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.