How to start your own business?

Wow it’s been a while!  Sorry about that – this business malarky is taking up a lot of my time.  But as I’m popping back in to speak to Danny Smith on his Drivetime show for Radio Verulam, I thought ‘maybe I should start blogging about what I’m doing’?

I saw a mum on Facebook the other day asking for advice on starting a business, so I thought that having worked for myself for the past 15years, I’d give some tips on starting your own business.

There are lots of different types of business.  For some reason I feel that Espiritu Salon and Spa is more of a ‘Business’, whereas before I was just ‘working for myself’ as a ‘job’ or ‘career’, but it really doesn’t matter what kind of business you start up, the same rules apply.

I’ll probably do a series of blog posts (if you like them!), so that I can break it down into manageable chunks.  But it’s a good time of year to be thinking about this sort of thing as September has a great ‘new start’ vibe.



Is it possible to have romance and kids?
Heartfelt Passion Helps


Whatever this business is, it’s going to take your time, energy and resources, so you need a passion for it.  Not a fickle passing fancy, but an interest that has been long standing.  My dream to own a Spa where the hair, beauty and holistic therapies were all combined has been there for the whole 15 years.

How do you know if there is a TRUE passion for it?  I’ve watched and listened to people over this last year and here are a few key hints:

  • You’ve thought about it loads and talked to different people about it
  • You’ve planned it – in your head, on paper, everywhere
  • You’ve researched how to do it on the internet, read about it and maybe taken qualifications in it.
  • You know your strengths and weaknesses (no one can do everything) and have a plan to cover the areas that aren’t your strong ones.
  • You are willing to spend time, money and change your lifestyle for it – this is the big one, are you willing to stop watching the TV, stop seeing friends, and limit your budget because you are focussed on your business?

Passion is key, because it’s going to be harder than you think, and affect areas of life that you never expected, so it needs the passion to keep it going!  Wow I sound a bit gloomy don’t I, but it’s not; it would only be gloomy if I didn’t have a passion for what I’m doing.



Money Saving Tips

It’s got to make a profit, otherwise it is just an expensive hobby which will do your self-esteem no good; the question is how much?

When thinking about the business, think about how long before it could go into profit and how much profit you need.

  • Maybe you are giving up a job for this, and although you can cut back on your lifestyle to a degree, there are bills to pay?
  • Or maybe this is the beginning of something bigger that will grow when your kids are in school, so for the time being it just needs to pay for a few treats for the family?
  • If there is a big investment, it really needs to be able to pay itself back, as well as pay you, so that is something to consider.
  • Think about the sacrifices that you will have to make; it needs to make enough profit for it to be worth it.

One thing you can be sure of: It’s going to cost more than you thought, and take longer than you thought to go into profit.

But don’t get fooled into spending lots due to your newness to the industry.

Desperation isn’t good, so make sure that you have a buffer to keep you going.

And never fall for the ‘get rich quick’ schemes; nothing happens without hard work.  I know a pile of people who did weekend courses and



Rant with Megaphone
Letting people know

You might be really passionate about something, and not mind how much profit you make.  But at the end of the day, other people need to think that it will be interesting too, otherwise you will have no customers.

Is there a market for it?  Do people really want it, or can you persuade them that they do?

What is your brand, ethos and USP?  What is the point to your business versus all the others?

Make sure there is a market for it – Know your market/niche – don’t try to be everything for everyone. Decide on your brand – your ethos, niche, the point to you.

Learn this lesson (it took me years to believe it!): Decide on your ideal customer, identify your niche, stick to it and you will have MORE customers!

But at the same time, don’t focus/be to rigid on this being ‘the one’ business you ever run; things often change and one thing will lead to another.  I’ve gone from being a reiki healer/master, to holistic therapist, to coach, to ‘Mummy Whisperer’, to blogger, to author, to owner of a Spa.  It might sound a bit random, but there is sense in the journey.


Got a question about a business?  Let me know – I know how tough it is and would love to help!

Started your own business?  What tips would you add to choosing a business?


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)



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


  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!
Organising with a computer

Five Tips For Working Out How To Change What You Are Doing With Your Life

Radio Verulam's Drive Time With Danny SmithI was over at Radio Verulam with the gorgeous Dapper Danny Smith last month – sorry but I forgot to download the audio, so no dulcet tones this time!

Loads of people have been asking me about making a big life change, so I thought I would give some tips.  It could be any big change job, relationship, house, country, anything.

I’ve made several BIG job changes in my life.  I spent 13yrs working in IT.  When I say ‘IT’, I’m not talking doing a little bit of light computing stuff.  I’m talking proper full on programming and heavy duty stuff.  I was even a ‘software engineer’ at one point – this requires wearing sandals and being REALLY geeky!

But then I started thinking I wanted to do something ‘more important’ with my life and eventually made the crazy decision to give up an extremely well paid job to be a tree hugging hippy and heal people.  When I got more ambitious in the problems I wanted to heal, I moved towards more complicated therapy type techniques.

Suddenly I fell pregnant – as you know this was a big shock at 36, having spent 16 years thinking I was barren.  After Little Dimples I found it harder to work, and wanted to shift my focus to just mums, and so was born ‘The Mummy Whisperer’ and this blog.  Within a year, I was pretty much more of a writer than a therapist and loving it.  (Don’t forget 2nd edition of my book ‘Six steps to a sparkling you’ is out now).

Of course now I’m going into very new waters with the opening of my hairdressing salon and spa in Battlers Green Farm, Radlett in October!  This is not as random as you may think …. so read the hints below to see how I got here …


TIP 1 – Nature Never Throws Anything Away

Organising with a computer
Start them young!

So you want to make a change, but don’t know where to start?  Look back.  There are clues in your past.

Look for what you enjoyed, what you were good at, projects you did, qualifications, experiences, adventures.

If you are looking to move, think about all the places you have lived, or visited, or dreamed of.  Where did you feel energised?  Where did you feel calm?  Where did you feel suffocated?

For example, I’m Bristol born and bred, and must admit to missing it sometimes.  When we bought our house in St Albans, the view from my window is very similar to the view of the downs that I had as a child, so it was very comforting.

Draw a big squiggly line and plot all the big events and your ages, and look for patterns and clues.

Think about what you never thought there was enough of, or what you always felt was missing?  That’s probably a clue to a passion of yours.

I was a ‘young carer’, so I was pretty much always going to work as a nurse/healer.  My escape came from books, hence the writing.  With older parents, I was often a bit lonely and watched people for hours from our balcony, hence being fascinated by human behaviour.  My mum was a bit of a witch …. ;o)

Here you can have a bit of a reality check.  Yes, there are people who are suddenly discovered at 25 to have the voice of an angel – but I don’t trust most of those stories!  You actually do have to have an ability in what it is that you would love to do.  So just because you sang a lot as a 3yo, doesn’t mean that you are going to be the next success story on the X-factor.

I’m not a hairdresser (although I clearly see the link between hairdressers and therapists), but our business partner is, and between us we have all the skills needed.


TIP 2 – There’s a pattern in your ideas

I love a notebook

I got this tip from Oprah Winfrey 20yrs ago.

Get a notebook (I like pretty ones!).  Whenever you get an idea you fancy write it in the book, then write all the Pro’s and Con’s – there should be as many pro’s as con’s if you have researched it properly.

Eventually you will see that there is a pattern in the things that you are looking at.

For example, maybe you are always looking at careers that are creative, or something with a bigger challenge?  Perhaps all the houses you look at have big gardens and no neighbours, or do you love the idea of being surrounded by a community?

I chose to become a Reiki Master, because I didn’t want to go back to do a degree, but I wanted something with the potential to keep learning, teach others and work on animals too.  I chose Resonance Repatterning (Kinesiology based therapy) because I needed something stronger when I started to specialise in mental health issues.  Then I chose the Demartini Method because I felt fragmented and needed to bring my scientific side in to help with my tree hugging side.  Now I’m embracing my more feminine, intuitive, creative side.



Tip 3 – Once you are enroute you can settle down

Family gap year
Travelling the world in a motorhome

It’s horrid being unhappy.  I totally get that.  But DO NOT just jump out of it.  That’s not the way to leave (apart from in extreme circumstances obviously).

Now that you are doing something about it, you know you are enroute, so something will definitely change.

Once you are looking, does it really matter if it takes 1yr, 5yrs or 10yrs?

Normally it is better to work through your issues with a situation, and come to terms with it before leaving.  It means you are less likely to jump out of the frying pan into the fire!

Try not to jump to conclusions.

Just because you learn’t Reiki doesn’t mean you are going to become a healer – it could just be that you are going to use it to de-stress yourself and find something else.  Plus there are all sorts of ways of incorporating your ideas.  For example, I will be able to bring ‘healing’ to thousands of people with the hairdressing salon – I don’t have to actually heal each person personally.  Just because you just bought a sewing machine, doesn’t mean you need to start up a business making stuff.  Just because you write a blog, doesn’t mean you have to make money from it or sell a book.

Remember, some things in life are purely for your enjoyment, not to be turned into a career.

It’s frustrating when you know you are going but you don’t know when it will happen.  But give the universe a chance to help you out, rather than pushing it – I missed out on a very helpful redundancy package because I pushed!


Tip 4 – Vision Board


I’ve been ‘revising’ all the stuff I learnt 13yrs ago and one of the most fun things has been creating a vision board with Melanie at Therap Healing.  These are great for inspiring you with ideas, and then focussing you on getting them.

Basically, I spent a couple of weeks printing off pretty pictures of things and quotes that interested/inspired me.  I knew it was likely to be something to do with my book/work, kids and getting healthier.  So that was where I focussed.

Then it was off to Mel’s.  We did a little meditation to help us connect to our wiser intuitive side (logic will only get you so far).

Then it’s time to stick pictures on our vision board, eat cake, and gossip!  FUN!

Stick the vision board up somewhere for you to keep reminding yourself about.

This helps you to focus on what you want to achieve and can give some really amazing insights – like the fact that somehow or other I would like to have a place by the sea one day.

I remember 8yrs ago doing one of these to help me finish my weight loss off.  I drew a picture of boots (you know how you can’t fit into normal boots when you are over weight) and also a pole, because I really fancied learning to pole dance.  SIX WEEKS LATER a pole dancing class started up at my gym.  Maybe not that spooky, but if I hadn’t put it on my board I might not have had the courage to try it (btw I believe all women should do a 12 week pole dancing class – it’s fabulous for the spirit!).


Tip 5 – Cosmic Ordering

Full moon is magic
Full moon is magic

Action is important.  But sometimes worrying about HOW on earth you are going to achieve something, will just get in the way.

When you are clear what it is that you would love, you can literally ‘order’ it from the universe.

There is a great book by Barbara Mohr on Cosmic Ordering, which was made famous by ‘Noel Tidy Beard’ as my friend calls him (Edmonds) in his book ‘Positively happy’.

There are some thoughts which when I have them feel really ‘heavy’, they sort of bounce – I know those ones are automatically ‘ordered’.  But you can make up any method you like to ‘order’ stuff.

You could write a letter to the universe and post it.  Or ask the new moon for it.

No, I don’t think that ordering £1million or a Ferrari will work.  It’s got to be something heart-felt.


But remember to enjoy today

Change is stressful.

Not changing is stressful.

Remember, it’s not about where you were, or where you will be, but the fact that it is all one long journey.  Don’t miss today because you are worrying about yesterday or tomorrow.

What’s your favourite tip for making a change in your life?




Feather Bowers at Just So

Go on try something new – a festival or camping?

Life’s still hard with the recession and we all need some fun and adventure in our lives, so for this month’s Lifestyle feature over on Radio Verulam with the lovely Danny smith on his Drivetime show, I talked about festivals and camping.

I first decided to got to a festival when Little Dimples was 18months (two years ago) and Curly Headed Boy was 5.  I’d NEVER been to a festival and felt a bit mortified by it.  I decided if we started now with the kids, they might TAKE ME when they go to Glastonbury in 15yrs time!

Since then I’ve actually become a fan of camping too.  We started glamping, but due to the cost my practical side chose camping with a touch of glamp last year.

Listen here to me chatting with Danny here:


Why Go?

Music is good for the soul, it feeds our spirit and gives us a much needed lift.  One thing you can be sure about is that the quality of the music will be MUCH better than anything you see on Xfactor.

It’s great for kids because they learn to sit and listen to music, and the festivals I go to they tend to get to chill, run around and dance.  If you go to a family festival there will be all sorts of lovely things for the kids to do as well.  CHB says that a 3day festival is like going on holiday for 10days!

If you are brave enough to go for several days and try camping it is even better.  There is something about camping and it’s closeness to nature which is relaxing and healing at the same time.  We tried a motorhome at the beginning of this year, but despite being more practical it just didn’t have the same benefits for me.

my son and me in a motorhome
Top bunk is always best



Tips and Concerns

I know it can be intimidating, so I’ve put together my top tips for you to get you inspired to go!

The biggest reason to go is if you haven’t done it before, then NOW is the time to try it.  Be ADVENTUROUS.  Make memories to look back on and say ‘I did that’!


1) Start Small and Local

The key is not to go to Glastonbury on your first year (although they do have a family area)!  Go for small ones (5000 and under).  Look for local one day festivals so that you don’t have to camp.

Local to me in hertfordshire are:

St Albans Folk Festival Sorry I didn’t manage to publish in time –  (22-23rd June) – terrible website btw guys!

Folk by the Oak – Hatfield House – Sunday 21st July – I’m really looking forward to this festival.  Check out this youtube of Kate Rusby:

Folk Stock – Aldenham country park – 21st September –

Here is a fab way of hearing all their artists on a sound cloud.

They have got my FAVE artist coming – JonPaul Palombo

Celtic Harmony do a Beltane (See my video review here) and Samhain Festival each year.

Plus we had loads of fun at Hoo Bookfest, so I really recommend that for next year.


2) Planning

Feather Bowers at Just So
You are never too old for a feather bower or hair garland!

Plan ahead so that you know what is on BUT also go with the flow as it can be too stressful to keep to a schedule.

Go with friends.

Explain to your kids about safety, and make sure that you have one of those wristbands with your mobile number on it.  Or this weekend at Britmumslive I was given a Kattoo which looks brilliant (tattoo for your mobile no).

Bring Ear defenders for the kids and a picnic blanket to sit on.

3) Family Festivals

It really helps your sense of safety if you go to a family festival.

Lollibop – This is a London festival with a big kids TV orientation.  I’ve never been, but I’ve heard that it is great.  It would probably be a bit too commercial for me.

Camp Bestival – This is in Dorset and looks to me to be incredibly well organised.  Again there is a bit of a Cbeebies theme going on.  It feels to me like they try to make sure that all the practicalities that a ‘middle class’ family would worry about are covered.

Just So – This is a magical, more artsy festival with a hugely magical vibe.  Here’s my mammoth review from 2012 (same location as this year, so you might like last year’s planning post too) and my review from 2011.


4) Weather and what to wear

An example of what I wore
Festival style from the back!

Remember this is all part of the adventure!  We went to the Penn Festival (eighties music) last year, which was more of a mudfest.  The kids LOVED it.  All you need to make sure is that they are covered from head to toe in water proofs.  We also had a small pop up tent, that we used near the stage.

Bring lots of layers so that you can take stuff on and off.

What to wear – Leggings or skinny jeans are the easiest, with a pretty dress or long top over them.  No heals, instead go for daps/wellies.  A flower garland is essential (BE BRAVE!).

Check out my what to wear to festivals post with lots of ideas for you and links to my Pinterest boards.



I don’t like the ones with lots of things to spend money on like the Herts County Show, buy, or things that kids will want to do that cost a fortune; so we tend to avoid those ones.

What you can also do is give the kids a budget, so that they know they just have £x and that is all.

Food can be expensive, so make sure you take water, squash, snacks and fruit.  Check if breakfast is provided if you are camping otherwise brioche is fab.


Loos and Showers

Actually again because I go to small ones or family ones they aren’t too bad.  But always take LOO PAPER and anti-bacterial spray.

Some actually have great showers BUT you can get away with a day of showering with wet wipes (it’s not as bad as it sounds!).



How to make your tent look Glam
Camping with glamp

Take ear plugs (just incase you are near someone having too much fun or kids that wont sleep), a wooly hat, socks, and extra jumper for night time.

Bring something to put mudding shoes in, so that they don’t come in the tent.

If there are just a couple of you then you can get a festival kit ever so cheaply with everything that you need.  There is nothing wrong with going for ‘cheap’ shops like argos etc.

If you have a little more money to spend then check out the pop up tents (a bit tricky to put away) or the Vango blow up tent we have.

The best beds are the mats that puff up; air beds are actually cold.

Bunting is a MUST!

Here is my ultimate camping list (you don’t need it all!).



Festivals for all – great site for all types of festival

Festival Kidz – specifically for taking kids

Forestry Commission – I’m an ambassador for the FC and was gutted to realise too late that they do concerts.  How gorgeous to see someone like Olly Murs AND be in a forest.


At the end of the day

Go on, try it.  It’s fun.  It’s simple.  It’s pretty cheap in comparison to a package holiday.

And you’ll have something to tell your grandchildren that will give them the impression that you didn’t wash up all day long!

Have you started camping in the last few years?  What do you reckon?

Have I inspired you to try a festival this year?


Muffin Top From Side

Weight Loss Diary: Week 2: successes and plans

In this post you can listen to my lifestyle feature on a radio show, see my weekly vlog and get details for my google hangouts on getting Healthy, Fit and Strong; it’s a packed post!

Firstly, thank you everyone for all your lovely comments cheering me on here, twitter and Facebook!


An Overview of How to Lose Weight

This month’s lifestyle feature for Radio Verulam’s Drive time show with Danny Smith this week talking about weight loss if you would like a quick 20 min overview of what makes Weight Loss Success.

It’s worth reading through this previous post of mine on why weight loss appears so difficult sometime.



My Progress This Week

Here is this week’s Vlog where I talk about how I did last week, what I did to achieve it, and my challenge this week.



I have picked an obvious target for the end of June; the BritmumsLive conference, which means an average weight loss of just under 1lb per week, which is practical at this level.

My focus was on comfort, and how losing weight can really help us to feel more comfortable, so I thought I’d show you this photo to show why I’m uncomfortable.  It’s all very well standing up, but sitting down is another matter!

Muffin Top From Side
Muffin Top From Side


Muffin Top From Above
Muffin Top From Above


Join Me!

I’m going to do a series of Google+ hangouts about getting Healthy, Fit and Strong.

My first will be on Wed 27th at 10.30am.

Fancy joining me?  You can either join in, or watch live and chat us questions, or watch afterwards.

Five keen Mums have already signed up for this hangout.  There is space for only TWO more.

Join my FB page and contact me in my FB group.  You will need a Google account too (here is my profile and page).  I need to know your current weight, goal, and what methods you are using at the moment if you have already started.

Don’t worry I will record the hangouts and put them on my Youtube page and post them here on my blog.

Don’t forget to check out all my other Vlogs and Tips on weight loss for busy mums.


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!


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!


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.


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:





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!


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!

Radio show about stress

Are you a stress junkie or got your stress habit under control?

Radio show about stressSo last months LifeStyle feature with Radio Verulam and the lovely Dapper Danny Smith on his Drive Time show was all about stress.

Sorry for the delay in posting it, my life has been a bit stressful!!

The big question is, when should you do something about being stressed and when is it just normal every day stress that goes away?

Hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

(You can either read it, or listen to the audio at the bottom if you prefer to listen to my dulcet tones!).


What is Stress

Life is always going to have it’s ups and downs, and we’ll be disappointed if we think that it’s possible to remove stress or difficulties from our lives.

But what we talked about on the show was the fact that some stress can be healthy and in a weird way enjoyable, whereas long term stress can start to have a detrimental affect on us.

So how can we tell?

It’s when it gets out of hand, and you are either constantly in fight/flight with constant adrenalin or totally shut down.  

It’s an inbetween place between a difficult day and more complex problems of mental/physical health.  So from that perspective it’s a good place; because it’s like a warning sign and opportunity to put things right in your life.

I was a massive stress junkie when I worked 13hrs a day, 6 days a week in IT and could easily smoke, drink coffee, nibble my nails, eat chocolate all at the same time; which is why they sent me on a pile of personal development courses and I ended up with my fascination for it.  People think I’m pretty calm nowadays, but I do get stressed, maybe I just know more about dealing with it, or getting rid of it, that’s all (or I’m a good faker!).

So what causes stress?

Finances: at the moment is obvious!  Being out of control, sticking your head in the sand and feeling powerless with long term financial problems which will take time to resolve is very difficult.  Check out my posts about saving/managing your money, especially the last two I did for Radio Verulam on budgeting.

Physical pain or problems: This I’ve had lots of experience with for the last 6 months or so and started to understand how very stressful it can be.  Especially constant pain for older people or some physical challenge that is stopping you from doing things.  Check out my posts on Fibromyalgia for more info.  Update: Your body can also come under stress due to allergies, intolerances, over exercise i.e. anything that put’s pressure on it and makes it feel concern for it’s safety or that it is under attack.

Work: some people love the stress of work; I love the excitement or nerves of being on radio and used to find it really helpful when I was a trainer in IT.  However, you can end up overworking, or underworking or doing a job you don’t enjoy which can be constantly stressful.  It does depend on the person though; if I’m bored I’m very stressed, whereas other people would love a job that was less challenging.

People: People get everywhere don’t they and they don’t half cause a lot of trouble!  Friends, workmates, partners and kids are all potential creators of stress.  Holding onto things that have caused you pain/trauma, that will sit in your body and eat at you.  Remember, it’s worth letting go because it’s not about them, it’s about the price you pay for still being hurt or upset about something.  Doing what other people think you ‘should’ do, can make you very stressed.

The good news is that we can’t always change the world around us, but we can change how we see it; so we don’t have to stay stressed.


How you know whether you are stressed?

Exhausted Mums

People often ignore stress, and that can be wise if short term; I’m not recommending that you become worried about stress as it can be really healthy.  After all it’s the stress that raises our adrenalin levels that got us running away from those dinosaurs all those years ago, and now keeps me on the ball when I’m doing something scary like a radio show!

But one sign that it needs looking at is when it is long term with no let up (i.e. more than a few weeks or months).

There will be also be an obvious hint because your family/friends/body will tell you.  They’ll either be getting grumpy with you or if you’re lucky they’ll sit you down with a cuppa/glass of wine and ‘give you a good talking to’.  Your Body will either keep getting sick or ill or give you stomach cramps.  It will keep giving you warnings and when you don’t listen it keeps upping the ante so that you listen to it.  (It’s trying to be helpful, even if we don’t see it that way when we have a headache!).

As the stress kicks in we become more worried, have memory problems, become indecisive, our thoughts start to control us, we have less rest, our brain going constantly, we get moody, isolated and start to feel helpless.

So don’t ignore stress as ‘just one of those things’.  

It’s not ‘one of those things’.  

It’s a sign that a change of some sort is needed, or at least a plan for a change.

Look after yourself when you are stressed, and don’t let it turn into a full blown illness or depression.  I’m a good example of ‘cobblers shoes’; I’ve been pushing myself just a little too far, for just a little too long, because I’ve always been able to cope.  But I didn’t make the time to go to Pilates or rest and my body is well and truly telling me off about it.

When we don’t reduce the stress it becomes a cycle where we eat worse, drink more alcohol/caffiene, eat more chocolate, go to bed later, and then pull away from friends who would be able to help us and become isolated.  So we get more stressed!


What to do about it?


This is the great place to start because if your body is happy, your emotions will be steadier and you’ll have more energy.  From there you will be able to tackle your problems more easily.

Exercise 3 times per week even just for a brisk walk, get some fresh air, get a little out of breath even if it’s just 15 mins per day.  This isn’t about becoming a Triathlete, this is about having some fun and rejuvenation.

Eating healthily (there’s loads of information on my blog about healthy eating, even if you are a rubbish cook like me!) has an AMAZING affect on us; never underestimate the power of nutrition to make a change in our lives.

Supplements are a great way to support your body; probiotics for your digestion, Omega oils for concentration,  Vitamin D if you miss the sunshine.

Drink water, have a habit like drinking a glass whenever you brush your teeth or come back in the house. Remember your body is like a car which won’t work without oil; we don’t work without water.

Sleep; start following a regular repeatable sleep pattern and stick to it!



Is it possible to have romance and kids?Now it’s time to calm those brains down.  (We’ll come back to ways of letting go of your problems, pains and hurts another time when we have more time).

Each night Count 3 blessings a night; it’s a great way to go to sleep and I promise you that you will have 3, even if it’s just a good cup of coffee or a sunny day.

Go on a complaining diet and stop talking about the stuff you don’t want or like in your life.  Seriously, no talking about the horrid stuff, no thinking about it, you are totally banned unless you are sitting down with someone to make a plan to change it.

Write down your problem; either just once to find a solution to your issue or every morning as recommended by Julia Cameron in her book ‘The Artists Way’.

Check out my favourite books that can help when you are overwhelmed or depressed.


Fancy Listening to me say all this with the added bonus of Danny?  Check out the audio here:


There are so many more things that you can do to reduce the stress, that we are going to have to come back to this subject at some point in time!  But I hope that this gives you a good starting point.

If you’re a Mum (or Dad) then you might like to check out my Kindle book (you don’t need a kindle to read it) for just 99p as well.

In the meantime remember that ‘this too shall pass’.



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?