With most schools taking a break during February, many families will be worrying about the added costs a week of having the kids at home can generate. From requests for expensive days out to all the extra mealtimes at home, holidays can be hard if you’re already feeling the pinch. Here, we look at some ways to make the most of the time off without being left out of pocket.
According to research by food sharing app Olio, the average UK family throws away £730 of food that could have been eaten each year – that’s a lot of wasted food and money. The easiest way to reduce food waste is to buy less food in the first place. And no, we’re not suggesting you let the kids go hungry – just that you plan better so that you’re not buying products you won’t use.
Start by making a meal planner – and don’t just include dinner – planning every meal, including breakfast, snacks and any packed lunches. Once you’ve made the plan, make a shopping list based exclusively around that. That way, you’re not buying more than you need.
Going to the supermarket later in the day can mean you pick up some bargains as food that is nearing its use-by date is often reduced. This is ideal if you are going to use it straight away or if the product can be frozen.
If you’re going for a day out, try to take a picnic or at least provide your own snacks for the journey – things such as coffees, fizzy drinks and crisps can be extortionate if bought at train stations or in tourist attractions. If you’re going to the cinema, take your own sweets and popcorn from the supermarket.
Food sharing apps like Olio encourage neighbours to share unused food rather than see it go to waste. You can sign up for free and items are gifted to other users. The Too Good To Go app works on a similar principle except that it allows businesses to sell items that would otherwise be put in the bin.
Users can buy surplus food from coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and producers at significantly reduced prices. Consumers download the free app and search for nearby businesses with unsold produce. They then purchase a “Magic Bag” of surplus food worth three times what they pay for it.
This can be a really great way for families to save money on groceries – supermarkets including Morrisons and Waitrose are registered – or treats from independent businesses alongside chain restaurants such as Greggs, Pret and Leon. The only catch is while you know the value of your bag, you don’t know what’s in it until you’ve paid for and picked it up.
Takeaways and treats
Spending less doesn’t have to mean never treating the family. Just be savvy when you do decide to do so. If you’re heading out to eat, make sure you’ve signed up to any relevant mailing lists as this may get you a discount – places such as Pizza Express, Prezzo and Zizzi send out regular offers by email.
If you’ve ever used comparethemarket.com to buy an insurance policy you’ll be entitled to 12 months free membership of Meerkat Meals or Movies which includes two-for-one meals for up to six people at multiple restaurants nationwide or two-for-one cinema tickets on certain days. Signing up for travel insurance for one weekend away will give you this benefit for the full 12 months.
And if you’re celebrating a special occasion such as a birthday it’s worth mentioning this at a restaurant as many will throw in a free treat. If there is a specific venue you want to visit, take a look at the menu online beforehand as you will often find there is a big difference between the price of food at lunchtimes compared to the evening menu. The food quality will be the same but could be less than half the price during the day.
If takeaways are your treat of choice, there are still ways to save money. Amazon Prime members can claim a year’s free subscription to Deliveroo Plus, which gives you free delivery on all orders. Uber Eats meanwhile, sends out regular promo codes that are unique to your account so add them as soon as they land – you might never use them, but they will be there waiting if you do.
Remember however that delivery apps often make their money through adding fees and inflating prices so even with discounts, you might find it’s cheaper to go direct to the restaurant. A quick Google search will show up the menu and phone number for all your local takeaways so you can compare prices.
Collecting your food can also result in cheaper prices – most pizza places offer exclusive deals for collection-only. And keep an eye on all that “junk” that comes through your door – you might find some vouchers for a local restaurant. You can also make elements of your meal – so rather than spending £2.50 per person on rice from your favourite Indian takeaway, make a big pot of rice at home and just pay for the mains, or order pizzas and kebabs but serve them with salad and garlic bread made at home.
Many takeaways run loyalty schemes too so create an online account if you’re ordering as you may find you can save up points. You can also pick up some of your favourite chain restaurant meals in supermarkets to enjoy at home – Pizza Express pizzas are widely available while budget supermarket Iceland has recently teamed up with Mexican chain Chiquito to sell their branded meals in store.
There are so many great days out to experience in the UK – from theme parks and zoos to stately homes and castles. But visiting them as a family can really add up. The best way to save money is to plan and book in advance. Most attractions offer lower prices online than on the gate.
There are some great two for one offers available too – National Rail offers two for one tickets at a range of attractiovns such as museums, aquariums and football stadium tours in destinations around the UK including London, Birmingham, Brighton and Manchester. In order to qualify for the deal you must travel by train and have a ticket to prove it. See daysoutguide.co.uk/available-attractions for a full list of venues.
Both Cadbury and Kelloggs run regular promotions with Merlin Entertainments – which operates big-name attractions including the Sea Life centres, Alton Towers, Legoland, Warwick Castle and Thorpe Park – again offering two for one entry. And most of these attractions are free for children aged three and under.
Family Memberships of National Trust and English Heritage can also be big money-savers. Family Membership of the National Trust is currently £126 for the year for two adults and all of their children or grandchildren. There is also a current offer whereby if you pay by direct debit, you get a £15 gift card. At English Heritage, it’s currently £111 for a family of two adults and up to 12 children.
Lots of attractions will let you upgrade your day entry to an annual membership for free or for minimal extra, so if there is a decent day out on your doorstep you might want to look into this – especially as season tickets often come with added perks such as free parking and discounts at on-site cafes and shops.
Websites such as Groupon and Travel Zoo offer discounted attraction tickets and are a good place to check if you have a specific venue in mind.
If your kids like going to the cinema, try to visit at off-peak times. Many of the bigger chains – Cineworld and Odeon included – will run kids clubs at weekends and during school holidays where they show older films for a fraction of the usual ticket price. This can be as little as £2.50 per person regardless of age.
If you have a work perks portal, it’s also worth looking there for discounts and special prices. And if your mobile phone provider has a rewards club, check that regularly too. Network provider three, for example, is currently offering an adult Cineworld ticket for £3.
And don’t forget your supermarket rewards can usually be cashed in for some decent entertainment options too. Tesco Clubcard vouchers, for example, can be used at attractions throughout the UK, including Blackpool Zoo and West Midlands Safari Park, and offer you three times the value of your points in money off. They are also currently running a promotion with Disney+ to get a three-month subscription worth £24.99 for £8 of Clubcard vouchers. Nectar points, meanwhile, can also be spent at a range of venues including Vue cinemas and Caffè Nero coffee shops.
The saver: ‘Little changes create big savings’
Emma Stretton, 37, is a money-conscious parent from Manchester and an avid user of the price comparison website PriceSpy.
“Since energy bills have been rising, I’ve been much more aware of how much we use and on what. We installed a Hive heating system, which we got a good deal on by buying through PriceSpy, and we can now see how much energy we use in a day. We can set our heating on the go so we never have it on unnecessarily and can alter the temperature to help us save.
“We also bought an electric blanket. It means we can turn the heating off a little earlier and the blanket takes the chill off getting into bed. I’m a big fan of an old-school hot water bottle too.
“I’m very mindful of how much washing we do and only ever put a load on if the machine is full. Although we have a dryer, it very rarely gets used and I cook what we need for the week on a Sunday so the oven is on less as well.
“My train of thought is that little things can add up to bigger savings and being mindful of what you actually use really helps you see what you can cut back on.”