Fight frugal fatigue with imaginary eyewear!!

Those of you who are also living a long term thrifty life, either to pay off a debt or because times are tight will be very very familiar with frugal fatigue. This affliction sets in sometime after the initial enthusiasm and gusto of taking financial control has worn off.

Making a decision to live a thrifty lifestyle is almost fun at first. The feeling of taking control of any problem is always empowering and a bit thrilling, if a little bit scary. (Writing a blog about it adds an extra frisson!)

The savings we made in those first few months were huge. We had spent years not paying very much attention to where our money was going. Just by making an effort to take notice, removing non essentials, shifting some debts around, finding the cheapest utilities and changing where we shopped instantly reduced our spending by hundreds per month. You can do the same by visiting the Money Saving Expert site and following the money makeover tips.

But, as each month passes, the savings to be made get progressively smaller. You begin to look at ways to save pennies, and to postpone necessary purchases until times are better. Little things start to get you down. The fact that you have denied yourself all month and still not managed to make an overpayment on a debt. Arguing with your partner as they really want to buy something you believe is non-essential, and because you are secretly resentful that they want to buy that lovely thing for themselves rather than asking if you’d like something. Functioning irons and vacuum cleaners are reclassified as luxury items. Having to say no to social occasions. It all starts to feel like too much hard work, and you long to be able to blow some money on some frippery. These frustrations build until you just feel ground down and a bit miserable.

Then to make you feel a bit shittier, summer arrives, and facebook steps up. Friends post all their lovely smiley holiday pictures from far flung destinations, or let you know they’re off to a spa day, because they’ve been working really really hard and they’re worth it. And slowly and almost imperceptibly you begin to get really grumpy at them instead of pleased for them. This is probably the worst feature of frugal fatigue. Resentment. You refuse to press ‘like’ on their status updates; silent protest at their rampant bragging about all the money they have to throw away.

And this is not good or healthy. I was reading a Mummy blog this week, and she introduced me to the concept of Perspectacles. Wearing perspectacles allows the wearer to see things as they really are, and to take the wider picture into account.

My Perspectacles are not designer, on the contrary, they have been fashioned from recycled tin cans. Nevertheless, as soon as I pop them on I can see the following.

1. My lovely gorgeous friends are completely entitled to go on holidays. I too have been on holidays. They’re great! By getting this financial crap out of the way now, I am ensuring that I will be able to afford some kick-ass holidays in the future. Especially once we’ve jettisoned a few kids! (Too dear to take with). When I do go on my kick-ass holiday, I promise not to brag about it on facebook.

2. Not having enough money to go on a fabulous holiday or buy some new clothes for a couple of years is not the same as never having enough money to go on any holiday or buy clothes. There is an end to this. If all goes to plan we will be straight again this time next year. This, actually, makes us really really fortunate. Some people are trapped in real actual poverty for real, for ever, and watching the pennies is not some wussy lifestyle choice.

3. Overspend this month was due to a hefty dentist bill. I can afford to pay the dentist. Which means I will continue to have teeth. This is a good thing although the root planing was not a good thing. It was as unpleasant as it sounds.

4. Having to watch the pennies still feels loads better than the relentless nagging anxiety and stress caused by worrying about running out of money entirely. I am in control. No alarms and no surprises.

5. The future is bright. Our long term financial forecast is good. This is a relatively short term inconvenience.

Having read this post, I now realise that I sound like a totally spoiled wuss. I am tempted to delete this post altogether so that you continue to believe I am a nice lady and not some spoiled, bitter, resentful old cow. However, I’m going to leave it up, as everyone has moments where we need to put our Perspectacles on. Whether it’s worrying about our bodies, our jobs, our families or our health.

And anyway, perspectacles may well just be the best ever made up thing that should be a real thing EVER!

I’m off to visit the dragons den with two tin cans tied together with garden twine to see if I can make me a million……

The Thrifty Paradox.

Since we began our thrifty adventure, I have noticed something very strange.

You have to spend to save.

Yes really.

The secret to our improving financial position is that I am spending money more frequently. I feel I should explain.

When we first started trying to tackle our worsening financial position, we convinced ourselves that if we were just more disciplined, bought fewer things, went out less, said ‘no’ more, then it would just happen that we would spend less and the debt would go.

This is the impression given by TV shows such as Spendaholics, where people are given £40 for the week and told to get on with it and then, as if by magic all of their problems disappear.

But, month after month we made no inroads. We ended up each Christmas in exactly the same position as the previous, in fact usually worse. And we we’re cross, grumpy, and feeling deprived.

(Christmas is my personal financial line in the sand…I’ve spent the last three in a state of abject panic. I will know I have succeeded in turning things around when I can get through a whole Christmas break without crying).

This ‘no spend’ , ‘be more disciplined’ approach simply did not work.

Why?

Just like when on a diet, you can’t cut all food from your life, you still have to eat. Trying to eat nothing at all just leads to crankiness, cravings and an unhealthy relationship with food. It also leads ultimately to bingeing. The key is to eat an abundance of the right quality foods in the right proportions, at the right times.

So it is with spending. Unless you really want to take up a no spend challenge (I know people do, but I consider them to be financial anorexics) you have to spend something. The children need school uniforms. We all need food. Friends have birthdays. I have a birthday! I like going to the theatre. I enjoy meeting friends for coffee. I need to drive a car. Our hair grows and we don’t wish to look like scarecrows. And Christmas happens every year, God dammit!

The secret for me has been to be more mindful, and to take more opportunities to buy. Yes. I shall say that again. I shop more.

When I was trying to avoid all spending, I would only go to the shops when a purchase became absolutely necessary, leading to panic buying. For example, the kids uniform would all be bought in one mad panic the day before school started. No surprises here but shops don’t tend to offer discounted goods the day before school starts. They also tend to not have a lot of stock left. I would end up paying inflated prices on things that weren’t quite right. Now, when I see that there is an offer on an item of uniform, I’ll buy it and put it away for when I need it.

Previously, if a friend had a birthday get together, I would rush to the shops that morning, and buy something in such a frenzy, that the gift was neither prudent or appropriate. I have now assembled a little box of ‘thoughtful gifts’ that I have picked up in sales, markets and on the internet.

The internet is great for picking up bargains. Facebook pages such as Facebay and Bargain Buys for Busy Mums regularly post details of hugely reduced items. It was via this page that I learned of the massive reductions in a House of Fraser sale. I managed to pick up 10 children’s Christmas gifts for £50. Full price on these items would have been £150. I also bulk buy items such as loo roll and washing powder from sites such as Groupon.

In addition to being a more cost effective way to shop, a further benefit of this is that it has put me back in touch with my local community. I live in a beautiful midlands market town but I rarely visited our town centre, more frequently choosing to get in the car and drive to the nearest retail park.

I now cycle to the town centre regularly and find that the items I can pick up outside of the usual high street stores are unique, and reasonable. I have made other connections too. While picking up some sausages in the local butcher, an old school friend served me, and we got chatting. In addition to serving meaty delights, she had recently set up as a mobile hairdresser. She now cuts the kids hair at a fraction of the cost of our old salon.

I often hear people say that they don’t have the time to shop like this. And that used to be my reasoning too. I felt I was far too busy, and I genuinely thought I was saving time doing everything by the seat of my pants. But I now feel I SAVE time by shopping in this way. I already have the kids uniform. I don’t have to waste a whole day dragging them reluctantly around the shops, and then find time to go back and pick up the bits I’ve missed. Likewise birthday gifts, hostess gifts, Christmas gifts etc. It’s easy to mistake feeling rushed and panicked for being busy. I am busier with work than I ever been and shopping in this way has actually freed up a huge amount of time and more importantly mental energy.

I Would love to hear your thoughts. How do you shop?

Lots of love

The Thrifty Ninja xxxx

Re-CYCLE-ing. (With beery bribes and barter)

I love cycling.

When we lived in Germany we could safely cycle with the children through bike friendly streets. Cyclists actually have priority over cars at junctions (yes you read that right) and cars give riders ample room when overtaking. The cycle trails were extensive, well maintained, and liberally peppered with beer gardens for refreshments . During the summer months, I barely used the car at all (not least because I was full of beer!)

Fast forward a few years, back in dear old blighty, and our bikes hardly ever leave the shed. We have been burgled so many times that we have to keep them hidden in a padlocked shed. Propped behind a lawnmower and some furniture, and chicken stuff for chooks we no longer have (god rest their souls). So inaccessible are the bikes that it has become our habit to hop in the car. And yet we live in a tiny and very flat city. Most of our local journeys could easily be cycled and sometimes, it would actually be quicker than a car journey.

This car habit has negative implications for our health, and my pocket.

So, the first step to rekindling our love of cycling is to ensure that we can all actually get to the bikes. We need somewhere safe from burglars, safe from the weather, and that is easily accessible to the kids.

We need a bike shed.

A quick look on ebayzon revealed that you can pick up a good one for £150. And in years gone by I would have forked out. But, this is the new me. How could I build one for less? With no building skills whatsoever?

Hello bartering and freecycle. I may not be able to build anything but I can sew, cook and keep children happy. These are my special skills.

My friend has a dog food delivery business and always has pallets hanging around. In return for my making 10m of bunting for a float in a local parade, she donated some of these pallets to my cause. I put a wanted out on Freecycle for items and was gifted some roofing felt. My brother, who is a wiz at making stuff, agreed to come around and bring some bits of old wood lying around in the back of his van and to have a go at designing and building something. We agreed that in return for a days labour, I would bring him unlimited quantities of beer and tea, keep him well fed and his kids happy. My husband and children were willing apprentices and on a lovely sunny afternoon everyone worked together to built the best bike shed the world has ever seen.

I am thrilled with the result, and throughly enjoyed the process of family and friends coming together to create something. It felt a bit like an Amish barn raising but with beer and electricity. We even had an official opening ceremony with bunting and cupcakes.

I estimate that if the kids and I use our bikes for every journey of less than 2 miles, we will save about £20 per month in petrol. But much more importantly we will be healthier, fitter, and every time I go to my bike store, a little bit smilier.

Friday Night Fakeaways

In our previous lives, and for as long as I can remember, Friday night has been takeaway night. Fish and chips, curry, Chinese, or pizza eaten decadently in the living room in front of a good film. No washing up, no planning, no chopping, no moaning from the kids – it was a little weekly treat for all of us. But at between £15 and £20 a week (that’s between £780 and £1040 per year!!!!!!!) it is a treat we can no longer afford.

So, inspired by the fantastic blog by Skint Dad, Saturday night Fakeaway I have begun to think of Friday night as Fakeaway night. Takeaway food, but prepared in my own kitchen. My rules are that it needs to come in at under a fiver and involve as little washing up or faff as possible.

So, every Friday, I will share what we at Thrifty Towers are consuming. I will also let you know how much it is costing.  The dish won’t make the cut if it takes longer than half an hour to prepare.

I’m no Nigella, so it goes without saying that all of the recipes will be easy peasy, and use ingredients that you can buy from value ranges, and can easily substitute for other ones.

This Fridays offering is Sweet and Sour Chicken

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Feeds four people for £3.57p (ish)

Ingredients

2 x Chicken leg portions. £2
Sugar snap peas (or peppers) 50g 50p
Tin pineapple chunks. 50p
Onion (chopped). 10p
8 tbsps Tomato ketchup
(Or passata). 2p
2 tbsp muscovado sugar. 20p
2 tbsps malt vinegar. 5p

Portion of rice to serve 20p

Put a little oil in a flat bottomed pan and fry the onion and chopped sugar snap peas until soft. Add the chicken to brown it off. If slow cooking, transfer everything to slow cooker.

In a jug mix the tomato sauce, piñeapple including juice, vinegar, and sugar.

Add to slow cooker, or pan.
If slow cooking cook on low for 4 hours, or high for about 2.
If not slow cooking, bring to a simmer, and cook for about half an hour.

Serve with rice.

Enjoy on lap with a good film. 😀

Counting the cost of a great day out. Oops.

I have just had a marvelous day out with a group of wonderful women celebrating a friend’s birthday. We dined out (twice in one day!) We took taxi’s. We drank more than a few cocktails. We chatted, we shopped, we laughed and we cried. I wouldn’t change a single moment of the day. As the Mastercard advert would say: spending time with good friends? Priceless.

Except it wasn’t priceless at all. In fact, not only did I individually spend more than I would on a weekly food shop for all five of us, the husband also ordered an expensive takeaway as I wasn’t home to cook the tea.

There were loads of ways that I could have reduced the cost of the day. I could have just not gone. I could have joined them after lunch. I could have insisted on a more reasonable restaurant. I could have asked for tap water. I could have skipped cake. I could have walked. I could have left a curry in the slow cooker.

How on earth can I call myself a Thrifty Ninja when I deliberately chose not to take any of the frugal options open to me. Am I a fake? Hopelessly deluded? Doomed to failure? No. Just human, and quite frankly, I fancied a day off.

I have decided to treat the day as a positive learning experience.

1 Own up and move on.
The money is gone. I have written it’s loss down in the money book under ‘social’. I can’t get it back, but I can ensure that future ‘social’ spending is reduced accordingly. It will probably even-out over the course of a few months as long as I don’t make a habit of it.

2 It could have been worse
The fact is I could have spent an awful lot more. Visiting shops during leisure time is deemed to be an enjoyable hobby by many women and I could have bought a new lippy or mascara and convinced myself it was a little treat. I didn’t. In fact the visit to the department store made me realise how pernicious marketing is. I was overwhelmed with the promises to make me younger, more beautiful, thinner, sexier, more sophisticated and successful in return for outrageous amounts of money. And, while I am on the subject, how can a cushion cost £50? It’s just two bloody squares sewn together!!!!! Like, SERIOUSLY!!!

3 Take Advantage.
During our girly day, we visited a vintage fair. Secreted beneath a Farrah Fawcett Majors thermos flask and a Chewbakka mug, was a beautiful 1970’s floral curtain. £8 for 4 metres of florid exuberance. I have already covered an old chair with it, and intend to use the rest to put together a few cushions that I will sell. Apparently, people will pay £50 for two squares stitched together. Who knows, I may even end up making a profit on the day!

Now, does anyone want to buy a cushion?

I would do anything for thrift….but I won’t do THAT!!

I wrote in my last blog about how much I am enjoying developing new skills that have enabled me to save a little bit of money. These have included grooming the dog, building a bike shed, and mending a loo seat. Heavens, I have even cut my own hair this week.

However, I have realized that there are some things I am simply not prepared to compromise. However much they cost, and despite the fact that hard cord thrifters may consider me to be a rookie lightweight, I am simply not prepared to budge on these important essentials.

In no particular order these are:

Eyebrow shaping
A well groomed brow takes years off a woman. Better than Botox, more effective than a facial. I have tried plucking. OW! I only got as far as completing one before taking to my bed with a migraine. I have tried home waxing, but ended up with a slightly perplexed lopsided expression. So, threading at my local salon it is, even though they look down on me like I am some kind of unkempt bag lady when I walk in. Clearly, not their usual class of customer.

Dog poo bags
Yes yes, I know. Hardy thrifters use pound shop nappy bags. But you can see the poo through them!! ARGGhHhH!!!! And, even worse, you can FEEL the poo through them!! No. No. No. I need industrial strength poo bags with the approximate thickness and transparency of a yoga mat. Thank you. I knew you would understand.

My dentist
He is not NHS. He is a private practitioner. I know that the standard of treatment given by the NHS is second to none and as could save myself a small fortune by transferring to another dentist. But I am not blessed with strong teeth, and I have a real fear of that chair. He is the only man who has ever managed to fill my molars without having to knock me out first. He is really kind and gentle and I trust him, so he stays.

My hobby

I sing in a choral society that has pretty hefty membership and show fees. Getting there involves quite a drive, and so there are petrol costs. There are lots of free choirs nearer my home that I could easily join. But over the years I have made many good friends, and joining together for a good old sing is balm for the soul. The benefits for mental well being have been proved by science and everything. So singing stays! Tra la la.

What are you not prepared to compromise?

Lots of love

Thrifty Ninja

Month One: Nasty medicine…

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Month One

So, here’s a little monthly review. Hope it’s not too dull! I promise that this will not be a blog detailing every penny I have spent. Everyone’s families and lives are so dissimilar, I don’t know how that would be helpful, or particularly interesting!

So far things are going well -ish. Taking a long hard look at our finances has been a difficult process but I am positive that having done so, we can move forward. I know where we are, where we need to get to, and I have put in place interim targets to ensure we keep moving forward.

Owning up to a debt is probably a bit like being told you have a serious illness. There is some disbelief and denial involved, before you finally realize that you just have to take your medicine. Or ‘suck it up and deal with it’ as a good friend of mine says.

Having spoken to many friends and family about what we are trying to achieve, it has become very apparent to me that we are not alone. Most of my friends are also carrying debt. Some are worried. Some are not. One amazing friend told me how she found herself £7k in debt after unexpectedly becoming an unemployed single mother. Prior to her becoming single, she hadn’t viewed the debt as a problem. It was just something she lived with. It was only when her circumstances radically changed, that it became a problem. This fabulous amazing woman, in circumstances that would floor mere mortals, took stock, and took action. She is one of the savviest women I know, and I shall be picking her brains for tips.

But it’s an interesting thought; how many people if they found themselves in a life changing situation tomorrow would be in a financial stable place? We certainly wouldn’t, and Step-Change believes that one in ten of us would need to borrow within a week if we lost our jobs.

So, in order to get ourselves sorted, very simplistically, we need to spend less than we earn. YES! This is exactly like rocket science. But just like trying to lose weight, just knowing that you have to eat fewer calories than you burn, doesn’t magically make it happen.

To lose the weight of our debt, we need to 1) develop money mindfulness 2) spend less 3) earn more.

Mindfulnes.

I am trying to think of every decision I make as having a financial consequence. Not just purchasing ‘goods and services’ but in every day actions such as using the tumble drier, or putting the kettle on. Having considered the consequence, I am then free to make a choice. A bit mentally exhausting at first, but I’m in the habit now, and it’s having some amazing results. Best of all, I haven’t banned myself from anything, I am still free to choose to do whatever I like. But it is surprising how many decisions are made through habit and association. Such as getting a coffee from a certain coffee shop, or chatting on the home phone when I still have free minutes in my mobile. And how many times I boil the kettle, and then forget to make the tea!
2 Spending less
Good news on the energy front. I am a bit neche, and so have the heating on a timer. We have decided to put it on, only when I feel cold, instead of “because I might get cold” I have also been submitting weekly meter readings, so that I can track what we are using, and keeping a close eye on the energy monitor. Result? We have cut our usage by one third, and as we are coming to the end of a fixed rate deal, I have been able to negotiate a reduction of £40 per month off our energy bills. I expect this to come down further once our changes have had longer to bed in.

Other notable savings this month have been gained from

Making Mother’s Day gifts and birthday gifts (tutorial available) saving £60
Using a mobile hairdresser for family haircuts saving £15 per trip
Reviewing direct debits, subscriptions etc £15 per month
Reviewing Phone contracts saving £10 per month
Monthly food shop…. £250. Really proud of this!

3. Earn a bit more

We haven’t quite got into the swing of this yet. As a freelancer working in education, my earnings are a bit up and down. Over the year, it averages out at a good salary, but there are times when I have a fair bit of downtime, such as school holidays. When my children were young I really valued this time with them, but now they are older, I don’t need to worry about childcare, so my aim is to seek more contracts to fill the summer holiday void. So far, I have picked up some workshop delivery at the local library, and some assessment work. This will definately help with the cash flow.

Other income

Ebay….a bit….we really need to get into the loft and get rid of some junk! Made £120 this month though, just selling a few coats and children’s clothes, so not bad. That’s straight towards the credit card debt.

Car boot sale. I used to love doing these in years gone by, before Ebay even existed, and can’t wait to get my pasting table out again. I’ve buddied up with a friend, picked a date next month, when it’s a bit warmer (told you I was neche) and I will let you know how I do.

Better go. There’s a loft waiting for me to rummage around in.. Xx

 

 

 

 

 

Cheap Days Out With Teens

It is with great fondness that I look back on my children’s younger years, and remember how happy they used to be with a trip to the park, or a splash in the puddles, or digging up some worms.   If you have to spend money to have some fun with little children, then you are having the wrong kind of fun.

Fast forward a few years, and it is a little bit harder to keep my kids happy for free.  Well, that’s not strictly true, as they are very happy playing on the X-Box all day, and that’s free – but it’s not acceptable.

Firstly, they are adults now, and have to pay as such.  At well over 6 feet, and with facial hair, I can’t pretend that they are 12 any more.  (That’s my boys by the way, my daughter does not have facial hair – she is keen that I point that out to you.)  Secondly, as young adults with their own minds, they are instantly dismissive of anything that I suggest – and so I have to think outside the box a little.

However, we have still managed to find a few days out that are either free, or that offer great value for money.  It goes without saying that now we are focussing on saving every penny we can, we will be doing more of the following…….

Art Galleries and Museums

We are based in the Midlands, and are seriously blessed with some wonderful FREE exhibitions and galleries.   Walsall Art Gallery has an amazing Jacob Epstein collection, and as I write I am just back from a Grayson Perry exhibition in Birmingham. FREE!!   We also regularly catch the train to other cities, and visit the FREE! jewels in their crowns.  Did I mention that these are FREE! – although you probably should donate something in the box at the end – for Karma.

There are some seriously fab free museums and collection in London – our favourites are the National Portrait Gallery, the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum.  With our family railcard, we can get to London for £20 return, off peak, if booked in advance.

Although my kids often have a moan about going to a gallery, they are never bored once there, and usually find something that stimulates some discussion on the way home.  An exhibition at the Tate St Ives, depicting humans ‘intimate’ relations with animals stimulated quite a lot of discussion as I recall……

National Trust

Ok – not free. But a year’s family membership with one adult is £45 and children are classed as under 18’s.  So this does offer excellent value for money.   There are some stunning properties throughout the country, and I don’t think we will run out of places to visit.   Membership also means that we can get free parking in a variety of Natural Beauty Spots, and can camp in some fabulous areas of natural beauty.

Leisure Passes

Our local leisure centre offers a family leisure pass. The children get their own card, and so can go independently of their embarrassing parents.  They get a third off fitness activities including badminton and swimming.  Which means they can afford to pay for the activities out of their own money.  Result!

Cinema

We don’t go to the cinema very often any more, as it is still a very dear night out. We tend to have film nights at home, with home- made popcorn, and a movie or box set from Netflix or Virgin.   However, it is nice once in a while, particularly for a big blockbuster movie, and there are ways to reduce the price of tickets.  Odeon are currently offering 2 for 1 on tickets, and the Orange Wednesday 2 for 1 cinema tickets promotion is another good way to halve the cost.  You can also buy cinema tickets with a Tesco Clubcard.

And of course – we take our own sweeties and drinks!

Tesco Clubcard

I don’t shop in Tesco’s any more, as I find it way too dear, and the bogus ‘promotion prices’ make my brain ache.   However, we always get petrol from Tesco’s to collect the Clubcard points, and as the husband does a monster commute to work, this adds up to some serious pointage.

My points have been used to buy a family railcard, purchase train travel with Red Spotted Hanky, and also entrance fees for some amazing days out that even my recalcitrant teens have enjoyed, including Camera Obscura, the War Rooms, the Falkirk Wheel, and Dynamic Earth.  Have a look on http://www.tesco.com/clubcard/ and see what you fancy.

I’d love to hear how you save money on days out with your teens.

Ta ta speak later.

xxx

How Teens Waste Money (and how to help them to stop)

Teenagers!!! Grrrrr…..!!

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Since starting this blog, I have pickedup quite a number of thrifty followers (hello to you!) and I have been able to pick their collective brains on ways to save money. (Thank you) And hopefully, I will be able to pass on a few tips of my own (you’re welcome).

I have noticed, however, that among thrift bloggers, teen children are a rarity. Other writers don’t seem to have an army of militant teens trying to undermine their every saving. Maybe that’s because people with teens have given up and gone to ground. I totally empathise.

Here are the top ten ways that my teens waste money.

1 Bathing

Son number one will frequently stand in the shower until it runs cold, despite the queues behind him, and frequent bangs on the door. Twice a day.

2 LYNX

One can minimum, applied after each shower. Slavish addiction to brands means that I cannot easily substitute for a cheaper alternative without a riot and cries of “it’s minging!”

3 Driving them everywhere vs driving lessons

I know it’s easy to say they should walk or bike or use public transport, and where they can, they do.  But they also have friends that live along way away, and hobbies that they love that are not within easy reach, and we step into the breach. Teaching them to drive themselves, costs about £20 per lesson, plus insurance. I don’t know anyone who has passed in less than 20 lessons. I will let you do the maths. Then, the blighters take your car, crash it, and drain the petrol.

4 School Trips

These are extortionate. A Geography trip to Iceland for the eldest came in at a whopping £900! A history field trip to Berlin is £400. It is of course possible to say no. And some people would argue that we should. But without turning on the water works, my family could not afford to send me on school trips, and I don’t want that for my kids.

5 Eating

It’s constant and relentless. My children live with their head in the fridge, and the soundtrack of my life sounds something like this…

Them: ‘There’s no food”

Me: “Check the fridge ”

Them: “that’s not food, that’s ingredients!”

And eating out? Extortionate. It’s like taking out three mates, but the kind of mates that never pay. (And who then moan that they weren’t allowed the most expensive thing on the menu, and that they have to drink water). So, not like mates at all really.

6 Lights on, Doors open!

Teens walk around seemingly in a state of bewilderment, with little or no consciousness of their actions. If you ask them to turn a light off, they will immediately respond that they didn’t turn it on, and therefore it’s not fair that they should expend energy to get up and turn it off (even though you just watched them turn it on with your very own eyes!) Repeat for open doors.

7 Laundry

At least three loads per day, including bedding, uniforms, games kit, towels etc. Problem exacerbated by eldest son’s insistence that reusing a towel is ‘minging’ and his habit of throwing clean clothes onto his ‘floordrobe’ instead of putting them away, and then putting said clean cloths back into the laundry basket when asked to tidy his room (grrr….)

8 Phones and Gaming

Dreamy teens often don’t think to check if they are on 3G or free wifi, prior to downloading films from the internet, we discovered, after a surprise £50 bill. And they can also run up hefty additional costs in seemingly ‘free’ games such as FarmVille. We’ve been lucky here, but many of my friends have been caught out.

9 Growing/Clothes

They just grow. Inches overnight sometimes.  My two lads are now well over 6ft. We have no friends with taller children from whom we can inherit clothes. Despite two years between them, my two lads are similar height, and so they can’t inherit clothes from each other. And unlike dressing toddlers and babies, you CANNOT buy them bargains from charity shops. Well, you can, but they won’t wear them. Shoes will cost in excess of £40, and will be trashed after a few games of footy.

10  Not Working – Bleeding Parasites

I have created a culture of dependency in my children. I think things are just too cosy for them. I had a paperound at 14, and have worked ever since. My kids just aren’t interested, but then again, why would they be, when their every need is catered for?  Then again ‘again’, I had the additional motivation of needing to find money for fags.

As things are so cushy in my house, there are currently two stray teens, “brothers from other mothers”, in my kitchen right now, chomping their way through my cereal, milk, bread, butter, hot water, leaving the lights on etc. and whom I shall probably give lifts home to tomorrow. But they are lovely and very very welcome, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Five Ways To Help Teens Understand Money

(Excluding ‘getting a job’ -that’s a whole other blog post!)

1 Give them a Monthly Allowance

Work out how much you actually spend on meals out, cinema, hobbies clothes etc per month, and also how much you would ideally like to spend. Then work out a sensible amount between the two figures, that you would be happy for them to control. Give this to them as a monthly allowance, paid directly into a bank account.  Insist that they pay their way.  Teens will become surprisingly thrifty if it is their own money that they are spending. They will also begin to get a feel for that ‘end of the month’ time, when they need to go a bit easy. Be careful not to give in to ‘can you lend me a tender’ pleadings at the end of each month, and my son’s personal  favourite..”have you got any change, I don’t want to break into a note”… Please realise, there will be some financial mistakes.  They are learning. Try not to get cross.

2 Encourage Mindfulness

This feels like a lost cause, but I am hoping that endless repetition will surely sink into their mushy minds.  Encourage teens to think of each of their actions as having a consequence, either financial or environmental or both.  There are some seriously tricksy apps and widgets to help with this.  Our £5 from eBay energy monitor helps them to ‘see’ the financial consequences of tumble drying the ‘wasn’t flipping dirty in the first place’ towel, or how much energy the Xbox uses when no-one turns it off. There are apps available on mobiles to track how you are using your data limits, and of course, with most mobile providers, the bill payer can ‘cap’ how much the user can spend.  However, it is also a good idea to encourage teens to ‘cap’ themselves (in more ways than one, but this isn’t a blog about THAT!)

3. Shower Timers

We picked up a free one from here..http://www.savewatersavemoney.co.uk/

There is other free stuff too!   Did I say Free!!!  This is going some way towards teaching the boy child that it should be perfectly possible to get five showers from a full tank of hot water.

4 Teach them to write a shopping list, cook, and shop.

It takes almost no skill, and very little money to whip up some pasta with a tomato or cheese sauce. Every teen should know how to do this.  So much cheaper and healthier than dialing for a Domino’s or reaching for snack products. We plan meals together using various resources, my current favourites being the Jack Monroe blog

http://agirlcalledjack.com/

and also a very used and crunchy copy of Grub on a Grant, a lifesaver from my own student days. It’s not even in print any more, but you can pick up a copy at Amazon for next to nothing here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Grub-Grant-Cas-Clarke/dp/0862873061

At least one child comes shopping with me.

5 Ask relatives for Money, (and remember to say thank you).

If they really want to do something costly, that is important to them, (and worthy),  ask relatives to contribute financially, in lieu of birthday or Christmas gifts. This was how the trip to Iceland was financed, partly from me, partly from the generosity of relatives, and partly from son’s own allowance. This is of course if you are really lucky and have a large and generous family. If you are so lucky to be blessed in this way, the very least you should do is say ‘thank you’.  Some people prefer to buy or make actual gifts. Respect this, and say ‘thank you’ for these too.

My kids don’t thank me for any of this by the way. But it’s not my job to be popular.

Ta ta, speak later.

Jacqui xxx

Food Glorious Food

I have three teen- locusts living in my house. If I am really serious about saving money, I have to take a long hard look at my food bill.

My shopping habits are, I believe already quite good.  By switching supermarkets, dropping brands, shopping with a list to make pre-planned meals, cooking from scratch and limiting the amount of non-essentials such as crisps and biscuits, my shop is now generally about £40 less per week than it used to be.  Hoorah!  But I would like to bring it down further.

A while ago, the govt launched a campaign to make us all aware of the fact that wasting food, costs the average household £470 per year.  Not me, I remember thinking smugly at the time, I rarely throw anything uneaten from my fridge. I have even trained my other half NOT to throw things away just because of the sell by date!  “SNIFF IT” I command.  “If it smells okay – it IS okay!”.  He has a very specific ‘uncomfortable face’ that he saves for moments such as these.  I have even been known to take things from the bin, where he has thrown them when he thinks I’m not looking, rinse them off, and return them to the fridge (Shhh….don’t tell him!)

However, I have begun to realise that I do waste food; but I tend to cook it and offer it to my family as proof of my undying and enduring love for them, prior to throwing it away.  At least a quarter of what I offer my children (other than the aforementioned crisps, and biscuits) is left uneaten.  I am a FEEDER!  I pile their plates with more than they really want or need, and then either throw the leftovers away, or piggily – eat them myself.  In my FEEDER heart, an empty plate means that I gave them too little, I have failed to nourish them.

My challenge will be to recalibrate my inner portion monitor, and ditch the feeder mentality.  I am beginning to offer the child-locusts more manageable portions, and to keep some back for seconds if they want them, and freeze or keep the remains for the following day’s lunch if they don’t.

A further Godsend is the brilliant blog by Jack Monroe http://agirlcalledjack.com. For those of you who are unaware, Jack Monroe began a food blog, detailing the cost-effective recipes she had developed while eeking out the meagre, and often intermittent benefits she was receiving.  Her recipes are delicious.  I am typing this while chomping away on some Bramley Soda Bread, with cheese.  Using her search function, I have planned my menus around all the old tins of beans, lentils and droopy bits of veg that have been hanging around in my cupboard for months – as opposed to planning them around what I would quite like to eat that week.  Not only did I knock a third off my food bill, but I got an extra 5 days out of the weekly shop. That point at which I would have looked at the cupboard and thought we had nothing in has been extended by five days!!!  This is potentially MEGA!

However, I am also aware, that whilst I am scouring Jack’s blog to save some pennies for what is, essentially a nice family holiday, many of the people using it, will be doing so because they simply don’t have enough money to make ends meet.  Three in ten people say that they are struggling to feed themselves and their families because of the rising cost of food.  The Trussell Trust reports that there has been a 170 per cent rise in the number of people using food banks in the last 12 months.

You may have seen Jack Monroe on the Big Benefits Row – you know, the one where Edwina Curry said she was quite comfortable living in a Britain where people do not have enough money to buy food.

I’m not. I’m not happy about this at all!

So, a proportion of the savings I am making will be donated to my local food bank as foodstuff.  If you want to do the same, you can find your nearest food bank project here.

http://www.trusselltrust.org/foodbank-projects