September 2

Thrifty Things To Do This Week – Make Candles And Cake

Week 1 – September 2nd, 2019

It’s the first week of the month: if you can make the time, Put Cash In Marked Purses and Make Something.

I love September And October. They are new pencils and new plans. Crisp mornings foraging for free fruit and fragrant afternoons turning them into jams and jellies. Cosy nights indoors, with the slight threat of winter but none of the wet or the chill.

To be honest, I like November too – bonfires and fireworks and making plans for Christmas. And I am fond of December with it’s twinkles and parcels and sociable feasting…

(In the spirit of total honesty I have to point out that the above is a very edited picture of my autumns and early winters. It’s not nearly as calm, ordered, or reflective as that in Tartan Towers. Still, a woman can dream…)

What I love about this time of year is the anticipation of cosy times ahead. So, with that in mind, my Make Something  project this week is going to be Luxury Scented Candles. Something to give away but also something to enjoy at home.

I first made candles when I was about 7 – which tells you how easy they are to make – and can still remember the fascination I felt watching hard wax transform to liquid and back again. So you could treat this as a fun family activity AND a cheap way to treat yourself to a fragrant and twinkly home.

If you want inspiration to batch-cook a freezer-friendly snack try Apple And Custard Cakes. These are so easy a child could make them – no scales or beaters required. I will be back next week with a fresh thrifty habits planner and some suggestions for enjoying time outdoors before winter sets in.

Free, Downloadable Thrifty Habits Planner To Keep You On Track

Click here to download your copy of this week’s free Thrifty Habits Planner.

So, you want to get into the habit of spending less without putting in more effort? You need something to remind you what to do and when, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it. The Thrifty Habits Planner is a simple tool to help you do just that. Use it to pencil in which thrifty things you plan to do this week and to pin yourself down to when you plan to do them. If you take control this way at the start of the week, you are far more likely to have stuck to your plan by the end of the week. Sticking your plan up somewhere you will see it every day helps you to stay on track too.

Take time at the end of the week to give yourself a little treat as a reward for your thrifty efforts. Little splurges will actually help you to stay thrifty – read this to find out how.

August 19

Thrifty Things To Do This Week – Get Kids’s Shoes For Less

Week 4 – August 29th, 2019

It’s the fourth week of a five week month – if you have the time, Take Stock and Tackle One Big Spend

It’s that special time of year when I need to start the annual battle to kit out the kids’ feet without kissing goodbye to a small fortune. Joy. This has been a Big Spend for us for long enough, though, that I have developed some ways of tackling it. You can read everything I have learned about Cutting The Cost Of Kids’ Shoes – written a few years back – and then you can pause and smile wryly at my naive assumption that this was all there is to keeping shoe-shopping to a sensible budget…

I thought I had it sussed. The kids were kitted out in new shoes that protected their little feet as well as my small budget. Then Tartan Boy hit adolescence and the goal posts moved overnight.

Suddenly it wasn’t enough that the shoe was the right size – it had to be the right brand too. A branded shoe is never a budget shoe – they start out at a ridiculously inflated price and no 50% off sticker can bring it down to the same level as a discounted shoe that started out at a lower price. So branded shoes were a step too far for me. But non-branded shoes were a leap over the cliff-edge of cool for Tartan Boy. Problem.

You can read how I (almost) solved it in What To Do When Your Kids Want Branded Shoes And You Want To Stay On Budget. Although, to be honest, it’s less a problem you can solve, more a curve you can try to stay ahead of. So if you have any other secrets of sane shoe shopping, I would love to hear them. Please share them in the Comments below.

I will be back next week with a fresh Thrifty Habits Planner and advice on how to avoid being a pay day millionaire.

Free, Downloadable Thrifty Habits Planner To Keep You On Track

Click here to download your copy of this week’s free Thrifty Habits Planner.

So, you want to get into the habit of spending less without putting in more effort? You need something to remind you what to do and when, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it. The Thrifty Habits Planner is a simple tool to help you do just that. Use it to pencil in which thrifty things you plan to do this week and to pin yourself down to when you plan to do them. If you take control this way at the start of the week, you are far more likely to have stuck to your plan by the end of the week. Sticking your plan up somewhere you will see it every day helps you to stay on track too.

Take time at the end of the week to give yourself a little treat as a reward for your thrifty efforts. Little splurges will actually help you to stay thrifty – read this to find out how.

April 22

Thrifty Things To Do This Week – Get School Uniforms On A Budget

Week 4 – April 22nd, 2019

It’s the fourth week of a five week month, which means you can squeeze in a couple of less frequent habits – if you have the time, Take Stock and Tackle One Big Spend

How is the weather with you today? Cold and wet with no hint of summer over the horizon? Bright and breezy and settling in for a beautiful Spring? Four seasons in one day?

Whatever the weather this week, warmer days are ahead. (Warmer is a relative term: I am not predicting a heatwave.) Which means it’s time to check whether you have summer school uniform in the right sizes all ready to burst out on the first balmy day. And if you are going to do that quick check, you might as well run a full School Uniform Audit. Once you have made time to Take Stock of the uniform you do have in, why not go a step further and Tackle One Big Spend by planning how to fill the gaps in your school kit thriftily rather than panic-buying at full prices on the last day of the summer holidays?

It is possible to get school uniforms on the cheap without compromising on quality – check out outlet stores for quality brands; keep an eye open for sale rails; check out uniform stalls at school fayres for second hand items in good condition. White shirts are fine second hand, so long as they have not been washed so often they have developed that grey tone. Polo shirts depend on their original quality – some keep their colour and shape well, others become pale and saggy after a few months of washing. For items that don’t have to show the school crest, supermarkets are a cheap source but be warned: if you have more than one child at the same school and hope to hand down uniform, cheaper brands don’t last so well. Weigh up whether it will be cheaper in the long run to spend more on items that can be worn by two or more children. I find that second hand trousers are rarely worth the price but school shorts, skirts and dresses are worth buying – no knees to wear through. Second hand jackets vary – always check zips, cuffs and fabric for wear and tear.

Over the last few years I have saved us hundreds of pounds by buying the Tartan kids’ mandatory school blazers second hand. You can read about how to bag a bargain blazer here. Even if you buy all your uniform brand new, it is still cheaper to do that when you have time to shop around for the best prices. Don’t forget to think about stationery, lunch boxes, etc. too.

Get a plan in place now and you will be ready to take advantage of school uniform stalls at summer fayres, online offers and the racks of new uniform arriving in supermarkets in late June.

I will be back next week with a fresh Thrifty Habits Planner and a look at how to budget and banish bad laundry smells.

Free, Downloadable Thrifty Habits Planner To Keep You On Track

Click here to download your copy of this week’s free Thrifty Habits Planner.

So, you want to get into the habit of spending less without putting in more effort? You need something to remind you what to do and when, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it. The Thrifty Habits Planner is a simple tool to help you do just that. Use it to pencil in which thrifty things you plan to do this week and to pin yourself down to when you plan to do them. If you take control this way at the start of the week, you are far more likely to have stuck to your plan by the end of the week. Sticking your plan up somewhere you will see it every day helps you to stay on track too.

Take time at the end of the week to give yourself a little treat as a reward for your thrifty efforts. Little splurges will actually help you to stay thrifty – read this to find out how.

December 7

1 Cheap Pic-n-Mix – 10 Thrifty Stocking Fillers

How To Turn 1 Pic-n-Mix Into 10 Thrifty Stocking Fillers

A Magical Christmas On A Real Life BudgetDo you need some cheap, edible stocking fillers that are more interesting than a fun-size festive Mars Bar? Step right up. I am going to show you how a quick rummage in the recycle bin and a few minutes of printing other people’s labels can help you to turn one pic-n-mix into ten different little stocking fillers. A pic-n-mix is not the cheapest way to buy sweets but it is a cheap way to get small amounts of a good variety of sweets, ready for you to give them a festive twist.

My pic-n-mix came from Morrisons. There were no small cups (£2) so I had to buy a regular (£3) cup – which gave me more sweets than I really needed for this project. So, for my £3 I got 15 stocking fillers – that works out at 20p each. Not bad, but next time I will go to B&M or Poundland who both do a decent big cup for £2.

How To Maximise Your Mix

DSCN0516DSCN0518DSCN0520Pick ten different sweets of assorted sizes. Start by packing big flat sweets around the edges. Put in a layer of medium sized ones then pour on small sweets and shake to settle them into the spaces. Keep going till you are done. The key here is small amounts of the bigger sweets – half a dozen of each, tops. When you get home, split your haul into your different sorts of sweets and then hit your recycle bin to see what re-usable packaging you have.

pic-n-mixWhat you do with your pic-n-mix will, of course, depend on what’s in it. Below I show you how I packaged up my candy but you might come up with different sweets. If you need more candy-packaging inspiration, take a look at my Pinterest Christmas board.

Free Candy Packaging

1 & 2 Chocolate Eggs


Dragons eggs free range and organicI printed out these bag toppers from Simplistically Living to turn them into Dinosaur Eggs for Tiny Tartan and made a label with The Jam Labelizer to turn the rest into Dragon Eggs for Tartan Boy. I also ate a few myself. I do have a bit of a weakness for chocolate mini-eggs…



3  Stripy Strawberry Chews

santa boxesstrawberry chewsThese free Santa printables from Kathy’s Cottage, in red and white checks or spots, are a perfect match for the striped sweets. You can leave the number cards off if you prefer.


4  Jelly Strawberries

jar of jelly strawberriesjelly strawberriesIf you have a small jam jar pack these in and top with a circle of paper or cloth, tied on with ribbon. No ribbon? Take a look in the shoulders of your tops and dresses for the loops of thin ribbon that shops use to keep garments on their hangers. Snip these off and use to secure your jar toppers.


5  Smarties

Halloween-Gift-Boxessmarties in a jarAh, smarties. So many things to do with these. If you have tiny jars you could pack them with smarties, maybe even sorting them into different colours and layering them. Or pop them into a re-purposed plastic box and tie with a ribbon. Or print out one of these cute little pillow boxes from Lines Across – exactly the right size for smarties.


6  White Chocolate Sprinkle Disks

goodie-bagwhite chocolate disks with sprinklesI love these little pouches from Babyccino Kids that you can run up in minutes on a sewing machine using old magazine pages or comic book pages. No sewing machine? I find double-sided sticky tape works well too. No magazines to rip up? No problem – supermarkets give their own away, for free, at the checkouts. M&S ones have particularly nice, thick paper. And the current ones are full of lovely, twinkly festive images which will make ideal containers for white chocolate sprinkles – or any other treats.


7  Jelly Beans



magic beansThese are asking to be re-branded as magic beans with this simple seed packet printable from Nothing But Country


8  Blue Bonbons

eada6b85676f0d75e97df5e7bab7e83btoffee bonbonsThese frosty blue balls are the perfect way to use these Snowman Poop bag toppers from Lime & Mortar – either staple them to the top of a bag or seal the edges with a glue stick to form a little envelope for your “poops”.


9  Jelly Faces

keep calm matchbox covers
jelly facesHow about using these cute Keep Calm And Have Some Candy covers from Pastill for matchboxes packed with jelly faces? The website is in Swedish but Google can translate for you. The translation is not perfect but it does allow you easily to find the free download instructions. They fit small matchboxes, and can be cut fairly easily to size.

10  Chocolate Raisins

reindeer-poop-printableIf life gives you chocolate raisins, make reindeer poop. A Girl And A Glue Gun has tie-on labels and bag toppers for Rudolph’s leavings in two designs and a variety of sizes. Kids of all ages love these.

So there you go – one trip to the shops, ten little stocking fillers.


HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyMore Christmas Posts


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

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


November 22

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

How To Fill A Generous Stocking On A Miserly Budget

Christmas Stocking Planner 1starLast week I shared my (only slightly control-freaky) Christmas Stocking Planner. If you are the kind of person who finds staying on-budget with your kids’ Christmas stockings easy then well done you – I am not. That’s why I need the Planner. My Stocking Planner has allowed me to make sure that, no matter what our current money situation is, we fill our stockings at a price we can afford.

I promised I would come back this week and show you how the planner works, even if you can only afford around £5 a stocking. (If £5 is more than you can afford, take a look at 5 Ways To Make DIY Stocking Fillers – When You Have No DIY Skills.) Here’s how I got on.

How to fill a Christmas stocking on a budget

My (almost) £5 Christmas Stocking Challenge

Stocking Fillers For £1

selfie stickPop-Up Pirate from poundlandThe natural home of £1 gifts is Poundland,  so that’s where I went. I picked the Pop-Up pirate because it is big enough to bulk out the stocking nicely but I could have picked any of a whole range of toys or art supplies. For an older kid I could have picked a mobile phone cover, or a selfie stick.

Stocking Fillers For 75p

75p stocking fillersFor gifts at 75p Home Bargains came up trumps with small stationery sets, art supplies, sticker books and the odd small toy marked down. I reckon a sticker book and bubbles would keep a young child busy at least until lunch-time on Christmas day – and that’s easily worth £1.50 to me.

Stocking Fillers For 50p

50p Stocking fillers

At the 50p level I found an assortment of character surprise eggs in Home Bargains, along with chocolate Santa lollies. Aldi has nets of chocolate coins, Santas or snowmen at this price. I cheated by choosing a 2-pack of cute snail sharpeners from Poundland – one for each boy’s stocking makes them 50p each.

Stocking Fillers For 20p

20p stocking fillers Finding decent gifts at 20p was harder – in fact, I failed. I did manage to find several gifts at 25p though, so I wasn’t that far off. Aside from small bars and bags of high street chocolate, I picked a pack of four pull-back racing bugs from Poundland – working out at 25p each – to share between the boys. If you are filling several kids’ stockings, dividing Poundland multi-packs of small toys, play-dough , stationery, etc. would be an easy way to get your 25p toys. Don’t rule out second hand – I have picked up seemingly unread books at 5-for-£1 at school Christmas fairs, for example. If it looks new to you, it will be fine for a child.

Stocking Fillers For 10p

stocking fillers for 10pFinding gifts at 10p was MUCH harder. Your best bets are second hand, multi-packs and dumb luck – the Melting Zombies were reduced to 10p in B&M Bargains, for example. The hollow chocolate tree decorations from Home Bargains were a multipack that worked out at 11.5p each. Foil wrapping gives them child-friendly shininess and the hollow shape makes a small amount of chocolate look quite substantial.

How Do You Fill A Stocking For Barely A Fiver?

Money-savingPoundland, B&M Bargains, Home Bargains, Lidl, and Aldi are great for very cheap stocking fillers but most supermarkets will have good deals on novelty chocolate treats well under a pound. Sugar is cheap – the less you can pay the more likely you are to spend it on sweets. If you don’t want too much sugar in their stockings, aim to keep your 50p and upward gifts for non-food items that will see some use after Christmas Day.

Thinking outside the box is key – buy second hand, make your own, buy a pic-n-mix and then package up the individual types of sweets in tiny DIY containers, bake festive cookies and cake-pops, team up with a friend in the same position and split multipacks, etc.

Christmas-Fairy-Image-GraphicsFairy-597x1024The main thing I learned is that it is possible to do a stocking for around a fiver but it is not easy. I would struggle to put together a stocking on much less. If you are putting together a magical Christmas for your family  on a very small budget this year you have my sympathy and my respect, for you are working a miracle. Skint Mums And Dads Of The World, I salute you – yours is the true spirit of Christmas.


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How To Fill A Bulging Christmas Stocking Without Busting Your Budget

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

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


November 14

How To Fill A Bulging Christmas Stocking Without Busting Your Budget

Christmas Stockings – A Thrifty Essential

christmas-santa-graphicsfairy010I still remember the outrage with which I greeted my mum’s suggestion that, since none of her “children” were even in their teens any more, we could, maybe, just not bother with stockings this year. I was horrified – didn’t she realise that the little bits and pieces in our stockings each year were part of the very fabric of Christmas? Hmmm?

the little bits and pieces in our stockings each year were part of the very fabric of Christmas

I was reminded of this ten years later when Tartan Dad had a year out of work and we were approaching a very budget Christmas. We did our sums and worked out that we had enough left to either buy each other a gift or a stocking – but not both. It turned out my thirty-something self was no keener to do without stocking fillers than my twenty-going-on-five self. So we ditched the “tree presents” instead – and had a lovely Christmas morning without them, opening our stockings.

santaThat year, more than ever, we needed the abundance of little fripperies that fill a stocking. We needed them because we were carefully, painstakingly sticking to our budget to avoid going into debt – we had enough of everything we needed but we did not enjoy an abundance of anything. Just for one day, we got to be greedy.

santa's faceWe needed those little stocking-fillers because, while our budget allowed us to save up for the big, important things we needed, it did not allow us to just buy little things that took our fancy as we walked round a shop. But our stockings were full of those – all the little things we had routinely denied ourselves every other day of that year.

santa chucklingAnd we needed those fripperies because, in a year of living sensibly, they were a little ray of silly, luxurious fun. Living on a budget is a serious business but sometimes we need to cut loose a little or we will lose the will to keep going.

Thrifty Christmas Stockings

ChristmasRetroShop-GraphicsFairy1No surprise then that I am still a huge fan of Christmas stockings. I am not a huge fan, though, of the way the cost of filling them can spiral out control faster than Prancer, Dancer and Dasher taking Santa on an emergency trip to Toys-R-Us. Some people spend more on Christmas stockings than I spend on the kids’ main presents. And when I say ‘some people’ I mean even otherwise thoroughly thrifty people. OK, I mean me. Readers I am Tartan Mum and I am an uncontrolled stocking-stuffer.

Christmas Stocking Planner 5Or I was, until three years ago when I finally found a way to take control of our Christmas Stockings. I used to just buy until I had what felt like enough stocking-fillers at what seemed like a vaguely filler-y price. Then I would get a shock on Christmas Eve when it turned out to be way too much to fit in our stockings. And an even worse surprise when I finally added up the total cost. I needed to set limits that gave us bulging stockings without stretching our budget to bursting point.  The Tartan Thrifty Christmas Stocking Planner was born.

The Stocking Planner – Christmas Under Control

A simple system for setting a budget, keeping to it, and building a well-balanced stocking

The Stocking Planner is a way to plan and keep track of our stocking-fillers so that I buy lots of very cheap fillers interspersed with a few more pricey items rather than lots of pricey items interspersed with the odd cheap one. It has stopped me buying too many gifts at too high a price, as well as making sure there is some variety in the value of the fillers in our stockings.

Christmas-Fairy-Image-GraphicsFairy-597x1024It has also helped me figure out what the appropriate budget for our family’s stockings is – because that’s different for each family. There is no government-approved minimum stocking spend – just what fits your lifestyle and finances. Think a little structure could help you stay on budget this year? Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Set A Top Spending Limit For Stocking Fillers

You need to decide what is the highest price you are willing to pay for a stocking filler. So – imagine you are shopping. Your kid* suddenly spots – and demands – a £50 doll’s house.  You have not budgetted for a doll’s house and £50 is a lot of money so you probably say no without a moment’s thought.

What if it was a £40 toy? Still no without needing to think about it?

What about £20? £10? A £5 plush toy? What if it was a £3 comic your kid was pleading for? A £1 sticker pack? A 50p novelty chocolate?

retro lady fro www.thegraphicsfairy.comSomewhere on that sliding scale there was  a point where you would stop saying no without thinking and would start to think – however fleetingly – about whether you could just buy it. So what was your threshold? What was the last point on that sliding scale where you wouldn’t have to think about whether that was too expensive or not?

That threshold price – that’s the price for the top level of your Christmas Stocking Planner. You are going to buy one item at that price for each stocking. Any gift that costs more than that gets parcelled up and put under the tree. Anything that costs less is a stocking-filler.

Step 2: Set the rest of the prices for your stocking-fillers

Each level should be cheaper than the one above it. So if your top price is £5, for example, that will mean that your next level is, say, £3, the one after that £2 and so on down to 50p. That gives you five little 50p gifts, four gifts at £1 each, three at £2, two at £3 and one at £5. That’s a total of 15 gifts for £23.50 per stocking. Click here to download a copy of the £5 planner.Christmas Stocking Planner 5

If you opt for my planner with a top price of £3, and a bottom price of 20p, your stockings are going to cost you £13 each. Click here to download a copy of the £3 planner.Christmas Stocking Planner 3star

If the most you can spend per item is £1, then your stockings are going to come to just £5.30 each. (Don’t believe you can fill a decent stocking for a fiver? Come back next week and see how to do it.) Click here to download a copy of the £1 plannerChristmas Stocking Planner 1star

If none of these plans suits your price range you can download a blank planner here to price up as you see fit.

All of my planners have space for 15 gifts. That number suits the Tartan Family, but if you and yours like a fatter stocking, adapt it by adding an extra row (or more!) at the bottom. Because the lower rows are the cheapest you will up the quantity without hiking the price greatly.

Step 3: Take A Reality Check

worried gift-giverYou need to check what the total cost of your stocking plan is and multiply that by the number of stockings you will fill. Now take a good, hard look at that figure – can you afford that this year? If the answer is yes then skip to Step 4. If the answer is no you need to decide carefully how much you can afford to spend on each stocking and reduce your top price and all the prices below it.  Your stockings will have just as many items in them; only the prices will be different.

Step 4:  Get Ready To Shop

Once you have picked the planner that suits your unique circumstances print one out for each person. Whenever you buy a stocking-filler, note it in the box for its price-point. That way you will be able to see at a glance whose stocking is full and whose still needs stuffing. And you won’t accidentally buy everything at your top price. (Been there a few times!)

Christmas Stocking Planner £5 part filled

That’s it. A simple system for setting a budget, keeping to it, and building a well-balanced stocking. I hope it works as well for you as it has for me!


retro lady fro*What if you are filling stockings for adults, not kids? Imagine you are shopping and you spot something that [insert name] would just love. At what price would you buy it without hesitation? And at what price would you pause to think about it? That’s your threshold price – the top price you will spend on stocking fillers for adults.


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October 25

Cutting The Cost Of Kid’s Shoes

Tackle One Big Spend

How To Pay Less For Kids' ShoesChecking through the past year’s spending, I noticed a Big Spend I have never really thought about before – shoes for the Tartan Kids. I can spend a hundred quid or more on one shoe-shopping trip with my boys. And then, in a matter of months, I find myself doing it all again because their feet have grown or the shoes have died in very active service. That’s several hundred a year – ouch. Time to tackle this Big Spend. I have spent the past month researching and pondering the question of how to reduce my kids’ shoe budget – here’s how I got on.

Do we really need or want this?

big spend q1 - New PageShoes for kids are a complete essential. It rains, in winter it gets cold – I want their feet to be warm and dry. The pavements are hard on feet and sometimes covered in sharp things, or unidentifiable squishy stuff. (Or identifiable squishy stuff, which is worse.) I want their feet to be protected. Kids are very active – I want them to have shoes to support hours of running around, jumping about, and general adventuring. But I do not want their shoes to create new problems for their feet. And if the podiatry sites I have read this month are right, the wrong shoes could set them up for athletes foot, bunions, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, a lifetime of back-ache, and more.

So yes, the kids need shoes. Good shoes, that take care of their feet and don’t fall apart before they have outgrown them. How many do they need, though?

Can we live with less of this?

Copy of big spend q2 - New PageWe can’t really cut the number of shoes we buy – they only have a few as it is. We could compromise on quality – but what’s the point? A poor quality shoe – aside from not taking care of their feet – will fall apart more quickly and need to be replaced sooner. So I want to buy the same amount of shoes, at the same quality. Do they have to be the same brands though? Do we have to buy in a “good” shoe shop? Can you get Startrite quality in supermarkets?

Can you get Start-Rite quality in supermarkets?

I have a strong suspicion that when I shell out for Clarks I am really shelling out for a sort of Mothers’ Badge Of Honour that tells the world I care about my children’s feet, rather than for a shoe which I can say with certainty is definitely better than any other. Are they really better than M&S? Better than Asda? Better than Shoe Zone? Or am I just a shoe snob?

I trawl old discussions on Mumsnet and Netmums and uncover many tales of pricey shoes that didn’t deliver – and cheap shoes that did. Then again, I also find many stories of cheap shoes that turned out to be a false economy. And I discover that I am not the only mother anxious about getting “good” shoes on a budget. I need to find out how to spot a quality cheap shoe and how to dodge a bad shoe in a “good” shop.

converse trainers on the beach by tartan thriftyI reckon – after reading around (and around, and around) this subject – that it comes down to two things: knowing how to fit a child’s shoe, and understanding a little about shoe design. A carefully designed shoe that doesn’t fit your child’s foot will do exactly the same amount of damage as a cheaply made one. So learning how to fit your kids’ shoes yourself will help to protect your child’s foot. Come to think of it, if providing the services of professional shoe fitters in-store is one of the features that contributes to the higher price of good shoe brands then being able to fit your own will free you to shop around elsewhere. You can buy a shoe-fitting gauge for only a few pounds to measure your kids’ feet at home – Start-Rite even offer a free online fitting service. There are good guides to checking a shoe for fit once it’s on your child’s foot on the Startrite website, APMA, and Wikihow . I have had a good look at all three and – guess what? It turns out it is not rocket science.

there are just ten simple checks you need to make to weed out substandard shoes

As for shoe design – it turns out that shoe design is not really that complicated either. Take a look at the checklist below. It sums up everything I picked up in a month of reading what podiatrists, paediatricians and professional shoe fitters have to say on the subject. And, actually, there are just ten simple checks you need to make to weed out substandard shoes. I will be printing it out and taking it along with me on our next shoe-shopping trip. (Possibly with a clipboard – I do think a mum with a clipboard commands a certain shoe-shop respect, don’t you? Although it is unlikely that Tartan Boy will agree to come into the shop with me if I do…)

So, yes, we can live with shoes from shops other than “good shoe shops”, if I learn to fit them myself and use the ten steps below to keep me on track as I sort the good from the bad and the ugly.ten steps To A Great Shoe

Can we get this for less?

Copy of big spend q3 - New PageThere are many ways to buy shoes at reduced prices, apart from the obvious seasonal shoe-shop sales. Brand outlet stores, Shoes For Kids which sells branded shoes at significant reductions, Shoe Zone – armed with my new knowledge about how to fit and choose good shoes I will be trying them all!

(Sadly, I will be more cautious about the cheapest shoes of all – free hand-me downs from older friends and family – after reading what Free Our Kids had to say on the subject.)

retro lady fro www.thegraphicsfairy.comAnd we will be using Amazon and Ebay  – but only for designs we have already checked over in a shop or for brands we trust  and whose fit we can rely on. Alternatively, we will make sure we buy from suppliers who provide free returns – and anticipate a few false starts before we find The Ones. The thing I am looking forward to most, though, is being able to pick up a shoe in a supermarket and know right away whether it is a well-made shoe or not. A little knowledge is a powerful tool for thrifty mothers!


DISCLAIMER – The Tartan Boys are aged 5 and 12 and this post only refers to buying shoes for that age group. If you are buying shoes for toddlers I strongly suggest you google advice on shoe-shopping for this age group – little feet have special requirements.

October 18

Tackle One Big Spend

Small Habits, Big Savings

Money-savingMost of the thrifty habits I have tried to get into are frequent – some daily, some weekly, most at least once a month. There are two simple reasons for that: done often any task becomes an effortless habit and if I make small but frequent reductions in my spending these add up to big savings. So, for example, making up a month’s worth of sandwiches and putting them in the freezer once a week adds up to hundreds of pounds off our grocery budget over a year.

DSCN0419There are some areas of spending, though, where I could make savings just by paying them a little attention once or twice a year – things like changing our car insurance provider annually to get the keenest deal, or planning Christmas well in advance so that we don’t end up paying over the odds at the last minute. These are the Big Spends, and paying a little attention to the Big Spends now and again saves money and gives your morale a little boost because you can instantly see that you have saved not pounds but tens, even hundreds of pounds. That’s quite a good return for only a few hours just a few times a year. So I have got into the habit of tackling one Big Spend every so often.

How To Figure Out What Your Big Spends Are

DSCN0429What do I mean by a Big Spend? Well, anything where you pay out over £100 each month, or for which you pay out several hundred once or twice a year.  Things like utility bills, car insurance, TV and broadband packages are Big Spends. So are holidays, Christmas and school uniforms. To identify your own Big Spends you need to go through your bank statements and identify the areas where you spend larger sums of money. If you have already begun to take control of your money you will probably have direct debits set up for most of these, but take note of large sums that only come out occasionally. List them all and try to note what your monthly/ quarterly/ annual spend is on each. That’s the figure you want to reduce.

How To Tackle Your Big Spends

Ready to tackle one big spend? Here’s how you do it, with three simple questions.

big spend q1 - New PageAsk yourself, “Do we really need or want this?” If you can live without it, then consider ditching it. For example, many years ago Tartan Dad and I realised that we could manage without a car (we cycled most places, lived near good transport links, had a big supermarket almost on our doorstep and – crucially – no Little Tartans yet). Getting rid of the car instantly freed up the money we had spent on petrol, insurance, maintenance, MOTs… Big Spend to Big Saving in one step.  You do have to work with the real not the ideal here – only drop a Big Spend from your budget if you can realistically manage without it. We did get a car again in a couple of years – circumstances change and your needs change with them.

Copy of big spend q2 - New PageAsk yourself, “Can we live with less of this?” OK – so you have decided that this Big Spend is a keeper, now consider whether or not you could reduce the amount, or level of it you currently enjoy. For example, if you have decided your family could not live without TV then could you replace your broadband package with Freeview? The Tartan Family and I disagree about this – the male Tartans big and small are horrified at the idea, but I have noticed that when we go on holiday for two weeks to a house with Freeview nobody actually dies… I haven’t won this round (yet) but we have taken this approach with gift buying, reducing the number of people for whom we buy gifts. I consider gifts to be an important part of celebrating our relationships with others so dropping gift-buying from our budget altogether is not an option. These days, though, it is mainly limited to children. We are happy with this level, and that lets us reduce the amount of this Big Spend.

Copy of big spend q3 - New PageAsk yourself, “Can we get this for less?” So you have decided to keep this Big Spend and either reduced the amount you want to enjoy, or decided you need it to stay at the same level. It’s time to find out if you can get it for less. Do your research – Google it, hit price comparison websites, shop around, use cashback sites, find voucher codes, search online for budget suppliers, look it up on Money Saving Expert, ask around in real life and on forums. And then do it.

Make A Habit Of It

1backtoschoolteacher-graphicsfairy008bwMany of your Big Spend reductions create new thrifty habits – for example, if you got a cheaper car insurance deal you will need to repeat this each year at the same time to make sure your premiums don’t creep back up. Make a note in your diary of when next you need to do something about this Big Spend to make sure that it becomes one of your personal thrifty habits.


HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyYou can see how the Tartan Family have tackled some of our Big Spends by clicking on the links below.

How To Cut Your Gift-Buying Budget

Cutting The Cost Of Running A Car

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

Three Clicks To Cut Your Energy Bill

April 17

Three Clicks to Cut Your Energy Bill

The Key To Cutting The Cost Of Energy

OK, let’s start by sneaking in a possible fourth click. If you have a little time to spend on this, take a look at the BBC iWonder guide to get the big picture. iWonder aims to show how various changes could slash your energy bills by up to 30%. It is a good starting point, if you have time, to get you thinking about what’s involved in cutting energy costs.

bulbWhat did I get from it? Ahem… the stunning insight that (duh!) it’s only the energy you use that you pay for – so the key to paying less is using less. So this is not just about me switching supplier – it’s about using less energy so we pay less for it. As with so many aspects of thrifty living, cutting energy bills involves changing our habits so that we don’t mindlessly spend more than we need to, but instead mindlessly spend less.  This is The Tartan Thrifty Way, so you would think I might already have worked that out…

vintage image of woman with binocularsIn truth, my attempts to keep our energy bills in check thus far have been limited to buying gas and electricity from the same supplier, changing to the cheapest tariff every so often and paying by direct debit. So this week I will be tariff-checking again and looking at changing our elderly boiler – but over the rest of the year I will bite the energy-saving-bullet and start trying to change our habits too so that we use less energy.  Watch this space.

Which Sites Will Cut Your Energy Bills?

images (1)There are thousands of sites aiming to help you cut your gas and electricity bills and I have trawled – oh – lets say about half of them. OK, that’s a complete lie – I looked at 25 and then realised how much money I had spent on laptop power to do so and wondered if it was worth it. Well, these three sites were.  These are the ones I will definitely be going back to in my quest to cut our utility bills.

1  Which?

downloadThe Consumer Association website provides comprehensive and thoroughly researched coverage of every aspect of reducing your gas and electricity bill, from reducing the amount of energy you use to getting the cheapest deals. It has lots of hints and tips I didn’t know about (for example, it’s cheaper to dry your clothes on a clothes horse than on a radiator) and answers to questions I have often wondered about (how much would it actually add to our monthly budget if we used a tumble drier? More than Tartandad is prepared to pay, apparently.) And, being Which?, it allows comparisons of products such as fridge-freezers to let you work out which will run cheapest for the longest. You have to pay to access these reviews but it’s only £1 for trial membership and will save you a lot more than that in the long run – this is one to do when you have already done your background research and thought through what you want from a purchase rather than for idle clicking.

2  MSE

moneysavingexpert2If you want to reduce energy bills by reducing energy use, Money Saving Expert is the site to start on. There is a wealth of information here but I particularly like the section where the MSE team and their army of thrifters examine all the common tips on saving energy to let you sort out the ones that will really work for you.  It answered the years-long debate between myself and Tartandad – is it cheaper to leave your heating on all the time or not?  I am a yay he is a nay.  Much as it pains me to admit it, he is right.  Thanks a bunch MSE…

3  uSwitch

download (4)Comparison websites are an obvious first place to go if you are planning to save money on utilities by switching suppliers but it could be worth going via a cashback site like Top Cashback or Quidco to get an even better deal. Use MSE to check what the latest offers from all the comparison sites are – free wine, gift vouchers, money off, etc – and then use the one with the most appealing offer. In addition to letting you compare different energy providers, uSwitch in particular provides a fair whack of information about various aspects of cutting your energy consumption as well as explaining what the different bits of your energy bill mean. An informed consumer is an empowered consumer. Power to the people! Cheaply, mind.







December 19

Gifts In A Jar: Snowy Road Mix

Snowy Road Mix:  A Thrifty Last Minute Giftie

IMG_2682This is a last-minute kids’ gift idea that tickles my lazy and my thrifty sides.  Simply collect the ingredients together, layer them up in a jar, print out the labels and tie them to the jar. The mix makes a white chocolate version of Rocky Road that is jewelled with dried and crystallised fruit and warmed up with a little ginger.   With a little help at the chocolate melting stage it can be mixed up by even very young children.

DIY Snowy Road Mix in a tinIMG_2660I have used an Ikea Korken jar (second smallest size), which fits very snugly inside an Ikea Vinterkul tin, with a matching Vinterkul child’s apron.  But, to be honest, that’s probably over-kill.  It works fine just as a jar of the mix.

How To Make Snowy Road Mix

You will need

  • 100g ginger nuts
  • 80g dried cranberries
  • 100g crystallized pineapple and/or papaya
  • 35g  mini marshmallows
  • 350g white chocolate buttons

In a food processor whizz  the ginger nuts to a powder.  Alternatively pop them in a bag and attack vigorously with a rolling pin.

Frosty Sprinkles for Snowy RoadFill a small cellophane bag with sparkly cake sprinkles. Don’t fill the bag more than half way and don’t fasten it right down at the top of the filling.  You need to leave yourself wiggle space for positioning it in the jar.  Do gently squeeze air out of the bag before sealing it with a little twist tie. Pop your snowy sprinkles bag inside the lid of the jar.  Tuck the fastened end and the bottom of the bag towards you so that they don’t show from the outside of the lid.

snowy road ingredients graphicLayer up your jar in the order shown.  The chocolate buttons should slightly overfill the jar and need to be pressed down slightly to close the lid. This will allow for the rest of the ingredients to settle a bit.

Finishing Off Your Snowy Road Mix

IMG_2670Snowy Road Mix Label - New PagePrint out the labels on card. Cut them out and lay the Santa label over the Instructions label.  With both labels lined up, use a hole-punch to punch a hole in them.  Thread a ribbon through both holes and tie to the jar.

Of course, you could always skip the jar and just make yourself up a batch of Snowy Road to pop into little cellophane bags for giving. Or for selling at a Christmas Fayre. Or for eating, greedily, while watching It’s A Wonderful Life on DVD.  Your call.

Click here to download this week’s Thrifty Habits PlannerHandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairy