If the cold winter days and dark mornings have got you dreaming of warmer climates, you’re probably already thinking ahead to your summer holiday this year. Although a summer holiday is on the wish list for most of us, expensive trips and far flung destinations can be tough on our wallets. Prepaid Mastercard® providers, icount, have put together their top tips to help you make your summer holiday a little more affordable this year. Take a look below to find out more!
Pick your dates carefully
Being flexible on your holiday dates can help you to find the best deals and picking your dates carefully can result in an even bigger discount. Friday flights generally tend to be more expensive than those earlier in the week, and booking an uncommon number of nights (such as going away for 15 days rather than 14) can work out cheaper.
Book your holiday in advance
Although it’s tempting to leave your holiday booking to the very last minute to get the best deals, booking well in advance is more likely to help you find a bargain. Search for holidays at least 8 weeks in advance to help you save, or if you’re a real early bird, holidays booked between January and April can prove to be even cheaper.
Learn to haggle
Shopping around is always a great idea when booking flights or hotels online. Once you’ve checked comparison websites and deals available online, speak to your local travel agent who may be able to discount the price you’ve found even further!
Pre-book as much as you can
Booking ahead doesn’t just save you money on your hotel and flights. Pre-booking hotel transfers, excursions and activities can also help you to cut down costs and make your summer holiday a little more affordable, without missing out on any of the fun!
Take public transport
Taxi drivers can often take advantage of tourists, hiking up fares and taking the longest routes to your destination. Many cities across the world have great public transport systems, which are fast, efficient and affordable. Take a look at day passes or season tickets to see how much you could save!
A while back I wrote about a website I’d found to get paid to test websites, but back then I’d just discovered it, applied, done the audition test and that was it. Now, however, I’ve been using the website to do the tests since the end of January and so I wanted to share my thoughts.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to start testing them. You do need to be in a quiet situation with no background noise, so I can only do it when the kids aren’t here. I have found that most of the tests are a lot less than 20 minutes to complete, so I’ve simply been telling my husband Ben I’m doing a test and I’ll pop off to our bedroom for 5 or 10 minutes, which seems to be the length most take. If they come through whilst Reuben is at preschool, then even better!
You could earn £1 a minute
I also assumed they’d all be 20 minutes long and I’m usually jam packed with other at-home work, so didn’t think I could squeeze them in. I’ve now completed 10 paid tests and only one of them was near to the full 20 minutes. The rest have been more like 5 minutes. As the pay is £5 per test, that’s £1 per minute!
The easiest one I did was yesterday and it was two simple questions. I had to follow their instructions and do two things on a mobile website and say how easy I thought it was. I’m sure it took me even less than 5 minutes to do.
What do you need to take part?
All you need is a decent laptop or computer with a microphone that is clear. They’ll instruct you on how to download some software to record your computer screen whilst you take the tests. There are also iPhone, Android and iPad tests. Again, they’ll walk you through downloading some software so you can mirror your phone to your laptop and record what you do on your phone as you complete a test.
It’s really all very simple and easy to do. Payments are £5 per completed and accepted test. As they’re recording your voice they like you to talk through what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what you think of the websites. So make sure you speak in the tests.
Sometimes you need to answer a screener question as their clients are looking for specific users to complete the tests. I’ve been turned down for several of these as I’m not suitable, but I’ve still managed to complete 10 tests in the past month which is £50 for me. If I had been suitable I could have easily earned more.
Will it make me rich?
Sadly not as there aren’t enough tests, but it’s a great little side hustle that is fun, takes barely any time, the payments tot up and you’ll be paid once a month for the previous months test. As someone who works from home this will be a great little topper to my monthly income.
Having had two children I have spent a lot of money (and wasted a lot) on various baby equipment over the years. In this guide I’m going to take a serious look at the baby equipment worth investing in and then a light-hearted look at the baby equipment you should save your money on and not bother buying at all.
Baby equipment worth spending your money on
There are so many companies trying to sell you everything and anything baby related when you have a new-born, it can be confusing to know exactly what you need. Here are five things you definitely need that will make your life a lot easier:
A sturdy buggy
You’re going to need to transport your baby from A to B, so a buggy is a must. There are all sorts of clever designs nowadays including whole travel systems that incorporate the car seat so baby can swiftly be moved from car to buggy in one fell swoop. If you have more than one child and they are both of buggy/pushchair age, then a double buggy is going to be a lifesaver. If you’re struggling to pick a reliable double buggy, then check out a comparison review such as this one at Baby Gear Guide which offers a review and rating of ten major models.
The correct car seat
There’s so much to learn when you have a baby and that includes an education in the different car seats and their legalities! There are different car seats based on age, height and weight and you must use the correct one to ensure your child’s safety and comply with the law. Companies such as Halfords and Mothercare offer a bespoke car seat fitting service in which they’ll find the most suitable for your child’s age and car. They’ll even fit it for you so you know it’s properly installed.
Convertible cot bed
Time goes super-fast once you have children and before you know it they’re out of their cot and into a bed. To make the transition easier on both the child and your wallet, consider buying a cot bed instead of a separate cot and toddler bed. The cot bed is a cot that can be converted into a small toddler bed once the child is old enough. It can usually be used until the child is 4 or 5 years old, so you’ll not have to worry about buying several pieces of furniture for a few years. Our cot bed was around £100 new and lasted for both the children.
Ergonomic bath support
We tried the baby baths, but found the ergonomic bath support to be a much better investment. This can be used in the main bath, so there’s no need to buy a separate baby bath which takes up valuable space. It is also cleverly shaped to hold the baby so your hands are free to wash the child. This clever piece of equipment makes bath time so much easier, but you must still always stay with the baby in the bath.
I never purchased one with my first, but regretted this once I used one with my second. I used an AmaWrap when Reuben was a baby up until he was almost one as he was quite large and too big for it. Many people use it way beyond one though. He absolutely loved being so close to me in the sling and often fell asleep. It also meant I could be hands free to hold my daughter’s hand when out and about, or even use a trolley and shop like normal in the supermarket. Once Reuben was too big for the AmaWrap I used an Ergobaby carrier. I’d definitely recommend this even though it’s over £100 as we tried 3 cheap versions with Bella and they were a waste of money – Bella hated being in them and they were really uncomfortable to wear.
Baby equipment to save your money on
Buying baby equipment requires a bit of trial and error. There are lots of recommended products that companies market to you as things you couldn’t be without, but aside from the essentials, most of it is personal choice and most isn’t needed at all. All babies are different too, what one may love another may detest! Here are five baby items that are not worth spending your money on:
Baby bath and top ‘n’ tail bowl
For my first we purchased a lot of useless baby stuff that we really did not need. Things you see sold in all the baby stores so you just assume you need it. We bought a baby bath and a top ‘n’ tail bowl for washing that keeps the water separate for the top and tail. These were both totally useless purchases. When Bella was so new-born she was so small we washed her in the sink! Then we used this bath once or twice, but quickly realised it was easier to wash her in the main bath using an ergonomic bath support. I’m not even sure if we ever used the top and tail bowl. Perhaps once or twice the very first times we bathed her as we thought it was something we needed to use, but totally didn’t. Needless to say, we didn’t keep these or repurchase them with our second child.
In our first home together when we had Bella we lived upstairs so thought a nappy bin would be a lifesaver stopping us running downstairs and across a carpark to the communal bins to dispose of hundreds of stinky baby nappies. These are marketed as keeping your home smelling fresh, but in our experience they never totally masked the smell, making them quite the useless product. We also found it just as easy to nip outside and dispose the nappies or left them by the door and the next person to go out would take them. Perhaps if you were in a much higher flat these would be of use, but in a regular house or low level flat they’re not worth the money.
This is a debatable one as many of my friends say their children loved their swing seats and it was the only way to get them to sleep. Perhaps I purchased one too late as Bella was already so used to sleeping on me. By the time I tried to put her in a swing seat she wouldn’t have it, so it was quickly another item listed for sale on Ebay and us making a loss on an almost new item.
Plug socket safety covers
Safety is the number one priority when you have a baby and more so once they start moving around and exploring the world around them. All parents want to provide a safe environment for their children to explore, but sadly the baby stores play on this making us feel like we need certain safety equipment that we don’t need at all. In fact, some of this ‘safety’ equipment such as plug socket safety covers could actually be dangerous themselves! I bought packs of these and used them all over the house until I read the NHS and Department of Health’s safety alert regarding them.
As much as I really wanted a wooden high chair because they are so much more visually appealing than bulky white plastic ones, they are in fact very unpractical for a baby. The wooden chair seats are very large and slippery so they’re more suited to a toddler. They suited mine best when two years old, so never in the baby years. I tried to strap Bella into one, but she almost fell through the gap. Needless to say we ended up buying a much more suitable white plastic high chair with plenty of padding and a 5 point safety harness to keep her safely strapped in.
Being in unaffordable debt is a huge worry for most people. Back in my early twenties I was really quite stupid with money and got into a lot of personal debt. It was definitely my fault as I was spending way more than I earned, going out for restaurant meals, clubbing every weekend, buying new clothes almost every day and basically living a life I couldn’t afford. There are lots of reasons why I got a shopping addiction and tried to live this way, but at the end of the day I should have known better and should have managed my money a lot better than I did.
I ended up in debt crisis. This is where I was paying of debt with debt and never actually paying anything back. I was using overdrafts and credit cards to pay off each minimum balance each month and getting further and further into debt. It was a downwards spiral and I thought there was no way out. I had several store cards, two loans, an overdraft and credit cards.
As much as I know it is my fault, I also think the banks and credit companies should take some responsibility. At ages 18 and 19 I was able to open 10 store cards, 3 credit cards, have a huge overdraft of around £1000 and I took out two loans. At no point did anyone look at the amount of credit I already had available to me, realise I wouldn’t be able to pay it back should I max it all out and therefore refuse me for whatever new credit I was applying for. I was young and stupid and if I wanted something I just opened a store card. I’d worry about paying it back later. I was always accepted and so became hooked on shopping and hooked on getting what I wanted. Because I could.
The fun didn’t last though as I soon maxed out all avenues and quickly realised I couldn’t even afford all the minimum payments. I was paying debt off with credit and I was in trouble. Luckily I knew to go to the Citizen’s Advice and we worked out my debt. I was shocked to see I was in £17500 of debt! An amount of money I could only dream of. This was around 14 years ago and my full time shop assistant wage was around £10000 a year! I had debt of 1.5 times my annual income. Ridiculous!
Luckily I was signposted to a debt management company who took over contacting all my creditors and acted as my third party. They were even able to stop the interest on most of my accounts so I could just pay back what I owed and quicker. It took a while for some of the creditors to stop hassling me though. They found out where I worked and rang constantly, to the point where my manager was so sick of it he told them I didn’t work there anymore. Some of the debt had been passed on to third parties and they are not always the nicest people! They’d constantly hassle me, even though I was doing the right thing setting up a debt management plan and paying it back.
We discussed bankruptcy, but I was so young and as it was unnecessary debt I could have been classed as bankrupt for the rest of my life. I also didn’t qualify for an IVA as I could pay it back in five years. It took me around 5.5 years in the end, but I paid back every last penny and I learnt my lesson!
Yes, I’m in debt now, but it’s affordable. I have a mortgage and two loans, but we can more than afford these. Having a huge mortgage is quite scary, but it’s an investment and the other option is to rent and pay someone else’s mortgage. At least we are paying something off and will have something to show at the end. I’m also keen to overpay and get it paid off as soon as possible! I will never again get into a load of personal debt I cannot afford for things I don’t need. In a way I’m glad I learnt my lesson so long ago and I’m much better at managing my money now. In fact I’m obsessed and check our bank accounts every morning and track outgoings weekly!
Not surprisingly website Talk About Debt found that 88% of people who have debt are kept awake at night worrying about it. For me it was one of the darkest periods of my life so far. I suffered tremendous amounts of stress worrying about the debt and whether debt collectors would call round. Just the thought of debt collectors in person was enough to set me into a panic. I saw no way out, but I wish I’d realised sooner there is a lot of help available out there.
If you are struggling to pay your debt, don’t feel like you are alone. There is a lot of help out there. Don’t suffer in silence. It can all be sorted and there are people to help you.
Here are some ways you can get help if you can’t afford your debt repayments:
Talk to the creditors
Firstly, especially if you think the debt is manageable, speak to your creditors. Many of them are not scary at all and they will have dedicated helplines for people struggling with repayments. They may be able to freeze interest or allow a repayment break for a period of time whilst you get your finances on track. They will also be able to direct you to debt advice companies for more information.
Apply for an IVA
If you’re wondering what is an IVA, it’s an Individual Voluntary Arrangement that’s suitable for most people with large amounts of debt who may otherwise be considering bankruptcy. A legally binding agreement is set up between you and the creditors for you to pay back as much as possible in five years. The rest of the debt, up to 70%, is then written off. It is set up on your behalf through a third company and they can manage all the negotiations and they’ll also take a fee out of your monthly repayments. Interest and charges can be frozen.
Go on a debt management plan
The debt management plan I used didn’t cost me a penny. Some of them will charge a fee and add it onto your outstanding debt balance, but PayPlan who I used did not. They can negotiate on your behalf with all your creditors and come to an arrangement. This helps to take the stress away from you and let you get on with your life knowing you are paying back the debt. A debt management plan is suitable for those who are able to pay the full amount back over a reasonable period of time. It’s also really easy to manage as rather than paying each company individually on different dates, I paid PayPal one lump sum each month and they divided it between my creditors.
Seek professional advice
One of the best things to do is to seek advice. There are lots of professional debt advice companies offering free advice to those struggling with debt. I used the Citizen’s Advice Bureau who referred me to PayPlan when I had my debt. The CAB were able to look at all my debt with me and tell me who was the best company I should approach. PayPlan were then able to tell me which option was the best option for me.
The thing I cannot stress enough is to seek help and don’t face it alone! There are so many companies offering free debt advice who genuinely want to help and point you in the right direction. Though it may feel like there’s no way out, there really is and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Ten years ago I was in the depths of despair paying back my debt with no money left over for anything else at the end of each week and a £30 budget for food and sundries each week after all bills and debt were paid. It was hard and depressing, but I got through and paid it all back. Ten years on and I’m married with two wonderful children and a homeowner – something I never imagined I could achieve after so many debt problems. It really is possible to turn it all around and create a better debt free life for yourself.
I am absolutely amazed every single day by the opportunities and benefits that being a personal blogger has given to me. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it is my dream job, only I never realised it until now. I remember a few years back after I’d left a job of 10 years when on maternity and I wondered, well what on Earth am I going to do now? I did work some part time evening and early morning jobs whilst trying to set my own business up, but I still always thought I’d need to return to a full time employed job eventually when the children were past the toddler stage.
I was talking to my husband Ben and he said ‘well what do you enjoy?’ The one thing that I always thought of was writing essays! I absolutely loved coursework at school (probably one of the few) and couldn’t wait to get stuck into the research and then piece together my essay. I was always so proud once I had my completed piece of work to hand in and thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. I loved to write and research. At that point I didn’t have a particular topic I was 100% passionate about, but loved to write about anything that interested me.
So I replied to Ben ‘I love writing, but essay coursework type writing, how can I do this for a living?’
‘I don’t know’
So it was left there at that point. Maybe 6 or so years ago. I continued to work pretty crappy part time jobs and tried to build my online jewellery business.
Luckily, the best thing I ever did was decide to start a blog for my jewellery business. Lylia Rose was originally a card shop on Etsy, and then I started this website to sell jewellery, which later turned into selling printed scarves. To try and get more views I started a blog. At first a business blog, then I tried to be a typical beauty and fashion blogger showing my bog standard beauty purchases and normal outfits (that was never going to work), then I did something that would change me forever. I started blogging about my lifestyle and the things that were really passionate to me: my family, healthy living, money, trying to run a business, parenting, home and garden.
All of a sudden I fell massively in love with blogging and the Lylia Rose blog was born! It took over my website (and my life) and has grown ever since. It’s become my full time job and passion and I am grateful every day.
Here are my top reasons why blogging is so great:
The best thing is it’s providing an income for me. I never even knew this was possible when I started my blog, but now I earn a full time wage. I do put in full time hours, so don’t be fooled thinking it’s easy! I did also blog for 3 years before monetising as it wasn’t my original plan, but if it’s yours then I expect you can earn money a lot quicker.
Blogging is so flexible. All you need is a laptop (or even phone) and an internet connection and you can write away. You can even write first in a notebook with a pen if that’s more your style. Ideas, blog posts and titles can be jotted down anywhere, on the go, at home, whilst travelling. You can blog in the morning, afternoon or evening. It’s flexible around parenthood and other work commitments.
Work from home
Blogging has given me the opportunity to work from home which is exactly my preferred method of working with young children. My youngest is in childcare only 21 hours per week, so I can be with him the rest of the time. My daughter is in school, but I’m able to attend assemblies and drop her off at 9am and collect at 3pm. There are a lot of disadvantages to working from home, but I’d still choose it to work for myself and be able to have the flexibility whilst my children are young and need full time care.
There is an amazing blogging community and everyone is so supportive. Sure, you’ll get the really competitive types and you’ll get them anywhere, but for the most part every blogger wants each other to succeed. There are numerous hashtag networking hours and Facebook groups where we all support each other. We can ask advice to one another, share opportunities and even get feedback. I’ve never known such a supportive community. It’s amazing and I love being a part of it. I only wish I had more time to contribute more.
I get to learn new things every day. Whether I’m researching for a personal blog post to learn more myself, or whether I’m writing for a brand and learning about them, their methods and values. I get to research every single day and teach myself new things about the topics I’m interested in as well as learning more about blogging. Starting a blog and turning it into a business isn’t as simple as just ‘writing stuff on the internet’. It involves so much learning – SEO, email marketing, tech stuff, basic coding, social media, promotion, pitching, invoicing, accounts, money management. There is so much involved when you run your own business, even as a self-employed person, but it’s wonderful to be able to learn so much. A great quote I love is ‘learn like you’ll live forever’.
Actually, this is probably my favourite reason – it’s so enjoyable! I get to do what I love and enjoy every single day – write. Yes there are lots of other parts to it like boring admin, aka ‘blogmin’, but ultimately I do get to write and spill my thoughts onto a blank page every day. I love a blank piece of paper or screen. It’s a blank canvas full of opportunity. I love when the words flow, then I can read back through and see what I’ve created on the page. I love to write and I only wish I’d discovered blogging years before I did so I could have realised my passion a long time ago.