Friday, 23 September 2022

Frugal Friday

 So - who knows where they stand on the new energy prices then? If you were already on the Standard Variable pricing on single rate electricity (and gas if you have it) then you should do following the  Government announcement of the Energy Price Guarantee - as a rough guideline 34p/kWh for electricity and 10.3p/kWh for gas if my recollection is correct. We’re in a slightly more complex situation here though. Firstly as regular readers might recall, our home is almost entirely electric powered - we use gas for cooking and nothing else, meaning we use less than 300kWh of gas per year - a ludicrously small amount. Obviously that is offset with a far higher than “typical” electricity use - and due to that, and the fact that our heating is via night storage heaters, that means an Economy 7 meter - and that in turn complicates things when you’re trying to work out how things like the new EPG affects your rates. To add to that, back in July we took a deep breath and instigated an energy switch for the electricity onto a fixed rate tariff with Green Energy U.K. - one of the three “super-green” suppliers who are not bound by the Ofgem price cap. At the time we opted to switch the fix was looking like being *just* cheaper than the likely October prices, by late August it was looking a LOT cheaper than those October prices. Had no further intervention from the Government been forthcoming it would have been an absolute winner - however now, things are less certain. 

As a reminder - the “Price guarantee” says that for the next two years a “typical household” should pay no more for their household energy than £2500. This doesn’t mean that YOUR household will pay £2500 though - that all depends on how you compare to those “typical” use figures - 12,000kWh per annum gas, 2,900kWh per annum electric in case you were wondering. The ONLY way to know how your own use compares to “typical” - and so to that magical £2500 figure - is to work it out.  If you keep records of meter readings then you can use those - otherwise go back a year on bills to find a reading from 12 months ago - and then read your meters today as well. Gas is complicated by the conversions needed and quite frankly that one is beyond me - however the formula needed is easily findable online - they key thing to note however is whether your meter reads in m3 or ft3 - it should be marked on the meter itself, as that makes a difference to the required formula. (As a guide, ft3 meters usually have 4 digits ahead of the decimal point, while metric (m3) meters have 5. Ignore everything after the digital point regardless). Electricity is simple - subtract the reading from a year ago from the one taken today, and there is your annual consumption right there. (See, so easy even I can do it!). In simplified terms for regular dual fuel users, if your figures are higher than 12,000/2900 then you’ll be paying more than £2500 p/a - under those amounts and you’ll be paying less.

So to our own complications then - firstly working out the Economy 7 rates is not as simple as working out single rate costs. All suppliers have flexibility in how they work things out on E7 - they just have to reach a point where assuming that an E7 user uses 58% of their energy during the day, and 42% at night, they will pay the same kWh price on average as a single rate user. We don’t fit that profile though - as we use around 75% of our electricity overnight - meaning that for us the lower the night rate, the better, even if that means a slightly higher daytime rate than most E7 users would expect. The second issue we have currently is not knowing exactly how the new guarantee will apply to our current supplier as it’s not yet been confirmed that the Super-green suppliers are included. It HAS been confirmed that some fixed rates - as long as the prices start out higher than the guaranteed rates - will get the benefit of the EPG, so if you have a fix with a “standard” supplier then it’s worth you checking to confirm how your pricing will be affected. 

Ultimately - if you are on SVR then you can still expect to see an increase in the cost of your energy from 1st October, however this increase will now be a LOT smaller than it would have been without the EPG being put in place. If you are on a fairly recent fix then you might see your costs dropping a little. Your supplier should be contacting you very soon to let you know where you stand - right now there is probably little point in ringing them to ask because as you might expect they are ludicrously busy at the moment. Remember that the £400 non-repayable energy grant is also coming - suppliers are sending out information about exactly how they are going to deal with that too, but it will be applied to electricity accounts and is to be spread over 6 months. For most people it will take the form of a reduction to your monthly direct debit - so remember that this means that less money will be leaving your bank account - make sure you don’t lose track of this. Personally I will be ensuring that I stash those monthly savings away so that the money is there for the future - we still have a long way to go with the energy crisis and no certainty around any more help forthcoming for next winter. It’s also worth bearing in mind that any use figures from the last 12 months includes a remarkably mild winter and there is no certainty that we’ll be seeing another one of those so it may be that we all have to use more energy this winter for the same internal temperatures in our homes. 

Other tips - reduce energy use where you can, I’ve written about this before as has just about every other frugal blogger out there. Start prepping now for winter - think about throws and blankets, warm clothing you can layer and whether things like slippers need replacing. Check hot water bottles for soundness. As the nights draw in remember the gains from pulling curtains as it begins to get dark and temperatures fall - and on warmer sunny mornings, make sure that curtains are opened again to get the benefit of a little “solar heating” where you can.

Right now, we’ll be over here waiting to hear from Green Energy in order that we can do some frantic maths around our upcoming costs to fathom out whether we need to try to find another switch! 


Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Another Hebrides trip done…

 We’re just back from our main Hebrides break for this year - and while,there aim was reminded by a friend that this blog has been neglected for waaaay too long, so how about a nice photo-heavy post to get us back to things? 

As usual, we left home to drive part way up after a regular work-day, stopping this time near Scotch Corner, then made an early start on the first proper day of the holiday to drive up for the ferry. We consciously leave far earlier than the actual travel time demands as all sorts of things could go wrong on the way, from a problem with the car right through to a problem with the ferry meaning we need to divert - this time however all was well so we had sufficient time to kill that we stopped at Glenfinnan to take in the scenery…

The ferry crossing was a beauty - calm seas and beautiful weather…

…and soon enough we were rolling off at Lochboisdale (South Uist) and heading for our usual home for the first couple of nights, the delightful Moorcroft Campsite on North Uist. Their “Hobbit Home” camping pods are brilliant - warm, cosy, and equipped with beds and a kettle (and several other amenities, but, priorities!) 

Views like this always quickly remind us why we keep returning! 

A couple of days gentle ambling around and it was time to go and get settled in to the lovely Kettle Cottage - the little white painted haven on a wonderful headland on the west of North Uist. We’ve stayed there several times before so no real settling in was needed, although when we woke on the Sunday morning to steady rain it seemed we were going to get that time, regardless! No need for despair though as by early afternoon the drizzle had turned to this…

…and that in turn set the scheme for our first week - blue skies, temperatures warm enough for short sleeves and cropped trousers, and evenings warm enough to sit on the bench outside the cottage with drinks in the evenings - bliss! We never expect weather like that, our packing assumes we’ll have plenty of cold, wet days, but the glorious days are always a pleasant surprise when they arrive. On this occasion we kept being told that it was pretty much the first decent summer weather the islands had seen this year - so we were really lucky! 

Among other adventures we had a trip to Lochmaddy on a glorious evening to watch South Uist ferry Lord of the Isles undertake berthing trials …

Saw a quite incredible few hours of the aurora and also had nearly a week of seeing the landscape lit up by a truly beautiful harvest moon…

Travelled across for a day trip to Harris - and will always remember walking back into the cottage on our return that evening to see the newsflash arrive on my phone with the news that Queen Elizabeth II had died. 

Saw some beautiful flowers and incredible wildlife - including another wonderful trip on the Lady Anne boat with Nick & Nye, watching breathtaking White Tailed Eagles… 

There was also lots of walking, several new hills, and LOTS of cake! The second week was cooler and less sunny, but still almost entirely dry (during the days at least) so we were able to get out and about as much as we wanted and visit so many favourite spots. 

One of those favourite spots is at Minish on North Uist - and the beautiful Soldier on the Hill - in essence a war memorial all of its own. Always poignant, and never more so than this time with the flag at half-mast in reflection of the Queen’s death. We’ve had a lot of special moments over in the islands, but the five minutes we spent up there will definitely stick in the memory. RIP Your Majesty - we’ll think of you when we’re back in the Hebrides next as we know how much you loved the place, too.


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. 


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 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.


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. 


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! 


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!