being thrifty, budgeting, financial focusing, trEAsury

tEAsury…reflecting on last year’s budget

The Budget – the breakdown – the facts – the truth – the satisfaction and the panic!
Last year my Focus word was ECONOMISE to reflect a change in our circumstances and a need to tighten our belts.
I have one of those all singing all dancing software programs on my computer called Microsoft Money (no longer available).  You just enter each receipt using the appropriate bank account if you have more than one and assign a category.  Once the information is in you can then produce any number of reports that track how much you have spent and even where you spent it.  The program allows you to customise the data to produce reports and spreadsheets split into weeks, months or years and I am able to compare this year to last year or the previous ten years if I wanted.
So I have entered all my receipts for 2017, balanced all the bank statements and run some comparison reports with last year and some in-depth reports (these are helpful when you see a frighteningly large total and want to know what the heck you spent so much on!

 

Looking over my spending report we did manage to economise in a few areas but not all and in some cases we have been running to stand still because of inflation.  There are some bills you just cannot reduce such as the Council tax which for our area was £73 more this year than 2016 and we live in a fairly modest house.
I will summarise some of the savings and failures of the general household budget.  I won’t be including the decorating and maintenance costs as we all know these are expensive and all I can say is that we have tried to buy wisely and keep within our means.
So how did we do –

General household bills

We reduced both our gas and electricity bills and also the house insurance by carefully swapping deals and suppliers and using less – a saving of £322
Our water is now metered and remains fairly constant if I am careful of our use such as always washing full loads and using the quicker washes.  At least it has not increased.
The TV license increased by £1 – just as well it is a small increase as there is very little on the box sometimes.

Cards and Gifts

I was also surprised that we saved on cards and gifts – family gifts by £100 and friends by £76 – this is mainly due to careful buying and not because of any reduction in the number of friends or family we have.

Clothes, Accessories and Footwear

We have seen a marked reduction here – I spent £336 on clothes an average of £28 month which is half what I spent the previous year but then we did have the wedding that summer and I was the bride’s mother.  OH did even better and only spent £110 over the year.  I don’t think this is too bad considering I need clothes for work.  Most of my clothes came from Sainsbury’s – they have a large clothing section and have a 25% off quite frequently.  I have noticed though that some clothing that would have been £16 or £18 is now hitting the £20 mark.
I spent less on footwear than other years too and some of the casual shoes I bought came from Sainsbury’s but my new winter boots were well over £100 –  I bought the same ones as I had last year because they fit well (I do have to wear good footwear that is well padded, very low or no heel and a thick sole as I have a problem with my feet and have to wear orthotics if they don’t have the right support and comfort built-in which tend to be in the dearer makes such as Gabor, Ecco and Sketchers).  I also had to invest in my new gardening boots which were £30 so this took the total up to £289, which sounds a lot to me for shoes but my footwear spend was balanced out by OH buying no new shoes at all!

Housekeeping

On the housekeeping side our grocery, cleaning and some toiletries costs came in at £63 a week – this was a disappointing figure and is not what I had hoped for I was looking for a figure around £50 and this is one area where I feel that even after all the bargain hunting and taking advantage of only buying whilst a product is on offer we have been running to stand still with the large price hikes we have been seeing.
I did take a packed lunch to work most days which reduced the spending in this area but will have increased the total spend on food a bit as obviously the extra food has to come from somewhere.
We did reduce our food waste a lot – I stopped buying those pots of salad like cloeslaw as they seemed to be out of date before the two of us could finish them and I have been adhering to a menu plan each week most of the time.
I continue to buy organic where I can so I know my shop will already be more expensive than most people – but Sainsbury’s do a good own brand organic range which are reasonably priced and I do get reward point coupons for them quite often.

Fuel, transport, car maintenance, insurance, MOT, car parking contract and anything car related

This must be one of the most expensive outlays – it is frightening how much it costs to get about and then to park when you get there.  All I can say is we always shop around for insurance deals, buy cheaper supermarket fuel (never on the motorway) and use those money off / reward point coupons if we are lucky enough to get some.  Other than getting rid of the cars or not going anywhere I am not sure what saving we can make.  My little runaround is already 18 years old and I am not sure what is holding it together but it is fine to get me to work, carry the weekly shopping and take me to places locally.  For anything else we use my hubby’s bigger car.

Books and Magazines

I really believed I had cut down on magazines and thought I was only buying an occassional one when we went to the cottage (we have no TV or internet there so I tend to read) however, the budget report shows a different story and I managed to buy no less than £107 worth of magazines and those magazine books during the year.  Curious to find out more I looked at the in-depth report and this is how that figure is broken down –
  • Psychologies x 2
  • Top Sante x 2
  • Natural Health x 1
  • Gardeners World – May edition for the 2 for 1 entry to gardens card
  • Daphnes Diary x 2
  • Country Living – turning a hobby into a business (book magazine)
  • Gardeners World Plants for Shade (book magazine)
  • Womans Weekly Garden
  • We Love Craft – I don’t even remember this will have to have a search of my bookcase!
  • Build  and Home Build (for our cottage renovations)
  • Country Homes and Ideal Homes pack ( a supermarket offer whilst at the cottage)
  • Healthy Food Guide (another book magazine)
  • What the Doctors Don’t Tell You x 2
  • Country Homes Christmas
  • Christmas House Beautiful
You can see where my interests lie and I obviously need to avoid the magazine aisle!
On the positive side I have acquired Brownie points using the Library to take books out to read rather than buying any.
In actual fact I have so much to read here in the house anyway that I could probably get away with never buying or borrowing a book again for many months.  It is just habit that I will wander into a bookstore and especially The Works where it is cheaper to buy a book than a magazine.  Stationery shops also have this effect on enticing me in to spend.

Christmas

Christmas has become a lot cheaper for us since we started the Not so Secret Santa within the extended family.  The budget is £50 per person so a £100 spend for OH and I and we spend a further £25 to £30 on the two relatives children and a bit more on our granddaughter.  The Secret Santa stocking within the immediate family is £20 each (£40 for the two of us) and another £10 for the one at my work.  We always give our two daughters and their partners a sizeable cheque for Christmas rather than any gifts they might not want.
The few gifts for our friends we were able to find a 3 for 2 offer.
A grand total of around £300 which does not include the two gifts of money to our daughters.
The bits and pieces such as the cards and wrap came to £20 and is an area where I could make more of my own.
Our real four-foot Christmas tree with roots was a bargain and cost only £17 with the coupon and we can plant it in our Scottish garden later this month.   We decided to put some old lights on the tree when the more recent ones failed instead of rushing out to buy new ones.
The postage for non local cards and one parcel amounted to £30 which was a bit of a shock – not sure how I can get around this expense other than hiring a pigeon to deliver!  I sent them all 2nd class but it was the 4 Australian ones that hiked the price up considerably.  I do have half a book of stamps left though for sending birthday cards.
Perhaps I will try buying a book of stamps throughout the year to spread the cost.
So there you have it  – not brilliant but not a disaster – there is room for a challenge in this years budget somewhere.  I don’t profess to be a frugal blog by any means although I do like to read them and take on any useful ideas.  My aim is to set and stick to a reasonable money-saving budget so that we can increase the amount we save ready for retirement and to free up some of our income for the decorating.   It goes without saying that I am on a mission to reduce our stuff and limit the stuff coming in to our house so not buying things we don’t really need is very important and in itself should save us money.
In my next post I will set out some of my ideas for my new budget!
Back soon x

 

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).

Success

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?