1. 5 Of The Best... Family Finance Resources for Money Savvy Mums

    Tuesday, June 9, 2009

    In the midst of this "credit crunch" we are all looking at ways of cutting back, saving money and generally being careful with our finances.

    As money-savvy mums, we cut back on luxuries; turn lights off when we leave the room and cross our fingers hoping we won't be affected by the rise in unemployment.

    But there are many ways we can take control of the family finances, effectively "recession-proofing" ourselves and learning to live happily for less.

    In this article, I'll cover 5 of my favourite "personal finance" resources for money concious families which offer friendly and impartial advice to help us take control of our finances.

    Money Saving Expert

    Since its launch in 2003, Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert has become the most popular resource for personal finance in the UK.
    The average person in the UK can give themselves the equivalent of a25% payrise, by being an active, savvy consumer and shifting to thevery best deals; this site's here to show you how.
    Featuring articles which cover everything from the latest credit card deals to the cheapest family outings, this site has something on offer to help every family save money without cutting back on enjoyment.

    A key aspect of MoneySavingExpert is "consumer revenge". As Martin explains:

    The underlying philosophy is that we live in an adversarial consumer society...
    A company's job is to make money. A consumer's job is maximise their cash. Companies spend billions on advertising, marketing & teaching their staff to sell; yet we don't get buyers' training.
    We want to redress the balance.
    Using information provided by the site (and the knowledgeable MSE community), thousands of readers have successfully reclaimed PPI and bank charges; saved hundreds each year by switching to the best deals for utility bills, and learned how to successfully get out of debt.

    The community of Money Saving Expert is truly wonderful. In the forums, you can ask advice about virtually anything related to finance and will almost certainly find someone willing to offer their advice. There are even sections for thrifty gardeners, frugal families and grocery shopping on tiny budgets.

    Finally, Martin's Money Tips e-newsletter is one which I recommend every parent receives. This weekly email collects the week's most important financial news and timely discounts and is sent to over 3 million subscribers. With the summer holidays approaching, we're bound to get news of discounted days out, family-friendly activities and even budget holidays.

    Visit Money Saving Expert

    The Money Magpie

    The Money Magpie was started in 2007 by Jasmine Birtles: a finance journalist, author and presenter.

    This site is focused more upon helping visitors make (and save) money by becoming savvy consumers:

    We have up to date information on hundreds of ways to earn a bit onthe side and boost your income - and more are being added every week.

    But there’s no point in earning extra money if you’re wasting itelsewhere, so we also have a wealth of information on best-buyfinancial products, plus heaps of articles to help you be a cleverconsumer and make the most of your money.
    Families can enjoy a whole section of articles to help save money, including this lengthy post which offers 50 useful ideas.

    Email subscribers can receive a free weekly newsletter containing a round-up of the best money saving tips, plus a free ebook and downloads to help manage family finances.

    Jasmine Birtles has recently published The Money Magpie in book format, which I will be reviewing for Glamumous readers tomorrow. This book is a collection of all the best advice from the site and offers a structured long term plan for future finance happiness.

    Visit The Money Magpie

    This is Not Work

    This inegnious site offers time and money saving tips to "sort our your finances in your lunch break".

    Written by Richard Browning - the development editor of consumer advice site, This Is Money - this site is aimed primarily at time-concious parents, you can find a new short tip each day to help save money on family expenses:
    I devised This is Not Work as a place for people - primarily parents - to share some of my quick tips and thoughts on making life that little bit easier.

    While there are a lot of websites, blogs and discussion forums for people to while away the hours making 'friends' online and sharing tips and information, this is the one for those of us who haven't got hours.
    You can also follow This is Not Work on Twitter to receive updates and information as it is posted to the site.

    Visit This is Not Work

    Love Money

    Love Money is an "everyday" financial website, provided by the brains behind The Motley Fool. It offers down-to-earth articles which can help you feel richer and become wiser about your finances.
    We believe that you should care for your money, keep an eye on it,and do everything you can to help it grow. In return, your money willlook after you and be the fuel that allows you to live your life theway you want.

    How can we help you make this happen? By givingyou the tools to create real and lasting change in your life.lovemoney.com isn't just a finance news site or a product comparisonsite. It's a place where you can learn from experts, share yourexperiences and ideas, improve your money skills with easy onlinetools, and focus on personalised content hand-picked for you.
    One of the best aspects of LoveMoney comes from registering with the site: members have access to a personalized "home page" featuring articles and the best deals most applicable to you and your family.

    Updated at least every day, the site covers financial affairs as and when they happen on the blogs, and helps families discover ways and means to manage money more efficiently without using jargon, making it easy to understand.

    LoveMoney also offers a comprehensive Q&A section where members can ask financial questions which are answered by the LoveMoney community.

    Visit Love Money

    Get Rich Slowly

    This US-based site offers some very thought provoking articles about saving money and getting rich - slowly!

    While some articles discuss finance options most appropriate to those living in the states, I absolutely love the style of the articles written on this site. These are posts which make us think about how we choose to spend our money, and how we can learn to live on less money without feeling as though we are missing out.
    You will not find any get-rich-quick schemes here. Nor will you findmulti-level marketing fads or hot stock tips. I am not pitching anyproduct or book. Instead, you’ll find daily information about personalfinance and related topics.
    To learn about the core values which Get Rich Slowly represents, take a look at the about page which offers a complete overview of the site along with JD's 12 personal finance mantras.

    Visit Get Rich Slowly

    Which sites would you add here?

    For this article I limited my additions to the 5 personal finance sites I visit the most. However, as this recession deepens and saving money has become a concern for many more parents in the UK, I've also discovered several highly interesting blogs such as Reccessionista (UK), Miss Thrifty and Shoestring Alley (I couldn't write this article completely without mentioning these excellent sites!).

    Are there any other sites you visit regularly which offer advice for money-savvy mums? Please feel free to let us know by leaving your comments below.

    Image credit: Money Shot by Jessica Shannon.
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  2. Save Time and Money on Laundry Days

    Monday, June 8, 2009
    Of all the cleaning we undertake as mothers, laundry is by far the most expensive task. Not to mention time consuming!

    Bombarded with advertisements for the latest dirt-busting detergents and a never-ending pile of laundry, we often lose track of how to keep track of our pennies and buy into expensive ideas which claim to save us time (but don't necessarily save us money). Uniforms need to be ready for school; shirts must be ironed in time forwork; baby clothes are constantly being changed, and (what with all themess created by the rest of the family) mums just need something towear!

    So in this post I'll share some ideas for how we can save money and time on laundry days, whether you set aside a particular day for all your washing or (like me) choose to run a load through the washing machine each day.

    Organize clothes and wash less often

    Whenever possible, sort clothes and other washable items by colour as soon as they need washing and encourage your family to do so too! Those laundry hampers with sections for colours and whites are wonderful (though expensive); having two or three cheap laundry baskets to hand is just as useful. This saves time sorting through clothes whenever you need to put on a load, and also prevents colour leeking from your non-colourfast red socks onto those expensive Egyptian cotton towels...

    By organizing loads in advance, you can ensure you only wash clothes when there is a full load of washing. This saves money too, since you'd use more energy for 2-3 small loads than for a single full load on the same cycle (and probably more detergent/softener too!).

    Use less detergent for each load...

    Unless your clothes are very heavily soiled, you can get away with using half (or even less) of the recommended dose of detergent.

    I prefer to use washing powder tablets, and use only one per full cycle of washing (whereas two or more are recommended on the pack). For very dirty clothes, I add half a cup of washing soda - which works out cheaper than that second tablet - which is sufficient to get rid of most everyday stains too!

    Boxes of powder may seem cheaper on the shelves, but unless you're really frugal and careful with measuring for each load, you could actually use more than when paying a little extra for tablets. Supermarket own-brands (and also budget/unknown brands from local shops) usually work just as well as their branded counterparts. Go for these cheaper options which enables you to spend a little extra on luxury softener to make your laundered clothes smell and feel wonderful instead.

    ... Or make your own detergent!

    I found this wonderful article over at The Family Homestead which explains how to make your own laundry detergent. According to the author, this works out at around 71 cents (about 45p) per batch, which can clean 64 loads of washing!

    That's less than 1p per wash, far far cheaper per load than even the cheapest budget brand washing powder!

    Use white vinegar instead of fabric softener

    An oldie, but a goodie, white vinegar works out a far cheaper solution than buying fabric softener. Simply add a slug in place of your fabric conditioner in the detergent drawer and your clothes will come out soft and fluffy. Even better, the vinegar helps stop the build-up of limescale in your machine (and is also a cheaper solution to the de-scaling products on sale for our washing machines and dishwashers).

    Don't worry about the smell - surprisingly clothes will not smell of vinegar when they come out of the wash cycle! The only down-side is that they won't smell of lovely expensive fabric conditioner either...

    Pre-treat stains with a home-made solution

    Don't pay through the nose for expensive pre-wash treatments - they really aren't worth the money!

    You can make your own by filling a spray bottle 4/5ths full of water, then top up with cheap washing up liquid. Shake to mix well, then spray this solution onto the problem areas and leave to soak in before washing as normal.

    For really tough stains, check out this huge page of stain-removal solutions which covers everything from mud to blood, grass stains, red wine and even tea.

    Wash on the shortest, coldest cycle

    During a wash cycle, the heating of water uses the highest percentage of electricity.

    There really is no need to wash at the maximum recommended temperature for your fabrics unless the items are really badly soiled. Turn the thermostat to 30 degrees (or even less if you can bear it). You could save up to 40% in energy per wash cycle (depending how high your usual temperature).

    Similarly, use the shortest cycle you can for everyday cleaning. Your clothes will still come out clean as the invigoration does most of the hard work, not the amount of time your clothes are immersed in water!

    Wash your delicates in the shower

    Our delicate underwear should really be hand-washed, but I'm sure many of you bunk your smalls in with the main washing load simply to save time...

    The trouble with this is that delicates can lose their shape and colour; they don't last as long when washed so rigorously.

    Instead, take your smalls in with you when you shower, and wash gently with your favourite shower gel or a little soap. This saves a lot of time and makes your underwear smell as gorgeous as you do!

    Dry clothes on a washing line

    Tumble dryers are a godsend when time is short, but these use up so much electricity to heat and dry our clothes (even the energy efficient versions).

    If it's not raining and you have some outdoor space, save yourself the cost of electricity and dry your clothes outside. I'm not sure exactly how much money this will save, but trust me, it's a lot! Clothes can dry very quickly on a line, even when it's not sunny, and smell fresher too.

    Use "Dryer Balls"

    A while back, there was quite a craze for Dryer Balls which increase air circulation in the tumble dryer, helping clothes to dry more quickly and feel softer without the use of fabric conditioner or tumble dryer sheets.

    I personally held off buying them for a while, but when I saw these on offer in Poundland (the actual branded variety, not a cheap knock-off!) I couldn't resist trying them out.

    Ladies, these do work! I'd guess it knocked about a quarter off drying times and made our towels very fluffy indeed. If you spot them on offer, try them for yourself! The RRP of £9.99 seems a tad expensive to me, but I'm told they're often found in budget stores and Wilkinsons for far less.

    Iron clothes while slightly damp

    Remove clothes from the washing line/tumble dryer to iron while still slightly damp: they take far less time to iron!

    If you give clothes a good shake before hanging out on the line (especially on windy days) there will be less creases to iron out. Also, take clothes out of the dryer as soon as the cycle is done and shake while still warm to minimize creases and ironing.

    Invest in an enery efficient washing machine

    I know washing machines are expensive and a purchase we prefer not to make unless absolutely nescessary. But if you're using an age-old washing machine you could be wasting pounds of electricity each year! Energy efficiency is measured on a scale of A through to E, where A offers the best possible efficiency (and uses far less electricity per cycle). Such machines may cost more for the initial purchase but do make up in saved electricity bills in the long run.

    Final thoughts

    I hope these tips can help you save a little time and money on laundry days! If you have any tips of your own to share, please feel free to leave your comments below and I'll update this article complete with accreditation to your own blog or site.

    Image credits: "Better than TV" by BrianU; Spin Cycle by B Rosen; Washing Line by Steve9091. All via Flickr Creative Commons.
    Continue reading »
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