Category Archives: Saving Money

This Is Not A ‘Why I Haven’t Been Blogging’ Blog…Honestly

Whenever I haven’t written a post for a while, it is really hard not to write a ‘why I haven’t been blogging lately’ blog. To be honest, if I wrote that sort of post, it is all that would be on the site at the moment. This post really isn’t one of those, however, all the excuses reasons for not blogging lately are totally relevant to what I want to write about today. So it might seem like an excuse filled post but it’s not, I promise!

It has now been over a year since we started talking and forming a plan to change the way we live. In a little over a month it will be a year since we started our proper hardcore saving habits, turning us into frugal thinkers. I’m sure I’ve said this before so I won’t bore you with it again, but it really has turned our lives around. We are in control of our finances and the stress of overspending each month has gone away (oh look, I did bore you with it again…#sorrynotsorry). At the start of the year, Mr B and I had our annual meeting to review 2016, life, the universe and everything (yes, we really did) and came to the conclusion that we not only hit all our targets for 2016 but, thanks to Mr B’s hard work, exceeded them. We also found that Mr B was more fed up with London and commuting than ever (full minutes of this meeting are available to download at the end of this post*).

As time went on this feeling intensified. In March and after many number crunching spreadsheets, we decided to start house hunting. That is where this post comes in as I was having a wobble about it all. I’m fine now, thanks for asking. Anyway, fast forward a few months and here are the stats:

6 trips to Herefordshire/Worcestershire/Shropshire

10 houses viewed

1 beautiful house loved and lost (sob)

1 house put on the market (ours, obvs)

£££££ spent on petrol and trying to fix the wretched car which apparently can’t handle the mileage.

So there you have it. We are actively house hunting for our dream property. Our lovely home is on the market. What with the emotional strain of putting in offers and missing out on places we have fallen for, flogging the 180 miles almost every weekend and fighting a losing battle vs the kids by trying to keep our house in a state suitable for viewings, I am pretty much done in. The blog has taken a backseat as I found I just didn’t have the brainpower left after all the recent emotion.

Much cake was needed to cope with all the emotion.

Added to all this we have been very lazy recently in our money saving ways. I think our focus has been taken off ‘saving for the dream house’ and replaced by ‘looking for the dream house’, and as a result, we have relaxed our normal frugality. We have given ourselves a strict talking to and are going to try harder in the future.

Picnics are one of my favourite frugal things to do. Half term = picnic week!

As a research tool, house hunting has been invaluable as we definitely know what it is we are looking for now, both in terms of what we need for a glamping business or holiday let, and for a family house. Speaking of research….we are going glamping next weekend!! I am so excited! We haven’t even told the kids yet but to be honest I am excited enough for all of us. I know holidays can seem to clash with the money saving idea but as I explained in this post, family holidays and activities are where we want to spend our money and how we make frugality work for us. Also, it is lucky that our (my) ideal family holiday is something that doesn’t cost much anyway – camping. This glamping trip will be excellent research (coughexcusecough) and as its only two nights, will serve as a good trial run to see if we’re ready for a proper camping trip.

You can expect more from me now (not hard tbh) as I have sorted out my brain and told it to get on with things. I have wanted to write this post for ages but it felt like I might jinx the search or something so have held off. We have already offered on one amazing place and missed out on it, but I have since discovered that I can love again so I now feel brave enough to announce our intentions.

So there you have it. That is why I haven’t been blogging lately.

*No they are not. They do not exist. We’re not that sad.

Three ways we’ve saved money by DIYing it.

I was planning on writing a post about the free and fun things we all got up to over the holidays, the weather was stunning and we could have done all sorts of blog-worthy things. But we were all ill. Mr B managed to escape it, mainly by fleeing to the kids’ room whenever either of them turned up in the night to cough and splutter in my face and then insist on sleeping with their hot, feverish little bodies pressed up against mine all night. The boy had it, then gave it to the girl, who then shared it with me and turned hers into a chest infection. All we did for 75% of the two week holiday was sniffle in the garden in the sun for a bit, then hide inside to watch a load of Disney DVDs. The remaining 25% of the holiday involved some Herefordshire house hunting, and a loud, boisterous Easter weekend with the in-laws, including all the cousins. The kids had a fantastic time and, thankfully, we were all healthy again.

So instead of a post of Instagram-worthy fun in the sun pictures, I will share with you a couple of ways in which we managed to save money recently.

  1. Blackout blinds. These are my new most favourite things. We have lived here for three years, and each time the clocks change in the Spring, I start moaning about the light evenings. This year we had just started sorting out the two-year-olds rubbish sleeping habits and had worked out that if we wore him out enough during the day and didn’t let him nap, he would fall asleep by himself, in his own bed. Brilliant! Except that we worked this out about two days before the clocks changed and it ruined everything. So I decided that this year was the year in which I would pull my finger out and do something about blackout blinds. Even before starting our frugal thing, I was too stingy to buy blinds and always put it off (while moaning about it all summer) and just used blankets draped over the curtain poles. However, I now have two fully functioning, totally successful homemade black out blinds which were a fraction of the cost of even the cheapest actual blinds. Win. They have yet to magically turn the kids into children who sleep though, grrrr.

The Maths: 

Cheapest blackout roller blind from Homebase: £14.99 (including all the faff of drilling holes etc) Blackout curtain lining material + length of doweling = one DIY blind: £7.20

Trying to wear them out with a spot of rock climbing.

  1. Picture framing. Last year Mr B and I had a very unfrugal jaunt to Rio de Janeiro for a (CHILD FREE!!!) wedding. We brought back two unframed acrylics on canvas paintings as a souvenir. Being the money-wise (read: lazy) people we are, we haven’t actually had them stretched onto a frame. We know proper framing places are reasonably costly, so instead of enjoying our souvenirs and seeing them on the walls somewhere, they have been languishing in whichever room happens to be the current ‘dumping ground’. Until now! It was Mr B’s turn to pull his finger out. He made a manly trip to Homebase and returned with wood and nails. A few weekends later, we had two proper, actual, can-hang-on-a-wall pictures! Ta da!

The Maths (this one’s not very mathematical…):

Proper picture framing by professional people: £50? We had another canvas framed a few more years ago so I’m assuming around the same price. Wood and nails and some drawing pins that were lying around at home: Significantly less £ than 50 (I forgot to keep track…)

  1. Asparagus. This one is a bit dubious tbh but never mind. We have an asparagus bed in our garden. Actual asparagus grows in our flowerbed then we cut it and eat it. Now, honestly, we are not in the habit of buying much asparagus so the money saved is minimal, but we don’t even have to buy it on those rare occasions when we might be tempted. This was a random whim of Mr B’s when we (he) filled in the mammoth pond* and we (he) created a raised flower bed. He went to the garden centre and came back with a few things on a ‘whim’. One of the ‘whims’ was a blueberry bush. That died. Another was an asparagus plant. That survived. I was sceptical at first and neither of us really knew what to do with it. We did a bit of goolgling and then proceeded to ignore it for six months or so. It seems to have flourished under our inattention and each year since has produced a regular supply of asparagus. By regular supply I mean it reliably produces enough to feed half a person every two weeks. We tend to have one reasonly sized spear each, about once a fortnight. Not quite self sufficient yet…..

Current ‘Whims’ of Mr B:

Four french bean plants. Two butternut squash plants.

This mornings asparagus haul. Awe inspiring isn’t it?

4. Being ill. Although I didn’t get to do lots of inexpensive fun things over the Easter Holidays, I didn’t spend any money either. I was even feeling too ill to drag the kids to the local shop (a nano minutes drive away) and re-plen our paracetamol and lemsip supplies which had been completely depleted. This, I suppose, is a good thing. But also it was a pretty rubbish thing.

5. To save money I really recommend NOT househunting somewhere that is six counties away, and therefore never less than 4 hours away by car. The amount we have spent on petrol is really depressing and has basically eaten up our savings potential for this month. Bummers.

6. Student loans. Mr B has managed the unthinkable and paid off his student loan! 10 years and a whopping goodness knows how many £s later, we are debt free (apart from a mortgage but we’ll ignore that for now). Well done that man.

There you have it. Slightly more than the three things I advertised but I’ve never been terribly good with numbers. I am aware that I haven’t posted anything for a while but this is for a good reason. At the moment my brain power (and very limited small child nap time) is currently deployed on writing a real grown up business plan for a glamping business. Now, we are nowhere near to actually starting anything just yet, but we thought the best way to get an idea of the reality of our plan was by having something vaguely formal, which includes things like a Marketing Strategy and Financial Forecasts. I have just finished the rather demoralising Competitor Analysis so fancied a change of tone and wrote this instead. There are scary, nerve racking, exciting things afoot in the Blackberry household (no third babies involved just to make it clear…) but I can’t reveal anything as I am terrified of jinxing it.

That’s it for now, I need to go and lie down in a darkened room as my nerves are shot to pieces. Luckily, I know just the place – those blinds are working a treat!

*as in a big pond. Not an actual mammoth pond.

Time for a little heart-to-heart

I started writing this as a ‘what we did at the weekend’ kind of post but it morphed into something that I think I actually needed to write. It’s a different kind of post to the usual but that’s probably not a bad thing!

Before I start, as I was sitting here typing most of it the four-year-old was making food for her wedding out of playdough. She made (so she told me), cabbage, broccoli and beef. She wanted my help to make some gammon and more cabbage ‘’coz I love cabbage, it’s my favourite.’ Well, I think I must have done something right with this one at least!

Back to business. We made a spontaneous trip to Herefordshire this weekend. As spontaneous as you can be when you have two small ones in tow. It was a week in the planning but felt very off the cuff. As we got further into the three hour drive it felt more and more as if we were skiving from normal life and hiding in the loos while everyone went to lessons. I kept expecting someone to ring and tell me off for not being at home.

We went because we are tired of the internet and wanted to do some actual research rather than look at another picture of a field and argue about whether 1.3 acres would be enough land or whether the pin on the satellite map is the actual house or is it that one over there next to the sewage plant… Also, Mr B admitted that he lost his heart to Herefordshire after our holiday there last summer. Totally canned the idea that we would be sensible and move to wherever we found the property that ticks the most boxes, but that’s ok with me! Basically, we thought some proper boots on the ground research would do us good. In reality, boots weren’t on the ground for very long as we spent most of the time in the car but it was worth it. Research wise it was very helpful, for example; 3.7 acres is great, 1.3 acres not enough; an existing holiday business is definitely preferable as run down barns look terrifying worse in real life than on Rightmove…; ‘A’ roads will not be good locations for a glamping business. These things seem obvious really but all we had to go on before was a map and photos on the internet. It was a much-needed trip for clarification and has given us a lot to think about. As it turns out all the thinking has led to a radical shift in our plans, but that is for another post!

A cold, windy, drizzly picnic spot in the Cotswolds somewhere. How very British.

Mr B found it exceptionally hard to return to London and normality on Monday. I did too (to normality, not London) but I suspect that was just from knackeredness – Getting home at midnight and playing musical beds with the children in the sweltering Travelodge room the previous night (to the tune of Mr Bs snores) did not make for a productive Monday. Also, I have been thinking a lot about our long term goals and what that involves – basically moving house. I hate moving.

Don’t get me wrong I really want to make the move, do the plan and all that it involves but I am struggling with the idea of leaving things behind. By ‘things’ I mean family, friends, our house, the area. Those sort of ‘things’. I worry what friends think when I talk about moving. Do they think I’m being callous and don’t care about our friendship? The reality is that I care a lot and it makes me sad. When we moved to our current house we had decided that this would be it. We would stay here until we were fed up of the place, outgrown it and ready to move to a ‘grown up’ house in the same village (what is a grown up house anyway? I dunno, somewhere with a fourth bedroom or a ‘drawing room’ maybe). Because of this I immediately started to put down roots, make ‘mummy’ friends and embed myself in village life. I did it very well and have made great friends who I love, I love the area and as a massive bonus my babysitters parents live in the neighbouring town. But now our plans have changed and while I am definitely on board with them, I have to tackle the thought of pulling up those roots that I purposefully sunk so deep. I am torn between the life I have here already and the future ‘what if’ life. I know that after a bit of time I will make friends and settle down in wherever it is we end up, but I am very settled here already. For Mr B, it’s a no-brainer – do the move, see his family more, build our own business, no commute. The poor thing has not had a chance to put roots down as London has leached away all his time. I will be leaving more behind than he is, but the one thing that I am missing in my settled life at the moment is him. To fix this, it is worth moving. It is not fair that he has to be the one making sacrifices all the time. But. I am sad about leaving all the ‘things’ behind.

Also I find it difficult to make new friends. I am shy and awkward and have always hated starting from scratch in new places like schools or towns. To be honest I almost cba* to do it all again. But I will, I’m not that antisocial!

My Mothers Day haul. Yes that does say ‘Nan’. And yes, the chocolates are empty. I rescued the box from the recycling to take the picture….

When I start thinking like this I have to give myself a shake and a stern talking to. Thinking rationally, Mr Bs’ reasons for wanting to make the move sooner than the five-year plan (that we are now almost a year into), make perfect sense; house prices rising, starting businesses sooner means more income sooner, while the kids are small is better, he’s fed up of London…Thinking rationally, what do I want from this move? I want Mr B happier, to see him more, for the kids to see him more, to run our own business from home (part of my elaborate plan to never have to go back to work…), countryside, doing the things I’d always daydreamed about but didn’t think would really happen. After all, it’s what we are saving for. All those are the things that make the move worth the emotional cost (which only I am paying, really). The catalyst for me moaning about all this is the fact that Mr B wants to bring the move forward (for the reasons set out above) so the five years that I thought I’d have to get used to the idea of moving have suddenly been condensed a little.

It has been useful to bash this out on the keyboard, as it is hard to get a chance to really talk to anyone about it, what with two tiddlers running about like lunatics wherever I go. Thank you for being the recipients of this catharsis. The thing is, I’m not going to let my fear of leaving swamp the chance we have to turn our lives into something we want. If life is nothing but a shout into the wind, we are going to make our shout count.

But still. I’ll miss my friends.

*Can’t be arsed: for those of you not familiar with tla’s**

**Three letter abbreviations.

Everything in Moderation (excludes cake)

Birthday Month was seen out by the boys second birthday. It was a bit of a wash-out to be honest as his sister had given herself a tummy bug by drinking swimming pool water, so was in quarantine from preschool. We were stuck inside and basically just watched TV all week. The boy’s birthday was a bit more frugal than his sisters as I’d managed a bit of forward planning and bought a couple of his presents second hand and in the January sales. That being said I went and spent a tenner on a stuffed dinosaur from Sainsbury’s simply because he found it in the toy isle and wouldn’t let it go. It was so funny watching him chase his sister with it up and down the isles (yes, I am that mother) that my will power completely crumbled. ‘He’ll love it forever!’ I thought. Now let’s watch as he never plays with it again because he is too busy with the plastic rubbish that came with a magazine…*

His second hand Facebook site present comes with its own cautionary tale by the way. The key word is scale. Ah perfect, I thought, a nice toy tractor just right for small hands. I’ll buy it for his birthday because I am super organised (it was November). Got a message back; would you like two more? Ok I thought, why not? Who doesn’t need three toy tractors? Mr B came back from collecting them with three of the biggest flipping tractors I have ever seen (that are actual toys rather than working farm machinery obvs…). SCALE. Very important. Ah well, at £3 each I suppose I’m just getting more for my money…?

What?! Its bigger than a dinosaur!!

Another fun thing about February is that the boy started Rugby Tots. For the uninitiated, it is a half hour session where two- and three-year-olds go mental in a sports hall with rugby balls, supposedly doing a series of exercises involving scoring trys, kicking and throwing. The two-year-old loves it, luckily, as we have signed him up to the eight week course and had to buy the uniform too. Not strictly a frugal thing really but then the four-year-old gets to do ballet and Mr. B. wanted to be involved as well (it’s at 8.30 on a Saturday morning…painful… we have since discovered that, like his mother, the boy child is definitely not a morning person). While the boys went to the inaugural Tots session a couple of weeks ago, the girls went swimming as the four-year-old was desperate to try out her new costume (yes, this was when she swallowed the pool water and poisoned herself). We were all back home before 10am and absolutely shattered. Have another seven weeks to go so bring on the coffee!

Spending money on things like Rugby Tots, swimming and ballet lessons is quite un-frugal, especially as kids classes tend to cost a bomb. There are obviously a lot cheaper things to do and giving two-year-olds rugby sessions isn’t really a necessity, he probably won’t remember going and didn’t ask for it in the first place. We signed him up because we  wanted him to do it. But as we have found out in the eight months of living frugally, this is the area we don’t mind spending money on. Everyone will have different ways of living frugally, and to be successful at it in the long term, it has to work for you. I am happy buying and cooking with supermarket own brands, using the car less to save petrol and avoiding the shops to remove myself from the temptation of shopping. Mr B takes in lunches to work, lets me cut his hair and goes for runs rather than to the gym. However, the area of our life where we want to spend money is family. Giving the kids opportunities and doing things as a family is what is important us. Our ultimate goal is to have more freedom to spend time together and that is what we are saving towards, so it makes sense that the things we want to spend money on are family orientated. Take holidays for example, technically a frugal no-no. But this year we are going GLAMPING! Under the guise of ‘research’ I persuaded Mr B to allow me to book us a couple of nights in a bell tent. I am SO EXCITED!! I’m sure the kids would be too if they understood. I have been wanting to go camping for about forever four years but have had to wait until the kids would enjoy it and not be annoying all the time. Well, this is The Year. I can’t wait anymore. Even if everyone else is miserable (impossible, camping is awesome) I will be loving it. And of course it is research, anyway.

A taste of whats to come!

The key thing is not to go overboard with whatever it is that you don’t want to cut back on. We don’t actively look for things to do on weekends that cost money just because we have given ourselves the green light to spend. Otherwise all the money you have worked hard to save in other areas of life just gets sucked into this new one. When something comes up that costs, we weigh up the benefits vs the expense. Rugby Tots is worth the cost in our opinion, because it will be good for the boy child to learn from it, Daddy gets to take him, and its good for the girl child to see that not everything has to involve her. Everything in moderation is my motto. Like I went for a moderate run this weekend and therefore can eat a moderate amount of cake during the week….Totally how it works.

*Update – He actually does love it! He calls it ‘grrr’ and shares his food with it and takes it to bed…*melts*

The Dangers of Fake Frugality

Having fallen off the frugal bandwagon in December and January, it is proving much harder to claw our way back on than I anticipated. Foolishly I thought it would just be a case of flicking a switch and all would be how things were back in November. But, as I think I mumbled on about last time, being frugal actually involves some work. Well, it turns out I was right. I’ve been using the excuse that February is Birthday Month, and is therefore bound to have some un-frugalness going on, but I realised the other day that actually I have become lax in the way I am operating, and no birthdays are to blame at all.

THE cake! Nailed it.

The 4 year old had a great day and was chuffed with her new running kit (Daddy less so as she made him go for a run in the morning to test it out. Serves him right for going out the night before), and with her £2 torch from Wilko (backfired a bit as now she apparently can’t sleep without it on but, strangely, it keeps her awake….she’s going to get a nasty shock when the batteries run out and she realises that we are currently experiencing a planet wide battery shortage….) and a few other bits and bobs. Not a specifically frugal birthday but definitely not a break-the-bank one either. It was after popping into the village shop that I had my moment of clarity. I’d gone in for a £1 bottle of milk and came out after spending £4. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much, but in our frugal hey day I wouldn’t have spent the extra money. I got two packets of chocolate mini rolls because they were on offer and a packet of mini eggs. The rolls were on offer so I got two – my justification was the offer (frugal) and the fact that I never get them but the kids love them. If I’d had my proper frugal head on I’d have remembered that I had a cupboard full of biscuits that have been ignored in favour of birthday cake. And why did I get two?! Mini eggs are my Kryptonite. I’m not sure I would have resisted even when being uber frugal but still, I did not need them. I thought I was being frugal by shopping the offers but, no, it was all fake frugalness.

See how easy it is to slip up even when it could be passed off as saving money? If you don’t need it don’t buy it.

I fell into this trap again when I recently went into the village charity shop. I quickly went in to do a last minute rummage for any decent birthday presents before the 4 year olds big day. Nothing there. I should have walked out then. Instead I thought I’d have a quick peruse of the clothes since I was child free, for once. I came out with a jumper. No. Should not have brought it. It is the same as most of my other jumpers. I have too many, I did not need another. Why did I buy it? It was Crew, I thought £5 was fairly reasonable and it’s from a charity shop so that’s ok isn’t it? I didn’t need it so it is not ok (I don’t even like it that much, there’s nothing special about it, I just thought I shouldn’t miss the chance…plonker).

Frugal half-term activity – Troll hunting.

My mentality was ‘think of how much money I’m saving by not buying a brand new jumper and not buying full price mini rolls’. In reality I saved £0, and spent £8 more than I needed to. I need to sort my head out and return to the proper frugal mentality of ‘Don’t spend money’. It is very easy to slip up like this but equally as simple not to – just don’t. It’s like I said to Mr. B when he was telling me about the half marathon he’s just run;

‘I walked a bit but I shouldn’t have done*’ He admitted.

‘Why did you then?’ said I.

‘Because I just did, it was up a hill’.

‘Well next time just don’t’.

‘It doesn’t work like that’ he protested.

‘Yes it does. It’s all in your head. Just don’t walk.’ I said, helpfully.

Simple 😉

*Disclaimer preempting Mr. B’s probable objection: He did very well. Not much walking involved at all. Honest.

Thanks, But No Thanks January.

Great. Thanks, January, but I’m going to be glad to be seeing the back of you next week. You have been a write off as far as saving money is concerned, and thanks to your general iciness, I have been stricken down with a plague of fever and snot and therefore am unable to go running (shame). I have broken both my New Year’s Resolutions, through no fault of my own, and am thoroughly fed up with you.

I was in bed for three days straight. No responsibilities, no housework, no cooking, no children…….utter bliss! I wish. I have felt utterly rubbish with a nasty fluey cold, given to me by the toddler, thanks son. We both took over the big bed and were languishing there all last weekend. Thankfully Mr. B is a bit of a hero (or ‘legend’ – his word) and has been amazing. Turns out he can wash up, who knew! Although after three days of it he announced that we need a dishwasher. Yes dear, that would be nice. Anyway, I’m better now, but the result of the toddlers bout of flu last week was that our routine was completely thrown off. As it was so frosty, and the poor boy was feeling so low, I couldn’t face taking him food shopping. Luckily Granny came to the rescue with some emergency supplies and saved us from a supper of spaghetti and carrot (singular). Then I fell victim to the ravages of fever and was declared a quarantine zone. With daddy in charge that of course meant Dominoes for supper.

Pre-plague Jan was fun; snow!

It just goes to show how much we depend on routine and habit to save us money. As soon as things go a bit tits up, the whole system falls apart. Our main way of saving money is by not spending it – obvious and simple. But as Tuesday this week showed, there is a bit more work involved than might first appear. I wasn’t very with it on Tuesday, after the weekend lurg, but we had finally got around to leaving the car at the garage. Super Granny turned up so I could collect the preschooler at lunch time, then gallantly entertained us all day while I waited for The Call. Obviously I had forgotten to think about what to feed the kids in the evening, or to bring pjs so I could be lazy flexible. That Call from the garage came at half five, by which time the kids were climbing the walls from tiredness and general hanger. We still had to get the car, pay (bleugh), transfer both car seats, drive home without anyone falling asleep, eat something then actually fall asleep. As we pulled away from the garage I was dwelling miserably on the evening ahead, (and giving my full attention to the road obvs…), when the three year old pipes up, ‘Mummy! We can go to McDonalds!’. Genius. So that is what we did.

Lessons I learnt this week:

  1. Proper prior planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance. Obviously.
  2. Sometimes three-year-olds have genius ideas.
  3. Apparently the plastic window in McDonalds showcasing the Happy Meal toys is not built to withstand a determined toddler with hanger issues…..er, oops

This really does show that even something as simple as not spending money needs actual planning and preparation. I had to ring Mr B that night to confess and tell him to feed himself as there was no food waiting at home. The knock on effect is that there was no lunch for him the next day either. Money spent and money spent.

On that note here’s a new thing that we now do:

Introducing ‘Z days’. These are days where we will spend zero money. Obviously we already have lots of days like this (just not many in 2017 so far…) but now they have a name and Mr B has decided to count them. Because, apparently, it’s not fun unless it’s a competition…..*rolls eyes* honestly. I’m totally going to win anyway.

Lets hope February fares better than January or the Z day tally will be pretty poor. This is the Birthday Month though, so remembering PPPPPPPP* will be key! I took a cake order from the soon-to-be-four-year-old-and-doesn’t-she-know-it. It went like this, ‘Chocolate with pink on top and Rapunzel, and sprinkles and sparkles. And a tiara. And birds.’ Right. Wish me luck!

*catchy isn’t it? See lesson 1 above.

New year, newish me!

Well here we are, in wet, cold, windy January. Christmas is remembered only but my expanded waistline and the three-year-old who keeps asking whether Father Christmas is going to come again tomorrow. This first blog post of the year has been a real struggle to write. Firstly I couldn’t think what to write apart from the obvious ‘Christmas, well wasn’t that expensive! Let’s make New Year Resolutions to not spend a thing in all of 2017’. Secondly, THE TODDLER DOES NOT NAP ANYMORE. Arrrggghhh!

Snow!

So what is this post about? Umm well, Christmas was a bit pricey don’t you think? Had a lovely time though, lots of family fun and the kids loved it. 2016 was a sock year. I have the world’s cosiest toes and I’m loving it (currently in pjs on the sofa, with a new pair of extra soft socks on. Comfy doesn’t begin to describe it). We had a lovely New Years Eve too. We went to a really posh party and got dressed up and everyth….Oh wait, sorry just remembered who I am…We spent the day travelling home and consequently when we got back at 10pm none of the small creatures were remotely tired. Watched the fireworks on TV and only went to bed after midnight because we were determined to out last the toddler, who finally succumbed at about 11.50pm. As for New Years Resolutions, we are definitely clawing our way back onto the frugal wagon. It is surprising how easy it is to revert to old habits of not watching where the money goes or spending without thinking about it. It will take us a month or so to be fully back to where we were in November. They say it takes 30 days to make a habit, and about 30 seconds to break it. Whoever ‘they’ are ‘they’ seem to be right.

It’s going to be a tricky month for saving though, as both the car tax and MOT are due. To complete the trio, the car has been making a horrible, expensive sounding, grinding noise every time I drive it. Not good. I really should ring the garage.

Another very ordinary and a bit half-hearted resolution of mine is to run more. I like running, and I like cake. For the past month or so there has been more cake than running so I feel like I should really put on my trainers again and heave myself out of the door. Things like snow (too cold), rain (too cold) and January (too cold) are getting in the way though. Ah well. Might as well eat the cake then! Mr. B, on the other hand, has signed up to the local half marathon in March. This means that I can nag him to go instead and make it look like I’m being generous, ‘You go for a run dear, don’t worry, I’ll eat the cake and look after the kids’.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a picture of my lunch today. Happy New Year to you all! I know it’s mid-Jan but whatever. A not-napping-toddler means that I now only have evenings in which to write stuff. As my brain tends to close down at around 6pm, earlier if the night has been bad, it will be a miracle if any of this has made sense!

Healthy isn’t it? and fascinating…

 

 

It’s Christmas!

Here it is, the obligatory blog post about Christmas. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t be doing it properly if I tried to gloss over the most commercially orientated annual event since records began 2016 years ago in a stable.

Bah humbug.

I love Christmas.

No, I really do! I am so excited this year. I love the build up, and the festive cheer that wafts around in glittery clouds of mulled wine spices and carol singing. I love planning presents and shopping for them, writing cards and opening advent calendars. I love buying things for my children and imagining their faces when they come downstairs to see bulging stockings waiting for them. Christmas means many different things to different people. For us it is about our faith and celebrating it with large family gatherings, playing silly games when the kids are in bed, eating/drinking too much, giving and receiving presents. All accompanied by carols and as much tinsel as I can cram onto a tree (love the stuff). This year I feel even more excited because the eldest has entered the world of Christmas hyper-awareness. She can remember last year, totally gets the context of Father Christmas and goes into paroxysms of delight each time she sees Christmas lights in someone’s window. To top it all off, she was an angel in her pre-school nursery and even had a line to say! *dies of maternal pride* The youngest is a bit oblivious, being only 22 months, but responds to his sisters delighted squeals with little jumps of joy and has clocked on to the fact that twinkly lights set her off. I can’t wait for Christmas morning and watching him figure it all out.

Last years tree.

Obviously this year, we are approaching Christmas from a slightly different angle. A frugal one. Having said that though, not too much will be different. What has changed is the thought I have put into things. Usually, I’d do all the Christmas shopping, and the food shops, and know that things would be expensive but just shudder at the bills and hand over the plastic, putting it down to what happens at Christmas. This year I have tried to look at things from a more frugal point of view.

  • I worked to a budget for Christmas presents. I am normally against setting budgets (although they do work for some, obvs) as I think they can lure you into spending the budget even when you don’t need to. However, presents are going to be brought so I thought a limit on how much to spend would help to keep myself in check.
  • Because I am working to a budget, I have tried harder to save money where I can. The kids presents are mostly second hand from charity shops or facebook. This in itself was tricky as I felt that I could buy things because the price was right rather than because I needed it. A couple of examples of absolute steals: Disney princess bed set – free off facebook, car mat – £5 off facebook, couple of Thomas the Tank Engine trains – £5 off facebook, really good condition sleeping beauty dress – £2 charity shop. You get the picture.
  • Most of our family and friends are getting homemade presents (sorry fam). This is one of the best ways to save money but to still give a gift that is (hopefully..) appreciated. That is, if I manage to make all the stuff on time…Stage One is pretty much in hand, Stage Two is not, nor is Stage Three. So it’s going well.
  • Nectar points. Even before our new frugal thing, I used to save all the Nectar points I reaped throughout the year to supply us with all the Christmas food and booze we’d need. Now, because you have been paying attention, you will know that we shop more in Asda, rather than Sainsburys. You are very observant. Because of this my Nectar balance was very low compared to previous years, and since the value of the points themselves has plummeted, it was a pitiful £22 that I was able to get ‘free’. Still, I knew this to be the case well before I went shopping so I tried to be smart and get things that needed to be better quality, or were drastically outside of our usual shopping price range. For example (because who doesn’t want to know?!): 1x Bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream (can’t have Christmas without it….), 1x Gammon joint (Christmas eve lunch), 1x box of Christmas biccies (obv), 1x box of crackers (red, because the three year old chose them). Pitiful compared to the Nectar hauls of years gone by but better than nothing!
  • Cashback sites. This year, I didn’t buy much online (see the third point), but the two things I did purchase through the interweb were bought using cashback sites. If you’re not sure what these are, I am not the best person to explain. They are not complicated, but Google (or anyone really) would do a better job than I can. Basically, you get money back from buying things online by going through sites like Quidco and TopCashback.  Now, if I was better at this blogging thing, these links would be affiliates, but it is almost 10pm and I basically cba atm, so they are just normal links. I’ll figure it out one day.
  • I love sending Christmas cards and this is one aspect of the season that I have had to think hard about this year. Buying and sending Christmas cards is not a particularly frugal thing to do. I know some people donate the money they would spend to charity instead. But I have decided that we won’t be cutting back on this part of Christmas, it is one of the only times in the whole year that we send actual post to people, and I love getting cards from friends and family, knowing that someone else was thinking of us as they wrote it. Just as we were thinking of them. Additionally I am a massive fan of the Cards for Good Causes, and one of my favourite Christmas prep things to do is having a good look at all the different designs they have. I find I will often choose cards from charities that I probably wouldn’t actually donate to normally. Not because they are not good causes, just because there are so many charities out there, often I only come across them via their cards. As it is one of the few times we give to charity, I don’t want to compromise it*

*Slight addendum; This year is a bit different as I decided to use up all the random leftover cards from Christmases past, so I only needed to buy one pack rather than my usual three or four – frugal thinking in action. Also the eldest ‘designed’ her own at pre-school for the first time and naturally we had to buy a pack….

My angel! *melts* and yes, a homemade costume…as evidenced by the different length sleeves.

So there you have it, those are the ways I am attempting to frugalise our Christmas this year. I could go on about the things we are not doing (because they are a nod to the commercialised nonsense that Christmas is in danger of becoming, such as Santas Grotto visits, Christmas Eve boxes, Chocolate advent calendars, Elf on the flipping Shelf – although that is more because the idea creeps me out….) but I won’t. 😀

The good thing about Christmas is that it is predictable. It happens every year, at the same time, so there is no excuse for being caught by surprise. Plan for it and you can enjoy it in anyway you like! You have my permission 😉

Five Ways We Saved Money This* Month

*OK, I was generalising, some of this happened last month or maybe even in September, I’ve sort of lost track. It has only added up to a decent blog title worthy number this week, though. This was because on Sunday evening around 5 pm (awful timing):

  1. I cut my husbands hair! He asked me to, don’t worry. I wasn’t enacting revenge over him going to the pub after work, or giving me tea in the wrong mug (real problems). When we started saving money, haircuts were one of the first things we thought of as expenses to tackle. Mine are expensive at £46, Mr B.’s less so, the most he spends is £10, but goes more often than I do. For his birthday in the summer he received an amazon voucher, which he then spent on a hair cutting kit. It had its first use in half term when I cut the three year old’s hair, and this Sunday the clippers got broken in. It was terrifying. There was hair everywhere. There still is hair everywhere (and, yes, I have hoovered. Three times). It didn’t turn out too badly though, if I say so myself. I mean, apparently I can’t do straight lines (hehe sorry love) but it he looks alright! The three year old was much simpler, she sat stillish, a few snips, and that was that**. Her curls hide the wonky bits luckily. So from virtually no investment on our part, as it was essentially a gift, we saved money! Am I brave enough to let Mr B. do my hair? Err, no. Baby steps, people, baby steps.
Ready and waiting. Like the worst hair salon ever.

Ready and waiting. Like the worst hair salon ever.

  1. Window cleaning. This one is a bit dull. Basically after faffing around for ages about getting a window cleaner round, I missed my chance as we had started saving. Then I spent the whole summer not cleaning the windows, moaning about how dirty they were and thinking about ladders. One weekend in September my Dad said ‘why don’t you reach around and clean them from inside?’. So we did. I say ‘we’, it was actually Mr. B. who did it. Me and the kids yelled helpful things up at him from outside like, ‘Daddy you’ve missed a bit!’. Took nine months and ten minutes to do, saved us about £40 probably (never did get a quote). We’ll He’ll do it again when we can’t see out of them any more.  
  1. Clothes swap. Mentioned this before when I wrote about half term. Brill idea and manages to fulfil the desire for new stuff and ticked a few things off the list that the smallest one actually needed. Money saved!
  1. I found a toy kitchen in the rubbish! It was just sitting there, by the bins, looking sad. Being a bit of a scrounger opportunist, I had a sneaky look while I walked past. Seemed fine, just grubby. Dumped the eldest at pre-school and checked it out again on the way home. Yup, just as I thought, nothing wrong with it, just full of leaves. I checked with the owner of the bins (felt like such a scab, should have seen the way they looked at me) and was given the go ahead. So glad I had the car that morning, didn’t fancy my chances in getting it home on the buggy board. The reason I braved the odd looks and covered the passenger seat of the car in leaves and mud, is that I was on the lookout for something to use as a mud kitchen. I was thinking I’d get Mr. B to fashion something out of wood and nails but bingo, a free kitchen! It is now the most popular outdoor feature and the source of all the mud covering the carpets/coats/children.                                                                                                                
    Mud kitchen in action

    Mud kitchen in action

    Finally;

  2.  Ignored Black Friday. I don’t like Black Friday. It makes me feel like I’m missing out on getting a bargain on things that I might need one day in the future, so must buy them now. Panicky, it makes me feel panicky. Apparently, though, things aren’t as good as they may seem. So called Black Friday ‘deals’ may not be all that amazing, Mr B. did some reading. Obviously that may not apply to everything but it’s worth being a bit sceptical sometimes. Having said that, if you know what you want it is worth checking for any deals, there are a couple of things I’m after but after checking, BF hasn’t made enough difference for me to think it was worth it. I’ll wait until the January sales then check again!

So there you have it. I think the moral of the story is to DIY, re-cycle old things and stay in and away from the internet on Black Friday. Or ‘Black Friday week’ as it seems to be now, I mean, that doesn’t even make sense. Let’s leave it to the Americans, I think they do it better than we do anyway.

**totally worried she might decide to give herself/her brother a haircut now….

Soft Play On A Budget

Equipment needed:

  • 1x sofa
  • 2x children

Method:

Say ‘yes’ when the three-year-old asks ‘Mummy, can my make a mess?’ Watch from a safe distance as the sofa gets dismembered and the floor disappears. Hand dustpan and brush to sweep up sofa crumbs to whichever child gets to you first – this is an oddly desirable job and is hotly contested. Experience slight terror as the oldest leaps from the sofa arms onto a precarious tower of cushions and the toddler uses the sofa base as a trampoline. Who will survive the longest, the sofa or the kids? Escape to the kitchen to eat cake in secret whilst checking Facebook. Repeat about three times a day, having tried in vain to tidy up and rediscover the floor or sit on the sofa in between.

The face of pure joy

The face of pure joy

Five boxes of toys left untouched. Two happy children….must be missing something here. Maybe I’ll just buy them a stack of cushions for Christmas. Or helmets. Or a new sofa……