Rat a tat tat….

My daughter is 13, and is growing so fast that she no longer fits in her cabin bed. She rolls over and her knees bang the sides. She stretches and some trinket from her shelves will end up in pieces on the floor.

It is time to build her a new bedroom, fit for the young woman she is becoming with a bigger bed and some grown up furniture. Maybe even a dressing table, and perhaps a telly. Thirteen was the age the boys got their first telly, as she keeps reminding me. How times have changed! Back in my day, we didn’t even have a family telly, until I was 13, never mind our own personal viewing device.

Anyway, last weekend, we set about decluttering her room with a view to selling some of her stuff to raise funds for the transformation.

Now, please bear in mind we are not hoarders. I usually go through this process at least once a year, usually before Christmas to make way for all the tat that Christmas inevitably brings. But this felt different. This time, my daughter seemed happy to part with objects, books and toys from her earliest years that she previously wanted to hang on to. Some special items she kept, her special teddy ‘golden-bear’, a golden Wenlock from our trip to the Olympics, a battered copy of Guess a how Much I love You, a musical box with a townscape of Munich (where we lived for a while). We had lovely warm snugly conversations about the happy memories these seemingly insignificant items brought forth.

Some things she refused to part with. Some she lingered over, and then decided they could go. But what really shocked me was that all of the things that she did not hesitate to put to the boot sale, the things she did not linger over for a single minute, were all without exception Christmas gifts. Usually stocking fillers, or things I’d bought to make the pile of gifts look a bit bigger, or to even the piles up a bit as one kid’s pile looked a bit bigger than the others. Or something I’d bought because I felt guilty as one kid had more spent on them, or some other spurious panic induced, guilt laden reason.

These gifts hold no intrinsic meaning for my daughter. Which is quite a revelation, because for me, buying gifts at Christmas is a way to show the children that I love them. Now, these gifts are not the only way I show my love. I am not trying to buy their affection with gifts because I starve them of my time. It’s simply that I love to see their faces on Christmas morning when they see that Santa has been (yes, he still comes here). I cannot imagine them having a Christmas where there aren’t mountains of gifts to open. And they do love opening them and the ritual of it all. They are not ungrateful or spoilt, but they don’t really love the gifts. They don’t REALLy love the gifts because the gifts don’t mean anything. The gifts are just stuff. Tat.

Which is interesting because I put myself under enormous pressure at Christmas time to buy the right gifts, as I am sure many women do. I usually end up in a total exhausted meltdown, and with high levels of anxiety at whether we can afford it all. Christmas is no fun for me, and all because I am trying to keep everyone else happy and make memories. But you can’t force happy memories.

So, this Christmas I am going to try and take the pressure off myself a bit. I don’t quite know how I am going to do this yet. I really can’t imagine a Christmas without mountains of gifts. Heavens, that would be bloody awful!! And I’m not going to just give them money either. I know some parents do, but that feels so cold and heartless.

I will find a way to ensure that each gift this Christmas has some real meaning or purpose, so that they don’t end up in a boot sale during Summer 2015.

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Supporting Teens to Realise their Financial Dreams

This blog was started not so long ago with the intention of merrily charting how my husband and I went about saving a sum of money to go on an adventure holiday with our three teen children. Easy! That’ll make an interesting read I thought. I can chart our travel research and our saving tips.

First things first, as we surveyed our finances, we realised that we are carrying quite a lot of debt, and so my attention quickly turned to how we should pay it off. I like a challenge, I’ve made a plan, and I am confident it will be done. No worries.

Now, as we know, life is what happens when you are making other plans, and whilst my head has been buried in budgets, travel research and side hussling, one of my lovely boys has been offered the opportunity of a trip of a lifetime to Tanzania, with an organisation called World Challenge. The project aims to build young people’s personal and social responsibility through a combination of physical challenges, and participating in charitable projects.

I am genuinely thrilled for him, and pleased that he has signed up for it so wholeheartedly. In order to go, he needs to raise nearly £3000 over the course of a year. The organisers are keen to emphasise that the young people need to raise this sum for themselves, and that it isn’t gifted by parents. (No chance of that! Ha ha!) It is a brilliant way of teaching them about resourcefulness, entrepreneurship, deferring gratification, and ultimately, financial literacy.

We have jointly worked up a list of ways he can make the £3k, which include services to friends and neighbours such as babysitting, gardening, and teaching the family elders to use computers (he is very patient). He is a great baker, and intends to join me at car boot sales selling cakes. Car washing, bag packing, and organising a party are all on his list. I have encouraged him to think of the £3k as 600 x £5. This makes it feel more manageable. He has made a chart with 600 little squares on his wall to plot his progress. He has researched the best bank account that will give him the best rate of interest.

In short, I have no doubts that he will achieve his goal.

Which is a bit of a bittersweet realisation for me, as I have to acknowledge that his travel dreams are not the same as mine. He is a young man about to enter the world in his own terms. The Tanzania trip will take place during the window that I had earmarked for our family adventure.

My wish was for us all to have one long family holiday together before my children grew up. It seems I am too late. They are grown up. And I could not be prouder.

Budget Holidays with Teens…

Budget Holidays with Teens

We had to think long and hard about whether taking a fortnight’s holiday was allowable within our current financial constraints. Would taking a holiday just involve wasting money we don’t have?

On balance we decided that we should, because, life being life, we may never actually manage to take our intended sabbatical next year, regardless of whether we manage to save the money (more on this later).

Everyone needs a chance to kick back and relax. We haven’t managed a full two week family vacation for over 5 years. This has been mainly due to husband having set factory shut downs which have not corresponded with school holidays, or have clashed with children’s exams, race fixtures (my son is a runner) my work, or other unbreakable family commitments.

This year, the hubster has been able to take two weeks off, over the Easter holiday!!! We have no weddings to go to, no exams to be sat (although both lads have bought mountains of text books to revise for exams when they return) no important races to compete in, and no house renovations to be done. This may never happen again, and so the decision was taken, and we are now settled in a lovely little house on the Bodrum peninsular in Turkey.

Bliss.

Two sunny weeks with which to do… not very much.

We still need to be conscious of the pennies though, and I think we have managed to get here very reasonably indeed, with change from £1500 for flights and accommodation for five of us. Not bad eh?

Here are some of the ways I have managed to minimize my financial guilt trip!

1. Check the age the airline charges ‘adult’ prices from. We managed to get my 13 y/o a child’s priced airfare by shopping around.
2. Don’t think you have to fly there and back with the same airline. We saved quite a bit by flying with 2 airlines.
3. Some airlines accept Clubcard points or airmiles. We have taken £150 off the cost of the flights.
4. Watch the extras, and pack carefully. At £20 a bag, hold luggage is expensive, and £6 each for advance check in, these extras all add up. Don’t feel pressurised. We have managed to get everything in hand luggage and one hold bag, which admittedly contains mainly text books for revision. Without impending exams, we could probably have done without hold luggage altogether.
5. Cashback. We have managed to get Cashback on our airport parking and our holiday insurance from http://www.topcashback.co.uk/home
6. Like many large families with teens, hotel accommodation just doesn’t work for us. We need a house or apartment, and we have found that Airbnb offers great accommodation at very reasonable prices. Basically, the concept is that people put up their own properties for rent while they themselves are on holiday or not using it. The choice ranges from “pretty basic” to “OMG That’s a castle”. We are currently situated in a three bed house, a little away from the main holiday resort, but with the most amazing view over the bay, all for just under £600. Check out http://www.airbnb.com/ for some ideas.

I intend to check out houseswopping for future holidays, and am currently working up an Airbnb listing for my own house, to try and make a bit of extra money in the school holidays.

I’d love to hear how you have saved money on your family holidays…

Ta at speak later xxx

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…..!!

teenmoney

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