Christmas isn’t exactly the time of the year when you think about saving money, but today I’ve got some advice and a competition that should be just what you need to start the New Year with good financial intentions.

You’re playing for two fab prizes today, so get your best competition hat on. First off, you get a copy of the super new book  ‘Money Smarter – a Family Guide‘. Money Smarter is a really interesting and practical guide to teaching children the value of money, with over 50 activities that you can try with your family:

"Money Smarter"

Look after the pennies and all that…

Then to go with it, you get this adorable leather purse from Lyla and Tilly, to put all your pennies in once you’ve saved them:

"Bird picture"

Tweet this post for an extra competition entry.
(See what I did there?)

You see? Everything you need for a debt free 2013!

To enter, all you have to do is have a read of these four family finance activities, taken from Money Smart, and then leave a comment offering your own money-saving tip or learning activity. The competition closes on Christmas Day, so you can get your money-saving kit in time for the New Year.

Good luck!

Four ways to teach children the value of money

Where does money come from?
As children, it’s hard to get your head around the idea of money, where it comes from, and what it gets spent on. Sitting down with your kids and explaining exactly how adults earn money is a really useful way to teach children the value of skills and experience. To make it more real, have a look at a selection of job ads. Talk to your children about the different kinds of jobs people do, how much they are paid, and what sort of skills they might need.

Need versus want
Children always seem to need the latest gadget or toy, but how do you teach them the difference between wanting and needing something? Imagine with your kids that you’re stranded on a desert island. Get them to think about what they’d actually need to survive, and what luxuries they might want.

Good debt versus bad debt
People tend to fear debt, but the important thing to learn is the difference between good and bad debt. Debt that will put money in your pocket at a future date is a good debt, a debt that doesn’t is bad. For example, investing in going to university is a good debt, as it will help you earn more money later, but just borrowing to go on holiday isn’t such a great investment. Look through some magazines and newspapers with your kids. Cut out three pictures that represent good debts, and three that are bad.

Your fun fund
Managing your money doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As well as saving for the future and paying the bills, there should always be a slice of your budget set aside for fun. How you spend that slice is up to you! With your children, come up with a list of things that you’d like to spend your fun fund on. Can you work out how long it would take you to have enough money for each of your fun activities?

Competition open to UK residents only. Competition closes on 25th December 2012. Your information may be used for marketing purposes by the Money Smarter team. You are free to unsubscribe at any time.

As featured on Loquax Competitions and ThePrizeFinder – UK Competitions




On Sunday night we went to Westonbirt Arboretum. It’s been somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit ever since we moved to Bristol and even though it’s about forty minutes away it was totally worth it. Their Enchanted Christmas runs throughout December on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings and we were led on a trail through the trees, all lit up with beautiful coloured lights.

After our walk we enjoyed hot chocolates and roasted chestnuts while listening to a fantastic male voice choir singing carols. Belle even met a green Father Christmas. It really was enchanted. Truly magical. If you are anywhere near Westonbirt do pay them a visit.

All these photos are taken by Bee.

"Westonbirt Arboretum"

"Westonbirt Arboretum"

"Westonbirt Arboretum"

"Westonbirt Arboretum"


"Westonbirt Arboretum"


“Have you been drinking?” Boyfriend asks. It’s nine o’clock in the morning and he is sniffing the air around me suspiciously. “I thought you smelt a bit boozy when you got home from netball last night.”

“Well I’ve had my breakfast gin and tonic obviously,” I reply, “but that’s all.”

Eventually we track the smell down to my hair. What I was smelling as an exotic blend of essential oils, Boyfriend was interpreting as the first signs of alcoholism.

For eight weeks now I’ve been trying out the Aveda Invati range of hair thickening and revitalising products:

  • "Aveda Invati"invati™ exfoliating shampoo – ‘Removes build-up that can clog pores and renews the scalp.’ – £19.50
  • invati™ thickening conditioner – ‘Restores strength and improves hair elasticity, reducing breakage.’ – £21.50
  • invati™ scalp revitalizer – ‘Helps energize and rehabilitate the scalp.’ – £43

I’ve always had annoyingly fine hair, so when this opportunity came up I jumped at the chance. (My thick, glossy hair bouncing seductively as I did.*)

Some people say I’m gullible when it comes to believing promises. I like to think of it more as trusting and open-minded. Whatever the case, I went into the trial with an open mind, hopeful that here at last would be the answer to all my glossy haired prayers.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Although it smelled nice, and left my hair feeling silky and soft, the shampoo and conditioner did nothing to improve the thickness of my hair. Nobody noticed any difference, even after eight weeks, and I’ve yet to be approached in the street to star in a hair commercial.

This is me before:

"Before using Aveda Invati"

And here I am after:

The scalp revitaliser was the tricky bit. I followed the instructions precisely – 8 sprays on each side of the head – but it left my thin hair feeling weighed down and oily, and needing to be washed every day, where normally I can get away with just tying it back no the second day if I’m feeling a bit lazy.

However, although it may not have had much effect as a hair thickener, the shampoo and conditioner on their own were really lovely. They smelt great, and left my hair feeling really soft, shiny and in good condition. Unfortunately I really can’t justify spending over £40 just on a shampoo and conditioner just because it makes my hair feel soft.



Wondering what to do with your Saturday night?

Let me tell you about what I did last Saturday, and see if I can inspire you. My last Saturday night in was spent courtesy of Family Bargains. For those of you who don’t know, Family Bargains is like the big sister of 99p Stores, where not everything does cost 99p. It still has though, as the name suggests, bargains for all the family.

There are plenty of good brand names, as well as more unusual products you may not have heard of, but for our Saturday night in, we stocked up on some old favourites, (wine and chocolate obviously), and splashed out on a new board game:

"Family Bargains"

I just had a quick look on the Debenhams website, and the game on its own is still £15, even though it is half price at the moment. We got everything in this picture though – an entire evening of fun – for less than twenty quid. Now that’s what I call a Family Bargain.

(Don’t look too closely, otherwise you’ll see that I have already eaten all the cherry liqueurs all by myself.)


This week I have been reading a new book by Grace Marshall called ’21 ways to manage the stuff that sucks up your time’.  There is a certain irony in this, as one of the ways I procrastinate is to read books about how to get things done. The great thing about this book though is that it is really simple and quick to read. There are 21 short chapters and each gets right to the point, giving you practical advice for how to be more productive.

I’ve picked my four favourite techniques, so that you can become as super organised and efficient as I now am!

1. Batch your bits

Sounds a bit rude doesn’t it? It isn’t. It’s about organising little tasks into clumps so you don’t get distracted. I am terrible at this. I have my email open, read one, pop over to twitter, get distracted by a link to something, look at some pictures, then fancy a cup of tea…

Is this just me? I hope not. Although I didn’t do too well in that adult ADHD test. Grace’s tip is to gather all these little jobs into chunks. It sounds simple, but if it’s that easy, why don’t we all do it? With emails in particular, Grace recommends having just one or two times every day when you read and reply to messages. You could even set up an automatic reply saying something like ‘I reply to emails between 3pm and 4pm so will get back to you then’, just so people know exactly what to expect.

2. The two-minute rule

This is a idea from David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’, (another book I’ve read as an alternative to actually getting things done), and this technique really resonated with me at the time. The idea is that if tasks come in that you know will take less than two minutes, do them right then. Don’t file them, don’t add them to a list, just get them done. Of course this doesn’t mean just flitting from one thing to another constantly – you have to work it into the bit batching idea, and only look at these sort of tasks at designated intervals.

3. Post networking post-its

Ah yes, networking. Everyone knows it’s a good thing but how many of us do it as effectively as we could do? It’s all very well to go along to an event and talk to people, but a friendly chat is never going to turn into anything other than that unless you follow it up. Unfortunately, if you’re doing it well, you’ll talk to a lot of people, and if you’re like me, when you get home and look at the cards you won’t be able to remember who anyone is or what you talked about.

Grace recommends writing a note to yourself immediately or very soon afterwards to go with each business card. This way, when you follow up, you can refer directly to your conversation. As someone who is hopeless at remembering faces, I’d also recommend making notes about the person’s appearance to help you recognise them if you meet them again!

4. Say no and stay nice

Another tricky one for me, as I always like to be accommodating if I can. With Grace’s technique though you get to say no but still appear helpful. Say someone calls you when you’re in the middle of something else. You want to help, but you’re busy. “Have you got a minute?” they ask. Well yes, technically you do have a minute, but these things always take longer don’t they?

So, instead you say something like “Yes, I’ve got two minutes now, or we can talk for longer at 4pm. Which is best for you?”

You see? Clever isn’t it? You haven’t really said no, but you turned it around so you’re saying yes on your terms.

What are your top tips for getting things done and not getting distracted?