bEAching, sEAsons, trEAsury

searching out those good deals…

We are home again after a few days at the caravan.  The weather was rather mixed but when it was sunny it was quite warm and we could get out into the garden clearing ditches and mowing the lawn.

RW Rye

We have the same rhododendron – (R.W.Rye – a beautiful small yellow flower) – in our garden in Yorkshire and our cottage garden in Scotland and surprisingly the one in Yorkshire is just about to burst into flower while the one in Scotland is almost over!

Down at the edge of the wood under the apple tree the crocuses are poking through the undergrowth – Spring is definitely here.

Carrying on from my last post about the piece of advice I read recently in a magazine –

‘Devote an hour a week to staying on top of your money’ Dr Heather McGregor author of Financial Advice for Independent Women.

Use the time to check statements, sort out bills and making sure you are getting the best deals.

I have even cut this out and stuck it in my Filofax.

I am presuming this advice is also helpful if you are still trying to acquire some money to get on top of!

I already devote some time each week (where time allows) to track my spending and balance statements this helps me to identify where my money is going and where I would like it to go.  Most of my bills are paid by standing order or direct debit so I never fail to pay them but it is the amount of the bills that are in question – can I get a cheaper deal and save money?

Devoting a bit more time to searching out good deals should help me to hold on to more of it.  I dislike having to do it but fixing deals with utilities has become a way of life now, the same for insurance cover and mortgages.  My gran had none of these problems – she would receive a quarterly bill for the exact amount she had used and pay it in cash the same day – simple – now it is anything but simple.

My successes so far on economising

  • A new fixed deal rate for our electricity and gas to avoid the imminent price hikes.
  • Paying up front for the BT phone line for a year in advance and haggling for a better unlimited broad band and anytime calls deal.
  • Opening a 5% interest return Flexclusive saver account with Nationwide – open to anyone with a Flexaccount and you can pay in up to £500 a month.  The account is only for a year then you take t he money, close the account and open a new one.
  • Meal planning to save on the grocery shopping and avoiding wasted food.
  • I have bought a packet of individually wrapped flapjacks and some chocolate mini rolls these will go with us when we go out and stop for a drink in Costa – I object to paying £2.25 or more for one of their tray bakes and will reduce our bill from around £9 to around £5.
  • If we have to park in town we can use Sainsbury’s car park if we buy something for over £5.  We may as well spend £5 on stocking up on rice or birthday cards and get something for the parking rather than paying £4 and getting nothing.
  • We discovered by accident that we could have a good discount on our car insurance with Aviva because we have a pension with them.  I think Aviva may be one of those companies who do not participate in the comparison sites.

Tomorrow night is shopping night so I will be on the look out for more bargains.  Have a good week.

budgeting, fEAsible, financial focusing, my goals, trEAsury

Financial Focusing update #12

Well that has taken some doing to transfer my excel spreadsheet into this post.  I have had to figure out how to convert it to a PNG file to upload as I found converting to Word was just not working.

So here at last are all the figures for my  2013 Bill Account Budget (actual) and the 2014 Bill Account Budget (forecast) based on this.

Click on the tables if you want a larger view.

2013 Bill Account Budget

Budget Year 2013

2014 Bill Account Budget

Budget Year 2014

As you can see we always have a heavy month in January and last year we had an unusually heavy month in December due to the car breakdown which also cost me an extra £50 on the insurance breakdown cover.  £30 excess and £20 because the car is now more than 10 years old (or maybe it was the other way round!)

We spread the cost of some payments with monthly direct debits where this is free to do so.  When money was tighter we had everything on monthly payments even if there was a small charge.  Now we have a good float so any one big bill isn’t a problem.

The Budget notes line by line

  • Car Insurance / Breakdown – due in March and usually under £200.  We pay the full amount rather than monthly payments.  This will be my next research project in February.
  • Car Maintenance is always a service and MOT in January.  It is usually about £250 sometimes less but unless something happens during the year this is all I pay to keep the car maintained.
  • Car Parking – this is a hefty bill  – I park in a local council car park and opt for the prepaid contract price with a huge discount for paying for the year by monthly direct debit.  I park all day 4 days of the week and need it to be in a safe place for when I am returning to my car in the dark and when I work late.  The bus fares here would be £666 annually so much dearer than the car parking although obviously I would save on car costs.  As I am working this is my little big luxury.
  • Car License – this keeps increasing by about £5 a year but is a relatively fixed price.
  • Council Tax – this may increase by about 10% but is a pretty fixed price and we use 10 month direct debit payments to even this out over the year.
  • Electricity – I am hoping as we are in credit this will reduce when we have our review.
  • Gas – the budgeted figures here do not take into account the £500 credit that we are waiting hoping to get back or a reduced payment at this stage.
  • Gas Servicing – this includes any maintenance or breakdown and parts for the boiler or gas fire.  We are not on a contract as we have a local heating engineer who will come without a call out charge and his rates for labour are reasonable. We are expecting a bill in any day now for the recent repairs to the boiler.
  • House Insurance – Buildings and Contents again we pay up front to avoid any monthly payment charges.
  • Internet Security was a 2 year package so no payment required last year and will be due to renew in November.
  • BT / Broadband / telephone – we are on the Unlimited Anytime Plan for calls £4.15 a month and Broadband –  £18.85 month.  We pay £141.00 (equivalent to £11.75 a month) upfront for the line rental in October.  I think the cheapest we can get this bill down to each month is £23.00 (£4.15 + £18.85)  if we do not get charged for any additional non plan calls.  On unlimited anytime you have to keep within the hour for each call so a timer is necessary so that you can end a call at 55 minutes and then ring back for another free hour.  You may wonder why we want to have all our package with BT as Broadband can be cheaper if you find an alternative provider but we personally would rather pay a bit more and be able to ring one company to sort out any problems or faults rather than end up being passed from one to the other and no one wanting to deal with the issue.  I am allowing £30 a month but hoping we can keep within £25.   We don’t have a contract for our mobiles they are pay as you go and we only put £20 on mine for the year for emergencies – this is taken out of the Housekeeping budget – I am strictly a landline girl!
  • TV License – always a fixed price and we take advantage of the monthly payment as it does not cost anything to do this.
  • Water Rates – we are hoping this will reduce with a meter but I have left it at £600 for the year for now to be on the safe side.  We pay 8 monthly payments Apr – Nov.
  • Contingency – this might cover anything from an appliance or car breakdown or some unforeseen bill.  If we do not use the £600 then we can roll it over or put it into savings or even use it at Xmas.

Mortgage – I haven’t included the figures for this in the above budget but we do have one and it does come out of this bill account as do the cottage costs and payment into a pension fund.   They are pretty fixed amounts the only variable is the electricity, oil and insurance for the cottage and I will be looking at reducing these costs too.  At the moment I don’t feel I want to disclose all our personal financial details onto the www!

The 2014 budget will be amended as the year goes on.  I am having to guess the Council tax and water as I haven’t had the bills in yet and we have gone ahead with the application for a meter, (once installed we have a year to change our minds).


You may have noticed that all my efforts in this Financial Focus month to reduce our bill spending have paid off as the total is almost £1000 less this year even with the £600 contingencey added in.

The amount we need to put into our bill account each month for the year is £6681.60 divided by 12 = £556.80 which I would round-up to £560.00.

Good Customer Service

On another note I must congratulate Benetton who have given me a credit note today when I returned a fine lambswool cardigan I bought there a year ago.  It was my favourite cardigan which had developed a hole in the elbow and I felt this was a bit soon for something of this quality that I only wore during the winter.  The assistants were very understanding and thought it might have been a fault that has developed into a hole and were only too willing to change it had they had the same one in stock.  Well done Benetton.

Poor Customer Service

On the other hand Npower are being absolutely unreasonable about our £500 credit and are trying all ways to avoid giving us this back (or reducing the inflated direct debit that has caused the credit in the first place),  including deciding that they couldn’t speak to me anymore once I mentioned the reason for my call was that I would like my money back.  They will only speak to hubby now as it is his name on the bill!

Well Npower we may just go and see what deal Scottish Power can do for a combined gas and electric account.  It may be a little dearer but at least we can hang onto more of our money and I can speak to them even though my name is not on the account as such. It is not always about the cheapest deal – Scottish Power were very pleasant to speak to.

Almost the last day

My final day tomorrow of the January Financial Focus – I haven’t quite got through everything I set out to do but it has been quite a cost savings exercise.  I am still planning my February Focus so stay tuned and all will be revealed.  I will of course be revisiting the financial tasks – I still want to sell on ebay and make more cards etc but I might try to incorporate these tasks into other ‘focused’ projects.

fEAsible, financial focusing, my goals, trEAsury

Financial Focusing update #10

Surprisingly not a lot happened at work today.  The new person was in and out of meetings all day with the powers that be but I had thought he might have popped his head round the door to say hi as it was we never saw him at all.  So we just got on with our work as usual.

After work I took our application forms to the Post Office for the 2 ISA transfers.  Whilst arranging this the lady asked if I was interested in their credit cards, travel insurance or house / car insurance.  I have no use at the moment for another credit card, I already have travel insurance through my Nationwide Flexaccount but the house / car insurance sounded promising as they guarantee to quote £50 less than the insurance you have at present.  My car insurance will need renewing in early  March so I may get a quote.  In 2013 I paid £187.42 for the year fully comp which included breakdown and the house insurance was £151.39 for the year buildings and contents – but not due  until December.

Whilst checking all our energy bills and usage it came to my notice that Scottish Power had got our present deal wrong.  We should have been on the Online August 2014 price fix with Monthly Direct Debit payments as we have always been.  Our bill tells us differently – this states we are on the Online September 2014 price fix and they have been taking our money on a variable quarterly direct debit.  Somewhere along the way it has been switched but no one knows why.   The September tariff is actually cheaper but paying quarterly is dearer.  We rang Scottish Power today and brought the payment method to their attention and they will remedy this and credit our account.  We will however stay on the cheaper September deal.  So my tip is  – check your deals are correct.   I will let you know what the saving is when we receive the credit.

At this very moment hubby is upstairs applying to Npower for the May 2015 fix for our gas, we also found that we had nearly £500 in credit with Npower so I have requested a refund and that they lower our monthly payment to £50 month. I believe I have already mentioned the compensation money of £54 that we are due from Scottish Power for the time we were cut off last year at the cottage.

So with all these unexpected credits our account should be better off by about £600 and I think it has been a very worthwhile and profitable exercise so far.

I have just about come to the end of reviewing our bills and I am in a better position to prepare our yearly budget.  For those bills unknown at present like the Council tax I will have to allow for a 10% rise on last years figures.

When I know the total amount I require to cover the cost of the bills for the year I can transfer a twelfth of this each month into our bill account.  The account then more or less runs itself as most bills are on a direct debits or one-off yearly payments.

To add to my savings I managed to get 8p off each litre of fuel at Sainsbury’s with my token – so I filled the tank which for my little car is £50 with a £3.12p saving and this will last 6-8 weeks if I am careful.  So far this month my grocery spend is £184.56 in cash and I have also used £27.50 in rewards points.  So I have gone over the £200 which is disappointing but I have been focusing on our larger bills this month rather than the housekeeping.  I find it hard to keep tabs on all the spending all the time.

How are you doing this month?

fEAsible, financial focusing, my goals, trEAsury

Financial Focusing update #9

Birthday CakeWe had a lovely day with my mum in law yesterday – she enjoyed the cake (9 candles one for each 10 years of her life) and a drop of bubbly and she had some beautiful cards.  It was a long day though and as a result we woke up late this morning and haven’t really been on the ball all day.  I have been flicking the duster around and doing a bit of hoovering ready to start the week tomorrow.

Did I mention life at the office will never be the same from tomorrow one colleague leaves and a new member joins us in our little department of 2 (plus a few hours assistance from a junior administrator).  However the new person has a new role quite different from what we have known before rather than being an equal he will be ranked above us – the role has yet to be defined and until we have been told more we are completely in the dark.

If you have been following my financial focus for January you may be wondering how I am getting along with some of my tasks.

Well I have been busy!

The Gas deal

I have been on most of the big comparison sites and there is no doubt for our gas alone Daligas are the cheapest followed by Npower our current provider. After much research into Daligas and trawling through their terms and conditions we have decided this is not a switch we will make at the moment for the following reasons –

  1. Firstly this is a new company who only offer the one Tariff so there is no set standard rate to revert to when the 12 month fixed deal ends.  I expect they will let you know what the new Tariff will be nearer the end of the deal.  Now I might be cynical but what is to stop them producing a new deal that is much dearer or completely different to the one available now.  For instance the advantage of Daligas at present is that they are offering a very low monthly standing charge and it is this that makes them cheaper than Npower as their kWh rate is slightly more so if this standing charge drastically changed and went onto the more usual daily rate you could find their gas to be dearer and you would be stuck with this until you found a new deal.
  2. Secondly – they are so new there is no ‘past performance’ available or any guide as to previous Tariff rates.
  3. Thirdly – they say it can be up to 6 weeks to switch and although the 12 months fixed rate will run from the transfer date it does mean we would be stuck on Npowers standard rate for a few weeks until the transfer and thereby lose any advantage we would gain from the switch.

We have decided it is too risky for us and we will monitor this company closely and see what further Tariffs they come up with in the future and maybe we will switch when we have more confidence in them.

I also looked at prepaid energy but again this is still dearer as is duel fuel even with the same provider discounts.

We will be applying for the Npower price Fix May 2015 tomorrow to replace our Online January 2014 fixed which ends on Friday.

We spent £1,053 on gas in 2013 but we are almost £500 in credit so that means it cost us £553 for the year.

The Electricity

This deal is fixed until September so we will look again at this nearer the time – what we need to do before then is get the consumption down further.

We spent £600.96 on electricity for the year 2013.

The Water Rates

We are with good old Yorkshire water and our bill for the year 2013 was£598.93 approx £49.91 month.

There is only the two of us rattling around in here now so I thought it was a good time to perhaps look at applying to be metered.  We completed the water energy calculator online and found our usage to be somewhere around £300 for an average use so we have filled in an application form for this and will wait for a response.

The Council Tax

This is an extortionate amount of £1451.04 a year for a band D property and no matter what cannot be reduced unless the house could go down a band or two and no chance of that!

ISA Savings

Today we took the plunge and stopped dithering over transferring an old mature ISA each into the Post Office 2 year fixed at 2.25%.  We were going to wait and see but then I read on one of the financial sites that generally ISA interest rates are falling.  Already the Halifax and one or two other big banks have reduced their top ISA rates.  I hadn’t appreciated the reason for this all time low is now due to the high demand for the government Help to Buy scheme which is once again pushing up house prices.  We are now thinking a rise in rates just before the end of the tax year may not happen.  If it does we still have a couple of ISA’s that will mature in March and we will be able to take advantage if not we won’t lose out by taking this Post Office deal which is the highest for a 2 year fix and may soon be withdrawn.

Maintenance plan

This is in progress and I will do a post soon.

I am aware that there are so few days left in January now so I need to get down to that all important task of setting a budget or spending plan as I prefer to call it for our household bills and food.  All this focusing has been worthwhile – our current account is quite buoyant due to the low spending and gathering in.

I have still to sort out the Ebay / Amazon account and look at what I might sell.  The magazine book I got on selling on Ebay and other sites will have more than paid for itself – it was a good buy.  It talks you through everything you need to know step by step and I can’t wait to get started.  I will need a good bright day to take some good photos and this may have to be next Friday.  I am not expecting to get this all up and running before the end of January but I will have made a start.

That is pretty much the weekend round-up – I hope you all had a good one.

fEAsible, financial focusing, my goals, trEAsure, trEAsury

Financial Focusing update #8

White Roses

Yesterday and today I have been turning my financial focus to the electricity usage.

We are with Scottish Power  –  Online Fixed price energy deal which ends 31st August 2014.

Last year we spent £600.96 which is approx £50 month.  We cook electric and our shower is electric – the two main culprits that make our bills dear.

I like a long hot shower every morning and although I try to be economical with the oven because there is only the two of us it is sadly sometimes only cooking 2 baked potatoes and a rice pudding.  It is a large free-standing oven too (my sisters old one) so the capacity is larger than the new double ovens so more wasted heat.   The smaller oven is not well insulated so really doesn’t gain much by heating this.  The answer might be to cook a lot at a time in the oven on a weekend and do hob only meals during the week.

As I keep saying when we get our new kitchen and oven this will change –  in fact life will change completely for us and I am still holding on to that Siemens dream of coming home to a wonderful new streamlined easy to run and clean kitchen! You have heard it before here

Anyway back to the electricity usage.

What did I find out other than it is costing us far too much?

Our usage in Kwh is 4883 units from 15/02/13 to 16/01/14  (336 days) which = 14.53 units per day so for a full year 365 days it would be 365 x 14.53 = 5304.

Having this figure now allows me to go onto a comparison site to look at cheaper options.  I will get back to you on this.

…Meanwhile the gas saga goes on.

Yesterday I re-ran a comparison on the Moneysupermarket site and found that there is a company called ‘Daligas’  mmm…I had never heard of them either but they work out even cheaper than Npower.

Now if you begin to understand all these price breakdowns you will notice that their standing charge is £5.828 a month which is different to the price per day that most of the others charge. Npower for instance is £0.467 a day.

So over the year

  • Npower  = £170.46
  • Daligas = £69.94

with me so far?

Daligas charge £3.308 per kWh and Npower £3.25.  So on my 22ooo units average per year that equates to

  • Npower =  £715.00
  • Daligas =  £727.00

Daligas is dearer by £12 on the units but cheaper on the standing charge.

Total amount for year –

  • Npower =  £885.46
  • Daligas =  £796.94

– a difference of £88.52 for the year.

Now I am not sure if Moneysupermarket are including VAT here or not but given it would be the same percentage added to both it would not alter the comparison.

So all I need to do now is suss out Daligas who they are and what their service is like and is it worth switching to an unknown with all the hassle for £88.52.

It is quite a worthwhile sum to have don’t you think?

I am nothing but thorough and I have yet to research the companies who offer

  • No standing charge (but kWh usually a bit dearer)
  • Pre-payment
  • Duel fuel

Now for a catch up on the rest of the weeks spending…

I realise plain text can be a bit boring and my site has lacked a bit of colour all week so here comes a few photos – remember I said I would photograph everything that came into the house so that I can try and see where the problem lies with accumulating more stuff.

What did I buy this week that wasn’t groceries?

I have bought one or two bits and pieces but I won’t have to make room for all of the items as  some are presents, some edible and one a replacement new for old.

Pink iced cake

A pink iced cake for the party girl and the residents at the care home.  A box of candles though I am sure we can’t fit 90 of them on the cake and a pot of her favourite face cream.


A pack of 2 pillows reduced at Sainsbury’s.  These are the ‘feels like down’ type which I have bought before and they do feel like down.  As we needed new pillows to replace some old ones this seemed like a bargain at £18 for the pair.

Pink Notebook

A small pink notebook to carry with me to jot down a few things that I think of like jobs to do, ideas for my blog, shopping I need etc.  This was reduced to £1.19

Scarf and Gloves

A grey patterned fleecy scarf and glove set £6 from Sainsburys another little birthday present for my mum in law.

I also treated myself to a £3 bunch of roses (picture at the top of the page)

Tomorrow we have a trip to Shrewsbury to celebrate my mum in-law’s 90th birthday.  Hope you have a good weekend too. x

celebrations, fEAsible, fEAsting, financial focusing, my goals, trEAsury

Financial Focusing update #7

Have you ever felt that something was just too complicated to get your head around and that there was no point in even trying to get a grasp.  Well that is how I feel about the energy bills – all those Kilowatts and tariffs, standing charges, day rates, night rates, discounts, fixed fees and exit fees – who in their right minds made all this garbage up – must have been a man for sure!

In order to get some order going in my limited understanding of the energy usage I have downloaded graphs, figures and estimates from our energy accounts.  This is obviously going to be a long job and more than a cup of tea, a packet of crisps and a couple of biscuits.

As you can see from the chart  Gas Usage 2011 to 2014 I discovered that we used far less gas in 2011 than either 2012 or 2013.

In 2012 we had a big leap and that will coincide with my eldest daughter and her partner coming to live with us for a while.  After their departure in October and throughout 2013 we saw a steady return to using less combined with a milder winter so far.

We have a four bedroomed house and the gas we use is just our central heating, hot water and gas fire in the living room.  We cook electric.   I think we are wasteful in the evening and at weekends – when the house cools down too much we may override the timer and put the central heating on again and then forget about switching it off until nearly bedtime.

It is especially cold in our kitchen / dining room as one of the corner cupboards has an outside ventilation grill which we cannot reach to block it off so a howling draft swirls around our feet (when we get our new kitchen this will be sorted – we have lived with it for 29 years – funny how time flies!) and we have double patio doors too which is a lot of glass even though they are double glazed.  When we spend a lot of time in here we need more heat unless we are cooking or it is a sunny day.

Now I have an average usage for the year 22,000 Kwh I can start to compare prices available with greater accuracy.  I can also see where we can make energy savings in usage as well as price. My focus tomorrow will be looking at our electricity usage.  When I have all the facts I can then begin finding a good deal for the next year on the comparison sites.

Do you know what your energy usage is for the year?

On a different note today is a very happy day and  I want to wish my mum in law a very Happy 90th Birthday and yes I did say 90.  She is a wonderful person and has been a 2nd mum to me over the years.  We will be seeing her on Saturday for a little get together – but because she has dementia now I am not sure if she will even realise she has reached this milestone….


mum in law as a baby about 1 year old


…and 89 years later

Happy 90th Birthday Jenny xxx


fEAsible, financial focusing, my goals, trEAsury

Financial Focusing update #6

Financial task today – do some research into the energy suppliers.

Well what a minefield this is – Tarrifs, standing charge, fixed price, online billing, monthly direct debits – whatever you choose alters the price you pay.  All I want is a reasonable price that is straightforward and fair and one where I keep more of my money than they do!

At present we have electricity provided by Scottish Power a packaged called Online Fixed Price energy until August 2014 – no standing charge and payment by monthly direct debit – only it isn’t by monthly direct debit as they have been taking the full amount of the bill each quarter and they don’t seem to know why!  We are waiting for an answer on this one!  It actually makes no difference to us because the money is in our ‘Bill account’ and it does mean that we only pay for what we use and the credits don’t mount up but often the energy price is dearer if you pay this way.

Our gas is provided by Npower.  We are on an ‘Online fixed price’ deal until end of January 2014 payment by monthly direct debit.  They have been voted the worst provider for customer service.  Because of some problems they have been having the last bill we received was July 2013 and the next one won’t be issued until February.  This means that we cannot access a bill to see if we are in credit or debit.  Given that in July 2013 we were £305.43 in credit and the winter has not been that cold so far I am hoping we might get a refund.

With limited information to hand I ran one of those price comparison exercises and Scottish Power come out quite favourable – not the cheapest but almost for our area.  I also found First Utility, Green Star and the Co-op would be a good deal.  A little more research is needed but I like the sound of Green Star and the Co-op.  In fact you can become a member with the Co-op for £1 and earn points for every £1 spent on energy.  Our most urgent task is to switch suppliers from Npower before 1st February otherwise we will be on a dearer tariff when the fixed price ends.  Of  course they may offer a good deal to keep us as customers if we ring them…watch this space.

So the question I need to answer is  – exactly what is our energy usage over the year?  To find this out I need to visit our accounts online.  Once armed with this information I will be in a better position to know if any of the deals will save us money.

My other task today was to take some cash to the bank.  I had some cash from my mum and sister-in-law to reimburse for items I had purchased and some Xmas money.  So everything has now been refunded and credited.  I owe nothing and apart from my dear bro owing me £15 for some food at the family gathering I am owed nothing.

Tomorrow is our staff conference and we will be provided with sandwiches and cakes so I won’t have to buy any lunch.  Shame we don’t have one every week!