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?

Frugal (um…) summer holidays. Part 1: the spendy bit

What a funny old year. The kids had a bit more than half a term at school, since COVID-19 related school closures arrived in Denmark on 12th March. The February half term had been the first holiday we really took since we moved here last summer, and I was so exhausted from work and work-travel that we spent it in Lalandia – a Danish holiday resort with cabins, a water park and plenty of stuff to do regardless of the weather. Then months of home schooling including lockdown Easter holidays, and a return to school for four weeks up to the start of the school holidays in the first week of June.

Image Credit: CLOSED goshdarnit.

All of this means that I feel like we have been at home *forever*. Don’t get me wrong, I love home – and we rent a lovely big house with plenty of room and a garden, partly chosen because I’d never lived in Scandinavia before and figured we’d spend all our time indoors – so it’s not exactly a punishment. But, like most families, we are used to a lot of external activity, and as an expat single parent, travel and holidays together are how we stay connected with family and friends. Usually in the summer we travel back to the UK, and my children stay with my parents for a few weeks. With my dad’s health issues, this was out of the question sadly. Missing my parents, and missing out on grandparent time, has been so hard these past few months.

So – what have we been up to? And, now we’re about half way through, how frugal was it? This post if about the ‘spendy’ parts of the summer (getting all the guilt out of my system). The next post will be about all the lovely free things we did 🙂

Going on a local holiday

We did go on holiday. I booked two ‘five day weekend’ breaks, one to Bornholm straight after school closed, and another which is coming up at the end of July, about two weeks before school reopens.

Bornholm is a Danish island which was totally magical, and well worth it. It’s sort of like Cornwall in the 1950s, with lots of different beaches and a safe family vibe. We drove, taking plenty of board games and other rainy-day amusements, and took the ferry. The holiday cost £1,100 which included travel, bed and breakfast, and an activity every day – we tried stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and rock climbing, and fell into bed absolutely knackered at the end of every day. It was wonderful but Denmark is expensive and I haven’t got my frugal hacks in place yet: for comparison, aside from the flights, the cost was the same as we spent for a similar package to Bali last year. But it felt very much like time and money well spent.

The holiday booked for the end of July was £700, and also includes activities, a water park and access to a spa (hallelujah!). So, total upfront holiday cost = £1,800. I will add all the incidentals (meals, spending, etc) together when I do the July budgets.

Holiday Clubs

Since I am still working full time, some of the weeks are spent in holiday clubs. There are quite a few for my son since he’s older and loves sport. Football club is £110 per week, and a spendier sea sports club was £150. So that was three weeks covered. For my daughter, there was much less choice and I put her in the school club. This was £735 for two weeks, which feels outrageous. She loved the club, but the activities were nothing I couldn’t have done with her and a friend or two at home (if I wasn’t working…). So it doesn’t quite feel like money well-spent. Plus £160 for a week of trampoline club.

Image credit: holiday club artwork.

So, £1,265 on holiday clubs. If I am honest, I looked down the barrel of eight weeks of summer holidays on top of the lockdown, and freaked out. We still have the usual childcare costs of £800 which cover wrap-around hours, the costs of looking after one child when the other is in club etc so all in all, it was a lot – £2,265 to be precise, over the whole period. But holiday childcare IS expensive, and for single parents, where there isn’t an option to tag-team annual leave (or indeed have one parent with a term-time job), it’s even starker. The 2019 results of an annual UK survey about the cost of childcare in the summer found that parents pay an average of £138 per week per child. For my two, this summer would equate to £2,208, or pretty much where I came in.

Frugal success?

Not really. That’s £4,065 on unusual spending, and I will have carried on with a larger groceries bill etc. Interestingly, it made me reflect a lot on why I work and what I want out of life. That is a huge amount of money for the summer holidays, and nothing we have done felt extravagant (not like Bali last year!). And I feel like I was paying to be at work, since if I wasn’t working at least the club part wouldn’t have been necessary. I also recognise that I made the choices here: my kids wouldn’t actually have died of boredom by staying home and just meeting up with friends. Maybe it’s guilt money for them having to spend the summer hanging out at home without me. Either way, food for thought.

The next blog post will focus on the frugal wins – there were many of those too!