When I made the decision over three years ago to become self-employed and work from home I have to confess it was on a bit of a whim.

(I know, that doesn’t sound like me does it??)

It was inspired partly by boredom and the desire for a new challenge*, alongside the need, as a single parent, for more flexibility. ‘I know what I’ll do,’ I said to myself, ‘I’ll become a freelance journalist! That’ll be fun’.

I had no money, no experience and no training, but I did have enthusiasm, a desk I hastily bought from ebay, and an extensive collection of stationery items. What more did I need?

Over the next few weeks I spent many a happy hour perusing the magazines in WHSmiths and organising my pens into colour order and before long I had carved out what one could almost describe as a career. If by career you meant ‘bizarre collection of jobs with no real plan for the future’. Job done. Or in my case, very nearly done, possibly tomorrow.

"Pens in colour order"

Ooh, pretty…

My difficulty, in working from home, comes from my apparent ability to be distracted by absolutely anything vaguely shiny or more interesting than what I’m currently doing. When you work from home, it’s amazing how alluring the washing up can become when you’ve got a copywriting deadline on the horizon. ‘Right,’ I will say to myself at 9am, ‘time to get cracking.’ And then I’ll wander off to make a cup of tea.

This year though will be different. (Aren’t they all?)

This year I’m going to try really, really hard to work more efficiently. Really truly honestly I am. (At the same time as losing weight, getting fit and reading the news more often obviously). This is my plan, my New Year resolutions as a work at home mum:

  1. If I am in the middle of doing something, just do that thing. It sounds obvious, but the number of times I go looking for an attachment, get distracted by twitter, start writing a blog post, bake a cake, and then come back two hours later to find I was in the middle of sending an email all along is just ridiculous.**
  2. Be stricter with my hours. Yes it’s lovely having the flexibility of being self-employed, but I need to focus on working the key hours when children are at school and then enjoying my time off without feeling guilty.
  3. Not check my emails and twitter every 27 seconds fearing that something Incredible And Amazing is going to be happening that I’m going to miss. Seriously, get over yourself woman, your life really isn’t that interesting.
  4. Make more of an effort to create a long-term plan. This is going to be a toughie as I have a real aversion to planning ahead. What if I change my mind? What if something else, something better or shinier comes along? Without long-term planning though it is all too easy to just say ‘yes’ randomly to any offers of work without thinking about how they contribute to your career objectives. Or so I’ve heard.

And that’s it. This time next year and all that.

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

*Not to mention a rather disastrous work fling

**It is worth noting that in the middle of writing this post I left to research and buy business insurance, to look at a recipe book and to eat an apple. You see my problem.

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Today I have been doing a Very Brave And Noble Thing.

Biscuit research.

I know, I know, the things I do for you, but you don’t need to thank me, just consider my festive biscuit findings my Christmas gift to you.

Fox’s sent me a selection of their Christmas biscuits to try and I, selflessly, have been testing them out, so I can recommend to you the six biscuits I think you need this Christmas. And I mean need. A Christmas without a tin of chocolate biscuits is like a tumbler without a gin and tonic in it. Just pointless.

So without further ado, I bring you your six essential Fox’s Christmas biscuits:

"Fox's chocolate edition"Milk chocolate jaffa viennese
From the Fox’s Chocolate Edition box, this is a truly wonderous biscuit, topped with jaffa and thick milk chocolate.

Good for: Enjoying all the deliciousness of a Jaffa Cake without the worry of the biscuit versus cake debate. This is definitely a biscuit.

Dark chocolate fudge sundae
From the same box, this is a biscuit for those who mean business. I mean come on, look at the name, it’s practically a pudding in a biscuit. It’s Christmas though. It would be rude not too.

Good for: dieters who want the fun of a massive slice of chocolate cake whilst at the same time being able to say ‘What me? No, I just had a biscuit.’

"Caramel rounds"Caramel rounds
These are so good, they come in a box all by themselves. Crunchy biscuit, gooey caramel, and thick milk chocolate. When Boyfriend saw these he made a strange gargling noise like when Homer Simpson sees a doughnut.

Good for: distracting boyfriends when you have ‘accidental’ January sale purchases you need to sneak into the wardrobe.

"Mini choc party rings"

Mini choc rings
I’m sure I don’t need to spell this one out. They are party rings, but chocolate, and mini. Party rings. Chocolate. Mini. See?

Three desirable biscuity attributes, but all in one biscuit.

Good for: Lunchboxes, so long as you don’t mind getting disdainful looks from the posher mums.

"Jam 'n' cream"

 

Jam ‘n’ cream
This is an odd one for me. There is something about them that sort of turns my stomach a little bit, and yet when I eat them, I want another one. They are my olive of the biscuit world – horribly moorish.

Good for: When you’re feeling daring. Go on, you know you want to.

"Bourbon"

 

The bourbon cream
The Jam ‘n’ cream can be found in the Fabulously Fox’s tin, along with all the classics including one of my all time favourite biscuits – the bourbon. Biscuit perfection.

Good for: Anything. Absolutely anything.

What’s your favourite Christmas biscuit?

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With only ten days to go until Christmas, and vast quantities of food, gifts and decorations littering the house, isn’t it time you deserved a little treat?

Of course it is.

And I’m not just talking a sneaky glass of sherry in the kitchen while you’re cooking. I’m talking about a proper fancy kitchen gadget.

Now, if you’re like me, forever grinding spices by hand and what not, you’ll be secretly hoping that someone buys you a James Martin Wahl spice grinder for Christmas. When you don’t find a spice grinder in your stocking though, (because to be honest, who knew you loved grinding spices so much?), what will you do? Sob into your sprouts?

No!

You’ll enter this competition instead of course. Silly billy.

"Spice grinder"

If grinding spices isn’t your thing, you’ll be pleased to hear you can grind coffee beans in it too. Or simply stick it under the bed and wait until next Christmas, when you can whip it out as a thoughtful gift for the budding chef in your life.

To enter, simply leave a comment on this post, telling me what your favourite spice is. (I like a bit of cumin myself.)

The competition will close on 29th December, to give you chance to enter once you’ve opened your presents and been disappointed.

Good luck!

As featured on Loquax Competitions

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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

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED.

Disclosure

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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"

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