Friday, 4 February 2022

Frugal Friday

A hefty 54% is the amount that most of us can expect our energy bills to increase by from 1st April confirmed by the new UK "Price Cap" being announced today. It’s roughly what most experts were expecting - with forecasts over the previous few weeks having been anything from a 49% to 60% increase - so this is around the midway point. Remember that this is a cap on the price you pay per unit of energy rather than a cap on the total you will pay - something which misleads many. If you use more than the cap figure’s worth of energy in a year you will pay a higher amount - similarly if you use less, you'll pay less. Never has it been more vital to ensure that our homes and lives are as energy efficient as possible. Some help is being announced - at time of writing a £150 Council Tax rebate in England, and also a £200 “rebate” on energy bills but this should more accurately be called a loan as it is repayable at £40 a year for the following 5 years apparently. As I write there is no information about what you can do if - like us - you're in the fortunate position of being able to manage the increase without accepting this loan - we hope that there WILL be an option to decline it, but it's not certain, and right now seems unlikely.

I've written before about reducing energy use - as has pretty much every blogger out there who ever writes on matters frugal. We did a fair bit of stuff at different levels quite some time ago - replacing our elderly double glazed windows and doors with modern units made a huge difference in both our electric use and the ability to maintain a higher temperature for the amount of power we are using. We'd gradually been changing to low energy bulbs pretty much since they first made an appearance, we bought lined curtains for one room that didn't have them, and made cheap linings for another room too, and as we have replaced appliances we've been looking for more energy-efficient ones - all the things you'd expect. Recently we took another look though - with the certainty that prices were going to increase steeply it felt like a good time to review. 

For a lot of people being aware of the high-drain items in your home is the key thing when it comes to cutting electricity use, in particular. I'm focusing here based on our own personal circumstances - which is a household running on electricity for everything other than cooking. A lot of stuff will translate over to homes where gas central heating is the source of warmth though. So think about use of kettles, toasters and microwaves. If you cook using electricity, chances are that all these appliances will still be more cost effective than using your cooker, hob or grill, but there are ways to reduce further. Electric showers can be absolute power guzzlers - and the more powerful the shower, the more this will apply. If you have the option of a shower fueled by your gas boiler OR an electric one, hop under the gas one every time, it'll be far cheaper! 

First for us was the free or cheap and simple stuff - so the existing low energy bulbs were mostly switched out for newer more efficient LED Versions. we agreed that a small expenditure was worth it for this - particularly for the kitchen fitting which uses 3 x GU10 bulbs and is on a fair amount, and the lights that illuminate our cabinets in the front room - which were old style incandescent candle bulbs for the most part. Some of those had already been changed to halogens - those stayed put. We've focused on closing curtains earlier - so as soon as it gets dark, they're closed and blinds are pulled. We only became fully aware of quite how effective this is when last week we were unable to pull the front room curtains due to an issue with the rail that needed both time and daylight to sort. The drop in temperature in the evenings - even with those super duper new windows - was quite surprising! Lighting candles has a small but real effect on warmth, but more than that it also adds a visual sense of warmth too. (Usual safety precautions apply).  An old bathmat rolled up tightly has proved an effective draught-excluder at the bottom of the larder door too - we’d always rather repurpose something we already have than buy something new to do a job. Of course the old standard of putting on additional layers and having a blanket on standby for any particularly chilly evenings goes without saying! 

More extreme measures which will also make a difference have included bathing in the evening rather than showering first thing - not something that would suit everyone but it does us allowing that we pay far less to heat water in the immersion heater overnight than 2 showers - even still on that cheap rate - would cost us. The hot water is there anyway so we may as well use it for the small uplift in cost to heat the tank from almost cold.  Something else we have done in the past with our time-of-use tariff electricity (Economy 7) is to boil a full kettle of water when it boils first thing in the morning and then transfer the balance not required for drinks immediately to a vacuum flask for use later - it works perfectly well as it is for MrEH's second cup of coffee, and can easily be transferred back to the kettle again if I want a further cup of tea - clearly re-boiling it from a higher temperature has an energy saving in itself. We’ve literally just discussed returning to doing this - with MrEH still working from home a lot of the time it makes perfect sense. 

I've been focusing more on batch-cooking again too - so if the oven is going on I try to think what else might go in at the same time, and rather than making enough bolognese, chilli or soup for just the meal we're having there and then, I cook double or even more, portion and freeze. 

We’re fortunate - although we might not like the huge increase in cost to heat and light our home, we can afford it. Sure, we’ll try to reduce costs where we can, that just makes sense, but we can pay the bills without needing to work out what else we can stop spending on. For all too many folk that’s not the case - financial pressure on household budgets is about to be increased to a level which will just prove too much for some. If you’re panicking, seek help sooner rather than later - there may be savings you can make elsewhere that you weren’t even aware of and without compromising quality of life much if at all. The MoneySavingExpert forums are a good place to start with seeking budgeting advice - have a look on the Debt Free Wannabe, you don’t have to be in debt already to ask for help, in fact it’s better if you’re not! You may also be able to get money management advice through your local CAB too. 

Robyn

Friday, 12 November 2021

Frugal Friday…

 So having reassured you last week that you’re not going to end up sitting in the dark, shivering (unless you want to!) the next thing is clearly to deal with the escalating energy prices we’re (almost) all facing at the moment. 

I’m pretty sure I’ve dealt with energy saving ideas before on here - but I’m deliberately not looking back to see what I’ve said before as hopefully there might be some new ideas to come. Surely I must have learned SOME different stuff in the past few years, no? 

I know my energy bills are increasing at the moment - we lost our lovely gas “zero standing charge” tariff earlier in the year, and are now paying more than three times as much for our tiny gas usage. As prices increased our previous electricity supplier decided to boost their cashflow by fabricating a need to increase our direct debits to an amount which would have left us literally hundreds of pounds in credit even at the end of the winter period (which is not what’s meant to happen) - they couldn’t justify it, but nobody we spoke to was able to over-rule the system and get it dropped back down,  so we opted to depart and go onto a standard variable tariff with a new provider. 

We’ve established that prices are increasing, and that unusually there is nothing you can do at source to reduce the impact, so instead what can we do to reduce costs by reducing the amount of power we use? Well some stuff is obvious and talked about everywhere - turn off lights when you leave a room, don’t leave tech on standby, turn the thermostat down a degree, and only boil the amount of water you actually need in the kettle. 

If you’re on Economy 7 electricity you have a great route to really reduce your costs without actually even reducing your use - simply by using more during the cheap overnight period. We almost only use our dishwasher and washing machine overnight, and usually run the dehumidifier overnight too. The hot water and the heating are already set to operate in the cheap period of course. Learning exactly how it works, when your time periods are, and setting storage heaters correctly all also help you get the most bang for your buck on E7. For anyone on E7 particularly with an immersion heater for hot water, and an electric shower, consider using the hot water already in the tank for a bath before bed rather than showering when you get up - electric showers are a devil for power use and it will cost less to reheat a full immersion tank on the cheap rate. If you have a gas boiler that deals with hot water and are still using an electric shower, consider having a mixer tap shower fitted instead - it will probably earn it’s money back in relatively short order at the moment. 

Want some free heating? Well next time you get up in the morning and find the sun streaming in, throw those curtains wide open and get the benefit! On chilly days, for unused rooms that don’t get any sun though, you’re better leaving curtains or blinds drawn to help retain more heat. On the subject of curtains, think about lining any lighter weight or unlined ones too. That doesn’t need to be purpose-made expensive linings either - something as simple as a cheap fleece blanket tacked in will do the job brilliantly. If you have a draughty external door then scour charity shops for a long curtain and hang that in front of it - and make a “sausage dog” draught excluder to keep the wind from whistling in underneath (this can be as simple as an old bath towel, rolled up and secured with a couple of elastic bands). And once it gets dark, get those curtains pulled - helps prevent heat loss and just gives a room a warmer feel, too. 

More ideas: If you’re a coffee drinker, boil a full kettle of hot water for your first cup of the day, and transfer the excess to a flask - you can then use that to make subsequent drinks. For tea, you can transfer the right amount back to the kettle for a far quicker boil - although I know tea purists are wincing at that one! If you’re a frequent tea drinker then pour the cold water for your next cuppa straight into the kettle while it’s still hot - it should mean some of the work of heating it has been done for you when you come to boil it next.  Lighting a few candles can give both additional light and a little extra heat - and who doesn’t love the glow of a candle or two? (Or indeed four…for added comedy value). Batch cooking for course - don’t make one dinner’s worth of bolognese sauce or chilli, double or even quadruple it up and freeze the extra. The added bonus there is subsequent portions give you a home made “ready meal” that can be “pinged” in a fraction of the time in the microwave.  Time AND money saving! If cooking using the oven, again try to fill it rather than just cooking one item, and once you’re finished, leave the door ajar to let the heat escape fully into the kitchen. If replacing a light fitting, or even a bulb then look for LED rather than halogen. If you’re fortunate enough to have a wood-burning or multi-fuel stove, a stove-top kettle can be used sitting in top of it to heat water for washing up or cleaning purposes.

As ever the moneysavingexpert.com website has a whole fund of advice on this sort of thing, and still more can be found on the forums too - just whenyou think there are no more ways possible to save a bit of gas or electric, someone pops up with a whole new idea! Indeed - if you have any favourite energy savings tips that aren’t covered here, pop them in the comments below.

Robyn. 


Friday, 5 November 2021

Frugal Friday

 Oh poor, poor neglected blog - and after all the love I showed it last year, too! There you go - this is what a return to something approaching normal life does. Again for the benefit of anyone reading later, we’re still in the Covid-19 pandemic, but with nearly 70% of the U.K. population now vaccinated, in a rather better place than we were this time last year. 

Anyhow - what better way to come back than with a Frugal Friday post (albeit belated) and what better time to write a Frugal Friday post than when the U.K. is facing an energy crisis? Electricity and gas prices have sky-rocketed over the past few months, and the myriad energy companies who were relying on clawing in customers by offering “cheap” fixes are now struggling as the wholesale price they pay have exceeded the price they are selling the energy for. We now have less than half of the energy supply companies in the market than we had this time last year as many - and even some decent sized ones - have gone bust. 

So - if your supplier bites the dust, what can you expect? Well the first thing is that there’s no need to panic, you’re not going to lose your energy supply and be left without lighting or heating!  You will be transferred to a “Supplier of Last Resort” - SoLR - yes, your prices will probably increase, but everyone’s prices have increased, so consider yourself part of a pretty big club! Your supply will continue unaffected - and credit you have on your account will be transferred to your new supplier - you won’t lose any money so don’t worry, although getting everything squared away will probably take a couple of months. Don’t cancel your Direct Debit unless you are specifically told to either - it will almost certainly be transferred to the new supplier, and continuing to pay means you won’t end up with a big bill to pay. 

So what if you’re on a fixed rate deal that’s about to end? You should fix again, pronto, right? Well, usually, no. With the price of energy as it is, currently the cheapest tariff to be on is your supplier’s standard variable tariff (SVR), as that will be set at the price cap - currently almost without exception any fixes that are being offered are hundreds of pounds mor expensive. (The exception is from a couple of small providers who are extremely likely to go bust any day - and being mid-switch to one of them when they DO go is not a great position as that almost certainly WILL hold up you seeing any account credit you build up.)

Essentially, right now we are in an unprecedented “do nothing” situation. If you’re still on a fix that started back in the summer, stay put, it’s likely to be cheaper than anything you will get now. If your fix is ending, do nothing - let yourself roll onto the variable (capped) tariff, and if you are moving into a new property, contact the existing supplier and resist all their efforts to convince you that you need to sign up to a fix! There are awful tales out there of people being told they can’t go onto the SVR and the only tariffs available are fixes - this is nonsense, and all you need to say is “no thank you” - they don’t have a choice. Remind them that they should not be treating you as a new customer - you’re not, you are simply taking over the supply already in place in your home. Pass on your opening readings as usual, make very clear you want to go onto Direct debit, and make sure that you put in meter readings monthly if you’re not on a smart meter as your use may be very different to the previous occupiers. 

Next week, with the weather now getting colder, expect a Frugal Friday post from me on things you might be able to do to save energy - even if you don’t need to do it from a financial standpoint (lucky you!) we should all be trying to reduce our energy use from an environmental point of view anyway. 

Robyn 

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Still standing...


 The pier at Loch Skippprt, South Uist, that is! I looked back at our past years holiday notebooks the other day - and reminded myself quite how many years this remarkable old structure had been “just” hanging in there as far as we are concerned - nearly 20 years now!

So there we are - another Hebrides trip done and dusted. We had the usual mixed weather, everything from freezing cold temperatures and howling wind through to several days warm enough for short sleeves and, for MrEH at least, shorts.  Just the one day of pouring rain thankfully - and obviously we chose a walk right round the RSPB reserve that day and got back soaked in spite of full waterproofs! Hebridean rain does have a way of driving in through any gaps or slightly less well proofed points in jackets! 


Some highlights to be found as ever in the astonishing array of wildlife, and particularly birds. Our best year ever for total sightings topping out at a quite astonishing 114 different species across the bit-over-a fortnight. Best sightings would be the largest - great views of White Tailed Eagles from a boat trip - with Nick on the Lady Anne, we’ve done his trips before and they never disappoint - through to two of the smallest - some time spent watching Red Necked Phalaropes, plus one of those oddity sightings that turns up over there from time to time in the shape of a Red-Spotted Bluethroat. 


Yes - a little brown job that’s been let loose with the poster paint, to all intents and purposes! The Hebrides is one of those places where you never really know what birds might show up - stuff gets blown off course on migration and ends up where, really, it shouldn't - the 2016 Black Billed Cuckoo is a great example of that! It certainly adds an element of excitement to things! 


Robyn

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Hebrides Countdown...

 


Not done one of these for a few years...I used to do one a week in the run up - back when I also blogged regularly while we we were up there. I love looking back at those posts now, but equally don’t feel a massive drive to go back to blogging daily while we’re there. Back when I first started doing it it was before all the cottages had WiFi, and the signal across the islands was generally still really poor, so actually finding somewhere I could post from was often an issue - there were a few cafes with WiFi that were happy for me to take a laptop in, and I knew a few spots in the right place to get a decent data signal via the 3 broadband dongle that I had - I’d load it up with enough credit ahead of the trip to allow for whatever internet we planned to use. 


So - to this year’s plans then. Did I already mention that yet again our trip across is to be affected by ferry issues? It’s hardly unexpected these days - with an ageing CalMac fleet usually to blame, this time round it is the turn of one of the newer vessels to have suffered a catastrophic engine failure (that is Calmac’s wording, too!) taking it off the Ullapool > Stornoway run and into dry dock. But how does that affect us? I hear you ask....! Well....*takes a deep breath* this means that the MV Isle of Lewis - the boat that usually serves Barra (confused yet?) has been returned to her old route serving, possibly not unexpectedly, the Isle of Lewis. With no spare boat available, this in turn means that dear old MV Lord of the Isles now not only has to serve South Uist (our crossing of choice going over) but also needs to visit Barra on the way - this means a change of departure port from Mallaig to Oban (not altogether bad as Oban is a lot closer than Mallaig) but also a change of time to three hours earlier - and yes, you’ve guessed it, Oban isn’t THAT much closer! Thankfully we’ve managed to sort things out via an Airbnb booking rather further north than our usual overnight stop, and a planned early start from there to get us on our way in time. 


Accommodation wise we are back in the same location as the past few years “summer” visits - a now familiar little cottage on a wind blown headland. It’s such a fantastic spot we had no hesitation in booking there again - our third time staying there. Many of the “usual” things are planned too - some walks, possibly some hills although that might depend on how my poorly foot holds up. Lots of nice food (and beer!) and hopefully some good wildlife spotting. We also have our eyes on a boat trip - either with Nick who we’ve been out with before on the Lady Anne, or possibly in the rather faster vessels of the newer Uist Sea Tours guys.  All in all it is safe to say that we’re looking forward to getting back across quite as much as always! 

Robyn

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

2021 Airshow season is GO!




I'm pretty much still smiling after a fabulous day at Shuttleworth's opening airshow of the season on Sunday. Shuttleworth is a gorgeous venue - a real favourite of mine as you are always guaranteed an array of wonderful old aircraft including the warbirds I love so much. Also, quite often, you're guaranteed great company as well - and this time was no exception. Normally it's a case of rock up there and meet people, but because of the current restrictions around Covid-19 this time was a drive-in airshow so a little more logistically challenging, which is why 9am on Sunday morning saw myself, Max, Kevin & Sven, Richard, Mark and his Mrs (Wendy I think?) and Adam gathering in a car park on the outskirts of Biggleswade to travel in convoy to the show. 

The organisation at the Shuttleworth estate was superb - a large holding area for those arriving ahead of the official gates open time, then well managed queues to the ticket gates and a special convoy system for groups of vehicles wanting to be placed together. People were also being very conscious about giving others space in food queues, and while generally wandering about.  

Opening the show was the Consolidated Catalina in the photograph at the top - a stunningly beautiful aircraft. She'd flown in ahead of displaying so seeing her powering up and taking off was an additional treat. Next up was a series of flypasts by two of the Spitfires of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight - one of the two flown by my pal Andy, who managed to multi-task what might be described as a "sporty" entrance, a cracking topside view of the aircraft AND a wave, all at the one time - impressive! 


Shuttleworth has a big collection of resident aircraft ranging from vintage biplanes like this Gloster Gladiator...


...through to classic racers - including the immaculate DeHavilland DH.88 Comet...



If ever an aircraft looked like it simply belonged in the sky, flirting with the clouds, then this is it. This particular example also has an illustrious history - winner of many air races in the 1930's, it also appeared as a static exhibit at the Festival of Great Britain in 1951. Above all it is just stunningly beautiful and a joy to see fly. THIS is what the Shuttleworth Collection does so well - taking classic aircraft and putting them where they belong - up in the sky. 

Sunday was a brilliant day - great company, great aircraft, lots of banter...and if driving into the show and having to stay in our own little allocated areas by our vehicles is currently the way we can actually have airshows, then that's worth it to me. It was fantastic to spend time with good friends, and catch up with others who I'd not seen in ages. Max and I have already booked for another Shuttleworth show in a few weeks time - and it just feels brilliant to have airshows to look forward to again! 

Robyn

Saturday, 1 May 2021

A tiny bit normal...

 


This week has felt like something approaching a bit of normality is beginning to creep back in. Firstly, I’m looking forward to my first airshow of the year at lovely Shuttleworth tomorrow - there will be brilliant people, and good banter, and biscuits (always biscuits!) and above all lots of fabulous warbirds to watch and to photograph. Bliss! Not the rather wonderful old girl above though, no, that shot was taken earlier in the week up at RAF Coningsby when I ventured up for a trip which I knew would include not only some BBMF flying in the shape of the Dakota pictured above, but also something rather faster, noisier and altogether whizzier...


Yes - that’s the 2021 display pilot practising his display routine - and a first watch suggests that it is QUITE the routine, too! I was lucky with this sky too - the weather forecast said grey and overcast, but when I arrived in Lincolnshire there was a nice little patch of blue in not far off the right place, and sure enough it lingered around with some attendant sunshine for just long enough! 


I’ve got a soft spot for the Dakota - often overlooked in favour of her more famous BBMF hangar-mate the wonderful Avro Lancaster, and I am nothing if not a keen supporter of the underdog as those who remember my speedway days will be all too aware of! The Dak is a beauty of an aircraft though, and with a fantastic history too both in military and domestic service. 



That blue sky came into its own when it came to perfectly showcasing the Typhoon’s exit from the display, too - the traditional exit when the conditions allow is a fast vertical spiralling climb - as you can see from the photos above this looks great when seen from almost directly underneath, and the blast from the reheat looks fantastic against that vivid blue sky, too! 

Also in an aviation vein but slightly earlier in the week, we had an unexpected and very local visit from the East Anglian Air Ambulance too. 


Sitting in the front room after eating our tea, we heard a helicopter passing over somewhat lower than we are used to, so I opened the tracking app to take a look - and sure enough confirmed that it very much appeared that the Eurocopter EC145 had just landed in a nearby playing field. We threw on shoes and jackets and walked through the woods to go and take a look. Thankfully soon after we arrived the pilot confirmed that they had been stood down as the incident was deemed not serious enough to require their team’s skills. We quite often see the Herts & Essex machine locally but very rarely this one - it was called upon because it was already in the air returning from a previous shout when the call came through for this one. 

As if a LOT of photos from the Coningsby trip weren’t enough to be working on, I also ventured to Imperial War Museum Duxford for a brief visit yesterday afternoon. I have taken a year’s membership to the museum - in part because it includes free entry to the “flying days” they have planned and in part because it’s been such a difficult years for museums generally, and in particular those who rely on big events like airshows. It felt like an easy way of doing something - and gives me some benefits also of course, including the ability to just pop up there for an hour or so as I did yesterday. 


That is the Aircraft Restoration Company Hispano Buchon taxiing out ready for a run through of the display it will be performing at Shuttleworth - it’s a fantastic although slightly odd looking aircraft, but all those blurred edges on the camo pattern make it an absolute devil to photograph! There were also several Spitfires up and about so my trip up was very much worthwhile! 

All in all, it has felt like a rather aviation-filled week, and with more yet to come! 

Robyn