*in association with Scottish Friendly
When the kids went back to school after the summer holidays, I thought it would give us a chance to get our spending back on track. With three children off school for six weeks, and the weather pretty rubbish, inevitably it ended up expensive.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about September being a cheap month though. All three of my children needed new school uniforms, shoes and trainers. Two of the three needed new winter coats. Then we had to pay for new terms of all their various activities and clubs. Little Man O has started rugby so he needed boots and a kit; Little Miss E has started flute lessons so she needed one of those. There was a school trip to pay for. It was Little Man’s birthday so we had the expense of a party and presents. It definitely wasn’t the cheap month we had hoped for!
With Christmas looming, we had already decided October and November were going to be frugal months of scaling back on all but the essentials. So, when Scottish Friendly challenged us to a no-spend weekend, we were on board straight away.
Our weekend started on the Friday when I picked the kids up from school. I’d explained the challenge to them and told them we had to think creatively as a family as to how we could have a fun weekend without it costing anything.
Often on a Friday, we do a quick dash to the shops after school to buy a ‘treat’ tea – something like pizza, hot dogs, fajitas or even chip shop chips to mark the start of the weekend. This weekend though, the rule was to consume only what was already in our house. It’s all too easy to think you have no food in the house when actually I’d wager the average household could string together three or four meals by thinking creatively with what’s in the cupboards fridge and freezer.
So our Friday night meal was bangers and mash, with half a bag of potatoes that were almost on the turn, sausages from the freezer, and the remains of two different bags of frozen peas. We ate it on our dining room table rather than the kitchen, where we have most of our meals, which gave the evening more of a sense of occasion.
While raiding the freezer for ideas for tea, we also discovered a packet of ready rolled pastry lurking in the freezer and decided to make jam tarts for dessert. For some reason, we had four opened jars of jam in the fridge, so it was good to be able to pop two of those in the recycling once we were done the cooking.
On Saturday morning, the kids have ballet and rugby. After that we had an early lunch – soup which I had batch-cooked previously and was ready and waiting in the freezer – and as it was raining, we headed to National Museum Cardiff for the day. We’re so lucky in Wales that all our national museums are free to visit. Usually, we would park in the nearby pay-and-display spaces but today we parked just out of town and walked in, saving ourselves around a fiver.
There’s so much to see at the museum we can easily spend a day there at the best of times. Our favourites are the dinosaurs and the natural history galleries. On the day we visited, Cardiff University was holding a Biology and Geology Rocks hands-on science event. My children absolutely loved taking part in little experiments and making ‘germs’ out of Play-Doh.
We also took part in a free family-friendly workshop on skeletons in the museum’s Clore Discovery Centre, which encourages children to get hands-on with museum exhibits including fossils, bones and microscopes.
From there we headed into town for some Snowdog hunting. As regular readers will know, there are 43 Snowdogs and 57 Snowpups around Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, raising money for Ty Hafan Children’s Hospice. My children have loved seeing all the different dogs and logging our finds on the app.
Saturday evening is Strictly Come Dancing night in our house so we all changed into our pyjamas, made some homemade popcorn (we always have popcorn kernels in the house), snuggled under blankets and watched the first hour or so until it was time for the children to go to bed.
Our Sunday mornings begin with swimming lessons for the children at 8.30am (!) and as we are out of the house nice and early we often make a packed lunch and head out on day trips straight from the pool.
The sun was shining and so we headed to the seaside at Penarth. There were two Snowdogs there we were keen to find. We also spent time on the pier watching the fishermen; the pebble beach where we threw stones into the water and built towers of pebbles; and walking along the clifftop, which has the most beautiful views of the Bristol Channel and the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm.
This was where we ate our lunch on one of the many benches overlooking the sea. Our picnic probably wasn’t as exciting as it might have been if we’d been to the shops for it but we managed well with what we had in the house. There’s a fantastic playground which has been recently refurbished on the clifftops and my children played here for ages. Everything looks so clean and new, and it has a great range of equipment for all ages.
My children did ask for an ice cream, but we reminded them that we’d taken the remainder of the jam tarts to have as a mid-afternoon treat. It’s amazing how little treats such as snacks and drinks can add to the cost of even the cheapest day out – ice creams all round would have cost around £10.
We got home mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day in the garden. A neighbour’s daughter came around to play and the kids had great fun making flower potions and mud pies in the mud kitchen. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much children enjoy playing at home – and best of all that doesn’t cost a penny.
We loved having a no spend weekend. As you’ll know if you read Cardiff Mummy Says regularly, we enjoy visiting all the free attractions South Wales has to offer. But this weekend we made sure to look for free parking and weren’t tempted by snacks or drinks.
We genuinely didn’t spend a penny. We estimated that we would have spent around £50 on parking, snacks and buying ingredients for our weekend meals. And that’s not including the money we would have spent on days and meals out if we weren’t being so frugal. Rather than seeing that £50 frittering away, we’ve transferred it to our holiday savings account.
It’s made us think that we should try to have a no-spend weekend once a month. It’s a great reminder that you don’t have to spend a fortune to have quality time together as a family.
You can see more money saving tips on the Scottish Friendly blog.