Would you be able to maintain your life as you know it if your family lost their main source of income? It’s a prospect that nobody wants to think about, but one we should all prepare for – just in case.
I’m both self-employed and the family’s only earner. What’s more, before quitting my last job to become my own boss, I had endured two separate spells of unemployment since having children.
My earnings fluctuate and I often have to chase payments. Because of all of these factors, we always have one eye on our finances and manage our spending accordingly.
I’m also a natural worrier so, despite being sensible with money, I fret about the future all the time. If I were unable to work – or, even worse, suddenly not around anymore – there’s no two ways about it. My family would struggle.
It’s a worrying thought. Especially as new research from Post Office Insurance has found that the average UK family could sustain their lifestyle for just 46 days if they lost their main income.
Furthermore, almost a quarter of adults don’t have a contingency plan in place for if they were to lose their income for four weeks. This is despite the average family needing an estimated £2,428 a month to live on.
It’s clear that people need to do more to protect against such eventualities. Having life insurance, of course, is one way of safeguarding the future.
Kate and I have had it in place since we bought our first flat together. Our financial advisor recommended it, it seemed like a no-brainer and that was that. It made sense to get it sorted and I like the peace of mind that it continues to bring.
As a result of already having life insurance and keeping a close eye on our finances, I already had a pretty good idea of how much my family would need each month.
The latest post in my series for new bloggers isn’t the most exciting of tasks but is easily one of the most important. Yes, I’m talking about blog maintenance. It can be a fairly time-consuming process if you let things build up, so it’s good to get into the habit of doing all of the below regularly.
When I started blogging, things were very different and there was a lot less involved. As a result, I’m still going through some of my really old content to optimise it both in terms of SEO and readability. Blog maintenance is a task that never goes away!
It’s vital that you make a backup of your site regularly – just in case something goes wrong. It would be awful to lose all of your content after all. You should always make a backup before carrying out a major update – more on that later.
Your hosting provider may offer a site backup tool and, failing that, there are various WordPress plugins available that can do the job for you. I use BackupGuard.
Okay, I’m putting my hands up here. This is something I need to get a lot faster at doing myself. It’s only right to reply to comments when people have taken the time to write them and you should do so as soon as possible.
While you’re at it, make sure that no spam comments have slipped through. If they have, remove them immediately. They don’t look good and could do your blog harm from an SEO point of view.
Optimise old content
As I mentioned earlier, I’m still going through some of my posts from the early days. I wrote them before I knew what SEO was. I also wrote rather long, unwieldy sentences that are tricky to follow and I didn’t always include images either.
One of the best things about blogs is that they offer what some refer to as ‘evergreen content’. That said, it helps if search engines can find it! So if you have any posts that you haven’t optimised, go through them again. Remeber to cover all bases including meta titles and descriptions plus alt tags on images.
If you’re using WordPress, you should always update it – as well as plugins and themes – when prompted. Doing so means you get the best possible user experience and it’s important from a security point of view too.
Platforms, plugins and themes are sometimes updated due to frailties that hackers can expose, so keeping up to date is a must. On a related point, delete any plugins and themes that you no longer use. Not only does this reduce security risks, but it saves space too.
Check how your site is performing
It’s always worth checking in on how your posts are performing and Google Analytics is ideal for this. Which posts are getting the most and least traffic? Where is the traffic coming from? How long are people staying on your site?
Knowing the answers to all of these questions and plenty more besides really helps when planning new content. You could, of course, use your findings to optimise existing posts that aren’t faring as well as others.
Check for broken links
Broken links are infuriating. Through no fault of your own, you can suddenly have a load of them on your site. This can have an impact on SEO as well as your domain authority, which you don’t want if you’re looking to work with brands.
The Broken Link Checker I mentioned in an earlier post is ideal if you’re on WordPress. If not, you may want to try this site. It can take a little time to run but it’s both free and accurate.
If you’re running a self-hosted blog, it’s well worth logging in to your hosting provider account now and then to make sure all your details are up to date.
In most cases, hosting packages and domain names will be set to auto-renew but remember that credit and debit cards go out of date and you don’t want to risk your site going down due to a simple oversight like this.
Congratulations on reaching the end of the important but nonetheless boring topic of blog maintenance! Next time I’m moving on to something a lot more exciting – monetising your blog.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m getting grumpy before my time. Maybe this is because half term seemed to last forever plus, as a result of an injury I picked up at five-a-side, I ache everywhere and can only hobble at the moment.
It might also be down to the fact that I’ll be 40 by the end of next year. While it’s something I’m not looking forward to, it’s often in my thoughts and I don’t like it.
Whatever the reason, a by-product is an increase in curmudgeonly attitudes towards things I don’t like. There are, of course, plenty of things that I’m angry about. But, as they’re probably the same things that most people are angry about, here are some of the things I’m grumpy about.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love slang and colloquialisms. They’re an important and creative part of every language – when they make some semblance of sense. But people who use words completely out of context to express being in awe of things and who use ‘literally’ incorrectly? I’m figuratively sick of the dopes.
Thanks to school discos and birthday parties, my kids have discovered chart ‘music’. They still like the decent stuff that we play them, but often ask for frankly naff pop music too. I know how old this makes me sound, but it’s just noise and unimaginative, repetitive lyrics. And don’t get me started on teenagers who walk around blasting it from their phones…
As with slang, I have no problem with a well-deployed abbreviation. It’s when people abbreviate the shortest words and phrases that it gets on my nerves. In fact, those that include a word beginning with the letter W often end up being longer than their full forms. This completely undermines the original syllable-saving purpose of abbreviations. ARGH!
I’m no fashion expert myself and dress for comfort rather than style, but the way some jeans are designed and worn nowadays really bothers me. Why do people pay extra to get pairs riddled with holes? It’s completely impractical! And why do we have to see at least half of people’s pants?
People who don’t say thank you when you open a door for them. Those who carry on conversations with colleagues when serving customers. The ones who perpetuate poor email etiquette. Those who don’t RSVP to birthday party invitations. I wish upon them a disappointing lunch – that’ll show them!
So I suppose the big question is whether I will cease being grumpy once I’m over the hill and spend eight or nine happy years before getting antsy about turning 50. Probably not.
Which largely trivial things are you grumpy about?
For the most part, the weather this week was lovely. There have definitely been signs that winter could soon be over and, more to the point, that spring is on the way. So, naturally, here’s a photo that I took on the one cold and wet day we had!
I took it when we were at my parents’ house for the day. They have a big garden that attracts lots of birds and I had my proper camera with me so I thought I’d put the zoom to good use. I’m hoping that this is the last robin of winter. I have nothing against robins, you understand, just the season they show up in!
Welcome to part seven of my series for new bloggers. Last time I shared my WordPress plugin recommendations. In this post, I’m following a similar theme by looking at handy tools for bloggers.
I use all of these on a regular basis and they make a range of blog-related tasks a lot more straightforward. All of them can be used via websites or browser extensions, but some are available as mobile apps too.
I mentioned Grammarly in an earlier post and it’s worthy of inclusion again. Once you’ve installed the Chrome extension and set up a free account, it will go through any copy you write online.
Much like spellcheck in Microsoft Word, it underlines perceived errors and makes suggestions for spelling and grammatical corrections. You also get a weekly report via email detailing how many words you’ve written, your accuracy and vocabulary. I particularly like this as it informs my thinking when writing blog posts.
Photos are a must to draw in readers and it isn’t always easy to produce your own. There are lots of free image sites to choose from and I use two or three, but my favourite by far is Pixabay.
With over 1.3 million images to choose from, I always manage to find something relevant to my posts. The quality is always top notch and the pictures are free for commercial use with no attribution required. You can edit them to suit your needs too.
Another great site when it comes to visuals is Canva. It offers a user-friendly interface as well as a wide variety of templates that you can customise with free images, design elements and your own uploaded content.
I’ve used it for blog post images, social media posts and banners among a great many other things and find it incredibly versatile. I’m no designer by any stretch of the imagination but am happy that it adds a professional look to my content.
Sharing your content on social media can be an arduous task but tools like Buffer can eliminate a lot of faff. It allows you to quickly devise a posting schedule and build up a queue of content for your social media platforms.
It also provides at-a-glance analytics which show how well your posts have performed. As tweets have such a short shelf life, I use it predominantly for resharing posts on Twitter. I do this to ensure that they go out at different times of day and, therefore, to a wider audience.
If you’re at all likely to make any money out of blogging at some point, I recommend setting up Google Analytics. It provides all kinds of in-depth insights into your blog traffic that you can learn from accordingly.
It’s easy to set up and use and provides you with numerous stats and customisable reports that will help you improve your content. For example, I found that three of my best-performing posts last year were topical. This has given me the confidence to broaden my horizons with more news-based content this year.
Email remains one of the best ways of attracting readers but is often overlooked. I imagine that this is because many wouldn’t know where to start. I’ll tell you where though; MailChimp.
It guides you through the entire process from choosing templates, building up subscriptions and producing emails. Of course, it provides data on the completion of each mailing too. I use it to send out a monthly digest of posts people may have missed. It would be remiss of me to not include a link – you can sign up here!
Running giveaways is a great way of attracting extra traffic and new readers but, as with email, it might not be obvious where to start. One such option is Rafflecopter.
It enables you to use existing entry methods – such as following a Twitter account or visiting a Facebook page – or create your own. It takes minutes to set up and generates the code that you simply embed in your blog post. Naturally, it also randomly selects winners. Job done!
These are the handy tools for bloggers that I recommend. What are yours?
Next time, I’ll address the admittedly boring but nevertheless vital task of blog maintenance.
The Government has today launched a new initiative aimed at increasing the uptake of shared parental leave. Unfortunately, the ‘Share the joy‘ campaign misses the point.
When I read the headlines this morning, I naively thought that some much-needed policy change was on the way. Sadly not. It’s just raising awareness of a pre-existing option that is effectively open to few.
As things stand, only 285,000 couples qualify for shared parental leave. Yes, only 285,000. The campaign refers to this figure as if it is a large one. Relatively speaking, though, it isn’t.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there are 19 million families in the UK. Of course, this includes those who don’t plan on having any more children, but we’re still looking at millions of couples who don’t qualify. Even if only one million of this number are still growing their families, it still means that only around 30% will qualify.
The second headline statistic shows that just 2% of those who qualify are taking shared parental leave. I think this tells its own story and don’t believe that a publicity campaign is going to do much to change it.
Of the relative few who qualify, most aren’t taking up shared parental leave as they can’t afford to. Other reasons proffered for the low uptake include supposed cultural stigmas with men taking time away from work.
This is a great shame. I strongly believe that dads should have more of an opportunity to spend time with their children in the early days. Some quarters of society still view us as second-class parents. With that in mind, a fairer approach that is available from day one would go a long way to shifting perceptions.
It’s obvious to me that a change of direction is needed. Now don’t get me wrong; I think shared parental leave is great for those it has worked for, but they are very much in the minority.
A sum of £1.5 million has gone into the Share the joy campaign and it seems like a massive waste of money. If something that is supposed to be making a difference to families is performing at such a low level after almost three years, the logical answer is to change it rather than promote it again.
We need a system that is available to more and could do a lot worse than look elsewhere for inspiration. In Sweden, for example, dads are actively encouraged to take extended leave. And thanks to sensible budgeting, this is without the worry of taking a financial hit.
In fact, Sweden has had a progressive attitude to the role of dads for over 40 years. We’re four decades off the pace fiscally and culturally which is simply unacceptable.
So I can’t say that I can share the joy with today’s announcement. It’s time to rip up this approach and come up with a new one.
People often ask me what it’s like having three kids. I usually refer them to the memes I’ve included in this post as they sum it up nicely. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write a blog post about it too.
I love having three kids and wouldn’t change it for anything. Without wishing to sound saccharine, I love them all to bits and having a trio of them has made our lives complete. There are, however, a fair few things that I’ve noticed that are markedly different from having two.
Here are 20 things that parents with three kids (or the brave souls who have even more) know all too well.
1) They never want to eat the same meal as each other.
2) If your older two are of one gender, people assume you only had the third to attempt to redress the balance.
3) Tidying is an exercise in futility.
4) You never address the right child by the right name.
5) There’s a population explosion of odd socks.
6) You will never go on holiday again.
7) It is impossible to get all three to bed without one starting a rebellion.
8) Want to watch a family film together? It’ll be bedtime by the time they agree on one.
9) You come to think of Outnumbered as a documentary rather than a sitcom.
10) DIY jobs remain unfinished and you learn to live with them.
11) You achieve a new level of tired that you previously thought impossible.
12) The washing machine permanently sounds like it’s about to go on strike.
13) You become obsessed with buying packs of food that are divisible by three.
14) The toddler knows way too much about technology.
15) You use the phrase “That’ll do” much more than you used to.
16) There will always be at least one family member unwell at any given time.
17) You know every episode of Peppa Pig word for word including the new ones.
18) When out and about they will run off in three different directions at the first opportunity.
Here’s part six of my series for new bloggers. This time, I’m looking specifically at WordPress plugins. I’ve decided to go for a platform-specific post for a couple of reasons. Firstly, WordPress seems to be the most popular choice among bloggers. Secondly, I’m one of the many who uses it!
If you’re using a different platform, you may still find the following useful as it should focus your thoughts on some of the features that can make life easier for you when working on and maintaining your blog.
I use a fair few WordPress plugins, but these are the ones I find most handy.
There’s no nice way of putting this, but people and bots will try to hack your site. Sadly, it’s part and parcel of having an online presence. This is obviously very alarming, but having security in place should allay your fears.
I’ve tried a fair few security plugins and Wordfence is by far the best as far as I’m concerned. With a range of tools including IP address blocking and live traffic view, it covers all the important bases and gives you peace of mind.
Yes, I mentioned Yoast last time, but I can’t emphasise enough how useful it is. As well as checking your copy in terms of SEO friendliness, it keeps tabs on how easy it is to read.
It presents the results in an easy-to-follow traffic light system, along with suggestions for improvements across the board. Using it has really improved my approach to SEO.
WP Fastest Cache
A slow-loading site can lead to a high bounce rate – people changing their minds and navigating away within seconds – and also impact on SEO. There are a fair things you can do to combat this, including adding a caching plugin.
WP Fastest Cache is my recommendation here. In short, it caches your HTML files to ensure a faster load time. It’s easy to install and configure and has made a noticeable difference to my site.
Ultimate Social Media PLUS
Naturally, you’re going to want people to follow your social media accounts and engage with them, so adding social media buttons should be considered a must.
Ultimate Social Media PLUS takes you through a short series of questions such as which icons you want, what you want them to do and how you want them to display. Once you’ve done this, head to ‘Appearance’ then ‘Widgets’ and add the Ultimate Social Media PLUS widget to your sidebar.
Nobody likes spam comments, but blogs attract a lot of them. With that in mind, it’s well worth installing a plugin to reduce the amount you get.
I use Akismet Anti-Spam, which discards the worst spam so you never see it. According to the stats, it has got rid of almost 650,000 spam comments since I installed it with an accuracy rate of 99.96%. Very impressive and, indeed, useful.
Broken Link Checker
One of the most annoying things that can happen is when pages you’ve linked to suddenly move or vanish completely. With over seven years of content under my belt, this happens to me a lot!
As well as looking sloppy, having broken links can have a negative effect on your blog from an SEO point of view. This Broken Link Checker is just the job and does as its name suggests. It pinpoints links that are potentially broken and even emails you.
As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s important to get a second pair of eyes over your copy. If your most-trusted proofreader isn’t around, you can use WP-DraftsForFriends.
It creates a live preview of your post that remains available for as long or short a time as you allow. Just share the URL it generates and the job’s a good ‘un. Similarly, if you go on to make money out of blogging, you may find that some brands will want to fact-check your posts before you publish them and this plugin is ideal.
That’s it for WordPress plugins. Next time I’ll look at the best websites for bloggers.
As I mentioned recently, my two-year-old daughter is completely obsessed with The Highway Rat at the moment. The animated version – which was on BBC1 over Christmas – has really captured her imagination. Indeed, she regularly recounts favourite moments in the same intonation as the voice talent!
She was very happy, then, when a review copy of The Highway Rat DVD arrived. Featuring the voices of David Tennant, Rob Brydon, Nina Sosanya, Frances De La Tour and Tom Hollander, the adaptation brings the book to life brilliantly.
If you’re not familiar with the story, you can probably guess the basic plot. A greedy rodent steals food from other creatures before learning his lesson.
What I really like about the adaptation – and, indeed, the other Donaldson/Scheffler-inspired animations – is the way that it is so faithful to the original while standing up on its own too.
For example, while the story is quite rightly told word-for-word, the rat is much more likeable. There’s a specific scene towards the end – don’t worry; I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it yet – that doesn’t appear in the book but which complements it beautifully. It’s creative and insightful and adds to the story without the addition of extra dialogue.
Extras include a live performance of The Highway Rat. This features both Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, which I think is a lovely touch. There’s also a nice behind-the-scenes feature which shows how the thieving rodent made his way from page to screen.
It was interesting to learn about the inspiration for the tale as well as the animation process. I was fascinated to see how the animators approached a scene in which the rat steals flies from a spider’s web. So much goes into the briefest of moments and this definitely shows in the finished product.
We love The Highway Rat and will be watching it again and again now we have a copy of our own.
The Highway Rat DVD is available to buy from today. In addition, I have three copies to give away. You can enter via as many of the entry methods in the Rafflecopter widget below as you like. Good luck!
Parenting is something that brings numerous new challenges and these start before kids are even on the scene. Choosing a name, for example, can be tricky. Take us. It wasn’t until we knew the gender of our third child that we were sure of a name.
Kate and I had long since agreed on options for girls but were stumped for boys’ names. We didn’t mind which gender we had but, for some reason, found it difficult to think of names for little lads. So, of course, our first two children were boys!
We eventually came up with names we loved but spent ages agonising over them. If memory serves, I was the fussy one. I wasn’t really feeling biblical names – and, yes, I’m aware I have one of those myself.
I didn’t like monosyllabic monickers either – guilty as charged again – as we have a one-syllable surname. And I didn’t like names that would be alliterative with our surname. My feeling was that you could only get away with such things with a cooler surname than ours or if you’re secretly a superhero.
It left us with something of a conundrum. If only there had been a handy app available back then. This takes us nicely to Namey which I’ve been trying out this week.
Namey App - Find the Baby Name of Your Dreams using Artificial Intelligence - YouTube
Namey is the first app of its kind to use artificial intelligence and algorithmic matching to suggest relevant baby names. Expectant parents can input details including their names and those of any siblings, ideal first letters, origin and characteristics.
The app uses these to compile lists carefully selected from its database of over 25,000 original and traditional names. The names it suggests fit with the criteria you have selected and complement those of siblings.
You can also check the top ten trending names for both genders and also search for the leading names by characteristic.
Of course, families often like to share their views on potential names and Namey caters for this. You can create polls for shortlisted names and share them via Facebook and WhatsApp.
I tried using the app as if I’d gone back in time before each child was born. It didn’t suggest any of the names we ended up using, but a few of the backup names we had for girls were in among them.
They are, of course, just suggestions and it doesn’t mean that there are right or wrong choices. I found it interesting though that we had unconsciously followed naming trends. The results suggested that, algorithmically at least, we were in the zone with girls’ names but not with those for boys.
Namey is a useful app and I can see it serving expectant parents well. The big advantage over baby naming books, of course, is the algorithmic matching as it unearths ideas you may not have otherwise thought of.
I would be interested to see how the addition of surnames in the search terms influences the results – something for a future update, perhaps?
Free and premium (99p) versions of Namey are available via the Google Play Store for Android and the Apple App Store for IOS. In-app features on the premium version include tutorial videos and naming inspiration articles from the Namey blog.