With the collapse of HMV we are seeing another high street retailer close its doors - sad news for their employees, but also sad for high streets around the country and for their former customers. We've seen a pattern of closures over the last few years, although some chains that have edged towards collapse have been saved at the last minute. The first part of this pattern is that gift vouchers and other forms of credit are halted, and shortly after, stores are closed, either selectively or wholesale.
Closure of so many retailers has left consumers with millions of pounds of worthless gift vouchers and gift cards. In these troubled times it really makes you think about the value of these lines of shop credit. The recent recsession has hit every retailer and it's almost impossible to predict who will go next. The worst part is that customers have loyally bought gift vouchers as a way of gifting money with the intention to buy something fun, so that the money doesn't just end up paying the bus fare or for a drink. However, these same customers would be heartbroken to learn that their gift was now worthless.
In hard times it really does beg the question as to whether you should gift vouchers or rather give money instead. While it may be considered vulgar to give money (who perpetuates that myth?!), at least money will keep its value, is universally accepted and immune to the collapse of individual stores.
If you want to gift money to your children, nephews, nieces or friends for their birthdays or other events, then consider carefully how safe that gift is. The store you have in mind may seem to be trading buoyantly but we tend to sit on gift vouchers...how will that store fare 6 months or a year from now? In this uncertain economic climate, perhaps it's time we saw a return to the traditional gifting of money. At least your hard earned cash won't be written off overnight at some time in the future...
Money games aimed at preschool children should teach them counting and to recognise coins rather than adding or subtracting which is probably still beyond their understanding. Keep a collection of coins to hand, especially lots of pennies which they can count on. Here are a few ideas for games using money:-
Memory Game: Take four coins of different denominations. Show your little one what coins they are and what value or number each is (eg. 1, 2, 5, 10). Take a sheet of paper and place a coin under each corner without them seeing. Ask where '1' is and allow them one peek under one corner. If they are right, they win the coin, if not they must replace the paper over the coin. Then ask for a different coin and repeat until they have found them all.
Pairs and Sorting: Take two coins each of a variety of denominations and lay them all out on a tray. Have your little one pair the coins together based on size and colour. Can they sort them into order, either by number if they are able, otherwise by size?
Heads and Tails: Take a handful of coins and explain the difference between 'heads' showing the queen, and 'tails', the other side. Say a pattern such as 'Heads, Heads, Tails' and have them line up three coins in the right way. Make the pattern longer and longer to see how many they can remember and line up in a row.
Number Hunt: Take a selection of coins that between them display all the numbers from 0 to 9, include the year they were minted for numbers that don't appear in the denominations. Lay them all out, start at '0' and have your little one find a zero. Then look for '1', '2' and so on, up to 9.
Coin Rubbing: Tape some coins to a piece of card, lay over a sheet of paper and colour over them with a wax crayon to create copies of the coins. If they struggle to keep the paper still whilst rubbing then tape the paper down too. See if you can spot different numbers and pictures as they appear through the paper.
Olympic Challenge: This is a longer term project! To celebrate the 2012 Olympics, 29 special fifty pence pieces have been minted, each depicting an Olympic or Paralympic sport. Start collecting and see if you can collect all 29 fifty pence pieces. Every time you receive change in a shop, show your little one and ask them to pick out any 50p's. Generous retailers might be able to give you more 50 pence pieces in your change if you ask!
A recent survey by the Daycare Trust shows that over half of nurseries in London have seen a fall in demand over the past year. This appears to be part of a wider picture of falling demand for childcare and will be of particular concern to nursery providers. As the economy continues to face uncertain times, more and more mothers are choosing not to return to work after having babies, and that is one factor fueling the fall in demand for childcare places.
Rising childcare costs (more than twice the rate of inflation over the last year) are forcing many mothers to ditch work and look after young family themselves. The average cost of childcare in England is £5,028 a year, rising to over £6,000 a year in London. This is income that has already been taxed, and the cost of putting more than one child into childcare just becomes eye-watering!
Increasingly, at the moment, mothers are leaving work to raise their children at home.
On top of this, nursery providers have found that their costs are rising fast too, which is the main contributing factor to the rising cost of nursery places. Rent rates have jumped hugely over the last few years, but so have many of their other costs including food, staff training and all the essential supplies needed by a nursery. It seems that as the economy has suffered over the last few years, the global reaction has just been to raise prices for goods and services to make up for slump in demand. This isn't going to hold much longer - something is going to break. The logical conclusion of this spiral of rising prices pushing down demand is that we will see nurseries closing and nursery chains going out of business.
This isn't all bad news for private childminders. The additional costs of nursery provision will see a move towards more flexible childminders, with lower associated costs, so we predict a boom in private childcare provision over the next few years. We are also seeing more babies being nurtured by their own families in their domestic setting, and that too has to be a good thing. Whilst nurseries and childcare offer a wonderful service, allowing families to continue working, there is a lot to be said for not having to have two incomes simply to live from day to day. Families that choose to stay home and raise children may have to cut back in some areas, but the marginal difference of a second salary after tax and childcare is making the 'stay at home' option look increasingly attractive!
It is estimated that the cohort of students starting university this autumn will leave with debts of £25,000 - whether you want your little ones to go to university or not, there are plenty of other expenses that you can start saving for as soon as they are born!
Bringing up children costs money; yes there are shortcuts that you can take, you don't have to go on the most glamorous foreign holidays or buy the most expensive clothes, but by planning for the future and putting a little money aside each month, you can build up a fund to help towards their future. You may want to save towards their first car, their wedding, university education or their first house.
Child Trust Funds were a good starting point to encourage parents to start saving for their children. Unfortunately these are being axed, but there's nothing to stop you opening a savings account and making a monthly contribution no matter how small. After a few years you will have a fund that anyone should be grateful for, or that you can use to cover some of the more significant costs that might come your way!