FIRE habits: a simple week’s routine

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘a journey begins with a single step’, and it’s a helpful reminder that even the most ambitious of ventures starts with just taking action. The more I engage in the FIRE journey (which continues to be much less about FIRE and much more about conscious living), the more important it is to remember that the single steps are actually the whole journey, and the journey *is* the destination.

Before I mix too many metaphors, perhaps it’s simpler to say that these days I focus more on the steps than the goals. Through peer coaching over the last year or two it became clear to me that my goals are sharp and focused: and my One Next Thing is also clear. What I was lacking though, was the idea of the messy middle section, or, what my life needed to be and become to get from here to there. So this post is about the small habits I’ve crafted and a look at how they worked this week.

Take time to smell (or plant, or photograph) the roses. Photo by Randy Tarampi on Unsplash
  1. Make time for gratitude: I’ve written before about my morning routine, which has been crafted to include mindfulness practice, gratitude journaling, and goal setting, all in about 30 minutes. Whilst I have to admit that I now do this probably three times a week instead of every day, I try and integrate gratitude practice throughout the day. This might sound very modern, but it’s also akin to what my granny would have called ‘prayer‘. Saying thank you before food, when receiving something, and before sleeping or travelling used to be much more ingrained into our daily lives than it is now, but it’s a habit that really makes a difference. If you really want to say thank you, be a British person asking for something in a shop – my son counted and the shopkeeper and I said ‘thanks’ three times each. Apart from generally making the world a nicer place, there is evidence that gratitude and appreciation contributes to our sense of optimism, and is one of the practices that can make you even more optimistic: something I can definitely appreciate in these challenging times.
  2. Meal plan, and stick to it: this is one of the major tools in my (seemingly never-ending) battle with my spend on groceries. I’ve always quite enjoyed the meal planning bit, but as with my early budgets, treated it as evidence that I was Doing The Right Things and promptly ignored it. So now I take a bit of time one weekend morning over coffee to look through the special offer flyers – these come through the door once a week in Denmark, and list all the different supermarket offers – and have a poke through the fridge, freezer and cupboards to see what we have. Then I talk to the kids and let them nominate two meals each (small salad-refusing daughter invariably says pizza and pasta, but we live in hope), and we sketch out the evening meals. I try to make it so they are logical: a roast chicken on a Sunday, then leftover chicken in a risotto on a Tuesday for example, or making sure that we don’t OD on over-regular infusions of tomato sauce and mozzarella. Then I check against the commitments for the week so that the things which take more time are planned for the evenings when I, well, have more time. The proof of the meal planning is in the eating, though, so the focused work is then sticking to the plan and not heading off to the supermarket.
  3. Check my finances: I tend to so this daily but I am also trying to trust the budget and wean myself off it. But checking in weekly means I can make sure I know what’s coming up; see if there are any sneaky tricks I have pulled on myself; and, hopefully, have a mental pat on the back for everything being in order. It has definitely taken a while to get here though, so if you are starting out then do check your bank daily (not your investments though, that way madness lies). Keeping a real eye on your spending is easily done through looking at your account regularly: whilst the odd £5 or even £15 here and there might not feel like a lot, seeing how it adds up will help keep you focused.  
  4. Do one big chore: well, they might not be that big, but it’s the kind of things where if they build up, they make me feel crazy. Recently I’ve been focusing on de-cluttering, going through the various bits of the house where crap piles up, and trying to feel like I only have things in the house which are beautiful or useful. I’ve also this week started with the Minimalists podcast which has lots of inspiration. We started the 30 day minimalism challenge as well this month – more on this soon. Other chores in this list include mowing the lawn, descaling the taps (thanks hard water in Denmark) or other thrills. But knowing I do one thing a week keeps me from waking up with randomized anxiety about the tasks undone.
  5. Get some fresh air: maybe not as obvious as the others, but I try and work out my exercise and fresh air intake over the week. Because we’re so busy with the usual minutiae, this often means a big walk at the weekend. I am always shocked by how much better I feel after a blowy walk. There is evidence (and not only just from talking to my mum for whom the answer to all problems is either a) a walk in the fresh air or b) a hot bath) that getting outside really does make you healthier, even compared to doing the same exercises inside.
It’s beautiful out there…

What do you do each week and how is it helping your journey? I’d love to hear from you!

Budget Check In: February

My second proper budget check in (having been blogging for 14 months. Small victories). And a lovely short month to focus on, after January which seemed to last 3100 days instead of 31. However, it did contain the February half term holiday; and an even-more-enormous-than-usual heating bill after I did the meter readings and it turned out we used a whole heap more than anticipated in 2020. This was also the month that we had to pull the house deposit together. But here we are: a check in of spending and saving for this month.

Month 2! Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

I carried on the habit of tallying up the budget weekly, which I found really helpful. What I also noticed was that I do well throughout the month then have a sudden splurgy freakout in the last week and get takeaways etc and generally let loose. I had never really understood that I did this, and it’s so helpful to identify habits like this and be able to work on them.

So, how did we do?

  • I spent £6,164, or 133% of my monthly budget. This clearly sucks. There were three issues this month: £700 on winter tyres (I didn’t need them last year, but with temperatures of -9 and weeks of snow and slush, this year I really did). We also went on holiday for the February break, which cost £978, sharing a holiday home with another family just a 90 minute drive away. This felt expensive but it was totally worth it to spend time with others, somewhere with a heated pool and a hot tub. Money well spent having not spent a night away from home since June. Finally, we had a monster heating bill of £1,000 which will be the same every quarter this year. Blimey. We got all the old jumpers, socks and blankets out the day I got that bill, so fingers crossed that we won’t have another such bill next year.
  • There were some smaller over-spends against the monthly budget but these should work their way through. I spent £100 on a birthday gift for a colleague where others will pay me back; and another £100 on a series of exercise classes prescribed by the doctor, where my health insurance should cover the cost. Starting that exercise class is hopefully a step on the road to a healthier me, but oh my gosh it’s total hell.
  • But there were also lots of areas where I was well under the budget, and I spent 104% of the grocery budget which is the closest I have come to sticking to this one and which I am proud of! So, some gains in spite of the overall overspend.
Winter tyres. Surprise huge payment! Photo by Sid Ramirez on Unsplash
February
Item Monthly BudgetSpent Feb% of monthly budget
Childcare costs £         1,100.00 £          730.0066
Car (insurance, tax, petrol) £             125.00 £          731.82584
Charity £                66.67 £             25.8339
Eating out £             120.00 £             92.7177
Entertainment – subscription £                50.00 £             37.2474
Entertainment £             100.00 £             16.0216
Kids – extra curricular £             250.00 £                     –  0
Family £                50.00 £                     –  0
Groceries £             400.00 £          417.87104
Holidays  £             300.00 £          978.41326
Insurance £             200.00 £                     –  0
Personal care £                30.00 £             73.45245
Shopping – general £                25.00 £          134.12536
Shopping – gifts incl birthdays £                58.33 £             86.00147
Shopping – clothes £                29.17 £                     –  0
Rent and Bills £         1,500.00 £      1,500.00100
Transport £                41.67 £          101.16243
Utilities £             200.00 £      1,240.24620
TOTALS £   4,645.83 £      6,164.87133%
Savings though – am I sitting on a pile of cash yet? Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash
 Monthly BudgetFebruary% of plan
Mortgage Capital  £                    865 £                 865100
Mortgage Overpayment  (actually deposit this month) £                1,250 £                100080
 Emergency Fund  £                    100 £                100100
ISA £                1,250 £                50040
Kids savings £                    248 £                248100
SIPP £                    300 £                300100
  £   3,148.00 £ 3,013.0087

Whilst the savings rate doesn’t look as good, I didn’t count up everything extra that I paid to my deposit for our house in Denmark, which all had to be in the account by the end of this month and which is in place! That’s £90,000 as a down payment ready in the bank, waiting for a big decision next month. I struggled to get the last little bit in place, so even though it looks as though I saved less than planned I am pretty confident that any additional money trickled into the deposit account and will count as capital at some point!

Overall I saved 34% of my income, and spent 66% which is a little worse than planned.

Hopefully this is because of money spent – such as on the car – where it will balance out over the course of the year. And I am proud of some of the areas where I have been able to really control my spending and starting to see changes, such as grocery spending.

How was your February? I’d love to hear how its going!

Risk and the single girl / parent

Risk is such a huge part of life. Every decision we make has an inherent risk attached to it, but most decisions are not something we give that much thought to. Maybe we should: the arguments around tiny habits and the difference they can make is certainly compelling, but at least for me I rarely think of these small things in terms of risk.

When it comes to finance, though, risk can start to feel like something that we have never dealt with before. And it is something of a different game. In finance, risk is predominantly thought of as the other side of the coin to returns. You make a decision about what to do with your money, invest it (including in real estate) and the chance of not getting the outcome you hope for or anticipate, is the risk.

In daily life, we all take risks all the time based on previous experiences and on trends that we know from others. It’s rarely possible to eliminate risks, rather, you can aim to mitigate them. Risk is also about balance. I cycle home from work (well, I did in those halcyon days when we left the house) even though I know cyclists are 15 times more likely to die on their journey than car drivers. Side note: cyclists are so well looked after in Denmark that the stats might be different here but I couldn’t find them. But I take into account the health benefits of regular exercise in the fresh air, and I mitigate other risks by wearing a helmet, having lights, and only cycling in bike lanes.

I am too risk averse to cycle in a short skirt, but this is a great route: Photo by Febiyan on Unsplash

Before investing, it’s good to understand your attitude to risk. Financial advisors have a nifty little questionnaire they use to assess your risk appetite, but you can do a lot of that analysis yourself by using the following questions:

  1. What can you afford to lose? If the answer is ‘none of it’ then you are going to be looking at some very conservative approaches. This is a good question to help work out a sliding approach to investments, where you safeguard what you absolutely cannot lose in cash or bonds, then portion out other percentages in increasingly high risk investments. There are funds that will do this for you as well: Vanguard’s LifeStrategy funds for example are staggered so as to offer a simple option for people in different phases depending on how close they are to retirement. I also ask myself this question every time I invest, especially in non-traditional areas. When I invested in cryptocurrencies for example, I only put in what I could afford to completely lose. My tolerance is more around ‘potentially losing my ability to go on holiday that year’ rather than ‘potentially losing my house’. Naturally the answer overall will also depend on where you are in life, and relates to question two:
  2. What are your goals and timings? If you are about to retire and need a guaranteed income, aggressive risk taking is unlikely to be for you. However, I invest my personal pension for example in relatively high risk investments because I can’t take it for another 20 years. If you are likely to need you money at a specific time, such as if you are saving for a house, then you’re less able to accept the risk of a volatile stockmarket. What this means basically is if you have to pull your money out at a particular time, there is a chance that particular time might coincide with a period of poor performance and you would make a loss. If you can wait for your money, you are much more able to tolerate risk.
  3. What is your own personal risk appetite? I think I’m quite a risk taker. I’ve lived all over the world, sometimes leaving at short notice, with small children in tow. But I definitely find that as a single parent with, as mentioned, no Plan B, I can be somewhat risk averse when it comes to money. So don’t be surprised if you find that you lit-party-girl sense of self isn’t the one holding the purse strings – and let’s be fair, this might not be a bad thing.
Sometimes it’s the risk which makes it fun. Photo by Valentín Betancur on Unsplash

But when the markets went into freefall in 2020, what I thought I discovered was that my risk tolerance on paper was much greater than in real life. I’ve reflected on this a lot since then, as I tweak my FIRE plan, and I am not sure that was accurate. Rather, my risk tolerance during my first financial shitstorm, was pretty low. But having lived through it, and seen that what feels irreversible very rarely is, has built another layer of confidence that I don’t think I would have got without the experience. In other words, you gotta be in it to win it.

But its easy to only consider the risk of taking action, rather than the risks of inactivity. As Tim Ferriss says, “Risk is the potential for an irreversible negative outcome”. And that is what can paralyse us in terms of decision making: the idea that the negative outcome is permanent. I remember being about 13 and choosing my GCSE subjects, and feeling for the first time that I was making an irreversible decision which would set the trajectory for A Levels, university, job – basically my whole life until death. I’ve made many, many switches since then, but that feeling of taking a giant pair of scissors and shearing off possible futures, is something which I still get when making big decisions. And since my decisions now impact on my kids, sometimes making decisions can feel impossible.

And sometimes, we can get caught up in fear spirals, and chalk them up as ‘balancing risk’. Tim Ferriss also has a great series of pieces on fear-setting as risk management: taking time to walk through your concerns and really understand ‘what is the worst that can happen’ can give you new insights onto what is holding you back. Every decision has to be a mix of not just financial, but mitigating the risks of living a half life – not FOMO, but really missing out on showing up as your full, amazing self with all the passions and gifts you come with – are real.

I kind of hate the phrase ‘living my best life’ mostly because it sounds so InstaSmug, but I think that’s what risk management really boils down to. Look at all the aspects first, not just the finances, and trust your judgement.

Love Life, Love Oprah: Photo Credit

Buying a house is a great example of this. I am in the process of buying a house based on a relatively simple set of calculations about rent vs mortgage+costs. But I am sunk into a total spiral of worry about all the things which could go wrong and, frankly, just what an enormous amount of money it seems. I keep coming back to two things: one is the calculations I made on affordability, stability of my contract etc; the other is the risk of spending another £120,000 on rent which I feel would be better somehow in my portfolio. And again, risk balancing isn’t just the financial – I want to have somewhere I can paint, and plant trees, and feel at home. If the flipside of the risk is that I am responsible for the whole thing then hopefully my research, pre-purchase survey, and emergency fund, will get me through it. Fingers crossed, anyway!

What is your attitude to risk? And how does it impact on your decisions? Look forward to hearing from you!

Frugal challenge: the grocery budget

Ah food. Pancakes with sugar and lemon on a Sunday morning. The smell of roasting chicken with garlic and thyme. An apple so crisp it’s like cracking ice. Watching a movie with your arm sunk up to the elbow in a bag of Cheetos. Heaven.

Also known as The Giant Budget Sink Hole.

Food matters to me. It makes me think of family, taking care of my children, and warm hygge home making times. I always cooked with my granny and my mum, and as kids we had to be able to prepare one meal a week for the whole family by the time we were 9 years old. This is something I do with my own kids: it makes no sense to raise children who can’t feed themselves! Plus then I get a night off.

With my ethical hat on I also care about where food comes from and that that does to the planet, as well as to our health as a family. The debates during Brexit about food standards have been divisive (Brexit topic shocker!) but also showed me how little I had appreciated the standards in place for animal welfare and ethical consumerism. The desire for cheap food, without caring where it comes from and any longer term impacts, opens up some terrifying options for dystopian future, and I say that in a time which sometimes feels more like dystopian right-now than anything else. In Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake, she introduces ChickieNobs: the delicious, easy pieces of chicken we love to eat so much grown in a lab without the need for actual animals. That novel was written eight years ago – last year, start ups were raising hundreds of millions of dollars to do exactly that through the growth of ‘cultured meats‘.

In spite of all that, I would be pretty happy to arrive at *this* party. Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

All this to say, when it comes to food, as with all aspects of FIRE, it really matters that it’s about value and not just price. This year, I want to commit to making more conscious decisions about food. I was raised a vegetarian from birth, and stayed that way until I was 26. So a lot of our meat consumption is about ease, and about having one fussy child who is vehemently anti-vegetable. And laziness on my part. But I’m increasingly aware of the need to do better in this area, and how the small choices I make contribute to my own FIRE journey and to my footprint on the planet.

But I also think of myself as someone who is frugal with food, and that just ain’t so. In 2020 I spent £6,160 on groceries plus £2,100 on eating out. I am so, so fierce about not eating out that I am frankly astonished at that last figure: I go for dinner with friends maybe once or twice per year, and whilst we do have a take out pizza once a month the bill is usually £30 a time, so the rest is a mystery. This year I budgeted £4,800 for groceries, so savings are going to have to be made. It took me a while to get to a realistic grocery budget, but it will take a while for it to stick. I love Mrs Smart Money’s guide to setting a grocery budget, and if you are looking for inspiration, do read about her no spend year and how she slashed her spending on food without losing out on quality.

We already shop at discount supermarkets: in Denmark that means LIDL (and my mum and I talk on the phone about whether they have the same things on offer in the UK as here. Rock and roll): and Rema 1000. These are so much cheaper than the fancy supermarket, and I am also not tempted by the delicious bouji foods which are on offer there.

Ideally following the shopping list rather than just staring in surprise at the receipt. Photo credit

The building blocks of cutting food spending seem pretty easy, but, like any diet habit, it’s about how much you stick to them and whether you have emotional splurges:

  1. Meal plan. This is the most important thing, because the shopping and preparation all stems from here. Who is eating at home and when (in 2020 and, seemingly, 2021 this is a trick question since the answer is ‘all of you’ and ‘all the time’). What are the things you like to eat? How are you going to get your five-a-day? From then, the questions are around how you can stretch out both the food and the preparation – things like roasting a chicken then using the cold leftover meat the next day or two; or cooking a basic batch tomato sauce which can then be turned into spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, or the base for a chilli. I have been meal planning for a while, but I am still terrible for thinking ‘ooh I don’t feel like that any more, let’s have something else’. Practice makes perfect.
  2. Stock-take and write a shopping list: When you have meal planned, break it down into the ingredients you need for the week. Then check your cupboards/fridge/freezer and check you have what you need. Are there things you’ve not included but need to check, like coffee? I have a page up on the pinboard in the kitchen where I write staples like this, or flour, oil and so on Write them all down in a list which is easy to use, organised by the shops if you’ll visit more than one, then by aisle if you can remember such things.
  3. Batch cook, or batch prepare: Batch cooking is now so well known that there are whole books about it but it’s basically making things in big enough quantities to freeze additional portions and basically create your own ready meals. It’s just as much hassle and time to prepare five portions of something as it is one, and it usually works out much cheaper. Every week I make a basic roasted aubergine and tomato sauce every weekend (don’t tell my daughter it has aubergine in, fur would fly) and use this as a tomato sauce base. My top tip on batch cooking is to label everything properly, otherwise Freezer Surprise will be a regular on the menu: and freeze it in portion sizes so you don’t have to defrost and potentially waste a whole load of goodness.
  4. Batch prepare: In an effort to increase my vegetable intake, I make a dry coleslaw mix (basically just the vegetables) using the food processor, every week. This week I grated up carrot, beetroot, celeriac and spring cabbage and have used it in a standard salad, in a salmon poke bowl, and with mayo as an accompaniment to a sandwich. I also do things like prepare roasted chicken for use in lunches.
  5. Enjoy yourself. Yes we’re budgeting (and trying to save the world) but food should also be a pleasure. Make things you like to eat. Find a time when the planning and shopping works, involve the kids in talking about meals they look forward to, and involve them in prep. My son and I make a cake every week as our treat for the week, usually one for home and one with the same mixture made into cake bars for school. Then I batch cook/prep in a two-hour window at the weekend when the kids are playing or with friends, and I listen to an audio book. It genuinely feels like a pleasant time, much more so than trying to slam a meal together at 17.30 on a work night. Some people prefer an evening’s cooking with a glass of wine – it’s all about what works for you.
This week’s cake (and a reminder to remove the Christmas table cloth): Victoria Sponge.

So – how do you keep your grocery budget down? I’d love to hear your tips!

Catching up – and taking a pause

So, I’ve unintentionally (or without planning to) been away for a month. What with getting the kids back to school and a million things going on at work, I haven’t found much time.

What I have been looking for in all the hectic is ways to catch a pause – moments of self care and taking time which don’t take me off the FIRE path. Often when I think about FIRE, read blogs or listen to podcasts, it can feel like the calm comes after the FIREstorm. Or there are mid-point goals, like going part time at work, or sabbaticals. There is lots of interesting information about mini-retirements: planning and negotiating time out of normal work. With my work and family responsibilities I can’t see this happening for at least a few years. Whilst that might be my own limited thinking, I wanted to try and at least build some pause into smaller blocks of time.

Both a relevant image and a fantastic tune!

First things – clearing out space in my day. I read the fantastic book Make Time which has a huge range of suggestions for ways to clear out time in your day (or week) and also space in your mind. I would really recommend reading the book, but there’s also a great podcast by Choose FI where they interview the author. I started implementing some of the ideas immediately, and the one which has made the most difference was clearing out my phone’s home screen. This along with turning off almost all notifications means I’m no longer wasting time in what they call ‘infinity pools‘ – apps which endlessly refresh and encourage endless scrolling.

Second – making things feel special makes it feel like a break. There are a few areas where five extra minutes (or less) can make something feel like a treat, and break up the day. Setting out my lunch on a proper plate, with a glass of iced water means even if I am eating at my desk I feel the change in rhythm of the day. Setting the table nicely when I am home and getting dinner out for the kids ditto. Mixing a cocktail for whilst I am making dinner (with alcohol or no) also marks the break between work and family time – even if I know full well the laptop is going on again after the children are asleep – and feels like a decadent luxury. None of these things cost more money or include any fuss: a few minutes really makes a difference.

Plus you can use up those bits left in the bottom of the bottles

Third – take a pause on the inside. I have been meaning to take up meditation for such a long time it’s become something of a running joke. There’s a lot of evidence of the benefits of meditation : helping with anxiety and stress, creating space in a mind which is ‘on’ all the time. I also recently read Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed in which she talks about how meditation helps her manage and juggle things even in the hardest times. I had a conversation with a friend in which I committed to meditate once, the next day, for five minutes. I did it, then … nothing for the next few days. Then, in one of those moments of serendipity my daughter had a school assignment to meditate twice that week. Since then we have meditated together every evening before bed – a much needed pause each evening in a stressful world.

Whether you have five minutes or five hours, find a way to take a break. I love this infographic with 50 ideas from Karen Horneffer-Ginter – it’s available to print out for free and full of inspiration.

From Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit

I highly recommend finding ways to pause in your day – or your week, or month. Creating spaces lets the light in, to think about the future and fine-tune plans, but also enjoy the now. Enjoy your moments of calm!

Ethical living and FIRE

I had a question from a reader about my ethical stance to investing and thought it was such a great question I would focus on it for this post. This will focus on my personal experience, with the next one focusing on the background to ethical investing and some things to think about.

What does it mean to be ethical and to be striving for financial independence? How can I get the best returns for my money whilst not investing in things that I don’t believe in? How can I be working toward a better life for my children if on the other hand my money is supporting companies who are destroying the planet our kids will inherit?

Money or green things??

In terms of my own experience, when I was growing up my mum always invested ethically as a family. Well, my family had such huge issues with supporting companies that didn’t align with our values that we didn’t invest at all. Instead our money went into Credit Unions, until Triodos Bank opened in the UK in 1995. With changes to a) my ability to make my own adult decisions and b) the massive increase in ethical investment options, I’ve certainly moved on from that approach.

The ethics of investing – and daily life – are very much part of the road to FIRE for me. Being intentional with money is the first step on the path. What do I want? How does that translate into the decision I am going to make about spending money on this?

Regular daily practice of FIRE, and of ethical living, is about buying less – not about ‘doing without’ but recognising how little most of us really need to add to the things we have to live comfortable, fulfilling lives. There is a link to the zero waste movement (which was again something we did as kids, but was more due to a ‘being broke’ movement). Buying things to use briefly then throw away should be inconceivable, but it’s shockingly common place. Planning meals means we create less waste, as does actively packing leftovers for lunches at work, keeping small vegetable leftovers in the freezer to make soup, and (trying at least) to grow our own. Hand-me-downs, buying second hand, and borrowing things like tools or occasional sports gear from mates or co-ops, all mean fewer things to buy.

Ethical decisions are in all aspects of our lives [Photo Credit]

In the ever-inspiring Your Money Or Your Life, the authors encourage you to question yourself before every purchase not just whether you need something but whether you can take care of it, get value from it, and lovingly pass it on once you have finished with it. These remain great questions, and are easy to ask. If I do need to buy something, how do I plan to dispose of it? What will the impact of that be on the environment, and on me and my time?

In terms of investing, I do invest in ETFs but the solutions here feel imperfect. I have the majority of the UK funds in my ISA in this fund which is available on Fidelity in the UK and is listed as an ethical fund though a quick glance at the top holdings reveals some of the challenges in ethical investing (come back for the next blog post for more on this). I hold my emergency fund in Triodos Bank, which doesn’t have a significant range of products but is best for me for savings (rather than investment).

As ever, I should think it’s abundantly clear but the caveat here is that I am not a financial advisor and share this personal information as food for thought only.

There are so many other aspects to living well whilst living ethically that it’s a topic I hope to come back to. How do you manage these concerns in your FIRE journey? Would love to hear from you!

Frugal (um…) summer holidays. Part 2: the actual frugal bit

So, most of our holiday periods are usually taken up with free stuff. But this COVID period had two issues: one, the places and things which haven’t yet reopened, or which are at least working to a smaller capacity; two, the fact that I have already run through every single idea (and website) known to mankind about free stuff to do at home. We have been really lucky with the lockdown lifting here, so whilst things aren’t back to normal, they are much, much easier.

Biggest success: playdates

This wasn’t allowed during lockdown of course, meaning it was even more exciting to have friends over. We have done this, a LOT.

Baking, cooking, and unusual eating

Since the lockdown started in March to date, we have watched the entirety of season 1-5 of the Great British Bake Off as a family. It feels like the first time the kids have been old enough to watch something that isn’t cartoons, and it’s been an eye opener for post-dinner down time. We’ve been inspired to make tartes au citron, ‘self-saucing puddings’ (didn’t even know what they were but they’re a fantastic store-cupboard treat, do try our favourite recipe), brownies, bread rolls, bao buns, and so much more. Nothing has included fancy ingredients, and none of them (yet) has been a disaster.

To liven things up we also ate ‘unusually’. Picnics in the garden or on the beach; dinners barbecued outside; meals with a menu, place settings and wine glasses. Again, nothing fancy or that really cost money (other than a gas canister for the barbecue that we would have bought anyway) but something which created a bit of change and fun. We also had a birthday tea party for my daughter’s toy cat, which took up whole days in making paper bunting and streamers, party invitations (for all the other stuffed animals) little cat-size cakes and more. We got the Good Tea Set out (a gift a long time ago from a boss who was clearing her mum’s house out) and had a blast.

Caveat: I *may* have put some weight on this year.

Make the most of free attractions

Some trusty favourite free days out (Småland play area in IKEA, anyone?!) are still closed, but we’re lucky that most of the museums, parks and so on have reopened.

Denmark in particular is fantastic for sea swimming and beaches. There are lots close to us, and others which are a short drive or train ride away. I tend to drive, because it means we can take a huge packed lunch and enough towels and toys to keep us going all day. The water is cold, but we are definitely getting braver. And I have a selection of Lidl ice lollies in the freezer at home so that I don’t have to fork out for one on the beach.

Sorting stuff out

Well maybe not fun, but totally worth it. And I’ve been using the other fun stuff to bribe the kids into doing this. We’ve been decluttering, sorting through all their clothes and giving them to charity shops; fixing up toys (or chucking out things which really are beyond repair); working on the garden (tip – I have no skills whatsoever at this) but we grew at least six tomatoes, woop! And the garden looks nice when we’re having out stuffed toy themes picnics.

So – what are your favourite frugal holiday activities?