How to keep warm in winter without blowing your energy bills

How to keep warm in winter without blowing your energy bills

With energy prices going through the roof right now and cold weather well and truly upon us, it is important to think about how we can keep warm in winter. No one wants to choose between putting food on the table or putting the heater on. We all deserve adequate comfort in our homes when the temperature drops.

Whilst I cannot lower energy prices for you or magically pay your bill, there are some simple things you can do to keep your house warmer and your usage within check. When you’re at home in winter, try to keep warm using good old fashioned methods before turning on the heater.

Wood fire

How to keep warm in winter without blowing your energy bills

A wood fire is a wonderful way to feel cozy and keep warm in winter. The fireplace clip on the TV just isn’t the same. For those of you with a wood fire in your home, try to source firewood out of season. There may be more available and you might be able to get it at a better price. Turn on alerts for Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree for free firewood as some people just want to get rid of excess on their property (be careful of white ants when you bring wood home).

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Some will be free because it needs to dry out for a year or so, which is fine if you have place to store it out of the weather. If you need to buy some, a trailer load is often cheaper than buying a bag. Do your research because some companies and individuals charge a lot more than others.

Maintain your fireplace well by employing a chimney sweep to clean it out or buy the necessary tools yourself. This can reduce ash and charcoal build up inside as well as excess smoke, and helps it to run more economically.

Choose a heater wisely

How to keep warm in winter without blowing your energy bills

One of the most important ways to keep energy costs down in winter is by choosing an energy smart heater. Electric heaters can be cheaper to buy but more expensive to run. Column heaters take a while to heat up but are energy efficient. Gas heaters can be more expensive to buy but cheaper to run. Ensure that gas heaters have appropriate ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Both Choice and Finder have done some testing around the best types of heaters to buy and calculations about their usage costs. Decide if you need to heat the whole house or just your main living area. This can help you choose which heater will best suit your needs.

Seal off any draughts

The last thing you want to do is pay for heating, only for it to escape out of your house. Close the air conditioner vents in winter, and better still, cut wood blocks to size to put in their place for extra warmth. Seal any gaps that let the cold air in. Curtains or blinds help to keep in the heat away from windows, and rugs provide warmth and cosiness to hard floors.

Get fit, stay warm

How to keep warm in winter without blowing your energy bills

One way to get warm in winter is to get moving. When it’s too dark and cold to venture outside, try an exercise bike, cross trainer or treadmill. Lift some weights while watching TV. Do some push ups on your kitchen bench. Chromecast a YouTube workout, dance class or yoga session. All of these will help to burn some calories and warm you up in the process.

Blankets

How to keep warm in winter without blowing your energy bills

Have a few blankets within reach of the couch to snuggle up under. Opt for nice thick ones that keep the heat in. You can even buy heated blankets nowadays. Personally I’m not a fan but it is good to warm up your legs without needing to heat the whole house. Onesies can be super warm and a bit of fun.

Straight to bed

We often go to bed after dinner and cozy up under our quilt with a wheat bag or two. It saves putting on the heater and it’s the warmest place to be. We like our decaf coffee, tea and hot chocolates. We enjoy working on our side hustles or watching a TV series together on the iPad, and when it’s time to go to sleep, we don’t have to get up from the warm couch to go into a cold bedroom. Lazy? Probably. But in winter it works for us.

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Head and feet

Heat often escapes from your head and feet so make sure these are warm enough. For those without hair or much of it, a beanie can keep in precious heat. My hubby sleeps with a beanie on his shaved head because otherwise he ends up too cold. Keep your feet warm with thick socks or ugg boots. Use wheat bags in bed to keep toasty warm.

I have a friend who keeps a microwave in her bedroom for the sole purpose (no pun intended) of reheating wheat bags overnight when they go cold. Yes. She owns two microwaves. Crazy woman or genius? I’ll let you decide.

Under the sheets

This is where the magic happens. Do what you can to keep warm in your bed. Consider buying a woollen underlay. We were given one for an engagement present and didn’t use it to start with. When we finally did, wow. What a difference it made. Instant warmth and softness.

Flannelette sheets are another brilliant invention. Instead of that brisk coolness when you first get into bed, you’re met with a warm fuzziness. A bed with an electric blanket on, is a delight to climb into. We’ve now opted for the warm underlay instead but it can be a nice indulgence, provided you remember to turn it off before falling asleep.

Switching your summer quilt for a thicker, winter one helps keep the chills out overnight. It’s another thing to store off season but I personally think it’s worth it. Wheat bags or hot water bottles are the final piece to the puzzle. Mind you, I used to have both an electric blanket and a hot water bottle until someone pointed out how incredibly dangerous that was.

Could you imagine if it burst and you had hot water mixed with an electric current? I rest my case. Don’t forget a nice dressing gown so when you have to venture out of your cozy bed eleven hundred times to help your crying baby or upset child or busting dog, you can keep warm.

Be a savvy saver

Consider doing an energy audit. We’ve just borrowed a kit from our local library and could figure out which appliances were using the most money, and how much a year they are costing. Check if you could add more insulation to your ceiling. Turn off PowerPoints at the wall to stop items using energy on standby, and seal up any gaps to prevent the warmth from escaping.

How to keep warm in winter without blowing your energy bills

Lowering the thermostat by a few degrees (if it is adjustable), can make a difference to your heating bills too. Cooking with the oven on warms the house. It also makes sense to cook a few things at once so you won’t need to use your oven everyday.

Find a better deal

With the growing pressures on energy reserves, there is less wriggle room to negotiate a better deal on your gas and electricity. However it’s still worth giving them a call and asking. Remind them that you have been a reliable customer of theirs for years and always paid your bills on time.

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Say that you would prefer to stay with them but in the end, you are on a budget and need to find the best price for your money. If they can’t offer you a better deal, switch to a different provider who can.

What needs to go

Keeping warm in winter is important. Look at your bank statements and see if there is any way to reduce your expenditure. Doing without some luxuries might help with paying heating bills. Things like gym memberships, streaming subscriptions, takeaway, alcohol and generous gifts can often be put on hold. These can be reassessed at a later date when money isn’t so tight and the cost of living not so high. There is no point trying to keep up with the Joneses if you are freezing every night.

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Last thoughts

Keeping warm in winter can be a challenge for many, especially those watching every last dollar. I really feel for pensioners who are reluctant to turn on the heater and have it so tough. Take some time to look around your home and see if the heat is escaping from anywhere.

Check to see that your current heater is working ok or if it would save you money in the long run to buy a different type. Make sure you’re not getting ripped off from your current provider. Don’t be afraid to go a little old school and do what our grandparents did to keep costs down. Sometimes though, no matter what we do to save on usage in winter, we can’t avoid paying for heating costs.

That’s when reducing our expenditure in other areas, working a little more or starting a side hustle, or a combination of the two can have a powerful effect. It can make us feel like we have more control over our situation.

How to keep warm in winter without blowing your energy bills

Can I make a suggestion? Look around you and think about who might be struggling right now. It might be a neighbour on your street. If appropriate, reach out and see if there’s a way you can help. You could drop them over a batch of soup and some crusty bread or have them over for a meal.

See if they need some help sourcing a more economical heater for their home. Buy them a new wheat bag, a dressing gown or slippers, a soft blanket or a warm quilt. What we do for someone might not feel like much, but it might mean a lot to them. Just showing that we care can be enough sometimes.

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game changer for your family

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

Being a good parent doesn’t mean we have to enrol them in unlimited extracurricular activities. In fact, putting limits around how much we let them participate in can be prove to be a game changer for your family.

When we become parents, we want the best for our children. We want to provide them with extracurricular activities to grow and thrive, improve and excel, meet other children and have fun. We sometimes feel pressure to be more and do more for them so they can have every opportunity available to them.

When notes get sent home about activities to sign up for and teams that need players, we can feel pressure to get our child involved. We don’t want them to miss out or to be left behind. We feel bad for clubs that can’t fill places.

There is nothing wrong with signing your child up for extracurricular activities. It helps develop gross and fine motor skills, learn responsibility and teamwork, reliability, time management and listening skills. It helps children to win with humility and lose with grace. As a boy mum, it is particularly important to me that my children know how to play a range of sports so they can make friends at lunchtime. However, this doesn’t mean that I have to sign them up for every organised activity.

Here are five considerations around why less might be more for your family.

1. Saving money

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

The more extracurricular activities our children are enrolled in, the more money it costs. It can all add up, especially if you have multiple children and they are enrolled in multiple sports. Some are more costly than others per term or season, for example, swimming lessons.

Others cost more for the uniforms, specialist footwear and accessories. Dance costumes often take many hours of work to put together or pay for someone else to make them. For those who make district or state teams, the cost to travel can be expensive not to mention, time off work if needed.

Factoring in petrol and any trips to the physio are worth considering too. For those in South Australia, school sports vouchers are available which at the time of writing save parents $100 a year on fees per school-age child. Similar vouchers that encourage families to take up sport may be available in your state or country.

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2. More free play

Putting boundaries around extracurricular activities enables children to experience more free play. It allows for boredom, during which creativity and imaginative play can occur. Unstructured play enables children to decide who takes charge, plan what they will do and what the rules will be. It is crucial to healthy development. Children learn how to work collaboratively with one another and often over a range of ages.

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

The older ones learn to be patient and help out the younger children, who enjoy learning and look up to their older peers. They see what is possible and challenge themselves to climb as high, jump as far and run as fast. Less scheduled time means more space for playdates. This gives a chance for classmates to develop closer relationships with classmates and between parents.

Alone time allows freedom to daydream for children to lie on their backs and watch the clouds change shape, come up with things to do, problems to solve and creations to make. They have time to develop a range of skills during free play.

When children play on the trampoline, they develop leg strength, ball skills and hand-eye coordination. When they roll down hills and somersault on the grass, they develop flexibility, core strength and a vestibular system. When walking around the edge of a playground or stepping on rocks in the creek they develop balance, a sense of adventure and bravery.

3. More family time

When we slow down and limit extracurricular activities, it enables more family time. Younger children miss their siblings when they’re at school all day. By saying no to more things means you say yes to more interaction and relationship building. Siblings are able to reconnect after time apart and play with each other.

They don’t have to rush in and out of the car and be reminded of where they need to be going next. Weekends aren’t spent rushing to put uniforms on and get out the house and driving around like crazy all over town to make things in time.

Blank space in the calendar can do us all the world of good. We can get back to basics. We can spend time gardening, going on bike rides, having a bonfire, looking up at the stars, backyard camping, going hiking and playing at the beach.

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4. More time for parents

When we limit the amount of extracurricular activities our children sign up for, we are putting a positive boundary in place. We choose to slow down and stop playing the role of a parent taxi driver, we give ourselves a chance to catch our own breath too. We can sit down for a cup of tea of coffee and enjoy it while it’s still hot. We have more time to plan out meals, cook more snacks and not have to rely on quick meals all the time.

We can have more dinner times as a family and spend time talking around the table. We can focus on listening to how everyone’s days have been, and share the highs and lows. We can all help to pack up afterwards, rather than being one person’s job.

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

I think that it’s important that parents get to have their own interests too and have regular breaks. Don’t stop doing all the things you love. Your relationship came before the children so it should come first. Date nights, girls and guys nights, alone time.

It’s all-important and you are allowed to prioritise this. When we over-schedule activities for children, it’s easy to have no time or energy left for our own needs. If we enjoy playing a sport, we can do that for ourselves in the evening once or twice a week, maintain fitness at the gym or going for runs, catch a movie, go late-night shopping, or take an art class.

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When we prioritise having fun ourselves, we are more likely to be fun parents and enjoy life more. Our children should not take the top priority. When your children leave home, you want to have hobbies that you can continue and a spousal relationship you can enjoy in a new stage.

5. More time outdoors

When we reduce our children’s extracurricular activities, it has an array of benefits. Being outside in nature is wonderful for us all. When we slow our schedules and switch organised sports and activities for nature play, it’s often just what we need. Children are immersed in sensory-rich experiences as they play barefoot in grass, sand, dirt, mud and water.

They learn how to balance on uneven surfaces like slopes, rocks, gravel and bark chips. We feel the warmth of the sun on our faces and the rain in our hair, and learn to be resilient in all types of weather. Children are met with all sorts of natural materials and environments which leads to endless opportunities for deep open-ended play.

Adults don’t need to entertain or educate or set an agenda. Children are less likely to say they’re bored compared to an indoor setting, and in my experience will often play outside with fewer quarrels and fights. Their imagination can be wild and their play has no bounds.

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Being in nature has mental health benefits for us all, with vitamin D, fresh air, bird sounds and beautiful landscapes to admire. We aren’t governed as much by the clock, but instead by the rumble in our tummies, the position of the sun and the weather to guide when we eat, where we play and when to seek shelter from the elements.

Intentionality around scheduling

Now that we’ve looked at some of the benefits that can come from less organised activities, it is important that we are intentional in how we schedule our time.

This may mean choosing a school that has lots of extracurricular activities built into it. Want your child to learn an instrument? Make sure your school has tuition offered. This will mean your child will miss 30 minutes of a lesson once a week but this will save you from having to drive them to a lesson after school. Does your child need therapy such as OT or Physio? See if the sessions can be done at school.

If you want to do more nature-based free play but don’t want to spend time in the car, consider adding it on to somewhere you already have to be. For example, my eldest’s school is positioned right opposite a creek. We’ve started playing here after school. Their gumboots, snacks and towels stay packed and ready in the car and now their classmates are joining them.

It’s been so wonderful. It’s the perfect type of playdate that involves no organising or driving. Every week now, we have at least two afternoons in the creek. My 3 and 1 year old follow their older brother around, pretending to fish and catch ducks, play chasey, make cubbies and forts, play cops and robbers, hide and seek, and even go swimming in the cold water.

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They never want to leave. We eventually do as it starts to get dark, they get ravenous or they start to shiver, whatever comes first. We pack up all the gear, I strip off their wet muddy clothes and cover them with warm blankets, and we drive home (all of five minutes worth).

They are so tired yet so happy, and their tanks are full from playing outside with their friends. I’m so happy too. I can’t help but feel this is what it’s supposed to be like. Kids get a chance to really be kids, and adults have time to sit down and chat while we watch them run around. It feels easy almost, far from how parenthood is seen these days.

Further reading:

Here are some of my favourite authors who write on the topic of choosing slow living over busy lives with extracurricular activities. They may inspire you to slow down and simply enjoy your family.

1000 hours outside by Ginny Yurich

Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

Barefoot and Balanced by Angela J Hanscom

There’s no such thing as bad weather by Linda Akeson McGurk

Minimalist Moms: Living and Parenting with simplicity by Diane Boden

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

A Simpler Motherhood: Curating Contentment, Savoring Slow, and Making Room for What Matters Most by Emily Eusanio.

Some you can listen to on Audible or free on the Libby and Borrowbox app through your local library. Alternatively, you can buy on Amazon, Book Depositary or wherever you find good books.

Closing thoughts

In the end, you choose how busy you are. Sometimes we like to complain about all the things that are on and how our role as a taxi driver. We whinge at this stage of life but don’t always stop to consider if we need to be doing so many things. If our children really need so many opportunities. You are allowed to say no. You are allowed to put boundaries in place.

As a parent, you don’t have to provide them with all the opportunities. Choose a select few extracurricular activities based on their interests and strengths, a variety when they are younger so they can choose one or two to master. When children get their driver’s license, they can choose how many activities they do. They might decide to take up new sports or hobbies and be out every evening.

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

When I was growing up, I took piano lessons and played netball. I learnt how to swim during VACSWIM, and played sports at school. It wasn’t until I left school that I took up playing soccer and touch footy, learnt guitar, and did a musical. I hope to give my boys enough extracurricular activities to help them decide what things they are good at and enjoy, and dabble in a few different things, so they can do more when they are older.

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You can give your children the best childhood and not run yourself ragged in the process. By slowing down and saying no to the unnecessary, we can make space and say yes to what is most important. I give you permission to be brave enough to make changes to how your family does things from here on out. You get to choose what your days, afternoons, weekends and school holidays look like. It’s up to you.

I’ll leave you with a favourite memory I have of my two eldest boys at 3 and 1. It was a Tuesday and I normally went to weekly Kindergym. This particular day though, I decided not to. It was a rainy day. Knowing that the rubbish truck was due to come past soon, I put some chairs under the front verandah and sat with my boys. When the truck came past, they were so excited.

They were both waving and squealing and were stoked when the driver waved back and honked his horn. My eldest turned to me, beaming, and said, “how lucky are we mum? This is the best day ever!” It was a lovely reminder to me that kids don’t need much to make them happy.

7 reasons why fish make the best first pets for those who aren’t pet people

7 reasons why fish make the best first pets for those who aren't pet people

Considering a pet? Here’s why a fish might be a great starting point for you.

Many households own a handful of pets. They are cute and cuddly, affectionate and keep us company. They help our kids develop empathy and a sense of responsibility. They motivate us to get outside for a walk and to meet other owners.

They help us get our cuteness fixed when we want another baby but our other half is done with having children. No matter how much we care for them, they almost always show us more love in return.

What if you’re not a pet person though? What if life is too busy and the last thing you need is a jolly pet to look after? Consider starting small.

Here are 7 reasons why a fish make the best first pet for you.

1. Easy.

Getting a fish isn’t a difficult venture. All you need is a tank, a pump, fish food and your fish. Optional extras are some water plants, pebbles, a light and some snails (water neutraliser drops). You don’t have to make it complicated. You can decide on the day to buy them, go and get the stuff, and have it all finished within a few hours. This is perfect for those who are busy and have a lot on their mind.

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2. Start small.

You don’t have to buy a huge tank and all the fancy accessories. Why not start with a small bowl or tank and see how you go. See if it looks good in your room. See how you manage it – does it get algae and need to be cleaned often? Are there too many fish for the space? Is it a good size for you? You might find that small is good and that is all you need.

Alternatively, you might be surprised with how much you love owning fish and want to upgrade your tank size. At least when you do it this way, you know that you’re ready for a bigger tank and not just getting excited before you start.

3. Hard to kill.

This reason might sound ridiculous but if you’re not really a pet person, and not used to having to care for an animal, going straight for a puppy is a big step. They need lots of care, as do cats, rabbits, birds and the like. At least fish are pretty resilient.

As long as you buy the right type and listen to advise from your local shop, remember to feed them and keep the tank clean, they should stay alive. And look, if you happen to kill one, they are pretty easy and inexpensive to replace (and your kid might not even notice, unlike a dog).

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4. Cheap.

Considering your financial situation before deciding on a pet is a wise move. Fish make wonderful pets, especially young families, because they don’t cost much. Unless you are planning to have six foot aquariums in your house with designer fish, they don’t cost much to purchase.

I was given a free fish tank and bought five guppies ($12). After a day I surprised myself with how much I loved it. I also realised that I needed a pump. I found someone selling a tank and handful of accessories for $25, bought some more guppies ($12), 10 snails ($5), two aqua plants ($18), fish food for $10, drops for the water ($12). Came to $94. I could have spent less but wanted real plants rather than the plastic ones, and figured the snails would help eat some of the algae. It’s been three weeks and I haven’t spent any more money.

Owning a pet can be incredibly expensive with vet bills, and even with insurance, there can be huge out of the pocket expenses. It can be so stressful for those on low incomes. Starting with something simple like a fish means you don’t have to worry about desexing, worming, microchipping, or unexpected injuries or sickness. There’s no need for doggy daycare or boarding houses.

5. Low maintenance.

Owning a fish is a wise choice for those with busy schedules. You don’t need to enrol them in puppy training or teach them any tricks. You don’t need to train them to go outside to do their business or pick up after them on the lawn. You don’t need to walk them. No need to wash them or cut their hair. You don’t need to entertain them or worry about what they’re getting up to in your house or yard while you’re out at work. They won’t bother the neighbours with their barking.

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6. Calming.

I recently taught a class that had a fish tank in the back of the room. I couldn’t help but to be drawn to it and watch them swim around. Hearing the water trickle had such a calming effect on me and I just knew I needed to get one for home. I’m so glad I did. I still can’t help but watch them swim around and interact with their surroundings. The novelty hasn’t worn off yet and I love the sense of calm it has brought to our family room. For someone who is openly not a pet person, this has surprised me.

7. Breed easily.

Species like the guppy can breed quickly and without much fuss. Witnessing fish hatch from eggs can be exciting for children. It could become a potential side hustle for them by allowing them to sell any excess fish or snails. They could help with the process of taking photos, writing a description, helping to show the customer the tank and collecting the money after the sale. This could be good practice before trying something like chickens that would take considerable more time and work but would produce eggs to use and sell.

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Last thoughts.

In closing, taking time to consider what type of pet is right for you and your stage of life is important. Asking questions like the following can help you decide:

Do I need a pet right now?

Can I afford to buy a pet?

Can I afford veterinarian treatment if it becomes sick or injured?

What type or breed would be best suited to us?

Do I have time to care for a pet?

Do I have energy to manage and care for it’s needs?

Do I have space in my house and yard for a pet?

Am I committed to keeping a pet for the long haul?

What will I do with it when I go on holidays?

By choosing a pet that is easy and cheap to set up, and low maintenance to keep alive can be an excellent starting point. Once you know that you can manage something like a fish, you can look into owning a different type of pet. Why not buy a few guppies and see if you love them just as much as I do.

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How we get 3 children into bed before 6:30 pm (and how you can too)

How we get three children into bed before 6:30 pm (and how you can too)

When I mention to people that our three young children are in bed, in the same room, and lights out by 6:15 every night, we often get the same response.

How do you get children into bed before 6:30 pm?

They want to know the answers.

Know that we are far from perfect. We are works in progress. Some nights it is later than this. Sometimes they wake up.

But honestly, changing our bedtime routine has been a game-changer for us.

When our third baby was born, my then two year old stopped napping in the day. He still needed to – he was desperately tired and cranky come mid afternoon. He simply wouldn’t nap unless I lay next to him. I couldn’t figure out how to get a newborn and toddler to sleep at the same time or stop one from waking up the other. I eventually gave up and just focussed on my baby getting the sleep that he needed.

I needed a solution to get through the long afternoons without going insane, and to help my toddler cope. I had to bring bedtime forward. Initially, this was just going to be a short term thing. Something to help until he adjusted to the longer days. It ended up working so well that I decided to make it our new thing.

Like many other young children, my boys wake up early. Regardless of what time they go to bed, they almost always wake at 6 am. I figured that if I could somehow bring bedtime earlier and shorten the dreaded witching hours, we’d all be happier.

With our new bedtime at 6:15, this is what I did before then to make it work.

  1. Screen time after lunch (12:30)
    This time of day I find tricky. Everyone is tired. It gives me a chance to tidy up lunch and grab some of my own, feed baby and put him down for his nap, and ideally prep dinner (and put a load of washing on the line). My toddler and then preschooler watched their favourite shows. This kept them quiet while bubs slept, and enabled me to get a few things done. By having screen time out the way earlier, they had enough play time after this to wear them out before bedtime.

2. Outside play (2-4). Both in the morning and after rest time, I aim to get my boys outside. Fresh air, vitamin D and endorphins all help to make us happier and healthier. My children fight less outside and love exploring. They use their imagination and creativity. I can focus on them rather than the dishes and the jobs. Being outside makes them hungry and tired. I love the 1000 Hours Outside movement and ideally aim for 3-5 hours every day.

How we get three children into bed before 6:30 pm (and how you can too)

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3. Bath (3-4:30). When my first baby was born, I know that routine was important. Every book I read or person I spoke to told me to do bath after dinner. This is because it cleans them up after a messy tea and helps calm them before bed. I understood this, logically, but found it difficult in practice. I used to wait until my husband got home from work so we could have dinner as a family.

He got home late though so it was hard to juggle a late dinner and squeeze in a bath. One day a kind friend shared that she did this in reverse. She gave her boy a bath in the afternoon, then dinner, then bed. I was so surprised. I’d never thought to try this! I gave it a go that night and I’ve never looked back.

I love this approach because it gives flexibility in the afternoon. If my boys are extra tired or fighting more than usual, I might give them a bath at 3pm (later now I have school pick up). I can give them a bath individually, in a pair or all three.

I can do a quick one if we’re in a rush or stretch it out to over half an hour. It breaks up the afternoon and it’s no longer a task that I have to fit in. Once they are out the bath, they have an urgency to play until it’s dinner time, and know that the countdown is on. They seem to make the most of this bonus play, giving me a chance to do a quick tidy up or last minute dinner prep.

4. Dinner (5-5:30pm). I generally give my kids dinner by myself while hubby is driving home from work. It’s not easy but I see it as the final push of the day. When I had a newborn, I would be trying to get the older two food while often breastfeeding. It was ridiculously hard and I felt like I needed another set of hands.

Now with my boys 5,3,1 at the time of writing, it is still very busy and chaotic but we make it work. They eat dinner and drink milk, dessert on weekends. They know that once they have left the table they need to go straight into the bedroom (otherwise they won’t want to stop playing!).

5. Teeth and stories in bedroom (5:30-6:15). Ideally we would brush teeth in the bathroom but we just make it easy for ourselves at the moment. Brushing teeth with a timer on, and often ‘Daddy dentist’ helps for this (boys take turns to lie down on his lap so he can inspect their teeth and help to brush them).

While hubby does this, I spend fifteen minutes racing around like a crazy person clearing the table, putting things back in the fridge stacking the dishwasher, wiping table, cleaning the highchair and sweeping the floor. We both hate having to face the kitchen later on so I really try to work hard to get this finished or almost finished in this time. I join hubby in their bedroom to put nappies on the younger two and remind the eldest about pull ups. Then for the next half an hour or so, we read as many books as we can together.

RELATED : Why you shouldn’t feel bad for not living up to the Bluey standards of parenting.

One of us often climbs into a bed with a child, the other sits on the floor with one while bubs crawls over the top of us. There are two single beds (that can turn into bunks) and a cot mattress that we put on the floor.

The boys won’t always share but right now it works for us. At 6:15 (or 6:30 at the latest) we put the books away, tuck them into their respective beds, turn out the lights and put on the white noise sound machine ($40 from Big W). We have a snuggle and talk about the best part of their day. We say prayers and give them a kiss.

How we get three children into bed before 6:30 pm (and how you can too)

I still feed our youngest to sleep and then sneak out of the room. They love being in the same room and we think the company helps them to stay asleep. One of them will often pull their pillow and quilt onto the floor to lie next to our one year old. It’s pretty cute.

Bringing their bedtime forward was meant to be a short term thing. Something to help our 2 year old cope with the long afternoons. The crazy thing is it’s worked so well. Even over summer with daylight savings, not once did our older boys question why we were going to bed while the sun was still up. They just know that they go into the bedroom after dinner. They know that lights out is at 6:15.

We can’t really believe it ourselves, how easily it’s worked for us. How it’s been a game changer for our family and sanity

Once they are in bed and asleep, we use the time to get things done. We

  • finish packing up the kitchen
  • vacuum and / or mop
  • pack up the toys
  • organise paperwork or bills
  • prepare lunches for next day
  • hang washing off the line or put it away
  • miscellaneous jobs that need doing

We try to get the jobs done so we can have dinner as a couple, every night. It feels like a mini date night and we love how quiet it is. By then the house is clean and tidy, so other than putting the plates in the dishwasher, there is nothing to do afterwards.

RELATED : How to declutter your children’s toys for good

One of us might go for a run, I might read or have a bath, sit on my massage chair, work on my side hustle or watch a show together. Evenings always go too quickly but because we work hard to get the boys in bed early, we have more time than most. It allows us to get a few things done, spend time together and fill our tanks before facing another big day tomorrow. We are more rested and happier for it.

This won’t work for everyone. For those who both work or work long hours, it will be too tricky. For those with older children, they need to stay up later. For those with lots of extracurricular activities after school, they will get home too late. But for us in our season, with our boys 5 and under, it works.

Brilliantly. I’m so grateful for my friend who encouraged me to try something different with our routine. I’m not sure I would have thought of it myself. It’s made my afternoons more manageable, the evening routine shorter, the boys less grumpy. I am less worn down. It works for us, and it might just work for you too.

5 gift ideas for children (that aren’t toys)

5 gift ideas for children (that aren’t toys)

Gift ideas for children

We all have children in our life who we need to buy presents for, whether they’re our own, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and when our children go to parties. Sometimes it is hard coming up with an idea, especially when the child seems to have enough stuff already.

When a child receives lots of toys for their birthday or at Christmas time, they are initially excited. Most kids love the thrill of opening up a present to find a new thing inside. Once the shine has come off a bit and the gift doesn’t seem so interesting anymore, the following two things tend to happen:

There is an increase in overwhelm for the child. They have too much choice about what to play with. They get distracted. They don’t delve into deep, meaningful play. There is too much mess to clean up.

Secondly there is overwhelm for the parents. This tends to affect the primary caregiver, the one that is home the most. They have to find a spot to store it, create systems for toy rotations, tidy it up, manage the pieces.

It’s a lot. When I’ve gently asked some family members to avoid buying toys or less of them, I have been told, “but they like it,” or “they’ll be so excited opening the box.” Yes, of course they would be but in the end, as a parent I have to manage all the stuff. We have so many more things and toys than a generation or two ago. This wears us down and can steal some of the joy of motherhood.

I have been on a journey of decluttering and it has made the world of difference in our family.

Here are some gift ideas for children that won’t add to the overwhelm, go to landfill or break the bank.

#1. Gift idea: Toy library voucher

Toy libraries are amazing. My local one has gift vouchers for purchase for just $35 a year or $20 for 6 months. It is a brilliant way to give the gift that keeps on giving without adding to the excess in the family home. This can be bought with another family to keep cost down or even put money in the card to go towards buying the membership.

#2. Gift idea: Op shop voucher

Money doesn’t go very far in department stores. When my son went to spend some pocket money, the $15 barely bought one Paw Patrol car. We went across the road to Savers (a large op shop / thrift store) and he was amazed with what he could purchase. There were less options but there was a range of different things he could buy.

You could offer to take the child shopping to spend it, and could go towards books, clothes, shoes, dress ups, or art supplies. If there was a particular toy they wanted they could get that too, and when they get bored with it, sell or donate and then buy a different one. This reduces the impact on the environment because you aren’t buying a new toy with packaging, and the child is choosing something that they really want.

RELATED : Creative ideas for surviving lockdown with kids

#3. Gift Idea: Books

Growing up we had an uncle who only ever gave books as gifts. This didn’t always seem very exciting, but I secretly loved having a new one of my own to read. I loved being able to write my name in the front and keep it in my bookshelf. I could reread it again and again. Books can be expensive but they don’t have to be bought new. You could buy a set of books from Marketplace or Gumtree, or from an op shop for a fraction of the price. It’s nice to check first with the child or parents that second hand is ok. If they say it’s fine, money will go further meaning more books for them!

#4. Gift Idea: Audiobooks

Listening to a story in the car can help to pass the time, especially on long trips. It can be a different option to screens during rest time at home. They can be a relaxing way to wind down at bedtime. These can be bought as a CD format (new or secondhand) or downloaded on a device to listen on a speaker. Apps like Libby and Borrowbox even let you borrow audiobooks from the library for free!

#5. Gift Idea: Buy an Experience

This is my personal favourite gift and love when my boys are given one of these. The options are endless but here are some that won’t break the bank. Some could be money towards an experience, or pay for themselves and the child to do together as a special outing.

> Movie voucher

> Bowling

> Pony ride

> Waterslide

> Swimming pool

> Roller skating

> Play cafe

> Farm visit

> Ice skating

> Animal sanctuary

> Zoo

> Aquarium

> Boat or ferry ride

> Trout farm or fishing off a jetty

> Strawberry or apple picking

> Theatre tickets

> High ropes course

> Mini golf

> Rock climbing

> Cooking course

> Drive in

> Circus

> Plaster fun house

RELATED : Parenting through a pandemic – how Covid has changed the way my kids play.

We have compiled a list of experiences and outings that our children have never done before. This is stuck on the fridge for ideas and inspiration for special weekends or if someone asks for a present idea. This helps our children to focus on less material things and helps us remember about the fun things we can do as a family.

Too much stuff can create stress in our lives, but meaningful experiences creates memories. I encourage you to be extra intentional with gift giving going forward. Toys themselves aren’t bad, but children can only play with so much. They only need so much. Less things to manage can help families feel happier too. 💕

4 simple ways to ensure your family is protected (in case something ever happened to you)

4 simple ways to ensure your family is protected (in case something ever happened to you)

Murphy’s law suggests that if we have insurance, we probably won’t need to use it. It seems like we spend all of that money and never need to use it. That is a good thing though. We don’t want to get caught out. We don’t want to be underinsured or not insured at all.

We are often good at insuring our cars, house and contents, holidays and our health. It’s what is expected of us. It is a habit.

What about protecting you in case of an accident, serious illness, disability or death? It’s not nice to think about. It’s not a nice subject. We don’t normally talk about it. It’s not a great conversation starter (in my opinion anyway). It’s depressing and boring and not at the forefront of our minds.

However, what if something happened to you, today? What if you were no longer able to go to work and provide for your family? Who would get your assets? Who would care for your children? How would the rent or mortgage be paid? How would you afford school fees? How would the bills be paid?

Here are four simple ways to protect your family:

1. Create a will.

Many people do not have a will in place. It is not something people talk about nor something that we think about. Not having a will can make things very challenging for those that are left behind in the case of an untimely or unexpected death.

Dividing assets can become complicated, as can the guardianship of orphaned children. We did this at our local lawyers office. We put in place plans for our money and care of our children if something were to happen to us. We also put plans in writing to protect our spouse if they were widowed.

Regardless of age, it’s a good thing to sort out sooner rather than later as we really don’t know what’s around the corner. It cost less than $500 for peace of mind and was a very straight forward process. Willpro offer an online alternative. It’s completely legit and done by a lawyer for only $99 and couples less than $200 (moneysavvymamma readers get a discount when you mention my name).

2. Have an emergency fund.

Having money aside for when you need it is important. For many people, if they had a large expense pop up they would not have the funds to cover it. They are forced to ask for help from family, take our a loan or open a credit card. It’s not ideal and can prove quite stressful.

Ideally, it is a good idea to save up between 3-6 months of expenses. This money should be easily accessible, ie not in shares or in a term deposit. Consider if you were to lose your job tomorrow or be unable to work due to illness. Would you have any leave you could use or cash out? How much in savings do you have to cover rent or the mortgage? How long could you ‘survive’ until things got really bad?

This emergency fund does not have to equate to months of income, but rather necessary expenses you would have to cover (housing, groceries, utilities, car running costs, insurance etc). It can be a daunting process, especially if you are on a low wage. Start putting money aside each pay and set a goal to achieve this by.

3. Make sure you have income protection.

Income protection ensures that if you are unable to work, you will still continue to get paid. This could be for a sudden illness, accident, injury or disability. Knowing that you will be ok and your bills will be taken care of can be a huge weight off your mind.

When choosing what type and how much to sign up for, there is normally a waiting period. This is when it is imperative to have an emergency fund in place to help cover you in the interim. Income protection can be setup through superannuation (Australia’s version of retirement) or purchased separately.

Going through super can be an easier and cheaper option, but doesn’t always cover that much. Make sure to read the fine print to check that you’ll be covered enough. Applying separately can involve much paperwork, cost a higher amount and come out of your take home pay. However, if you need to access money, it might pay out more. Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask an expert for help.

4. Apply for death and total and permanent disability insurance (TPD).

Whilst we don’t ever want to access this type of insurance, it is extremely important. In the unlikely event of your early death, this can provide some comfort to your family members knowing that some key financial areas will be taken care of.

I suggest increasing the payout figure to a number that would easily pay for a funeral, pay off the mortgage, and provide enough money so the remaining spouse can stay home with the kids (and not have to worry about work). It is another insurance that you have to pay for (directly or indirectly) but it is one that you need to have in place. It is crucial that both spouses have this cover, not just the one heading out to work.

These four things are a starting point to give you peace of mind, especially during these uncertain times. It is worth taking some time to consider these questions. If not now, block out some time in your calendar or put a reminder in your phone. Make thinking about, talking about and actioning this a priority.

As always, make sure you get the right advice that is specific to your financial and family situation.

Do you need to organise one of these?

[Disclaimer: I’m not trained in finance so don’t take it from me. Feel free to grab ideas from this post but always see a professional for advice that is relevant and personal to your situation.]

Why keeping up with the Joneses can steal our joy

Have you noticed the growing pressure to spend more and own nice things? More and more I feel like we are expected to have a high standard of living.

I think that some of us want the first house we buy to be the one our parents saved up their whole lives for, and the ones our grandparents and great grandparents would have only dreamt of. There’s a lot to be said for being content and grateful for what we have and not needing to have everything all at once.

I am not trying to bag young people or say it was easier in my day. I’m still semi young (😅) and I know not all young people have this attitude.

I know house prices have gone crazy recently and times are hard and we are not all out getting avocado on toast. Some cities are becoming almost unaffordable for even the most basic of houses.

However. I do think that there is unreasonable pressure to have all the expensive things straight away. It is expected, in many circles, that once you are working you’ll buy the nice car, big house, new furniture and fancy tv.

It’s fine if you save up for these things but more times that not, this is paid for on credit or left with huge debts. I hear people all the time complaining about how busy they are. About how they ‘have’ to work full time. About how they ‘have’ to go back to work after having a baby or both ‘have’ to work to afford kids.

For some people, this is reality. They have no choice.

But at the risk of being hated, I’m going to say it anyway. Most of us have choices.

We can buy the amazing new car and have a loan, or we can drive an older one and save to upgrade it.

We can over-extend ourselves and buy a massive house and work lots to pay for it (and will be in trouble if they lose their job or interest rates go up) or we can borrow less than the banks let us and buy something that we can actually afford (even on one wage, allowing for unforeseen circumstances).

We can buy new flashy furniture and accessorise our houses and upgrade to new electronics or we can make do with second hand, saving up for new pieces when we can afford it. We don’t need to buy in to the new technology just because it’s new. We can reduce the amount sent to landfill and environmental impact.

My husband and I often feel envious after visiting beautiful homes. We can’t help but stare at modern, open plan kitchens (ours is old and wooden), gorgeous bathrooms (we have a purple bath and penguin tiles) and outside entertaining areas (we have a tiny deck and no undercover area). We have to remind ourselves that maybe one day we can have this, but it’s not our time yet.

We are choosing to live within our means. We avoid lifestyle creep by setting our own agenda about where our money goes. We decide what is most important for our family and stage of life.

We want to be around more for our children, spending time not money on them. We have less disposable income but are happy to go without some of our wants.

It all depends on who you are comparing yourself with. Are you comparing yourself to the professional couple on a double wage, with a six digit income? What about the single parent living on welfare, struggling to make ends meet? Someone homeless after a relationship breakdown or job loss? A family in desperate need of food, suffering in a time of drought and living in a single room hut with dirt floors? A refugee who has escaped a war torn country, living in a camp?

If we are only associating ourselves with those who are wealthy, or seeing influencers on social media show off their life, our world view is skewed a certain way. I am privileged and have much to be thankful for. I don’t have everything but have everything I need.

Do you feel that there is pressure to keep up with the Joneses?

For those on Mother’s Day, or any day that you need some encouragement.

Mother’s Day

During the Mother’s Day service at church this year, I sat in the parents room feeding our third bub. He was only four months old and so I was in the thick of sleep deprivation.

I suddenly had a moment while looking down at my beautiful boy when I realised again how lucky I was. Yes I was incredibly exhausted but gosh I was so happy.

I thought about those around me who so desperately wanted to be a mother and it hadn’t worked out yet. I thought about those who had lost babies and children. I thought about those with empty nests, longing for the noise and chaos to return, even just for a day. I thought about those who had lost their Mum, and how incredibly hard this day in particular would be for them.

I felt a sudden urge to write down my thoughts. I excused myself to go to the bathroom so I could have a chance to write uninterrupted from my children. I sat in the car writing for a few minutes while my kids napped before unloading all the gear. I finally had a few more minutes once they went to bed.

I felt like this needed to be written. Sending love to you on Mother’s Day, and on all the days when things feel tough. ❤️

For the mother who’s finding
everything tough,
for the one who thinks
that they’re not enough.

The exhaustion, the mess,
never enough time,
you love them but miss
the life that was mine.

For those who long for
an extra one to meet,
not feeling like your
family is complete.

For those who never had
a daughter or son,
grieving what could have been,
that special someone.

To those who no longer
have their mum by their side,
who miss having that person
in who they confide.

For those who are longing
for a babe of their own,
hoping and praying
through the unknown.

For those who have lost,
a deep hole remains,
such grief and anguish,
unexplainable pain.

Those feeling rejection,
unwanted, disowned,
now single motherhood-
doing it alone.

For those who wonder
how long this season will last,
for those who are grieving
the seasons of past.

Life is messy and hard,
it’s really not fair,
I want to acknowledge
that I really do care.

So whatever it looks like
for you on this day,
I hope you find peace
and love in some way.

❤️