I was recently contacted as part of the #FrugalFun campaign run by Personal Capital* which encourages bloggers to write about their favourite budget-friendly activities. Naturally all of my favourite activities revolve around good food and good company, but this is often associated with high costs since eating out regularly can be expensive! There are plenty of ways to involve those on a tighter budget though, and to be honest as the weather gets colder and darker I often prefer just staying in and enjoying a warm evening inside!
My first and favourite thing to do is have a get together at home with my closest friends! I love putting on a spread, and usually when I have friends over everyone brings something too so we end up with a huge feast at a fraction of the cost of eating out. Usually we’ll turn it into a film night, or re-watch old episodes of something we all love, like the Great British Bake Off! I once spent the day making a huge picnic for my boyfriend’s birthday – I think I made enough to feed about 50! If you’re short on time it doesn’t have to involve hours in the kitchen though – plenty of supermarkets sell party food around this time of year, and if you use shortcuts such as shop bought pastry, you can easily whip up some budget-friendly sausage rolls or tarts in under an hour 🙂
To be honest I love doing this regardless of whether I’m on a budget or not, as even if you want to buy more fancy foods, you can get a lot of luxurious products much more cheaply if you don’t have to pay for the expense of waiters/waitresses and a nice venue! All supermarkets have a huge range in their bakery section and even the most special ranges don’t usually break the bank!
Another idea would be to do a giant fondue – you could do cheese and chocolate for both sweet and savoury options! As an example I recently did one as part of a collaboration with Thomas J Fudge – Marcus and I ended up being greedy and finishing this platter between us, but again, it’s a great way to enjoy an evening in, and you can do it as a couple or involve loads of friends.. the more friends, the more dipping items 😉
As an alternative or for a slightly more formal evening, you could get a group of friends together and host a series of dinner parties, come dine with me style (minus the arguments and awkward talk since it’s with people you actually like!). Over the festive period you could make it a weekly thing, where each of you take it in turns to cook a meal. I love cooking for others, but I also love the surprise of seeing what others cook, and taking inspiration from other people’s ideas! Often cooking for a group doesn’t require much more effort than cooking for yourself and you might end up learning some new recipes from your friends too 🙂
If you want to get out and about, or your place is too small to host a large group of friends (and you want to save yourself the tidying up!) then there are lots of Christmas markets around at this time of year. There’s nothing I love more than wandering round the Christmas markets with a mug of hot chocolate or some beautifully spiced mulled wine and deciding whether I want a hot pork roll, burger, waffle, Nutella stuffed crepes or (most likely) all of them! The best thing is that most have free entry, they’re cheaper than eating in a restaurant, and everyone can pick what they fancy – you could even just go for dessert! To me nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit more than a good Christmas market 🙂 There are often stalls selling cute/unique trinkets and homemade items too which you can buy as presents!
For those who are into arts and crafts then something I’ve done before which I really enjoyed was make a homemade advent calendar for my boyfriend 🙂 Okay.. I’ll admit that one of the best parts was eating the extra chocolates (I bought a big variety of chocolates so that each day was different!) but I loved making him an advent calendar that was both personal and unique! I printed out templates from the internet (there are lots available in all different styles) but if you had more time or are more talented than me (not hard when it comes to art!) then you could make your own 🙂
One of my incredibly talented friends has set up a craft blog (www.crafthuddle.com) which is an initiative to provide ideas for easy to do projected – handmade creations for amateur crafters, for one-off special occasions or regular creative pursuits. Her website and Instagram (@dayaneet) feature so many lovely ideas for getting creative at home 🙂 A couple of my personal favourites are below – so simple and yet so beautiful 🙂
Finally (of course it had to feature!), another obvious favourite for me is baking! I absolutely love getting creative in the kitchen – anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I hate following recipes and I love to experiment and see what happens! I love baking because it’s so versatile – sometimes it can be hard to find exactly what you want in a shop – if you bake at home you can customise any bake however you like. Plus if you don’t want to freestyle, there are hundreds of recipes on the internet so you can bake anything you could dream of.
It’s easy to involve kids too – I remember making rice crispy/cornflake cakes as a child and even if you have kids who are too young to do much of the baking, they can certainly help with the decorating.. and the best part is that you get to eat what you’ve made afterwards!
I had loads of ideas for Halloween/Autumn baking.. I didn’t have time to make half of the things I’d thought of, but here are some of the things I tried! I made pumpkins coated in white chocolate and chocolate orange acorns.. they didn’t quite turn out how I’d planned but they tasted good nonetheless 😛
Now that Christmas is round the corner (though supermarkets reckon it’s been coming since September!) there are even more opportunities to bake seasonal things! There are so many things you could try – homemade mince pies, Christmas cakes, cookies or gingerbread cut into seasonal shapes to name just a few.
I get so excited thinking about all of the things I can bake, and you can even give some away as presents to friends and family if you’re struggling for presents on a budget. If there’s one time of the year to indulge in good food, Christmas is most definitely it, and when it’s homemade it has a more personal touch to it too 🙂
I think homemade cakes and cookies make great Christmas presents, but often the run up to Christmas can get quite busy, so it’s hard to find time to bake things fresh. A great alternative would be making batches of spreads or truffles which will last for over a week in the fridge. A few of my favourite (very simple!) things to make which can be made in advance are:
1) Homemade nut butter
Everyone knows about my nut butter obsession! I have a ridiculous stash, but I still love making homemade nut butter as you can add whatever flavour you want and it’s so quick and simple. Just throw any nut you fancy into a blender (I tend to roast them first as it gives them a much nicer flavour), add some flavourings and you’re done! Almonds are probably my favourite, but I also love pecans and macadamias.. and if you use hazelnuts then you can make homemade Nutella! You can literally add any flavourings you like, but my favourites are probably cocoa powder, cinnamon and maple syrup. I love texture so I often stir things like chocolate chips, more chopped nuts or dessicated coconut through. Using dates is a great alternative too – I love dates and I often use them to make a healthier homemade caramel 🙂
Some Christmassy ideas are:
– Roasted almonds with a squeeze of honey to sweeten, then stir through dried cranberries, dark chocolate chips and finely chopped pistachios
– Macadamias blended with coconut oil, then stir through white chocolate chips and dessicated coconut
– Roasted pecans with a splash of maple syrup, cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt
2) Homemade truffles
A ganache is so easy to make – I just use equal parts of double cream to chocolate. Simply warm double cream in a bowl over boiling water, chop the chocolate up into small pieces and stir through the double cream until it’s all melted. If you don’t have time to wait for the ganache to set you could try and alternative like crushed Oreos and cream cheese! Since there’s no actual cooking involved the exact quantities don’t matter too much – you can just play around with it until you get a good consistency, roll them into balls and coat with chocolate.
You could even just make chocolate bark – melt any type of chocolate and spread it thinly only greaseproof paper or a silicon mould. You can add your choice of fillings – nuts, seeds, fruit, etc. – then break it up into pieces and wrap it in a cellophane bag.
Or rocky road minus the marshmallows for anyone not from the North (I think it’s the Northern thing.. cue Southern rage as we claim to have created something so amazing!). Anyway, regardless of what you call it, it’s effectively just a fridge cake. I use digestives and chopped nuts with butter, golden syrup and melted chocolate as a base recipe, but I add other things depending on how I feel, including dried fruit or chopped up chocolate bars (I love the caramel that rolos and boost bars add!). It’s so quick and easy to make and you can mould it into so many shapes! I made Christmas pudding tiffin balls a couple of years ago, but you could easily substitute digestives for custard creams or shortbread and turn them into white chocolate snowballs instead!
Happy baking 🙂
*Personal Capital provide free financial software which helps you manage a budget, track goals and calculate your net worth