£144 a week tax free? Rent out your spare room(s)

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rentalIf you are feeling the pinch financially after the Christmas holidays, there are a few things that you can do to raise extra funds but if you have the space, renting out a room is likely to make the most difference to the housekeeping budget, as it’s effectively cash in hand. This is because the Inland Revenue has revised the Rent a Room scheme so that you can now make £7500 a year tax free (£144 a week) from renting furnished spare rooms in your main home (i.e. you have to be living in it). The details are here:

In terms of preparing for your lodger, you might have a suitable room already that requires minimal expense to set up. This is ideal, but if not, start with a fresh coat of light coloured, neutral paint and some neutral, thermally lined curtains from a shop such as Dunelm. These £15.99 ones are in the sale in their shortest version but floor-length ones always look classier (even if they do block the heat from radiators a bit).

Then you need to ensure there is sufficient good quality furniture, and here, if you can’t repurpose things from the rest of the house, or find things on Ebay or in charity shops that work, Argos is your friend, because their things can be good value for money and their customer service is so excellent it kicks IKEA into the long grass, along with their Express Delivery options. Today, the code FURN15 entered at checkout will get you a discount of 15% as well (Argos periodically runs discounts of this type, by the way). This £89.99 white, Shaker-style Aspley bed comes in different sizes and gets excellent reviews; There is an optional under-bed drawer for £39.99 if the bedroom is really tight for storage space. Then Argos sell good quality £189 foam mattresses, which are delivered rolled up for rapid and simply delivery – you just need to let them expand and air for 48 hours after delivery. The Dormeo Antigua hybrid single mattress is excellent and again gets rave reviews – we have one at home and were delighted with it. It also comes with a free pillow but we gave that away as it was a bit high. You don’t have to provide any bedding or towels if you don’t want to – that can be the responsibility of the lodger.

In addition, your lodger will need a wardrobe, so you might want to look at the new £87.99 Malibu one, which has small drawers as well as a hanging space Finally, a bedside table, lamp and chair will all be appreciated. If you don’t have anything that matches already, try the half price Osaka £29.99 bedside table with three drawers (extra storage), the reduced £4.49 ColourMatch lamp in cream and so your lodger can relax in the evening, this £79.99 Bentwood chair with matching footstool and integral magazine holder (extra storage again)

Once all these are in, your room will look very bland, but airy, and you can decide whether you want to style it more artistically with accent colours such as dark blue or wine red, or whether you prefer to leave it for your lodger to make their own mark. If your budget permits, you can also put in useful items such as a wall-mounted flat screen TV, bookcase, additional chair, coffee table, and so on, or a desk and chair if you are having students lodge with you. A large cork pinboard is also very useful in terms of discouraging Blu-tack on walls and subsequent redecoration. A row of hooks on the wall or on the back of the door is great for coats/bathrobes, and a steel towel airer on the radiator good for them to dry their towels and little bits of washing. This one is sufficiently classy

So a budget of £500 would allow you to decorate and fit out the room in an appealing style that would look good in letting photographs and allow the lodger to enjoy the basics, leaving you to make up to £7000 from rent. (Outside expensive cities, you might only make half of this, so you might want to consider that and budget a bit less accordingly for redecorating your room, but a light, airy room means a fast let and few voids).




Boxing Day Sales! Stock up your present cupboard

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With a lot of sales starting today, it’s a good time to start thinking about next year’s birthday presents and parties and stocking up your supplies. This means you won’t end up spending more than you need to on a last minute present in a panic. Here are some gifts for under-fives that hopefully won’t duplicate existing toys and which only cost a couple of quid. Remember to stock up on wrapping paper and cheap cards at the same time!

One-year-olds – Card books, posting and stacking toys, balls, simple bucket and spade set for the local sandpit.

Two-year-olds – Colourful sports drinking bottles, fizzy bath tablets, character bubble bath or bath foam, flap books.

Three-year-olds – Small models of knights, princesses or animals, Lego minifigures, toy cars, bubble blowers.

Four-year-olds – Simple card games, stickers, colouring books and crayons, craft kits.

Five-year-olds – Novelty swimming goggles, fancy dress accessories, character mugs and socks.

Image: jscreationzs /

Christmas Countdown

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Deadline Adult 1 Adult 2
Wrap presents for children’s teachers and take to school Last day of term
Organise family visits. 15/11
Book hair and beauty appointments 15/11
Inform relatives of presents children would like, and ask parents of other children the same 15/11
Order Christmas tree (by 1st December for 10% discount) from company such as for delivery on 22nd or 23rd December. 30/11
Buy Christmas cards 1/12
Buy Christmas stamps from Post Office 1/12
Buy gift wrap and ribbons, brown parcel paper, sellotape 1/12
Create address labels for Christmas cards 1/12
Invite people for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. 1/12
Make sure dates for children’s Christmas events are in the diary (usually last week of term) 1/12
Organise leave or early departure from work to attend children’s carol concerts and/or Christingle services. 1/12
Plan for bad weather with extra de-icer sprays and screen wash. 1/12
Clear out kitchen cupboards to make space for Christmas supplies. 4/12
Secure online grocery delivery slot for 23rd December and/or 31st December. NB:  This must usually be done first thing on 4th December and 10th December, the day the slots are released three weeks ahead. 4/12
Help children write their Christmas cards. 7/12
Plan menus and order groceries for later delivery 7/12
Order turkey from the butchers for collection on Christmas Eve. 13/12
Post UK Christmas cards by 17th December (see Post Office schedules for overseas and second class posting deadlines) 17/12
Present shopping (see spreadsheet) 17/12
Present wrapping 17/12
Write Christmas cards 17/12
Bring down decorations from loft. 23/12
Check groceries delivered don’t have short use by dates. 23/12
Decorate Christmas tree. 23/12
Collect turkey from butcher 24/12

Morning has broken

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The ‘habit of schooling’ our society has developed over the last 150 years means that we send nearly all our children to school for 190 days a year. This brings with it a degree of domestic mayhem every morning, and this post is designed to help you conquer this disorder. In terms of time management, allow yourself about at the very least 30-60 minutes in total for all the jobs listed below, depending on family size, age of children, and how well everyone is trained to assist. So just to reiterate, if you work outside the home, you will need to plan for at least an hour in total of bustling activity to get everybody up, dressed and out, on condition that school bags, uniforms, briefcases and packed lunches have been prepared the night before. Therefore for most people, if they get up around 7-7.30am, that will fit in with most day to day commitments during the week, whilst allowing time for a well planned start to the day. Therefore that may be something to aim for in the first instance, while you are getting used to an organised regime. (I’d be interested to know how long you spend getting out the house in the mornings – look in the Polls category on the right hand side of the screen to vote on how much time you spend on this).

  • Make sure family members open their bedroom windows when they get up, and throw back the bedclothes to air. (10 seconds)
  • Once you are washed and dressed, go straight downstairs to set the table very simply and make breakfast (porridge and toast is best if you are on a budget, along with juice or milk for the children and tea/coffee for adults). This job could also be done the night before. Bread rolls and spreadable butter are probably the laziest option if you really aren’t a morning person. (5-10 minutes plus eating time)
  • After breakfast, clear the dishes (use a tray to speed this process up, and also at the same time send someone around the house to collect waif and stray mugs and so on from the previous evening ), stack dishes ready for loading into dishwasher, wipe table and sweep under table if necessary. (5-10 minutes)
  • Next load or unload dishwasher as necessary, or do washing up and put away most or all dishes (if you are going to be out at work all day and only coming back just before supper, you might want to recycle some of the clean dishes immediately so you can leave the table set ready for the next meal, as they do in hotels and restaurants). (5-10 minutes)
  • Wipe kitchen sink or kitchen worktop as necessary. (1 minute)
  • Next empty kitchen bin if necessary, and put in new bin bag, wipe bin if it needs it. (3-5 minutes depending on the state of bin, but probably not every day)
  • Make children’s beds (preferably with their help). (5-10 minutes if it’s just duvets)
  • Make own bed and hang up errant clothes. (5-10 minutes)
  • Clean and tidy bathroom as necessary (eg hang up towels, check there is enough toilet roll and soap). (2 minutes)
  • Close bedroom windows, finally remember to lock up everything if you are going out – OK, I know I’m sounding like a mother of four now. (5 minutes)

Image: healingdream /

Household captain’s log

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A great time saver is to create a lever arch file with plastic pockets, where you store all the instructions, receipts and guarantees for your domestic appliances, along with a list of tradespeople to call in emergencies (such as plumbers, electricians, heating engineers and so on). Use file dividers to separate the sections, and have an index at the front so you can lay your hands on whatever you need very quickly. You can also have a separate file for matters to do with children (such as school contact information, class lists, school holiday information, details of activities such as after-school club, cub scouts, ballet and music lessons), pets (vet information and medical records), and grocery orders (for example pending Christmas orders and details of your local milkman or organic box scheme), if necessary. This way, if a problem arises and you are away from home, or ill, it is easy for someone to track what needs to be done and when. It also helps you stay on top of all your domestic arrangements.

Image: healingdream /

Shopping list – Week 1 (stock up shop)

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  • 4 chicken portions
  • 4 pork chops or pork steaks
  • 1 lb/500g lean minced beef
  • 4 lean cut steaks or frying steaks
  • Lamb joint
  • 4 oz/ 100g cooked ham
  • 4 oz/100g cooked beef
  • 2 packets stuffed fresh pasta



  • 2 lbs/1kg new potatoes
  • 5 lbs/2.5kg potatoes
  • 2 lbs/1kg carrots
  • 8 oz/250g fresh berries (if price is OK) or frozen
  • 8 oz/250g fresh strawberries (if in season)
  • Romaine lettuce or similar lettuce
  • 1 lb/500g apples
  • 6 bananas
  • 1 melon (if price is OK)
  • 4 oz/100g grapes
  • 1 lb/500g pears (at least 4)
  • 8 oz/250g broccoli
  • 1 head garlic
  • Small stem fresh ginger
  • Bunch spring onions


  • 2 loaves sliced bread
  • Pasta sauce
  • Tinned chopped tomatoes
  • Tinned kidney beans
  • Flan glaze (see recipe for Fruit Torte)
  • Empty sponge flan base
  • Green’s Quick Jel jelly
  • Blueberry jam
  • Elderflower cordial
  • Salad dressing
  • Mint sauce
  • Honey
  • Jam
  • Rice
  • 2 lbs/1 kg porridge oats
  • Cream crackers or oatcakes
  • 1lb/500g short-grain pudding rice
  • 3 lbs/1.5kg plain flour
  • 3 lbs/1.5kg self-raising flour
  • 1 tin cocoa
  • 3 litre cartons value orange juice
  • 3 litre cartons value apple juice
  • Teabags
  • Instant coffee
  • Cafetiere or filter coffee
  • Chocolate chip biscuits
  • Bottle soy sauce



  • Milk (daily consumption plus 1-2 pints for rice pudding)
  • 1 lb/500g vegetable spread
  • ½ lb/500g unsalted butter
  • 1 packet fresh grated parmesan
  • 1 pint/500ml low fat natural yoghurt
  • ½ pt/250ml whipping cream
  • 4 oz/100g Brie
  • 4 oz/100g Red Leicester cheese
  • Cheese slices for sandwiches
  • 12 eggs
  • Garlic bread or baguette

Image: Suat Eman /

Dinners for the home – Week 1

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Here are some incredibly straightforward meals that will please most omnivore families at minimal costs. No fancy names, no fiddly ingredients, no exhortations to spend time arranging food in dainty piles on large white plates, just traditional family fodder and nothing else. Look in the accompanying posts for the more unusual main course and dessert recipes, otherwise everything else should be freely available via an internet search or by rummaging in your cookbooks.


Baked chicken portions with boiled new potatoes and carrots

Rice pudding


Fresh stuffed pasta with tomato and basil sauce, grated cheese and mixed salad

Fruit salad and ice cream


Fish stew and baguette

Microwaved chocolate cake


Baked pork chops and mashed potato and green beans

Cheese, biscuits and grapes


Mince and vegetables with rice

Yoghurt with blueberry jam and elderflower cordial


Steaks and baked potatoes and mixed salad

Poached pears and yoghurt or cream


Roast lamb with roast potatoes, mint sauce, peas, carrots and broccoli

Fruit tart and whipped cream