Friday, 2 November 2012

Frugal Friday...

At this time of year, with the inevitable slide into winter and its colder weather, I usually try to carry out a bit of a recap on our financial situation. It's a good time of year to halt any slide into those little careless spends that creep in, habits beginning to form, and indeed to revisit any areas where we might be able to make further savings.

I start by listing ALL our household expenditure - and break it down into categories. First come the mortgage, Council tax, service charge. We have no control over the second and third of these, although we have learnt over time that keeping a close eye on service charge accounts and querying (often repeatedly!) anything that appears on them which doesn't appear quite right, results in the annual figure falling, in our case quite dramatically. The mortgage of course we have to make the basic payment, and in our case are now paying a sum substantially over this.  Then comes the all-important bit - the utilities over which we do have some control - gas, electric, water, telephone. Gas & electric we have always had bundled together into a dual fuel package, and, in fact, always from the same supplier too - British Gas, bumping from tariff to tariff as prices have changed. With the announcements recently of yet ANOTHER cynically timed price increase from BG though, our thoughts turned to a change of supplier, so last week we started investigating this.

First port of call was Martin Lewis' oft mentioned Money Saving Expert site - he has a brilliant step-by-step guide which takes you through the steps needed to find the best deal, and after a read through that I clicked through from their link to Energy Helpline to see if there were any better options available for us. At first the whole thing appears slightly baffling, but once you work out what information you need to focus on, and how best to deal with this, it all falls into place nicely. We are "uneven" users - that is, we use only a fraction of the amount of gas, than we do electricity. The only thing we use gas for is for cooking - heating is electric, so this means that our gas use rarely falls above the minimum £5 per month that our direct debit is set for.  As a result of this, looking at price comparisons for Dual Fuel deals skewed things somewhat. Once I had separated the two accounts out, things started to look a lot clearer. In any event energy Helpline allows you to look at the options either separately, or as dual fuel packages, so you can get the clearest of pictures of whether, in fact, two suppliers might be better than one.  Have your figures showing actual use to hand, plus the figures relating to the amount you pay per Kilowatt Hour (kWh), as well as any standing charges you currently pay. Remember if you are on Economy 7 electric you will have different rates for Night and day use, as well as possibly two tiers of rates for the daytime power. The more detail you have to hand, the clearer the picture becomes, and the easier it is to see whether change will actually benefit you. Have an idea in your head too of the sort of tariff you are looking for - you might want to go with a company that specialises in "Green energy" for example, from renewable sources, or feel happier with a price "fix" for a set amount of time, so that you have peace of mind on what you will be paying. Energy Helpline handily rates suppliers with stars for customer service, too, so you can get an idea of how easy or difficult things may be if you have to call them with queries - always useful to know!  We were quite keen to get a fixed price, from a supplier we had heard of, and who we knew had some "history" in the industry, and as it happens one of the top suggestions for us for electricity was Scottish Power's price fix 2014 - guaranteeing that our prices won't change until March 2014.  If, however, prices fall in that time, there are no exit fees from this one either, meaning that in a year or so I will be checking about once again to see if there is anyone else offering a better deal! The unit price is cheaper than we are currently paying too, meaning we will also be making a saving on our current annual spend. at the moment we have left our gas account where it was - something that I'm certain that British Gas will be utterly delighted by - as we are reasonably sure that our teeny gas account costs more to adminster than it earns them, we can at least feel that we are getting back SOME of the price increases they have inflicted on us with seemingly no justification over the past few years!

Once your decision is made, it's almost as simple as a click of a button. You provide a few details to your new supplier, and then sit back for them to take care of things. Within a few days we had details from Scottish Power of the fact that the switch was in hand, and they also provide an individualised website which charts the progress so you can see what is happening, and know exactly when the supply will switch. Remember also that there is NO interruption of service - if you are in debt with your previous supplier they will require that you clear your account with them before they let you leave, but other than that there is no reason why the process will not run seamlessly. You end up getting the same power, just for a cheaper price, and with a different company billing you for it! My switch through Energy Helpline will also earn me £15 cashback once the switch is confirmed as having gone through - check also TopCashBack and similar sites as many of those offer cashback from energy suppliers, too.

I was deeply impressed with how easy the process was. as I say, the key thing is to have all the facts and figures ready so you can do a like-for-like comparison, although there is also an option within the comparison site I used to allow you to open a window showing the details of your current tariff.  I've never put off switching before based on any kind of nervousness about the process, I've considered it, and looked into it, but British Gas have always saved the day by offering a switch onto a better tariff for us.This time though I decided enough was enough - I don't accept car insurance or home insurance companies who attempt to rip me off by offering extortionate renewal quotes before prompty reducing them dramatically as soon as they are challenged, so why would I accept this from the company providing my electricity?!

Have you switched? How did you find it - and if not, is that because you are scared that it will be too difficult,  because you are confident that you are already on the best value deal, or simply because you haven't got around to it? Having read this would you now feel tempted to have a go and see if you can save a few all-important £'s?


**Further Frugal Friday posts can be found today at:
Cwtsh Corner - Looking After The Pennies
The Wind & The Wellies - Bare (grr) Rooted or naked plants
A Cheerful Living Adventure - Making what you need


Orkneyflowers said...

I've finally joined in too!

Woo hooo

Hope this is OK?

Robyn said...

Better than OK Fay - absolutely spot on! Thanks for joining in!