Keeping Your Family Happy on a Budget

So many of us are struggling financially at the moment. It’s painful to see your friends scraping to make ends meet, especially when you lack the extra funds to help out. Loss of income and soaring costs quickly trigger stress, and sometimes relationship problems, too, neither of which make it easier to cope. While we can’t lend cash, we can share emotional support, and keep each other entertained and relaxed while we weather the storm.

Themed film nights (or afternoons)
Great for grownups as well as kids, these are my latest favourite money-saving entertainment. Choose a film (or two that make a good double-bill, if you have the stamina), make themed food to go with it, and invite as many people as you want. To keep things fresh but free, swap DVDs with friends or check out freebie offers on Netflix and Blinkbox. Fancy dress is also funny, but this is best when improvised on the cheap – nobody should feel the need to splash out on special costumes just for a couple of films. Our most recent successes were Alien/Aliens (with facehugger shaped cookies) for the adults, while the kids enjoyed Finding Nemo with fish shaped bites & dip, followed by Phish Food ice-cream.

Kids’ baking
You don’t need those fancy cupcake kits and pastel-coloured silicone bake ware that every supermarket is trying to sell us at the moment. They add so much unnecessary cost. You can make perfect cakes with basics self-raising flour, eggs, sugar, butter or margarine, vanilla flavouring, and some cheap paper cases. It shouldn’t be more than a few pounds, and there are free recipes all over the web. Add some icing sugar and food colouring for variety (and, admittedly, a bit more mess). Speaking of which, it might be wise to spread some old newspaper on the table before letting them loose…

Making your own stories
Sounds time-consuming? Needs more creativity than your exhausted soul can harness? It doesn’t have to be… Cut or tear a sheet of paper into twenty or so pieces, and write a word on each piece. Include a couple of your kids’ favourite animals (dragons count as animals, here – take cues from what they love on TV), or vehicles, professions (wizard/ballerina/robot/mutant frog-man etc.); some names (your kids, their friends, “Granddad”); some foods, toys, and other familiar objects; and finally some words that might describe anything – “green”, “fast”, & “smelly” spring to mind (don’t ask). Scrunch up your words and put them all in a bag or box. Make yourself comfy with the kids and take turns to pull a word out. Use your imaginations to connect each one together – for example, Ben and Alice were wriggling about on the sofa when a green and very smelly custard wizard came rushing in carrying an enormous cake…

Asking for help when you need it
This can be the hardest thing of all, especially when you’re used to putting on a brave face and maintaining a positive attitude for everyone. But if you are struggling, there is help available. Taking care of yourself, and your relationship, are actually really helpful things to do for everyone else, if you think about it. Be unashamed to ask for whatever you need to keep strong, be it counselling, nutrition advice, a strategy to get out of debt or a night of babysitting so you can spend much needed time by yourselves.

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