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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Best Cottage Pie Recipe

I love this cottage pie but I’d forgotten to make it for a while. I seem to forget about comfort food over the summer (unless chocolate counts as a comfort food, in which case I have plenty of it.) This meal is easy to make and my kids eat it.. well, they eat the mince and mashed potatoes and set the rest on my plate :/ The measurements for this are so rough because I tend to just throw stuff in a pan and hope for the best and with this it worked 🙂

Serves 2 adults, 2 kids or 2 hungry people

Ingredients

For the meat:

250g beef mince
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 small carrots
2 sticks of celery
Beef stock to cover
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Shake of salt and pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ketchup
1 tbsp red wine

For the potatoes:

8 potatoes
1 tbsp butter
A splash of milk
A shake of salt

For the topping – grated cheddar cheese

Method
Fry the mince on its own in a pan. Chop an onion, garlic, celery sticks and peel and chop carrots. (Cut the vegetables up small so they cook quicker.) Add to the pan and continue to cook on a medium heat.
When the onions are clear and the veg looks like it is softening, cover the meat with boiling water. I crumble in 1/2 a beef stock cup after doing this and mix it in. Add the wine, Worcester sauce, ketchup, salt, pepper and thyme. Reduce heat and let simmer until carrots and celery are soft. At the end, add in a couple of tbsps of cornflour mixed well with COLD water. (Do this in a cup first.) Stir continuously until sauce has thickened. Turn heat off.

In the meantime, peel potatoes and chop into chunks (so they cook more evenly and quickly.) Put in boiled water with salt and cook on medium heat for about 20 mins. Take potatoes off heat when they are just starting to break apart. Drain and mash with butter and milk. (Sometimes I use an electric mixer to make them extra smooth and creamy.)

Fill an oven dish with the meat mixture. Use a spatula to spread the mashed potatoes on top. Cover generously with grated cheddar. Put in the oven at 180c for 15 minutes to crisp up the cheese. Let it cook until it is browned on top and the sauce is visibly bubbling underneath.

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