The best sort of budgeting involves thinking creatively about what you can do, rather than focusing on what you can’t afford to do. Having lived on a very tight budget for two years with two children, I feel as if I have money saving down to a fine art.
During the summer we splashed out on an expensive family day out to the zoo which cost us £40 in entrance fees alone, and when we asked our children (2and 4) what their favourite part of the day was, they both exclaimed “puddles!” to both our amusement and disappointment. This wasn’t the first time they’d made this sort of comment, and I’m convinced that expensive family days out just often aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. Sometimes, especially when they’reyoung, they’re just as happy taking scooters and bikes to a big park and then having an icecream as a treat, or walk in the woods, going on a bear hunt.
That said, we still go on family days out but we economise a lot whilst there. My approach is generally to think of all possible outgoings (parking, entrance fees, lunch, coffee, snacks, gift shop, etc) and then see if/how each one can be minimised. The children don’t notice the difference, and I relax, knowing I’m not breaking the bank.
So, the most obvious is to take packed lunches, and bottles of your own drink. If there are venues where you have to pay parking in addition to entrance fees, I try to research beforehand and work out if I can park for free within a short walking distance. I often take a flask of coffee and my own snacks.
The gift shop is usually the biggest challenge, especially if we go with friends who always let their child choose something. If I anticipate that the gift shop is unavoidable (either because we’re with friends or the path to the exit physically takes you through the shop), then if I’m organised enough, I take a small treat with me and explain in advance that we won’t buy anything in the shop but they can have a treat in the car home.
Our top tip for a very economical holiday is to house swap with friends or relatives. We sometimes house swap with my sister in the school holidays or for long weekends. We get the buzz of being very near central London with all its free attractions and parks, and my sister and her family love coming out to rural Wiltshire.
As well as being free accommodation, we mutually agree what we’re going to leave for each other grocery wise, so we typically arrive to find fresh milk, bread, croissants for breakfast, our first evening meal prepared and ready to pop in the oven, and a cake if we’re lucky! You don’t get that at your average self catering cottage.
We write each other a list of recommended days out, so we get the benefit of local knowledge. We both have children of similar ages so we have the added benefit of a house full of different toys. It’s very low stress as we know what to expect, yet the novelty factor of living in a different house. The children love the fact they’re in their cousins’ bedrooms! It’s a definite win-win.
There are of course houseswap websites that are growing in popularity, with houses available all over the world, and friends of ours rave about this, they are confirmed houseswappers.
The other type of holiday we do is staycations – where you stay at home instead. It might sound boring but bear with me – it can be a pleasant surprise! We allocate a budget and ring fence this money for activities that specifically make it a holiday. For parents, this might start off with paying a professional cleaning company to do a three hour deep clean of the house so that you categorically do no cleaning at all during the holiday. We always make sure we have a ‘posh picnic’ – we go to Waitrose and buy really luxury picnic food, then have a lovely day out with the picnic basket.
I recommend sitting down and working out together how you’re going to make it different from normal life. We’ve never done this but a friend suggested having a different theme each day – e.g French one day, so a typical French breakfast, dinner etc, wearing striped T-shirts and going cycling?! The point is to make it fun, and to make it different. The unexpected outcome for us was that we had far more luxuries than we would on a normal holiday, and we visited the expensive places on our doorstep that we’d never been to before. Rather than blowing the budget on flights and accommodation, then living on packed lunches and self catering to save money, we ate out most of the time and were a bit more liberal with the spending money.
It definitely takes some planning to make it a break from the norm, it’s not for everyone and of course, you can’t change the weather, but if you try it, you might be pleasantly surprised!