Make Your Christmas More Creative

It’s easy to let Christmas take over your house, mind and wallet. Maybe it even instills a feeling of dread and an expectation that you’ll start the new year on the back foot in a bank overdraft. But there are many ways to upgrade your Christmas that don’t revolve around presents and decorations. Fun, personal and thoughtful touches will win every time! Here are some ideas to get those creative juices flowing, so that you can make some changes this year that’ll be more creative, fun, and also save you money – without compromising on time with loved ones.

A picture of Christmas accessories on a blue background with the title written in white.

Get crafty

If you’ve got a skill or talent that could be used to make a gift instead of buying one, this would add a personal touch and could save money (depending on the skill). If you’re a keen cook, why not offer to make a dish for Christmas dinner rather than buying everyone a gift? Perhaps you’d rather make a delicious dessert for everyone to share – it’ll be really appreciated, will help out the host and is something you can all share. If you’re more into sewing or painting, you may prefer to make small handmade gifts instead – just remember to give yourself enough time to complete them in the busy time leading up to Christmas.

Save money

Take advantage of cheaper options and make sure you shop around. If you have a particular gift in mind, see if you can get hold of it second hand – sites like eBay may have the same item either brand new or used – in many cases you might find one that’s been opened but never used, or still comes in the original box. Why spend more for no reason? Shopping around more could save you a lot of money! Just don’t forget that you may need to arrange your own courier which you’ll need to factor into your budget.

Take charge of Christmas games

Games are a big part of Christmas for many and a great way to bond with family. If games aren’t part of your Christmas day usually, why not give yourself the title of Games Coordinator, do some research and find a few easy games that’ll get you all working together and passing the time so you’ve got something to keep your mind busy when waiting for your food! 

If you’re already a lover of games, why not find a few new ones to try – perhaps you’ve got that one person that never wants to play and they need something else to get them motivated. If there’s a certain game that divides family members, try to find one that includes everyone and that appeals to their interests. Ask friends which games they play at Christmas time and steal any good recommendations!

New board games can be expensive so it’ll pay to shop around – a good tip is to look in charity shops or borrow from others. There are also so many games that only need a pen and paper or a pack of cards so you don’t need to spend a fortune!

Hopefully these tips give you some inspiration for cutting the cost of your Christmas this year and add a little sprinkle of creativity whilst saving you money!

*This is a collaborative post.

Home Education on a Shoestring 

This post discusses how you can save money on home educating and still provide plenty of home ed opportunities. It is a common misconception that home educating is expensive and unaffordable to most. However, many home educators successfully home educate on a tight budget and there are lots of ways to make home educating affordable. The truth is, home education can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. Plus with the money you would spend on uniform, trips and lunch money, school is not necessarily a cheaper option either!

It is a common misconception that home educating is expensive and unaffordable to many. However, there are actually various ways to cut the costs, and many home educators successfully home educate on a tight budget. Here are my top tips…

Trips and Activities

Join your local home ed facebook group

In many areas, home educators organise trips and activities together as a community, in order to access cheaper group entry charges or school rates. This often also includes educational workshops that wouldn’t otherwise be available to individuals.

Look out for discounts/ offers to local attractions

Find your local community magazine, join an online group that shares local information or sign up to attraction newsletters direct; whichever way suits you personally to stay up-to-date with the latest offers and discounts for local attractions. Some places also do free open days etc… that it is worth taking advantage of too. If you make a point of seeking them out, you’ll be amazed at how much you can actually save!

Research free places to visit

Following on from the previous point, there are lots of free places to visit, and events throughout the year, that offer great educational opportunities. From museums to sporting events, there is plenty to choose from without getting your wallet out.

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Form a co-op, or arrange your own groups/ activities

If you can find a free (or cheap) venue, many home educators lead groups and activities themselves, or with other members of the local community. You can play on each others’ strengths and expertise, plus pool together resources, which can be far more cost effective than paying for classes etc…

Resources at Home

Find freebies

There are lots of free good quality resources on the internet. Also check out freecycle for useful items that someone else no longer needs. Occasionally there is even old equipment from local schools up for grabs, if you know the right people!

Borrow

You can also borrow and swap with other home educators, which makes far more sense than investing in something that is only needed for a short term topic or limited age- range for example. And of course, there are libraries too!

Buy secondhand

There are dedicated home ed selling groups on facebook to find cheap secondhand resources. Charity shops are another place to hunt for bargains; there are some great finds to be had.

Sell the resources you no longer use

Obviously, as well as buying secondhand, it is also useful to sell your resources on if you no longer use them! Or hand them down to someone else who needs them, in a pay it forward type philosophy.

Make the most of subscription discounts

Some educational apps and websites charge an annual subscription fee. However, many offer a discount for home educators so be sure to find out before you sign up.

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Twinkl is great for educational resources

What About Income Though?

It is true that the loss of earnings can be a challenge. It is all very well finding ways to save money on the cost of home educating, but it doesn’t help if you don’t have any money coming in to begin with! (Note: Home educators are not entitled to any additional extra benefits simply because they home educate, and there is no funding specifically for home educators).

However, many home educators do also work. Firstly, it is important to remember that home education does not need to observe school hours and term times so there is flexibility as to how and when a full time education is provided. Secondly, there are various jobs that you can do flexibly working from home, or ways you can juggle home educating with working outside of the home. Here are some ideas…

Home Working

Just a few examples of jobs people do at home while home educating are; tutoring, childminding, workshops/ classes, blogging, making and selling crafts (e.g. etsy store) or other small businesses.

Working While Home Educating

Parents often share responsibility for home educating with each other, other family members or friends. Some use a childminder for part of the week, then focus on home education outside of those hours. Others take advantage of educational groups or childcare schemes that they can send their child to whilst they work. It is also possible to find evening or weekend work too. Bottom line is, there are various options available, much like you would choose at pre-school age.

Do you have any tips on how to finance home education? Or how to home educate on a budget? I would love to hear them!

The Pocket Money Debate: How Much, How Often and What For? 

We have recently been discussing pocket money and debating whether it should be earned or given? If it is to be earned, what should it be for? And how much is reasonable?

Personally, I feel that the concept of earning money is important. It helps to promote independence and a good work ethic. But I struggle on what it should be given for because I feel it has the potential to also encourage an expectation to be paid for things that I feel should be done for other reasons. 

After all, we should all help to keep our home clean and tidy because it is a shared space; we all live here, so we each have a responsibility toward it. And we should behave with kindness, respect and consideration toward others simply because it’s the right thing to do. It is intrinsic – at least I certainly feel it should be – is it not? What about for educational activities then? But does that then make them a chore, rather than doing it out of interest and curiosity and for the simple love of learning? I feel this way about sticker charts and the like, so surely money is no different. 

But, at the same time, I do also firmly believe that our main goal in life should be to find our passion. In an ideal world, people can do what they truly love and make money from it, but it doesn’t really feel like work or a ‘job’ because they would choose to do it anyway. In my eyes, that is the dream to aim for! So does paying pocket money for things the child would do anyway actually reinforce this mindset and therefore is a good thing?

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The fact is, I don’t actually have any answers! I think the best approach is probably different for each child, and family, depending on their priorities and personal set of values. And I also suspect the answer chances at different points throughout childhood too.

We have played around with a few different ideas over time, with varying levels of success, and certain pitfalls after a while too! One choice we are happy about though is setting up a goHenry account so she could have her own card and also be able to shop online with her own money. I think this is really good for independence and teaching essential life skills. You can set up a goHenry account online quickly and easily, and it gives options to write tasks and/ or transfer a set weekly amount so is quite versatile. We have found this works well for us! If you sign up through the referral links in this post, you get free custom goHenry card worth £4.99 plus 1-month free

I also asked some fellow bloggers on their opinions of pocket money and here are some of the responses I received:

Two Hearts One Roof ~ OK my little one is too young for pocket money, but I will be doing the same as my parents did for me. I had £5 a week in my money box and £5 in my savings towards holiday spending money, or if I really wanted to save for something big. Then I could earn extra doing chores or helping out my parents, neighbours or grandparents. I spent a lot of sunday mornings ironing as I could do that in front of the TV and I didn’t mind. Mum would price a whole basket depending on how difficult it would be and how many items. Our dude will have the same system when he is old enough. Plus any money from grandparents or for birthdays/ xmas – half goes in savings and half to keep on hand. We already do that and he is 1; half is in savings and half for something now.

Whimsical Mumblings ~ My little ones (2&3) have a ‘kindness’ reward chart and get a star everytime they do something kind. When the chart fills up I give them a pound or two to put in their piggy banks.

My Boys Club ~ We started our boys off in 50p for washing the car or making their beds each week etc. We pay for all their activities, clothes etc but trying to teach them the value of money from a young age.

Dark Tea ~ We started giving our daughter pocket money when she was 7 (she’s almost 9). She gets £2 and has to save half of it. She occasionally earns more by doing chores above the normal such as mopping floors and helping in the garden.

Champagne and Petals ~ We don’t really do a weekly pocket money. My 8 year old gets money for doing little jobs around the house. Feeding the cat, making his bed, opening his curtains. Or helping in the garden and washing the cars. No more than £5 a week. However as he gets older and is wanting to spend money on things then I’m sure it will increase, as will the jobs he has to do to earn the money.

Pack The PJs ~ My two get £5 each, weekly, paid direct to their GoHenry cards. All we ask in return is for them to take some responsibility of their stuff and their rooms. We have stopped it in the past when they’ve been a bit disrespectful of their belongings (or each other). It works well – it also means they have on average £50 to spend if we go out. When they spend their own money you notice that they stop and ask themselves if they really need it before committing!

Family Travel With Ellie ~ I have recently started a Go Henry account for my 10 year old son. He gets £2.50 per week and the gets an extra £2 if he cleans out the rabbits and and extra £2 if he mows the lawn/ cleans the car or similar. It’s a great adaptable account , he gets a debit card with it which gives him a sense of responsibility and independence.

Neon Rainbow Blog ~ We also use Go Henry for our 11 year old, he gets a card which is contactless and an app to track his chores. I get an app too which I can load ‘tasks’ onto so each time he ticks off a task, the money goes from my parent account to his Go Henry account. He does things like tidying his bedroom, hoovering, dishwasher, plus we give him perks for things like homework, SATs results, good manners, selfless deeds.

Hello Cuppies ~ My son is 12 and he gets £35 a month and it transfers straight to his bank account which he then has to manage himself. It does come with conditions though; no discredits from school, no missed homework and all chores done. I think we’re quite generous but this does have to pay for quite a lot of little luxuries which do add up.

Frugal Family ~ My teenager gets £50 a month which she uses to buy anything that I consider non-essential. My son gets £5 a week as he’s younger and doesn’t go out as much with his friends yet. I don’t pay them for doing jobs around the house as I think that should be an automatic thing, seeing as they make more than their fair share of mess. But I do link pocket money to behaviour, so if they suddenly refused to do their jobs or had a bad attitude then they wouldn’t be paid.

* goHenry is an affilliate link which means I generate a small revenue from referrals. All thoughts and opinions about goHenry are my own. Thank you for the support. 

How To Tackle Cash Flow Issues

We have all been there; despite doing your best to stay on top of the finances, somehow the money doesn’t quite stretch to your next pay check. Maybe an unexpected expense has cropped up that really cannot wait until the end of the month. Or an unpaid invoice messes up your carefully planned budget. Or perhaps it is simply that an error has occured somewhere along the line. Whatever the reason, realising you have a cash flow problem can be very stressful. Here are some top tips on how to tackle it… 

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Nip Issues in the Bud 

First of all, start trying to address the issue as soon as you realise that your money won’t stretch. If you see a shortfall coming and react immediately, you will have more options and less of a problem than if you bury your head in the sand and wait for the inevitable. 

Immediately cut back on any unnecessary spending – and evaluate what you actually consider to be necessary to ensure it truly is absolutely essential. Even small budget cuts to groceries shopping for example, or walking whenever possible to save petrol money, could help to narrow that gap significantly. 

Also check you don’t have any non-essential direct debits coming out and cancel any you don’t actually need to pay; for example, subscriptions. Although do be aware of minimum notice periods for any cancellations, or potential charges as per contracts, when doing this – you don’t want to find yourself in a different type of financial difficulty instead!

Raise Some Cash – Fast

Next up, try to raise the shortfall money. There are several ways to potentially do this, depending on how fast you need to raise the cash how much you need. Here are some suggestions:

  • Have a clear-out. Sell any secondhand items in good condition that you no longer actually use or need. While sites such as ebay are the obvious first choice for many people, I have personally found that it is actually often quicker and easier to sell on local selling sites via facebook, if your area has one. 
  • Get some extra temporary work. I know this can be a very tough task, and it depends on how much time you have, but it is sometimes possible! Take on extra shifts at work, or enquire about overtime. If this is not an option, you could try temp agencies or online sites like fiverr. Or look into casual work, such as at local bars. You could also just generally ask around to find out if anyone needs an extra pair of (paid) hands for one-off jobs; you never know, you might be asking at just the right time for someone to offer an ideal opportunity! (Note: Make sure you disclose paid work of course!) 
  • Exchange gift cards for cash. Do you have any gift cards that you haven’t yet spent? Assuming you can’t spend them on essentials, try selling them on local selling groups, or sites such as Zeek.

And if all else fails… 

If you have tried and failed to resolve the issue using the advice above, and anything else you might have thought of, then you may feel that it is time to consider borrowing. One possibility might be to ask friends or family, whereas for others this may not be an option, or you might simply prefer not to go down this route. A payday loan, using a credit card if you have one, or extending your overdraft are other options to explore. If the cash flow crisis is due to an unexpected item replacement, buying it on finance may be another option. It is important to compare fees and rates if you do borrow, in order to find the solution that is right for you. And remember to pay the money back as quickly as possible, and most definitely on time, so that you don’t fall further into debt. 

Last But Not Least

Once you have resolved the cash flow issue, try to reflect on what went wrong and take stock of your financial situation. Consider if and how you could try to avoid a cash flow problem happening again in the future. Review your budget and make sure you stick to it. Start a savings account if at all possible; try to put 10% of earnings into it if you can. The more prepared you are for any financial scenario, the less likely you are to get caught out again next time something crops up! (I do realise this is often easier said than done of course!)

*Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.


The Growing Your Money Guide

One of the things I’m always very conscious of as a parent is our family’s finances. These are challenging times for the UK, and there seems to be growing conjecture that times are about to get even tougher. Whilst I try not to worry too much about the wider economic issues that are largely beyond our control, it is important to me to try to keep our own finances under control.

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If at all possible, there are two simple things you can do to help secure, and safeguard, your family’s financial future. The first is to put aside as much as you can each month. Then, as a second step, it makes sense to ensure that these savings are working as hard as they can. In terms of the latter, it’s easier said than done given that interest rates have absolutely plummeted over the last decade. Nevertheless, there are still some ways in which you can get a bit more bang for your buck.

Best interest deals on savings

The Santander 123 account used to be a real winner with an interest rate of 3%, coupled with some cashback offers on bills. Unfortunately, this rate was cut in half at the end of last year, although 1.5% is still one of the better deals out there. Bear in mind though that this has a £20,000 limit, and there is a monthly fee of £5.

Further afield, Bank of Scotland’s Vantage account offers 3% interest on accounts with £3,000-£5,000 in them, while Tesco offers 3% interest on the first £3,000 savings. Effectively you can take advantage of this for savings up to £6,000, since you can open two accounts per person with Tesco. However, perhaps the stand out option is the Nationwide Flex account, whereby you earn a more impressive 5%, but only on a fixed amount of £2,500 for 12 months (be warned; it then drops down to 1% thereafter).

Another smart way to earn good interest is to use a Help-to-Buy ISA. This is an account for which prospective first-time homebuyers are eligible, and has a built-in 25% bonus scheme on contributions. Aside from the bonus, interest rates are also more competitive than most, with Barclays paying 2.27% for example.

Switching bank accounts

It may seem like a pain, but switching bank accounts is actually easier than you think. Thanks to legislation passed in 2012, the onus falls on the new bank to make all the necessary arrangements like switching direct debits etc… All that’s left for you to do is follow a few easy steps, and it should all be done within seven working days. 

And the good news is that there are some very good deals on offer to those willing to switch account providers. For example, you can earn £100+ from the likes of Co-op or First Direct. Halifax’s £75 is nothing to be sneezed at either. TSB offer a package deal too, whereby you can earn £10 a month by switching to the Classic Plus account, with 3% interest on top of that on the first £1,500 you put in.

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Peer-to-peer lending

There is another option to growing your money, which, it must be pointed out, is not quite the same as savings accounts. Peer-to-peer lending offers returns of up to 5% to those willing to lend their money directly to consumers in need of a loan, via an online platform. It sounds risky, and it must be kept in mind that there is no cover offered on these loans by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, as there is with ordinary bank accounts.

However, platforms do go a long way to safeguarding the funds of lenders. Borrowers are strictly vetted for creditworthiness, so you aren’t lending to just anyone. They also set aside provision funds to cover any arrears and defaults on repayments. And some have even gone the extra mile by setting up an insurance to supplement this; one which pays out for typical borrower default reasons like accident, illness, unemployment; along with darker forces like fraud and cybercrime. It therefore isn’t risk free, but historically returns have been stable from FCA-regulated platforms. So if you are willing to look slightly further up the risk spectrum, it could be a good solution for you.

However you decide to go about things though, what’s important is to be open to, and aware of, all of the various options available out there. That way you can make the most educated decision possible on the best choice for you, in order to make your family’s savings go that much further.

*Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.