Friday, 24 February 2023

Frugal February...


I'm viewing this as a week of small wins. Grocery spending was - for us - high, but in our defence it was a farmers market week which always bumps things up. The minced beef, mutton shoulder and sausages we bought though will provide a good many meals between them - I'm fully expecting that we'll get a minimum of 18 meals for the two of us from the £28 spent on those so excellent value really for good quality produce. We also made an unusual additional supermarket visit as Friday evening tea time loomed without any inspiration at all - I'd been considering making curry, but realised too late that I was out of onions (not at all a regular occurance in our house!). There was a brief discussion about a takeaway, but that was nipped in the bud pretty swiftly in favour of "Let's go to the supermarket and get pizza and garlic bread" which was what we did! Then during out main weekly shop I made a conscious effort to buy fish to make fish pie - a meal we both absolutely love and which for some reason I've not made in ages. I spent a fair few minutes in front of the freezer cabinet in store working out which fish would be the best options for this, and ended up settling on a pack of the "budget" white fish fillets, a pack of salmon pieces, and a pack of raw tiger prawns - those last will each be carefully cut in half to make them go a bit further, and each of the packs of fish will do several helpings for both of us. 

Another "small win" this week was finally getting round to linking my bank cards to the "Airtime rewards" app - this is a clever little app that rewards debit card spending with money off your mobile bills with some providers - and as EE, who I am with, are signed up, I figured I may as well give it a go. My mind was focused on this because of doing the shopping using the debit card for the next little while as some of the supermarkets are part of the scheme - I may well be able to end up getting double rewards! Longer term readers will remember that we have "back in the day" done pretty well out of cashback - notably through credit card spending. We're always fans of being paid to use financial products like this! (But only if we don't end up paying interest, naturally!) 

Also on both the "Small wins" and "cashback" front was the world's smallest TopCashBack payout of £2.40 - well it all helps, no?! This has been transferred straight across to the savings account I have running for expenses related to the "big thing" we're in the middle of trying to get sorted. (I know, sorry, it's annoying - I will tell you eventually, I promise!) I'm a big fan with both cashback and survey earnings of not letting them sit around gathering dust when they can be in one of my accounts earning even a tiny bit of interest!

Finally under the heading of “small wins” comes using what we have, and avoiding waste. The fridge has had a clear out this week with some elderly beetroot being roasted - half eaten at the time and the other half frozen for a future meal.  A couple of carrots were also converted into a salad addition to a meal for me by adding a handful of sultanas and a spoonful of peanut butter let down with lemon juice as a dressing. Then a head of chicory, the last of the carrots, and half a small cabbage were turned into a stir fry which also used the final bit in the jar of Char Sui sauce. Today’s “use up” is likely to be the last of a tub of Greek yogurt which will go into flatbreads to have with tea tonight which will be the delayed curry (I do have onions now!)  There is satisfaction in using things up - knowing that you have had your money’s worth from a purchase and have avoided adding to landfill. With the current shortages of various veggies too it becomes even more important to use every scrap of the things we spend our pennies on, I’m sure you’ll agree! 


Friday, 17 February 2023

Frugal February...


Hello fellow frugalers - halfway through the month already, goodness! 

 We're now in a position of trying to get things back on a rather more "normal" footing after a difficult few weeks. MrEH sadly lost his Dad fairly unexpectedly at the end of last month, hence this has left him doing a lot of travelling up and down the country to spend time with his Mum and his brothers - and both of us were down there for half the week last week too for the funeral and some family time after. All went very well, FIL would have been extremely impressed with his send off I think. 

The higher than usual diesel spend this month is "one of those things" - I knew when I started the challenge that it was going to be a rather different shape to previous ones I've done! Some of the extra is balanced off against less travel into London for MrEH, and two less commutes for me, too. Other "extra" spending has included some food bought out, and our share of a family meal to celebrate oldest brother in law's birthday at the weekend too - we've never been minded to say "No" to the good, quality time stuff when finances do allow it, and the money for this stuff was all stashed away in our "fun" pot ready for when it was needed in any event, so all good. This is why we budget! Had the joint account not been able to absorb the diesel money there were assorted other pots it could have come from and at a pinch, in the circumstances, our Emergency Fund would have taken the hit.

In terms of general personal spending I'm still keeping things pretty low - I paid for a breakfast for both of us while we were down in Devon - we'd gone to meet friends & family out at the Castle, but annoyingly the cafe there wasn't open so we ended up having a slightly more spendy breakfast when we got back into the town. (MrEH bought lunch one day when we all headed to the beach so this balanced out). My personal spends account is still looking distinctly healthy! 

The mission for this week has been reviewing some more of our savings pots. Another maturing regular saver has been transferred into the highest interest "Limited access" account we have, meaning it's earning fractionally more interest than it would otherwise - and it all helps. I've set up a new monthly Regular Saver account too - as they finish at the moment we're being a bit cautious about how many new ones we set up as if our current plans come to fruition we will before all that long not be as well fixed to continue "feeding" them - this one should fit in with any new budgets that are needed though.  The other thing I've been doing savings wise is giving some thought to whether I should find a new home for our Emergency Fund. It currently sits with a provider where we've had an account for a while - a former "highly recommended best buy" of the likes of one Mr M Lewis, but in recent times said provider has kept up less well with interest rate rises. As a result our funds have been sitting at a rate around 0.5% lower than we could, for the past couple of weeks, have been getting elsewhere for easy access.  The issues around moving this money are several: because it IS our EF, it does need to be easy access. Also because it is our EF it needs to be easily accessible by either of us, when needed, and many of the current "best buy" options don't allow joint accounts. Finally right at the moment it doesn't suit me wonderfully well to risk getting a credit check on my file - and while there are options we could take which wouldn't credit check, a lot might, so this is another negative. In the event, this week has seen a (small, but still) increase to the interest rate in question, so for now at least the money will stay put. Sure, it could earn a bit more elsewhere, but it's still earning an awful lot more than it was last year, even! 

One money saving thing we have started this week is using our debit cards for grocery shopping - to earn the 5% cashback currently being offered by our bank. We usually use the credit card, then just settle up from the grocery budget at the statement date, so using the debit cards will make things a little more complicated, but as there is a decent payback on it we figure it’s well worth it! Now I just need to remember to use the right card when I pay! 


Friday, 10 February 2023

Frugal February…


So the first full week of the challenge started with the most expensive gym visit of the year - once again I intend to keep track of my "per use" cost for this, so last Friday's visit cost me £280! The good news is that for the next few visits, that figure naturally drops at a fine rate. The bad news is that it will be at least another week before I see that happen, as family commitments mean I'm not getting there this week! I knew that was going to happen, though. 

One job for the weekend was to review some savings account rates. Obviously with the Bank of England changing the interest rates again last week, rates have changed - unfortunately neither of the two "homes" for my own personal accessible cash savings have decided to increase things at all since before the LAST rate change, so I reached the conclusion it was time to vote with my feet. For various reasons I didn't want to open an account with a new provider right now, however, we have accounts with various different banks and building societies, meaning I am a "customer" already with them, so I set to checking what various options were available. Eventually settled on one paying fractionally below 3% - close to as god as available for easy access right now, and within literally a couple of hours has set up the new instant access account, and moved money from two different institutions across to it. While I was money shuffling with banking, I also took the chance to set up a new regular saver account from another provider (it's predecessor had matured a couple of weeks earlier) and also set up standing orders to a couple of other regular savers that we have on the go. 

For anyone who's not familiar with the concept of regular savers, it is probably most simply described as an account offering a higher rate of interest than the usual in exchange for a promise from the customer that it will feed it regularly - monthly, as a rule - and not be able to take the money out until the term of the account is complete. If you have an amount of money to save on a monthly basis - so for example "spare" money once bills are paid - which you know you will not need to touch for a full year, you can earn yourself a better rate of interest than you would from most other standard savings accounts. Don't dismiss these because you assume that you won't have enough money to make it worth it, either - some of these type of accounts have maximum monthly funding limits as low as £50 - and you can even put in less than that if you choose! (An example here is Nationwide's Start To Save account which pays 5% interest currently). At the other end of the scale is the FirstDirect Regular Saver attached to it's "1st" Current account - in exchange for a maximum of £350 per month that will deliver a whopping 7% interest - and you could even get an additional £175 by switching your current account to them, too! One word of caution - it's slightly complex to work out how  much interest that these accounts will actually leave you with - but there are specialist Regular Savings interest calculators out there to help you work it out. For someone who wants to add to a savings pot monthly though, and does not have a need to access the money for a while, it can be a god way of earning decent interest.

As predicted there has been some high spending incurred for travel so far this month - MrEH's car has already needed a full tank of fuel, and will need another tankful this weekend. In other (spending) news, we had a planned trip into London on Monday - for a talk run by the London Transport Museum Friends - an organisation we are members of. While the talk was free, we had the cost for travel to and from (on the tube, naturally!) and also as we would not be home until mid evening, we elected to get dinner out as well, opting for a meal and a beer each in a pub belonging to a well known chain for a total cost of under £25. The talk was interesting, the food was tasty enough, and the beer was very pleasant indeed - so we're calling that money well spent. We also got information while at the talk about some other events coming up which may give us some low cost entertainment too - we'll be keeping our eyes open for further details of those.

Hopefully by the next time I write things will have settled down a little bit and we'll have stopped needing to feed the car fuel tank quite so frequently - sometimes though a situation occurs where the cost is quite simply irrelevant(as long as you can afford it, obviously), this is one of those situations.


Friday, 3 February 2023

Frugal February underway…

Well, I know we’re only a few days in so there shouldn’t be much to say - truth is though that I decided I may as well think about starting pretty much right away after last week’s post - after all, the sooner you can start with money-saving exploits the better, right?

It started remarkably well - I was due to renew my gym membership - it had expired a week ago but I had  decided to give it a short break before making the renewal to give myself a few weeks grace before making the payment. I’d had a phone call in the week offering me a discount off the full joining fee, and had arranged to go in in early February to sign up, however, I then received another call offering me an additional £20 off if I was able to get in that day to sort it out… that £20 more than covered the difference on re-joining earlier than I’d planned, so obviously I went for it! I’ll be doing the same again this year as I did last - keeping a tally of how many visits I make in the year and then working out the cost per visit - it helps keep motivation high, and also means I can be sure I’m getting value for money. 

Payday has happened for both of us - and the associated money shuffling alongside that has happened. Most of our regular transfers to savings happen automatically, as this avoids the risk of forgetting anything, but there are still odds and ends to do to make sure everything is where it should be. This month this included transferring out the money which would usually go to pay Council Tax and Water rates as op for us February and March are our two months “off” as we pay both over 10 months. It might be useful for some people to be aware that while 10 months has always been the standard for Council tax payment schedules, in England at least everyone is entitled to ask to be changed to making payments over 12 months instead. This can help make budgeting easier and reduce your average monthly bills a little. 

We’ve had to make one financial decision this week too. For a fair while now we’ve been having a fortnightly veg box. It’s been great - means we’ve really increased the range of veggies we’ve been eating, and we’ve got to try some stuff we wouldn’t normally buy too which has been good. It also really meets what we want from a box scheme - we’re not in the least fussed about organic, but this one helps stop food waste, and that we approve of. While it’s been a bit more costly than buying from the supermarket, we like the ethos so have been prepared to pay. Unfortunately now they have informed us of a price increase, plus the addition of a delivery charge - entirely understandable, but from our perspective we’ve had to make the decision that for the time being we’re going to cancel. The increased price just means that right now, for various reasons, it doesn’t fit into our budget. The alternative will likely be a return to shopping at the farm shop once a month or so - something we’ve been considering for a while anyway. At least that way we get to continue to support a business we like - and it will be a relatively local one too.

The other bit of news this week has of course been another increase to the Bank of England rate - up another 0.5%. At the moment for us this mostly means we’ll be hoping for some savings rate increases - but equally we won be holding our breath on that, nice as it would be! 

Right then - until next week, stay frugal! 


(Photo above from a lovely walk at Lea Valley Park with Mum last weekend)

Saturday, 28 January 2023

Frugal-ish February, anyone?

 I confess I was gearing up for a full-on Frugal February again - remember those? They’ve got their own tag on here so if you’re interested to know more, or you’re a long time reader who wants to remind yourself what we did before, why not head off and have a read? (After you’ve read this post, obviously!) 

MrEH and I are currently plotting a new adventure - no, not the Hebrides move before anyone asks, yes we still want to do it but the time isn’t quite right for it at the moment. We’re not quite ready to tell all as yet, but it’s exciting, and means we need to fine tune our budgets and tighten our belts a bit where possible, so suddenly the idea of revisiting an old game to see how cheaply we could live for a month seems quite interesting. 

I think we’re all starting to feel the pinch a bit now aren’t we? In between energy prices, (we saw an 8% rise in January, and are gearing up for a further 20% on top of that in April, too) food prices - it still feels like every time you set foot in a shop prices have escalated a little further - and now many of us are facing an upcoming hike of around 14% in our mobile and broadband costs in a few months time, too. All in all, if ever there was a time to really stop and think about what we are spending, this is probably it! 

February is often a fairly decent month to try to do frugally - I mean for a start, we like a bit of alliteration round here! V Then there is the fact that for anyone who pays their Council Tax and Water Rates over 10 months, February and March are the two “free” months - so an easy way of bolstering any savings pots you might be trying to fill. Then of course there is the advantage of it being a remarkably short month - which always helps to make the pennies stretch that little bit further! The winter weather might also mean that you’re less inclined to venture out and about much, and being early in the year, any money-saving motivation is still on a high too! 

I’m planning on doing things pretty much as I used to - normal Direct Debits don’t form part of any declared spending, and I’ll be having my usual personal spends money which will need to pay for anything I need to buy for myself, plus any trips out, etc. We also have commitments to spend on travel - diesel for the cars, and MrEH will need to top up his Oyster card probably a couple of times too. We’re likely to have some essential family-related long distance travel, too, which is unavoidable. I’m planning to meal plan for the month, and shop with a list - then stick to that list! 

This time round it is more about kickstarting ourselves back into a more frugal mindset, than “trying to spend as little as possible” - but I would like to see a decent amount stashed into our new “Exciting things ahead” savings pot by the end of the month, too!  My plan is that spending generally will be considered, thought through,,and made if needed, but only after it’s been established that it IS needed, and we’re getting value for our money. Where we are in our lives right now, that seems like the right way forwards.

Let’s do this! 


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.