Budget Christmas Activities with Kids

This weekend, I took my kids to an enchanted garden at Antrim Castle Gardens. There are so many Santa experiences and winter wonderland—type events on now; you have to pick and choose what to attend if you’re on a budget. So, I decided to turn the enchanted garden trip into a mini day trip and make it a spending day for us.
We drove to a shopping outlet with a park and ride at it. My kids get inexpressibly excited by bus journeys. I guess we tend to walk or drive everywhere, so it feels like a treat to them. We stopped for hot chocolate and gingerbread men before getting the bus. I have one daughter that always likes the idea of hot chocolate better than the taste of it so I spent most of the time trying to persuade her to drink it 😀 but it was a nice idea 🙂 

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We took the bus to the garden and I was impressed by how elaborate it was. We spent nearly three hours there. You could buy tokens for the various old-fashioned rides, one of which was a train to meet Santa. There were food and coffee stalls and we had some Chinese food at the picnic benches. It was surprisingly quiet so I think choosing to go early in December was a good idea. There were no interminable queues for rides or stampedes for donuts.

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There was a Santa’s workshop where the kids were given selection boxes. As well as the main features, there were separate lighted woods and hedges, fairies and princes and princesses on stilts and Christmas music playing throughout the gardens. I’ve decided I find outdoor activities with my kids much less stressful – the walking tires them out and everything feels less crowded. It was one of those events where you spend ten pounds for entry and thirty inside the gates, but I think it’s excusable as a one-off day out 🙂 It will give me incentive to seek out free events and activities to do at home for a while 🙂

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The next day we were in need of a day in the house, so we made some Christmas cookies and played board games. I like to look out for board games throughout the year in charity shops. You can find a wide range of them for a couple of pounds and build up a collection for wintry days. I got some Halloween sprinkles for 10p this week, so we used them. If you aren’t perfectionistic about that type of thing, it’s a good way to buy sprinkles etc for nothing. (I like anything with skulls on it anyway :)) 

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We watched The Grinch with the Christmas lights on, on what was a dark afternoon before going out to a free lantern parade near our house. The kids had made lanterns a couple of weeks earlier at a workshop. The parade walked about a mile led by a Santa sleigh and drummers, and we bumped into everyone we knew 🙂 It finished with a fireworks display that I was impressed by for such a small-scale event. I think I’m ready for some hibernation now and no spend weekends ahead after the busy nature of this weekend 🙂

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10 More Ways to Save Money at Christmas

A continuation of my other post about cutting costs at Christmas time with the help of some creativity 🙂

1. Reuse Christmas decorations. Don’t feel the need to buy new items every year. If you want to update what you have, get a couple of unusual Christmas baubles or make your own wreath. You can do this without spending any money. Just go for a walk in a forest and collect natural materials.

2. Pick one event you want to go to and skip the rest. If you have one thing to look forward to it feels much more special than if you book every available event. It stops the kids getting overwrought anyway. Christmas is hectic enough without adding additional pressure.

3. Have Christmas movies and popcorn at home. Instead of going to the cinema, just recreate it at home. Give your kids pretend tickets, make a snacks counter where they can help themselves and turn out all the lights.

4. Have hot chocolate in the dark with just the Christmas lights on 🙂 If you have a fire, light it – as well as creating a Christmas atmosphere, it saves on heating costs 🙂

5. Bake your own shortbread, gingerbread men or Christmas cake. Give them as presents in little pastry bags. You can find these in the baking section in most discount shops.

6. Have an agreed budget for presents with your family and friends. Instead of buying gifts for friends, put some money into organising a day out for Christmas coffee and treats together instead.

7. Don’t be affected by other people’s choices. Just because your friend chose to spend hundreds on their children or paid for them to go to every magical event in the area doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent because you can’t. Kids appreciate the time you spend with them and it’s ok to say no.

8. Don’t buy every kind of everything. You don’t need to have a five course meal with every dessert option and nine types of party platter. Keep it simple and make what people will actually eat. Underestimate how much you need, because at Christmas time we are brainwashed into buying a feast for four hundred with every poster we pass. You don’t need everything that’s on offer. You don’t need every drink available in the shops. Take the stress off yourself and make less.

9. Save all your leftovers and use them in different ways so you don’t sicken yourself with Christmas food 🙂 Freeze whatever you won’t use right away. For example, use cranberry sauce in sandwiches, with cheese and crackers, with melted Brie. Fry leftover veg to make a stir fry, or blend them to make soup.

10. Keep cards and gift bags for kids’ crafts or to use for future projects. You could make your own cards for next year by cutting out the images and arranging them in different ways or add them to gift bags to make personalised ones. Reuse things you would typically throw away. There is so much unnecessary waste around Christmas time and I like to minimise it where I can.

Hope this post gives you a few ideas of ways to reduce spending around Christmas time and to use what you already have 🙂

 

Budget Weekends with Kids

Today I caved and allowed the Christmas tree to go up – I’ve officially become a November Christmas person. It already feels like Christmas everywhere else, so I decided we might as well follow suit. I’d planned to have a low budget weekend with my kids and we had free cinema tickets, so I took them to see Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. It was part of the C.S. Lewis festival so there was a live reading beforehand of The Enormous Crocodile. The cinema we go to seems to be cheaper than any others I’ve been to. I got popcorn for the girls and a coffee for a few pounds. They also seem to be good at selecting a kids’ film that isn’t boring for adults, which is always appreciated 🙂 (usually I daydream during most kids’ TV.)

After the film, we went outside and it was such a dreary day I felt like we should do something cosy to lift our spirits. I’d considered going into town to call into the continental market, but with the wild weather I decided to have a Christmas-themed day in instead.

I put on Christmas music for the girls and assembled the tree. I managed not to swear at the tangled fairy lights for once 🙂 My kids added all the decorations to the tree and around the house. My dad had given us a train that runs around the base of the tree and the girls enjoyed joining the tracks together.

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Since I was in a patient mood, we made some gingerbread cookies. (They weren’t really gingerbread men since snowmen and candy canes were included.) Sometimes to make baking easier with kids, I measure out the ingredients into bowls for them to add them from. It helps with the kids-not-liking-waiting aspect of baking and seems to prevent fights 🙂 I flattened out the dough at the table and let the girls have a baking tray each so they could cut their own cookies. When they had finished and baked the cookies, we set up a little icing station at the table. I put icing in a bowl with a teaspoon each and the different kinds of sprinkles into separate bowls. It makes it easier for them to reach and prevents them emptying the whole container on one cookie! That activity kept the girls entertained for a long time and the smell of gingerbread combined with the glow of fairy lights definitely made our home feel cheerier than the gloom outside.

Usually I always have dinner at the table with my kids, but one day a week we have “pizza and a movie.” They get to pick a film to watch and I make oven pizzas and chips for them. It’s so simple, but they get really good excited about it 🙂

We finished the day with posting Santa letters. I had bought a tiny post box from B&M last year. It came with little letters, stamps and envelopes. The girls wrote their letters to Santa and posted them before bedtime. The first thing they will do when they wake up is check to make sure they were promptly collected 🙂 If you don’t have a letter box you could make it into an activity for your kids and cut an opening in a cereal box, paint and cover the box with glitter and write notes to post in it. If my kids are pretending to post letters and we don’t have stamps, I just give them one of their stampers to use instead. I’d better remember to hide their letters now 🙂

No Yeast Easy Pizza

I’m having one of those weeks where I’m stalling when it comes to doing the food shopping. Once everything turns “merry” and the countdown to Christmas starts, the thought of battling my way through crowds, trying to complete a mental shopping list, fills me with dread. So I’ve been trying to survive on what we already have in the cupboards and I came up with this. It’s weird how creative you become through avoidance of shops.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups of flour

1 tsp of salt

2 1/2 tsp of baking powder

1 tbsp of oil

160ml water

1/2 jar of tomato sauce

2 handfuls of grated cheese

 

Method

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Add the oil and water. Form into a ball and gently knead for a couple of minutes. Add more flour if the mixture is too wet/more water if too dry. Flatten it out. I find it’s easier to stretch this pizza base with your hands – that’s why mine looks so misshapen 🙂 Dont forget to grease the tray first so it doesn’t stick! I usually pour some oil on kitchen roll as a quick way to do it/ you can also use the paper cover off a tub of butter. Spread tomato sauce with a spoon and sprinkle cheese on top. I used cheddar because it was all we had but any would work – apart from maybe cream cheese. That would be weird 🙂 Add any toppings you like. Cook at 180c for 10-15 minutes. It is ready when the cheese has browned.

10 Easy Ways to Save Money at Christmas

There is so much expense leading up to Christmas, particularly when you have kids. I was thinking of some ideas of how to save money leading up to the most expensive, I mean, wonderful time of the year. I hope these give people a few ideas 🙂

1. Make hampers. You can get a basket from the pound shop and fill it with whatever you like, wrapping it in cellophane and ribbon. You can adapt it to suit anyone – sweets, alcohol, afternoon tea, beauty products, manicure set, stationery, reading (eg, fill with books, bookmarks, a teacup, tea bags etc.)

2. Get your kids to make your Christmas cards/get supplies from the pound shop and make your own personal ones.

3. Get cheaper drinks. It’s easy to find mulled wine and Buck’s Fizz at a reasonable price and it doesn’t cost as much as spirits. Or buy own brand ones. I love the coffee cream liqueur from Lidl and I can’t tell the difference between it and a branded bottle.

4. Don’t go overboard. I think the reason why so many people end up with money troubles in January is that they feel pressured to overspend and spoil their kids. In my experience, the more thoughtfully you buy fewer presents for kids, the more they enjoy it. They’d rather have one thing they love and a few treats than half the contents of the nearest toy shop. By next year most of it will probably be in a charity shop or cluttering up your house anyway.

5. Make your own mince pies. Buy a large jar of mincemeat in a discount shop and make a simple pastry to encase it. Use it as an activity to do with your kids instead of taking them to an activity with charges.

6. Make driving to see the Christmas lights an event. The most magical part of my childhood was when we got into the car, went into town and drove in a loop around the City Hall to see the lights. Drive around your neighbourhood to see decorations or take the bus into town to walk and look at the lights. (If you live in Belfast, there are light projection shows for free across the road from Castlecourt from 4pm from 16th November until 10th January.) There is also a free Christmas light switch on in most towns.

7. Eurospar are holding free Christmas parties in various locations leading up to Christmas. Ask in your local one about the date for theirs. Select a couple of low cost events and turn them into special days instead of a catalogue of events that tire kids out and leave you penniless and emotionally spent.

8. Buy less meat. The most expensive part of Christmas dinner is the meat and if you’re living on a tight budget, don’t feel under pressure to provide turkey, ham and all the trimmings. Choose one kind of meat, chicken legs or lamb and make extra pigs in blankets or cocktail sausages – everyone in my house seems to prefer them to the turkey anyway 🙂 Alternatively, buy a frozen turkey crown and slow cook with lots of basting. It will taste just as moist as a fresh one. Serve smaller portions of meat and bulk it out with potatoes and stuffing.

9. Buy one Christmas food item on sale every week. If you save things up as you go, it’s easier to accumulate everything you need without noticing the dent in your budget. Just check the freezer and cupboards periodically in case you forget what you have and buy doubles 🙂

10. Go to a Christmas market with a set amount of cash. If you operate in cash and set a limit, you have to be inventive and think about what you really want to buy. I think a lot of overspending comes from always assuming everyone in a group or family has to have an elaborate meal/every available option. Simplify things. Get a hot dog to share with your kids, or some mini donuts for everyone to share. Have dinner at home afterwards.

I feel like I’ve reached the end of this post and this only glazes the surface of ideas for Christmas on a budget, so I’ll write a continuation of this post soon 🙂

 

Cheerfully Cheap Days with Children

I’ve been saving money for a trip we are going on early next year, so I’ve been trying to take advantage of every free activity we can find. Sometimes it’s easy to fill days with costly activities with kids, especially if it’s cold or the rain puts limits on the what you can do. I try to regularly check local papers, NI for kids and Facebook for upcoming events. If you plan them out and think about ways around extra costs, it’s easy to avoid unnecessary spending. Here are a few examples of what we have been doing recently.

I took my kids to a lantern workshop, where they made lanterns in a local cinema for a nearby parade. Correction: I made two lanterns while they ran wild and climbed on other kids. The idea was nicer than the execution of it but I still found it strangely therapeutic sticking tissue paper to willow. We had to book it in advance, but it didn’t cost anything and the girls will enjoy walking with their lanterns and seeing the fireworks.

I’ve started taking the girls to the busiest park in the area. Now the temperature is dropping, it seems that people are put off doing outdoor activities with their kids. But if you get wrapped up, sometimes I think the cool air is more refreshing and the wind wipes your worries away. I brought a flask of hot chocolate with us to keep everyone warm and kept walking so I didn’t notice the cold 🙂

I took the girls to a twilight market at a farm. It was hard to find, but the tents that were set up in the dark helped to awaken my Christmas spirit. It was deathly cold, but the exhibitors prices were great and it’s hard to feel unhappy when you’re looking at coloured, twinkling lights. The girls found some unusual crocheted hats for ten pounds and less and I picked up a couple of handmade Christmas presents. I also bought a head sculpture from an artist called Chronic Crafts. They are really unique and cute and I want to own the whole collection. I like small scale events like that too because they feel more personal and you get talking to people you wouldn’t have the chance to interact with at busier markets. There was a stall with light up fairies in jars and fairy houses that made the place look cheerful and festive. My kids are like magpies and love a bargain as much as I do, so they enjoyed the lucky dip and picked out a couple of small items each.

On Saturdays, we have started going to the minors’ club at a local cinema. They have a free screening on Saturdays for kids and an optional workshop for an extra three pounds. We saw 101 Dalmatians and Homeward Bound recently. The films are a good length for kids, with no trailers and the snacks are inexpensive/you can bring your own. I think having a quiet coffee in the cinema is my new favourite thing to do on what would typically have been a frantic Saturday.

I’m going to keep looking out for local events that we can enjoy without paying extortionate prices. I think Christmas can be extra costly now because it has become such a commercial event, but if you’re creative and look out for smaller events that aren’t as well advertised, it is easy to find things to do that don’t eat up your whole Christmas budget.

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Easy Slow Cooker Chinese Chicken

512A5C49-6923-4D06-BFF4-A1A1CC726BD7This recipe probably isn’t authentic Chinese cooking, or authentic anything. I just made it up on the spur of the moment and it tasted surprisingly good. It’s easy to make and I’ve been making more use of my slow cooker now the Winter nights are announcing their arrival at 4pm. It’s cheap and easy to make and goes well with rice or noodles for an effortless dinner.

Ingredients

Pack of chicken legs/drumsticks/thighs

1/2 cup of soy sauce

1/4 cup of sweet chilli sauce

1 tsp rice vinegar

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup of chicken stock

Scattering of sesame seeds

 

Method

In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, rice vinegar, crushed garlic, chicken stock and sesame seeds. Mix well. Add the raw chicken legs and cover completely with the sauce. Lay in slow cooker and pour remaining sauce from the bowl over the top. Cook on high for 5 hours/low for 8 hours.