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


Three steps to financial order

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Everyone is good at spotting bargains, whether it’s the infamous BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) or three for two offers, or clothes in the sale. What people are less good at is working out their cash flow and establishing what they might need over the course of a year, planning accordingly.

It goes without saying that buying things for cash, handing over used readies in the process, gives the best sense of what things are actually costing. It can also be sufficiently painful psychologically to ensure that your spending is limited. However there are times when using a debit or credit card is very useful, for example to take advantage of free guarantees or to keep a better record of when something was bought, in case it goes wrong. The way around this is to set yourself a regular sum for housekeeping expenses, and then try to stick to it. If you keep a cash book that is updated once a week, listing all purchases and expenses, you will get a clear idea of what money you have coming in and what is going out, which will help you keep on top of your finances and reduce the likelihood of frightening credit card bills in the future.

In this new age of austerity, you also need to put some money by in case of emergency. Many financial advisors would suggest that three months’ net salary is a useful goal to aim for. However for many people in the present financial climate, the emphasis needs to be on paying off debts rather than saving money, and a savings goal such as this is an impossible dream. Here is a three-step plan to financial organisation (with acknowledgement to my husband, who has been designated Head of Finance in our household while I am Head of Procurement – we found that having joint Heads of Finance just didn’t work).



  • Pay off your debts in order, with the ones accruing the most interest being paid off first.
  • Consider getting a second job such as babysitting, bar work, or taking in a lodger to speed this process up.
  • Avoid consolidation loans without taking independent financial advice, as these may end up proving to be more expensive than you think, and also encourage you to carry on spending at the unsustainable rate you were before, when instead you should be calming your spending down.
  • If you are having trouble meeting the minimum monthly payments on your credit cards and other bills, seek professional help or visit the Citizens Advice Bureau immediately, as this is very serious (not to mention worrying).
  • Double check you are on the cheapest possible deals for gas, electricity and water, and pay by direct debit to get a discount if possible.



  • Put a certain sum of money aside to cover things like: unexpected illness and dental treatment where the NHS doesn’t cover you, temporary loss of employment or late pay cheques, home repairs, Christmas and birthdays, holidays and day trips, school uniforms, replacing the car.
  • Make sure you always pay any necessary taxes on time, to avoid heavy fines.
  • Investigate life insurance policies and savings plans, with professional advice.
  • Investigate pension options and make arrangements for retirement accordingly.



When you find you have spare funds, put aside a sum for investment – this should include high, medium and low risk options. The proportion of medium to high risk investments you hold in percentage terms should be 100 less your age, therefore if you are 35, 65% of your money should be in medium to high risk investments, and 35% in low risk investments. For further advice, consult the myriad of financial books on the market, or see an independent financial advisor.

Image: Rob Wiltshire /

Handbags at dawn

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Does your handbag weight more than a small child? It doesn’t have to. Hoarding is usually the problem, but if you have a tray to empty the contents onto each evening it makes it easy to transfer a streamlined set of basics into the new one. Be wary of always carrying a huge farthingale of a handbag with most of your worldly goods inside, because it will be do damage to your back in the medium term. Here is a handbag checklist of the basics that you will need, and it is sensible to keep as near to this as possible rather than adding too many extra things:

  • Purse with at least £10-£20, a debit card and a credit card (only to act as emergency alternative payment if your debit card doesn’t work)
  • Driving licence or other photo ID
  • Mobile phone
  • House and car keys
  • Train or bus pass
  • Pocket pack of tissues
  • Tampons and/or panty liner
  • Dose of paracetemol
  • Plaster
  • Safety pin
  • Spare pair of neutral tights
  • Small brush or comb
  • Small umbrella
  • Pen
  • A spare five pound note and one pound coin (emergency parking or supermarket trollies)

Image: Suat Eman /

Sunday night organisation

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I mentioned in an earlier post that  it can be useful to give your hair a careful blow dry on a Sunday night to boost morale and save time the next week. Here is a more extensive plan for Sundays to help you organise your time and effort so things are less stressful on a daily basis. Once you have got into the habit, the organisational part  should take you about at least 20-30 minutes in total and this is best done in the early evening. If you add the beauty and grooming regime to it, you need to add at least another 20-30 minutes (an alternative is to do this in two stages with beautification happening during your evening bath once the kids are in bed). 

To start this process, set up your ironing board near your clothes, and have a sewing kit and shoe cleaning kit close to hand. You will also need a notepad, pen, chequebook and envelopes, your diary and/or your smartphone, if you use one, and finally a laptop connected to the internet if possible.

DIARY – Look through and update your appointments for the week. Think about whether you need to book dental checkups, routine health screening  or hair appointments in the near future. Make sure you have completed any slips or cheques that need returning to school or elsewhere, and entered any trips or holiday information into your personal diary. Think about any pick up/drop off problems that might be looming, or times when it looks as though you might have too much on, and try to consider whether there might be some sort of workaround. This might involve making a couple of phone calls to organise sharing lifts with another parent or colleague, cancelling activities you are not completely committed to, or changing dates to a more convenient time. Remember, if there’s too much on, it is perfectly possible to slow time down so you are functioning more on your own terms.

TO DO LIST – Write out Monday’s to-do list, merging work and home commitments and prioritising them 1-4 (1=Urgent and important; 2= Urgent but less important; 3=Not urgent but important; 4=Not urgent and not particularly important).  This should be redone every evening ready for the next day ahead.

CLOTHES – Choose seven outfits, one for each day of the week, and assemble them onto hangers with all the accessories required. Check over the clothes and shoes to make sure they are clean, pressed and presentable, and in good repair (this is where the ironing board, shoe cleaning kit and sewing kit come in). Then line up the outfits at one end of your wardrobe ready for the week ahead, with the matching shoes if there is space. It is also sensible to check that you have enough pants and bras ready, including such refinements as nude coloured underwear that won’t show through light coloured clothing, as well as black bras when wearing dark tops with a neckline that slips, for example. You will need to check your stock of tights as well, to make sure that you have a pair for each outfit that requires them, as well as one or two spares in case the inevitable happens and you snag them with your nails as you are putting them on.  If you fund you are running low on regular cosmetics, sanitary protection or tights, you can order them in bulk online there and then to save time, if you have a laptop to hand.  Double check your children have enough underwear and school outfits/supplies for the week ahead as well.

Image: Ambro /