Archives for Household Bills & Expenses

My 2011 – A Thoroughly Belated Review & Here’s to 2012

The financial future still looks pretty bleak.

‘The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos has wrapped up….. and in short, the outlook, after a week of intense discussion, is of a troubled world pressed for solutions across a number of fronts, but with optimism provided by human ingenuity and progress.’

I too am optimistic about 2012 thus far and good fortune throughout 2011 has most certainly helped.

The PPI Mis-selling bonanza lured me onto the bandwagon and I pursued a claim without employing the services of a third party. The claim was referred to the Ombudsman and upheld. I received over £13k back from MBNA and I was very pleased!

Most of it was used to wipe out a large portion of outstanding MBNA debt on which the Shylocks are charging a grotesque rate of interest.

Barclays changed the name of my ‘Overdraft Protection’ to simply ‘Payment Protection’ which led me to question the selling of what was actually another PPI policy. They sent me a letter saying they’d calculated an ‘estimated’ repayment of about £700 and then they paid me just £20. I questioned the discrepancy and mentioned I’d had success with the Ombudsman and wasn’t afraid to use them again and lo, a few weeks later, £700 arrived! Every little helps!

If the PPI successes weren’t enough I had a letter from Halifax to say they hadn’t notified customers of interest rate rises as well as they should have and they’d be calculating the financial impact of that and a few weeks later they knocked £1700 off the balance of my mortgage!

Thanks to good fortune and circumstances my monthly outgoings have been dramatically reduced. It would have otherwise taken many more years of grafting to get to this stage and I am extremely relieved.

There’s nothing more annoying than working just to pay off debts so with my burden reduced I now feel I can work towards a brighter financial future.

And that’s where 2012 comes in.

I build websites and I have a couple that generate enquiries for me. I have about 11 years of experience marketing websites and in a niche market I can easily get top 10 rankings without needing a massive marketing budget.

Marketing by itself does not make money, one still needs to work the enquiries and sell. 

As a one man band who also looks after a small firm with a few staff the marketing I need to do to perpetuate my own business can sometimes be sporadic.

But when I find the time, it pays.

So far this January I have generated 76 new finance related enquiries which is why I have only just found the time to write an article about 2011!

I don’t like to count chickens but I don’t plan to get pessimistic about the Mayan calendar this side of December.

Happy New Year everybody and I hope 2012 provides fruit for you too.

What to do About Energy Price Rises

Shop around!

I did and I found gas for about half the price of British Gas – with no standing charges!

What’s more, I know what the price will be after a forthcoming rise and it’s still nearly half the price of BG who haven’t even put their prices up yet!

So the story goes; I’ve recently rented a place closer to my office so I can spend a little more time at work (madness, I know).

The letting agent told me they would contact the utility providers on my behalf and then sent me a letter saying that although they would try, I was ultimately responsible for doing it myself. That, to me, was as good as them saying that I should just get on and do it.

First of all I had to find out who my current provider was so after a little search I found the M Number Enquiry Helpline (0870 608 1524)  – this is an automated service for finding out your Gas provider and I found it really easy to use.

To find out your electricity supplier there is a list of regional numbers to call with friendly operators waiting to take your call!

I found the list of numbers here: ukpower.co.uk/who-supplies-my-gas-and-electricity

Having found out my supplier for both gas and electricity was British Gas I set sbout calling them to find out the best tariff they could offer me.

This turned out to be their imaginatively titled ‘Websaver 12’ tariff.

Browsing their website while talking to an operator I found the actual monetary values of the tariff before the operator was able to tell me (and the website was running slowly).

For gas in my region the Tier 1 tariff is 8.849p per kwh and the Tier 2 tariff is 3.638p.

For electricity the Tier 1 tariff is 25.101p per kwh and the Tier 2 is 10.894p.

These are the current prices with a rise due at the end of summer/beginning of autumn.

The Tier 1 price is how much a customer pays for using up-to a set amount of kwhs (kilowatt hours) and any kwhs used above this amount are then charged at the Tier 2 rate. This is usually within a set amount of time and then the price resets back to the Tier 1 tariff.

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time at home so I doubt I’ll ever make it into the Tier 2 band but armed with the facts and figures I began searching comparison sites to see what I could find.

It was energyhelpline.com that helped me arrive at my final choice and it was the fact that they don’t just display the companies they partner with but also those they don’t which, means more choice for the customer.

I noticed that if I searched without knowing my current usage and just selected a box that said ‘low use/small flat’ I didn’t see as many results as I did when I entered my actual monthly usage.

This was a little confusing at first because my gas meter doesn’t show kwhs but another quick Google and I found this link: energylinx.co.uk/gas_meter_conversion.html which, converts gas meter readings into kwhs.

By entering usage figures I became enlightened.

EBICO – the UK’s only not-for-profit energy supplier has one tariff and no standing charges.

Compared to British Gas:

Gas:

BG – 8.849p (yet to increase)

EBICO – 4.02p (will increase to 4.788p mid Sept)

Electricity:

BG – 25.101p (yet to increase)

EBICO – 13.44p (will increase to 14.69p mid Sept)

Based on my usage for the 3 weeks I’ve been in the new place I expect to lower my forthcoming bills by approximately 45% compared to British Gas and probably over 50% after British Gas put their prices up. 

Switching was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made and all it took was one quick phone call (they haven’t paid to me to say this!).

ebico.org.uk

If you’ve been looking into prices lately, EDF have a pretty good offer on at the moment that fixes prices until December 2012 and the rates per kwh are cheaper than EBICO but they apply a Standing Charge which, adds about £10 per month to the bill (when taking both gas and electricity).

Higher usage could represent a saving and houesholds using a combination of more than 500 kwhs of gas (approx) and more than 215 kwhs of electricity (approx) per month could be better off with EDF.

Money Saving Shopping Apps

As the world tightens its belt for a frugal year ahead in 2011, shopping aficionados will be looking for ways to get the most out of their budget, which means being a little wily when it comes to finding a bargain. The proliferation of mobile internet means there’s all manner of handy apps that can help cut the costs and guarantee savings – here’s a guide to the must have money saving shopping apps.

Moneydance

Stay on top of your finances and check before indulging in that ‘big buy’ – a personal money management tool, the Moneydance mobile app allows users access to finances on the move, with information on account balances, transactions and receipts.

eBay

Make sure you’re on hand to bag that bargain with the eBay mobile app – access your account, track and watch items and increase your bids.

XE Currency

Stay on top of your international purchases with this essential foreign currency convertor – perfect for travelling abroad and haggling on eBay.

Google Goggles
Visual search is the new big thing – if you see something you love, take a picture and search via Google Goggles, which will return relevant search results, meaning you can search for best prices online before committing on the high street.

Vouchercloud

Save money wherever you are with Voucher Cloud – the app uses Geolocation to find available discounts and promotions in relation to your current location.

Foursquare

The social contender of 2010 – more than a simple Geolocation tool, Foursquare allows users to earn loyalty points by visiting participating outlets and is expected to revolution the social/retail sphere in the coming years.

Redlaser

A barcode scanner app, which allows users to scan any bar code on any item and find out where the product is sold and for how much – the perfect bargain hunter accessory.

Vogue

Cutting edge trends from the shopping and fashion bible are now available on your phone – the app transfers the magazine into handheld format and introduces video and interactive design. Whilst it won’t ‘save’ you money, it can offer excellent inspiration on your way to the high street or car boot sale.

I’ll be 78 When Oil Runs Out

I’ve just been introduced to http://www.worldometers.info/  “a really interesting website with live world statistics on population, government and economics, society and media, environment, food, water, energy and health. Interesting statistics with world population clock, forest loss this year, carbon dioxide co2 emission, world hunger data, energy consumed, and a lot more”.

According to Worldometers, oil only has 15,364 days left. That’s 42 years.

That means anyone aged 50 or less has a reasonable chance of outliving oil reserves and seeing a vast amount of change in the world in the coming years.

How old will you be when oil runs out?

I don’t know exactly how accurate the statistics are or the science behind oil exploration but with all the technology that exists I imagine ‘we’ have a pretty good idea of what resources are left which probably also includes potential future finds.

So if 42 years is a realistic figure (give or take a few years) then huge change must happen; some change is already happening and there are bound to be some problems along the way.

I’m not in the oil industry and although I work in financial services I don’t know how reliant any economy is on oil but because oil reserves are running out oil companies need to change direction and they are already investing heavily into alternatives.

At some point in the very near future (prob from 2011 onwards – yes, that soon) we will start to see electric charging points popping up in services and other strategic locations (not sure about near petrol pumps though – mixing electricity and petrol supply in one location?).

Electric cars are about to explode onto the market with almost every manufacturer developing hybrid and full electric vehicles (this is one aspect of the future I’m really looking forward to. I will be part of the generation who own 1st generation electric vehicles – can’t wait for my first electric motorbike!).

But who will run the the charging points? Will we see petrol station forecourts turning into charging stations and instead of Shell and BP we’ll see names like npower, eon or Southern Electric?

And if the juice is supplied by electricity companies then oil companies will surely shrink into shadows of their former selves just supplying certain niche industries?

Or will the oil companies develop their own infrastructures to supply power they generate to their charging points?

Will oil companies generate their own power and then rent established infrastructure from electricity providers?

Will the existing infrastructure be able to cope with future demand? I somehow doubt it.

Will familiar pylons be replaced by futuristic space-age alternatives that make everywhere look like a set from Buck Rogers?

Will home generators become more popular and wipe out large chunks of electricity suppliers revenue?

What will governments do to replace fuel taxes?

So many issues to address and only 42 years to do it.

Exciting times.

Bye Sky Bye

Leaving Sky and switching to BT.

Thank you Sky for once again automatically upgrading my broadband to a service that costs £7.50 per month more just because you seem to think I’d gone over my paltry usage allowance for the second time in 6 months.

And then to be told I have to stay on that package for at least 1 month before I can be downgraded!?

So, let me get this straight. Sky upgrade me without giving me a choice to opt out until they’d charged me £12.50 for a months worth of service that I didn’t even want?

Is that legal? Anybody…?

I work online all day so when I get home I tend not to turn on a pc or go online unless I need to shop, check mail or have a bit of a browse.

I don’t download music, films or watch much on YouTube. I just tend to browse and check email so I really struggle to believe I can use up my (massively generous) 2GB usage allowance.

The Sky Usage Tool is rubbish. It only shows usage by month so it’s impossible to work out when the most usage occurred.

This > Broadband Usage Calculator< helped me see that there is a very slim chance that ,with what I would consider ‘heavy’ usage, I might just squeak past the 2GB now and again.

So, an extra £7.50 per month for the Sky Unlimited Broadband package.

That’s on top of the TV subscription and my line rental and call package from BT.

Line rental = £11 (I got a bit of a deal and also opted for paperless billing & paying by direct debit which makes it cheaper)

Call package = £5 (anytime calls – not needed now as back in an office)

Sky TV = £28 (couple of bundles and a movie pack)

Sky Broadband – was £5 per month but now up to £12.50

Monthly cost = £56.50

Not worth it in my opinion.

I know a lot of people pay more than that for Sky with all the channels and bells and whistles but I still refer to TV as ‘the idiots lantern’.

And so, having decided that Sky and all their services can go whistle, what choices?

Well, I’ve opted for BT all the way.

I could have gone to Talk Talk for phone & broadband for just £19.03 per month including line rental, free evening & weekend calls and 40GB of monthly usage. Yes Sky, 40GB!!

But if I did that I wouldn’t have any kind of TV package.

I looked at Virgin but you don’t get much for your money and you have to pay extra to have a box that pauses, rewinds and records live TV.

Virgin Media, sort that out! Extra? For technology that’s been around for a long time now?!

So, BT.

They have an offer that makes line rental £9.49 if you pay for 12 months in advance. (I’m happy to do that but I wonder what offer they’ll come up with to manipulate next quarters profit figures?)

Then, Broadband with free evening and weekend calls is £13.99 per month but the first 3 months are free (making it work out to about £10.50 per month over 1 year)

The BT Vision Bronze package (which I consider to be equivalent to the package I had from Sky) is £7.50 per month for 3 months then £14.99 thereafter (equivalent to £13.12 per month)

So let’s work that out:

Line rental = £9.49

Broadband and calls = £10.50 eqv.

TV = £13.12 eqv.

Total = £33.11 per month.

And I’m going to get 10GB of usage allowance per month which isn’t as much as Talk Talk but it’s 5x more than Sky and I’ll be saving about £23.40 per month by comparison!

That’s a saving of about £280 over the year!

Oh, and here’s another tip.

If you’re thinking of switching to BT, don’t buy the Phone, Broadband & TV bundle offer. It’s actually cheaper to buy the Broadband only offer and the TV only offer which works out about £2 per month less than the bundle. It’s also a slightly better package and you can order it all at the same time!

~

Sky Upgrade Letter

I had a letter from Sky the other day which told me that I’d gone over my broadband usage allowance for the second time in 6 months so they had automatically upgraded me to ‘Sky Broadband Unlimited’

The letter then went on to say this new service should be more suited to my needs, I can track my usage online and they would need to re-test the performance of my line.

It then said I should refer to my Sky Statement for a full breakdown of the payments due for my broadband.

Nowhere in the letter did it mention the cost of this new upgraded service. As the sentence above suggests, I would have to wait for my statement to find out how much it costs.

The standard package I was on costs £5 per month and provides up to 2GB of download per month.

I only check email and surf at home and occasionally look at the odd YouTube video. Some days I don’t go online at home at all and I am therefore adamant that my usage has never pipped 2GB per month.

It is possible to view your Sky broadband usage by logging into to an online client area but it only shows monthly usage in a clumsy bar graph and if I am using 2GB per month I would really like to know what I was doing and when so that I could avoid doing it!

The package I was upgraded to costs £15 per month and provides unlimited usage but as I am absolutely certain I have never used over 2GB I called up Sky and asked to be downgraded. This was duly done and I was told they could not look into the usage in more detail but I should avoid downloading movies or wathcing srteaming TV which, I don’t do anyway.

My 2 gripes from this experience are:

1/ I don’t trust Sky’s usage figures.

2/ I think it’s very wrong to tell someone you’ve upgraded them without making it glaringly obvious how much this is going to cost. – Totally disgusting.

As a consequence I am now going to look much more closely at Virgin, BT Vision and other broadband providers. – Any recommendations?

Online Food Shopping – It’s All Good (Almost)

Online food shopping is not a new thing but it is most definitely a growth sector with more and more people seeing the benefits. In fact, in January the news predicted online food shopping will double in five years.

Personally I think this is an underestimate because there are so many advantages and once people are comfortable with the concept they will do it again and again.

Some of the major benefits of online food shopping:

1/ Ordering shopping from the comfort of your own home – no need to fill the car up with kids, struggle with parking, push a trolley around, stand in line, load the car, getting home to find you’ve forgotten an essential ingredient for tonight’s dinner…etc.

2/ You can set up ‘favourites’ in your online account which can be re-ordered at the click of button – even more time saved, great for eating a regular balanced diet or for dieting in general, less temptation to buy ‘treats’ & snacks.

Have you noticed – Shopping in a supermarket when hungry often leads to the buying of junk, easy cook food and items that just don’t really go with anything else you’ve bought. Shopping on a full stomach will inevitably lead to a more conservative trolley full.

3/ Brand buying is no longer an issue – if you don’t like to buy own brand products because  you think it makes you look cheap then online shopping is discreet and nobody will know if you choose to save a few pounds with low cost alternatives.

Tip – if you like smoothies and regularly buy a variety of fruit that you have to wash, peel, chop and blend then here’s a money and time saving tip – Buy supermarket own brand tinned fruit (in juice, not syrup). Prices can be under 20p per tin to make 3/4 of a pint. Just open the tin, slop it into the smoothie maker and in seconds you have a mixed fruit smoothie with no mess and less cleaning.

4/ Environmental Impact – for every person who buys their food online then that’s 1 less car driving to the supermarket and back. 1 delivery driver can make multiple drops in one trip thereby cutting down on pollution.

5/ Environmental Impact – (again) – many of the delivery companies will take away your old carrier bags! There aren’t enough places around and about to deposit carrier bags for recycling so this gets rid of them in a green and easy way.

Of course there are some disadvantages to online food shopping such as not being able to hand pick your meat, fish or vegetables and it’s a bit of pot luck to get the best cuts etc.

Online food shopping will never completely replace the aesthetic appeal of browsing around shops but in years to come the face of supermarkets could change considerably with less essential items on the shelves and more coming direct to your door.

Envirofone or Mazuma Mobile?

What an excellent idea. Recycle your old phones for cash!

I had three of them lying around and I thought I’d see who offered the best deal.

I started with the two most advertised options because I’ve been brainwashed into thinking everything I see on television is true.

But then thanks to Google and competitive advertising I came across a few providers offering the same service so I thought to myself, ‘right, who’s going to give me the most money for these wastes of (drawer) space?’

I may have spent more time than necessary trying to find out and it’s possible that if I had been working I could have earned more in the time it took to find an extra £1 her or there.

On top of which I’ve written this but if it helps, why not…

I have looked into the following mobile phone buying companies:

Envirofone, Mazuma Mobile, Mopay, Fone Bank, GreenTecMobile Phone Xchange.

The phones I have are: Nokia 7250, Nokia 6233 & Motorola Pebl (U6)

And here’s what I found:

Company / Phone
Nokia 7250 Motorola Pebl Nokia 6233 Total
envirofone £2.12 £3.06 £28.67 £33.85
Mazuma Mobile £3 £3 £30 £36
Mobile Phone Xchange £No listing £No listing £31 £31 (1)
Fone Bank £4 £4 £32 £40
Mopay £4 £5.85 £30 £39.85
GreenTec £No listing £6.11 £32.74 £38.86 (2)

At first glance it looks as though Fone Bank are the leaders but GreenTec come a very close 3rd with only 2 of the phones.

To maximize on he potential value of my phones, if I sell 2 to GreenTec and one to Mopay or Fone Bank I’ll actually make £42.86

What this suggests is if you want to make the most money you can from your old phones it pays to shop around a bit.

Or you could use one of the comparison websites set up to find who offers the most for your phone and of the few I’ve seen the best so far is http://www.compare-phonerecyclers.com but, they don’t include GreenTec which could offer the most!

Top tips for choosing a breakdown cover policy

Have you ever driven past a car broken down by the side of the road with the bonnet up and a rather flustered person looking into the engine?

The answer to this question is most likely to be yes.

Now think back to the last time you saw someone broken down and try to remember what your first thought was. If I had breakdown cover, I know mine would be ‘I wonder if they have breakdown cover’.

If I didn’t have breakdown cover, my first thought would probably be, ‘that’s going to be an expensive day for that driver’.

Breakdown cover can prove to be worth its weight in gold in the event of a breakdown and has the potential to save you a lot of money if you ever do break down.

Therefore, I thought I’d bring you some top tips to consider when you look for your next breakdown cover policy.

1. Think about where and when you are most likely to need your breakdown cover.

If you only drive your car around the town in which you live, you would probably look for basic to comprehensive cover. If you drive further afield on a regular basis, you might be better off with a comprehensive to premium policy.

2. Look for any discounts the provider is offering. Some offer online discounts of around 30-40% and this could prove useful in reducing the price of your policy.

3. Remember that even the most basic of breakdown cover policies will usually be better than having no policy at all.

According to the RAC, the average cost of a call-out charge for a private recovery levied by an independent recovery contractor is £50. You will then be charged around £1.50 per return mile (the independent recovery contractor will charge you per mile from when they leave the depot until they get back to the depot) to be towed. This would result in a cost of £188.13 for one call out and to be towed 10 miles (use a breakdown cover calculator to test this out). When you consider that basic breakdown cover policies start from as little as £25 a year, you can really see why having some breakdown cover will likely be better than having none at all.

Sky Box Warranty & Digital Services UK

I had a call from a company recently because my Sky TV 12 month warranty was due for renewal.

The call wasn’t from Sky but a 3rd party company offering ‘repair or replace’ cover for the Sky equipment.

I listened to the call and absorbed the information and by the end of the call I was happy to proceed with a policy on the basis that:

1/ I knew the company wasn’t Sky but a 3rd party warranty provider.

Take a look at most buildings & contents policies or car insurance policies with legal cover. The legal cover is generally provided by a 3rd party so this kind of thing is not uncommon.

I keep getting offers to extend my fridge warranty but it’s not Zanussi offering the cover it’s Domestic & General.

2/ The price seemed reasonable (£5.99 per month) based on the information provided about Sky call out charges and replacement equipment.

Call out over £60 and new box as much as £150 so if the box dies in the first 3 years the cover has paid for itself.

3/ The cover doesn’t start until August and I have a 28 day cooling of period when it does so I have plenty of time to find out about it!

I have since researched the web and I called the company directly for a bit of info.

Digital Services (UK) Ltd is the company and they have actually been in business for many years. The customer services representative I spoke to was very helpful and provided me with background on the company and was able to answer questions about the service knowledgeably and without having to ‘ask a supervisor’ or ‘put me on hold while they looked into it’

I searched the internet and on ‘thisismoney.co.uk’ there is quite a detrimental page about Digital Services UK Ltd.

http://boards.thisismoney.co.uk/tim/threadnonInd.jsp?forum=98&thread=83144

It claims they are a scam and only one company is authorised to maintain Sky equipment and using any other company to service the equipment would void the warranty.

So, what about when the warranty ends after 12 months?

It’s a free for all.

Any company can offer warranties for anything.

It’s only a scam when they don’t deliver on their promises or agreements.

I called Sky and they told me they only ‘endorse and recommend’ one company to cover their equipment and that cover was available directly through Sky. So from a business point of view of course that’s the only one they’re going to endorse and recommend! They probably make some money in the process! Business is business.

Sky offer ‘SkyProtect’ which is provided by Domestic & General who are a 3rd party warranty provider. In fact, they are the company who keep writing to me about my fridge cover.

I don’t feel as though I’ve been duped or misled and perhaps it could have been more clearly stated that they weren’t Sky when they called, because that seems to confuse people, but beyond that I’m quite happy to give them a go.

The Sky equipment warranty market is a growing one and a competitive one and I’m quite happy to talk to a provider who can protect the equipment after the Sky warranty expires. As far as I know there’s a hard drive in the box and those things don’t last forever!

If you are faced with the dilemma of whether or not you need to have this kind of cover or if you are unsure about the company selling it to you, give them a call on their customer services number. If the service is good and you are happy you will receive a good service then you might think it’s worthwhile.

If you speak to a company and you don’t like the way you are treated or you are unhappy with anything then you have to decide if you want to buy or keep what you have bought.

There should be a ‘cooling off period’ with any insurance contract in which you can cancel without paying for the cover (but the FSA does allow companies to charge an ‘admin’ fee for cancelling so check first).

I thought I’d write this article just to clear up any concerns people might have about 3rd party companies calling them to offer an extended warranty.

I’m not endorsing any company because I have yet to experience the benefits of the cover I have agreed to but one thing I do know is it costs £2.09 less per month than Skyprotect.