I kind of don't get it... Elf on the Shelf... sure, it's kind of cute, I guess... for a few days... but the number of comments I've either heard or read that said something along the lines of, "How am I supposed to come up with 24 creative ideas to do with the Elf?" or "I hope I don't forget to move the Elf before going to bed!", kind of puts me off. Oh, and then there's the cost factor. I've Googled, "How much does it cost to do Elf on the Shelf?," and it actually didn't come up with the answer I was looking for. Perhaps I'm wrong having never participated in Elf of the Shelf, but some friends' posts on Facebook look elaborate... and costly. Hey, if they choose to spend their money that way... that's fine, it's just not the way I choose to spend our money. That doesn't mean, however, that we don't do fun things in the run-up to Christmas.
On Saturday, we had "Christmassy Day" - a day filled with fun, yet inexpensive activities to kickoff the Christmas season.
Christmassy Day started with Santa Pancakes - simple American-style pancakes as the face (I cut my kids' pancakes for them, but it looks better when the pancakes are whole), sliced strawberries for the hat, squirty cream for the hat and beard (I ran out of cream, so Santa didn't get a mustache this time) and a couple of chocolate chips for the eyes. Simples. I bought these super cute Mickey and Minnie plates from Tesco for £1 each.
The girls wrote letters to Santa - okay, okay - before anyone says anything, I do like to keep the "wonder" of Christmas alive with the belief in Santa, but we also talk a lot about Christmas being about Jesus' birthday. The girls were given letters with envelopes and stickers by a good friend, so this only cost us a price of a few stamps. If your child would like to send letter to Santa, do so by Friday, 7th December to the address on the Post Office's website.
Christmas music played most of the day on YouTube for free! Ok, there was the odd advert, but I love getting music for FREE! We do have a speaker docking station, but if you don't, perhaps you could use YouTube on your telly, a portable Bluetooth speaker or a speaker on your laptop or computer.
For lunch, we had cute Christmas tree sandwiches, cut with a cookie cutter, and Christmas tree pretzels. These pretzels are soooo good! And they're from Aldi. Find them. Buy them. Yummy.
On Christmassy Day afternoon we baked gingerbread cookies. Admittedly, the girls didn't end up loving these due to the somewhat strong black treacle taste, but Jeff and I like them, and they had fun making them with me.
No Christmassy Day would be complete without putting up the Christmas tree. The girls really enjoyed helping to put up the tree and put on the ornaments/baubles. I haven't even had to move many of the ornaments! They did really well.
We also watched a Christmas movie on Netflix. There are so many Christmas movies on telly this month, or perhaps you could borrow a DVD from the library or friend.
Ellen requested to have a mini Christmas dinner on Christmassy Day, so we did minus dessert since we had the gingerbread cookies and Christmas crackers.
There may not be an Elf on our Shelf, but our children are having fun opening their advent calendars - they have 3! - each morning and wearing their very cute Cath Kidston Christmas pjs for the 3rd Christmas (that I bought on sale). Other free or cheap and fun activities we're doing before Christmas are attending the girls' school Christmas Fair, making felt stockings with kits I must have bought very cheaply after Christmas last year (I'm not entirely sure where they came from), baking more cookies, visiting our local National Trust property to visit the mansion that has been beautifully decorated for Christmas and an organised lantern walk around our neighbourhood that finishes off with carols. I don't believe that the lead up to Christmas has to be fancy or expensive, just memorable to create family traditions. I look forward to learning what you're doing with your family in the run-up to Christmas, so please comment below or on the FTP Facebook page. Take care.
The weekend before last I had the immense pleasure of joining other money bloggers at the UK Money Bloggers Conference in London. Over the course of about 12 hours I met many inspiring bloggers, learn about blogging-related topics such keyword research, SEO and very useful plug-ins for Wordpress, attend a workshop about affiliate marketing and how communication through email is slowly dying out. "Wow, Lauren, that's great, but I don't care about blogging!" And that's quite okay! I want to share with you other aspects from the day that'll give you food for thought.
1. Do It Scared - admittedly, "Do it scared" is not my original idea (it's Ruth Soukup's) and also an incredibly inspiring podcast I listen to every week. Imagine how your life could change if you approached everything courageously - "simply daring to take action, despite your fear". Since I adopted the mindset of doing it scared earlier this year, I've launched this blog despite not knowing much about blogging at all, spoke numerous times to my bosses regarding my position at work which resulted positively (sorry, I can't go into detail because I don't know who may read this!) and registered to attend the conference in the summer not knowing a soul, but knowing that if I took the bold step of signing up and later attending, it could possibly excel my blogging business. I did these things anyway despite my initial fear... but I've learned that if I hadn't taken these bold steps, I'd be in the same place I was a year ago, which wasn't acceptable to me. By courageously taking steps towards your goals, you may be very pleased by the reward on the other side and it could very well lead you to make another bold move soon after - it's additive!
Top Left: Lynn James of Mrs Mummypenny and Jordon Cox "Britain's Coupon Kid" of JordonCox.com and MoneySavingExpert.com; Top Right: Ken Okoroafor of The Humble Penny; Bottom Left: Kara Gammell of Your Best Friend's Guide to Cash; Bottom Right: Charlotte Millington of Charlotte Musha
2. Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People - have you ever heard the saying, "you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with"? Again, not my idea (it's businessman Jim Rohn's). Take a minute to think about the people you spend your time with - besides your children, perhaps. What kind of influence do they have on you? You are being positively encouraged by them? Are they helping you to grow in the direction of your goals or holding you back? In terms of your money-saving mindset, do they influence you to spend money when your goal is to save money for the future? Are they continuously dragging you down emotionally? Are you trying to keep up with their lifestyle? Or are they encouraging you as you get out of debt (if you are) and save money? I was amazed at how friendly and helpful everyone at the conference was. Oh, and don't forget to consider the things you listen to, watch on telly, read, what you look at on the internet and the time you spend on social media. These things influence your mindset, too.
3. Be Curious about What You Don't Know - I had two objectives for attending the conference: #1 - to meet other bloggers and #2 - to find out what I didn't know about blogging in order to turn this blog from a hobby into a money-making business. I'm curious about what it takes to bring more traffic to my blog, how to actually make money from my blog and how I can better help my readers to reach their financial goals. I've come away with pages of notes and topics to read up on and become proficient at. I was able to sit down with bloggers who have been at it longer than me and ask them questions, which was extremely beneficial. What are you curious about? Do you know what you need to find out and the steps required to get you closer to your goal? Perhaps you're interested in learning about investing, or how to grow a tomato plant, or how to entertain your children on a shoestring budget. The internet provides answers - or at least someone's opinion - to most everything we could possibly think of... how fortunate are we to have answers at our finger tips!
You don't have to attend a conference to make changes to your mindset and lifestyle. By making simple changes to your attitude and decision-making, such as making one small, yet impactful, courageous move today, or evaluating the people you let into your life, you can take the steps towards your achieving your goals.
'Twas the night after Christmas and all though the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a... you know how it ends. Close your eyes a minute (but keep reading!)... the kids are tucked up in bed, the house still smells of Christmas dinner and cinnamon, the candlelight is gently lighting up the room. Ahh, what a great end to a beautiful Christmas season. What's on your mind?
Anything along the lines of "where in the world are all of these toys going?", "who is going to eat all of these leftovers?", "I sure hope Aunt Susie likes the Apple Watch we gave her", " WHY IN THE WORLD DO WE GO COMPLETELY OVERBOARD AT CHRISTMAS?!?!
With just under 2 months before Christmas, I want to share with you how you can prepare your finances for this upcoming Christmas season.
Decide in advance how much you will spend for Christmas. We decided on our figure just after Christmas last year, while I was setting up our 2018 budget... one of my favourite things to do! Though our figure stayed the same for the past two years, we decided to add and extra £50 to this year's Christmas budget. Why? The past two years we spent about £30 over what we budgeted... not bad... but not on target either. So, since I knew that we had overspent by about the same amount the previous two Christmases, I just added a little bit more to this year's Christmas budget.
If you haven't set a budget for this Christmas, decide right now what your budget is going to be by how much you can afford to spend, how many people you have to give gifts to, how much you plan to spend on Christmas dinner - whether you're cooking and paying for the whole meal, taking a dish to a friend or family member's house or eating out on Christmas day - and whether you need to plan for extra travel expensees. Once we decided on our 2018 Christmas budget, we...
Save EACH month for Christmas, by dividing the figure we decided on by 12 (months)... simples. This monthly amount we have been saving each month this year. No need for special Christmas saving plans; simply keep that money in your checking account. By saving each month, you're spreading the cost of Christmas over the year, rather than panicking about the "expensive time of year" when October or November comes around.
Keep track of the expenditures using a budget. We use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of our finances, so when we make a purchase or plan ahead for expenses, it's easy to track expenses or save a portion of the total cost of something in advance. Once you have your figure for Christmas, simply keep track of each cost and subtract it from the total amount. Pretty simple.
Consider what you REALLY want for Christmas. For me, it's to spend time with my family, watch our children open their reasonable number of gifts and reflecting on the miracle of Jesus' birth. I want to enjoy the season with simple delights and stay on budget to move us in the direction of our bigger goals.
If you haven't seen Martin Lewis' Christmas programme that aired about a month ago, please take a few minutes to watch this clip encouraging viewers to stop unnecessary gift giving and not to cause others (or yourself) financial stress.
To be honest, I've been a little panicked about the toy situation with our children the past couple of months. They have plenty. So what do children need who already have plenty? NOTHING! Ok, but perhaps that may not be realistic, and yes, I absolutely love to see their faces light up when they walk into the lounge and see all of their presents under the tree. I don't want to disappoint them. However, I have resolved not to buy something simple to buy something... yet.. what have I gone and done??? Bought something for our younger daughter that I think she perhaps might like because it was 50% off. Sounds like a bargain, right?! WRONG. If it's not something she is asking for, it's not a bargain.... so I'm taking it back.
I want to encourage you to keep things in perspective and to not go overboard at Christmas so that you don't end the season with regret. Stay in control. Plan ahead and cut back without making huge sacrifices and you'll be sitting there on Christmas evening content with the day, not weighed down with financial regret, and ready to take on the new year.
Yup. These donuts were absolutely delicious...as big as our heads... completely worth every delicious calorie... AND were completely FREE!!! So was the coffee. Add in a rocking chair on a porch on a rainy day in Ohio with her family and you have yourself one VERY happy girl!
Each Tuesday at the farmstand about 10 minutes down the road from my parents' house in Ohio locals enjoy an early morning catch up over free cups of coffee and massive, delicious donuts. I love free donuts almost as much as I love the THRILL I get from saving money; so today I want to share with you other ways I/we saved money while on vacation in Ohio to give you ideas on how to save whether your having a stay-cation, a holiday abroad or something in between.
Consider alternatives: Before we even reached Ohio, we saved ourselves around £400 over last summer's airfare by traveling through Reykjavik airport on Icelandair rather than via the usual east coast airports. We always use price comparison websites to find our flights such as Momondo and Skyscanner as well as the Hopper app. Considering alternative routes and departure and arrival airports could save you quite a bit on your next holiday. This can go for locations, dates and accommodation types, too!
Understand what's included in your airline ticket: With airlines cutting costs all the time, make sure to read what is actually included in the price of your ticket. Is a piece of luggage per passenger included? And if so, up to what weight? Are you permitted a carry-on item and a personal item, or just one carry-on item? Is food and beverages included? Food was not included on our Icelandair flights; for the 6-hour flight from Reykjavik to Cleveland, Jeff and I pre-purchased sandwiches online and saved 10%. One drink plus water was included. What we really appreciated, though, was that on each flight the girls received a cold snack or small meal.
Visit the local library: this may seem like an old-fashioned entertainment option, but so what?! The library in my parents' town is wonderful. Not only can you borrow books (obviously), you can borrow magazines - they had my favourites! - toys and DVDs! We likely saved ourselves $10 by not renting or buying DVDs and, gosh, probably $20 (at least!) by borrowing magazines over buying them from the store. The toy library was mainly for babies and toddlers, but what a great service! There were also a few table toys for the girls to play with and colouring sheets; other children were playing games on computers for free. The next chance I get I want to take a closer look at what the libraries here in the UK offer for free as well.
Check Groupon for discounted local activities: Check Groupon for discounts on activities and restaurants in your area... then check for a discount code to use on top of that! My lovely Grandma wanted to take us to a local amusement park. Had we just walked in and paid the advertised price, it would have cost about $70 for the couple of hours we were planning to spend there. However, I insisted I take a quick look on Groupon before we left her house; lo and behold there was an offer for the activities we wanted to do - mini golf and a few rides. I also entered a discount code for an additional 20% off. In the end, by spending a few minutes on Groupon, I saved my Grandma almost 50% of the original cost. Cha-ching! If you have the Groupon app, you can simply present the voucher on your smart phone at the venue when you arrive. Otherwise you can print it out prior to leaving the house.
Voucher Codes: I love voucher codes and they're so easy to find. Numerous times voucher codes came to the rescue while we were on holiday. I got $10 off a $30 online order of my favourite hand soaps from Bath and Body Works and saved 20% off an online order from Kohls when I bought a new swim costume (due to having forgotten to pack mine...oops!). A handful of times we were in the checkout line, I whipped out my phone and Googled a discount for the shop or restaurant we were at. We got a BOGO burger saving $7 and 15% off shoes for Jeff saving us around $18. I'm sure there were other instances I'm not remembering. Before making any purchase online or in a brick and mortar store or restaurant, just put your mobile phone to the test to find a voucher code. Such fun!
Keep your eyes peeled: Look around for brochures at your hotel or rest stop that may include money saving offers or coupons. You never know where you may find a freebie either. My best friend and I went to supper in my parents' town; I was disappointed that I couldn't find a coupon or discount for that restaurant (there was a reason we went there as opposed to another place where we could have used a coupon); when we walked into the restaurant, there was a simple sign that said, "Scan this QR code for a free treat." So I did and it was for a bowl of meatballs! We shared them and they were so good. Food just tastes better when it's free... like those donuts!
"Need or Want?": as always, the best way to save money is not to spend it in the first place, so ask yourself whether what you're about to buy is "a need" or "a want". Of course, I made many exceptions to this rule since we were on holiday and in Ohio, but they were for things that I really will appreciate, like an expensive shirt to wear to work (which my boss has already complimented!), gel pens for the new Living Well Spending Less planner I've bought myself to help me SMASH my goals (I always think SMASH is such a dramatic word) and two Yankee candles for Autumn. See... I do spend money on treats for myself.
Holidays can be very expensive, but by spending a few extra minutes looking for ways to save money and free local activities, you can uphold your money-saving mindset and keep within your budget.
To close this blog post, I want to say a MASSIVE thank you to my family and friends for their generosity during our stay in Ohio. You all mean the world to us.
Hello Everybody! I posted a picture on Instagram earlier this evening that received the comment, "Aaaaannnnd she's back! Good to see you're still saving money." This is referring to our returning from our holiday in Ohio to visit my family the past three weeks and, jokingly, that I haven't thrown the towel on saving money... at least, that's the way I read it. I know this person personally and am very sure this person meant it in a loving way, so I replied, "Yep, we're back! Always trying to save money... and motivate others to save money along with me."
I continued to clean up the kitchen that I started before feeling the urge to post the photo, then thought, "that's not really what I wanted to say!" So, I corrected myself, "*correction* I desire to be a good steward of "my" money and inspire others to do so too." - This is the main purpose for my blog! To inspire YOU to be a good steward of "your" money by being a mentor, of sorts.
My aim is not necessarily to teach you all I know... because I don't know "all" nor do I necessarily know how to teach, but my desire is to let you know that there is someone else out there who isn't doing what society or the world in "Christianese" is doing; someone else who avoids debt, someone else who is making difficult decisions, someone else who really and truly considers where every penny goes by budgeting and planning, someone else who "lives like no one else, so later I can LIVE AND GIVE like no one else" (quote courtesy of Dave Ramsey). I desire to inspire others. If I don't inspire you, that's alright... no hurt feelings here! I won't be hurt if you don't read my blogs or following Finding the Pennies on Facebook or Instagram. However, I know that I have inspired a few of you out there already and that's fantastic! My hope is to inspire many more readers in the world so we can navigate life together.
The photo of the leftovers we had for supper this evening that I posted to Instagram that prompted this blog post.
Bear with me, I'm working my way backward on my corrected quote above: "I desire to be a good steward of "my" money and inspire others to do so, too." "And"... yep, this one word binds the two desires I have... I desire to be a good steward of "my" money AND I desire to inspire you. I don't want to merely be a good steward of my money, but I want to to also share my thoughts and tips... even if it's a picture of our leftovers from tonight's meal that will be our lunches for tomorrow. If you think, that's weird... I AM weird and am 100% okay with that! I want to share how I take small (and sometimes big) changes in my life - remember the subtitle on the FTP homepage is "Trusting God with the Small Change"... small changes to make small change that ADDS UP to BIG money-saving mindset change".
Ok, let's back up again on that comment: "I desire to be a good steward of "my" money and inspire others to do so, too." - "'My' money." My money is not really my money at all. It's God's money.
Of David. A psalm.
1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
We often think it's "my" money because I've earned it. I've worked hard for it. I've deserve it. Me... me... me... Well, not according to Scripture. EVERYTHING on the earth belongs to the Lord. You may be wondering, "if EVERYTHING belongs to the Lord, then why do I even have money?!" You have money because the Lord has blessed you with it; he has given it to you.
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
EVERY good and perfect gift has been given to you. It isn't your doing. It isn't in your might. It wasn't due to your efforts...*gulp*... With that in mind... let's quickly take another step backwards and look at "to be a good steward". Since money doesn't belong to me, but rather it has been given to me, I truly desire to take the best care of that money, or to be a good steward. "But Lauren... when I think of the word 'steward' I think of someone managing a house or taking care of a group of people." Yep, it's exactly that... taking good care. A steward does, to their best knowledge, what they feel is best for that thing they are taking care of. "Stewardship" is taking dedicated care of something.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "stewardship" as: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care. That something is money, in this case, and the understood "has been" before "entrusted" points to God's entrusting of money to us. We have the responsibility to carefully manage HIS money. I consider myself to be more than a "saver". While I do enjoy saving money, both in terms of not spending too much and also saving money for the future, I honestly want to care for money that God has given our family to the best of my ability. I do this by making smart decisions before I spend, we plan and stick to a budget, we live pretty frugally and make the most of what we have and not wasting what I do have (an area I want to learn more about), we don't take on debt and pay back any debt that we may owe (like our mortgage) as quickly as possible, we invest and save for the future and we tithe and give to others. I believe this is what is meant by being a good steward of money, though stewardship can also relate to time, talents, family and other possessions.
How am I desiring to inspire you? By writing posts about lessons learned, by explaining the thoughts I have or "rules" I live by, by posting what may seem like completely silly or insignificant posts about leftovers or the like. I may save money and thoroughly enjoy doing so... but more important to me is that I am a good steward of the blessings God has entrusted to me... for His glory.
Imagine sacrificing the comforts of the Western way of life, your home country, family and jobs as a doctor and a teacher to live and serve the Lord in Thailand... and not just anywhere in Thailand, but in one of the slums of Bangkok - Khlong Toey. That's exactly what Jon and Elise Fletcher with their sons, Elliot and Samuel, did 3.5 years ago. They are amazing examples of being the salt of the earth and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), and our women's Bible study had the privilege of their company yesterday morning, where they shared how the Lord is working through them to show His love to the "unlovable" and downcast.
Jon and Elise work with a Christian Missionary Order called UNOH (Urban Neighbours of Hope) serving those around them in the slum. Elise spends much of her time helping to manage the UNOH-supported fair trade jewelry project called RoyRak, which means "bead love". The Khlong Toey women and one man team create BEAUTIFUL jewelry that is sold world wide, which in turn, provides an income twice that of the minimum wage for Thailand, paid holiday, a comfortable work space and the flexibility to work around childcare.
You know I strive to save and to spend money wisely and this is definitely a time when I feel that "my" (it's God's, actually) money is going beyond just purchasing something to wear; the thought that by purchasing some of the bright, colourful, handmade jewelry, I am indirectly helping to support the lives of real people, showing them love and support from afar, delights my heart to no end! I have purchased a few necklaces for a few friends both here in Shropshire and in Ohio who would appreciate this jewelry and perhaps even spread the word of RoyRak when they wear it proudly.
Brenna modelling her new necklace
Oh, and by the way, each piece of jewelry is named after people who live in Khlong Toey - how neat is that?!
I sure hope you'll click on this link to the RoyRak website to check out the products yourself. Not that I want you to wait to support this amazing cause, but if you wish to make a purchase - perhaps for Christmas presents - in September or October, you can receive 20% off your order by entering "ONLINE20" in the discount box.
Every day I have the opportunity to exercise my money-saving mindset muscle and today, for the second Friday in a row, was no exception when I said "no, thanks" to ordering a dessert for lunch from The Little Dessert Shop with my colleagues. Yes, they do look very tempting, but for £5-£6 a dessert, it's just not worth it to me. Does this mean that I never enjoy dessert? Nope. Does this mean that I never spend money on food from restaurants? Nope, in fact, I had dinner with my family at TGI Fridays this week.
But, due to the fact that I know that these desserts are made for pennies, I can make them myself at home for pennies and there's very little left in our "Eating Out" fund for the month due to eating out earlier in the week, I just replied "no, thanks" when I was asked if I wanted to order something with my colleagues. Besides, it was lunchtime, and I know that I would be hungry about an hour later with all that sugar, so I ate the beetroot burger and salad I brought from home instead.
What I couldn't help overhear were the comments made by a couple of my colleagues. One commented with a long face, "I really can't afford this this week, but oh well..." followed by another colleague saying, "That's why I use cash, so my husband doesn't know what I buy." What?!?! I wanted to get on my soapbox and start shouting, "What are you doing buying dessert that you can't afford and that you have to hide from your husband?!?!", but I resisted.
It's not about the dessert. My colleagues think my reason for not participating in buying a lunch-time dessert was about my trying to resist temptation. That was only a small part of it. It's about asking myself whether what I'm about to buy is really worth it. Can I honestly afford what I'm about to buy? Does it fit in my budget? For me, I answered "no" to these questions. I have learned over the years to ask myself these questions automatically pretty much every single time I make a purchase. Am I depriving myself of something? Maybe for a short time, but as Dave Ramsey will say, "It's short-term sacrifice for long-term gain". By asking myself these questions, I'm using my money-saving mindset to save for what I really want.
I sat looking over my budget for May yesterday evening. Quite frankly, it has been an expensive month. I've made choices that perhaps in previous months I wouldn't have made that have simply added up: weekend in London, extra groceries, a one-week trial of Gousto to name a few. I'm pretty comfortable with these extra expenses, though, because all expenses have been accounted for on my budget spreadsheet and most have been completely worth it. However, I reflected on whether these extras line up with our goals - to buy a minivan/7-seater, decorate the house, take the family to Disney World next year and, ultimately, to pay off our mortgage early. You may be thinking, "Man, oh, man, Lauren! How in the world are you possibly going to do those things?" Answer: one penny at a time.
While looking over our budget yesterday evening, I asked myself what I actions I need to take right then and there to keep us in line and on track. I knew we had very little wiggle room in the budget for anything extra on the last day of the month, so despite wanting to take the girls to the garden centre before visiting our friends for the afternoon, I decided that we would go to the garden centre but not spend a single penny. I told the girls this morning before we headed out the door, that we wouldn't play on the soft play area but told them that the £4 that would have been spent on soft play, I would add to our savings for Disney World - Ellen (6) understood and agreed immediately, but Brenna (4) needed a bit of persuasion, but once she understood, she agreed as well. We would enjoy our (almost) free hot drinks but wouldn't buy any cake. A quick explanation about the almost free drinks: I pay a £10 annual membership for the Dobbies Club which gives its members 2 free hot drinks per month and discounts throughout the year.
Once at Dobbies, I highly considered going against my promise of buying nothing and buying a pot of flowers for the front of the house. Admittedly, the front of our house is calling out for a bit of colour, but since our two pots were stolen from our front step last summer, I didn't want to go against my promise only to risk another pot being stolen and wasting money - today, at least.
The girls did really well - they didn't ask to play in the soft play area and when they asked if they could get a piece of cake (they always look delicious!), I just said, "Not this time. We'll have cookies (that I made) after lunch (at our friend's house)". We did look around the garden centre after we had our cappuccino and hot chocolate, and again, they asked if they could get various toys, but I just said, "Not today".
"Not today" doesn't mean "Never". It simply means that I'm making a small choice that's moving me in the direction of our goals. Not only are we saving money, but I'm teaching the girls that there are trade offs to make - if we bought the pot of flowers (£14), a slice of cake (£3.50), soft play (£4) and a toy each (£10), I could have easily spent £30! I'm also trying to teach them that it will take a whole family effort to afford to go to Disney World next year and that it won't just "magically" happen.
Are your actions in line with our goals? If you want to pay off your debts or have another financial goal, do you follow a budget and save money each and every month to move you towards that goal? If you want to be more active, are you deliberately carving out time in your day to so? If you want to get more sleep, are you going to bed earlier (one of my goals and one of my struggles)? If you want to start a job search, is your CV up to date? Whatever your goal, are you making the right choices to get you there?
No kidding it's not always fun. No kidding that it takes sacrifice - "Short-term sacrifice for long-term gain" - one of my favourite quotes from the Dave Ramsey show.
I added that £4 to our Disney World fund - small steps in the direction of my goal will eventually get us there!
We sure are enjoying the Bank Holiday weekend and I hope you are, too! Kids around the UK are off from school this week and while some friends are off to sandy destinations this week, we're having a "stay-cation" at home... and that's okay! The I do have to work this week, but only two days - Wednesday and Friday. We're going to make use of our National Trust membership tomorrow, perhaps swimming and McDs on Tuesday and a visit with our friends on Thursday.
Our Bank Holiday weekend started kind of cool and overcast, but I wasn't going to let that get in the way of my excitement of finally having friends over for a BBQ yesterday afternoon. I say "finally" because years ago we bought an expanding garden table and Weber charcoal grill with the expectation of having friends over most warm-weather, sunny weekends. That has only happened once a few years ago and didn't go as expected. So, yesterday, I headed to the shop just before 7am to make the most of fewer shoppers and to make the most of my early-morning higher productivity window. This was followed by attending my Weight Watchers meeting, coming home, having a cup of coffee and making a three-layer strawberry pie and preparing for friends' arrival at 3pm.
Since yesterday, I've been reflecting on the lessons I learned from having our friends over for a BBQ and want to share them with you:
Lesson #1: I cannot change the weather - I can only influence my attitude. Rain or shine, we were having friends over and enjoying some good food together.
Lesson #2: It doesn't have to be perfect, nor was it anywhere near perfect. But what was perfect, was the laughter that we had together, the pure enjoyment we had watching our children run around the garden barefoot... oh... and the fact that the sun came out spot on 3pm!
Lesson #3: A half an hour nap just before your guest arrive is the perfect way to prepare oneself for a party... alright, admittedly, I felt like my grandma having to have a nap, but you know what? It was totally worth it and I felt happy and able to enjoy our friends when they arrived.
Lesson #4: Take time to take more pictures! The pictures I did take either included our friends' kids which I can't post or wasn't the greatest photo. I do love to take photos of food and guess what I didn't do... take photos of the food, especially my pretty 3-layer strawberry pie. It was so pretty and I forgot to take a picture before it was devoured - and devoured it was! It was delicious. Here's the link to the recipe.
Lesson #5: Buy better quality beer. I'm embarrassed to say that I bought four cans of the shop's brand lager. Honestly, the BWS department at the shop is completely out of my comfort zone. Not being much of a "drinker" until somewhat recently, every time I'm surrounded by a wall of bottles I get somewhat nervous. I grabbed some lager keep the ever-increasing cost of the BBQ in mind. Big mistake. The lager wasn't great and it's totally worth spending a little extra on nice drinks. Which brings me to another lesson...
Lesson #6: Don't let the added cost of having friends over stop you from having friends over. Having friends over can add to the food budget. I am not at all complaining, because it was completely worth having our friends over, but the cost of extra food is something to consider and budget for.
Lesson #7: I prepared the food I was comfortable with and didn't worry about making things fancy or complicated. Steak sounded good, but it's not something I felt comfortable making for guests. I chose to buy pre-made burgers rather than making my own. I could have but chose to focus my effort on the strawberry pie. We had hot dogs and BBQ chicken. Just simple, no-fuss food.
We're were blessed by our friends' company yesterday afternoon. We hope our hospitality was a blessing to them, too.
Friends, I have something so exciting to share with you! Have you heard of the Marriage Allowance? Maybe? I first heard of it while watching Martin Lewis on the Money Saving Expert show a few months ago. At the time Jeff and I did wonder whether we already had that tax allowance or not, but did we check it? Nope.
"Lauren, what is the Marriage Allowance?" you may be wondering. It's simply a tax break if you're married or in a civil partnership. Moneysavingexpert.com says, "The marriage tax allowance is a way for couples to transfer a proportion of their personal allowance (the amount you can earn tax-free each tax year) between them."
Last night, I was having a "fun" evening checking the current tax code on my last wage slip when I spotted a link to the Marriage Allowance on the right hand side of the screen. Because I was completely bored trying to understand the meanings of the different tax codes by then, my curiosity forced me to click on the link. I'll give you the link to get you to the money you may be owed quicker - click here.
A couple's tax can be reduced by up to £238 every tax year - 6th April to 5th April of the following year. You - the lesser earner and applicant - need to earn less than your spouse and have an income of £11,850 or less (this tax year) - you aren't a tax payer. Your spouse's income must be between £11,851 and £46,350 (£43,430 in Scotland) for you to be eligible. Yep, this is also on the gov.uk website - here's the link again. The article on Moneysavingexpert.com explains the math behind this and gives an example.
"Lauren, I don't have time right now to do this." Ten minutes! That's all it took me to apply. All you need is your and your spouse's National Insurance numbers and one of the forms of ID on the gov.uk webpage. The non-taxpayer (the one earning less than £11, 850 per year) must be the one applying for the allowance transfer.
So, click on the link at the bottom of the page and get started claiming back some money. Oh, did I mention you can claim back money on the past three tax years? The thresholds are slightly lower each year, but the link walks you through the process and in the end you may (or may not) get some money back and/or have the correct tax code applied to your spouse's wage slip - reducing the tax you, as a couple, pay by up to £238 per year. You may just get a big fat cheque in the post any day now for the previous years.
Quick result: Jeff received an email early this morning telling him that his tax code has been changed to reflect the Marriage Allowance. We may or may not get a bit back from last year... we shall see soon!
Don't wait like Jeff and I sillily did. Do it right now.