Wednesday, 29 May 2013

You: The Expert Linky {29/05/13}

I can't believe it's Wednesday already! These linkies come round quick but I'm so enjoying finding new blogs, being inspired and learning new things. Again, we had a quiet week but I'm hoping as word spreads we'll see more and more bloggers coming along to share their ideas and expertise!

Don't forget, anyone can link up any tutorial, guide or recipe either brand new or from their archives. The only rule is that you spread the word with a tweet and invite others to do the same. If you're able to link up on your blog I'd greatly appreciate it also! And of course, have a look at some of the other tutorials linked and encourage those people with a comment. If you try out any of the tutorials featured then be sure to let that blogger know!

You can read more about the linky here.
Check out previous weeks here and here.
And don't forget I pin all the tutorials on Pinterest where possible so check out the board here.

Now, add your link below!



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Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Heavenly Chocolate Brownies


These are, quite frankly, the best brownies ever! And I am gutted that since going dairy free I can't eat them. But, you know, it would be cruel of me not to share them with you just because I can't have them. I once sent my husband to work with a batch of them and he was asked to bring more, whilst someone else suggested I go into business selling them. So that should give you an idea of how good a recipe this is!

It's not my own recipe, I did find it somewhere on the internet, however I can't remember where so apologies for the lack of linkage. But I'll share it with you, just because something so good shouldn't be kept to oneself.

Ingredients
185g unsalted butter
185g best dark chocolate
85g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
50g white chocolate
50g milk chocolate
3 large eggs
275g golden caster sugar

1. Cut the butter into small pieces and tip into a bowl. Break the dark chocolate up and add to this. Fill a small saucepan with water and put on a low heat, placing the bowl on top so it's not touching the water. Stir occasionally to mix the butter and chocolate together as it melts. Remove the bowl and leave the melted chocolate to cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/ gas mark 4. Line a 20cm square tin with baking paper.

3. Sieve the flour and cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Chop the white and milk chocolate up into small chunks and put aside.

4. Break the eggs into a large bowl and tip in the sugar. Using an electric mixer, whisk together until it is thick and creamy and leaves impressions on the surface when you dribble some across it. (This can take a few minutes).

5. Pour the cooled chocolate mixture over the eggy mousse and gently fold together with a spatula. Do this until the mixtures are one and it's a dark, mottled brown.

6. Hold the sieve over the large bowl and resift the cocoa and flour over the eggy mixture. Gently fold this in. It will end up looking nice and fudgy :0) Finally, stir in the chocolate chunks.

7. Pour the mixture into the tin and put in the oven for 25minutes. When it's done, take it out and jiggle the pan slightly. If the brownies jiggle too, it needs another few minutes. One of my batches I didn't quite cook for long enough and it didn't bind together properly. Still tastes lovely, but falls apart when you try to cut it into squares!

8. Leave to cool before cutting into squares.

These are best eaten warmed up for 20secs in the microwave, and if you're feeling indulgent, a scoop of vanilla ice cream to boot! Enjoy!
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Monday, 27 May 2013

How to Teach Children Money Management

Money is important. It is the currency by which the world works. It governs everything we do and our lives, or our successes in life, are often determined by money, or lack of it. 

I don't believe that money can make you happy, I don't believe it is the most important thing in life, and I think that constantly striving for more money leads to much dis-satisfaction. But I do passionately believe that God wants to bless us, and like any parent, he wants us to live well, be secure and to have everything we need. 

As money is so important, it astounds me how little we are educated about it. I do not recall ever having a lesson at school on how to draw up a budget, how to stick to it, or even how important it is to have a good attitude towards finances. It is up to us, as parents, to teach our kids these life skills. So I was wondering, do you teach your kids about money? What age do you think is appropriate to start? How do you do it in an age-appropriate manner? And do your kids have to work for their money?

I came across this post by Michael Nichols about how he has taught his eight-year old daughter about money. In doing so, she has learnt to save, give, budget, work and spend in a very real way and even at the tender age of eight she is setting herself up for a very secure future. I was impressed!

Now Ruby's a bit young to understand, well, anything, but it got me thinking about how I would like to educate her in this area in the future. I figure if we think about it now, then we'll be ready as soon as the opportunity arises. 

I'm sure as the next few years go by I'll firm up my ideas on how I want to teach Ruby about money and I think Michael's article outlines a brilliant framework to adapt and work with. But in the mean time it's good to be thinking about what I want her to learn about money and how that shapes her character.

I want Ruby to grow up to:
1. Be generous - giving to God and also to those less fortunate, as well as just because she wants to bless somebody
2. Be a saver - to know the importance of putting money aside for a rainy day as well as saving for specific items
3. Be patient - to be able to avoid impulse purchases
4. Be secure - to make purchases because she loves or needs a specific item, not as a comfort or just spending for the sake of it
5. Be a budgeter - to know where her money is going and to be able to see where she can cut back if necessary
6. Be debt free - to not need to borrow money unnecessarily
7. Be a hard worker - to have a good work ethic and to be able to see that by working hard she reaps rewards from that

How do you teach your children money management? Any tips?
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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

You: The Expert {22/05/13}

Last week saw our first You: The Expert Linky - your opportunity to show off your knowledge and expertise in whatever area you wish! We started small with three entries (ok, one was my own breakfast bar recipe!) so thanks to those who made it! But from small beginnings come greater things, and I just enjoyed the process and finding out about some of my bloggy friends. Who knew Vic Welton was a driving instructor extraordinaire, eh?!

You can read more about the thinking behind You: The Expert here.
And check out last week's linky here.

So here we are again, it's Wednesday, so take this as your opportunity to show off! Whether you have an amazing recipe, an innovative craft tutorial or a stressed out parent's guide to potty training, I want to know about it!

The rules of the game:

  1. Posts can be brand new or from your archives.
  2. Posts have to have a loose How To theme (ie. they don't have to necessarily be step-by-step but they do have to be teaching us something)
  3. The linky will open at 7am on Wednesday mornings and close at 5pm Friday evenings - meaning that if we want to spend our weekend giving something a go, we've got time to plan!
  4. Please link back to the linky somewhere on your blog - within the post if it's new but if it's an archive post then a sidebar mention is fine (there will eventually be a badge available*).
  5. And of course, share the love and comment on at least two other people's posts and if you discover a genius idea, be sure to tweet about it. I've started a Pinterest board so we can all share tutorials in the same place if you so wish.
I'm looking forward to learning lots of new things! Spread the word amongst your bloggy friends. I will comment, pin, and tweet every entry.





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Monday, 20 May 2013

Children's Savings: Every Little Helps!

It's not about us anymore. It's not about the here and now. It's not even about having the best things or going on the best holidays. It's about Ruby, the future and her always having the very best we can afford.

Which is why we felt it was important to set up a separate savings account just for her. Its not a trust fund or the type of account which she wont be able to access until shes 18. That's a bit long term for our financial situation. Its just a children's saver in her name* that we can slowly add to, the idea being that we can use it for her education, extra curricular activities (dance / swimming / music classes) or other essentials if we need to, and if we don't it will sit there until she needs it.

*Although we can access it any time we want, the fact that it's in her name gives that little psychological barrier, preventing us from dipping into it unnecessarily.

Ruby was given a number of financial gifts at birth - the odd £20 here and there certainly adds up! And for the most part we had everything we needed, so those were the first deposits into the account.

After that our aim is to save £25 a month thereafter. Its not a huge amount but over the years it should add up. It's a realistic amount that we can always increase. We don't have a lot of money so I started to think about how we could find £25 without sacrificing anything from our lifestyle (I'd rather be savvy before I cut out all my luxuries!). 

So here's 4 ways to save a few £££s:

1. Freeze Lensmail Account
When I was pregnant my eyesight changed dramatically and while I'm breastfeeding it wont stabilise (hormones!). So I haven't actually worn my contact lenses since October, resulting in a backlog of lenses and solution. With Specsavers I can freeze my account for six months, and when it starts up again I can ask for the solution not to be included which gives me another small discount.
Currently spending: £13 per month
Action: Freeze account for six months and remove solution from package
Saving: £13 per month for 6 months. £3 per month thereafter.

2. Subscribe to magazines
I love magazines (as a journalist it's part of the job description). So I'd like to say that I will stop buying magazines all together. But I know I won't. There are four that I consistently buy every month. I know I will buy them, I can't resist. So why not subscribe? Here's the breakdown:

Mollie Makes
Currently spending: £24.24 every 6 months with an existing subscription = £4.04 per month
Action: None, as already a subscriber
Saving: £0 as already a subscriber

The Simple Things
Currently spending: £4.99 per month
Action: Subscribe for one year (13 issues) = £48.49
Saving: £1.26 per month

Crafty Magazine
Currently spending: £4.99 per month
Action: Subscribe for one year (13 issues) = £54.99
Saving: 76p per month

Homemaker 
Currently Spending: £4.99 per month
Action: Subscribe for one year (13 issues) = £53.50
Saving: 87p per month

Total saving: £2.89 per month

Honestly, it's not a huge saving. But here's my justification:

  • I use the on-sale dates as an excuse to go to the shops, which always involves Starbucks plus extra purchases, it might be more savvy than you think! 
  • Doing this breakdown is a useful exercise because I can now see which mag I should subscribe to in order to make the biggest saving. 
  • When you subscribe, you get free gifts, which I can always eBay if I don't want them to make extra cash, I can wait for the back issues to sell out and then eBay my back issues - even at £1 per issue you're slowly clawing back the cover price with all these steps! {Now to petition the husband!}


3. Upgrade Bank Account
Surely that's spending more money? Yes, but how much can we save in the process? Our bank offers a Silver bank account which costs £10 per month. If we upgrade our joint account then the Silver account includes phone insurance on two handsets, meaning we can cancel the policies we already pay.
Currently spending: £16.98 for two sets of phone insurance
Action: Upgrade bank account (£10 per month) and cancel existing policies
Saving: £6.98 per month

4. Choose a Coffee Shop & Stick With It
This may sound like a false economy but hear me out. I am only a few coffees away from being a Gold Starbucks Member. Once that happens I get soya milk and syrups free using my loyalty card (I also work my way towards free drinks every time i make a purchase). Again, I could just stop going for coffee but I know I won't - especially as if I'm in town I need to stop somewhere to feed Ruby. As a gold member I would save between 30p and 60p on every drink. Let's assume I visit Starbucks three times a week (it's probably more but I'll start restricting myself, honest!).
Currently spending: £3.35 x 12 = £40.20
Action: Become a Gold Member & get soya milk & syrups free
Saving: 60p x 12 = £7.20

Does anyone know if Starbucks still give you 20p off for using a reusable cup? This could also add to the savings! 

Total Savings for Ruby: £30.07 per month

Image source

What small things do you do to enable you to save towards something big?
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Sunday, 19 May 2013

How to... Die a Klippan Sofa

Before we moved out of London we were lucky enough to live in a very spacious, light and airy one bedroom flat in East London. It was unfurnished, and well, we had nothing. We've always lived in furnished places, and not necessarily nice furnished places either so we were looking forward to putting our own stamp on things. However, like most people, we can't afford to go out and purchase our dream furniture all in one go, so when a friend offered to sell us her old Ikea Klippan sofa for £40, we were very thankful.



However, our friend has young kids so by the time this sofa reached us it had had its fair share of mess and dirt, and being cream, it was grubby to say the least! We didn't mind though, cover it with a few quilts and you're good to go. After a few months, I wondered whether dying the sofa would be a viable option. After a quick google, I found that other people had done the same thing here and here, but I couldn't find much UK based advice, except for this useful thread.

To be honest, I still embarked on my experiment with a fair amount of trepidation! It seemed like everyone was asking the same questions and some people were experiencing great success whilst others were failing miserably. And of course there's so many variables! Is my washing machine big enough? How much does my fabric really weigh? What colour is the safest option? Will the stains dye the same as the clean(ish) bits?

At the end of the day, you just have to jump right in. I will say, you probably won't get absolutely perfect results, but you'll be able to brighten up your home and save a few quid rather than forking out on a new cover (which is almost as much as a new sofa!).

So, without further ado, let's get started!

You will need:
Dylon Fabric Dye - Machine Use
I was a bit scared of filling my bath with dye and the washing machine kind seemed like the easier option at the time. I chose Antique Grey because firstly, if I were buying a sofa new, I would choose a grey one, and secondly, I thought a darker colour would be more likely to cover up the grubbiness.
According to the Ikea website, my sofa cover weighed 2.2kg. For 2kg of fabric, Dylon recommends four boxes of dye. As I was particularly nervous about it coming out patchy, I went for five to be on the safe side.



Salt
You only need 500g of salt, however much dye you're using. Don't buy over a kg of salt because you think you need 500g per box of dye (like I did!).
Pre-Dye
I didn't bother with this because my sofa was cream, but if you're dying fabric that's already a darker colour, you'll need this to first dye it to a more neutral shade.

Things to think about:
Normal colour mixing rules apply, so if you have red fabric and you dye it blue, you'll end up with purple.

And then the process is simple:
1. Wash your sofa cover first to get rid of any existing dirt. I put mine on a 60 degree wash in the hope that it would get as much out as possible!
2. Take it out the machine. I would recommend you give it a good shake out. I didn't do this and the creases ended up being dyed into the cover!
3. Empty the dye (it's powder) into the bottom of the drum and layer the salt over the top. Put the cover back in the machine (still damp) and set the machine to a 40 degree cycle. Don't add any detergent and make sure the machine isn't set to an economy cycle.
4. Once finished, add detergent to the machine and wash it again.
5. Hang it up to dry.

I was a bit scared because it came out looking really black when I wanted grey, but it wasn't patchy so I couldn't complain. However, once it dried it was of course a shade lighter.

Because it's quite heavy fabric it took a good three days to totally dry.

6. Give it a good iron. This is hard work because it's so big and heavy, but once you've got the majority of it done, put it on the sofa, tuck it all in and then iron it on.

7. Buy some nice colourful cushions and stand back to admire your handiwork!


Now, don't get me wrong, if you look closely the results aren't perfect. As I said, the creases are dyed in and there are some tiny bits which are either a bit greenish or tiny smudges of cream, luckily they're not in obvious places.

Overall though, I'm pleased with the results. It looks much better than it did and it fits in better with the colour scheme I'm aiming for.

Cost:
Ikea Klippan Sofa - £40 (Secondhand)
Dylon Machine Wash Dye, Antique Grey - £24.95 (£4.99 per box, Wilkinsons)
Salt - 79p (Sainsburys)
Cushions - £10 (BARGAIN: 2 for £10, Wilkinsons)
Total: £75.74

I think that's pretty good considering the sofa is included in that budget!
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Saturday, 18 May 2013

Can I Push the Pram?

We were rushing out the house for church.

Nappy bag, check, coats, check. Was Ruby warm enough? Too warm? Blanket and pram cover? Just blanket? Screaming Ruby. Dog under feet. Forgot extra muslin. Upstairs. Fetch extra muslin. Forgot Ruby's hat. Upstairs. Fetch hat. Forgot phone. Upstairs. Fetch phone... wait, where is phone? In pocket. Downstairs. Right, ready?

Jon: Can you roll my sleeves up?
Me (in my head whilst rolling his sleeves up): Is it not enough that I have to dress Ruby, I have to dress you too?*

Right, ready? 
Start maneuvering pram around dog basket, squeezing door open, reversing, reversing, reversing...

Jon: Can I push the pram?
Me: NO! Just come on! (We're running late, I've had no sleep, a manic morning, I haven't eaten or drank anything and you think this is a good time, when I'm halfway over the threshold, to debate over who gets to push the pram! It's like being kids and fighting over who pushes the trolley at Tesco!)

Later, whilst Jon is pushing the pram...

Me: Why do you always want to push the pram anyway? It's not a toy.
Jon: Because you get to push it all week when I'm not here. All week, Ruby looks out of her pram at your face. Most of the rest of the time she's attached to your breast, or if I am holding her, she's asleep, or close to my chest. If I push the pram on weekends then she'll look out and see my face. I want her to know I'm here, it's my quality time with her.
Me: Oh. (I am an idiot, let Jon push pram in future.)

*Disclaimer: Jon can dress himself. He just has one of those shirts where there's a tab with a button that holds the sleeves up and it's difficult to get it even on both sides with one hand!
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Friday, 17 May 2013

Word for May: Intentional

Intentional
adj.
~ done on purpose, deliberate

If you saw my previous post about a time for change, then you’ll understand why I've chosen Intentional as my word for May.

Intention is a funny word. On the one hand it is full of excuses, a bit wishy washy and engulfed in doubt. I intended to do XYZ, but... It was my intention however....

On the other hand it is full of promise. Full of direction. Full of motivation. I am going to be intentional about this. I've decided to be intentional.

I hope you have assumed that the month of May is going to be intentional in the context of the latter.

The last few months have speeded by in a baby orientated haze. A brilliantly exciting journey into motherhood. The forming of our family unit. A settling into our new way of life. And we've loved every second. We devoted every ounce of energy into getting to know our little bundle. When does she sleep? (Answer: Rarely). When does she eat? (Answer: ALL THE FRICKING TIME). When does she want her nappy changed? (Answer: At the exact moment that you’re sitting down to dinner or walking out the door).

We've had cuddles, kisses and smiles as well as screams, tears and scratches (Ok, I shouldn't have waited so long to clip her fingernails!). And we've loved all of them.

But after six weeks it is becoming apparent that there is a life outside of Ruby. There are other things that we need to somehow devote our energies towards. There are things that need to dovetail and fit in around our little diva. These are things that we intended  to do. Things that were always in our hearts and minds. Yet they may have been put on the backburner while we get to grips with parenthood. But they are things that hold great importance.

Some are practical things; sorting out our finances, working towards moving house, building my freelance portfolio. Others are things related to our hopes and dreams, things we always knew were a part of moving to Kent. Things we were passionate about six months ago that maybe need a boost to come to fruition in the way that they were designed.

I know this all sounds rather cryptic. But the point is, it’s time to get intentional. It’s time to get organised. It’s time to understand how the rest of our lives fit in around little Ruby, and to make decisions based on the future, and not based on what we can manage in the here and now.

These are all things we intended to do. But it’s now time to get intentional about them.

**Runs away to create numerous lists...**
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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Time for Change

‘Sleep when baby sleeps,’ they said, ‘It will give you the energy to cope with baby's demands when she’s awake.’ Really? Do you want to know the results of sleeping when baby sleeps? A groggy, sluggish mum who doesn't remember the last time she showered, frustrated because she has been cooped up inside all day for three days straight, surrounded by a mountain of washing and chores because she was asleep at the very moment that would have been ideal for getting them done.

Yes, it’s nice to have a nap. Yes, make the most of snatching a few winks here and there. Yes, enjoy those moments of cuddling your sleeping bundle of joy as you drift off into a blissful snooze. But don’t think for one moment that this is a way to live your life. It is not a recommended lifestyle choice!

Your husband will come home at 6pm to 'The Mess' formerly known as yourself, unshowered, still wearing pyjamas, probably still in bed, or at least sat in the middle of the bed, overwhelmed by all the things that you could have done, had you not slept through the day.

Since giving birth there have been a few occasions when I have made a decision to sleep when baby sleeps. In the beginning, it was ok. Ruby needed a lot more sleep than I did, so my quick nap to catch up from the night’s shenanigans was followed by a few hours of productivity (assisted by my mum) while Ruby slept some more. But now? Now it’s different.

Following a rough night, hubbie has kissed us goodbye as we sat in bed, breastfeeding for the twelfth time in as many hours. I have snuggled down under the duvet, Ruby safely propped up beside me and we have enjoyed a glorious snooze for two or three hours.

What a disaster of a day.

We have slept through baby clinic on the first occasion we were supposed to go to the centre to get Ruby weighed.

The washing has gradually mounted, with stealth, until there were no boxer shorts for hubbie, no work shirts for hubbie and no baby clothes left from Ruby’s seemingly never-ending wardrobe (mummy's clothes are all covered in baby sick, but you know, they're not a priority seeing as she's just wearing pyjamas anyway).

Our extensive supply of muslins has dwindled to none, in direct correlation to the increased rate that Ruby has started sicking up after every feed.

The floor has become cluttered with rubbish, clothes, magazines and chocolate wrappers.

We didn't care. We were away with the fairies, in dreamland.

In short, we have arrived at a state of chaos. If our bedroom were a nation and I the head of state we would have declared a state of emergency by now.

So, people, it’s time for change.

It’s time to turn our lives around.

No longer will I be following the sleeping patterns of my six week old cherub.

No longer will my life be dictated by the overwhelming desire to have a snooze between 8 and 10 every morning.

No! I’m taking a stand!

It’s time to get up.

It’s time to rise from our slumber and to Do. All. The. Things!

All the things that have fallen by the wayside – like hubbie wearing clean underwear – they will be rectified.

We will see our bedroom floor once more!

We will see the unchartered lands known as ‘the bottom of the laundry basket’.

It’s time people. And that time, is now.

Who’s with me?!
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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

You: The Expert {15/05/13}


What is your area of expertise?
Ok, so you might not have a PHD, it might not be relevant to your area of employment, maybe other people don't even realise that you have supreme skills, but there is something that you're so passionate about that you practice it all the time. Maybe your friends come to you for advice on this subject. They might say, that you are an expert.

Whether it's parenting, blogging, baking, gardening, cooking, photography or crafts, you possess knowledge that someone out there needs. So what do they do? They turn to the internet. And this is where blogging comes alive - because you get to share your knowledge, expertise and skills with the world.

.... and what better way to bring that knowledge together than with a good, ol' fashioned linky! That's right folks, starting today, every Wednesday come by and share your tutorials,  recipes and guides. Here are the rules:

  1. Posts can be brand new or from your archives.
  2. Posts have to have a loose How To theme (ie. they don't have to necessarily be step-by-step but they do have to be teaching us something)
  3. The linky will open at 7am on Wednesday mornings and close at 5pm Friday evenings - meaning that if we want to spend our weekend giving something a go, we've got time to plan!
  4. Please link back to the linky somewhere on your blog - within the post if it's new but if it's an archive post then a sidebar mention is fine (there will eventually be a badge available*).
  5. And of course, share the love and comment on at least two other people's posts and if you discover a genius idea, be sure to tweet about it. I'll also be starting a Pinterest board so we can all share tutorials in the same place if you so wish.

*Creating blog badges is clearly not my area of expertise and I've been having html problems - so if anyone wants to link up a decent tutorial for this then feel free!! Alternatively, I'd be grateful if you could email me and offer your assistance!

I'm so looking forward to learning new things and will share if I try anything out. I hope you'll join me!



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Monday, 13 May 2013

5 ways to... turn your maternity leave into cash

Image source

If you're about to have a baby, chances are your purse strings are tightening at an alarming rate - especially if you've recently started maternity leave and your pay check is shrinking every week. But in the weeks running up to the birth, with that extra bit of time on your hands, you could be adding to your kitty. Here's five quick and easy ways:

1. Get your finances in order
When you're working full time it's easy to let your finances slip. Set aside a morning at the beginning of your maternity leave to review your financial situation and work out where you can make savings. Going through your statements with a fine toothed comb might even throw up a few surprises!
"When I actually had a look at my outgoings I realised that I was still paying contents insurance on a flat I had moved out of in 2011! Oops!"
Take some time to review your phone tariff, interest rates and debts. Can you transfer your savings to a higher rate account? If you used your excess savings to pay off debt would you actually be saving money on interest payments? Would you qualify for a 0% balance transfer? Could you switch any service providers to save money on your utilities?
"I looked back through my phone bills and saw that I was often barely using 5% of my free minutes! So when I was due for an upgrade, I traded in my old phone, netting me £60 instantly, cut my tariff by £10 per month, reduced my insurance by £5 per month and even got a free tablet to boot! Not bad for a quick trip to the phone shop!"

2. Plan, plan, plan
We all like the idea of being frugal, shopping around and planning meals, but the reality is, when working, who has the time? You just never quite get round to it and will more likely be dashing into the supermarket for last minute purchases on a daily basis. It's throwing money away.

Instead, set aside a few hours to plan your meals and research purchases you'll be making regularly.
"Online grocery shopping was always something I intended to do but never quite got round to. The first time, when you create your shopping list from scratch, always seemed so time consuming and paying for a peak time delivery slot because I'm always at work seemed silly because I could walk to the supermarket myself! But having the time to actually sit down and do that initial shop, after which all my purchases are saved in my favourites, has probably halved my grocery bill!"
Don't forget to shop around either. Big purchases like nappies can be bought for cheaper elsewhere.
"I was surprised to find that you can subscribe to Pampers nappies on Amazon! They send you a box every month at a discounted rate (11p per nappy), there's no commitment and you can change your subscription at any time (e.g. If you want to go up a size)."

3. Claim what you're entitled to
Your circumstances are probably about to change drastically, if they haven't already, so it's always worth checking that you're claiming all the benefits you're entitled to. You'll at least receive child benefit once baby comes along - an extra £80 a month for your first child. But if your circumstances have changed or you're on a low income then there might be more in the kitty for you - whether it be housing benefit, council tax benefit or tax credits. Visit www.entitledto.co.uk and enter your details to see if you're missing out.
"Now that my husband is working and we're thinking of moving out of the in-laws I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to afford to pay private rents. I've never claimed benefits and the whole system seems quite daunting, but when I looked into it with some rough estimates of our future circumstances I was pleasantly surprised!"

4. Declutter
Whether you've moved house or are just clearing out the spare room to make way for baby, it's likely that a big sort out is in order. Electronics, books, clothes and toys will all fetch a pretty penny if you're willing to put in the effort. Do your research and make sure you're selling to the websites that are offering the best price. Auction sites like Ebay are great if you think you can generate a bidding war, but if you want a guaranteed price and have a fair amount of things to sell, then sites like Music Magpie might be the place to go. Don't forget to hunt out those old mobile phones as well. Once you've decluttered and sent off your wares, it's amazing how it all adds up!
"Before we moved house we had a huge sort out. CDs and DVDs got sent to Music Magpie, we got £60 from Envirofone for sending two old phones, we had stacks of books that we could send to FatBrain and an old games console that got taken to CEX. I had a good few pairs of barely worn shoes that got eBayed as well. All in all, we made nearly £300 and it was all completely hassle free with prices guaranteed and free postage! Sometimes the money offered for these items looks like pittance, but if you're having a big clear-out then it soon adds up. I don't think I would have managed to get the same total amount had I tried to sell them individually on Ebay or at a boot fair. 
5. Get vocal about your gift wishes
Once baby arrives, or if you're lucky enough to have a baby shower, everyone suddenly wants to buy you gifts. You'll more than likely end up with copious amounts of cute baby clothes - which is absolutely lovely, so direct your cash elsewhere until you know what you need in the wardrobe department. But many times you'll be asked by generous friends and family 'Is there anything you particularly need?'. Always have an answer prepared for this question!

If there's a large item that you're saving up for (for us it was a £400 travel system), know exactly where you're going to buy it from and ask for vouchers towards it.
"We had quite specific requirements when it came to our travel system and the perfect one cost a whopping £400, double the amount we wanted to spend. So if anyone asked about gifts, we would always ask for vouchers towards it. In the end, we received a third of the total cost, which bought the price down to a much more reasonable amount." 
Some people will specifically want to buy you a gift though, so have a few smaller items picked out (e.g. baby monitor, cot mattress, bedding etc.). The more of this type of thing you receive in gifts, the less you have to spend, which nets you money.

Another key step you can take is opening an ISA for your baby. It doesn't necessarily have to be in their name, but just keep the financial gifts separate from your current account until you know what you want to put it towards.
"Quite a few generous family members and friends gave us money as they didn't know what we needed. The odd £20, £10 or even £50 all adds up, so we opened a separate ISA for Ruby. We soon realised that we already had everything we needed, so we've decided to put that money towards extra curricular activities - music / swimming / ballet lessons - when she's older. We'll keep adding to it each month and earning interest on it so hopefully she'll be able to take up whatever hobby she wants!"

BONUS IDEA: Start a business
The ideas so far have been based around utilising that extra bit of spare time you might have on maternity leave. They're simple and straightforward ways of netting yourself a bit of extra cash, easing your monthly budget and helping towards the cost of a new baby. Which is why this is a bonus idea, it fits none of that criteria! But why not give it a go?

You've got a bit of extra time on your hands and you've got the financial cushion of maternity pay. So in many ways, with a bit of drive and determination, now is the perfect time to go it alone. Whether it's building a freelance portfolio, setting up an online craft shop or simply dog-walking or ironing, if you have a skill, perfect it, use it and then charge for it!*

*Make sure it doesn't conflict with your existing work contract and keep on the right side of the tax man!
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Saturday, 11 May 2013

Recipe: Yummy Breakfast Bars

{I used to have another blog. And some of the posts are just too good not to share, so I'm going to update and re-post them here too. Just wanted to add that, in case you think I'm stealing content from elsewhere!}


Want to keep hunger locked up 'til lunch but don't have time to rustle up the most important meal of the day? Whether you're about to embark on a two hour commute, or you didn't have time to fix yourself something once all the kids were sorted, we all need grab-and-go snacks to keep us going. This recipe has made it onto my must-do things for Sunday afternoons, so that I have a batch ready to last me for the week. I first found it on BBC Good Food, but have adapted it to include all the yummy things I like!

Makes about 14 pieces
Ingredients
50g butter (or soya margerine to make dairy free)
2 x small ripe bananas
3tbsp golden syrup
85g demerera sugar
140g porridge oats
Half tsp ground cinamon
50g dessicated coconut
2tbsp linseeds, slightly crushed
1tbsp sesame seeds
100g chopped hazelnuts

1. Melt the butter, syrup and sugar in a pan.
2. Add the bananas, mashed.
3. Add everything else, stirring in well.
4. Place the mixture in a greased tin and spread out into the corners.
5. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 160C / gas mark 3.

Of course, this is something that you could throw just about anything into. I'm keen to experiment with some dried fruit at some point.
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Thursday, 9 May 2013

UPDATE: What's in a Name?

You may remember this post where I bemoaned our confusion regarding baby names. What a responsibility to choose a name for our child that they have to live with forever! We really had no idea!

We arrived at the hospital on Easter Sunday none the wiser. We had decided on the two middle names, but the first name we were stumped. We had a shortlist of three and neither of us could decide. Everyone had told us 'You'll know when you see her'. Really? We didn't. There was no lightening bolt, booming voice from heaven or angels saying 'And she will be called Ruby'. But there we stood (ok, I was lying down) in the dim light of the birthing room, covered in blood and gore (romantic I know), Jon held her in his arms. And I said 'so shall we go with Ruby then?' And he agreed.

At the time, we hadn't looked much into the meaning of Ruby. We knew it was a precious gem stone and that was good enough for us. But since then I have found out a bit more, and I am coming to realise how perfect a choice it was. Here's a bit of an explanation of Ruby's names:

Ruby
Rubies are precious jewels. Biblically they symbolise preciousness, great value, costly glories, wisdom, and prized treasure. And apparently in many ancient cultures they are considered to be the rarest and most precious treasure of all! I hope Ruby is always aware of how precious she is to us, but I'll take great joy in explaining her name to her!

Hope
After suffering two miscarriages I knew that if we were to have a girl, we would call her Hope. Because she would be our Hope fulfilled. In her would be everything we had dreamt of, wished for and hoped for. It was the expectation of her eventual existence that kept us hoping. 

Hope is confident expectation, the sure certainty that what God has promised will come to pass. We place our hope in Jesus Christ because we know that he will come through for us. 

Having a strong and confident expectation gives us Faith. The Bible says "Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of things yet unseen". It was faith that allowed me to hope. Now, I can look at Ruby and she strengthens my faith because she is testament to God's faithfulness. She was once yet unseen but she is now seen. She is God's promise come to pass in our lives.

Rose
Roses are traditionally symbols of love and beauty. Not only do we love Ruby incredibly, but we hope that she will grow up to be someone who extends unconditional love (grace) towards other people. We also hope that she will grow up to be a beautiful young woman, both inside and out.


Unintentionally Rose also means 'Red' in a variety of languages and Rubies are obviously Red too. Red signifies blood (which relates to sacrifice, the blood of Jesus and life), passion, fire and happiness. All things that we hope Ruby will grab hold of, stand firm on and experience in her own life.

And finally Rose is linked to Ruby's Nana, my mum, Rosemary. An inspirational woman of God, gracious beyond comprehension, gentle in spirit, beautiful and passionate. Someone I hope Ruby grows to love, cherish and look up to.

So there you have it. Three names that combined create the perfect description of our hopes and dreams for our dauughter, Ruby. I hope that one day she will be able to read this and know that although we didn't always know what to call her, God knew that these names would be perfect. I hope that reading the symbolism and significance of these names will give her a sense of identity that she can hold onto as she gets older.

What was the significance behind the names of your children? Comment below.
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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

New Linky: You, The Expert

If there's one thing about blogging and the internet that I love, it's that ordinary people can share their own knowledge, passion and expertise with the masses. In years gone by, your grandmother would pass on her cleaning tips, family recipes or knitting knowledge from generation to generation. The internet, however, has allowed us to do just that, but with hundreds, or thousands of people!

There's nothing better than a decent tutorial, step-by-step guide or recipe on a blog. I have a pinterest board and an evernote folder full of blog tutorials that one day I hope to have a go at! So, I thought what better way to find more, than a good, old-fashioned blog link up!

Introducing 'You: The Expert'. Every Wednesday, I'll be hosting a link up on this blog for you to come and post your blog tutorials, recipes, advice and step-by-step guides. They can be about anything that you feel other people might want to know about, but here's some ideas to get you started:

  • Craft tutorials (How to... stitch a tote bag)
  • Recipes (How to... cook the best lasagne ever!)
  • Interiors (How to... get the French Vintage look)
  • Upcycling / customising old objects (How to... turn your Ikea drawers into a statement piece)
  • Blogging advice (How to... increase your blog traffic 10-fold in 3 easy steps)
  • Parenting advice (e.g. How to... successfully potty train)
  • Humorous advice (e.g. How to... survive life at the school gates)

So, the rules of the game:

1. Posts can be brand new or from your archives.
2. Posts have to have a loose How To theme (ie. they don't have to necessarily be step-by-step but they do have to be teaching us something)
3. The linky will open at 9am on Wednesday mornings and close at 5pm Friday evenings - meaning that if we want to spend our weekend giving something a go, we've got time to plan!
4. Please link back to the linky somewhere on your blog (there will be a badge available).
5. And of course, share the love and comment on at least two other people's posts and if you discover a genius idea, be sure to tweet about it. I'll also be starting a Pinterest board so we can all share tutorials in the same place if you so wish.

We'll kick off proceedings next Wednesday (15th)!
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Friday, 3 May 2013

The Baby Diaries: 1 month



You are one month old!

Does that mean you're not a newborn anymore? If it does, I enjoyed having a newborn.

You mostly live your life in an eating, sleeping and pooing cycle.

Unbeknownst to you, we all waited with baited breath for you to get back to your birth weight. You lost weight, gained weight, lost weight, lost weight, gained weight but not enough, gained a tiny bit more, and then at 23 days gave a final cluster feeding push for the finish and you made it! Finally!

You now weigh 8lb7oz and are 53cm in length.

You're starting to fit into your 0-3month clothes.

You create a lot of washing, it's a good job spring has finally sprung and I can get it all outside!

You're starting to look like you're trying to smile. Sometimes you look like you smile in response to our funny faces, and then we realise you just have wind.

You're mesmerised by light, bright colours and different sounds.

You like the sunshine.

You enjoy sleeping in your pram as we walk into town.

You find the whole process of pooing and farting incredibly distressing. I think you avoid it and then it builds up. Just bite the bullet, it will be much easier!

This doesn't stop you from feeding all the time though.

You always sleep with your arms above your head like a ballerina. Always.

You are very good in the night. Waking just once in the middle for a feed. Then you go back to sleep. Most of the time.

If you don't settle then we have hugs in the big bed. I know I should put you back, but then I fall asleep and we wake up in the morning having a sweet, precious, glorious cuddle. We can't get into the habit of this, of course, but for now it'll be our guilty pleasure.

You've met all of your family and a lot of your extended family. Your cousins looked a little bewildered by the presence of a new, smaller person.

You took your first trip to London, a place I hope you'll love as much as I do. And we visited our old church and sampled the swanky new family room for the first time.

You like dancing to Hillsong music. It always calms you down if you're crying.

You gained an unofficial Godparent.

Your dad is besotted with you. He kisses you every night and every morning before he goes to work. He is quick to steal you off me when he comes home.

You're now at a stage where you can be awake but not crying and I was at a loss as to what to do with you! Now I can leave you for a (very) short while and you will lie there happily while I potter about.

When we go out, you get lots of complements from other mums and old people. One lady exclaimed "What a treasure!" in the Co-op line the other day, she didn't know your name was Ruby and that we call you 'precious treasure'.

We mostly call you Ruby-Roo, Roo, Rubes, Missy and Precious Treasure.

In short, our first month has been a whirlwind of getting to know each other and introducing you to everyone else. But we've loved every minute. What will next month bring?

***
I've linked up to PoCoLo, hop on over to read more great posts!
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