How to invest in yourself!

So back at Radio Verulam today with the Gorgeous Danny Smith and I was inspired to chat about ‘investments’ by Curly Headed Boy.

It’s spring time, maybe you need a fresh look at your life and a bit of an overhaul?

The question is how to invest in yourself?

Money Saving.

Money Saving Tips
Money

We are quite strict that even from pocket money, our kids have to put something aside.  It’s just so that it becomes second nature to them and eventually when they start to earn money, they naturally expect to be putting a minimum of 10% away.  Otherwise, his head will be automatically working out how he can spend every penny.  Instead, he will automatically assume that some money goes into savings.

It’s not about how much money you earn.

Its about the amount of value that you get from it.

And how much money is left at the end of your month!

As he looks like he would prefer a creative career, he is going to definitely have to manage his money really well to weather the highs and lows, as it’s unlikely to be consistent.

Yes, he might be really successful, but it might not be long term, or he might get one big windfall, that he could blow through really quickly.  In fact we had an award system, where he earn’t quite a lot of money, and what inspired this post was that he agreed to put 50% of it away into savings.

Imagine if you’d put aside all that money since you were a kid?  At 45, I’d have a lot more going on!  Women need to be especially aware of the fact that we have a tendency to not prioritise our pensions ahead of the needs of our relationships or families.

If you would like to start, but can’t afford 10%, just work towards it.  £5 is enough, as it’s a step in the right direction.

Try to create 2 different savings options:

1) Savings forever (not to be touched apart from investing in houses/education)

2) Savings for fun (don’t pay for Christmas and holidays afterwards when the fun is over)

Check out the rest of my money saving tips here.  I have no doubt that they’ll help you out of a financial hole, make sure that you have more value from the money that you spend, and help you to be financially healthier.

 

Your Health

green and red healthy food

This should actually come first in my opinion.  There’s no point in saving money if you don’t have a good quality or long enough life.

I know that things happen, and we can’t plan for everything.  But there is no doubt that your quality of life will be better if you drink water, eat healthily, and exercise.

I like to focus on being HEALTHY, then FIT (no point in being fit without health), and STRONG (which means toned and tends towards slimmer).  Check out all my tips on how to get healthy without dieting or killing yourself with exercise.  It’s so easy to try to go for a quick fix, but we all know THEY DON’T WORK!

Then you need to remember that everyone needs downtime, otherwise the levels of cortisol (stress) just get higher and higher and higher.  That affects your immune system and leaves you open to illnesses and diseases, like my Fibromyalgia.  I know you will get stressed again.  But there will have been a dip, and that is what is important.

Remember, that it’s not selfish to take care of yourself!

 

Your Mind

Great books for mums
Books, books, books …

Have you heard the theory that if you spend 15mins extra a day learning something, then you will overtake your 99% of your peers within a couple of years?

That’s how I did so well in IT.  I wasn’t a natural at it, but I studied every night, and within a few years they’d forgotten my initial struggles.  Eventually I became a global guru – crazy!

You see it at school every day with kids.  The teachers nag parents to read once a night with their children, just for 5-10 mins.  It sounds like so little, that it’s easy to drop.  However, 3-4 years down the line, it’s really obvious which children did or didn’t get that time.  (I know that parents are often busy and it’s not always easy to fit in time with the kids).

However, as old readers will know, I’m not sure about the idea of pushing yourself to pay for a private education, as I’m not convinced it always pays off.  Hence we moved Curly Headed Boy from private back into the state sector.  So don’t assume that education has to cost lots.  Mind you, him being so keen on dancing is a bit of an investment!

I see it as an employer all the time.  Those in my team with a passion for learning are on Youtube and keeping up to date and improving constantly.  The others are just fine, but they don’t do as well and naturally don’t attract as many customers.

It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of time.  Just lots of little consistent bits, is what adds up eventually.

 

Your Community

Charity Shop Finds
Butterfly Sparkles!

I must admit that I believe that what you give out you get back.  If I smile at people, I tend to mainly get smiles back.  There are a few grumpy people, but the smiles I get back cheer me up.  It’s not any extra pressure on my day to make this little effort, and I get rewarded in bucket loads.

The same goes for ‘paying it forward’.  I don’t believe it’s right to be a martyr, or give so much of yourself that you damage your health and family.  But our community is important, and there are always things that you can do , however little.

Maybe it’s in helping to spread the word about a new small business on Facebook?  A simple share of one of my posts for Espiritu, is amazingly helpful.  I have lovely clients who regularly mention us whenever someone asks for a local hair/beauty salon or Spa.  I’m really lucky, so I like to help out other businesses where I can.

Perhaps you support the local charity shop where you can by buying from there and giving them things that you are finished with.  I’ve made amazing purchases in charity shops in the past, and my kids love them.  There was a really interesting post though over on a friend of mine’s blog, where she was feeling guilty about wanting to sell some more expensive items.  No you should never feel guilty – it’s not right to put yourself in trouble.

Or maybe it’s helping out at your kids school a couple of hours a week if you have the flexibility?

Remember, you don’t have to solve a WHOLE problem – that’s what often stops people from helping out, donating or volunteering.  Just help a little – and all the little bits add up.

 

What else?

What do you think that you should invest in?
What have I missed out?
Friendships? – I kind of fit that in with community, but many invest much more in their friendships.
Clothes? – I recently bought some clothes, as there is an expectation that I look a certain way for work, but I’ve never bought anything outrageously expensive, as I’m way too tight fisted.
Relationships? – So difficult to juggle with a family and kids, but they can last a lifetime, so worth investing in.
Houses? – With all the changes in our economy, maybe it isn’t a priority anymore to invest in bricks and mortar?
Watching TV – there is social side to this, where you can feel left out if you don’t know what’s going on!

My house’s journey in 2013 – from salon to normality

Loads of people do reviews of their life for the previous year, I’m going to do a review of my house’s life last year.

For the first quarter of the year I saw lots of my house because I was still getting to grips with my Fibromyalgia – I basically needed a jolly good rest.  Gradually it brought me the healing I needed and I started to recover.

Then suddenly at the end of May we had a meeting with my friend and hair dresser Tony and a plan I’d had for over 10yrs suddenly burst into life.

Having never designed a thing in my life, I became an upcycling/eBay queen and went on a crash course on Salon and Spa equipment.  I wasn’t just designing a small hairdressers, Oh no!  I was going the full hog and designer a 1700sqft cow shed into a Spa.

The cows moved out and we started with this:

Spa Treatments

Then walls went in and it got a front and back!

Building a salon in radlett

But of course I was ordering stuff like crazy and although some stuff could wait until the Salon/Spa was secure, the majority had to come to our house.

There were extra chairs in the bedroom, and we had to religiously keep the cats out, because look how comfy they all were:

Haircuts for kids Radlett

Holistic Hairdresser Radlett

The landing was full, the kitchen had a LOT of extra stools ….

Hairdresser Radlett

Vintage Beauty Salon Radlett

There was no room for the kids to play in the lounge or playroom:

Mumpreneur hertfordshire

Upcycling projects bloggers

Upcycling hair salon

Plus for a couple of weeks the place was full of hairdressers or beauty therapists for the induction training – love them, but it was a bit cramped!

Literally overnight (we got 24hrs to do the final polish of the salon before our open day) this was created:

Espiritu Hair Beauty Salon

With crazy people like this in it …

Vintage hair and beauty salon Radlett

Check out this video of our opening day to have a look around:

One of the rooms wasn’t sure what it wanted to be, but in November the ‘Fabulous Room’ arrived – the perfect location to combine friends, family and CAKE!

Pamper Parties Hertfordshire

I went slightly stir crazy I must admit during those months!  It took 2 months to get the place back to normal and clean all the dust that was hiding under or behind everything, so I had only just got it sorted before Christmas.

I was working constantly in between nursery/school pickups, and then until midnight most nights.  My Fibromyalgia did get very grumpy with me, but I just about managed to hold it together with some pampering from our lovely team.  I’m beginning to see the woods for the trees now!

We’ve stopped using Cbeebies as a nanny and I’m starting to remember how to play with Barbie again (now that we can find her).  That’s probably what inspired my post last year about the ‘Three Best Gifts To Give Your Loved Ones’, as attention and rest have been limited.  Over the last 2 weeks I’ve done a massive declutter of the house and tackled the playroom and I’m much happier with how everything works – I LOVE space!

I’ve also had to clear out one of the bedrooms rooms for our new Spanish Au Pair who arrived this weekend – woohoo!  The reality of the demands of being a business owner and that I’ve had help from a friend staying on and off, and a husband available hit home at Christmas – there was no way I was going to be able to cope and juggle things.  So that’s going to be a big change for the house as well.

What an amazing year, and the journey has only just begun for Espiritu!

Kirstie Allsopp Britmumslive

Can you really upcycle if you aren’t Kirstie Allsopp?

Kirstie Allsopp Britmumslive
Kirstie Allsopp Britmumslive

Yay, the summer holidays are over, so I was back over with the gorgeous Danny Smith on Radio Verulam today.  Listen again here.

I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing all summer – embracing the Kirstie Allsopp revolution!

I love the whole crafting/upcycling revolution that has been birthed by the recession.  I believe that creativity is good for the soul, even if you aren’t a natural at it.  Plus it SAVES MONEY!  Money which can be spent on other stuff, or that can keep us out of debt.  So it’s a good plan!

The question is, how to go about it if you don’t have a natural eye or lots of experience?

Rather than start small, I decided to ‘go for it’ and see wether it is possible to create a vintage inspired Hairdressing salon/spa in Hertfordshire in 4 months, from as much upcycled stuff as possible.  I think seeing Kirstie at Britmumslive, may have meant I got a little carried away!

I can’t tell you wether I succeeded or not yet, as it’s 2 weeks to opening – OMG!  But I reckon we could have pulled it off, so here are my tips …

(I’ll add the audio in a couple of days)

 

Plan

Create a plan …

1) Pinterest

I started out on Pinterest and started pinning things that I liked the look of to do with vintage, hair and beauty.  This means that you don’t lose things and that you start to get a feel for what you are creating.

2) Mood board

I’m not sure if my ‘mood board’ could really be called one, because it doesn’t look cool like the professionals.  However, whenever I produced it at a meeting people seemed to make ‘impressed’ faces, so maybe it wasn’t so bad.  Basically it is a big piece of card with lots of pictures stuck on it in the different areas.

3) Theme

Eventually you will come up with a theme; mine was vintage glamour.  Yours might be ‘princess’ for a bedroom, you see what I mean?  Don’t worry about sticking to only one era – you can definitely mix and match.  It’s more to do with the feel of things (I asked professionals and they agreed with me about this).  I still love Ikea, especially the cupboards or shelving systems where they are all movable or modular.

 

Places to buy

There are lots of places to go and buy lovely second hand pieces now a days:
  • Freecycle
  • Facebook groups
  • Charity shops
  • Furniture charity shops
  • Antiques Fairs
  • Auctions
  • Vintage shops
  • Homesense!
Yes, Homesense isn’t old or second hand, but the cost of buying a chair and refurbishing it was beyond my budget.  This is where you will sometimes need to be practical!
Sometimes a vintage shop might help you out if you give them a buying list.  Or my local vintage shop Hertfordshire Collective, offered to take me to auctions and show me how they worked.
Remember to give back – don’t hold onto stuff you don’t need for the next 10yrs.  Hand it over to someone else on freecycle or in a charity shop and spread the love!
Paint can cover a thousand sins and make things match, so don’t worry about something looking a little rough.  We bought the roughest looking playhouse in the summer (I thought it was beyond saving) and with a bit of care and paint it looks amazing.
Plus new material or cushions can make pieces of furniture look extra special; check out my review of Homespun Living’s courses and my gorgeous cushion.

eBay Tips

  1. The buzz from winning is addictive, be warned!
  2. Check sellers for their listings to see if they have something else that works for you too.
  3. Check sellers for their reviews/ratings
  4. Don’t buy everything at once, it creates chaos when trying to manage collection – I had a week of chaos trying to work out the collection plan!
  5. Use the mobile app as it’s much better than the site (Little dimples still naps on my lap every other day, so that was my eBay time)
  6. Watch things you are interested in that might work, but don’t bid or panic straight away
  7. Check to see how many people have bid or are watching – that will decide how carefully you will need to play your strategy
  8. When you bid, put a bid in of an unusual amount e.g. £76.78
  9. Look for the location – expensive items can be sent by shipley, otherwise look for 25 miles for big stuff and 10 miles for small stuff
  10. If it’s a big item that needs shipping, look in a cheaper part of the country e.g. Scotland or devon
  11. Be warned there are professionals on there – that won’t save you any money, especially when it comes to furniture
  12. Second hand is where it is at!
  13. Paint can fix a thousand problems
  14. You can do a lot with a simple cushion design
  15. Ask about wood worm if you are buying something wooden, and spray anything if it looks suspect

Downsides

  1. Extra work of painting and fixing
  2. It takes longer to research
  3. It takes more imagination than going into a shop and buying their range
  4. No guarantees
  5. Hitting deadlines when things go wrong
I might be a bit quiet on social media for the next couple of weeks as we have our pre-launch at Folkstock Festival, then our Open Day on Sat 28th (come and have a look if you are local! and then we open on Mon 30th.  But as soon as I can I will share photos so that you can see for yourself wether we pulled it off.
Personally I’m inspired and rather addicted.  I will always check the second hand option now before jumping on the ‘new’ bandwagon.  It’s taken a lot of work, but it’s saved thousands and thousands of pounds and feels really satisfying.  I could have done more if I’d had more time, but there were some things that we just had to be practical with.
Right, off to do some more preparation work!
Omaha Beach in Normandy

How to go on holidays with more than two children and not pay a fortune

Omaha Beach in Normandy
Omaha Beach

No one warns people when they have more than two children that suddenly there will be huge problems with holidays.

A couple of years ago we went to Cyrpus in one of those studio apart-hotels.  We met a lovely family with 3 children.  They could easily have fitted into the studio, but that was against the rules, so they had to rent two, live in one, and could only afford one week because of the extra cost.

I know, I know, some of you will be all like ‘well they decided to have 3,4 or 5 kids’.  Yes, I know, but some people are really brave/good at the whole kids thing.  Or they make mistakes.  Whatever reason, they need holidays more than the rest of us less brave 1 or 2 children families!

I know that you can rent a villa, but that doesn’t really work for me as there is no entertainment and my kids want other kids to play with.

I remember trying to google for affordable holidays for families and getting totally mind boggled with all the options that didn’t really seem to make it easy for a family.

But I have a solution if you are looking for one ….

 

A holiday in a luxury mobile home with Siblu in France

These guys are the perfect solution and luckily I can speak from personal experience because they sent my family and I off to review them last year.

Ferries are much easier than planes for a large family to keep their eyes on everyone.

Plus you get all the ‘normal’ facilities like kids clubs, pools, beaches (some are right on the beach, for some there is a drive) and entertainment.

The only difference is that you aren’t in an actual hotel or apartment, but spread out a little more with your own little site and caravan.

You can go for an active holiday in Normandy with a short drive like we did, or drive a few hours further south for a hot holiday.

And they don’t charge you ridiculous amounts because you happen to have an extra child, in fact you just pay for the van which can house up to 6 or 8 people.  (If you can afford it, go for one with a big terrace, I think it really helps with children).

A holiday for 2 weeks, including the ferry trip would have set us back LESS than Butlins or Center Parcs last year, and although it was cheap it wasn’t tacky and horrid at all; which was my big fear.

I think that they are a fabulous option for families in these recession hit times, and once tried they will realise that there is no reason to go back to the more expensive holidays they used to have.

 

Here are all my other posts about Siblu:

An adventure in Normandy: my official review of Domainne De Litteau

What would have happened if Germany had won WW2: a review of the american Omaha cemetery

Which is best going by Ferry or Plane? A review of the ferry trip to Siblu

 

Disclosure: The lovely Siblu people are sending me off to Britmums this year, which I am extremely grateful for.  So they did ask that I write a couple of posts about them in return.  Seems only fair, and luckily not difficult to do as we had such a lovely time there. 

 

 

 

Charity Shop Finds

Getting unusual jewellery doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

So you’d like to buy your wife/partner/girlfriend some jewellery, but don’t know how to do it without bankrupting yourself?

I love jewellery, but I love saving money too.  This can make it difficult if you want ‘original’ jewellery, because it can make us tempted by the likes of Pandora or Tiffany, but then we are talking mega bucks.

A few years ago I was a fan of Schwarovsky because of all the sparkles, but then I fell foul of their returns policy after getting the wrong sized ring for a birthday present (due to going on holiday straight after, I couldn’t return it as I had taken too long).

So the question is, how to still get a sparkle fix and not cost a fortune?

 

Here are my Top 3 Tips for buying gorgeous jewellery on a budget.

 

1) Original designers on Etsy, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram

There are loads of people out there making gorgeous unusual pieces.

Lady muck is a good example; she sent me this wonderful Alice in wonderland broach which I put on my denim jacket.  I’ve never been sure what to do with a broach, but this works perfectly; just a little bit cooky/vintage too which is great for me.  (If you have little ones make sure you check the metal circle every now and again that holds the charm on the brooch).

Brooch from Lady Muck
Lady Muck’s Brooch

One of my favourite people is GreenfroggyFae, who normally sells her pieces locally, and I’ve been nagging her for months to get on the internet, and at last she has a shop!  She specialises in pieces made from old watches, and has a really creative style.

Wave some pictures in front of the love of your life and mention words like ‘vintage’, ‘silver’, ‘gold’, ‘crystals’, ‘under stated’, ‘fashion statement’ to see which words they pick up on the most.  If you are going for colour, have a look at what they already have, and what colour their clothes are; you don’t want to repeat what they have, but also don’t want to choose colours they never wear.

 

2) Local crystal shop

I actively have to avoid my local crystal shop as the kids and I are suckers for anything that sparkles, and I really do have enough crystals.  But I have treated us to a couple of visits recently, and this is what I came back with.  Don’t you think that ring is gorgeous, and much better than anything you could get normally in the shops?

For anyone near me who doesn’t know where to go, this came from Destiny Rising, which is at Battlers Green Farm in Radlett.

Crystal ring from Destiny Rising
Sparkly x 3!

 

They can have added benefits of being ‘good for you’ too.  So it’s wise to go knowing when they were born (star sign), and wether they have any ailments or problems needing fixing at the moment.

 

3) Charity shop

On one of my declutter trips to the local charity shop I actually got a chance to check out some of the stuff that they had.

Now you might not like this gorgeously sparkly bracelet, but I thought it was a real find , if maybe only right for summer wearing.  However, there was loads of much more tasteful stuff, so get yourself down to your local charity shop for a treat!

Charity Shop Finds
Butterfly Sparkles!

 

I go on my intuition; so rather than go in every week to see if there is something there for me, I go when I get a big urge to visit the shop.

 

 

What do you think of my finds?

Where’s the best place for you to get lovely sparkly things that don’t cost a fortune?

 

Card made by kids

Tips on getting the right gifts without spending a fortune!

I was asked to come up with top tips for people worried about what to by for friends and loved ones from Christmas and Birthdays by the lovely Danny Smith from Radio Verulam‘s drive time show (92.6FM).

It’s a tough job to come up with a present or gift that you can afford, and that they love getting.  But it’s not impossible!  My last post was about presents for children, this one is for the grown ups in your life.

If you prefer to hear Danny and I talking than read this post, check out the link at the bottom.

 

How to cut costs and still send great presents:

 

Benefits Cuts

1) The first rule is don’t go into debt for christmas, unless you are sure you can pay it off the next month.  No one is worth over spending for; in fact I can pretty much promise you that the present will go wrong if you spend too much.

2) If you are struggling financially, especially at Christmas, then cut all the budgets for presents in half.  You can often buy a great present for 50% of what you used to spend e.g. £30 vs £15.  It might take some extra effort, but it’s still possible.

3) If things are really bad have an honest chat with your friends and family; no friends who are worth anything will mind not getting an expensive present or not getting anything at all.  Just ask if you can skip this year, or do a secret santa with a price limit of £5 or £10, which means loads of thought.

4) Cut postage costs at christmas with a thoughtful email with photos and interesting info (not showing off stuff!) or send online cards.  (Some people also make a donation to charity)

5) Hand made presents are still appreciated: some people make lovely candles, cakes, tarts, or a scrap book with photos in it.

6) Do something for them instead e.g. some DIY or fixing something.

7) Don’t over spend on food; it’s not about making sure you become lardy bloaters.  I do my shopping online so that I can keep going back and double checking my 2 christmas food shops (one for big long lasting stuff, the other for perishables).

8) For parties or Christmas dinner ask people to bring something; it’s lovely to feel like you’ve contributed to a meal and helped out.  It’s easy to, as they could bring cheese and biscuits/pudding/starter/wine/chocolates etc.

9) Don’t get conned into spending lots of money on Christmas decorations; they really don’t have to match of have a theme.  Make some if you have none, and then buy them in the sales on Boxing Day for next year.  Remember the Pound shops will help you out with getting loads of buck for your money.  DONT GO TO THE GORGEOUS GARDEN CENTRE GROTTO unless you have your bank with you!

Important Information For Dads

Card made by kidsYes, you may have talked about not spending money on each other at Christmas or for birthdays, but always buy something.  You can get hand creams, pretty bracelets/rings, or a bunch of flowers for £5.

Remember EACH child buys a present for each parent.  So if you have more than 1 child, it is more than one present.
If the kids are young make sure that they MAKE CARDs for mum, covered in as much glitter, goo and stuff as possible to show how much they love her (you are looking for time and effort versus beauty here!).
(Don’t feel bad, the Big Hairy Northern One has fallen foul of all of these, so it happens to the best of them; learn from each others mistakes!).

How to buy presents that people like!

Just as in my previous post about presents for children, the rule of something they want, they need, to wear and to read is a good starting point.  Remember also something to watch or listen to.

The key is to buy something that people actually want, not what you think they want or like!

How?

Be a detective.

Listen to them.

Remember the lost art of conversation.

Detective Tips:

1) What do they have around the house

2) What do they spend their money on

3) What do they spend their time on

4) Who do they spend their time with

1) What do they have around the HOUSE:

Don’t add to a collection if already full!

Something that is going to use up like smelly things is great or a treat they can’t afford.  Check their cupboards for hints: which bottles are untouched (disliked) and which are nearly finished?

Don’t buy paper books if they use a kindle or don’t read!

Are they smart, minimalistic and modern, vintage, old fashioned or cutsey?

Do they love pictures and have a space?  Do they love photos?  Are they running out of space, hows about an electronic photo frame?

2) What do they spend their MONEY on:

People generally spend their money on what they like the most.  With a Mum you might need to think back to before kids though, and then add a dash of common sense about the fact that some of those things she would still love a chance to do and some are now inappropriate!

Also ignore the fact that a Mum tends to spend more money on herself than her kids and check out what she gives her friends as presents.

What does she need to spend her money on; clothes, PJ’s, scarves, hats, bags, filofaxes (oops sorry that’s me!), boxes (me again!)?  What has she forgotten to buy for herself?

(Top Tip: give teenagers vouchers, that way they can buy stuff in the sales and get more for their money)

3) What do they spend their TIME doing:

We again tend to spend our timing doing what is most important to us.  Even the boring chores will be different for each person as to how much of a priority they take.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because they do all the cooking, that they want something for the kitchen though!  When I asked on twitter, Mummy Barrow told us a great story of how her – mother in law was given a food processor, which got dumped straight back in her husbands lap with a few choice words.  Ironically the Big Hairy Northern one is a lover of gadgets, so potentially that wouldn’t have failed for him!

Something clever is a subscription to a magazine as it keeps on giving all year long, or a special posh tea.
I’m part geek and part tree hugger.  Pretty much anything that sparkles, or is related to faeries or looks astonishingly like an iPad mini works for me.  But be careful.  When I say I’m a tree hugger, I’m more your natural cycle type, not into the peace for all the world stuff, so this is where the art of conversation comes in to find out more about the person.  Oh and I might be a bit trekky, but the model of the star ship enterprise really didn’t work for me (so sorry Big Hairy Northern one, but I had to share!).
What do they love, but hardly ever treat themselves too?  Things they used to do a lot before having kids?  Maybe a massage, spa day, day out with the girls?
What do they like reading, watching, where do they like going?

4) WHO do they spend their time with:

The ones that they really enjoy spending their time with, not the supermarket assistants!  Who would they like to spend more time with?  Maybe a trip for the family to a show?  Maybe a national trust membership for the family?  Perhaps organise a surprise visit from their best mate?

What do they think about the latest fads, or shops?  Are they a Cath Kidston type of woman, or an Apple Mac type of man?

 

 And men remember this all important rule: THIS IS NOT LIKE A MAP,

ask …. unlike when you need directions!

Happy Christmas/Birthday shopping guys!
I’d love to hear your stories of best and worst presents here, or your stories of how these tips helped!
p.s. Don’t forget wrapping paper and sellotape!
http://youtu.be/x8D751UEpBY

Presents

Tips on affording and buying birthday or christmas presents for children

I was asked to come up with top tips for parents worried about affording presents for their kids at Christmas and Birthdays by the lovely Danny Smith from Radio Verulam‘s drive time show (92.6FM).

I’ve written my tips below, but if you fancy listening to our dulcet tones, then head to the bottom for the audio clip.

Stress

Exhausted MumsIt can feel incredibly stressful to not be able to afford expensive presents for children, but there are ways around it.

The first thing you need to know is that:

 

YOUR CHILDREN WILL NOT BE RUINED BY NOT HAVING THE EXPENSIVE PRESENT

OR GETTING SOMETHING SECOND HAND!

 

They will either get used to the idea and work out for themselves that they haven’t been ruined, or they will get off their butts and grow up with a job that will enable them to earn well, so it will give them motivation in future.  (Ok so a few will grow up to be whingers, but I think there is more to that than just a few presents).

In fact last year we bought Tracey Island at a school fair for 50p and added extra bits from ebay where they were missing.  And when Curly Headed boy was little we bought the basics of a brio set new, but added shed loads from eBay.

 

When I asked on twitter, the most popular reply was to go for second hand:

   Emily: bought duplo second hand
   Molly: bought a dolls house
   Jenny bought a well loved dinosaur, who 4yrs on is even more well loved

Get a mix of toys/useful presents

 

There is an old fashioned quote that I love that gives ideas for presents:

  • something they WANT
  • something they NEED
  • something to WEAR
  • something to READ
I think that sometimes we focus too hard on just buying toys, when ‘in ye olden days’ it would have been great to get an orange.  So get them used to the idea that getting new PJ’s and gloves is great too!

Budgeting

Affording to buy stuff on a budgetThe first rule is don’t go broke, don’t get into debt that you can’t pay off really quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ‘not worry’ about money.  October to february is an expensive time for us with birthday for the Big Northern One, Curly Headed Boy, then Christmas and then Little Dimples.  If we are not careful we are in major trouble come the spring with big credit card bills.

For the kids birthdays we tend to stick to the monthly ‘kids pot’ as the budget; it just means that there won’t be anything spent on the other child and no school uniform buying etc in those months.
Christmas is obviously tricky as presents are needed for both, but we stick to a limit (well I have a bad habit of blowing it a week before, but not by much, I just love parcels!).
When we want to buy something bigger, like the year we got an xBox Kinect 360, we say that Father Christmas has given a ‘Family Present’ for everyone, and then bought games that work for everybody.  This year we are doing the same with Guitars.
I do LOVE stockings and little pressies.  But they don’t have to be expensive, and can include the traditional satsuma, chocolate lolly, socks, pants, a book, and something fun like a little figure for my son or a sparkly thing for my daughter.

 

Make the most of what you buy

How to organise a play room

 

I do take them through a catalogue for ideas.  But at the same time I spend a lot of thought about what they ACTUALLY play with and do and their personalities, rather than what they think they want.

It would be horrid to work hard to afford presents and then find that they weren’t worth the stress.  So I’ve got loads of tips to make sure that you really get value from your spends:

 

1) Don’t ruin their imagination, they don’t need things that take away the fun from playing like kitchens and those packs of Lego that you are meant to make into something specific, just get put on a shelf after being made and never touched again.

2) Buy things that will last for years and be added to e.g. Wii, Xbox, Wooden Train, Scooters (buy accessories the next year), dolls houses

3) Focus on outside e.g. balls, scooters, bikes etc

4) Ban plastic tat unless necessary (wood can be expensive)

5) Stick to one system and get rid of the others e.g. Only Lego or Kinect or Mechanno etc

6) Send lists to friends and relatives and explain that you don’t have enough money to cover everything your kids need or want, so their help with sticking to a list is much appreciated.

7) Ignore big toys that will take over your house, kitchen, lounge and life e.g shops, kitchens and huge plastic toys etc

8) Expensive dancing/talking toys are a waste of money

9) Ban Children’s TV with adverts from November; stick to Cbeebies or Disney

10) Look for versions of toys that fold up e.g. we have a wooden fold up house for Little Dimples, which is much easier than the big castle we once bought for Curly Headed Boy (they do fold up castles too).

11) They don’t need 100 teddies, 100 dolls or 100 little bits of stuff, so stop the collecting bug!

12) The old games are the best: ball, teddy, hoola hoop, kite, marbles, dolls, jigsaws, snap

13) Second hand is fine, especially for young ones and things that they grow out of e.g. bikes, duplo, dolls houses

14) Remember that old saying: something they want, they need, to wear and to read.  Maybe consider things to make and watch as well.

15) Check out these simple Top 10 games that work for kids and give you a break.

If you do get overloaded by toys in your house, check out my top tips for sorting out a playroom and my other tips for decuttering.

If you fancy listening to these tips check out the audio here:

Feel free to add your hints and tips below, the more the merrier!

Wishing you stress free shopping and happy kids!

How to easily build a family budget that works and reduces your stress!

Money Saving TipsNow stay awake!

Remember I told you in my previous post about why budgeting is fab, that having a budget will reduce your stress, improve your relationships and give you a better sex life?

So now I’m going to give you some tips on how to build a budget, because it’s not always that obvious.

Plus you can listen to my dulcet tones again (lucky, lucky, lucky!) because I talked about this for Radio Verulam’s Drive Time show with Danny smith as part of my ‘Lifestyle correspondent’ role for them?  (Sorry it’s such a posh title that I just HAVE to keep dropping it in the conversation!).

There are three steps.

1) Build a budget

2) Fiddle/Analyse the budget monthly

3) Create a fun plan for the future

1) Build A Budget

Ok, so this bit might not be the most exciting bit, but once it’s done, it’s done!

You basically go through your Direct Debits, bank statements, credit card bills, and other bills to get a view on what you spent last year.

MoneySavingexpert has a great spreadsheet if you want one that will make sure you don’t miss anything out.

Here’s a picture of how we build ours up:

Once you have Regular spends, average spends, debt and food and house sorted: i.e what you pretty much have to spend (although you might find that you decide to cut back on some of it or remove it once you see it written down), then the rest goes into:

Savings for Fun: holidays, gadgets, gifts etc

Savings Forever: rainy day, pensions etc

Pots: For you, your hubby and the kids

The Pots are where the ‘magic’ happens!  You decide what a fair split is between you all, and then that is your limit.

But it’s no one else’s business what you spend there, so it can be spent without guilt or judgement.  If he wants to spend it in the pub or on a gadget then fair enough.  If you love shoes or handbags fine. It’s yours fair and square.

 

2) Budget Analysis

Each month (probably with a treat to encourage you, like a cuppa and a cake!), you go through how much you spent and compare it to the budget.

I’m telling you now IT WILL NEED REJIGGING!  So don’t feel guilty or judge yourself for that; you are bound to have been a bit keen and optimistic!

Then look to see if you got value for money from the spends that you have a ‘choice’ over:

Look for where you overspent, where you could have cut down, and what didn’t give you the value for money.

Little costs: Check out the little costs like coffees and multiply them by how many times a week/month/year they happen.  Are they really worth it?

Medium costs: Work out if they are worth the number of days it takes to earn them by taking your salary after tax/232 (full time working days) and seeing how many days it took to pay for them.

Costs that save money: If they save money, like our cars have done it might be worth it.

Debt: my rule of thumb is that it’s not worth going into debt for more than a season for pretty much anything.

 

3) Fun For The Future

 

After a while the budgeting will pay off and you will be able to look further ahead.

Sit down with a bottle of wine and DREAM!

What would you love to have done, seen or achieved by the time that you ‘kick the bucket’?

Maybe it’s a holiday, kids going to univercity, an extension on your house, or learning to drive?

This list is then great to compare to things you think of buying in between to see if they are really worth it, and to make sure that you have stuff to plan for and work for.

With debt you need to chunk it down to smaller units so that it seems more achievable e.g. £400pm is £100pw, which could be 2hrs of cleaning 5 days per week.  Plus remember to be upfront and tell organisations, debtors etc that you are struggling and make the payments manageable.  There are also organisations out there that can help you like the citizens advice bureau (I’m going to do some research and write a whole blog post about who can help you with debt problems in the next couple of weeks).

 

Here is my section on Radio Verulam with the lovely Danny smith (it’s 18mins):

 

 

So there it is, three easy steps, that might take you a little while to put fully into place, but will INSTANTLY make your life easier.

I really hope I’ve inspired you to have a go?

Let me know what you think?  Any questions or any problems with it, I’m here, so you just have to ask!

 

 

Love radio

Why Would You Want To Bother To Budget?!!!

Love radioGuess what, I’m now a ‘Lifestyle Correspondent’ for Radio Verulam’s Drivetime show with Danny Smith.

How cool is that!

I’m doing a monthly tips on the third monday of every month covering everything from money to health to relationships and back again.

It’s quite possible that you didn’t have it as a priority in your diary last month (why not I don’t know!!), so now’s your chance to change that mistake and make sure you are there next week on Mon 17th Sept at 5.30!

(You can listen online to 92.6FM).

Just incase you missed it, I’m going to give you the low down and links so that you can listen to my dulcet tones!

 

Why you really want to Budget, you just didn’t know you wanted to!

 

Budgeting, fudgeting I hear you say.  Money is boring and stressful!  Better to ignore it, stick your head in the sand, panic deal with it and complain, because there is nothing that can be done to improve the situation.

I disagree.

Yes, we are in difficult times, everyone has cut down (I bet even Elton John buys less flowers), and I see Mums talking about struggling to buy food and pay for the rent daily on twitter at the moment.

But, money isn’t bad.  It’s letting it control us, and letting those marketing bods control the way we view our lives and letting it affect our relationships that causes the problem (and some serious problems with the benefits support system for those who need it; but I’m saving that for another blog post).

There is loads that can be improved with a flexible budget, and probably more importantly with a change in psychology.

At least you know that you aren’t the only one as everyone needs to budget nowadays and the recession isn’t going anywhere, so we all need to make sure we get the best from our money.

It’s also not all doom and gloom.  I’ve been amazed and awe inspired watching Mums gain satisfaction from crafting or cooking things or learning skills or trying out different types of holidays in order to save money.

 

Step 1: Complaining diet

I’m putting you on a diet; a no complaining about money diet.

Don’t discuss lack of money or complain about it.  Only talk about it when you are actually doing something about it.

It’s not about sticking your head in the sand.  It’s more about focusing on what you do actually have and only talking about it when you are in ‘action’ mode.

 

 

 

Step 2: Get motivated to budget

For a start, do you like being a ‘marketing mug’; either buying things you find out afterwards you didn’t want, or being made to feel rubbish because you don’t have something?  By having a clear budget and plan you can know that everything around you is what you wanted and feel proud of what you have.

Plus it leads to less arguments.  A clear controlled, obvious, honest split of the money within the relationship really helps.  No myths about who spends more, no power play with someone controlling the money, no arguments about unfairness, no passive aggressive over spending, no whining; it’s much easier.

With less arguments, comes a stronger relationship, less chance of divorce and dare I say it more sex!

You can use it to explain to the kids what is and is not possible so that they stop nagging you.

It can save you from future worry and panic because you are less likely to get caught out by a sudden bill.

Even better is the fact that you can have fun planning ahead for lovely future things and getting more enjoyment from what you are going to spend.

 

 

Step 3: Appreciate what you have got

 

When you are complaining and worrying you will miss out on other opportunities.  It’s like you get stress blinkers on.  Plus you aren’t really that much fun to give stuff to; sorry but it’s true, just think about those kids who complain when they get a present.

If you are more grateful for what you have, then you are more likely to get more things.

You are also less likely to find that something expensive you bought was just not worth it (I bet if you look around your house there are a lot of things that you regret buying).

Have a fun, sit down with a cuppa and make a list of what you’d love to have.  Then when you are considering buying something, compare it to your list and make sure that you aren’t making a mistake.

 

 

You Don’t Have To Get It Right

It’s not about getting it right full stop.  Things change.  Life changes.

But a budget will help you adapt.

On the next show I’m going to talk about HOW to budget; it’s really not as difficult as you might think and the pay offs are IMMEDIATE!

 

 

I’d love to know what you think about budgeting?

Do you love to have a budget?

Have I convinced you to have a go?

Why do you worry about making a budget?

 

Add some colour to your tent

Don’t Forget a Thing! Packing List For Camping With Your Kids

Add some colour to your tentI’m just back from my first ever camping trip and first ever family music festival, so being addicted to lists I thought I would share and share alike!

I promise you won’t get such a comprehensive list elsewhere because:

(a) I’m a bit wacky and love a bit of glamping and

(b) I’m retentive about lists.

I’ve highlighted the MUST HAVEs for you!

If you haven’t been to a festival with the kids yet, check out my post on why family festivals are a great adventure to try out with the kids and my review of the fabulously muddy Penn Festival and last years Just So.

 

Clothes

Check out my tips on what to wear to a festival, plus my Pinterest board with more ideas and links to the clothes.

Wellies (there are some lovely ones on my Pinterest board)

Crocs (don’t use if very muddy, they’re feet will be a terrible mess!)

Daps if it’s not muddy (There’s some cute daps on this Pinterest board of mine)

Fleeces – were brilliant for me and the kids (I’ve now bought an extra one, so that I’ve got daytime and nighttime ones!)

PJ’s – take extra incase of trouble for the kids (mine are fleecy Joe Browns ones)

Water proof coats and trousers – I don’t wear the trousers (yuk!), but they were a must for the kids and the hairy one.  The macs need to be those pack-a-mac ones for lightness (try to get a prettier one if you can)

Wooly hats – for kids in evenings

Pashmina Scarf – for me (I don’t go anywhere without them)

Socks, Knickers, Bras – just incase you forget

Wings, Tutu’s and wands for Little Dimples

Fancy Dress For Curly Headed boy

Poncho Towels x 2 for the kids for after a shower

Nappies, wipes and bags

Outfits for each day plus spare leggings/tracksuit bottoms

 

Bedrooms

Hotwater bottles for me and the kids – OMG so glad I had these as I’m a wimp!

Pillows for me – yep wimp again.

Those cuddly teddy bear pillow for the kids – make great teddies and travel companions too.

Sleeping bags – a double for me and Little Dimples, Moshi Monster one for Curly Headed Boy and ‘proper’ one for the hairy northerner

Double blow up bed (and pump) – for the girls

Sleeping Mats – thick mat for the little boy and thin mat for the ‘hard’ one

Blankets x 4 – 1 under me, 2 on top of me and 1 more for Curly Headed Boy

Bed Bumpers – so that little dimples doesn’t roll into the tent side (she doesn’t like it)

Towels x 4 – can’t have enough towels

Microfibre hair turban if your hair takes a while to dry (£1 from Wilkinsons or a pound shop)

Festival

Rucksacks – for each of us, don’t use over the shoulder bags, and if you can get oilcloth washables one for you, they will be the easiest to clean afterwards.

Ear Defenders for kids

iPads and iPhones with films on for packing and unpacking

Power monkey to charge up iPads and iPhones – AMAZING!

Radio Flyer – perfect for carrying two kids, sleeping babies, lugging stuff from the car, and getting through mud. (some places you can rent them)

Games

2 books of drawing/sticker activities

Lego book for son, Duplo for daughter

Football – didn’t take it, will do next time as it is much more sensible than a frisbee

Books – thin ones that work for both kids (Gruffalo!)

Bananagrams game

Some little characters to play with e.g. Mini mouse plastic tiny travel house for Little Dimples, and Octonaughts submarine for Curly Headed Boy

 

Camping Stuff

Here’s my pinterest board for camping/glamping stuff.

Bog in a Bag – OMG you HAVE TO HAVE one of these – no long trip to the loo overnight or panic when it’s pissing it down! (there are a few left here to buy!)

Bunting and solar fairy lights – 2 lots – VERY important!

Tent – check out my review of the Vango Airbeam  Tent

Mallet – for the tent.

Pop up tent – we have a little one that is useful sometimes for at the festival or keeping things in outside our tent if we don’t take an awning.

Pink whistling kettle – obviously!

Enamel Tea Pot – Keep Calm and drink tea from John Lewis – tea is obviously a necessity!

Enamel Plates and Bowels – pretty ones with bunting on from John Lewis – I was disappointed that the edges seem a little dodgy.  You can buy the blue ones from the pound shops.

Cuttlery – we had plastic, but it was horrid.

Cooking spoon – get a metal one, we melted the plastic one!

Saucepan and frying pan – doesn’t need to be big, just enough for a whole meal for the family.

Front door mat – WOW this was useful – I’d bring two next time one for inside and one for outside

Wind break, HUGE picnic blanket and cushions from GLTC – gorgeous and made it feel really homey.  Would have been wonderful if it was sunny.  But didn’t wash very well :o(

Picnic basket and cool box – we didn’t really use this as we decided not to take lunch with us, but we will use it at the Just So festival and our holiday in Siblu (french caravan park).

Cooker with 2 hobs and under toaster (plus canister) – great for tea, a full english breakfast and making dinner on the night we arrived.

Collapsible water bottle – a must have

Collapsible washing up bowl – so useful for feet, washing up and catching drips from wet clothes!

Oven gloves – get thinner light ones as the lids are small

Light cutting mats for cutting up things to cook on.

Knife with cover.

Tea towel – we forgot!

Dustpan and brush – definitely needed on longer trip.

Kitchen cooker table – was very wobbly, I wasn’t sure that it would stay straight.  Not needed for a festival (just cook on the ground), but good for a longer trip as long as you buy boxes to store stuff underneath.

Table and Chairs – This one from Cotswold is very easy to transport, but a little wobbly with little kids and takes up lots of room.  I don’t think you need it for a festival, just for camping longer than a weekend.

Cheap Plastic backed picnic blanket – was a god send outside the front door.

Wind up Lamp, plus two little ones for the kids (head torches are great too)

Something to hang up wet stuff with – a washing line or I got a pink plastic oval thingy with pegs on it that I could hang from something

General kitchen supplies

LOADS of black bags

LOADS of antibacterial wipes

LOADs of baby wipes

LOADS of kitchen roll

LOADS of Loo roll

LOADs of little packs of tissues

Matches

Little travel bottle with washing up liquid

Newspaper can be great outside the front door if it gets muddy (or straw as we had)

Dish cloths

Toiletries

EAR PLUGS – (Reminded by a lovely commenter!) – I use the blue waxy ones from Boots, not the yellow foam ones or the plastic ones.

Eye masks – you know the ones you get on a plane – can be useful because it gets so light in a tent in the mornings!

Wipes to wash face and take off make up

Travel bottles with shampoo and conditioner.  (I can’t travel without mousse either).

Moisturiser

Deodorant

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

Makeup.

Tampons and pads – if there is a chance your period is going to come while you are away, you so know it will!

First Aid – Plasters, Suntan Lotion, Sudocrem, Thermometer, Calpol, Aloe Vera (after sun and good for bites)

Food

Note: Remember not to take glass bottles to a camp site or festival.
Most important – Tea (or coffee), milk (take 2 x 1 litre and have one of them frozen), Orange juice, apple juice (take a frozen one), squash in a plastic bottle
Alcohol – now at the penn festival you couldn’t take alcohol on site, so the best bet would have been cans of cider or gin in a tin.  But at Just So last year we spent some time at the tent in the evening, so a box of wine is a good plan.  (Be considerate if you get drunk please!).
Fruit – last year I felt a bit unwell after going to Just So because my body is fussy and likes it’s fruit and veg.  So definitely take grapes, apples, satsumas, those innocent fruit drinks for the kids, and some extra veg for the adults for the first night’s dinner.
Snacks – will be expensive so add some high sugar but healthy emergency rations: bear fruit, yogurt covered raisins/strawberry flakes, sesame seed snaps etc.  Plus late at night the kids might be snackish, so some crackers are a good idea.
Breakfast:
  • Cereal – those little travel boxes of cereal are great if you aren’t taking bowls.  But they caused arguments between the kids as they don’t have equal numbers of types of cereal.  So I’m going to pick one type and put in a plastic box next time.
  • Toast – nice and easy and a good back up to have a loaf of bread with butter and marmite
  • Brioche – can make a lovely breakfast or snack later
Lunch/Brunch
  • Eggs, Bacon, Sausages, Tomatoes – we had a full english breakfast because the Penn Festival didn’t start until 12, so didn’t need to take a picnic lunch with us.  Whereas the Just So festival starts really early, so there will be no time for this.
  • Baps, cheese, crisps – when we go to Just So it starts earlier so we will take lunch with us.
Dinner – on the evening of arrival and last night – but don’t bother during the festival.
    • 2 cold cooked chicken breasts chopped up added to fresh pasta (quicker to cook).  Add pesto and a big tin of sweetcorn.
    • Tins of tuna heated up with some philidelphia and milk to make a sauce and big tin of sweetcorn with pasta or noodles
    • Tins of spagetti bolognaise on toast with big tin of sweetcorn
    • Tins of tomato soup, big bread, cucumber and carrots
    • Hotdogs (but my hubby is allergic to celery, so they don’t work for us)
    • I was tempted to introduce the kids to spam and corned beef!
    • Remember you can get tinned potatoes, which would be quicker to cook than normal ones.

 

 

What do you think of my tips and list?  Let me know if you use it and if there’s anything to add.  Also feel free to add your own lists in the comments!