money cashA budget is an incredibly useful financial tool. In basic terms, it’s a plan that provides an in-depth overview of your spending habits and earnings, so that you can establish a good idea of where your money is going. Provided you stick to the plan you make, you should find that your budget helps you to stay on top of your spending, and avoid using more money than you earn.

The problem with a lot of modern budgets is that they aren’t designed to work. While many people look at their typical monthly spending, they forget about extra expenses like your weekly coffee, or the newspaper you pick up on the way to work. With that in mind, it’s worth starting 2018 with a closer look at your budget, so you can make sure it’s as accurate as possible.

Organise Your Information and Take Your Time

The first thing you need to do when you’re getting an in-depth look at your budget is set aside at least an hour where you can examine the information you have carefully. Rushing your way through the experience makes it more likely that you’ll make mistakes. It’s a good idea to gather all the paperwork you’re going to need before you get started, so make sure you get hold of a few months of bank statements, along with copies of household bills, credit card bills, and savings.

Some people also find it helpful to look at their pension contributions and regular savings accounts too, as this gives a more complete overview of your financial situation.

Evaluate your Income

Once you’ve got all the information you need handy for creating a budget, make a note of your typical earnings from your employment. You should take off any of the money you don’t get to see, such as the amounts used for tax, student loans, pension contributions, and so on. Then add your additional sources of income from investments, savings, self-employment or anything else.

Give yourself an average of what you’ve earned over the last three months, and use that to give yourself a rough idea of what you can expect to earn in the coming months.

Track Your Essential Spending

Now it’s time to start thinking about how much money you spend in a critical way. Categorise your payments so you have an idea of where your cash is going. For instance, you might have categories that include your mortgage payments, childcare, groceries, utility bills, and travel. Then gather your bank statements, credit card bills, and household bills to check you’ve got all the numbers right.

As you did with your income, calculate the total amount spent on essentials over the last three months, then subtract that from your monthly earnings. This will help you to see what your “disposable” income should look like.

It might also be worthwhile to consolidate some of your essential spending into one lower, affordable payment. Particularly if you have a lot of priority debt payments. Sites like Readies.co.uk can advise you on this and help you make an educated and informed decision.

Review Your Disposable Spending

An accurate insight into how you’ve spent your disposable income up until now will help to prevent you from over, or under-budgeting in certain places. Keep track of how much you’ve spent of your disposable income over the last three months so that you can calculate an average. If you put money into savings or an emergency fund, you should keep a note of that too.

This is the point where you might start to discover that you’re spending more than you earn. If this is the case, you need to start re-thinking the way you use your disposable income.

Choose a Budget You Can Stick to

Now that you have an accurate picture of your spending habits, you should be able to draw up a budget that feels more realistic for you to stick to. Use your spending figures for the last three months, and you could even calculate how much money you could potentially save if you can cut down on unnecessary spending.

Just remember that life is an ever-changing thing, and once you’ve drawn up your budget, you’ll need to keep an eye on how faithfully you’re sticking to it and adjust your expectations accordingly. Most experts recommend revisiting your budget every month, as this way, if you’re constantly overspending, you’ll be able to readjust your strategy before it has too much of an impact on your financial goals.

If you have trouble keeping track, you could always try downloading a budgeting application onto your phone or computer that will help you to assess your finances each month.

 

National chocolate cake dayThis is just what you need in January to beat away the cold and dullness of the first month of the year – National Chocolate Cake Day!

Who knew?

Num Noms got in touch and asked if we’d like to do a spot of chocolate cake baking to celebrate the day which, of course we replied yes to! They sent us through a Series 4 Deluxe set plus a couple of Mystery Pots. Before we go any further, let me explain what Num Noms are…

Num Noms Deluxe

The Nums are hollow characters made out of a soft rubber material in bright colours with faces and a very close resemblance to cakes. Noms are the inner bits that fit inside and can include a variety of characters like nail varnishes, lip glosses or motorised characters. The beauty is you can change the Num as often as you like.

The twins were delighted to receive the Num Noms Series 4 Deluxe set and spent ages playing with them and sorting them out in their bedroom. The mystery pots are a great idea as they are an economical treat with a lovely Num Nom inside.

Num Noms Series 4 Deluxe

National Chocolate Cake Day

Now let’s get back to the chocolate part of this post …

Num Noms sent us through two Bake in the Box chocolate cakes and lots of ideas to decorate with. I must say, I have not seen the Bake in the Box before and it is a perfect product to entertain children and not end up with a whole kitchen to clean!

National chocolate Cake Day baking

The ingredients come in a sachet which you pour into the box and simply add milk. Stir it all until a smooth mixture forms and bake in the oven.

Bake in a box chocolate cake

Once cooled you can eat or decorate.

As you can imagine the girls had great fun making, baking and decorating their chocolate cakes. I would definitely recommend the Bake in a Bo cake as a great baking project with the children and judging by how much my two love their Num Noms, I’d say they make an excellent gift too.

Disclosure: We were sent the Num Noms Series 4 Deluxe box and a couple of Mystery Pots for the purpose of this post. All opinions are our own.

winter sun

This month has flown by, I am surprised by how one week rolls into the next and before I know it, the month of January is on it’s way out!

Last time I wrote, I spoke about my choice of word to guide me through 2018, Willpower. This post is a catch up to see how far I have got and what changes, if any, to make.

My biggest achievement to date is my Couch to 5K efforts. I am so surprised at myself – pleasantly surprised. Let me explain …

I have always been one of those people who sniggered when they saw runners struggling up hills – why would you do that when you can sit comfortably at home? Who raised eyebrows at the sight of runners out in the rain and I have always declared – I am not a runner. I don’t like running. I will never run.

Fast forward to January 2018 and I have had to eat my words – every single one of them.

Oast house Ifield

I have joined our local SLGR (So Let’s Go Running) group who meet on a Tuesday evening, which conveniently ties in with the twin’s Brownie session, and I take part in the C25K training (Couch to 5k). This is all part of my Willpower challenge with myself. I have notoriously, all my life, started activities and then religiously dropped them a few weeks in for all manner of ridiculous reasons. I am determined to change this even and complete the C25K even if I don’t know what will happen once I reach the 5k (if I reach the 5k).

To give you a better insight into what the C25K challenge is I have copied the program below, I have completed two weeks and on Tuesday will be tackling Week 3 – a two minute run with 90-second walk intervals.

Weeks 1-6 start with 5 mins walking warm-up

Weeks 1-5 = 4k
Weeks 6+ = 5k

Week 1 – 30 sec run/90 sec walk
Week 2 – 60 sec run/90 sec walk
Week 3 – 2 mins run/90 sec walk
Week 4 – 2 mins run/1 min walk
Week 5 – 4 mins run/1 min walk
Week 6 – 5 mins run/1 min walk
Week 7 – 7 mins run/1 min walk
Week 8 – 10 mins run/1 min walk
Week 9 – 15 mins run/1 min walk
Week 10 – 5k run

It’s advisable to repeat the run at least once every week, so last week I took part in my first Park Run and this morning, Sunday, I went out on my first solo run and re-ran the course we complete on a Tuesday. I was amazed that I did it and I had a better time too. I am incredibly proud of myself as I have always been so anti-running and yet, here I am doing exactly that.

I am using the Strava app to record all of my runs, connect with me if you’re on there too.

my strava runs

For now, I can safely say I am on track with this aspect of my Willpower challenge. Other areas included

Writing – and on this, I am slacking but for all good reasons that, if they come to fruition, I shall be more than happy to share with you.

Reading – I am on my third book this year, a good Patricia Cornwell. I used to read her books when I lived in Italy and discuss them in minute detail with my friend Nicoletta so reading this book takes me back to those times too.

Getting fit and losing my baby weight (yes I know it’s been 9 years!) – There hasn’t been much movement on the scales to date but I have been trying to work my way through all of the Christmas chocolate. I am nearly done with it and so hopefully this will start to improve too. Half a stone off and a tighter tummy by June – here I come.

Let it be said I am happy with my willpower progress, it might not be 100% but so far so good. Well done me!

The photos above were taken on a recent family walk ;)

Marianne Weekes

marianne weekes

Willpower.

That is the word I have chosen to take me through 2018. I have a feeling I’m going to need a lot of it as I have set myself some high goals to attain and, knowing myself well, I will need constant pushing, coercing and chivvying along until I reach where I want to be.

2017 has been a year of enormous unforeseeable change for me, I went from a part-time job to a full-time role in January and discovered it was increasingly difficult for me to juggle the work-life balance. When school kids have 13 weeks holiday, the 21 days I had this year went nowhere. I am all too aware that this moment in the twins life will flash by in front of my eyes so I’m determined to make the most of it and get to spend some quality time with them that, they can learn from and carry through in life.

I changed job in November. I started as a TA in our local primary school, a job I have never previously considered. I quickly discovered that I loved it and recognised so many possibilities to make this role work even better for me. Studying will most definitely be a part of my 2018, I’m not sure which course or direction but anything from a 1-year course to a full-blown degree. More on that news to follow.

A second idea I have been toying with is a Couch to 5k running class, I know – ludicrous. Me, who HATES running. But, I’m unhappy with my figure, I’m unhappy with my fitness levels and my general health so I need to do something about it whilst I am still able to. My only concern is for my knees which I can only assess once I start running.

I have found a local running group and should start my first lesson in January, plus it’s free!

I want to start practising yoga, I want a stronger core and a clearer mind. I’m searching for a Saturday morning class to attend.

Finally, I’ve convinced myself to pick up a project I started with great enthusiasm a couple of years ago and then left to one side for lack of time available. I believe this project still has legs so I’m determined to complete the first stage in 2018. Then I will be able to see if it has legs to go further or not. I hope it does. I have spent many hours dreaming of how far this could go and I will only know if I set the wheels in motion. Wish me luck!

I am very aware that I will need great discipline to achieve the above. I am also conscious that this is the area I let myself down in most, therefore I call upon my chosen word WILLPOWER to be my guide this year.

And you? Do you have plans for 2018? Have you a chosen word to accompany you?

Maybe Willpower isn’t the word for you; take a look at what some of my friends have chosen as their word of the year for further inspiration…

Tanya  chose Enough

Michelle went for Believe

Becky seleted Choice

Kate has settled for Mind

Best books for children

Books are always the best gift for anyone. If you’re stuck for somebody’s present there will be a whole shelf of books to choose from that they will thoroughly enjoy. Reading has always been very important to us as a family and right from the start books have been present in the girl’s lives. As babies, they had fabric books and as they have grown, so has their passion for reading – something I am keen to continue to encourage. I make sure they always have a choice of books of all different types to choose from and encourage them to read at every possible moment.

Harper Collins sent through a collection of their top books for children and asked the girls to make a video including their thoughts on each book which you can watch below…like most 9-year-olds my two want to have their own YouTube channel which I shall be setting up over the Christmas holidays for them but in the meantime, you can watch their first work on my YouTube channel.

Books for children

I think you will agree that there are some fantastic titles which are sure to intrigue even the less focused children by pulling them into some great stories and taking them on an unforgettable journey. I must admit, I shall be dipping into some of them myself!

Here is a handy list of the 2017 best-selling books for children included in the box, all of which you can find on the Harper Collins website and all of the best bookshops.

Books for under 5s

Bing’s Christmas Wish – Amanda Hepworth

Kevin – Rob Biddulph

Sunk – Rob Biddulph

Boogie Bear – David Walliams

Here we are – Oliver Jeffers

Books for children 5 – 7

Paddington Movie books

The Grotlyn – Benji Davies

Books for children 8 – 12

Geek Girl – All Wrapped Up – Holly Smale

Toto – Michael Morpurgo

Paddington 2 – Anna Wilson

Skulduggery Pleasant – Derek Landy

Birthday Boy – David Baddiel

Bad Boy – David Walliams

Here are our other children’s book reviews as we’d thoroughly recommend any of these too.

Kaspar Prince of Cats

Top books for tweens

The Grinch who Stole Christmas

Disclosure – We were sent a box of books for the purpose of this post, all opinions are our own.