Monthly Archives: March 2016

Home Improvements on a Zero Budget

One of the things we’re really aware of is that we ought to be getting ‘on’ with the renovations on our property. We managed to buy at a low price because of the amount of work that needed to be done. However – we really can’t afford to spend anything on it right now! We must, must, must get some money put back in general savings. If there were funds available for anything extra then I would be totally spending them on some kind of family holiday – even if that was a seriously last minute two-nights-an-hour-down-the-road kind of affair. I would so love to be able to give the kiddos something that felt like a holiday this year. Which makes home improvements a rather forlorn third on the list.

But! I still want to feel like we are moving forward and improving our home for the better. Thus I have been, and will continue to be, contemplating the way in which we can improve our home – for nothing.

Well, ok, in an extreme pinch I might empty my purse of change or scurry up enough for a small pot of paint or another second hand dining chair from the tip (more on that another time) but hopefully you get my point.

In some ways this is an offshoot from decluttering, reorganising and spring cleaning. But it is surprising how just moving things around or reorganising how a corner is used can be quite a dramatic home improvement – and it doesn’t have to cost a penny.

In the last month or so I have had some SERIOUS decluttering sessions and really made progress with certain areas of the house. We have a very awkward cupboard under the stairs that I managed to donate LOADS of things from, mainly baby related stuff that we don’t need anymore. As this freed up a lot of space I managed to store away some things that we don’t need on a day to day basis but we should definitely not throw away as they will get used again in the future. In turn this has made the rest of the house less cluttered for not having these items ‘out’.

We also had a semi disaster a few weeks ago when the weight of Husband’s fish tank suddenly became too much for our aged and fragile sideboard which began to collapse. By an extraordinary stroke of fortune we had an alternative piece of furniture on our garage. Some friends were giving it away a year ago and although we had no where to put it in the house we said we’d take it as it was so nice. Hey presto, Husband scurried up the road and managed to make the switch before the sideboard collapsed totally.

Unfortunately the replacement is a table with one drawer rather than a sideboard with three cupboards and three drawers. However, since I had been decluttering like a demon I managed, over the course of a week inbetween work and looking after the kids, to relocate everything that we wanted to keep. And we didn’t have to spend anything! We must take the broken sideboard to the dump though. The back garden is beginning to look like Steptoe’s yard…

I’ll be thinking up other zero budget home improvements that I can make over the coming weeks. I’d love to hear if anyone else has managed any zero (or almost zero) budget improvements!

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Building a savings plan

There are lots of ways to start building a savings plan. For us, at this point in our lives and in these circumstances, these savings fall into two categories.

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The first comprises a series of small savings accounts that are planned to cover everyday, relatively predictable expenses. These include:

  • car maintenance (namely the annual MoT for both cars)
  • School stuff (uniform plus the constant stream of requests for everything from sponsorship, trips, non-uniform days etc)
  • Kids clothes and shoes: My kids are aged 5 and 2 so not much fits from one year to the next, they are growing so fast! They seem to need 2-3 pairs of shoes each year depending growth. They usually only have one pair of shoes that fits at a time though my eldest will probably also have a pair of non-school shoes to wear over summer. This fund does not include trainers needed for school etc.
  • Gifts: This includes birthday parties for the kids, presents, anything for Christmas etc. We have a huuuuuuuge list (still!) of people that we buy for at Birthdays and Christmas. I’ve tried valiantly to cut this back but to little avail. Or rather I did quite well cutting back to mostly just buying for children in the family and of close friends instead of adults. At the same time, however, my eldest started school and everyone seems to have huge class parties so we end up buying an extra 10-15 or so gifts a year just on that! I digress…

There are other small accounts but these are the main ones. They are defined by the fact that they are for predictable expenses. Things like school uniform, birthdays, kids growing and needing new clothes and shoes, Christmas, school holidays, MoTs…they should come as no surprise.They rock around at the same time each year and it is very wearying to end up in a panic over the same things year in year out. My advice, should anyone want it, is make like a tortoise. Slow and steady wins the race.

Then there is the second category of saving – the big stuff. Or, in our case, the stuff that is beyond the very basics (and yes I do count birthday and Christmas presents for my kids as basics. We’re not on the poverty line. And, from the other end of the spectrum, they don’t expect/receive ponies and unicorns either). In my mind there are 3 or 4 things I would like to save up for, namely:

  • A holiday: A real one. I haven’t set foot on foreign soil since 2009. This is WITHOUT QUESTION the thing I miss about having more money.
  • A decent mini emergency fund of 500 pounds. We managed this briefly a month or so ago but then Husband didn’t get paid that much one month and it more or less got cleaned out again. Sigh.
  • A big fat savings account. Yep. I want one of those. Not because I’m a giant money grabbing ho-bag but because I’m am soooo sick of living so close to the edge. I want to be as close to financial independence as possible. I’ve had to turn down several different opportunities in the last few years because I didn’t have the savings to bridge gaps etc. Plus the worry is fairly awful at times. And I’m not getting any younger and have nothing sorted out for retirement (though I will do more on this once both children are in full time education and I can take on more paid work. But still).
  • Renovations: We got our house at a low price because it needed a lot of work doing on it and the elderly owner didn’t want the bother of doing it just to sell. We did a few major things just after we moved in (before bub 2) and then it all ground to a halt due to lack of time and money. We’re not talking a few scatter cushions – things need to happen. I think this is a case of having to save a little bit here and there and seeing quite how much we can do with pure elbow grease / no budget!

For me (the household financial planner) it makes sense to have these two categories of spending. The savings funds in the first category are non-negotiable. Just because they don’t go to a third party by direct debit doesn’t mean that they aren’t essentials or should be treated as ‘raidable’ pots. Unless you can easily pay for new school shoes or a new car battery then this money has to be treated with the same reverence (I confess I have raided the car account upon occasion but only in a pinch and it has always been replaced within a month or so!).

The second category covers the extras. Some people would probably argue that general savings should come under essentials. In an ideal world they would be right. But sometimes you’ve got to pay for the car to be fixed and replenish the empty fridge or whatever it might be. Holidays are a luxury and one I’m very keen on having (and being able to provide for my children). And I’m also the kind that enjoys a comfortable, attractive home. So these are the areas that I have chosen to focus our efforts on. ┬áNow it’s just a question of where to find the money to fund all of these grand plans!

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My current finances

Our household income changes from month to month (due to Husband being self employed) but is generally very low. I use an old-school Book Keeping Journal to plan our finances for the year. Most people, I know, would prefer a spreadsheet but I like the act of committing our expenses to paper with my own pen. Also we haven’t had a printer for eight years and I like something that I can look at and scribble notes and amendments on!

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I keep track of our joint finances and mark off each direct debit or standing order as it comes out our joint account. Husband and I still use the system of having our own accounts and then each paying in an agreed amount each month. Our joint account expenses include: Water (South West – notoriously the highest charges in the country), Council tax, Boiler insurance (saved our skins this winter I can tell you), life insurance, home and contents insurace, Mortgage, combined gas and electric, insurace for both cars, TV licence, car tax for Husband’s car (he puts in extra funds for this). We also budget to save 40 pounds a month towards car maintenance and theoretically we would also save money from here towards anything else – hoidays, emergency funds etc. I say theoretically because quite often we struggle to just pay for the basic commitments above to it isn’t always possible to put aside anything extra.

The above also includes 200 pounds for food for the month. Honestly this isn’t really adequate as this also includes non-food items like toilet rolls, laundry supplies, toothbrshes etc and we go over this without fail every.single.month. But the grocery budget will be a whole other post!

My personal budget (ie what is left over once I’ve made my contribution to the joint account) looks like this:

Lovefilm/Amazon Instant Video membership – 9 (We get huge value out of this and I think and average spend of 2.07 a week (calculated over the year) makes this well worth the spend. Particularly since we don’t really get to the cinema anymore. Haven’t been to see a grown up film for about 3 or 4 years. We go to see a kids film maybe once a year. So this membership is great for us.).

Petrol – 30: I work from home half of the week and only go into the office for one day. I also work locally so that keeps expenses low. I could earn more if I went to the nearest big town but then I’d have to pay more in commuting and parking. I walk whereever possible (though living rurally this isn’t always feasible!).

General – 30: This pays for my weekly coffee out with friends (2.25 if you’re interested and totally worth it), make-up, a book, going out etc. To be honest though this tends to get sucked away on random little expenses here and there.

Car tax – 15.75: Really I could have set this up to come out of the joint account but it didn’t work out that way!

Holidays – 10: Theoretically I could leave this alone and afford an ‘away’ holiday in about 1 million years time but it always ends up being used in going out during the school holidays. Which I’m fine with.

Personal savings – 9: Theoretically this pays for my hair to be cut every 2-3 months and any clothes or shoes I’d need. Let’s just laugh about this for a moment. Surfice it to say that – hooray! – I’ve had my hair cut once this year and I have bought zero in the way of clothing or shoes. Ditto make-up and skincare actually but that’s another post as well.

We get a small amount of tax credits (we could get more but haven’t got all of our figures ready – self employment is complicated) and we also get the monthly standard child benefit that everyone gets. Out of this we have lots of mini funds that pay for school uniform, kids clothing, birthdays, activities, school trips etc. Basically it all goes on the children.

My youngest turned two in January and is going to start pre-school next month. As he isn’t 3 and we’re not hard up enough there is no help with funding for this so we’ve got to find just over 12 pounds a week to pay for the 3 hour weekly session. My parents used to help with childcare but now they don’t. This means Husband can’t work on the day I go into the office and I have to get the rest of my work done when our son is napping. But I’m not getting enough done in that small window anymore so we’ve had to cave in and try pre-school (it’s a lovely one, I would have preferred to wait to go to a different one though but they can’t go there until 3). Realistically we need two mornings but it’s already going to be a struggle finding 50-65 pounds a month to cover that one morning. I’m really not sure where it will come from. As you can see there isn’t much wriggle room in our budget. But I’m sure we’ll find a way!

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It’s been a while…

Hello folks. It’s been a while! I seem to be back. A year or so ago another website started streaming my content. Goodness knows why. But I really didn’t like seeing photographs I’d taken around my home appearing on another website – it was a very odd experience. I’ll have to take some sort of action if it happens again but for now…well…I’ve missed being here.

A few weeks ago, in a fit of nostalgia, I started looking back over old entries. It was like reading something that someone else had written! We forget so many things in such a short space of time. And it was lovely seeing the things that are recorded here. It’s obviously only a very narrow snapshot of our lives but so much better than any other record that I’ve ever managed to keep before. So many things I can barely remember! Like cooking on a Saturday morning, going to the library and then having a read or a nap before going out in the evening. Two kids later and I can’t even begin to imagine doing that! But there it is, preserved in time! What a strange and unique gift.

The fear that has stopped me blogging more than once in the past has been the loss of anonymity (and I have had one person in ‘real life’ who has not respected that). But. Sod them, eh?

I’ve been keeping close records this year and my mission for 2016 has been to record my spending for an entire year so at the end I know how much we’ve actually spent on everything from food to kids clothes and parties! I’ll share my spending reports sometime soon. I’m also starting to feel ready to get really serious about saving. In the past I’ve done well at saving for really specific things (like maternity leave or a holiday) but now it really is time to think about building a big safety net for the future. Years of being on lower incomes, two rounds of maternity leave and Husband’s move to self employment have used up our reserves and put us more or less in a hand to mouth situation. This is okay really because we’ve navigated what I always perceived would be our roughest financial waters: completing our family, moving to our ‘forever’ home and Husband breaking free from a job that was almost literally breaking his back. Importantly, we’ve done this without getting into debt and have managed to live within our means even during the leanest of times. So here were. Dusting ourselves down and ready to go. It’s good to be back.

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