1. Take the kids to the cinema for just £1!

    Friday, May 29, 2009
    I love going to the cinema, but with the high prices for tickets a family trip to see the latest releases can become an expensive affair.

    Luckily, for the past few weeks we have been able to see a Saturday matinee at Cineworld for just £1 a ticket! Even when our whole family attend, the total cost is less than a single full priced child ticket, making this a cheap and cheerful outing we can afford on a weekly basis.

    Cineworld's Movies For Juniors show each Saturday at participating cinemas. Usually there are three films on offer (a new film is selected each week), all of which start at 10am. These films tend to be older releases, and are movies most suitable for children.

    This week, for example, we can choose from Madagascar 2, Hotel for Dogs and Bee Movie. We've previously seen Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Bedtime Stories, both of which were films the kids really enjoyed on the big screen.

    To find out more about what's showing in the Movies for Juniors selection, take a look at this page of the Cineworld website.

    In order to buy your tickets for £1, you will need to book/buy tickets in person from your local Cineworld cinema. It is possible to book online or by telephone, but a 60p charge for each ticket will apply! Tickets can be sold out quite quickly, so if you're worried you may not get in for the film of your choice, drop in to your cinema earlier in the week and buy in advance.

    I only wish popcorn was as cheap for these showings (as our local cinema disapproves of people taking their own snacks into the cinema). However, if you specifically ask for a "Juniors Munch Box", you can get a kids sized box filled with the popcorn of your choice, a Capri Sun juice drink and a small packet of sweets for just over £3 (this may be different depending on the prices at your local Cineworld).

    Hope you enjoy taking the kids to the cinema for less!

    Image credit: Atomicjeep
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  2. A "Lovely Blog" Award!

    Thursday, May 28, 2009
    Thanks to Nixdminx for passing on this lovely award to Glamumous! I was thrilled to bits to receive my first award for this blog :)

    When in Tunisia, one of my favourite beveraes is strong Arabic coffee flavoured with rose-water. Sounds odd, but trust me, this is one of the most divine drinks ever!

    As per the concept of this Lovely Blog Award, I would like to nominate 10 blogs which I've recently discovered as new receiptants of this award:

    1. Susanna of A Modern Mother, because I read your blog everyday and you post such interesting topics about motherhood in Britain.

    2. Esther, Courtney. Michela and Emilie of Babyccino, a site of wonderful things for mums, kids and tiny tots too. I loved the recipe for preserving children...

    3. Miss Thrifty, the ultimate money-saver for helping us learn to live for less (and love it!)

    4. Reccessionista, who posts wonderful money-saving tips and bargains galore.

    5. Nadine at Time Management Mum who writes about juggling a busy life with children. She's just published her first book on time management, which truly looks an interesting read!

    6. Becky and Linda over at You've Got Your Hands Full who blog about their experiences with twins and triplets...

    7. And another shout for their new travel blog, Have A Lovely Time, where you can find reviews on days out and holidays for families with children (well worth checking out!).

    8. Experimental Mum who has a gorgeous design for her blog, and offers loads of wonderful science experiments which my son truly loves!

    9. English Mum in Ireland, who I discovered after reading about her wonderful escape to Disneyland (ooh, I'm soooo jealous! But we may yet escape to Disneyland Paris this year...)

    10. Are we nearly there yet Mummy, because as Laura rightly points out, parenthood is the longest journey we could ever undertake!

    For those who I have nominated to receive this award, I'll be in touch soon through your blogs to let you know. If you choose to accept the reward, here are the rules:
    Post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link.(You can save the award image to your computer and upload to your blog in the usual way).
    Pass the award to 10 other blogs that you have newly discovered.Remember to contact the blogger to let them know they have been chosenfor this award.
    I hope you enjoy reading the blogs I have posted here! These are all new additions to my RSS reader (which is now becoming so long to read) but are wonderful bloggers whose posts are well worth a look.
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  3. The Family Kitchen Garden - Book Review

    Wednesday, May 27, 2009
    These days we are awed by the sheer number of books available to us, and it's difficult to choose something relevant to our needs. As parents, we are limited in the time we can spend reading, and as frugal families we cannot afford to spend on books we may later find irrelevant. So each Wednesday, I aim to review a book on a range of subjects from parenting guides to home-making, fashion/beauty and cookbooks which are most relevant for fabulous, frugal mums!

    Today I shall review a truly exceptional gardening book: The Family Kitchen Garden by Karen Liebreich, Jutta Wagner and Annette Wendland. This title was produced from the authors' experience in working with hundreds of school aged children while restoring the Walled Gardens at Chiswick House in London as a kitchen garden, and is intended to offer advice for families who would like to produce their own foods but have little horticultural experience.

    A particularly suitable format when gardening with children.

    The Family Kitchen Garden is a 224 pages long, in a large soft-cover format and features a wipe-clean cover and high quality full colour pages throughout. This particular choice of format strikes me as highly functional for it's intended audience: by ensuring the thick pages (and especially the cover) can be wiped clean, we need not be concerned about sticky fingers or splashes of mud ruining this beautifully illustrated book when we allow our children to use it.

    Virtually every page of The Family Kitchen Garden features stunning photography of the plants discussed on the page. On most pages, several photographs are offered, enabling us to easily identify the plant, vegetable, weed or problem being discussed on the page. I was particularly impressed by the descriptions and identifiable images of bindweed which - as a somewhat novice gardener - I had not realized was such an invasive weed and allowed to grow freely near the bottom of our garden for the last few years! Unlike most other gardening books I have read, The Family Kitchen Garden explains what this is, offers identifiable images of the problem, and a full explanation of how this can be dealt with. An excellent approach for the novice gardener, in my opinion, and a welcome change to the texts which assume that - even as beginners - we must know the appearance of all such invasive weeds.

    The general function of this book is to assist families wishing to start (or better maintain) a kitchen garden - one which can bear foods which both children and adults alike will enjoy growing, harvesting and eating.

    As such, the methods, plants and skills discussed are particularly relevant for children: from explanations of the easiest seeds that young children may plant, to illustrated instructions for making a ladybird shelter in the autumn months, for young ones to feel they are nurturing the creatures which help their garden to grow.

    The brightly coloured photographs, playful (yet ornamental) garden creations and brightly coloured side notes all contribute towards attracting the interest of children. I particularly enjoyed reading the scattering of quotes from children who had helped develop the Kitchen Garden at Chiswick house, on which the ideas in this book are based.

    A Book of Three Parts

    The Family Kitchen Garden is divided into three distinct parts:

    1. The Basics

    This section offers an overview of gardening with children in mind, covering all manner of horticultural subjects from planning the crop to propagation; weeds and pest control. Each aspect is covered in detail, using jargon-free explanations and plenty of images which are perfect for those with no experience of gardening.

    I found the sections about weeds and crop protection to be the most useful, as many of our previous attempts to beautify our humble garden were thwarted by pests, insects and unwanted plants invading our space. However, the sections on soil improvement and fertilization were very detailed and enlightening, ensuring that readers are properly informed about how the soil we choose to use can affect the growth and overall crop of the vegetables we plant.

    2. Month by Month

    I have no doubt that most readers will find this to be the most interesting section of the book. As the section title suggests, this offers a month-by-month analysis of the family's kitchen garden, including:
    • What to sow
    • What to plant
    • Gardening jobs to be completed
    • Foods which can be harvested
    • Foods to be eaten (including seasonal recipes)
    • Ideas for things to create
    The information for each month's gardening duties is something I found particularly useful. While we can of course find when to sow, plant our and harvest our creations by other means, I believe having a guide for each month in such an easily accessible format ensures we are always more aware of what to be doing at any particular time.

    Each and every month offers a recipe (or two) for seasonal foods which we may have growing in our own kitchen gardens. Overall, I have found the recipes use ingredients which are the easiest vegetables (or fruits) to be growing, and that all of these recipes are child-friendly, meaning that our children can help us prepare the foods and enjoy eating them too.

    One of my favourite recipes in this entire book is for "fruit leathers" - essentially, strips of fruit-based sweets which can be produced with ease from whatever fruits we have available for picking at the time. These are just like the "Fruit Winders" you may have seen advertised on TV in recent months, but since this recipe enables us to make them ourselves, we can be sure they are completely organic (though unfortunately not sugar free!).

    The monthly ideas for creative fun are especially aimed at children. Month by month, this section will enable you and your children to decorate your garden, from willow wigwams to a hideaway for ladybirds; cute plant labels and lavender sachets for the linen cupboards.

    3. A-Z of Plants (plus appendices)

    The final third of the book is quite lengthy as it provides detailed guides for dozens of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers ranging from artichokes to zinnias and everything between.

    This section is very user friendly, with at least one page to describe each individual plant type. With suggestions for propagation, plant care, feeding, watering and potential problems this A-Z allows us to easily look up information on the plants we may be growing, or are considering adding to our kitchen gardens.

    Each plant's description begins with a brief overview including it's ease of cultivation, whether it can be grown in a pot, if it is particularly suitable as a child's project, and any other useful information of relevance.

    I found this section to be far more "user friendly" than other books I've consulted about our developing garden, not least because it offers advice in plain English without the jargon associated with texts assuming the reader already knows how to "deadhead" or "pinch out" her plants! We also found a few new plants in this section which we'd like to try growing in the few spaces we have left, such as chard (like spinach, so a potential new favourite for me!), rhubarb (I hadn't realized how easy this plant is to grow) and dahlias - because their photographs depict them as beautiful, and we discovered they can flower well into the winter months

    My favourite parts of The Family Kitchen Garden

    I must admit that upon first glance at The Family Kitchen Garden, I was unaware of just how much I'd enjoy reading through these pages.Throughout you can find gardening quotes and expressions from the school children taking part in the restoration project of Chiswick House which add deeper meaning to the plants and changing seasons described within the text.

    The photography is both explanatory and inspirational, encouraging us to tend more to our gardens and to involve our children in the miracles of watching as plants grow from tiny dry seeds to plants we can harvest, cook and eat together.

    One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is the scattering of adult humour. This book was certainly written by women who enjoy their craft enough to make light of arduous work in places. For example, when offering advice for dealing with garden pests, we can read of "flying snails": a practise which many regard as "unneighbourly", while the mention of infanticide (with regard to plants, of course!) is guaranteed to make you chuckle.

    Who is this book for?

    The Family Kitchen Garden is a wonderfully explanatory book aimed at parents (and indeed grandparents) who are curious about gardening with their children. As this book explains, there are many edible plants which can be decorative as well as useful, which helps us nurture a sense of the natural world for our children.

    I do also believe that this book would be beneficial for experienced horticulturists who have no experience of gardening with children. When I offered this to my neighbour (a self-sufficient gardener who lives from his allotment) he immediately expressed his interest in buying a copy for himself "to share with his grandchildren": it had made him realise that children are interested in watching things grow, and in learning about the environment.

    Methods of growing organically are mentioned throughout, with the odd reference to non-organic practise for those who truly despise garden pests.

    Final Thoughts

    As a parent developing a vegetable patch for the first time, I found The Family Kitchen Garden to be an exemplary guide. This is like having three books rolled into one: a guide to the basics of horticulture, a month-by-month planner, and a complete guide to edible plants in a simple, easy to reference format.

    The ideas for seasonal recipes and creative crafts are wonderful, adding a sense of creativity and inspiration to our gardening chores throughout the year, while the quoted expressions of children's experiences in working in the kitchen garden at Chiswick House helps affirm the sense that this book is a gift for parents to encourage the blessing of garden involvement with their children.

    The Family Kitchen Garden is available from Francis Lincoln at £16.99 and can also be purchased from Amazon.co.uk.
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  4. 5 of The Best... Tips to Save Money on Petrol/Diesel

    Tuesday, May 26, 2009
    With the summer holidays just around the corner, there has never been a better time to learn how to save money on your petrol/diesel bills. Whether you commute daily to work or simply use your car for shopping trips, there are several different tips you can adapt to lower the amount of fuel you use (and which have little impact on the time taken to reach your destination).

    In this post, I'll offer my 5 favourite tips to lower the cost of fuel bills for your family car which could help you save as much as 20% from your annual spend on petrol/diesel.

    1. Find out which stations offer the cheapest fuel

    One of the most wonderful things about the Internet is the ability to compare prices of just about everything, to ensure we get the best possible value for our money.

    There are several websites which offer comparisons of fuel prices:
    • PetrolPrices.com - Search over almost 10,000 stations across the UK by town or postcode to locate the cheapest fuel stations near you.
    • FindCheapPetrol.com - Again, you can search by postcode to locate the cheapest stations close to where you love (this site also compares the prices of supermarket stations such as Tesco and Morrisons). I've just noticed this site is undergoing maintenance though it should be available again in the next couple of days.
    • KeepMoving.co.uk - This inenious site offers loads of information about travelling and traffic across the country, and the special "fuel prices" section allows you to search for the cheapest fuel prices along a route - reat for when you're travelling long distances!
    You will need to register (for free) to be able to use these sites effectively, though when this could save you up to 5% on your fuel bills the benefits of registration speak for themselves.

    For example, when I searched prices for my home town, there was a difference of 9.4p a litre between the highest and lowest prices of unleaded fuel. For someone who fills up with £50 of petrol each week, this could save almost £250 in fuel each year!

    2. Make your car more efficient

    Remove excess weight from your car, which will lighten the load and reduce the amount of fuel used per journey. So remove any roof racks not currently being used and empty all the junk from your boot!

    Switch off the air conditioning unless it's really nescessary as this uses quite a lot of power when in action. Winding down the windows in warm weather is almost as cooling, and uses no excess power.

    Make sure your tyres are correctly inflated. Under-inflated tyres can decrease fuel efficiency by around 3% as more power is required to get the car moving. Check the correct tyre pressure for your particular car on this page of the RAC website, and top up with air (if needed) the next time you fill up with fuel.

    Lastly, don't completely fill the car with petrol. A full tank adds more weight to the car, which makes it less efficient. By filling only half (or even a quarter) of the tank and refuelling more often, you can increase efficiency and actually use less fuel in the long run.

    3. Drive more efficiently

    When I was learning to drive, I was lucky to have an instructor who taught me about the benefits of driving with fuel efficiency in mind.

    The key to driving efficiently is understanding this:
    Each time you put your foot on the accelerator, you are using fuel. 
    It sounds simple, but once you keep this in mind, you can easily learn how to use the accelerator less often without reducing speed or the time of your journey. Here are some useful tips:
    • Accelerate gradually, without over-revving the engine. A rule of thumb is to ensure you always drive at under 3000RPM.
    • Drive in the highest gear you can without putting stress on the engine
    • Slow naturally, without using your brakes unnecessarily. This is easier if you leave a 2 second gap between you and the car in front, leaving you time to slow using the momentum of the engine (and accelerate more easily afterwards).
    • Consider your position in the road. By being more alert while driving, you can reduce the need to slow and accelerate, ensuring a smoother more efficient drive.

    4. Find ways to make filling up pay you!

    There are several schemes you can join to earn cashback or rewards when refuelling at certain petrol stations. Most notably, the Morrisons Miles scheme (which I discussed in an earlier post) offers a voucher for £5 off your shopping in store for every 500 litres of fuel purchased from these stations. Here are some other schemes you could try:
    However, don't go out of your way to be loyal to a particular scheme: this may cost you more in fuel over the long term than you will receive in rewards. Instead, use your reward scheme when this particular station offers the lowest priced fuel (see #1).

    5. Ditch the car (or rather, choose to use it less often).

    Of course, the ultimate fuel savings would be based on never using our cars... But for most of us, this is simply not a practical solution!Instead, we can consider ways of using our vehicles less, and making our journeys more efficient so we use less fuel over the course of each month.

    For example, run all errands (eg: grocery shopping, post-office, recycling, library) on a single planned round-trip. Between each stop, your engine will remain warm and altogether you'll use less fuel than running each errand on a different day of the week.

    Those who work (or shop regularly) in city centres may like to consider a park-and-ride scheme. This involves parking your car in a secure park on the outskirts of the city then catching a designated bus/tram/tube/train to your final destination. Usually these park-and-ride schemes are fee-based, but these will reimburse themselves when you consider how much fuel you'll save not getting caught up in slow-moving traffic or driving round for hours looking for a safe place to park (not to mention parking fees!).

    Car-sharing can also offer savings on fuel. If you live close to friends, take it in turns to go shopping together, share the school run or drive each other to work, and share the costs of fuel. While it may be marginally less efficient to drive with more passengers in the car, you'll both be saving money on fuel costs on your regular excursions!

    Do you have any more tips to share?

    If you have any other tips for saving money on fuel costs, I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave your comments below and if you enjoyed this post, a mention on Twitter would be very warmly welcomed :)
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  5. It's National Family Week! Find out what's on, including loads of special offers...

    Monday, May 25, 2009
    This week (from the 25th to the 31st of May), celebrate National Family Week and bring your whole family together with activities, competitions and special offers.
    This new national occasion will encourage families to play, learn, eat,read, compete and - most importantly - spend quality time together.Join in the fun with your family and celebrate National Family Week!
    Over on the official National Family Week website, you can find out about events happening near you, enter competitions to win some fantastic prizes (including a Guitar Hero package, complete with Nintendo Wii!), and find out about promotions with some favourite family outlets including:
    • Adult entry for kids prices at Legoland Windsor
    • Kids eat free at Little Chef
    • See Night at the Museum 2 at kids prices with Vue cinemas
    • Kids eat free on 31st of May at Pizza Hut
    And more besides!

    These are all offered in the form of vouchers which can be printed from the special offers page of the site.

    You can even print off a free Family Week Planner to organize special events for your own family during the week.

    Will you be celebrating the first National Family Week? We'd love to know what you have planned for your family, so please leave your comments below.
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  6. How much housework should we expect our husbands/partners to do? [Poll]

    In the midst of a lovers' tiff, my husband exclaimed that I should not expect him to do any housework. The reason (or, in my opinion, excuse) being that as the main income earner who works a 48 hour week, his financial contributions to the household are sufficient to excuse him from the responsibilities of housework.

    After our little tiff, we did discuss this in a more civilized manner, though it seems we are still of different opinions as to how much men should contribute towards the running of our family homes. Do most men take some responsibility and help their partners maintain a clean home, or are men mostly excused from housework if they work a full-time job?

    Please take part in this mini-poll to let us know how whether husbands/boyfriends should take some responsibility for housework, and if so, how much? Voting is completely anonymous, but if you would like to leave a comment about your opinions we would love to know what you think about this! I'm hoping to write up a lengthier article on the subject of men and housework in the near future, so your opinions will be greatly appreciated.

    Image credit: Wyscan, via Flickr Creative Commons.
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  7. Foolproof chocolate chip muffins

    Monday, May 18, 2009
    Lately my kids have developed a taste for muffins. The chocolate chip variety to be exact. Since these seem to cost so much in the supermarkets (around £1 for four, which I personally think is extortionate) I decided to work out a tasty recipe for us to make together at home.

    As the title suggests, this recipe is foolproof! Each and every time I've attempted this recipe, the kids devour the muffins faster than I can say "wait for them to cool". Which, when you consider how fussy my son can be, is a rather great achievement!

    This recipe should provide enough batter to make 12 muffins if using the larger muffin cases, or 18 small ones if you only have cupcake cases to hand, and costs around £1.20 for everything (working out between 7p and 10 each muffin, depending on the size).
    Here's what you will need:
    • 250g Plain Flour
    • 100g caster sugar
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • A pinch of salt
    • 1 medium egg, beaten
    • 200ml milk
    • 80ml vegetable oil
    • 100g pack of chocolate chips (or two bags of chocolate buttons, crushed)
    • [Optional] a tablespoon of brown sugar
    Here's how to make your foolproof chocolate chip muffins:
    1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (gas mark 6)
    2. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl
    3. Beat all of the wet ingredients together in a jug, then pour over the dry products in the bowl. Mix well until everything is combined.
    4. Divide your mixture between your muffin/bun cases, making sure each case is about 3/4 full.
    5. For extra special muffins, sprinkle a little brown sugar over each filled case (optional, leave out of you're worried about the sugar content!).
    6. Bake in your preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until brown and risen. To be sure your muffins are cooked, stick a toothpick in one muffin and see if it comes out clean.
    7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. Then try to hide the muffins or they may well disappear before you have time to try them yourself!
    You could make some variations to this recipe, such as:
    • Reducing the milk to 180ml and adding a chopped banana
    • Using plain wholemeal flour instead of white
    • Use brown sugar instead of white
    • Try berries instead of chocolate chips
    I love making these muffins, especially as these are so cheap to make! I've found these can store for up to a week when in a sealed container, and they also freeze well, so if you're short of time double up on ingredients, use an extra muffin tray and make some in advance.

    Hope you enjoy these as much as we do!

    Image credit: wentongg, via Flickr Creative Commons.
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  8. ICE - In Case of Emergency. Are you prepared?

    Sunday, May 17, 2009
    A few days ago, a friend introduced me to the ICE (In Case of Emergency) campaign, which encourages people to add a contact in their mobile phones under the name "ICE" so paramedics, police or firefighters know who to contact in case of emergency or accident.

    I was surprised to learn that the ICE campaign has been running for a few years now - it appears I'm a latecomer to this concept, but this is still an important campaign and one which I would sincerely encourage all Glamumous readers to consider.

    The ICE campaign was started by Bob Brotchie: a paramedic with the East Anglia Ambulance Service who realised that while most of the people he attended had mobile phones with them, he and his colleagues were unsure which contacts to call in case of medical emergency.

    To ensure paramedics and emergency personnel know who to contact if we're involved in an accident or medical emergency, we need to add an ICE contact to the phone book on our mobile phones. The ICE contact is the first number paramedics will try to call  for medical information and to inform of your current situation.

    We can have more than one ICE contact in place too. I actually have three, which appear in my phone book like this:
    • ICE1 Husband
    • ICE2 Dad
    • ICE3 Mum
    This means that if my husband does not answer immediately (due to his job he's often unable to answer calls), my dad or mum may be contacted instead.

    I've also programmed ICE numbers into all of my children's handsets too, with details of our emergency contact numbers.

    If you don't already have an ICE contact programmed into your handset, please do yourselves a great big favour and add this right away. Perhaps add one for your partner and children's handsets too, so you can be sure you and your whole family are covered in case of emergency.

    Image credit: Emergency Phone by Futureshape.
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  9. 25 easy ways to boost your family income

    Thursday, May 14, 2009
    In the midst of this recession, many families feel the need to tighten their belts or take on a little extra work to supplement the family income. In recent months, I've seen friends and family members loose their jobs or have their working hours reduced, and I know from experience just how hard it can be to rely on benefits when supporting children.

    I'm sure most families at this time would welcome a few extra pounds each week, whether this is to save for birthday and Christmas presents, a family holiday or simply to have an occasional treat. So in this post I'll share some tactics you could use to boost your family income using means already available to you, and without having to travel far from home.

    Quick and easy ideas to earn money online

    1. Participate in online surveys - Most companies use market research for new products and marketing schemes, and are willing to offer compensation in exchange for completion of surveys. There are many different companies you could join to earn a few extra pounds each week from participating in market research surveys including Ciao, MySurvey, Toluna and LightSpeed Research.

    For each survey you complete, your reward could range from 10p to £15 (in either cash or vouchers) for between 10 and 30 minutes of your time. None of these companies will ever attempt to sell you anything or reveal your personal details. It's well worth joining a few different panels so you rack up your points or earnings more quickly.

    2. Get paid for browsing the internet - Quite a few different companies have sprung up which offer compensation for visiting various websites or performing internet searches. In order to be compensated for visiting these sponsored sites, you will likely need to stay on the page for a few moments, or click on banners which you may have no real interest in.

    However, the pennies will soon rack up. ?? claims that 20 minutes or so of your time each day could rack up more than £4 in earnings by combining your activities through various different services. Over the course of a year, this activity could easily set you up for a no-spend Christmas or family holiday. ?? has written a comprehensive guide for getting paid to browse the internet, which I strongly recommend you check out if interested in this activity.

    Sites such as HTmail and Sterling Mails offer a few pence for each email you read and respond to, paying cash into your PayPal account. It's advisable to use a disposable email address when joining such schemes (Hotmail, for example) to ensure your personal email address is not overwhelmed or used for spam.

    3. Reading emails could net you ££'s - This is not anactivity I have personally tried (as I already receive so many emailsfrom my blogging activities), but apparantly this activity could soonrack up a few pounds in compensation for only a few minutes each day.

    4. Earn cash-back from your shopping - A relatively new concept for me is earning cash-back through affiliate sites when you make purchases online. Everything from supermarket shopping to digital camera could earn you cashback from such membership sites, so if you had planned to make these purchases anyway, such schemes are an excellent way to make a few extra pounds.

    Some of the most popular schemes for cashback include GetPoundsBack, TopCashBack and CashBackChief. Some of these schemes offer a bonus just for signing up too!

    In order to get the best deal you can also use the price comparison features of such schemes, then total up the cashback you would receive to make (or save) the most money.

    5. Music Lover? Get paid to review unsigned artists - SliceThePie helps unsigned artists by offering their music for review by it's members. You could earn from 5p to 25p for each track you review (depending on your reputation), and tot up your credits to earn a little extra each month. Music artists could also profit from this site if their music receives many positive reviews by earning a contract.

    It is complicated to explain, so be sure to read the full terms and FAQs on the site to get a better understanding of what it's all about.

    Sell your unwanted household items

    6. Sell anything on eBay - Of course, eBay is great for anything you may want to sell, from used electrical items to baby clothes and even your unwanted houseplants! It's very easy to get started selling on eBay: just create your account and sign up as a "seller". I would advise you to also set up a PayPal account as many eBay buyers prefer to use this as their preferred payment method. Here's a great article from MoneySavingExpert about the basics and most effective methods of maximizing your eBay profits.

    7. Sell your books and unwanted CDs on Amazon - A little known feature of Amazon.co.uk is that anyone can set up an account to sell their unwanted books, CDs, DVD's and games for just a small fee. Unlike when selling on eBay, you won't be charged anything unless your item(s) sell. Many Amazon sellers have found some highly profitable means of buying and selling books through Amazon. While it may not become the equivilant of a full-time income, it's certainly worth a few pounds for the minutes of your time.

    Apprentice Tycoon wrote a very useful article about selling on Amazon which you can read here.

    8. Get £3 for each book you sell through Green Metropolis - Here's another easy way to make a few pounds from your unwanted library. Simply list your books on Green Metropolis and you'll receive £3 for each one sold (plus a little extra postage for large books and hardbacks). This website seems rather easy to use: you simpl input the ISBN of your books and the site does all the hard work for you.

    9. Sell your unwanted mobile phones - You've probably seen many adverts on the TV recently from companies like MoPay and Envirophone offering to recycle your mobile phones for cash. This could well come in handy of you have a few old contract handsets lying around the house. All you need to do is visit one of these sites, provide details of your handset and you'll be given an instant price ranging from a couple of pounds to over £100 depending on the handset and it's condition.

    For better profits though, I would recommend contacting any independent mobile phone retailers/repair shops in your town as you're likely to get a far better price for your phone! Usually you will be asked to bring your phone in person, but such shops are likely to offer far better money than the online companies do. By "independent" I mean the smaller, local stores (not Phones4U or any other high street name); take a look in our Yellow Pages and you're sure to find a shop or two close to home.

    10. Sell at Car Boot Sales - Car Boot Sales are an excellent way to make quick bucks from selling anything and everything which you no longer wish to keep. For around £5-7 you can hire a spot in a local boot sale, set up a table to display your wares and get selling! Find your local car boot sale on Car Boot Junction where you can search by district or town.

    I will say that Car Boot sales are better for getting rid of stuff which doesn't sell well on eBay or elsewhere, and certainly not for anthing valuable. It's great for old toys, clothes, baby stuff (pushchairs, moses baskets, and the like) which you don't mind getting rid of for only a few pounds.

    11. Unwanted clothes? Get those online too! - Clothes swapping sites such as BigWardrobe.com and WhatsMineIsYour.com also enable you to make a few pounds by offering clothes for sale if there's nothing you'd like to swap with. Anything from Primark t-shirts to Prada handbags may be accepted, so if you have a wardrobe full of clothes you don't wear consider posting these online.

    Sell your skills

    12. Do you have a crafty talent? Join and sell on Etsy - This US-based site was created specifically for creative people to sell their hand-made goods online. Everything from knitted jumpers to hand-made gift tags is sold here, so if you have a creative talent be sure to join and showcase your skills in front of thousands more potential customers.

    13. Sell your household skills - If you're an efficient cleaner, can iron shirts perfectly or are a wizard in the garden, why not offer your skills locally in exchange for an hourly rate? Even through the credit crunch, there are still families who would be thrilled to learn the lady (or gent) down the road could clean their home, organize their garden or finish their laundry while they while out the hours at work. Start by offering your skills to friends or post on a noticeboard near your local shopping centre. Part-time work such as this can easily fit around your current family schedule (nursery, school, etc) and once word gets around about your skills you could even end up inundated with new opportunities.

    14. Sell your technical skills -  This income booster is something I stumbled upon quite by accident when a friend-of-a-friend needed some help setting up their wireless internet connection. I offered to stop by and help, fixed the router and a few other issues with their laptop, and in return was handed £20 plus many recommendations to more friends-of-friends... I'm now known by word of mouth as someone who can fix computer issues, install software, clean up viruses and help set up email accounts. I don't charge a lot and most of the time I get to fix computers in my own time at home!

    To cut a long story short, if you're technically minded and competent fixing some basic computer issues, you could try offering your skills as a technical expert. Unless you have a great stroke of luck like I did, I'd recommend posting details of what you can do on local noticeboards along with your email address or website URL. It's not major income, and I'd suggest you offer fixed price fees for your work to ensure no nasty surprises for your customers!

    15. Skilled with a sewing machine? Start a home-based alterations service - My old neighbour took on a lot of work at home once word of her skills in altering clothes spread around the neighbourhood! Almost every family needs trousers shortening or clothes repaired once in a while, and these days it's very hard to find a trusted alterations service which doesn't cost the earth (especially in cases where the alterations could cost more than the sale items we need altering!).

    16. Sell your photos - Those who are skilled with a digital camera could earn good money from selling their best photography on stock image sites like Fotolia, Photobox and iStockPhoto. For each photo sold you will earn royalties (after paying a small percentage to the service you use). This could be profitable for those skilled in beautiful photography or in a niche sector.

    Work from home

    17. Become a TeleTech@Home Representative- If you're serious about working from home and can spare around 20uninterrupted hours each week, you could apply to work with the USbased company, TeleTech@Home.This company offers full training (for which you will be paid) andenables you to work as a representative using your computer and hometelephone. There are a few assessments and training programs to becompleted; rates of pay depend on the contracts you are offered.

    Thisdoes require a commitment from you, and you will be expected to workfor several hours at a time without disturbance or background noise, soit may be better suited for those with children in school during theday or who can work alone in the evenings.

    18. Publish mobile content to earn a few pounds - AQUA2Uis a new mobile publishing service which enables (virtually) anyone tosign up as a publisher and deliver micro-content to subscribers andfollowers. If you've ever encountered "Horoscope" or "Weather" alertsto your mobile phone, you'll have a good grasp of the style ofpublishing I mean. In some ways, it's a bit like Twitter.

    AQUA2U claim that with just 25 subscribers you could earn £275 a year, rising to almost £3000 for 250 subscribers.

    Thisservice is still very new (it opened on April 20th, 2009) so there areyet only a few publishers listed, ranging from betting tips to bargainsand celebrity gossip, so if you have a good idea for a series oftext-tips, it may be well worth checking this out.

    19. Be a "Party Planner" - A favourite income booster for mums is hosting parties for companies like Ann Summers, Virgin Vie and The Body Shop.When hosting these parties, you're expected to demonstrate theseproducts and earn a commission on anything you sell. Besides earning asecond income, these parties can be loads of fun (especially the AnnSummers ones!); you don't have to limit yourself to family and friendseither - by advertising your parties locally you may well be asked tohost parties for Hen nights, birthdays and other occasionstoo.

    Earn money from your writing skills

    20. Get published with Associated Content-  This US based site offers a baseline rate of $1.50 for each 1000page views of articles you publish with this service. You can writearticles on anything you are proficient in, from how to find a reliablechildminder in London through to your top 10 country music websites (nokidding!).

    The most popular authors can earn afull-time income, though to achieve this you'd need to submit quite alot of content of excellent quality.

    21. Be paid to blog with Today.com - I've not covered earning through blogging in this article because generally it takes months to become established. However, the new service offered by Today.com offers publishers a guaranteed income for blogging on any subjectthrough their site (around $2 for every 1000 page impressions, plus a$5 bonus for new registrants who sign up through your affiliate links).

    Earn money by offering your time

    22. Become a market researcher - Companies like Saros Research offer opportunities for market researchers, usually in the form of small interview panels where you may be asked to test a product or offer your opinions. These opportunities typicaly pay well: between £30 and £50 for a 2-3 hour session. Register with Saros and look up local companies through Yellow Pages or your Thomson directory.

    23. Monitor exams - This offers a great temporary opportunity for parents with children of school age as most exams will be taking place within school hours. By invigilating exams, you will be expected to monitor students, hand out extra papers, escort to the toilets and collect completed papers at the end of the exam.

    Most schools, colleges and universities need extra staff for monitoring exams around Christmas, Easter and just before the summer holidays. Local newspapers may advertise these opportunities; alternatively you could contact your local council or approach schools directly.

    You're likely to need a CRB check before being accepted as an exam monitor, but pay can be rather good at around £8-10 an hour (depending where you live).

    24. Mystery Shopping - A "mystery shopper" is someone who is employed to rate the service or quality of products from retail stores while posing as a regular customer. By registering with "mystery shopper" organizations such as GapBuster, RetailEyes or TNS Global, you could earn free products, monetary rewards or gift vouchers. Most which I have encountered pay around £6-10 per assignment, though it is possible to earn up to £30 a day.

    For some assignments these agencies can be rather strict and require you to take an online exam in order to qualify. Be sure to read the terms thoroughly and take details of each assignment into account to ensure you are reimbursed for any purchases and that you are paid for your time.

    25. Count votes in local elections - Around election times, local electoral authorities may need extra help for counting votes and attending polling stations. Some local authorities pay upwards of £50 per session (or £10-15 per hour) for electoral duties.

    Apparently, those already working for their local councils are offered first refusal of these posts, but it's well worth registering your interest with your local authority in case extra staff are needed. Take a look at the AboutMyVote website to find contact details for your local electoral office.

    A note on tax

    Earning extra income for your family is always welcomed, but don't forget to register your earnings with the tax man! By earning a regular supplementary income, you will effectively be self-employed and will need to declare this to HM Revenue and Customs.

    You need to register with the HMRC Helpline for the Newly Self Employed on 08459 15 45 15 by the end of the third calendar month after you started or you may face a £100 fine. Also it's important to file your self-assesments on time (31st October for paper assessments, or 31st January when filing online).

    Be sure to keep any and all receipts or details of your earnings - whenyou're self-employed you need to keep these for at least 6 years incase you are asked to produce them. Anything you spend on your business is tax-deductible, so it's important to keep accurate records of what you spend.

    Don't forget to make full use of your personal allowances. The first £6035 of your earnings (in this tax year) will not be liable for taxes. Also, if you're on a low income, you should qualify for tax credits and other financial assistance. Take a look at the HMRC website for full details.

    Final thoughts

    I hope this article has provided some useful inspiration for means of boosting your household income without sacrificing too much time or family life. Of course there are many things I haven't covered here (blogging and website-building, for instance) as I feel these alternative income earners require far more involvement or long-term commitment - I chose to focus only on speedy and easy earners instead.

    If you know of any other easy ways to boost your family income, I'd love to know about this so please feel free to leave your comments and opinions below.

    Image credits: Home Office by jimwhimpey; Garage Sale by leighblackall; baby package by Ali Edwards; asleep on the table by obo-bobolina; Writing is my hobby by Charles Jeffrey Danoff; Time by Apesara. All via Flickr Creative Commons.
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  10. Thrifty Ways for Modern Days - Book Review

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009
    Thesedays we are awed by the sheer number of books available to us, and it'sdifficult to choose something relevant to our needs. As parents, we arelimited in the time we can spend reading, and as frugal families wecannot afford to spend on books we may later find irrelevant. So eachWednesday, I aim to review a book on a range of subjects from parentingguides to home-making, fashion/beauty and cookbooks which are most relevant for fabulous, frugal mums!

    Today I will review one of the most important books on frugality I have ever had the benefit of owning: Thrifty Ways for Modern Days, which offers collective wisdom from members of the MoneySavingExpert community and is edited by the money saving expert, Martin Lewis

    As explained succinctly on the front cover, Thrifty Ways provides "handy hints on living better for less". Essentially, this is a book about living thriftily, offering advice about how to spend less (if at all) on the things we do everyday, from cooking and cleaning to dressing and even entertainment. This wonderful book was written through the success of the Old-Style forum on the MoneySavingExpert site where some of the older MSE's decided to share their thrifty wisdoms with younger generations:
    [The Old-Style forum] has swiftly developed into a discussion on living life cheaply, healthily, ethically and thriftily, with all generations together searching for a path to Old-Style bliss.

    How Thrifty Ways is organized

    Thrifty Ways for Modern Days is organized into chapters which outline the many money-saving tips we can choose to adopt for our everyday lives:
    1. Cleaning
    2. Shopping - what to buy and how to reuse it
    3. Clothes and shoes
    4. Home maintenance and DIY
    5. The good life: grow your own
    6. Presents and home-made gifts
    7. Christmas, weddings and other occasions
    8. The old-style recipe book
    Each of these chapters includes many sub-headings to organize the information even more concisely. Chapter 1 (Cleaning) for example offers a section on the top 5 cleaners, followed by an analysis of the cose effectiveness of natural products compared to branded products. Later on, you can even find step-by-step instructions to clean every room of the house in a frugal and environmentally friendly manner.

    (Trust me, I've tried some of these methods and not only do they save money but these can also save time and energy too!)

    For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the format is the Preface section (if I may call it that) which offers an introduction to these "Old-Style" ways, complete with a broad overview of what MoneySavingExpert is all about.

    The "Do you spend more than you earn..?" section was very enlightening. Here you can find fundamental lessons in debt and money management, complete with tables to help you account for expenditures and budgeting plans, which can help literally anyone find ways to manage their finances better (and even discover they have more money available than previously thought).

    I suspect this particular section was written by Martin Lewis himself as the information he provides makes complete sense and cuts through all the fog we tend to associate with our finances, making this an important aspect of learning to deal with any money problems we may have and prevent any wasteful losses of our income.

    My favourite chapters

    I particularly enjoyed the chapter on cleaning, for while I have used natural (and thrifty) methods to clean our home for some time, I found the sections explaining methods for every room in the house to be particularly enlightening. These sections begin by explaining exactly which products are needed, followed by a run-down of how to clean various aspects of the room, including recipes for home-made cleaning products.

    The chapter on shopping proved also very useful. Here you can learn how to make careful choices of what you choose (and choose not) to buy; how to fight the impulse to spend when it's not nescessary, and how to "downshift" in order to make even better savings for your shopping baskets.

    This chapter does not only explain how to save money on grocery shopping: almost every aspect of what we choose to buy is covered, from electrical items to beauty and personal treats. Recycling is another important section of this chapter: rather than explain simply how to take your used paper and bottles to the recycling depot, Thrifty Ways offers useful insights of how products may be reused at home - this not only saves on waste, it enables us to save money on expenditure too!


    Although a relatively small format when compared to similar titles, Thrifty Ways for Modern Days is packed from cover to cover (literally - there are tips on the front and back!) with great tips to save money and live within your means. The size of this book is roughly the height of a DVD box, and almost an inch thick making it ideal to stuff in your handbag for light reading on the bus or while waiting in a queue. Being a paperback ensures it's also cost effective - the quality of paper it's printed on is hardly exquisite but since this is a book about frugality, there is no more fitting format for this guide.

    As Martin explains in his introduction, "Old-Style" ways are not for everyone; this book offers a "take it or leave it" approach where some tips may be suitable for your means while others may seem too extreme for your liking. For example, I personally prefer not to stock up with free sugar sachets and sauces from fast food restaurants or make gift tags on the computer at home. But on the other hand, the advice about swapping clothes at local parties and investing in my own breadmaker were tips which really worked out well for me.

    I sincerely recommend you pick this book up for a read. It's currently only £5.49 from Amazon (the list price is only £7.99) though you're also likely to find this bestseller in your local library or through ReadItSwapIt.co.uk (which was where I sourced mine!). I can tell this book will live for a long time on my desk shelves as I seem to pick it up regularly for thrifty advice on whatever I'm up to.

    Buy Thrifty Ways for Modern Days from Amazon.co.uk
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  11. 5 of The Best... Loyalty Cards for Shopping Savvy Mums

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009
    In this age of information, loads of different companies are jumping on the loyalty card bandwagon, offering points, discounts or money back for their customers in exchange for details of our shopping habits. But which are the best ones to use?

    For today's post, I'll summarize my five favourite loyalty cards for British mums, complete with details of the rewards and value earned from using them.

    1. Boots Advantage Card

    Boots Advantage Card
    This is by far my favourite all-time loyalty scheme, the one which earns more rewards than any other scheme I have yet tried.

    Each point earned on your card equals a penny to spend in store; for each pound you spend, you'll earn a minimum of 4 points on your card, though double/triple points days and promotions for extra points on selected items means it's easily possible to earn far more than this.

    For mothers with young babies, I highly recommend you also join the Mother and Baby club, which entitles you to triple points when buying Huggies nappies, plus you'll receive many other great offers to help you and your growing baby.

    Once you've earned enough points, you can spend this in-store or online on anything you want (except for gift vouchers). You will need to have earned enough points to buy your purchase outright, as points cannot be used in part-purchase.

    Personally I save up my points for expensive treats and luxuries (perfume and Chanel lipsticks are wonderful when no money needs to be exchanged) though you could just as easily redeem against your usual shopping to save money on your everyday needs.

    How to apply

    You can apply for a Boots Advantage card in store and begin earning your points right away, or visit the website to make your application on-line.

    2. Nectar

    Nectar Card Earns Points Nectar helps you earn points from spending at a huge variety of high street stores, online retailers, petrol (via BP) and even on your holidays (through Expedia and others).

    These points may then be exchanged for a variety of rewards including cinema tickets, days out, travel and beauty treats.

    You can earn roughly two points for every pound spent with Nectar sponsors. These points roughly equate a penny each, though rewards start from around 500 points which could get you:
    • £2.50 off at Argos
    • A free DVD rental from BlockBuster
    • £2.50 off your shopping at Sainsburys
    • A £2.50 voucher for Gala Bingo
    There are many many more rewards you could get depending on the number of points you have saved. Take a look at the Nectar card calculator to see how many points you could earn towards your dream reward.

    How to apply

    Many of Nectar's sponsors offer application forms in-store (such as Sainsburys and Debenhams), though you can also make your application online. This way you can make a note of your Nectar card number and begin collecting points straight away.

    3. Tesco Clubcard

    Tesco Clubcard
    Here's another card which I use regularly, not just for shopping but for my fuel and mobile top-ups too (which earns three times as many points).

    You can earn 1 point per £1 spend in Tesco stores, online and at Powergen, Marriott, Johnsons Cleaners plus a few other retailers. Each point earned represents a 1p discount to spend in store, and is redeemed in the form of vouchers which are sent out by post.

    However, by redeeming points on Tesco's specially selected offers, each point is worth around 4p instead. These special offers include magazine subscriptions, family outings and even RAC membership.

    How to apply

    You should be able to pick up a temporary Clubcard from any Tesco store and begin earning points right away. Alternatively, visit the Clubcard website to apply online; you'll be able to collect points right away on online purchases, but would need to ask for a special receipt to credit your points by telephone after shopping in-store until your permanant card arrives.

    You may also be interested to apply for the Tesco Clubcard Plus account by calling 08457104010 for an application form. This works like a prepaid card (no credit facility) which can be used only in Tesco stores and offers double points on your spending. I'm yet to receive my own card to explain more, but since I shop at Tesco so often I'm sure it will be worth the effort.

    4. Toys R Us Gold Card

    Toys R Us Gold Loyalty Card
    If you regularly shop at Toys R Us, have a young baby or are expecting one, then it's well worth joining the Gold Card scheme. Don't worry, this is not a credit card (though admittedly I was put off applying for a while since this was the impression I'd been given!).

    The Tous R Us Gold Card offers a point for each pound spent when you spend over £10 in store or online. When you have accumulated enough points, you will be sent vouchers to the minimum value of £75 against selected future purchases.

    It does take ages to collect enough points, and admittedly the vouchers may not always be for goods you would normally purchase. But if you have a baby or very young child, it is advantageous to join the related Mother and Baby scheme, where further discounts are offered and a regular newsletter is sent out.

    How to apply

    You should be able to apply in any Toys R Us store by filling out a quick application form. Alternatively visit the Gold Card page of the Toys R Us website to fill in a form online.

    5. Air Miles

    Airmiles Loyalty Scheme
    Although the Air Miles scheme seems to have been around for years, I've only recently discovered how useful this can be in collecting points for free family days out (travels too, though this aspect would rarely benefit us personally).

    Air Miles points can be collected through loads of different retailers (more than 200 in total, both online and off) such as Currys, Evans, Shell petrol stations and even by transferring points from your Tesco Clubcard.

    The number of Airmiles earned for your spend varies between retailers, from 1 mile for every £10 spent on eBay to a whopping 750 points when you take out a subscription to The Times.

    For best value, redeem Airmiles against "experiences" rather than flights. This seems to offer more monetary value for your saving and enables you to visit some great attractions for free such as Legoland or the London Eye.

    How to apply

    You can register to collect Airmiles by filling in the application form on the Airmiles website. I'm unsure if there are ways to apply in any stores, though you could also call the customer contact centre on 0844 49 333 94.

    What are your favourite schemes?

    Have I missed out your favourite loyalty scheme from this list, or do you use any of my favourite 5 schemes regularly? Please feel free to leave your comments below.
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  12. Coraline - The best family film of the year?

    Monday, May 11, 2009
    Over the weekend I took my children to see Coraline (in 3d) at our local cinema. Now as anyone who's read Glamumous for some time would understand, I don't usually review films on this blog (books yes, but never movies). However, we were all so blown away by Coraline that I simply had to write about this here for any other mums who've been hesitant about seeing this amazing film which I believe is truly best experienced in 3d.

    Based on the novel by the British author, Neil Gaiman, Coraline is the story of a young girl who stumbles upon a magical, parallel and seemingly perfect world where everything she wishes from life becomes a reality. Whereas her real parents barely have time to talk (let alone play) as she explores her new home in the Pink Palace, in the other world, her "other mother" spends time baking cookies and delicious meals to entice her, while her "other father" lets the piano play him (no kidding) and takes rides on a magical mantis in their living breathing garden.

    However, all is not as it seems. When her other mother wants to keep Coraline in the other world, Coraline is set to battle with all her wits (and the aid of a wise talking cat) to save her soul and free the ghosts of children trapped in this realm.

    I don't want to give the story away since this is a film you really must make the time to see, or rent on DVD as soon as it's released!

    Despite being marketed as a kids movie, Coraline is rather sinister and I doubt it's suitable for young or sensitive children as some scenes offer the potential for nightmare material in little minds. Having said that, my four year old daughter positively adores this film. I was a little apprehensive (having seen some of the trailers for Coraline) and at times she was a little edgy, but the sheer magic of this wonderful film won her over.

    To summarize, Coraline is "handmade" - the attention to detail is exquisite, and once you realize that the sweaters and those mittens from the clothes shop are actually knitted in miniature by a real person, you'll understand even more what makes this film so special.

    I'd certainly recommend this, and believe this is definitely the best family film of the year (if not the past five years). If you loved The Nightmare Before Christmas or James and the Giant Peach, this will truly be a film you and your family will love. Just be sure not to take very young children, and if in doubt, visit the official website to get a glimpse of what Coraline has to offer.

    For those who do stay to the end of the film (as I always do!), you may well wonder what "Jerk Wad" means to "those in the know"... I sincerely doubt Henry Selik intended the meaning offered by The Urban Dictionary for this phrase! Instead, this was a password which could be used in Coraline's room on the official website to enter a competition for a pair of Nike trainers. Sadly the competition is now closed, and as far as I can tell there is nowhere else on the site to enter this curious phrase, but if you were burning with curiosity at least you now know what it means.

    Here's one of the best trailers I've found for Coraline, in fact, the one which made me book tickets so we could see this film the very same night. Enjoy, and if you do watch in cinema 3d, be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think too.

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  13. How To Be The Perfect Housewife - Book Review

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009
    Thesedays we are awed by the sheer number of books available to us, and it'sdifficult to choose something relevant to our needs. As parents, we arelimited in the time we can spend reading, and as frugal families wecannot afford to spend on books we may later find irrelevant. So eachWednesday, I aim to review a book on a range of subjects from parentingguides to home-making, fashion/beauty and cookbooks which are most relevant for fabulous, frugal mums!

    Being quite the fan of Anthea Turner's "How to be The Perfect Housewife" series, the book tie-in was one which I looked forward to reading. Or devouring, as it turned out.

    Now before I go any further, let me explain one thing: I am by no means a perfect housewife. Cleaning is not a task which comes naturally to me. I am perfectly happy to live in a home resembling ordered chaos and can think of a million more interesting things to do than laundry, ironing and spring cleaning! I chose to buy this book (as a gift to myself, nonetheless) because I wanted a book which would help me learn to take care of our home more efficiently, leaving me more time to spend on the million more interesting things I could think of than ironing a huge pile of my husbands shirts. After a few moments examining the contents in the bookshop, it seemed quite apparent that this would be a suitable book for my needs.

    Lessons in the art of household management

    How to Be The Perfect Housewife is organized into 19 chapters, each of which deals in a particular "lesson" of household management. These chapters so follow in the order you would expect to learn about the management of your home, beginning with "Decluttering" (as Anthea explains, this is the first step towards a clean and tidy home), through to "Cleaning Room By Room" (chapters 3 and 4); "Kitchen Sense" (chapters 12 and 13) and "Home Safety" (chapter 19).

    Anthea's approach is ideal for those who seek a solution for organizing and managing their house, no matter what their circumstances or income. In my opinion, the choice and ordering of these chapters aids in educating the reader in the manner you would expect to learn in a classroom or long-distance course. Essentially, I believe these lessons reflect the learning curve she creates for participants of the TV show (though I would love to get my hands on one of those manuals she presents to each wife as a "crash course" in housewifery!).

    Well-presented and easy to digest

    Each chapter is broken down into small chunks which make the lessons very easy to digest. Rather than write long (boring) paragraphs, Anthea presents her ideas in short paragraphs, bullet points and lists, enabling the reader to literally dip in at any point in the text. Important tips are highlighted in their own boxes or sections, while each page is somehow decorated with quirky (and mostly feminine) icons which I find makes light of the ardous tasks discussed in the text.

    Indeed, this appears to be an extention of Anthea's suggestions that housework could be made enjoyable. In the same way we are encouraged to decant cleaning solutions into pretty bottles to brighten up our maids cupboards, her prose is presented alongside pretty flowers and flirty decorations.

    Not quite as many "inside secrets" as I'd hoped

    After watching almost every episode of the TV series, I'd hoped to find at least a good scattering of Anthea's recipes for cleaning products, tricks for folding T-shirts and towels, and lists of daily/weekly/monthly chores.

    Sadly, these expert tips were few and far between in The Perfect Housewife. While there is a recipe for Anthea's ultimate grime-busting solution (which uses only natural ingredients) and a section on creating a cleaning schedule for your home, I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed that the television series revealed far more interesting tips than were offered in the book.

    Bossy, but brilliant!

    I must admit that Anthea Turner is a woman I would love to hate: like Mary Poppins, she is practically perfect in every way. Her home is a dream house; her cupboards immaculately organized and her souffles always rise. As in the television series, you may well find her lessons of the home come across as rather bossy and unquestionable, yet for me this is the beauty of her advice: when you put these ideas into practice, you can honestly attest that she is right!

    So much as I would love to hate Anthea, the fact is I simply cannot. She is - as the cover describes - "The Queen of Clean". She knows exactly how to manage a home, and considering her mansion has two huge kitchens and a menagerie of pets, the management of her own household is testament to her expertise.

    Yes, Anthea does outsource some of her cleaning. She does not expect a lone woman to tend to the entire house by herself, and her definition of what the perfect housewife should accomplish offers inspiration for us all:
    A beautiful cosy home has very little to do with money or size, but has everything to do with making the best of what you have.
    Be sure to read through the introduction to learn about the family in Delhi who made her feel such a welcome guest. For me, this story is the perfect example of what Anthea hopes we can achieve by following her advice.

    An ideal home-manual for those who need a kick-start in household management

    Overall, The Perfect Housewife is a very useful book for those who need a kick-start in the right direction, or who seek inspirational advice from the self-confessed "Queen of Clean". It's not aimed at those who do actually aspire to be perfect, but instead those who feel they need a helping hand, a little guidance, or a chapter full of useful tricks for removing every stain your family could possibly throw at you.

    So if you feel your own home could use a little TLC, or that your organizational skills could use some touching up, be sure to look out for The Perfect Housewife at your local bookstore.

    How to be The Perfect Housewife is currently available from Amazon, priced at £9.09.
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  14. 5 Of The Best... Natural Products for Cleaning the Family Home

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009
    In this day and age we are inundated with advertisements end endorsements for the latest, greatest cleaning products to enter the market. Fancy blocks which stick under the rim of the loo; grease-busting kitchen cleaner with lime-power; scent-infused wipes specifically designed to cleanse our hard floors... If we listened to the advertisements, our homes would cost a small fortune to maintain, with cupboards full of cleaning products designed to perform only one job!

    In days gone by, our fore-mothers used natural products to clean their homes where each product could be used for a multitide of tasks. Being both ecologically sound and cost-effective to boot, it's no wonder that many parents are turning to natural solutions for cleaning their family home. Such products can save us ££'s, take up far less room in the maid's cupboard, and ultimately the lack of chemical ingredients make them safe to use around our children.

    So here ladies, are my favourite 5 natural cleaning products, tried and tested with ideas for how they can be used. Try them for yourself to see just how effective these can be in comparison to your favourite chemical brands. Once you've seen the effects for yourself, I doubt you'll ever browse the chemical aisles again!

    1. White Vinegar

    While growing up, my only experience of vinegar was as a condiment for chips. My mum didn't really subscribe to the notion of natural cleaning, and even today her cupboards are filled with bottles of chemical solutions which probably cost more than the fees she could pay to hire a cleaner each week!

    So when my good friend (and household mentor) suggested I use vinegar to clean my grimy windows, I was somewhat aghast. Why on earth would I want to make my home smell like a chip shop, I asked. But once I'd seen the gleam produced by diluted vinegar and scrunched up newspaper, I never looked back.

    White vinegar still smells like the stuff you put on chips, but it's truly an excellent degreaser, ideal for all manner of cleaning in the family home. If you can't stand the smell, add a few drops of your favourite essential oils to your vinegar solutions to disguise the stink (and make your home smell wonderful at the same time).

    Where to buy white vinegar

    White vinegar is often known as "Distilled vinegar" (a title which confused me no end when I first tried to find this in the supermarket!). Unlike malt vinegar, this product is colourless and is usually sold alongside other condiments in your local supermarket at around 50p for a half-litre bottle.

    For ultimate savings, try to find this in a larger bottle. Asian and Arabic supermarkets often sell 2ltr bottles for a couple of pounds, and other frugal home-makers have found this in the natural cleaning section in Boots stores (though I've been unable to find it in my local stores up North).

    If you do buy from the supermarket, be sure to grab a few bottles at a time, as you're sure to use up a 500ml bottle in no time when you realise how useful this is!

    Using White Vinegar to Clean your Home

    • For cleaning windows, glass and mirrors, use a solution of half-vinegar and water in a spray bottle (the type you use to spray your house plants). Squirt your windows a couple of times (don't be over-zealous) and buff off with scrunched up newspaper. The vinegar makes the glass sparkling clean and even removes the grease from cooking/smoking with ease!
    • For unblocking drains, pour neat down the plug hole, leave for 20-30 minutes, and follow with a kettle-full of boiling water. For very stubborn blockages, pour a handful of bicarbonate of soda down the drain first. The vinegar will make it fizz and unblock even the greasiest deposits.
    • For general cleaning/surface sprays, use half and half with water. This is a great solution for cleaning cooking spills, wiping down kitchen surfaces and even cleaning the bath-tub. Add lemon juice for a nicer smell or extra-degreasing power.
    • To soften clothes and fluff up towels, use in place of your regular fabric softener in the washing machine. Just a quick slug will do (about half a cup). I promise your clothes will not smell of vinegar once dried, and this really does fluff up towels (great for times when the fibres are flattened from accidental use of fabric conditioner in the wash).

    2. Bicarbonate of Soda

    Not to be confused with baking powder, bicarbonate of soda is another fabulous multi-purpose cleaning solution. I use this often as a mild abrasive, but it's excellent for stain-removal and deoderizing too.

    Where to buy Bicarbonate of Soda

    Most supermarkets sell this in small tubs beside home-baking products. Usually this is less than £1 a tub, though I've found the cheapest place is Tesco where I buy mine for less than 50p.

    You may also be able to find large tubs in a local ethnic supermarket or wholesale supplier for a few pounds. It is worth investing in a large tub to save money over the long term.

    How to use Bicarbonate of Soda for cleaning

    • For a mild abrasive (great for cleaning cooker tops and stubborn marks), mix to a thick paste with water. Leave on for a couple of minutes then buff off with a cloth.
    • To clean your fridge, dissolve half a cup in a basin of water and use as a solution to wipe down the interior.
    • To deoderise the fridge, leave small amount in an open container in the back of the fridge (this will not tarnish the interior or taint the food)
    • To de-scale a kettle or clean stained cups, dissolve a couple of teaspoons in a mug of hot water; leave to soak and rinse clean.
    • To remove stains, dampen the fabric and sprinkle a little bicarb on top. Leave to absorb the water, then rub gently with a sponge.

    3. Borax (Sodium Borate)

    Borax is a natural mineral with disinfectant properties which can be used for cleaning and disinfecting areas of the family home.

    Be careful though: borax must be used with caution and kept far away from children and pets. Be sure to always wear rubber gloves when using borax, and keep in a sealed container.

    Where to buy borax

    Personally I have found borax to be among the most difficult household cleaners to find. If you're lucky, you may find this in the natural cleaning products aisle in your local Boots store. Some chemists sell borax (ask at the counter), and local hardware stores are known to stock this too (this is where I buy borax).

    Alternatively you can try the Dri-Pak website, where borax can be purchased in bulk. Occasionally you can buy this from eBay in single tubs for a few pounds each.

    How to use Borax for household cleaning

    • As a disinfectant, mix 1/2 a cup of borax with a gallon of hot water and use as required.
    • For cleaning very dirty floors, mix 1/2 a cup of borax with a gallon of vinegar. This will cut through grime and provide disinfectant qualities at the same time.
    • For a multi-surface disinfectant spray, combine 2 tablespoons borax, 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 2 cups of hot water. Decant into a spray bottle and use to clean the cooker, kitchen surfaces or any place where a strong disinfectant solution is required.
    • For cleaning grimy toilets, flush the toilet to wet it then sprinkle 1 cup of borax around the bowl. Spray with 1/2 cup of vinegar and leave overnight. Then simply brush clean in the morning for a clean, shiny bowl.


    Another multi-purpose product, lemons make an excellent degreaser; what's more, by using lemons (or lemon juice) for cleaning your home, you will also be exuding a fabulous citrus scent.

    Best value lemons - where to buy

    I've found the cheapest place to buy lemons is usually the supermarket (particularly Asda and Tesco), where you can buy a bag of lemons from the budget/value range for less than 50p. Depending on the season, you may be able to pick up lemons for as little as 10p each when sold singly.

    If you prefer to buy lemon juice, try visiting your local ethnic supermarket for a large bottle (rather than the 200ml ones sold in supermarkets).

    Using lemons for cleaning

    • To clean and disinfect your chopping board, rub with half a lemon and a little salt.
    • To clean a grimy microwave, quarter a lemon and place in a microwavable bowl with a cup of water. Cook on high heat for 5 minutes, then leave the bowl in the microwave for a further 1/2 hour. Once the water is cooled. use the water to wipe the inside of the microwave. All of the dried on grime will simply wipe away, leaving your microwave sparkling clean.
    • To boost cleaning when soaking dirty pans, add half a lemon to your bowl of washing-up water. The grease-busting power of the lemons will help dissolve the grime on your pans.
    • For a fragrant furniture polish, combine the juice of one lemon with a teaspoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of water. Apply a coating of the mixture to the item to be polished; leave for 5 minutes then buff off with a soft cloth. Also useful for polishing leather sofas (but use slightly more olive oil for this job)
    • To deodorize your kitchen, use leftovers from your lemons (perhaps after cleaning other things?) and simmer on the stove for an hour in a little water.

    Washing soda (Sodium Carbonate)

    Traditionally used for washing clothes, this mild detergent is an excellent grease-cutter too enabling it to be used for washing dishes, walls and indeed anything else which requires cleaning.

    Where to buy washing soda

    I usually buy washing soda in packets from the supermarket from around 50p for 500g (and it lasts ages!). You may also find this in Wilkinsons, Boots stores (near the natural cleaning section) or at your local hardware store.

    The most common brand appears to be Dri-Pak so try their website if you're unable to locate anywhere close to home.

    When buying in packets, be sure to transfer to a sealed, labelled container or place the opened packet in a zip-lock bag to prevent spillages or damp.

    How to use washing soda

    • For extra laundry cleaning power, add half a cup to the powder drawer of your washing machine
    • For hand-washing delicate items, sprinkle a handful in warm water and add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to make clothes smell wonderful.
    • When washing dishes in the sink, dissolve half a cup in the dish water and add half a lemon for grease-busting power.
    • Create your own dish-washer detergent by combining equal parts of borax and washing soda (far cheaper than branded tablets and powders!)

    Which are your favourite home-made cleaning solutions?

    In this article, I've covered only a handful of the home-made cleaning solutions we can use to clean our family homes cheaply and without chemicals. The five products mentioned above are my favourites, but I'd love to know what you use for your own family homes too.

    Please feel free to leave your own ideas and suggestions in the comments below.

    Image credits: Eco-cleaning (top right) by extended.epiphany; Vinegar by Gorgeoux; Bicarbonate of Soda by solylunafamilia; Borax by luce_beaulieu; Lemons by terriseesthingsWashing Soda by Liquid Lucidity. All via Flickr Creative Commons.
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