Thursday, 27 August 2015

Managing Your Money Over Summer

I don't know about anybody else but I am feeling pretty poor right now.  Days out, new uniform, kids eating me out of house and home...whereas I would usually spend very little month to month on 'extras' this summer has possibly been the worst. 

Perhaps it is because we now have to pay for Eli to get into the majority of attractions whereas last year we didn't, or perhaps the kids have just needed to get 'out' more but whatever the reason, I have certainly realised that we will need to be more prepared next year to survive the summer holidays financially.

So here are my top tips for things I have learned about how to manage money over the summer, and things I will definitely be putting into practice this time next year.  And probably over half terms and the Easter break as well!

1. Plan, plan and then plan some more
I fell foul of this in a major way this summer and just didn't plan ahead.  Last year I had a colour-coded spreadsheet with ideas for free days out, paid days out and other fantastic ways to keep us all occupied.  I didn't stick to it but having the plan in place meant less last minute decisions which often prove to be the most costly.  Knowing in advance the things you might want to do, how much they are going to cost and whether you can afford them or not is always going to be more beneficial for your overall finances then doing things on the fly.  It could even be useful to sit down some months in advance and give your finances the once-over i.e. checking your credit score, where you are at with ongoing bills etc. 


2. Have a budget
We are huge fans of budgets and have one for each month, often several months in advance.  We can be quite cavalier with our spending if we don't take the time to watch and justify where our money has gone and having a budget is a great way to do this.  It's also useful to see how much spare money you have going in and out and what you can afford to put towards big events like holidays and Christmas and so on.

3. Start saving
Whilst I wouldn't say start saving now for next summer, I do think it's never too early, especially if your finances are tight and big expenses need to be carefully factored in.  Again with checking credit scores and working out budgets, you can see exactly how much money you could potentially save towards the things you want to do.  Click here to check your credit score now if this is something which would be of interest to you.

4. Keep your eyes open for bargains
A bit like shopping for Christmas (there's that C word again!), there's nothing wrong with grabbing bargains when you see them.  I noticed an increase in the number of emails from voucher and money saving websites in the run up to the holidays offering discounts on local days out and experiences.  In fact I bought one today!  A bit late to the party but still...perhaps keep your eyes open for discounts and vouchers as the holidays get closer.


5. Don't feel the pressure
I asked Meg and Eli today what the best part of their holiday had been so far...aside from their actual holiday in France they both said spending time with family...in other words, something which was completely free!  I think as parents we can feel the pressure to spend lots of money on fun days out for our children when actually, they aren't necessarily the things which stick in our children's minds.  Next year I will definitely be working on a 'once a week' ratio...as in only once a week will I pay to do something whether that is soft play or a trip to a local farm.  Whilst they are great and do often wear the kids out, so do plenty of free attractions and it's worth making a note of what is happening in your area and taking advantage.

What are your money saving tips?

Disclosure: this is a collaborative post.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Our French Adventures... {Part Two}

In my last post I shared about our journey down to L'Etang Vallier in the Charente-Maritime region of France, and some of the fun we had on the site where our villa was located, especially around the lake and the beach.

Whilst we spent most of the time chilling out and relaxing next to the lake and the pool, we did make a few day trips out to some of the surrounding towns and cities.  Pretty much everywhere we wanted to travel was an hour away from L'Etang Vallier, whether we were heading to Brantome or Saintes and so on.


First up was a day trip to Saint Emilion for a wine tour.  When I was writing Secrets of the River I got all my information on how wine was made from a book so I was really excited to see the process up close for myself.  Saint Emilion is more than just another quaint French village; it is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is plenty to do besides the wine tours offered although the vineyards do make up a huge part of the town's surroundings.


We opted for the wine train tour otherwise known as 'Train Des Grands Vignobles A Saint-Emilion'  This was a lovely little excursion on a small road train which takes you around the outskirts of Saint Emilion with stunning views over the vineyards and the town itself.  There was pre-recorded commentary in both French and English which provided an insight into the different vineyards and their owners which I found quite intriguing.




This was followed by a stop off at Chateaux Rochebelle; we were taken down into the monolithic caves to see where the wine is stored and 'brewed' before being taken upstairs to the shop to take part in a wine tasting.  I was a little disappointed that we were only given the one type of wine to taste as I think it would have been nice to compare but with the whole tour only costing €9 I can't really complain.



I was really at home amongst the vines.  Obviously.


After we finished the tour we had a little wander around the cobbled streets; Saint Emilion is absolutely beautiful and you could easily spend the entire day just exploring the little alleys and passageways.  Other attractions in the area include King's Tower, the Monolithic Church, the Cardinal Palace and the Market Halls although we didn't have time to explore these.


My wine tour buddies.  We all really enjoyed the tour.





Our other main day trip was to Pons.  We had passed through on our way to Saintes and took a risk in visiting as we weren't really sure what was there.  We were pleasantly surprised.  I got the impression that Pons is often overlooked in favour of nearby Cognac but it was a beautiful French town with some stunning buildings.  



The kids in particular loved the fountain in front of the town hall.  Luckily the weather was perfect for a quick splash.



I absolutely love just wandering almost aimlessly around and seeing what gems you can discover.  I probably come across as incredibly nosy peering into people's gardens but the streets were so quiet and nobody called me out on it!



I don't know whether you could occupy yourself for a whole day in Pons but it was certainly a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours; there was a children's playground for the kids to burn off excess energy and it looked like there were a couple of walks which took you further afield.  And, of course, there is nearby Cognac which looked like an excellent day trip as well.

That is pretty much it for our visit to France although I will be sharing a separate post about our time in Brantome and all that it has inspired for Secrets of the River book two!  I will keep you posted.
My Travel Monkey