26 June 2012

Kids’ parties on a budget!

If I think back to my childhood, birthday parties were more exciting than Christmas day. For one, we didn’t get our presents on Christmas day and the day wasn’t all about you and your friends. I remember dressing up and eating multi-coloured cake. I remember how I would toss around in bed the night before, too excited to sleep. My parents had to lock the door to the dining room so our little excited hands couldn’t get to the fun stuff before the guests arrived.

DIY party décor, a piñata.

What I don’t remember is what the cakes looked like. I only have vague memories of a swimming pool with naked plastic babies in and two mice under a blanket. Luckily my mom took photos, but in a child’s brain, it doesn’t have to look like a million dollars to be super exciting and beautiful. What made the parties special furthermore were the treats and decorations my mom made. To save money or get out of debt, DIY is your best bet.

This was when most sweets had tartrazine (a colorant) in, and my sister and I were allergic to this, so my mom had to MAKE marshmallows, mints, jelly…almost everything. We could eat gingerbread and liquorice and one brand of gummy sweets. Not exactly the stuff parties are made off. She used natural colorants for the icing on the cakes. You can buy those at your local baking supplies shop in small tubs, but these days there are much more to choose from. Even metallic colours and fairy dust glitter, which is great to sprinkle over cakes or cupcakes they are decorated.

They are powders and much more versatile than your run-of-of the mill food colouring. Don’t stop at the food. Mixed with a tiny bit of water, you can make face paint. Because it is non-toxic, the kids can go wild. It doesn’t stain as easily as usual paints. They can use it as make up when playing dress up, to draw on moustaches and eye lashes, or transform them into superheroes!

Looking back, my mom really was the queen on thrifty children’s parties, but nobody would have guessed. From the photos I can tell she put effort into making everything: from the tablecloths to the placemats to our outfits. The trick to catering to children on a budget is to get creative. If you’re not inspired by the icing and ice cream muse yet, visit websites like thefrugalgirls.com for party ideas on a budget. I love the cupcakes-in-cones idea and it’s very simple. A kid isn’t going to look forward to a party more if it’s over-the-top like My Super Sweet 16, and they won’t be disappointed as long as they can get their hands on cake and have a great time with their friends. So there's no reason to take a second mortgage on your house to afford your child's birthday!

Robots kids can make!

If the kids are a bit older, getting them involved in making the food is fun. You can make plan cupcakes and they can decorate them themselves. Or prepare pizza bases and set the toppings out on the table so they can each make their own pizza. Just remind them to mark it somehow to remember which is which! We loved making Pinocchio pizzas with half a banana for the nose and toppings as eyes.

Your job as parent or party-organizer is just to give them lots of things to see, do and eat. Try to plan activities beforehand, so you can distract them from covering each other in food or silly putty (or was that just us?). Don’t force them to play a game though, different kids have different things they are interested in and it’s their party after all, so the best bet would be having a few activities planned and seeing what they catch on to.

Party your way out of debt

Okay, maybe that’s a bit optimistic, as we usually associate a party with spending on food and drinks and even decorations and presents. But there is one kind of party that you can throw that will cost you no extra money: the swap party. Think about it: you get new (or at least, new to you) things or ideas, get rid of things crowding your home that you are tired of and you have a good time with your friends.

An amazing idea for an accessory swap party’s invitations! 
But don’t be fooled, not all swap parties are cheapskate. You can swap anything from books to wine to Louis Vuitton. But for now, we’ll assume we’re not that living that high! Clothes and accessory swapping is my favourite. I like vintage shopping, but sometimes you buy something that you just don’t get around to wearing. It’s probably not meant for you, but it can make someone else happy.

Recipe swap parties are also popular. You can take it one step further and make your recipe and then swap dishes. You can make an interesting meal of it if the guests taste everyone else’s dishes and take the recipes of all the dishes home. It’s a good idea to stick to a theme: casseroles, cookies, soups, or if you’re in the mood for something less housewifey and more bachelorette-friendly, swap cocktails.

The Swap Club Italia is so advanced,
you swap clothes for buttons for clothes again and
choose out of a seemingly endless variety.
I’m making it sound like swap parties are just for the feminine-inclined. In reality, if you have can get a group of people together with similar interests, you can have a swap party! You can swap games, electronics, hobby kits you are no longer interested in, decorations, crafts, furniture, music, DVD’s or anything, really! The possibilities are endless. You just need a group of like-minded people or friends who like to discover new things for next to nothing.

Happy swapping!

Thrifty travel tips

A van parked, looking over this beach ion South Africa
Photo John Charalambous  

Travelling has become a fixture in modern life as we travel to work, to learn, to shop, for fun, to church, to visit family... therefore it can definitely take its toll on your budget every month. Most working South Africans manage to afford petrol, the train or a taxi to get around. There’s usually not much you can do to cut back on travelling, but you can make the trip more affordable and save those pennies you’ve been meaning to use towards repaying your debt or financing your child’s future.

If you travel by car, the most drastic way to save on petrol costs would be to join or create a lift club to work. If you find two other people who live and work (or study) close enough to your work and home, you can save two thirds of your petrol expenses. If you can find the people, but they don’t have cars, you can charge them for their half (or third) of the petrol and include the AA’s vehicle operating costs

Traffic on the N1 can get really bad. People leave early to avoid it or take the Gautrain
Photo ThisParticularGreg   
Also, make sure your car’s tyres, petrol filter, air filter and all those things that can affect petrol usage are checked regularly and replaced when needed. Try to avoid driving in traffic as far as possible by taking alternative routes or leaving at off-peak times. How you drive also has an impact on how much fuel your car is using, so go through these tips to increase fuel mileage even more.

Of course, travelling isn’t just a to-and-from-work affair. We need to see our families or go on holiday to unwind as well. Holiday travelling is more stressful as there’s so much more to plan and it can get really expensive when you look at the overall costs of your holiday, but there are ways to curb those costs. If you’re visiting your family, accommodation is probably free. But you can save a bundle if you don’t fall into the holiday spending trap we wrote about a few posts back.

Flights can be cheaper than driving when travelling alone
Photo phunkstarr
Your mode of transport should also be planned, so do research and work out what transport will be the cheapest for the amount of people travelling that distance. Going by car can be the most affordable option for a family, but for one person, a plane ticket booked in advance is probably the cheapest way to get across the country. Being flexible with your times can mean bigger savings, so search online for a flight within a few days of your planned departure and arrival time as well. Also look into long distance train and bus fares.

Also, don’t do things you wouldn’t spend on normally, such as eating in restaurants every second day. Rather focus on sight-seeing and visiting places that locals would relax or have fun at. If you’re not sure what these are, ask! Chances are good that this will be much cheaper than tourist destinations. Pack your own food and plan your trip to fall in the off-season if you are visiting parks or museums that charge admission fees.

Most of all, remember to have fun and make the most of your trip. Holidays don’t have to be perfect, so if something goes wrong, see it as just another adventure! Unexpected things make for the best photos and the most lasting memories.

The value(s) of money: Living a better life by having a job that matters to you

In the blog article “If you’re frugal, you don’t need to earn as much as everyone else”, blogger Kristen shares what those of us who have discovered the joys of living with less know: when you’re not chasing after materialistic success and wealth, you don’t have to compromise on your values to get ahead in life. This does take a specific mind-set, though. You need to know what really matters to you to work towards it, or you might just end up blindly chasing the biggest pay check you can with no regard for your happiness in the long run.
If you don't know what you want, you end up with a lot you don't.

This notion of working towards a better you rather than a bigger bank balance seems absurd in a country where people are struggling to get work. I can already imagine people declaring, “Of course you want the highest paying job you can possible get! Why struggle?” Well, it depends on what you see as “struggling”. Making the best of the money you have can be very rewarding. And while working your butt off to afford things like the best car or the biggest house or the most expensive holiday can also be rewarding, things in themselves cannot make you happy.

It’s important to have some perspective and not to over-do it. When we work too much we don’t have time for our friends and families, time to enjoy the hobbies we love or time to relax and take stock of our lives and where we’re heading. While there’s nothing wrong with having a lot of money, if you’re chasing after superficial success when you already have enough, you have to ask yourself why you’re doing this and if you’ll ever feel like you have enough.

The dilemma many of us face is that we can never have “enough”. There will always be more expensive things out there, demanding our attention and masquerading as something we have to have now. Our spending habits are geared toward this kind of instant satisfaction, and we do not value long term success that cannot be measured in Rand. This is one of the reasons why people become over indebted. By buying more and more we think we are buying better lives, but when we add the financial stress of being in debt to the mix, we’re ten steps back from where we started.

It is not the man who has little, but the man who desires more, that is poor.
 As Kristen says in her blog, she achieved the things she wanted to achieve in life exactly because she wasn’t geared towards making a lot of money, but because she wanted to be happy with what she was doing. Think about it: you spend most of you week days working, so if you don’t like your job or you feel pressured to earn more and more, you start losing focus of the reason you chose that career in the first place and every day becomes a rush to get the job done or a drag to the finish line. Only to be back at work again the next day.

Feeling like you’re doing the job you’re meant to be doing is much more rewarding than longing for a better salary or a holiday. If you refuse to compromise on your values, you might just find that a better job finds you, one you are really good at, and the money will roll in by itself. The only difference is, this time you won’t be tempted to buy yourself a better life – you’ll already be living it.
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