October 9

Grandpa’s Guide To Bringing Home The Brambles

When I was a child we spent a week each autumn in a caravan in the countryside. No electricity! no central heating!! No tv!!! No wifi!!!  Evenings spent playing board games; the soft hiss of gas lamps being lit as evening fell; beds still water-bottle-warm in the mornings as ice-crystals formed on the inside of the windows…

In spite of conditions that make Tartan Boy look at me with a mixture of horror, pity and incomprehension they were happy holidays. As kids, we looked forward to doing things that were different from our usual lives but still reassuringly familiar, because we did them each year. One of our favourites, enjoyed most days, was brambling with Grandpa. Grandpa is long-gone, sadly, but his approach to taking children fruit-picking stays with me. Here are the three wisest tips I learned from him.

  1. Kids need a reason – chat on the way about what you are going to do with your brambles when you get home. Make bramble jelly? Bake a bramble pie? Knock together a bramble and apple crumble? If that’s too far away to motivate them then offer a small reward for filling their containers. Most kids will do anything for a fun-size mars bar.
  2. Children need a quick win – don’t take big tubs for them to fill slowly. Grandpa used to collect empty food cans, drill two holes near the top and thread string through to make a long handle. Looped over a child’s head the cans hung at chest height, leaving our little hands free to pick fruit and pop it in the cans.The cans filled quickly, we felt proud of the speed with which we had reached the top and that spurred us on to fill another. Grandpa meanwhile tipped each full can into a big tupperware box. If drilling holes in cans sounds like too much work for a short brambling expedition, try dishing out small tupperware boxes for your kids to bring back to the mother ship.
  3. Children get bored quite quickly – don’t chivvy them to keep picking once they get restless. Move on – there will probably be a new patch of brambles not far away and they can attack that one with renewed enthusiasm. Or let them climb some trees, or play hide and seek, or sit down and have a snack… If none of that works, it’s time to call it a day and go home to eat your brambles.
March 7

How To Buy Happiness

Once you can afford to feed, clothe and house yourself, each extra pound makes less and less difference to your sense of well-being.”  Liz Hoggard, Making Slough Happy

Money can’t buy you happiness, right?

Wrong, according to Jonathan Haidt, author of the excellent The Happiness Hypothesis who insists that  “those who think money can’t buy happiness just don’t know where to shop.”  And then goes on to show how smart spending choices will make you thrifty and happy.

Tartan Boy ClimbingNow, I love Thrifty, but I love Happy more. Isn’t Happy what Thrifty is really shooting for? Why are you cutting your spending? Freedom from the misery of debt? A good life at a lower price? Saving up to live out a personal dream?  Whatever your reason, it’s about being happier. It’s always about being happier.

So, what should we be doing with our money, to maximise our Happy? I have been exploring the world of Positive Psychology and here is what I have learned.

How To Buy Happiness

  1. Invest in variety not volume.  It’s not the expense of a new thing that delights us – it’s the newness, the change from what we just had to what we have now. So frequent, small treats will create steadier happiness over time than occasional big purchases. Treating yourself little and often could make you more contented than saving up for one big expense.
  2. Invest in doing not having.   Activity, according to positive psychologists, brings greater and longer-lasting pleasure than possessions, especially activity that we share with others.
  3. how to buy happinessInvest in creating rather than just consuming.  Making things makes you happy. Buying things, not so much. Cook things, grow things, make music, design a web site, redecorate your home – whatever works for you.

    “Joy’s soul lies in the doing” (Shakespeare)

  4. Invest in your health. It’s harder to feel good when you feel bad. Money spent on nutritious food, a comfortable mattress, shoes you can walk in, etc, is money well spent. (Note to self: money spent on fancy wine is a less secure investment in lingering happiness.)
  5. Invest in relationships.  Spend money on connecting with others (meeting friends for coffee, travelling to visit family, sending a birthday card, etc.) rather than on competing to have the best, biggest, most luxurious and most expensive of everything. We are hyper-social animals and we need to feel connected to others more than we need to keep up with the Joneses.
  6. Invest in community: share.  Studies show that people who share more are usually happier than people who don’t.  Perhaps it’s because it reminds them how lucky they are to have more than others; perhaps it reassures them that they have something of value to offer to others; perhaps it helps them feel involved with the rest of the human race.  Perhaps we just feel good when we do good.  Whatever the reason, in terms of buying happiness, it’s a great investment.


Thrifty Habits PlannerClick here for this week’s Thrifty Habits Planner. It’s free – what could be thriftier than that?

November 10

Who Is Going To Thank You For A Home-Made Christmas Gift?

Home-Made Presents – The Thrifty Gifter’s Crafty Money-Spinner

Antique-Sewing-Machine-Lady-GraphicsFairy-thumb-150x150‘Twas two months before Christmas, and all through the house were half-finished and carefully hidden DIY gifts, waiting to be completed.  Yup, it was beginning to look a lot like a home-made Christmas in Tartan Towers.  I logged on daily to the Home Made Gifts thread on Mumsnet, and shared ideas, advice and encouragement with an inspiring bunch of fellow-crafters.  Some of us just loved any excuse to make things.  Most of us were driven by the reality of being two years into a recession, trying desperately to reduce our gift budgets with a bit of seasonal DIY.  Come December 26th we all logged back on to report in triumph on how our gifts had been received.

Reader, the news was not entirely good.

worried gift-giverSome of our carefully crafted offerings went down well but others did not seem to be particularly gratefully received. Some recipients were polite but cool.  Some seemed to be downright insulted. One, on receiving a lovingly prepared hamper of hand-made goodies commented that it wasn’t fair that everyone else spent money, “while you just spent a bit of time in the kitchen.”  Having cheered the cook on through weeks in the kitchen we all felt her pain. Aside from being shocked at the appalling manners of some adults, it made me wonder – are there some people to whom you can never give a home-made gift?

Why Is A Frugally and Lovingly Home-Made Gift Not Always Welcome?

santa+painting+vintage+image+graphicsfairy3Some people saw a home-made gift as something lovingly made just for them – a token of our time and affection.  (I have noticed that this seems to apply particularly to the parents of babies and small children, for whom hand-made is often superior to shop-bought.)  But others saw it as a sign that their gift was inferior – neither an adequate exchange for the gifts they had bought for us, nor an acceptable expression of the high regard in which we held them.  And for some it was just… not what they would have chosen.

download (1)This set me thinking about a book I had come across back in the 1990’s – “Just What I’ve Always Wanted”.  It borrowed McClelland’s Three Needs Model of Human Motivation, from management training to argue that all people are driven by three needs, and each person has one need in particular that outweighs the other two. Working out which need motivates each of your loved ones is the key to working out what kind of gift to give them.

Who Is Going To Thank You For A Home-Made Gift?

McClelland’s Three Needs are:  Power, Achievement And Affiliation  Or to put it more simply, the need to get things done, the need to accomplish  and have this recognised and the need to be loved.  I think of these as people who need to climb a scale of achievement, people who need to fix things, and people who need to connect with others:  The Climber, The Fixer and The Connector.

Personality sorter to help you choose who to make a gift for

So if you are married to a Fixer, give him a fantastically complex tool box not a hand-knitted scarf. And if your mother-in-law is a Climber, forget the mug painted by her grandchildren and splash out on cashmere socks instead.  As for the mother-in-law who is a Connector… go to Photoshop and have a calender filled with photos of her family made up for her, marked up with all their birthdays and other special occasions.

The Good News Is,There Has Never Been An Easier Time To Hand-Make A Gift

Not everyone wants a home-made gift.  But that doesn’t mean nobody will.  Choose the right gift for the right person and DIY is still more thrifty, more personal, and often higher quality than bought.  And, thanks to the internet, sourcing cheap resources, accessing free instructions, and finding a wealth of inspiration is a doddle.

vintage image of woman with binocularsSeen a beautiful scented candle that’s out of your price range?  Google ‘how to make scented candles’ or ‘candle-making supplies’.  Want to make some truffles? Come back here in a couple of weeks, when I will be showing you a way to do that AND get ahead of the festive curve. Not even sure where to start? Go on Pinterest and enter “DIY Christmas Gifts”. While you are there, check out the Tartan Thrifty Christmas Board to get you started.

What will you be making this Christmas?  And more importantly, for whom?


HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyMore Christmas Posts



5 Ways To Make DIY Stocking Fillers – When You Have No DIY Skills

Gifts In A Jar – Snowy Road Mix


How To Cut Your Gift-Buying Budget


November 3

Merry Thriftmas! How To Do A Magical Christmas On A Real-Life Budget

Christmas Is Not Just About Buying Stuff

ChristmasRetroShop-GraphicsFairy1It’s coming. Christmas: the time of year when we buy Stuff and immediately give it away.  Sometimes Stuff we can’t afford.  Sometimes Stuff we are not even sure the recipient will actually like.  In the full knowledge that we ourselves are also about to recieve Stuff we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, or, embarrassingly, would not have been able to afford to buy.  (Martin Lewis Smith explores this more fully here – well worth reading.)  It’s easy to believe that Christmas is mainly about buying Stuff.

And, actually… [whispers] I like the Stuff.  I love getting a stocking full of the little fripperies I don’t usually waste money on.  I love spoiling my children for one day.  I love having a big, greedy feast to share with my loved ones.  I love the way that, in the darkest part of the year, the house is filled with brightness and abundance.

A Celebration Of Enough

For me, Christmas is a celebration of having Enough.  Enough food. Enough shelter and warmth. Enough loved ones and liked ones.  Enough time to spend some of it relaxing with them. Enough money for treats. Enough stuff to share it with others.

How to buy happiness - six secretsTaking time to enjoy what we have, sharing with others, giving ourselves lots of little treats, celebrating relationships – these all fit in with my thoughts on Buying Happiness.  I don’t have a problem with that.   I do have a problem with the fact that our seasonal pursuit of Stuff mainly seems to buy unhappiness.  We don’t actually spend the festive period kicking back and saying, “Relax!  We have enough of everything.” We spend it worrying about the debts we have just rung up.  We spent the weeks before worrying about whether we were spending enough to please the recipients of our gifts. If it leaves us this anxious, is there much point celebrating it at all?

I have spent this year trying to develop thrifty habits to make life for the Tartan Family happier and I don’t intend to fall off the festive wagon.   This year, I am determined that Christmas in Tartan Towers will be in line with my own Thrifty Principles.

Five Thrifty Principles For Christmas

  1. Take Control Of Your Gift-Buying Budget
    Take Control Of Your Gift-Buying Budget

    Take Control:  You Are The Master Not The Victim Of Your Spending.

    I have used my own  Take Control Of Your Gift-Buying Budget Flow Chart to set a Christmas Gift Budget that we can definitely afford without going into debt or leaving ourselves without enough for our own needs.  I have also had a look at what we actually need to buy, so that these things can make up the bulk of our gifts for the Tartan Weans –  clothes,  sports gear, craft supplies and kit for other hobbies.  And I am starting shopping now, so that last minute panic does not get a chance to throw me off-budget.

  2. Be Joyful And Generous, Not Miserly And Miserable.

    I don’t want to be so fixated on not going over budget that I don’t enjoy giving people gifts that will bring them pleasure.  On the other hand, I don’t want to be so fixated on giving other people lovely gifts that I spend more than we actually have.  The key, for me, is reducing the number of gifts we buy, so that we have enough to buy quality gifts. Adults don’t really need other adults to buy them things, so we will be focussing our budget on gifts for children.  We have made this clear to all the adults by the way – so they don’t go ahead and spend on us without getting anything in return.  If you are going to go the same route, now is the time to let people know so you don’t win this year’s Scrooge Award.  And we will be finding other ways to celebrate our relationships with adults and show them we value them.

  3. Christmas-Fairy-Image-GraphicsFairy-597x1024Work With The Real Not The Ideal.

    It keeps coming back to the budget.   No matter how much we would like to spend on other people, we can only spend what we actually have.  The same goes for all my other attempts to sprinkle fairy dust over everyone’s Christmas.  I don’t have to do everything Martha Stewart has to suggest for a perfect Christmas; I just have to do enough.

  4. Quantify Your Assets; Exploit And Enjoy Them.

    making a list - New Page I am making a list, and checking it twice, of everything we already have that could be used to produce Christmas Gifts –  sweets left over from Halloween; preserves I put away over the summer.  Offcuts and scraps of fabric; the candle-making and other craft supplies languishing in the cupboard; chocolate moulds collected over the years; festive cookie cutters, empty but pretty jars.  I will be including equipment – my sewing machine, kitchen equipment, gardening materials, the printer, DIY tools – as well as the skills Tartan Dad and I already have.  And time:  I will be looking very carefully at exactly what pockets of time I have available to spend transforming these assets into Christmas.

  5. santa+painting+vintage+image+graphicsfairy3Don’t Spend More Than You Have To.

     We will be using up our loyalty points, googling for discount voucher codes for everywhere we do our online Christmas shopping, and taking advantage of special offers whenever possible.  I am already signed up to Top Cashback and will be using Debt Camel’s advice to max the money I get back from my Christmas shopping.  I will be checking out discount stores like The Book People to grab top gifts at rock bottom prices.  I have already begun taking advantage of some of Aldi and Lidl’s weekly offers to stock up on surprisingly good quality gifts for the Tartan Weans. And we are not above buying second hand.  Finally I will be exploiting the assets I quantified by making some gifts.

Will people actually appreciate a home-made gift?  Now there’s a subject for a whole other post…


HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyMore Christmas Posts



How To Fill A Bulging Christmas Stocking Without Busting Your Budget

How To Fill A Christmas Stocking For (Around) A Fiver

5 Ways To Make DIY Stocking Fillers – When You Have No DIY Skills

1 Cheap Pic-n-Mix, 10 thifty Stocking-Fillers

Gifts In A Jar – Snowy Road Mix

How To Turn A £10 Bottle Of Aldi Whisky Into A Hamperful Of Tasty Treats

Make-Ahead DIY Whisky Truffles

How To Cut Your Gift-Buying Budget

Who Is Going To Thank You For A Home-Made Christmas Gift?





May 26

How To Cut Your Gift-Buying Budget

My latest New Habit is to Tackle One Big Spend each month – the things we spend bigger amounts on.  Things like car insurance, holidays, utility bills.  This month I am starting with Buying Gifts.

ChristmasRetroShop-GraphicsFairy1Is Gift Buying a Big Spend?  Tartan Dad used to work in debt counselling.  December was a quiet month but in January the phones rang off the hooks.  This doesn’t suprise you, does it?  Most people complain about how much they spend at Christmas time each year.  We don’t complain so much about spending money on birthday, etc., presents – although it must come to about the same amount.  Last year, according to YouGov, the average UK household spent almost £600 on gifts for Christmas alone.  Adding in all the year’s other gifts that suggests the average household spent well over a grand on gifts.  So, yes, Gift Buying is a Big Spend.   The real question is how to reduce it.

No, the real question is how to reduce it without other people taking the hump.

I don’t have an answer.  Although I think Dr Seuss pretty much has it right – “those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”.  (Dr Seuss didn’t write this, by the way – it was Bernard M Baruch –  but I digress.)  Nobody who deserves your thoughtfulness and generosity would want you to go into debt to buy them a gift.   Yet still we spend more than we can afford on gifts we are not even sure the recipients want.   Year after year.  It’s nuts.

It’s time for a more rational approach in Tartan Towers – and I never feel more rational than when I have a flowchart in front of me. So here to simplify the whole process  is my soothingly (misleadingly?) rational approach to reducing this year’s Gift Budget.  Once I have got control of my Gift Budget, I am going to keep it under control with a free Yearlong Gift Planner from Organised31.  Good luck reducing yours!

Take Control Of Your Gift-Buying Budget
Take Control Of Your Gift-Buying Budget


March 11

Buy Happiness: Try Something New

You may have noticed that my initial intention to introduce new habits ‘one week at a time’ has wavered somewhat.  Truth is, my enthusiasm for the idea of developing new habits outstrips my ability to actually develop them.  Apparently, one new habit a week is more than I can handle and I am determined to work with the real me, not the ideal me.  So I have decided to slooooow it down and aim for just a couple of habits a month now.  This month’s second (and last – phew!) new habit is to try out a new, cheap activity.

HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyWhy?  Surely when you are trying to cut costs, trying out new things that you might not even enjoy is nuts?  Well…

  1. Activity and variety make us happy.  So I figure a variety of activities should make us extra happy.
  2. Doing without gets old pretty quick.   Not spending much on treats shouldn’t mean having no treats.  At all.  Ever.
  3. Not Spending is a negative, and our minds don’t readily commit to negatives – much more inspiring to aim for something than to avoid something else.   So I am aiming to have lots of new experiences rather than avoiding spending money.  Experience has taught me that when I just aim to Not Spend, sooner or later I crack.
  4. Expanding the range of cheap activities we can enjoy will stop us shelling out for the more expensive options just because we can’t think of an alternative.
  5. Mixing it up a bit will be fun.  (Cheap fun!)

wee write imageSo – having discovered recently that I have already paid (with our Council Tax) for lots of family activities we have never tried,  I decided to pick one of them for our first new activity.  This week sees the start of Glasgow’s first ever Wee Write festival – a literary festival for children.   Saturday was Family Fun Day, with lots of free drop-in activities alongside the bookable events so we went along to enjoy the freebies and soak up the atmosphere.  That’s not what happened though:  I bought tickets for Tartan Boy and myself to attend the Metaphrog workshop while Tartan Dad and Tiny Tartan enjoyed the entirely free PlayTalkRead bus parked outside.   Truth to tell, we could have just stuck with the free activities (in fact, Tiny Tartan would have been thrilled to just spend the whole day on the play bus) and spent a very happy few hours there.  The atmosphere was buzzy,  the big reference library jumping with lively kids, and there was loads to do.

So – do I regret spending a tenner to go to a seminar on comic-writing with Tartan Boy?  Nope.  It was a brilliant hour:  TB lapped up every word, I thoroughly enjoyed watching him watching the presenters, and even enjoyed a little ham-fisted doodling of my own, and when we got home TB spent hours drawing his own top secret comic book.  We have talked quite a bit about ideas that came up in the workshop and TB clearly enjoyed having his mum to himself and sharing a special activity with me.  I am still mulling over some of the ideas about creativity and story-telling that came up in the workshop.  So that tenner has given us both a lot more than the one hour of entertainment we paid for.

money mumIt helps, though, that I now have a little fund for treats and outings and so did not have a slightly panicky feeling that we couldn’t afford it when I booked the tickets.  Next month, we will definitely try a totally free outing.

I have asked Tartan Boy to do a wee guest post about the outing too.  He would love to read your comments!

March 11

Metaphrog: a Guest Post

51au4WNvDVL__SX385_Hi guys, TartanBoy here! So at the weekend I went to a workshop called Metaphrog. It was run by the graphic novel authors John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs, most known for their Louis books. The workshop was all about comic book writing. They handed out boards, a pencil and a piece of paper during the workshop for doodling on. It was a really helpful lesson- I still can’t draw though! If you ever go to this workshop, you will enjoy it! Hope you check out Metaphrog, if you do, you will love their books. Goodbye guys!

January 29

Investing in relationships: thrifty greetings cards

Six years ago I received an unexpected card through the post.  I was working full-time and flat out at the first year of a new career, with a three-year-old to keep me busy the rest of the time, and had all but forgotten what it was like to have time for a social life.  As I flicked impatiently through the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmorning’s mail I found myself opening a card from a dear (neglected) friend telling me she was thinking of me and hoping everything was going well for me.  It lifted me.  It still does – I have the card pinned up in the kitchen and it still makes me smile when I see it.  Sending me that card only cost her a few pounds but it was priceless to me.

Greetings cards are a cost-effective way to invest in relationships for the price of a cappuccino.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I buy a greetings card, though,  I am not thinking “Wow – what a cost effective way to let Josephine Bloggs know how much her friendship means to me!”  I am thinking “I bet all her other, better friends remembered to buy her a card ON TIME.”  So this year I have decided to remove the whole guilt factor from card-shopping and make it an opportunity to reflect gratefully on the relationships each card is supposed to be celebrating.  I am buying them all now, while I have the time.  I am putting them all in a folder with a file pocket for each month of the year and a list stuck to the pocket of who has a birthday/wedding/other event that month, and when.  I am even putting in a pocket with a big sheet of stamps.  I am Tartanmum, and I send cards on time.  Oh yes I do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only other things I buy in bulk once a year like this are underpants, so I went to the same place as I do for them – Marks and Spencer’s.  They do an enormous range of cards, some of them for as little as a pound.  Granted, some of their designs are a bit ‘old lady’ for my taste, but some of the people I am buying cards for are old ladies, so that’s fine.  They also do a bonus card in-store:  buy six cards, collect a stamp for each and then your seventh is free.

I bought 21 cards in total, using the bonus cards from the first 18 to pay for the three most expensive.  All together my 21 cards came to slightly over £30.  I feel ready to celebrate my relationships this year,  enjoyed the process of thinking about each person as I chose them a card, and still spent on average half of what I usually spend per card.  PIus, I bought some new pants while I was there.  Success.