Holiday Budgeting Suggestions For Low-Income Families

Paying for a holiday has become difficult for lots of families at the moment. Not only has the economy been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the travel industry itself is in turmoil. As job losses mount up, many are focusing solely on covering their household bills and squirrelling away enough cash to help them through the winter months.

On the other hand, it is the long summer holiday and with our kids having spent an unprecedented amount of time out of school and away from their friends, giving the kids some sort of break is just as important – not least to protect their mental health. Before the Corona Virus struck, many parent strove to take their children away at least once a year.  Creating family memories is really important.


So what can we do?

Cut back on spending as much as possible

If you sit down and go through your day to day expenditure, you’ll probably be surprised at just how much can be frittered away without you really noticing. Few of us have the discipline to monitor every single expenditure but creating a household budget is never a wasted exercise. You may want to consider a short term loan.

Firstly, it’s important to note that most families waste a fortune every single month. That happens because they don’t think hard enough about the purchases they make.  You’ll find some ideas for curbing your impulse buying in this post.

Food is a big expenditure for lots of us but there are ways you can save on feeding the kids during the summer holidays.

What about travel companies that allow payment instalments?

Some travel companies allow people to pay for their bookings in instalments – either on a pay monthly basis or, alternatively, with a low deposit so you can secure your holiday. All of which seems like a good idea were it not for the fact that you will pay a hefty APR for the privilege.  To give you an idea, Lastminute.com are charging an APR of 29.9%.  That’s not such a cheap trip.

With the travel industry currently severely impacted due to COVID-19, you’d need to be extremely careful if you want to travel abroad – both due to the financial security of the travel companies and the ever-changing quarantine rules for countries in Europe and farther afield.  Jobs are being cut left right and centre – British Airways, Hays Travel, EasyJet to name just a few.

You can find ABTA’s latest advice for international travel here and it doesn’t make for optimistic reading.

Then there has been the news that some companies have been digging their heels in when it comes to issuing refunds.  More excellent advice can be found on Martin Lewis’s Moneysavingexpert site.

All of which makes the prospect of travelling abroad a decidedly dodgy proposition – even if you can find someone to take your booking and actually deliver your holiday.

Have a staycation – explore the kids’ home country

Many would agree that a staycation at home in the UK is a much safer bet. We have some beautiful places on our own shores. Arranging a camping trip or something similar could ensure the children get a well-earned break. In most instances, the little ones won’t care about seeing the sights – they just want to spend time with their parents.

That doesn’t mean, however, that a UK staycation is cheap.  Far from it.  Rumour has it that accommodation in tourist hotspots such as Devon and Cornwall is booked almost up to September 2021! It has also been a boom time for Airbnb properties.

Your best bet is probably to scour the budget hotel websites to see if you can find any deals on accommodation for last minute travel.  A quick Google search for Budget Hotel Deals UK reveals plenty of options still available if you are quick off the mark.  Just make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for and check out their cancellation and refund policies.

You’ll find that the number of rooms available may be reduced to adhere to social distancing and yes, you will likely have to wear a mask in public areas.

You might also find deals on sites like Topcashback.co.uk or with subscription dining cards such as Gourmet Society and Tastecard.  Experience companies like Buyagift.co.uk and Redletterdays.co.uk may also have some offers for short breaks.

Don’t forget to check supermarket loyalty cards too like Tesco Clubcard.

Stick to day trips

Many of the UK’s tourist attractions are starting to reopen, although you will need to book tickets online and observe social distancing when you are there.  Generally, we have found toilets are available but no dining, just takeaway food.  It’s just as easy to take a picnic.

We recently visited Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds and are planning another trip to Berkeley Castle next week.  Bristol Zoo and Clearwell Caves are also on our list.

At least with a day trip you have a lower financial outlay and if you do need to cancel it’s not such a heavy financial loss – although the kids will be disappointed.

You may be yearning for the beach but, having seen the pictures of Bournemouth Beach, Camberwell Sands and Durndle Door in Dorset,  I think we’ll be giving the sands a miss for quite some time to come.

A sand pit and a sprinkler in the back garden are cheaper options!

Finally, I think it’s important to explain to your kids the reasons why you can’t go on holiday and reassure them that they will be able to go a little later on (hopefully!).  Kids are pretty astute at grasping these things and we parents have enough to feel guilty about as it is.

Have you got any suggestions for cheap and cheerful holidays in these uncertain times?  Let us know!

Free & Low Cost Fathers Day Treats If You’re On A Budget

It’s Father’s Day in the UK on Sunday 20th June and you may be rushing around trying to find something suitable for the kids to give to their dad. Let’s be honest, it usually falls to us mums to sort these things out, doesn’t it?

Dads all have their own unique personality, don’t they?

But what do you do if you are strapped for cash? For many of us, it’s an expenditure we can do without.

It is possible to celebrate the day without spending money and by involving our kids we can help them to understand that the true reason behind the day is to show their dad how much he means to them.

For some, Father’s Day is fraught with potential difficulties if, for example, parents are separated or divorced.  For others, Father’s Day will be spent in quiet reflection thinking about the dad who is no longer with them.

The ritual of these annual celebrations is often emotionally, as well as financially challenging.

But if you are all going to be under one roof for the day, here are some ideas you might want to try, depending on the ages of your kids of course.

Low or No Cost Gift Ideas For Fathers Day

  • let dad have a lie in!
  • bring him breakfast in bed (needs quite a bit of supervision in this house!)
  • record his favourite sports fixtures and let him have a ‘sports’ day’ where he can sit in state in a comfy armchair whilst the kids bring him a drink and snacks.
  • make him his favourite sweet – fudge, for example, is quite easy to make but again you’ll need to supervise the kids with that boiling sugar.
  • let the kids clean his car – or at least clean out their mess from the back seat (Fruit Shoot bottles, sweet wrappers, crisp packets!)
  • dress the kids up as butlers, cooks and servants and get them to serve dinner Downton Abbey style.
  • get them to write secret messages on the loo roll (well, dads do tend to spend ages in there, don’t they)?!
  • the kids can make home-made cards and banners and decorate them themselves.
The dynamic duo have a number of cunning plans for Father’s Day apparently
  • why not make a ‘cheque book’ of promises from the kids e.g. “I promise to tidy my room”, “I promise to help you clean the car”, “I promise not to wake you before 7:30 am on a Sunday”
  • how about making a scrapbook of old family photos that have a special meaning to him or create some online photo collages?
  • get the kids to recreate his favourite TV programme – how about getting them to do a mini ‘Top Gear’ using their bikes and scooters or toy cars in the garden.
  • older kids can write dad a special poem.
  • give dad his absolute favourite Sunday lunch – in our house, this will involve Sticky Toffee Pudding but the kids could dish up some jelly and ice-cream with sprinkles…
  • have a gaming competition – if you have something like a Wii or just a good old fashioned game of rounders in the park, or skimming stones into the sea
  • find the lyrics to dad’s favourite songs online and get the kids to give him a show.  The thought of Caitlin and Ieuan having a Killswitch Engage concert for The Husband is, um, intriguing.  Although a whole heap better than an afternoon of Amon Amarth and their shouty Viking rock.
  • make hand or footprints using poster paint and frame them simply with some plain card.
  • get dad to play Sherlock.  Hide a simple gift like a bar of dad’s favourite chocolate in the house and get the kids to write a series of clues to its secret location.  If he doesn’t find it, he has to share it.
  • help the kids to make a sign for dad’s shed or his ‘man cave’ using some strong card. Stick it up and throw a few strings of fairy lights around the space to jazz it up a bit.

No matter how you choose to acknowledge the day, the most important thing is to spend time together.

These days we are all so strapped for time, Fathers Day is a great opportunity to make some special memories.

And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Tips To Make Sure You Don’t Break The Bank This Christmas

Christmas is the time of year when it’s easy to spend more than you can afford and, if you have kids, it’s tempting to buy them everything on their Christmas lists. This means that many of us find it a struggle to make ends meet at the start of a new year. Budgeting at Christmas has little appeal when there’s so much fun to be had but it really can make all the difference to how you start the new year.

These are just common sense, but here is a reminder of some simple things you can do to avoid emptying your wallet and maxing out your credit cards.

Write a List and Stick to it 

So easy to say but how many of us actually sit down and take the time to write a list? Whether you prefer handwritten or typed, there are so many apps and journals available to take the dullness out of what can be a bit of a chore. Make yourself a hot chocolate, get cosy and start writing.

How many of us mums remember to include ourselves on the list by the way?

Set a Budget

Budgeting at Christmas is key. Just jot down who you intend buying for, what you’re thinking of buying them, and the amount you’re thinking of spending on them.  This way it will be easy to see if you are likely to go over budget before you start online shopping or head out to town.

When you have an idea of how much you want to spend on each person, set a budget that you can afford. If you think money is going to be tight, work out where you can cut back on your occasional spending or be ruthless with who really should be on the gift list.

You might also want to talk to your immediate family to agree on an upper financial limit to gifts or perhaps restricting gift-giving, as my sister and I do, to our kids and just giving each other a bottle of wine.

You don’t really need to give gifts to relatives you see once a year, I think and certainly don’t go mad for friends who wouldn’t put themselves out for you.  Very often I think we spend out of guilt or in an attempt to win friendship.  That very rarely works.

The other thing that can swallow up your cash if you’re not careful is stocking fillers for the kids and pets, as well as advent calendars.

Again, budgeting at Christmas can make all the difference.

Start shopping as early in the year as possible

The earlier you start putting money towards your budget in the year, the better you’ll feel when it’s time to go Christmas shopping. Yes, Christmas shopping in August can be depressing, but it all helps to avoid being broke during the new year.

It’s also a good idea to have a review of your finances in July to see what other bills are looming and how much realistically you can free up for Christmas.

Don’t forget the ‘incidentals’

It’s a cliche but true nevertheless that it is the thought that counts but remember that the smallest amounts can really add up.  It’s not just the gift, is it?  There’s cards, wrapping paper, gift boxes and bags, postage and even fuel to deliver them in person.

There are always those things that you forget to buy and end up desperately scrabbling around your corner shop at 4 pm on Christmas Eve.

You can find lots of helpful gift lists online if you need some inspiration and Pinterest is a great place to look.

Gift wrapped with handmade paper and adorned with a sprig of spruce and a fir cone

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Use credit wisely

Obtaining a credit account is an option, although you’ll need to proceed with caution because too much credit and particularly defaulting on payments will have a negative on your credit score.  This might mean being turned down for important loans in the future – for example, a mortgage.

The question is, can you trust yourself to make all the repayments on time, without incurring compound interest and late payment fees?

You may be able to spread the cost of Christmas by shopping with some of the catalogue stores who offer credit accounts but make sure you know what you are getting into and if the credit is interest-free.  Otherwise, the cost of your purchase will be much higher than the advertised price.

Compare Prices

Before buying something, compare prices in different stores first to see if you can get it any cheaper. Every little helps, especially at this time of year.  Do try to support smaller businesses and your local traders.  This year is going to be a tough Christmas trading period for lots of the smaller retailers and crafts folk who are fighting the might of Amazon and the like.

My personal feeling is that if we don’t start to support our local traders then the high street as we know it may well just disappear and, much as I enjoy the convenience of internet shopping, there is nothing like the experience of Christmas shopping in a shop – if you are prepared and sensibly dressed for it that is!

Get creative and make your own gifts

Why not get creative and make some stuff yourself? This will save you a ton of money, and people will appreciate the thought and effort you’ve put into their gifts a lot more. You could make a food hamper, pamper hamper, cupcakes, a canvas, or anything else you can think of.

Give to Charity

I think it’s fair to say that charities have had as tough a year as the retailers and my personal preference is to support the smaller, local charities where I can see that my donations are actually making a difference.

If you want to give a gift to someone who has everything and is a supporter of a particular charity, why not give to charity in their name? Of course, there are plenty of charity Christmas cards but I find that more and more of us are relying on email and texts.  It’s not the same, though, is it?

I hope these tips will serve as a useful reminder that, with a bit of planning and budgeting, you can take control of your Christmas spending and avoid the stress of wondering when the credit card bills and email reminders will start appearing.

And don’t forget that you deserve a gift too – if it’s only some time out for pampering and whatever form of self-care works for you.

Planning Your Wedding? Here’s 5 Ways To Save Money Without Sacrificing Style

Even if you’re determined to make your wedding day extra special, you might not be prepared to part with vast sums of money for the privilege. But the fact is, if you’re not careful when planning your big day, costs can quickly spiral out of control.  Organising a wedding on a budget can be a challenge so bear the following ideas in mind.

Back detail of wedding dress - planning a stylish wedding on a budget - motherdistracted.co.uk
There are plenty of beautiful second-hand and vintage bridal gowns to be had

From your clothing to your catering, you’ll have a host of expenses to cover.

The good news is, it’s possible to save money on your nuptial celebrations without sacrificing on style in the process.

Ideas to save money for your wedding on a budget

The following five suggestions could help you keep your spending under control.

1. Select a second-hand dress 

Wedding dresses don’t tend to come cheap, but there is a way to bring your costs down. Instead of buying brand new, you can take your pick from the selection of second hand wedding dresses now available.

There are a host of gorgeous garments to choose from online and from specialist stores on the high street.

Whether you want a classic, embellished, lace-trimmed or vintage look, you should be able to find something that suits and that fits within your spending limit.

2. Book off-peak 

Another top money-saving tip is to arrange your ceremony outside of the peak wedding season.

Most people want to tie the knot in the warm spring or summer weather.

So, by planning yours between November and March (excluding Valentine’s Day), you can reduce your bill by between 20 and 30 per cent.

Also, you may be able to drive costs down further by walking down the aisle on a Friday or Sunday rather than a Saturday.

3. Have your ceremony and reception in one place 

Consider having your ceremony and reception in one location too.

For example, if you do the whole thing in a hotel, you won’t have to worry about the cost of transporting guests between venues.

Garden set up for a wedding - planning a stylish wedding on a budget - motherdistracted.co.uk
Save money by holding the ceremony and reception in the same place

If you’re planning to tie the knot in a church, find out if there are any suitable places to hold your reception in nearby.

As well as saving you cash, this can cut your stress levels on the big day.

4. Get someone you know to do the photography 

Your wedding day will be over before you know it, so you’ll no doubt want plenty of pictures to remind you of it.

The trouble is, professional photographers can cost a fortune.

So, if you know someone who’s skilled behind the lens and who has a good quality camera, why not ask them to take your snaps instead?

Sometimes, the pictures taken by friends and family are the best when it comes to capturing the intimacy and emotion of these romantic events.

Wedding shoes and bouquet - planning a stylish wedding on a budget - motherdistracted.co.ukl

5. Have a buffet instead of a sit-down dinner 

Having a sit-down dinner might be a tempting idea, but it won’t come cheap.

An effective way to make your catering more cost-effective is to opt for a buffet instead.

You could bring your food bill down by a significant sum if you select this less formal dining style, so it’s certainly worth thinking about.

Your guests will enjoy the grub just as much, and you won’t be left with as big a hole in your pocket.

Each of these five suggestions could make you major savings, and the best thing is, they don’t require you to sacrifice on style if you want a wedding on a budget.

Summer’s Coming & So Are The Bills!

As the weather warms up, we start to think about holidays.  Or rather the cost of having a holiday. Taking the kids out of school during term time to go on holiday is a highly contentious issue and it’s something, personally, I would not do without a very good reason.

I’m not sure a fortnight in a theme park counts as a valuable life experience, which is often the justification put forward, although walking around Alton Towers wearing one of their transparent rain ponchos in a summer deluge probably does. I’ve not recovered from the last time.

So we parents have to grit our teeth and pay premium prices for holidays whilst trying to cut our cloth accordingly and hoping that nothing else comes along to add to the expense.

We’re very fond of a staycation.  The UK is a beautiful country and, hands up, I haven’t quite summoned up the courage to travel abroad with our two yet.  That day is fast approaching though as soon as I sort their passports out.


We try to budget carefully and make endless lists, not only of things to pack but potential expenses. We prefer self-catering where possible because it’s great to have a base to relax in plus you don’t have the cost of eating out every single night. There’s a limit to the number of chicken nuggets and chips I can face in 7 days, although Ieuan can be prevailed upon to eat something green now and again.

Readers of this blog will know I’m a big fan of Skint Dad‘s Penny Challenge which helps you build a pot for Christmas by saving a little each day (1p on day 1, £1.30 on day 130 and so on).  By following this system you can save around £677 per year but that’s for the festive season and it still leaves the challenge of budgeting for July and August.

Added to which the MOT on my beloved Skoda Roomster is due, along with an annual service and possibly new tyres.  If you’re going to be doing a lot of driving this summer you may need to get your car checked over to see if it’s safe for all those summer trips.

Our garden wall is about to cave in thanks to rain and subsidence and we have a list of DIY projects as long as your arm since the house was built in 1929 and is beginning to show its age.

The Husband has been promising (or is it threatening) to convert the garage into a gym to put in a treadmill or a rowing machine.  And Ieuan is very enthused by the idea of having a punch bag and space to practise his Tae Kwon-Do.

None of this would be possible without knocking the existing garage down and starting from scratch which not be an inexpensive construction project!

Our approach to spending on the house is to squirrel away whatever cash we can in an ISA, use these funds to pay for the construction project (or whatever) and then start saving again.

A sensible approach is to talk to your bank, of course, or your credit card providers to see if existing credit card debt can be amalgamated or transferred with a balance transfer deal and hopefully a lower interest rate.

Most of us know, by now, the way to cut expenditure and raise a bit of cash.  You know the kind of thing:-

* having a declutter and selling items on eBay, Craigslist, Gumtree or your local car boot sale

* reducing unnecessary daily expenditure (yes you know you shouldn’t be buying expensive coffees and should be taking your own lunch but it’s so difficult to get into the groove, isn’t it?)

* menu planning and budgeting for your food

* using comparison websites to check you are getting the best deals on your utilities, mobile and insurance deals

But how many of us actually do these things, even though we know we should. When the bills stack up we seem to be struck down by a kind of financial inertia!

Incidentally, you can find plenty more ideas in my half-yearly budget post.

Sometimes though, money is needed urgently and a payday loan from a provider such as Cash Lady may fill the gap.  Prioritising the repayment of the loan is key however.

And once over the financial hump, so to speak, the best approach is to start saving for next year’s major expenses now.

Easier said than done, but well worth the effort in terms of the stress control!

How do you budget for your summer holidays?

Will You End 2019 Richer Or Poorer? Time To Plan Your Financial Year

Getting to grips with family finance is really important now that the UK economy is so unsettled by the ongoing BREXIT negotiations.  Some mums are even stockpiling tinned foods and medication because they fear lots of their staples will vanish if no deal is reached. Has there ever been a more uncertain time in recent memory for family finance?

Readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of budgeting and putting a bit aside for a rainy day. This is something that the Husband and I drill into the kids on a daily basis.

Financial Planning - pile of pens and coins

There’s nothing like teaching them the power of anticipation and the value of saving up for the things they really want.

But now, more than ever, it’s time to get to grips with our cash and to plan for as stable a 2019 as possible by setting solid financial goals.

I think I inherited my financial caution from my parents.  I can still hear dad’s voice behind me when about to squander my pocket money on a copy of Jackie or some Black Jack chews (4 for a penny!). “You don’t really need that, do you?” he used to say.

Mum and Dad were both born in 1939 just in time for World War II and having experienced rationing their attitude to saving is a lot more stringent than that of most Millennials.

When you’re young you always think you’ll live forever and you really can’t envisage the day when you’ll need your pension – or what desperate circumstance might arise when you’ll need to get your hands on some cash quickly.

Financial planning - Ieuan adding Minecraft to the family weekly shopping list
Minecraft is Ieuan’s number one shopping item

When you become a homeowner (which is increasingly looking a rather remote possibility for Caitlin and Ieuan), it is often a bit of a shock to be landed with bills for replacing a boiler, rewiring the electrics or fixing a leaky roof!

Equally, though, you don’t want to spend your life always worrying about whether you should be enjoying yourself.  We are only here once (depending on your personal beliefs of course).

Life is too short to wallow in guilt about treating yourself occasionally.

Planning your financial year is the answer.

It’s time to pick up our pens and planners (some of us still haven’t got to grips with Google spreadsheets) and create a budget which will cushion us against financial shocks whilst still adding a frisson of excitement to 2019.

And I’m sure we are all looking forward to a more exciting and happier year than 2018 which seemed to chiefly feature BREXIT and the looming nightmare of Donald Trump.

I am 55 this year and those of us over 50 are aware that retirement is, if not exactly looming on the horizon, something that needs thinking about.  Saving is pretty critical in these years and you really don’t want to be dipping into your savings pot to fund large items of expenditure.

I’m sure most of us don’t want to start taking out large, and often expensive, loans either.

One way to release funds for things such as home improvements like a conservatory or adapting a property to meet mobility needs, or that long-promised cruise, is by equity release.

Now obviously you will want to make sure that you take independent financial advice to look at your finances as a whole and to plug any gaps which might need urgent attention – especially your pension and possibly funeral planning.

But equity release may well work for you. This is where you obtain funds derived from the value of your property whilst still being allowed to live there.

Saga helps those over 55 with its equity release service and, used sensibly, this can help you gain greater control over your finances.  Make sure you do your research first before signing on the dotted line.

So, what action points are on the Hobbis Family’s planner?

Financial planning - Caitlin writes out the family financial plan
Caitlin plans to raise money by selling the family’s endless supply of coat hangers

Our Family Finance Goals For 2019

Here’s our top 5.

Plan for Christmas

Still far and away our biggest expense.  This year we’re trying to save £3 a day up to the first of December which should give us £996.

Pay Off Our Holidays

We have two weeks in Devon booked with Toad Hall Cottages and need to pay off the balance around March.

If our funds will stretch I’d like to take an extra week towards the end of the summer holidays (when everyone is in dire need of something to remove the boredom and boost the spirits!).

I’d also look to have a few shorter breaks and take a lot more day trips.

Budget for carpet

Just the word tends to make my soul sink but it has to be done.  We took all the carpet up hoping that wood floors would help with allergies and reduce dust.

They do, but the house creaks in the night like an old galleon and it’s impossible to creep about without risking waking the kids.

Plus we’re hoping to dampen the sound of our next door neighbour’s occasional belief that he lives in a night club in Ibiza and ramps up the volume of his stereo accordingly.

We’ll make sure we time our purchase around bank holidays and general sale periods when there are often great deals to be had.

Reduce our food bills

The key to this is menu planning and shopping list writing. It’s something I’m still trying to discipline myself to do.

Otherwise, it’s too easy to wander around Tesco throwing ‘things you fancy for tea’ in a trolley which, 9 times out of 10, wouldn’t make a nutritionist very happy.

Then there’s Ieuan’s “Mr Kipling” habit but since Mr Kipling’s cakes are rapidly reducing to the size of microdots, it might be time to get baking again.

Save more by using vouchers and discount codes

If you avoid impulse buying and plan your purchases sensibly you can often save by buying through cash-back sites like Topcashback which is free to use.

So that’s our top 5. I think it’s a good idea to sit down with the family (and the kids!) and discuss financial objectives for the year.

It’s never too soon for little ones to grasp that their parents have to work for their money and that there are some things which have to be paid for before Roblox, Minecraft and anything with a puppy printed on it.

Have you planned your financial year yet?  What difference do you think BREXIT has made to your decisions surrounding family finance?

*Collaborative Post

Christmas Shopping? 8 Ways To Keep Your Cool.

There are times when those of us prone to getting a little ‘tired and emotional’ need to treat ourselves with a little more care than usual and especially if you are menopausal!  And Christmas shopping is definitely one of those times.

If, like me, you find yourself getting too hot, too tired and decidedly cranky with kids in tow, here are eight ways you can mitigate the damage before you either blow your top or end up spending far too much money because you just want to go home!

Here are my “keep cool when Christmas shopping” tips.

keep cool when Christmas shopping - indoor shopping mall

Keep cool when Christmas shopping

Decide how much you are going to spend on presents

This is THE most difficult aspect of all but you really need to be clear about your budget and how much you can afford to spend on each present.  It’s so easy to feel pressured into spending too much but we all know that after the kids have the thrill of ripping the wrapping paper off, so many toys languish ignored after a day or so.

Make a list of what you’re going to buy.

An oldie but a goodie.  Make a list of what you’re planning to buy for everyone and stick to it.  The list should include stocking fillers as well as main presents. It is amazing how bits and pieces such as novelty chocolates and tiny games can add up.

Research prices online before you go.

For bigger ticket items, it makes sense to at least have an idea of what the big retailers are offering and most of them will price-match (John Lewis, for example).

If you’re shopping for gadgets, make sure you are comparing the like for like technical specification and check what extras are included.

You might also want to check any consumer reviews you can find in magazines like Which? or on Amazon. Whilst you need to be able to read between the lines when looking at reviews, generally, you will get a sense of whether a product is OK or a complete dud not worth your precious cash.

Check sites like Topcashback, Quidco, and Vouchercloud to see whether there are better online deals for your gifts.  Sites like these also have mobile apps you can use to check prices and earn cashback on the go.

There are numerous other price-checking apps for your smartphone that you can use in-store such as Red Laser or Price Grabber.

Cash or credit?

Make sure you’ve set a budget and know how much you can afford to spend.  If you’re spending on your credit cards, make sure you’ll be able to make the necessary repayments without incurring hefty interest charges.  Nobody wants to start a new year with a Christmas debt hangover.

Plan Your Route

Once you know what you want to buy and where the best deals are likely to be, it’s easier to plan your route.  Make allowances for the day and time you go shopping.  If you hate crowds, first thing on a Sunday morning will be a nicer experience than mid-afternoon on a Saturday!

Dress Appropriately

I like to wear warm, casual clothes in layers with a stylish but comfy pair of boots that I can walk for miles in. You can find a great selection at Esprit.

If you’ve got kids, make sure they don’t get overheated in all-in-one bodysuits and that their clothing is easily removable for dashes to the toilet!

Plan A Break

Particularly if you have kids, you’ll need to schedule a toilet/drink break.  We like John Lewis as there is a good choice of food and snacks for kids, plenty of room, clean toilets and a welcoming environment for families.  Trying to cram into a tiny coffee bar with a pushchair and umbrellas is never a nice experience!

Make sure you have some bottled water and some healthy snacks (mini boxes of raisins or bananas) to stave off hunger pains.  If you’re on a diet, a little snack pot with some fruit and nuts and perhaps a few cubes of cheese may help you avoid an enormous slice of fudge cake and a calorie-laden festive coffee.

Keep Receipts

Why not start a folder specially for Christmas present receipts?  Just pop them straight in when you get home and you’ll know when to find them should anything need to be taken back after Christmas. Lots of retailers will now email you your receipt to save on all those annoying bits of paper.

Do It All Online Instead!

If you can’t face the crowds, online shopping is the answer.  Just make sure that you take into account any delivery charges, last order dates and returns policies.  Not all online retailers offer to cover the postage costs of returning item.  If you’re ordering a perishable gift, such as a cream tea hamper, make sure the recipient will be in to receive it.

It also helps to sort out a safe place for delivery as there is nothing more annoying than coming home to a missed delivery card.

With a bit of planning before your shopping trip, you can minimise the stress and hopefully save yourself some cash into the bargain.

Do you have any “keep cool when Christmas shopping” tips to share?




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How To Make Your Space Your Own On A Budget

How can you make your space your own when you’re living in a rented flat, bedsit or student accommodation? Wherever you are, it’s only natural to want to make your house a home.

Everyone needs a cosy pad to escape to so that you can recharge your batteries and regather your energy. But how do you do that when money is tight and you’ve bills to pay?

At this time of year, in particular, making your space lovely and festive only adds to the enjoyment of the season.

So what to do?  And what do you do when you share your space with others?

Make your house a home on a budget

Here are some tips you might like to try.

Create a mood board

You can find inspiration from the interior magazines like Elle Decoration and the Sunday supplements.

Repaint

Be careful if you are renting though.  You might want to follow these tips to avoid upsetting your landlord!

Try some DIY projects

Here’s a way to make your own fabulous cosy headboard.

Display family photos

Create a photo wall or mix and match frames.  Visit your local printer to blow up your favourite prints to A3 or larger and frame them.

Update the curtains 

You could add a statement theme to jazz a room up or just replace with calming neutrals to dial the volume down.  If the light is a problem, it’s worth investing in black-out linings which will give you an extra hour of snooze time on light summer mornings and keep you warm in the winter.

Use seating in the bedroom

Create a cosy corner to read in by adding an armchair to your bedroom.

Upgrade your entertainment

If you have the room why not make your TV and movie-watching more enjoyable by creating your own home theater.  It doesn’t have to cost a fortune and may even save you money on family trips to the movies and all the overpriced popcorn!

Add texture with throws and cushions

You don’t have to spend a fortune.  You can make such a difference with soft furnishings such as throws and cushions. Buy the cushion pads and the covers separately or make your own covers if you can sew.

You can also add character to your bedroom with bedding in different textures, colours and fabrics.

make your house a home - pile of faux fur cushions and rugs

Hang String lights

These are pretty at any time of year.  Stuff strings of battery operated lights into glass vases to add a cosy glow to corners and mantle pieces or drape over the kitchen or your bed to add some atmosphere.

Create a nook

If you’ve no room in the bedroom to add a chair, create a cosy corner in your main room – perhaps with a mini table or bookshelf and a lamp to read by.

Add light and reflection with mirrors

A decorating basic – make your space big by using the power of reflection.  You could make a large mirror a feature of the room.

Add plants / flowers

Nothing spruces a room up like a beautiful floral display and you can find some reasonable bunches in stores like Aldi.  Add an extra note of interest by displaying them in quirky ways, for example, unusual china cups.

Light Candles

Very Hygge and there are so many types and fragrances to choose from at every price point. Candles are a really quick way to add cosiness.

Make your own artwork

If you are the arty type, why not create a wall dedicated to your own artwork.  I have seen some pretty convincing paintings simply done with acrylic paint.  Or if you are into photography, why not display your work – I love black and white photography.

Replace the toilet seat or taps

No explanation needed on this one and is there anything more irritating than a dripping tap?

Display your make up / perfume bottles

If you don’t have many ornaments, improvise.  Antique perfume bottles and some of the more unusual modern fragrance bottles make a lovely display.

Hat boxes in stacks also make a great display.

Use modular furniture that can be moved around

If you’re investing in furnishings, it makes sense to buy things you can move from room to room – and take with you when you move on.

No matter where you live, it’s easy to add your own personality to your space and create a home that is welcoming and great to come back to after a hard day’s work or studying.

What would be your top tip?

5 Top Tips To Save On Your Energy Bills This Autumn

My social media accounts are awash with people getting excited about autumn – the colours, scents and the opportunity to legitimately cover all your chairs with throws and cushions (not in the Husband’s opinion though).

save on your energy bills - autumn woodland scene

Autumn, of course, sees not only the approaching expense of Christmas but those other fun events, Halloween and Bonfire Night.  Then Caitlin, my mum and my nieces and nephew all have birthdays in the autumn/winter months.

This is without factoring the cost of switching the heating back on and cooking all those warming winter meals after months of salad. Yes, after the mortgage, our utility bills are one of the biggest chunks of our monthly expenditure.

So how can we make sure that we keep as much of our hard-earned cash in our pockets this autumn?  What’s the best way to save on your energy bills?

Budget now for Christmas

If you haven’t already been saving for Christmas, now is the time to start squirrelling away whatever you can – whether that’s into a dedicated savings account or even a big glass jar.  Assign a basic budget per person and work towards that.

If you have a big family with lots of people to buy for, why not agree with your relatives what the maximum spend should be or even at what point you’ll stop buying gifts for each other and just send a card.

If you have a rough idea of what you’re spending on everyone, you can take better advantage of the late summer sales but if you are thinking of gift cards, I’d offer a note of caution.

In one of the larger department stores recently I used a gift card that had languished in my purse for well over a year.  I was told it was a good job I’d used it up as gift cards were only valid for two years  – despite the fact that it was surely my own money – so beware!

There have also been cases where retailers have gone bust and refused to honour gift cards and vouchers so these, with the possible exception of Amazon, might be best avoided if you think the recipient is unlikely to spend them any time soon.

Christmas lights wrapped around a tree in the garden

Plan your festive travel 

Decide now where you will be spending Christmas and if you’re travelling investigate travel fare and hotel offers now – before prices rise as everything gets booked up.  Take a look at Trivago or Expedia.  A Family & Friends Railcard will save you loads on family travel if you’re taking the kids for an outlay of £27. There’s 30% off adult fares and 60% off kids’ fares depending on when you travel.

Ditch any unnecessary expenditure

Add to your Christmas funds by cutting down on unnecessary expenditure – those huge frothy coffees and muffins, magazine subscriptions you never read and, yes, dull as it sounds, make your own sarnies for lunch.  Lord knows if your sandwiches are like mine you need something to motivate you – and having a January with money left in your bank account should do it, surely?

Hands around a coffee

Use The Cash Back Sites

I’m sure you have heard about the shopping cashback sites such as Topcashback and Quidco but there’s also Swagbucks (where you earn vouchers for completing online activities like watching videos or completing surveys) and Valued Opinions (surveys) and of course Groupon and Wowcher for saving cash not only on things you’d buy for yourself but gifts too.

Save on your energy bills 

You can find lots of ideas on saving money on your energy bills for autumn in this post but as a quick reminder, these are my top three tips:

Check your boiler

Ours is so old and clunky it is definitely on the ‘replace’ list soon.  If more than two of us have a shower in quick succession it throws a strop and has to be reset. If yours is as temperamental as ours you might be surprised to find how much money you could potentially be saving each year by replacing your boiler.

HomeServe energy saving tool

HomeServe Heating has a helpful Energy Saving Tool to help you work out just that by showing you how much you could save by comparing it with your incidental spending (see ‘Ditch Any Unnecessary Expenditure’ above!).  I could save £215.

Turn down your thermostat

The Energy Saving Trust says you can save around £90 just by turning your thermostat down 1 degree. Sweaters and hot water bottles can be your new best friends.

Draught proof windows and doors

You can buy draught-proofing strips to stick around the window frames which are cheap, and easy to install, although they may not be a long-term solution. You can get metal or plastic strips with brushes or wipers attached which are long-lasting but cost a little more. For windows that don’t open, use a silicone sealant.

Similarly, check your doors for draughts too.  Keep doors closed to stop cold air from moving into the rest of the house and if there is a gap at the bottom of the door, use a draught excluder.  You can make your own with some spare material or even a stuffed pair of tights.

Once you’ve got your budgeting sorted and kept the cold, wet weather at bay, you can settle down and plan some delicious festive fare or make yourself a nice gin cocktail to toast your great organisational skills!

What tips do you have to save on your energy bills?

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How To Transform Your Family Kitchen On A Budget

While for many families the kitchen is the heart of the home, there often comes a time when it begins to look and feel tired and no longer suitable for your growing family’s needs. You may not have the budget to go for an entirely new kitchen, but with a little imagination, time and effort you can make a significant difference to your kitchen without spending very much.

Transform your kitchen on a budget - bright wood and white themed kitchen

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

As well as looking fresh and modern, you can create a kitchen that is comfortable to use, efficient, easy to keep clean and able to handle the daily chaos that comes with family life. Get it right, and your new-look kitchen can grow with your family.

Transform your kitchen on a budget

Here are some simple ideas to transform your kitchen on a budget.

Add a new colour to kitchen walls

Painting the walls is the perfect way to give your kitchen a fresh new look without having to spend too much. Whether you are already handy with a paintbrush or a complete beginner, in most cases you should be able to get it done in a day. With any decorating job, preparation is key. Make sure you choose kitchen paint and use a combination of rollers and paint brushes suitable for the area you will be painting.

Transform your kitchen lighting

Updating your kitchen lights is a simple way to transform the room. Replacing your existing lights with something similar should be quite straightforward. There are, however, so many options available that you could introduce a whole new lighting scheme. Choose from spot and downlights, oversized pendants, to strip lights and under cabinet lights. Replacing lights should be a simple job, but if you do want to change the lighting completely, you may wish to hire a local electrician.

Give old cupboards a facelift

If the structure of your kitchen cupboards is in good condition, then you could replace the doors. Painting the cupboard doors is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to create a new look. Use a primer first as your base to ensure an even finish. Then pick a colour that works well with your updated scheme, whether a simple white or you want to introduce a pop of colour. To finish the look, you will need to replace the old tired cabinet knobs or handles.

Transform your kitchen on a budget - shelves crowded with ornaments, cans and flasks

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

Freshen up your worktops

Worktops in a family kitchen need to cope with a lot. Updating your worktops can make a dramatic change to your kitchen. Worktop kits mean you can easily prepare and paint over old, tired worktops to bring them quickly back to life. Replacing your worktop with laminate is a popular and cost-effective worktop. If you are doing a simple replacement of your existing worktop, then it should be a reasonably straightforward task for any DIYer. If you aren’t feeling confident or you wish to change the layout of your kitchen completely, you might need to hire a joiner or kitchen fitter.

Improve kitchen storage

Good storage can make a huge difference to any family kitchen. While you are updating your kitchen think about how you use the space. Pull-out drawers in a cupboard instantly make every spare inch of space usable. If you lack top cupboards, then wooden shelves on metal brackets can be installed that provide a functional display area for your dishes.

Change the way you dress your kitchen windows

Changing your window dressing is a quick and easy way to update your kitchen. Curtains, nets and blinds can absorb moisture and get dirty very quickly. Shutters meanwhile are great for a kitchen as they are hardwearing, durable, easy to keep clean and above all, look great. You don’t have to be a DIY pro to install them either with easy to follow guides on YouTube and The Shutter Store, you’ll be able to fit them in no time.

Finish off with new flooring

Your kitchen floor must endure a lot, so it is not surprising when it eventually starts to show wear and tear. If you have wooden floors which are looking tired, but you don’t want to get them professionally refinished, then consider painting them instead. If you would like to put down something completely new, a quick, budget-friendly option is to use groutable vinyl tiles which have the look of ceramic. They have a durable finish and are very easy to install.

You don’t have to be an experienced DIYer or have a large budget to give your kitchen a completely new look. Updating just a few key areas can go a long way in changing the overall look and feel of your kitchen for all the family to enjoy for years to come. You can transform your kitchen on a budget!

Interior Style: Mix and Match to Make it Yours

If you are a fan of interior design magazines, especially the likes of Elle Decoration and Vogue living, you could be forgiven for thinking that only designer furniture and accessories can look good in your home.

These magazines are all about the lifestyle of the rich and famous and though the things they show are certainly beautiful, there’s no need to break the bank trying to achieve the same look in your family home.

Stylish living room - interior design on a budget

Image Credit: Pexels

Instead of remaining disappointed that you will never own a set of handcrafted wooden spoons that cost £95, look to the high street for inspiration and then make it yours. You don’t have to spend so much to create a home beautiful enough for the pages of a magazine; you just need a good eye for colours and textures.

The Supermarkets

For interior design enthusiasts, the supermarket is a great place to start.  You may not find designer wares here, but you will see all the latest styles and colours at affordable prices. Supermarkets are brilliant for things like kitchenware, crockery and glassware and bring out a new range every season so that you can change things up when you like.

Though you might think that all Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s carry the same stock, they actually tend to cater to the area they are in and stock accordingly. So, if you don’t have a large homeware department in your local, try travelling further afield to find a bigger store or a store in a slightly posher area.

The High Street

Big ticket items like sofas and furniture can all be found easily on the high street for a reasonable price. Shops like Next and Marks & Spencer have brilliant homeware departments that clearly follow the trends and offer furniture that is family-friendly as well. To personalise the furniture, you can choose from a range of fabrics and some shops are also selling handles and doorknobs that you can swap out to give your furniture more character.

If you can, try to time your purchases with the sales. To save a bit more, you should have a look online to see if there are any vouchers available to get you a discount on sites like Topcashback. Don’t discount display furniture either as this often comes with a good price reduction.

The Charity Shops

While buying everything new is fine, the character often comes from the things we inherit. You will surely pick up a range of knick-knacks over the years that you have inherited from family or bought on holiday, but charity shops are also really good for this kind of thing. And right now, they could really do with our support.  

Even on the most frugal budget, you can create a wonderful home interior that you will enjoy every day. The key to remember is that, like your wardrobe, your interior should be evolving, taking in elements of new fashions as they come in and gradually changing as you do.

How To Live A More Luxurious Life Without Breaking The Bank

As this month’s credit card bills land on the mat, we start wondering if we’ll ever find the funds for our next holiday, particularly if the debts are starting to mount up.

As we watch those fabulous TV giveaways with prizes of cash, cars, gadgets and sunshine vacations, I’ll bet many of us wonder how to live a more luxurious life without winning a competition – and preferably without breaking the bank!

how to live a more luxurious life so we can spend more time by the pool - swimming pool with deckchairs and umbrella

It’s a lot easier than you might think to add a little extra luxury if you are prepared to put up with a little delayed gratification and get to grips with your occasional spending.

Oliver’s Travels have put together this fabulous infographic with a few ideas on simple cut backs that you can make in order to reward yourself with luxury. The prices are approximate but you get the gist.

If you’ve been asking yourself how to live a more luxurious life, why not start writing down everything you spend every day in what is a typical week for you.  List everything, no matter how small, the chewing gum, the magazine, the bottle of wine to take round a friends, buying a round in the pub and that takeaway.

You may be surprised how quickly it all adds up on things that you wouldn’t miss.  You might also identify spending habits that do not serve you.

Are you always the one paying for drinks because your mates earn less or never have any cash? There’s always that friend who treats you like a mobile cash-point, isn’t there?

Are you always the one handing out loans, the fiver here, the tenner there, which never quite seem to make it back into your wallet?

Sometimes we don’t just need to say no to our own spending habits but to other people as well – and that can be just as tricky.

Lastly, you might need to define what living a more luxurious life means to you.  For many parents, that’s spending more quality time with their children. For others it will be doing things that make them feel good about themselves – like volunteering or giving to charity.

Why not take some time to consider what luxury means to you – and let me know in the comments.