some of the most common. Knowing which ones to go for is key to keeping that weekly shop open. Ask yourself –

  • Will we use it?
  • Is it worth it?
  • Does it keep well?
  • Do I have the space/cash?

If you answer no to any of those questions, ignore the offer and walk away.

Step 3 – Make A Meal Plan.

I find making a meal plan one of the easiest ways to reduce the cost of food. I know exactly what ingredients I need so there’s no waste and I always know what to cook so takeaways become almost non-existent. It doesn’t work for everyone (Martin hates meal planning) but if you can do it, it’s worth the effort. When making your meal plan, be sure to think about what days are busiest so you can plan a quick, easy meal to suit.

Step 4 – Shop Online.

No matter what time I go shopping I always end up tired and insanely hungry by the time I’m done. Most of the time, with three equally tired and insanely hungry children in tow and that’s not even counting Martin, whom I often mistake for one of the children! This usually means a stop at McDonalds on the way home. It’s our magic potion that lets us put the shopping away in peace while they chomp away on their happy meals. It’s also bloody expensive – £20 a time and sometimes more! When you compare that to a £5 delivery fee and the hours you don’t spend shopping, it’s really a no-brainer.

Step 5 – Get In The Kitchen.

While ready meals can be gloriously convenient, they often lack both taste and value for money. Get in the kitchen and start making your favourite meals from scratch – they’ll taste nicer and more often than not they’re cheaper too. While you’re at it, why not discover some new meals to enjoy with your family? There are lots of websites out there that offer loads of budget-friendly recipes.

Step 6 – Grow Your Own.

My last tip is for you to grow your own ingredients wherever possible. Whether it’s a few herbs on the windowsill or an entire allotment’s worth of veggies it will save you money and be friendlier for the environment too.

The Worry Trumpet

The humble cardboard tube can be many things to a child. Telescope. Totem pole. Destroyer of nightmares.

After months of nightmares and several meetings with a psychologist I felt I was clutching at straws. Rhian was waking every single night and nothing seemed to soothe her. All the cuddles and dreamcatchers in the world couldn’t stop them – Rhian had even assembled her own nightmare trap! Her psychologist suggested that Rhian could feel better if she knew she didn’t have to keep her worries to herself. Maybe she could blow her worries away, through a trumpet or something. Images of the BFG blowing dreams through his trumpet burst into my mind. Rhian loves the BFG. I was sure it would work!

That evening as I tucked a very reluctant Rhian into bed I produced an empty kitchen roll tube and handed it to her. This will help keep your dreams away, I told her. Blow your bad dreams out like the BFG blows dreams through his trumpet. Rhian was very skeptical and raised an eyebrow in the way usually restricted to the Mummy Glare Of Doom.

“That won’t work. That’s a toilet roll tube.”

“Yes it will, of course kitchen roll tubes can be imbued with magical properties! Look, I’ll show you.”

I walked over to the bedroom door, opened it slightly and blew through the tube until there was no air left in my lungs, then closed the door behind me.

“Wow, I feel so much better now! Come and have a go, Rhian!”

She blew her worries out of her bedroom and went quietly to bed without a fuss. The next morning I woke with my alarm and glanced to Martin’s side of the bed and smiled. It was empty.

She hasn’t had a single nightmare since.

Give Yourself A Money Makeover

April marks the start of a new financial year and is the perfect time to have a sit down and really think about money. It doesn’t matter if you need to tighten your belts of if you can afford to loosen them a little – this is one area in life you really can’t afford to guess at. Grab yourself a cuppa, a quiet hour or two and some bank statements and let’s go!

Step 1 – Outgoings – Cut The Crap.

First look at your statements for anything you don’t use anymore. Do you have old subscriptions to magazines, gyms or DVD rental? These things are so easy to miss. Locate and cancel those direct debits and card payments! You may need to speak to your providers directly for this bit – a quick email explaining you no longer wish to use their services should do.

Step 2 – Outgoings – Negotiating Prices.

Are you getting the best deal for all of your monthly outgoings? Search several comparison sites to see that you’re getting the best rates for regular bills such as energy, TV subscriptions, landline, mobile phone and broadband. If you’re able to get these prices cheaper with another supplier, consider switching or calling your existing supplier to haggle a better deal. If you can’t do either right now (for example, you can’t upgrade your phone for another 6 months) set the date in your diary, set reminders if you can and do it at the first available opportunity.

Step 3 – Income – Need Extra Help?

Managing your income is a toughy – it’s one of those things that seems hard to do much about. If you’re struggling, help may be available. Take a few minutes to visit the online benefits adviser here to see if you’re entitled to some help. You can use the “What if?” feature to compare different circumstances at once.

By taking these three simple steps you will have a great start to the new financial year.

Activity Advent Calendar – Things To Do With Kids At Christmas.

It’s that time of year again and after searching for an advent calendar that wasn’t filled with that yucky Kinnerton stuff but still had Hello Kitty (impossible, I tell you) I decided that the kids didn’t really need chocolate every day just because it’s December. It’s much more fun to spend some time doing something with your parents than eating chocolate, surely? These ideas are just for reference really, but if you’re feeling really creative why not write these down on paper and use them in homemade advent calendars like this baby sock one from Martha Stewart?

  1. Watch a Christmas film.
  2. Make/write Christmas cards.
  3. Make baubles for your tree.
  4. Put the Christmas tree up.
  5. Write letters to Santa.
  6. Make tealight holders.
  7. Make reindeer food.
  8. Bake Christmas tree cupcakes.
  9. Go to see a pantomime.
  10. Read Christmas stories.
  11. Make mini Christmas trees.
  12. Put the lights up and have your very own “switch on”.
  13. Make a huge Christmas picture.
  14. Write some Christmas carol parodies.
  15. Go to a Christmas fair.
  16. Go Christmas carolling or do it “remotely” by calling relatives and close friends to serenade them.
  17. Make your own wall decorations.
  18. Have an indoor snowball fight with cotton wool balls!
  19. Make natural Christmas decorations.
  20. Make a wreath.
  21. Bake some cookies for Father Christmas.
  22. Make some Christmas photos to print.
  23. Make hand print snowflakes.
  24. Do “no mess” paint printing.
  25. Sing Christmas songs.
  26. Make paper chains.

Did you buy an advent calendar  for your children? Did you make your own? What activities do you like to do with your families at Christmas?

Cleaning Up – When You Just Can’t Be Arsed

Are you unwell, stressed or just plain lazy? This is a note to myself the post for you!

  1. Delegate. Give everybody at home a job to do – including children. Encourage younger ones to participate by giving them lots of praise and doing it alongside them, or try a reward chart for the older children to earn pocket money.
  2. Limit mess making. Don’t give the kids spaghetti bolognese for tea if you’re not feeling well enough to clean up, or if you’re too busy. It’s a recipe (sorry, I had to) for disaster!
  3. Relax. If you’re run down stressing out about the housework is going to make things worse. You have to look after yourself to be able to look after others – that includes houses – so just chill out, do what you can and don’t beat yourself up about the rest.
  4. Keep to the 5 minute rule. It won’t hurt to do a little at a time. Even if you just do a quick pick up in the ad breaks you’re still helping to make sure you’re not left with so much to do that you just can’t face it. Just do the low-energy stuff or do it in short bursts.
  5. Get into the mood. Put on some music, get some energizing smells in the air and just go with it. It helps if the stuff you’re cleaning with smells divine!
  6. Hide distractions. Put away the phone and laptop and if you’re really determined, get a babysitter! You’ll be surprised how much faster things will get done.
  7. Treat yourself. If you’ve done something well then reward yourself for it – you’d do it to everyone else! Whether it’s some “me” time or something a bit more tangible, you’ll feel much better knowing there’s something nice at the end of the tunnel.

Knitting Project: Cup Cardi/Cup Cosy/Mug Hugger

Remember when I made a bucket list and decided that one day, before I turn 30, I would pick up my needles long enough to finish a knitting project? That day has come!

Ok, it’s not the stuff of legend, the point is I finished it. I cast off all the stitches and even managed to “sew” in hook-and-eye thingies. It’s FINISHED. And machine-washable. Therefore, I am a domestic goddess.

Here’s how I did it. Note to knitting addicts: you may want to look away now. Precision has gone out of the window.

  1. Gather up your favourite (empty) mug, some pretty wool and some needles. (I used size 4)
  2. Cast on and keep adding stitches until you reach the desired length. Determine this by holding needle vertically to mug and guessing.
  3. Knit a row.
  4. Purl a row.
  5. Keep knitting and purling. Wrap your creation around the mug/cup every so often until you more or less reach the handles.
  6. Cast off and weave in tails.
  7. Using darning needles and more wool, sew in the hooks and eyes. Measure up against the mug to make sure you don’t put them where the handles will go. If your wool has bobbly bits like mine, it’s easier to sew without them so take them off.

So there you have it: not a very precise pattern but a quick, easy make. If you don’t yet know how to knit, here is a good place to look.

Household Superheroes – Newspaper

Far more than just a daily catch-up with events, the humble newspaper can entertain you for hours – after you’ve read it there’s the Sudoku, the crosswords and the comics. Don’t forget to mention the hours you spend worrying about your horoscope – is true love REALLY just around the corner?

Once you finished being entertained by it, there’s loads more you can do with it before it hits the (recycling) bin.

  1. Pack wet shoes with them and leave overnight to dry out.
  2. Wash windows with it.
  3. Use it as an insulator.
  4. Do some papier-mâché with the kids!
  5. You can double wrap your food scraps with it rather than buying bio-degradable bags.

Household Superheroes – Bicarbonate Of Soda

Famous for its uses in the kitchen and for making awesome volcanoes, bicarbonate of soda makes the last item of my list. It’s extremely versatile and has already been mentioned in other lists but I haven’t exhausted it just yet!

  1. Sprinkle over your carpets and leave for a few minutes before using your vacuum cleaner to leave your carpets smelling as fresh as a daisy.
  2. Add it to water and give your veggies a soak before scrubbing them to helps get rid of some of the stubborn bits.
  3. Use it with a damp scourer to get rid of burned food.
  4. Use it to make baking powder if you happen to run out.
  5. Use it to draw out stains.

Household Superheroes – Natural Yoghurt

It’s delicious mixed with fruit or with a curry and everyone knows it’s good for the tummy. Hey, that sort-of rhymes! I’m quite good at this writing malarkey!

Anyway, here are my 5 reasons to always have it in the fridge:

  1. Eat it when you have thrush or apply directly to the area for speedy relief. Try not to use sanitary towels, breast pads or tampons for the application as these can make it worse. Cotton only!
  2. Use it as after-sun, preferably straight from the fridge.
  3. Mix with food colouring for some non-toxic and extremely edible messy play!
  4. Use it as a low-fat substitute for sour cream or cream cheese.
  5. Use it as a cream cleanser.

Household Superheroes – Petroleum Jelly

This is definitely my favourite household superhero! It’s extremely cheap to buy and so versatile – check out my list.

  1. Use it on nappy rash – it’s as effective as your named brand products (if not more effective) but at a fraction of the price. No nasty perfumes or colourings either!
  2. Rub it on the threads of a bottle cap to create a water-tight seal.
  3. Replace your usual lip balm with it.
  4. Add some to your first aid box – rubbing it into small cuts helps them to heal faster. Particularly useful for someone as clumsy as me!
  5. Rub liberally on hands or feet before going to bed. Cover with moisturizing gloves/socks and reap the rewards the morning after!