Monday, 30 September 2013

4 Thrifty Halloween Crafts

With the dark nights drawing in, it is the perfect time of the year to start preparing for halloween.  My boys have grown in to this celebration, they never used to be as keen.  

I try to keep our crafting simple and not to costs a lot, so here are four thrifty and frugal ideas for halloween crafts that you can do with children of all ages.

Boo - Halloween Paperchain Ghost.  My boys are now big enough to draw a template and cut out their own ghosts, but when they were smaller I used to do the cutting and let them add the faces with a black pen.  You can find a template here is you need home.

Paper plate pumpkins.  My boys coloured their pumpkins in with pen,k but you could also do yours with orange paint or even stick orange tissue paper on it.  The faces are made up with pre cut black paper or felt which they stuck on themselves.

Balloon pumpkins - Nothing simpler than orange balloons and a sharpie, but these bring hours of fun.

Salt Dough ornaments

Basic recipe
2 cups of plain flour
1 cup of salt
1 cup of warm water
I also add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to make the final decoration harder.

Mix the flour, salt and lemon juice adding water until you get a firm dough. Then knead the dough.  The more you knead the more pliable the dough will become.

We basically roll out the dough and cut out our decorations with a cookie cutter.  Then use a straw to cut out a hole for ribbon.

We cook our dough at the lowest oven temperature for 3 hours, then leave overnight before we paint and decorate them.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Start Planning Now to Enjoy a Budget Friendly Half Term

Already the next half term is looming. In four weeks’ time you will once again have a house full of kids needing to be entertained. It might seem too early to start thinking about the autumn break now, but if you’re watching your spending then starting to prepare now will help you make the most of the week without having to constantly worry about the financial cost.

The main advantage of starting to plan now is that you will be able to absorb the costs into your monthly budget. There are few households today that can afford to go month-to-month without budgeting their costs, so it makes sense to ensure that you have sufficient funds available to enjoy a few trips out during that week, even if it means cutting back a little in the weeks beforehand.

If you’re thinking about heading into London for a day look at buying your train tickets now. Travelling by train rather than by car provides a stress-free journey for you, while children will love the novelty of travelling this way. As well as this, it means you don’t have to worry about parking and most train routes will take you right into the centre of the city, meaning that you can spend more time sightseeing rather than navigating tube trains.

Alternatively, look at events and attractions that are closer to home and with a bit of online research you’ll be amazed at what is on offer. Local attractions are not only normally more budget-friendly but they also provide your children with a great opportunity to appreciate their local area and the community in which they are apart. Also local parks and beaches are free and fantastic places to spend days when the sun is shining but the weather is chilly.

Now is also the perfect time to start planning what you’re going to do on rainy days, after all we all know that the end of October weather is guaranteed to provide at least a couple of days of rain! If there is a local indoor play area, make sure you plan the cost of this into your monthly budget now. Also think about free ways of keeping your children entertained at home. Perhaps look at buying a few DVDs over the next few weeks or borrowing some books from the library. Kids of all ages love baking, so ensure that you have the ingredients ready for an emergency baking session.

It is never too early to learn about nature and appreciate the changing seasons and a fun way of introducing this to children is through getting them to be creative. On a crisp, dry day head to the local park where you and your children can collect fallen leaves that are range of autumnal colours. Back at home let your children use what you’ve collected to create collages, which can be as simple or as elaborate as their imaginations, and abilities, allow.

The autumn half-term coincides with Halloween, an even most children love. Celebrate all things spooky by letting your children dress up as ghosts, pumpkin and witches, even consider throwing a small Halloween party for your children and their closest friends. You can hold fancy dress competitions and put a spooky spin on classic children’s party games. If you live in a safe and friendly area take your kids out trick-or-treating, I know of many childless homeowners who enjoy the range of zombies, monsters and werewolves that turn up on their doorsteps almost as much as the children enjoy their haul of sweets and chocolates!     

Written by Derin Clark, a writer, editor and blogger 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

An Autumn walk round the local area

Sometimes we are neglectful of the beauty that surrounds us, so today we set off for a family walk of our local area armed with cameras to take snaps that represent certain colours so the boys could enter the Kids capture the colour competition.

These images are all taken my Mini on his Aldi camera which is a Maginon 8 mega pixel compact and cost less than £40.  Each image represents a colour, can you tell which?
The are from top:

Blue - the sky was a glorious colour today
Yellow - I adore the perspective on this one.  Sometimes we forget to look at things from our childrens level.
Red - the beautiful berries contracting with the sky
Green - making the most of the trees before the leaves all change colour
White - Alvin was shattered after his walk! 

Want to see Maxi's perspective, then visit Mum in the Madhouse.
  Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Friday, 27 September 2013

Saving for a Specific one off item

Are you a spender or a saver?  Does it even pay to save in this economy?

Many people will tell you that you are better to pay off your mortgage rather than save in times like this with interest rates being low. You often are better paying off any debt you have rather than saving.   However, you can find Online Savings Accounts with good interest if you look around, so that if you are going to save you ensure that you have the best rate possible.

My husband who is an accountant would also tell you to make sure that you look at opening the Best interest ISA and Cash ISA you find, as this is a tax free way of saving.

We have been saving for a holiday to Florida in November this year, so have been using both a cash ISA and an online savings account.

There is something quite rewarding watching your savings increase, especially when you have a specific outcome in mind for them. 

I also think that regularly saving a small amount is a good habit to get in to, but not at the exception of building up debt.  

I have been encouraging my children to save and explaining the concept of interest to them, so both now have online savings accounts and once we are back from the holiday they will be encouraged to save 50% of their pocket money.  

It is important to me to encourage my children to save up for big ticket items rather than see credit as an option when they are older.  I do not want them to make the same mistakes as we have had, when credit was to freely available.  I want them to be disciplined in their saving.

Also I regularly put a set amount each month into a savings account for christmas, so I can buy the boys christmas pressies and not worry about finding the money for them.  I like being able to look and see how much we have saved and to also have money available to use from the savings account if I see anything during the year that is really good value that I know they will love. 

Do you save for things? 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

10 ways to Prepare your home for Autumn/Fall and winter

I was chatting on twitter today with +Emily Davidson  and +Heather Young about preparing our homes for Autumn and the darker nights.  So I decided to share what we do in The Mad House.

  1. Bring out the draft excluders - we have a number of them and I am in the process of making an extra large one for the patio doors.
  2. Line your curtains - lined curtains keep the cold out much more and make sure you use your curtains - no point in having them if you do not close them when it starts to get dark.
  3. We have wooden flooring and at this time of year we lay traditional rugs over them which really makes our home feel warmer.  Carpetright have a great selection of rugs and runners.  
  4. Lag your outside tap before winter sets in and turn it off, the last thing you want is for your pipes to freeze
  5. Dig out those hot water bottles and pop a blanket on the bottom on everyones beds and also on the settee.
  6. Clean any outside lights and check the bulbs, dark nights are drawing in really fast now.  Replace any broken bulbs with LED bulbs as they are much more efficient in the long run.
  7. Now is the perfect time to book a boiler service if you haven't.
  8. Also check whether you need to switch your gas and electric provider to ensure you are getting the best deal.
  9. Cover or bring in to storage outside toys and furniture.  This will prolong their life.
  10. Make sure that your drains and guttering is clear of Autumn leaves on a regular basis to make sure that they drain well.  

Cass from Fugal family is also covering preparing for winter today.  

Children’s Favourite Characters Of All Time

When it comes to a child’s fancy dress party it can be hard to decide what you, as a parent, should dress up as to entertain the kids and to fit in. Although there are probably plenty of iconic cartoon characters that you can remember it’s important to make sure you choose a costume that your child will recognise and for that, you need to check out some of children’s favourite characters of all time.

If it’s a little boy’s party then you can’t go wrong with the likes of Batman, Spiderman, Superman or, if you’re looking for a character that’s a little more modern, Ben 10. Batman is still extremely popular today so a lot of people – of the younger generation – maybe shocked to find out that Batman’s first appearance was actually in a comic in 1939; Superman’s was even earlier in 1938 and Spiderman in 1962. Ben 10 is much more recent but is certainly a children’s favourite. First introduced in 2005 Ben Is a ten year old boy who finds an alien device when exploring the woods and is then able to transform into 10 alien species and with his powers fights crime and evil aliens. Proving its popularity Ben 10 has won a three daytime Emmy awards as well as being nominated for a number of others so if you want to make a stir at a young male’s birthday party then these are the characters to go for.

If you’re throwing a party for your little girl then any Disney princess will go down a treat despite the fact that many of them made their first appearances over 50 years ago (Disney’s Cinderella was released in 1950, Sleeping Beauty in 1959 and earliest of them all was Snow White in 1937). The Rugrats is an unforgettable children’s TV show that started in the early 90s and is still extremely popular today with Angelica being the most popular with little girls.  Other classic characters perfect for a little girl’s party would be The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy and Alice in Wonderland from 1939 and 1951. In fact a Mad Hatter’s tea party is a great theme for a child’s – or even adult’s party – as there’s the possibility of lots of fun, games and silliness as well as plenty of great costume ideas.

For a more gender neutral party there are plenty of options but it all depends on the age of the children. For example Winnie the Pooh and Bananas in Pyjamas are a great choice for younger children whereas a key character from The Flintstones or The Simpsons will be more appreciated by older children. These characters again range in age, Winnie the Pooh being the oldest making his first appearance in 1924, and Bananas in Pyjamas being the most recent – originally airing in 1992. Despite their ages, all of these characters are still just as popular with children today as they were when they made their first appearance back in the 20s, 60s, 80s and 90s.

Although dressing up might not be your thing it’s really important or a child’s development which is why it’s a great idea to incorporate it into their birthday parties. Throughout their childhood children spend a lot of time pretending to be other people, whether that’s their parent, teacher or other adult they know well or their favourite TV or film character. It’s important for you to indulge in their games and appear to play along, allow them to act like an adult for the day washing the dishes and helping to wash the car and allow them to dress up as much as they want because it’s not just a game and aids their development much more than you’d think.

Party Britain is one if the biggest fancy dress providers in the UK, supplying costumes for young and old alike. If you’ve got a fancy dress party coming up be sure to check them out because they have some great deals.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Free Autumn/Fall printable from Pen and Paint Blog

Lindsay at Pen and Paint produces the most amazing quotes and artwork which I adore and so it seems so do my boys.  Mini came in to my office tonight just before bed and asked for the new seasonal print as it was no longer summer.

So I printed it off and hung it in his room ready for him waking in the morning.

I love that my boys are really learning to appreciate artwork.  I use a wooden trouser coat hanger to hang and display the print in their rooms which is an inexpensive and effective way of displaying it.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Are half term breaks great family bonding time?

We are big fans of half term holidays at A Thrifty Mum.  The October break tends to have some great weather (not too cold, with dry days) and we are always ready for a break after the first half term at school.

We also tend to focus on spending our half terms in the UK as you can find an array of UK half term breaks even at the last minute.

We love using half term to spend time together as a family and we are big fans of exploring some of the UK's amazing castles, ruins and beaches.

The fact that the evenings tend to draw in quickly makes for cosy evenings where we play board games together or read a book as a family.

Our favourite things to do on a half term break:

  1. Take a walk on the beach (wrapped up warm) and collect shells and stones
  2. Forest and woodland walks.  We love the colours of the leaves and to look for conkers or even forage. 
  3. Visit castles and pretend that we are knights and Princes.  Both the boys are fans of this as much as we are.  English heritage are brilliant for castle entry.  
  4. Hot picnics - we love taking flasks of soup out with us or hotdogs in a food flask.  We have even taken beans and sausages.  A flask of hot chocolate is always an essential companion during half term.
  5. Board games.  We love LEGO creationary, scrabble, boggle and dominos.
  6. Reading books.  Chapter books are great for family evenings together.  We have read Harry Potter and are currently re-reading World of Secrets.
  7. Dog walking.  There is nothing nicer than watching the puppy get covered in leaves and the boys running along with him.
I think that half term is a much more relaxed holiday than many of the others, we have lower expectations of them, so they are much more family focussed.

Do you love Half term breaks as much as I do? 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

My Big Night In

If you had £750 to spend on a big night in, how would you spend it?  Well this is the question that Two Little Fleas has asked.

Nights in are pretty much how me and MadDad spend our time now.  My brother and his wife run their own business (a social club) so we do not often manage to get together, but I think this would be the perfect time to have a good old family get together.

Tol start with I would get a team of cleaners to come in and blitz the house.  A really deep clean, so I wouldn't have to feel guilty relaxing in a house when I should be cleaning and tidying it!

I would look at getting someone in to cook and serve dinner to us all (yes the children too).  The thought of having someone come in to my house, set the table, prepare food and then clean up sounds perfect.  We are all lovers of a good indian so that would be my meal of choice.

Rather than sending the children all to bed, I would have an entertainer on hand for them.  My boys are fascinated by magic, so it would be super to have someone who could show them some tricks.    I would have a mixologist on hand to make us cocktails, so we could really relax and let our hair down.

Oh don;t worry about my brother and sister in law drinking and driving, I would ensure that they had a driver on hand to take them home!

My big night in, wouldn't be a sin,
It would be filled with family and joy

Thanks to two little fleas,
the night would run with such ease

As they provide the dosh
for us to pay for the nosh

A mixologist we would hire
and maybe have marshmallows by the fire

Whatever we do, we would do it in style
And if we win, I will buy a bucket load of gin

I am not a poet in any way, shape or form, but you have to try dontcha!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

My dream bedroom

My dream bedroom

My dream bedroom by mum-themadhouse featuring a white pendant light

I think that most parents bedrooms get forgotten about once children come in to the equation, but really feel that now is the time for me and MadDad to reclaim what is ours and make it a haven and somewhere to enjoy and escape too.

If you haven't guessed I have a real love for mid century style.  The lines, the designs and the colours too.  I would love my room to be white with pops of colour.

So this is my entry a bedroom that is neither masculine or feminine, but a real couples room.  It is also a readers room I think.  Adjustable lighting for reading in bed, plenty of cushions to prop yourself up and a wooly throw to wrap round you and keep you warm.  Seen as I am possibly going to be seeing a lot of my bed  due to an operation in the near future, this is my perfect bedroom.  

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Encouraging reluctant writers

This parenting lark, isn't easy!  Mini has turned from an engaged and happy writer to a reluctant one due to a one off comment from a schoolmate that they couldn't understand his writing.

He wants it to be perfect, he wants it to be good, but would rather write nothing than be laughed at.  I have raised the issue with the school, but in the mean time I want to encourage him to write.  He is a very engaged reader which is great and leaves me with lots of hope that this is just a blip.

I am keen for it not to feel like a chore, so I am trying to make things fun and engaging and we have been busy doing the following:
  1. Making comics
  2. I took Mini out to buy a new pen
  3. Writing journals about our summer activities
  4. Making our own books
  5. Playing with the chalk wall in the kitchen and writing menu's 
  6. Leaving each other messages
  7. Writing letters to pen pals
  8. Writing with sticks in the sand at the beach

We have also been watching you tube videos by The Etherington Brothers for Scottish Friendly, who Mini really looks up too.

But mostly I have been trying not to stress about this as he is only seven years old and I know with practice it will come.

How do you encourage your reluctant writers?

Monday, 16 September 2013

Money Management Tips for Students

Many parents will be sending their children off to university for the first time this September and October and now is the time to start making sure that they are well organised and savvy when it comes to finances and making the most of their money.


It is key to make a budget with your child and instill in them the importance of sticking to it.  They need to know where there money is coming from and going too.


Whether your child is moving into halls of residence or sharing a house it is important that you make sure that they are covered.  If they are staying in halls of residence see if your home insurance will cover them under a clause called ‘contents temporarily removed from the home’. At no extra cost, it’ll usually offer cover of up to £5,000.

But you need to make sure that all of their possessions are covered once you add in the cost of a phone, tablet, laptop and other electronics it soon adds up.  


Many banks try to temp students to sign up with them by offering freebie and gifts such as free downloads, but try and encourage your children to look past these incentives and focus on the real costs.  Are they going to need a overdraft? Make sure they get the biggest guaranteed 0% overdraft that lasts as long as possible. The only time this doesn't apply is if the freebie on offer is so valuable to you it outweighs this.

TV Licence

You do not really need a TV anymore and if you are going to watch your programs via catch up then a TV licence becomes unnecessary.  But you must remember not to watch any programs live.  

Spend to Save

£12 for National Union Of Students Extra card will ensure that you make savings over the year.  10% of cinema tickets and much, much more.  The same applies to rail travel a 16-25 railcard can cut a third off ticket costs.  If you have An AUS Extra card  then you are also eligible for another 11% off.

Be realistic

As a student your child is going to be a heavy internet and mobile phone user so make sure they get the most appropriate deal for them before going off rather than being hit with extortionate monthly bills.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

What is the difference between a loan and car finance?

Part of being able to save money for me is understanding what all the different terminology means and how it impacts me and my family.

One of the things that always confused me was the wording around car finance   I am going to use BMW car finance as an example for this post 

Contract Hire

The best way to look at this is like renting a house,  You pay a set amount of "rent" for the car each month and at the end of the agreed term you hand back the keys and owe no more.   Car leasing or contract hire often comes with mileage restrictions - charging you by the mile if you exceed those restrictions.

Contract Purchase

This is the same as contract hire in that you pay a set amount each month, but includes the option to buy the vehicle over time period or by paying a lump sum at the end of the term.   The benefits of contract purchase over contract hire is that you own the car at the end of the term and that you pay a fixed monthly amount and /or lump sum.

Personal Loan

There is nothing stopping you taking out a personal loan for any car that you are purchasing.  But you need to consider the  term as well as the value that you are borrowing - cars depreciate quickly and you don't want to be paying off a loan for five years on a car which isn't going to be worth anything by the end of it.  Also it is getting harder to get a loan thanks to the credit crunch.

Other considerations:

Do I need PPI (Payment protection insurance)?  Payment protection insurance (PPI) is sensible but many people will suggest that you  avoid buying it from your loan provider.

Why not buy PPI from an independent provider such as Paymentcare, British Insurance or the Post Office. They will let you pay a monthly premium on your insurance and will let you cancel at any time.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Using a Prepaid Credit Card in France

As you know we have recently been on a trip to France and dealing with exchange rates can be confusing at the best of times and I have heard many a scare story about people getting confused and spending a lot more than they thought they had.  This is where Kalixa Pay card came in to it's own.  It is a  prepaid MasterCard, which you upload money on to the card and then use it like s standard card. You can use it to pay for things both online and in shops with a pin number like any standard card and with the number on the back online.
kalixa pay 1

We uploaded our holiday budget on to the card before going (there is an initial £6.95 fee for the card), but no charges after that for topping up your card.  We chose to leave all bar one other card at home when we travelled as it felt saver not having everything with us.  I also made sure that we had cancellation details with us incase of anything nasty happening, but felt safer knowing that there was only a set amount on the card.
We used the card during our holiday to:
  1. Buy diesel at the fuel station
  2. Pay for some duty free at Eurotunnel
  3. For all tolls on the French motorways
  4. To buy food at the French Supermarket
  5. Pay for medicine at the French Pharmacy
  6. Pay for meals when eating out

We found using the card no different to a standard credit card, apart from the fact that we had to keep en eye out on the balance on the card, but that was easy to do online.    You can set up free SMS and email alerts when the card has been used so you really can keep track of everything.  As a mum I think that a card like this would be a perfect way to introduce teens to a card rather than using cash.

Post has previously appeared on The Mad House

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

How to clean your Washing Machine

I am a firm believer in looking after the things you already have and making sure that they last as long as possible and this week I have been dying some white bedding sheets pillar box red for Mini's bed and my washing machine needed a clean.  I clean my machine once a month or once every other month depending on use.  I have found that as I am washing more at 30 degrees, that I need to clean the gunk out of it more regularly.   My current washer is 6 years old and my previous one lasted 11 years.

You can see the red stain on the rubber, which wouldn't rub off with a cloth.


White vinegar
Cloth or rag
Old toothbrush
  1. Add two cups of bleach to the powder drawer.
  2. Run the washer on a hot wash empty. As we use liquid or powders in the machine and run it at 30 degrees there is often a build up of unused product in the machine.  This will remove it and make sure that there is removed and that there is no buildup of bacteria and help with stain removal.
  3. Add two cups of white vinegar to the powder drawer.
  4. Run the washer on a 40 degree wash.  The vinegar will ensure that you have no odor issues
  5. Remove the powder drawer and soak for 20 minutes in the sink in hot water with one cup of bleach.
  6. Take a cloth and damp it using the water the powder dispenser is soaking in and run around the door seal, ensuring to pull it back to clean all areas.
  7. Take a clean damp cloth and wipe the door area and seal.
  8. Using the bleach solution cloth, wipe inside the machine where the powder dispenser does.
  9. You may need to use a toothbrush to clean the powder drawer.
  10. Once clean, take out and dry it and replace it in the machine.
Where my powder dispenser goes!

My powder dispenser once cleaned

In order to keep your machine smelling clean and fresh it is important to leave the door open in between washes.

My machine after it has been cleaned

We live in a soft water area, so do not have to worry about lime scale build up, but we lived in Berkshire, which has hard water for over ten years and have only ever had two washers since I got married 17 years ago.  However, most detergents have something in them that means you do not have to concern yourself with limescale build up as long as you use the correct amount.  I have never used a water softener in any washing machine I have had.

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