How to Save Money on Your Next DIY Project

Whether you’re committed to redecorating your house, upgrading your kitchen or even renovating the entire home, without a bit of careful planning, things can very quickly spiral out of control budget-wise. 

On average in the UK, we spend over £7 billion every year on our DIY and decorating supplies, that’s a lot of money and it shows just how much us Brits love to take control of our own destinies when it comes to making changes around the home. 

With this can-do attitude in mind, this article will explore a few ways in which you can save some money on your next DIY project.

Make a DIY project budget

Budget doesn’t mean cheap, it means organised. If you plan ahead with a sensible project budget, then you’ll find yourself less likely to overspend while also being able to make sensible decisions on what can or cannot be achieved. Have a think about what you can afford or would like to spend on the entire project.

In the first instance, put together a spreadsheet of everything you think you’ll need to complete the project, including a bit extra for material wastage (on flooring, tiles, wallpaper etc). Don’t forget to add space to include quotes for any third party help you might engage or new tools you might need to buy and add in an extra 10% to account for any unexpected expenses or surprises.

Look out for special offers and online vouchers or coupons 

Patience is key when it comes to purchasing some of the bigger ticket items like kitchen appliances if you’re refitting your kitchen or spending on flooring or tiling materials and expensive tools. It can even pay to time your project to coincide with seasonal sales like Black Friday or the January sales. Shop around and take your time, and you might find some amazing deals that can save you heaps of cash against your budget. 

You might even find online vouchers or coupons for big DIY outlets. A B&Q discount code, for example, could have a dramatic impact on your overall spend and help to keep that project budget on track, perhaps allowing you to afford more than you originally planned for.

Renew, reuse, recycle

Not everything has to be new, and you can do some pretty amazing things with a very small budget if you’re prepared to mix frugality with a little creativity. For example, if your kitchen needs a facelift, then why not take a look at giving your existing doors a splash of paint and some new handles instead of investing in a budget-busting new kitchen? Perhaps your kitchen carcass in still in great shape and you just need to source some new doors to update the style? 

It’s very satisfying to hunt for bargains, or even freebies (check out Facebook groups and Freecycle for some great deals) and up-cycle them yourself into something far more exciting. Not only are you saving money, but you’re helping to save the environment too.

And so it begins…

The last month has gone a little something like this:

  • mad frenzy to get all work done before Christmas;
  • mad frenzy to wrap all remaining pressies up before Christmas;
  • mad frenzy of Christmas;
  • Boxing day, in a bit of a mad frenzy;
  • All the illness
  • New Years Party (ON DUDES!)
  • Littlest’s 8th Birthday
  • Back to work
  • Back to school

Of course the proper grind starts this week, I was back to work in the Phoney Work period last week- the roads were still unclogged by parents on the school run and commuters- so there were no classes or extra curricula lessons. I could come and go (almost) as I pleased. Today I had to drop the eldest off in the rain on my way in and have to rush back to feed them all before taking the two eldest to music lessons.

Come the weekend it will be almost like the ten day break had never happened. I’m still not very well, I managed quite a lot of sleep over the weekend, rather too much for someone who isn’t ill:

The next day I’ve got scheduled off work is mid/late February, so I think a few more nights like I had at the weekend are probably in order.

Almost everyone had the hump by the end of the break as nobody got to do much of what they wanted to do- I wanted a day out at the seaside but we were all too ill, wifey wanted to swap a couple of cabinets over but we were all too ill, we wanted to go and see the new Star Wars movie but, yes, we were all too ill, and so and and, cough cough cough.

New Year’s resolutions fell by the wayside in a helter skelter of illness but there is one thing I’m sure to be fit enough for, and that’s my first session in the Shape Up St Albans fitness campaign. No, this isn’t something I’ve blagged as a blogger, it’s a course run by Watford FC Sports & Education Trust for blokes of a certain age, weight and BMI. Sadly I smashed all the numbers for a place, and I’m looking to try and get myself going again. Last year was difficult for me in a number of ways, and a lot of sitting around and comfort eating occurred. Hopefully this will kick start me and mean that at some point in 2020 I can once again go back to weighing myself in stones rather than KGs (stones are too depressing at the moment). I like being fit and active but don’t so much like the process of getting from being unfit and lazy to being fit and active. Wish me luck!

The 20’s are coming and I think we need to look to the 1920s for inspiration

The 10’s started off well for us- Fifi turned one, Ned came along, I did some pretty cool stuff on the blog. They ended badly though- mum had a prolonged illness and passed away mid October, and since then we’ve had a series of firsts. First Christmas without mum, first grandchild’s birthday without mum, and so on. We’re interring the ashes on her birthday in February, so hopefully that will give me some of the closure I feel I’m missing. For someone who was terminally ill for most of the second half of the decade, mum went really quickly in the end. In typical mum fashion, her last communication to us all was “Sorry, I meant mortarboard” a realisation that saying to my wife she could just picture her graduating in her motorboat wasn’t quite what she meant. I’d have loved a note or a card left for me afterwards to remember her by but that wasn’t mum’s jam, so all I’ve got are the memories and as the time passes, the more recent memories where she was struggling and in pain are replaced by the bittersweet memories of my youth and earlier adulthood.

As we head into the 20’s on the back of an overwhelming Tory election victory, record food bank use and the prospect of a no deal WTO Brexit later this year (click here to see why no deal is likely), you’d be forgiven for thinking that we have little or nothing to look forward to. But for us the 20’s will be a decade where all our kids will turn 18, and we’ll both hit 50. As well as a decade of privation it’s going to be a decade of personal growth and exploration for us.

Much like the 1920’s, the Roaring 20’s as they were known, began with excitement (a post war boom in this instance), we can have our excitement and growth. I think the difference is, the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression of the end of the 20’s was somewhat unexpected. We can at least expect the worst and provision and provide as best we can for it.

Who knows, following on from a year when the eldest played in front of 3,500 at a local music festival, the 20’s could see our family put together a band that could play the modern equivalent of the gin joints and jazz clubs. I just hope that prohibition isn’t introduced at any point- I don’t think I could do without the odd jar and the idea of operating my own moonshine operation isn’t particularly appealing!

Tips for buying a new second hand car

With three small children, we had a very long period where money was tight and the idea of a nice shiny new car was just that; an idea. We went through a slew of used cars, ranging from SEATs to a Ford Focus and then a Vauxhall Zafira. You can’t be too precious with small kids and have to assume that your car will take a bit of a battering, so this makes it all the more important to know what you’re after, do your research properly and make sure you check any specific models for potential issues.

Take our Zafira for example. We knew we wanted a 7 seater with a large boot and research had shown that the 1.6 petrol was cheap as punters thought it was under powered. I’d read people on car forums genuinely suggesting that pulling onto a motorway in a 1.6 Zafira would see you taking your life into your hands if there was even a slight incline as the car was so under-powered. People are stupid though; a car weighing 1,403kg outputting 113bhp isn’t massively different than my old SEAT Ibiza Sport, which weighed a little over a ton and had 100bhp and that was a hot hatch back in it’s day! The power to weight ratio was definitely better than plenty of cars of the same age but we live in a world where Jeremy Clarkson shouts “MORE power!” at the top of his voice and derides sports cars that only have 500bhp as being anaemic, so I suppose we’re to blame for listening to him and his ilk.

The first Zafira we looked at from a dealer in Luton depressed us. It was expensive and the dealer had been using it to transport his 5 a side football team around it. A dog had also taken a bite out of the dashboard! But we persevered and found a well rated independent dealer about an hours drive away who specialised in selling ex mobility vehicles that tended to be low mileage and well looked after. This taught us the lesson that the dealership is almost as important as the car itself!

Now the kids are a bit older we’ve replaced the Zafira and when it came to looking for things to replace it with, it was definitely time to update my knowledge a bit. Interestingly the MPV is pretty much dead now, a lot of manufacturers have either dropped them or morphed them into SUVs- take the Peugeot 5008- 1st model was an MPV, the current model is a BIG SUV. Leg and headroom still aren’t the biggest issue for us, we’re looking at width (stop that sniggering in the back!) because with 3 kids, one of whom is still in a booster, the amount of elbowing that goes on is an issue. One of the models we’ve been looking at is Nissan’s Qashqai, we did look at the Juke but that’s really too small. It turns out the Qashqai was a very popular car among company car users, so there are plenty of well looked after second hand models around, you can even book a Nissan Qashqai Acenta with just a few clicks from KAP Motors if you want a test drive today.

When it comes to looking at a second hand car after you’ve decided on the model you want, there are a few specifics I also do:

  1. read up on sites like Parkers or Honest John. They both have extensive used car review sections that might highlight issues with your particular choice and give you things to look out for on potential purchases when you test drive them.
  2. if you organise a test drive, ask the dealership in advance for a cold start- that way if there is an issue starting it you’ll see it. Most garages will warm the engine up before hand if you’re not careful
  3. if you’re buying from an independent or privately, make sure you do a finance check to ensure that there are no outstanding debts on the car. The same goes for accident checks– the AA and RAC both provide a checking service
  4. Be open to finance deals, although the biggest savings are on new cars, you can get mad savings on used approved cars. My dad recently saved £1,750 on a Volvo by taking out 3 years 0% finance- that doesn’t make sense!
  5. a number of small dents in an older car are inevitable wear and tear but make sure the dents i) don’t break the paint exposing metal and ii) aren’t an indication of more serious damage- checking the door alignment is fairly easy, and uneven gaps in trim are a good indicator of something more serious.

Most of all though, stick with it- if a guide tells you a decent guide price for a particular car, don’t be afraid to walk away from something that’s overpriced!

6 Ways to Help Your Children Grow Their Self Confidence

There are lots of useful skills that children learn through schedules, routines and programs, and even more that they are able to learn through structured lessons in school. However, there are some life skills which children can’t just be taught, as they have to be given the opportunity to learn them for themselves. Self confidence is something which children have to develop in their own time, but that doesn’t mean that, as their parent, there aren’t things that you can do to help them along the way. So, with that in mind, here are six ways that you can help your children in their journey towards becoming more self-confident. 

Avoid over-praising

It may seem like the easiest way to boost your child’s self esteem would be to keep on praising them all of the time, but this can actually become counterproductive if you overdo it. In order to start feeling more confident within themselves, your children must learn to develop self efficacy and the ability to self affirm. That means giving them the space to provide themselves with praise and appreciation, rather than constantly seeking it from other people. 

Allow them to take risks

Children have to try and fail in order to learn new things, whether that means trying to climb a tree and scraping their knees, or trying a new hobby and finding that they aren’t as good at it as they would have liked. 

However, when children are overprotected, they often lose their ability to explore their curiosity and approach the world with the fearlessness that they need to discover new skills and abilities. Over time, this can often lead to anxiety and a lack of self esteem, so it is important that you allow your children to take reasonable risks every now and then.

Practice what you preach

In order for your children to understand self confidence, they need to be provided with a clear model of what it means to be confident within yourself, and the best person to provide that example is a parent or caregiver. If you want your children to develop good self esteem, then it is important to find ways to develop your own too. If you are someone who isn’t naturally self confident, then there are a number of things that you can do to improve on your self perception. 

For instance, you might decide to start doing more active hobbies that you enjoy, start pursuing more independent activities, or make some changes to your lifestyle or appearance that will help you feel happier within yourself. For example, if you are uncomfortable with your hair, you might decide to get a new hairstyle, or consider potential cosmetic procedures, such as by looking into trusted hair transplant reviews

Offer praise when appropriate

Although praise can often be misused or overused, when it is used in an appropriate manner it is very important for building self esteem. For example, if your child has accomplished something especially impressive, or if they are having a particularly bad day, then you can help to reaffirm their self confidence by pointing out their achievements, or by telling them something good to counteract some of the bad so that it doesn’t knock their confidence as much. 

Let them make their own way

As a parent, it can be tempting to want to protect your children from ever feeling or experiencing anything negative in their lives, but sometimes they have to go through their own battles in order to learn their own lessons and grow in confidence. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t still be there for them, but you have to accept you can’t always be the one to step in and fix everything for them. 

You can also help your children to learn on the go by giving them more responsibilities, as this will not only show that you trust them, but it will also give them a sense of accomplishment and show them what they are capable of achieving on their own. 

Support their dreams and goals

All parents want their children to be successful, which is absolutely understandable. However, this is unfortunately why a lot of children are told to pursue different careers to the things that they really want to do, as their parents are worried that their ideal careers might be impractical. 

If you want your children to be more confident in their abilities, it is important to be supportive of their dreams and goals, even if it is just as a hobby. 

Mourning the death of musical literacy

This week has seen a couple of depressing things happen. Firstly the musician Billie Eilish admitted she had no idea who Van Halen were. Secondly people got cross at her for not knowing who Van Halen were. And thirdly, people got cross at the people who were cross with Billie for not knowing who Van Halen were because Van Halen aren’t culturally relevant today.

In short: a lot of people are cross for a lot of different reasons, some to do with Billie Eilish, some to do with Van Halen and some just because they enjoy being cross.

Of course the comments condemning and mocking Eilish for not having an indepth knowledge of Van Halen are wrong. When Gareth Bale recently admitted he didn’t know who the British Prime Minister was but could name the 10 ten ranked golfers in the world, we rolled our eyes and wrote him off as another disconnected thick footballer. The fact Eilish is a woman undoubtedly saw her receive much more grief for her confession that a bloke would have but that’s not what I’m really interested in to be honest.

I’m not expecting every person who either likes listening to music or works in the music industry to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of 70 years of popular music but much like movie making is informed by what has gone before it, so too is music. An appreciation for other genres and time periods can only ever be a boon surely?

I’ve watched Billie in concert on the BBC’s Glasto coverage and although she’s not my cup of tea, I can see that she gave an extraordinary performance that should be applauded. There are plenty of forms of music I don’t like, I’m not a fan of grime, R&B, Nu metal, an a lot of modern pop but that doesn’t mean I know nothing about them. Considering I’m an old school rock fan (think Zep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath the Who, Pink Floyd, old Fleetwood Mac, branching out into 80s metal), I still love a bit of 60s psychedelia, 50s rock and roll, the new folk revival and some good old fashioned country. In the 90s I got into ambient and dance, good music is good music, pass me another Chemical Brothers album. Oh, and the best gig I’ve seen in the last couple of years was Grandmaster Flash- he was phenomenal.

So I’m sad.

I’m sad that Billie hasn’t heard of the original drummer turned guitarist (waaaay before Dave Grohl made it popular), and popularised the two handed tapping technique in the 1978 song Eruption (Guitarist magazine readers voted it the second best guitar solo of all time once). I’m sad that people think they can lay into her for it but I’m equally sad that others think the best way to stick up for her is to say Van Halen have no relevance today.

In a world where Spotify and Apple Music make it easy to skip songs on an album by an artist you love, the chances of people listening to stuff they don’t know or have any real interest in seems staggeringly remote. That also makes me sad.

I tend to find new music (or rather, music that’s new to me) from a huge variety of sources. Some of it is down to Spotify suggestions, but mostly it’s long involved tangential investigations into more or less entirely unrelated subjects on Wikipedia or Google that lead me down some very esoteric paths.

For example last month I listened to the KLF’s Chill Out album a few times and eventually thought, I wonder what actual throat singing sounds like outside of the sampled world of the KLF, so I did some digging and ended up listening to Achai by the Alash Ensemble, a traditional Tuvan Throat singing group. I’ve been mesmerised and it’s probably my most listened to album of the last few months.

I’ve also recently discovered the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and they’re great. There are a couple of tracks that you’ll probably have heard at some point on the telly in an advert or somewhere- Jollity Farm, the Urban Spaceman and Canyons of Your Mind are pretty well known. It can be something as simple as wondering where an ad on the TV sourced it’s music from.

I tend to drive the kids up the wall with the sort of music that gets put on in the car but they do get exposure to a very wide variety of music as a result. I’ve never felt prouder than the moment when we were in the car driving to Cambridge and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus came on the radio, the kids all sang along word for word. They hadn’t even heard the Depeche Mode original, rather they’d heard Johnny Cash’s cover version on the only CD in the car on endless repeat whenever we went out of decent radio reception.

The power money can have on relationships

Shepherds Friendly recently got in touch with me over some interesting research it’s done into the influence that money can have in relationships. It’s interesting to see how the dynamic is slowly changing with regard to money between partners. In my parents era it was more accepted that the woman would eventually become a mother (and perhaps even unspoken that job was really something to just tide you over until you found your man) and would stay at home to look after the kids until they were old enough to be left at home.

Today I can say this dynamic is changing but the fact we’re now past the date where women effectively work for free compared to men doing exactly the same job shows how far we still have to go. In our relationship we try to be very even and very fair- we have a joint account which all our money goes into and everything else goes out of that. Yes, it makes buying surprise gifts a bit tricky but at the end of the day I don’t see that the money aspect is important because we’re a team and as long as we both work our best for the family, that’s all that matters, not who brings in what. I know plenty of people who keep separate accounts and pay into a joint account for household expenses and while I can see the pros and cons of that, it’s just not for us!

Looking at the infographic that Shepherds Friendly has produced, it is also interesting to see where views diverge on a gender basis- there are some things like how much of a part money plays in a potential partner being attractive for example that have quite a wide gap (translation: men are shallow and go on looks but women are planning for the future) but others like sharing information about salaries where the genders pretty much agree that sharing is indeed caring.

Why don’t you click on over to the infographic yourself and have a look to see whether your approach fits in with the majority, you might find one or two things that could change your mind or approach for the better!

How To Keep Your Family’s Teeth Healthy

We all want happy, bright smiles for our family, but keeping those smiles healthy can sometimes be a little bit of a challenge, especially when trying to get younger ones on board. Family dental health is absolutely essential, especially when you’re trying to avoid the stress and hassle of an unwanted dentist’s trips with a painful toothache or worse.

 

So how can you keep your family’s teeth nice and clean? Here are some simple tips to keep everyone’s smiles in top shape.

Start dental care early

 

You should start thinking about dental hygiene as soon as those first cute little teeth begin to pop out – this means around six months, when milk teeth first start to show. 

 

Starting early means that you can prevent any dental issues from developing, and it also sets a positive habit in place. Create a routine of cleaning your baby’s teeth for two minutes twice a day, and make sure that you use a special children’s toothpaste, which contains less fluoride.

Enjoy a healthy diet

 

The health of your family’s teeth starts in the kitchen, especially the snack cupboard, and the food that you eat can help encourage stronger, healthier gums and teeth overall. Try and keep sugary snacks and drinks to a minimum, especially avoiding fizzy drinks, sweets and breakfast cereals that are high in added sugars. While you don’t need to cut them out completely, cutting them down to one or two servings a day can help improve you whole family’s diet.

Drink plenty of water

 

We all know that we should be drinking more water, and adding extra hydration is a great way of keeping your whole family’s health in good shape. Unlike sweet drinks, tea or coffee, water is a simple and effective way of keeping your teeth clean. Encourage drinking more water by giving everyone their own reusable special water bottle that they can fill up easily by themselves.

Start flossing early on

 

It’s a good idea to start flossing as soon as your children’s teeth start to touch each other, as food and plaque can easily start to build up here.

 

Make sure that your kids learn proper technique and practice to understand how to clean between teeth properly, and keep your bathroom cabinet well stocked with floss. Keep the information of a handy dental suppliers to hand so that you can find everything you need for your family online, without a fuss.

 

Stay on top of dental visits

 

Regular dental visits for everyone in the family are a must. As well as keeping on top of any teeth or gum issues, going regularly also means you’re less likely to develop the dreaded dental fear, as children learn that a trip to the dentist is a safe and pleasant trip.

 

Taking care of your family’s dental health means looking after your own too, so don’t neglect your own visits to make sure that your own smile is in great shape.

 

Form an orderly queue

As the nights draw in and it’s dark pretty much all day, apart from that hour or so that the brick wall outside my office window is bathed in sunlight, everyone is getting tetchy. Against the odds, despite it being dark from around 3pm, it is now completely impossible to get the children to bed. Or rather get them to stay in bed. Last night I tucked the younger two in at about 7:30pm and went to hide in the sanctuary* for a bit of peace and quiet. In the five minutes I was in there, I must have heard four or five extra-bedroom excursions from the two I’d put to bed, along with one from the oldest, who came out purely to see what the commotion was about. This happens at the end of the day, at the start of the day we often have Ned come in at around 6ish to ask whether he can have crisps for breakfast. When we say no, it turns out it was much like a retrospective planning application in that he’s already eaten half a tube of Pringles that we thought we’d hidden well enough to be safe.

It’s unrelenting but we normally get a small window of peace when we get home from work. The older two are old enough now to come home from school on their own, so it’s only Ned that goes to after school club. He normally disappears off to put a onesie on as soon as he gets home, on the off chance we’ll ask him to go out again.

Now though, it’s like some feudal nightmare in the early evenings. The peasantry line up impatiently to petition their king and queen with lists of grievances and demands for things that must be met or there will the the slamming of the doors and the stomping up the stairs. Recently I’ve not even managed to shut the front door before the litany of complaints has begun.

It’s all so wearing and I know I’ll miss it when they’ve grown up!

 

*it’s called the sanctuary as it has a lock on the door. And if you shout “I’m doing a poo!” at the top of your voice when people try to talk to you or get into the room, they tend to leave you alone for a bit.

Blue Monday

Mum went to sleep a month ago today and didn’t wake up. This proved to be the end of her long and arduous battle with cancer- multiple myloma. It was the way she wanted to go, at home and in her own bed.

The news came as both a surprise and not a surprise. I was surprised that mum made it past Christmas, and we had been planning for this Christmas, so in that sense it was a surprise but the last few times I saw her she had been very weak. The gruelling treatment for her cancer had unearthed a latent heart problem, and other things were starting to not work properly too. Time was definitely not on mum’s side but when time runs out it is always a shock.

The past month has gone by somewhat in a blur. There is a degree of unreality to it all if I’m honest. Over the last 18 months, as the cancer’s progression and the treatment had become increasingly gruelling, I’ve found despair all too often and upset myself quite a lot. I’ve shed a few tears since October 14 but nowhere near as many as I feel I should. I don’t think it’s sunk in properly if I’m honest. Perhaps it will be the situations like Christmas, or when dad does something stupid and I think, wait til I tell mum about what he’s done now, that I’ll realise.

The kids have been upset by it. To them, their Nanny was someone who used to make great trifles and lasagnes, gave them sweeties and a little bit of pocket money and generally made a fuss about them. She was ever so proud of her grandchildren and their appearance gave her a real second wind when it came to retirement.

Everyone loses their parents eventually, and if they don’t that’s the real tragedy I suppose. But it’s not easy is it?