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What’s Your Biggest Money Eater?

7 May

Hello, skint pals and sorry it’s been a while since my last post: last week was spent as far out of the city as I could get, on a  family holiday on a farm. It was camp fires and sausages most lunchtimes, but this farm had a rather unique selling point –  its own beauty salon. Rather random I know, but somehow it worked: it certainly made getting a manicure feel more justifiable when I could tell the beauty therapist that the reason my hands need TLC was that I’d just been hauling wood. (It was small sticks actually, but I fudged the truth a little, out of shame for my neglected nails).

Salon beauty treatments are something I never normally bother with. By and large I consider them a waste of money, but having allowed myself a couple down on the farm I might just become a convert. I didn’t realise what a difference a proper pedicure would make, but if I’m going to start splashing the cash on beauty treatments I’ll need to find a way to rein in some other expenses. We’ve all got money eaters – things we regularly shell out on without thinking about how much benefit we’re getting in return. And as my bank balance is feeling that post-holiday pinch right now, I’ve just been taking a look at my biggest cash-guzzlers to see where I might make some savings. This is something I talked about a while back, but I’ve still got way more work to do if I want to shave off some of my superfluous spending. Here are some of my spending habits whose days in power are numbered:

Newspapers – I don’t know if these should be culled or not, because I enjoy them so much, but I am a total newspaper junkie. A day without buying a newspaper is almost inconceivable to me and I will often buy four on a Sunday. Yes, four. I love them, you see – the main sections, the supplements, the lot. But still that’s more than £8 a go some Sundays and a quid or two most other days, so we’re looking at £15 a week, easy. That’s £60 a month!!!! Oh Lord, I had no idea. Clearly something must be done.

newsprint nails

Here’s a genius way to get a manicure and my newspaper fix in one. One of the quirkiest BOGOFs I’ve seen.

Office lunches – As I outlined here, this was a big money eater (literally) for me, but it’s one I’ve gone some way to curbing. Still more to be done though – as with so many expenses, lack of time is the enemy and at 7am I don’t always feel like making sarnies.  

Illness/injury insurance– I pay out £35 a month for this policy, which covers my mortgage payments should I be struck down with any of several scary illnesses. At the time of taking out the mortgage it seemed like a good idea. I’m relatively risk-averse and was suitably scared by the advisor’s imaginary scenario of juggling mortgage payments with a life-threatening illness. Seven years and £3000 later, I’m not sure I need it; after all, I get sick pay for a decent time period via my employer. I’ve often thought about cancelling it, then chickened out for fear that two days later I’d be diagnosed with something horrendous.

Random Acts of Idiocy – Easy to spot after the fact, but harder to eliminate, these are the money eaters that occur due to lack of attention. Last time I went to London I was rushing to catch the Stansted Express and bought my return ticket in a hurry. Next day I realised that I was returning via Luton, not Stansted and had just wasted a pricey return ticket. I ended up giving it away. Library fines would also need to go in this category – my mental block about returning books on time is longstanding and has cost me a fair bit over the years. 

On the other hand, I spend very little on stuff that others go a bundle on. Since I really don’t give a damn about motors I’ve had the same car for ten years. The jalopy still drives and that’s all I want. And because the idea of spending a weekend or longer looking round garages for a new car strikes me as about as pleasant as root canal treatment, I just keep putting it off, (yep, for ten years).

Maybe it’s all about choices – my newspaper habit gives me far more pleasure than a new car could, but still I got a shock when I totted up the monthly cost. When I came across this article on the best budgeting apps I thought it was pretty interesting – see what you think. I might try one to keep track of spending for a month or so.

 What are your biggest regular money eaters? Or don’t you regret any of your spending habits? C’mon, let me know! x

Photo courtesy of Passion Nail Art.

How to Save Money on Work Lunches – Skint Style

24 Apr

Without wanting to sound scrooge-like I’ve become increasingly resistant recently to paying more than I need to be at work. By that I mean shelling out for parking, posh lunches and all the other things that I wouldn’t be doing if I weren’t at the office. Things came to a head a few months ago when I got a parking ticket for £75 right outside myworkplace. Having parked there cos I didn’t want to be late , it was a lesson in how being conscientious doesn’t always pay off. (Oh, and a lesson to be on time in future too!) Anyway, that bill prompted me to start looking at my other work-related expenses, and it didn’t take long to see that a massive money eater for me was lunches and coffees.

Though I’m only in the office three days, my canteen bills were steep. So I seized the chance to get all nerd-like, logging what I spent at the café over the course of three days and the damage read like this: 

Wed – coffee £1.80; soup £2; yohgurt 80p

Thurs – coffee £1.80; banana 60p; baked potato with tuna £3

Fri – Tea £1; soup £2; chocolate 60p

Total = So, £13.60 for three days. On Mondays and Tuesdays when I’m at home I also go out for lunch to get a break, and probably spend about another £8 a week on that. Let’s round it right down to £20 a week (to make me feel better); that’s still £80 a month, and I’m not hugely enjoying any of these snacks or lunches. I could easily boil up some pasta in the evening for lunch the next day and I’d be happier taking in my own coffee actually, making it stronger and less milky than the work stuff. Or I’d rather make my own food four days a week and go out for a proper restaurant lunch with colleagues once a week – I still reckon that would come in cheaper than £80 a month.

retro lunchbox

And by taking your own lunch you get to dangle this from your arm every morning too!

After doing these sums I screwed on my sensible head and got to work coming up with ways to slash my weekly spend on work-related costs. After all, we’re meant to be at work to make money, not spend it, right? On some of those big lunch and parking ticket days I was coming home with less than I’d set out with that morning. Not smart.  

When I thought about why I was wasting money on something that I could so easily do at home, the answer came down, as it so often does, to time. At 7am it’s hard enough hauling myself out of bed, never mind thinking ahead to lunch. But with just a teensy bit of planning I could be saving enough money to buy something fabulous every month or, even better, putting the cash saved straight into my holiday fund.

The thing is, as well as taking time to organise, packed lunches can be a tad uninspiring, can’t they? I can still clearly picture lunchtime tomato sandwiches at school, how I’d lift them out of the Tupperware box and be confronted with a sodden mess of wet red bread. So I’ve turned to a couple of sites to help me out with some more creative lunch ideas and thought I share them. Firstly the magnificent lovefoodhatewaste, is a site worth checking out not just for its lunchtime ideas, but also its thoughts on how to cut down on the food waste that currently costs UK householders £12bn a year (£5.5 bn of that is lunch, my friends).

The BBC Good Food site is full of interesting lunchbox ideas too, so now instead of boring sandwiches I’m stocking up on pittas, wraps, oatcakes and ricecakes. And with fillings like hummus, guacamole and feta now stashed in my fridge I’m ditching Coronation chicken for good.

Skint in the City

Or this one! I might just splash some of my savings on a couple.

I’m trying to get into the habit of cooking extra pasta the night before too, then mixing it with whatever’s to hand: cherry tomatoes, sliced red peppers, pesto or tuna. And whilst I used to throw out leftover main meals I now box them and take them for lunch. Aside from the cost and health benefits I’ve found another unexpected bonus to taking my own food. By avoiding the queue for the sandwich shop I’ve discovered that my entire lunchtime is now my own to read a book, take a walk or go window shopping. And the difference to my bank balance at the end of the month is really noticeable.

How do you keep on top of your office lunchtime spending habits? Or don’t you? Are you happy to spend £100 a month on lunches? I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips – go on, share your smarts by leaving a comment below.

Skint Tip: If you’re a real rushbaby and already know you’ll never have time to make morning sandwiches, prepare sandwiches at the weekend and freeze them in clingfilm, then just take what you need out of the freezer before leaving the house each morning. By lunchtime they’ll be ready to eat.

If you want Skint updates straight to your inbox from now on just click the Follow Skint button or RSS at the top of the page and they’ll be with you quicker than Dorothy can click her heels.  

Why Having Guts is Key to Saving Money

14 Apr

It struck me today that in addition to the usual, more practical advice I write on this blog about saving money, there’s one other thing I think is crucial when it comes to living for less – and that’s having some guts.

I’ve been thinking about how so much money is spent and wasted because of a fear of what other people think – or from a desire to impress them, which is basically the same thing. Whether it’s buying the latest fashions, trading in car every couple of years or coveting our friends’ new kitchens, Keeping Up With The Joneses wastes a hell of a lot of our money, energy and headspace.

Years ago I worked in quite a swish PR company where, for some reason, it was frowned upon to bring your own lunch to work. The thinking – though it was never put quite as baldly as this – was that if you were bringing your own lunch you were struggling in some way. It meant that you couldn’t afford to go out and buy sandwiches, that you weren’t doing as well as you should be, and in that competitive culture where everyone wanted to look as if they were climbing the ladder, it wasn’t the done thing to be seen struggling. And so everyone went out and bought their lunch from expensive delis every day, even if they’d secretly have preferred to heat up the previous night’s leftovers in the office microwave.

In this workplace too, as in many streets all over the country, a LOT of money was spent on cars. They were a public display of wealth to colleagues and clients and I know that several people there were paying significantly more for their car every month than for their mortgage/rent, because they wanted to be seen as successful even if they were actually on a starter’s salary. It would have taken a lot of guts for someone to buck that trend and drive up in an old banger.

Keeping up appearances

One good thing that might have come out of this recession is that it’s more okay than it used to be to admit to being skint, to buy secondhand and to embrace thrift. And it’s somehow less embarrassing to be made redundant or be out of work or to admit that times are tight. The proliferation of  blogs and books embracing thrift, frugality and money-savviness is also a great thing in my view – signs that we’re becoming a bit less hung up on status, or at least allowing some other ideas in. But still it takes guts to ask for a discount in a posh shop, to pull up next to swanky cars in your old jalopy, to refuse to buy your lunch in the posh deli every day and instead bring your own sandwiches and coffee to work.

Saying no to the Joneses gets easier with practice though, till one day they’re just a couple of comical little flies buzzing round your head, trying to boast about how green their grass is, and you don’t care any more cos you’re out at a party with your real pals, drinking cheap, delicious cocktails and laughing about the bargains you just bagged.

If you’ve got any tips on how to avoid the fear of keeping up with the Joneses I’d love to hear them. Have a good weekend, x

TotallyMoney Blog Carnival # 58 – The Joneses Edition

12 Mar

Hello Skint pals,

Today for something a bit different – a smorgasbord of some of the best money posts from the web right now. I’m hosting the 58th TotallyMoney Blog Carnival- and for those of you who haven’t come across a blog carnival before, there are no clowns or trapeze artists or even fire-eating tigers (boo!). It’s basically a round-up of lots of different linked articles that you can enjoy, all of which came across my radar via financial site, Totally Money . Maybe you’ll find a new blogger here that you like, maybe not – it’s like dipping your eyes and mind into a giant lucky bag really.

As editor of this carnival I got to pick a theme and I’ve gone for Keeping Up With The Joneses, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how this is at the root of so many financial woes. Whether it’s buying another car when your old one’s just fine, or scattering new cushions before the neighbours come round for tea, the fear of lagging behind our peers can cause us all to act a little crazy from time to time – and to spend way more than we can afford.

big house

Oh, this little thing? It's just our weekend pied a terre, sweetie . . .

Editor’s Picks…

Every week, about 250 bloggers submit to the money carnival. I swear that when I opened the inbox this morning I was hit by an overwhelming urge to go back to bed, pleading double pneumonia. But, though I might be skint I’m no shirker, so I dove on in (is dove even a word?? – that one’s always foxed me) and with a bit of sifting I’ve whittled the submitted posts down to a workable number, starting, in blog carnival tradition, with a few selected Editor’s Picks. Right now I’m loving:

This post from Invest It Wisely explores when – and whether – you should reveal how much money you make. It’s a big minefield, that one. Do the Joneses ever talk about how much they make or do they reveal it more subtly through their lifestyle? This post looks at the reasons for and against being open about your income – it certainly made me think twice.

Here’s another post that made me stop and think. Roshawn Watson makes some really interesting points in this discussion of the perils of focusing on job security instead of financial freedom. Mainly, she says, it comes down to fear. What do you think?

So often, our desire to keep up with the Joneses makes us keep our heads down, work hard, and never think about the alternatives to the day job. That’s why, as well as Roshawn’s post I really enjoyed this one from Barbara Friedberg about people who make money from their passions.

How do you behave in a financial boom? Though the last one may now be so distant that it’s getting harder and harder to remember, I’m surely not the only one who’s thought back to a decade ago and shaken my head at the amount of cash I wasted, thinking the good times wouldn’t end. That’s the theme of this interesting post from Mom’s Plans, who makes the point that your stock can fall just as fast as it can rise and asks the question, do you base your projected future on your past earnings? You might want to reconsider if you do.

And here’s the best of the rest. Hope something takes your fancy here:

Frugality

Whilst most posts about frugality focus on how to save money, this post from Freedom 48 looks at some of the other benefits of living a frugal life – including expectations from others, increased safety, and not having to keep up with the Jones. Ah, those Joneses again – does anybody even like them? Why don’t we all just tell them to get lost?

Here, Saving Advice shares the scary statistic that 60% of Americans can’t come up with $1000 in an emergency. Luckily, they’ve got plenty of ideas on how to raise cash fast should you need it. while I wouldn’t go as far as selling a body part – one of the suggestions – the rest make good sense to me.

Of course, what makes better sense is to make sure you’ve got an emergency fund in the first place. But ooh, isn’t it easy to dip into it now and then? After all, it wouldn’t be the first time I saw a pair of Marc Jacobs heels and declared emergency. HereMagical Penny shares how he grew his emergency fund. Good tips, and the boy’s also announced he’s quit the day job to go it along as a blogger – best of luck to him.

This related post on how to best use the money gained in a tax refund from Money Sprinkles has some good ideas. I’ll be putting them into practice if I ever get out of this mess.

Minimising Debt

There are few things the Joneses love more than taking on a big mortgage. It makes them feel ambitious, like they’re going places. So it was good to get a different take on that from personalfinancejourney, who has decided to rent rather than buy a house, even though he could afford to buy. Read about his reasons here.

If you do decide to go ahead and mortgage yourself up, take a look at this post from Net Worth Journey first on the absolute worst way to buy a home.

Starting out right is important if you aspire to ever end up as a Ms or Mr Jones. That’s why I liked this clear post from Not Made of Money about why you should never transfer your student debt to a debit card.

Managing Your Money

As I’ve outlined before, here, I can be a bit of a financial ostrich. That’s why I’ve always felt that having a minimal number of bank accounts is the best route for me. Still, so many money experts advocate multiple accounts that I’m always interested to read more. Here, Money Spruce takes a look at why you might choose to go down the route of more, more, more.

This post by Broke Professionals looks at the old chestnut of whether to pay off debts before investing, but lays the whole thing out nice and simply. Plus, I love their strapline ‘Personal Finance for the Overeducated and Underpaid.’ Ring any bells with anyone?

Lastly in this category, this post from Master the Art of Saving outlines, very clearly, some baby steps you can take to start saving money. Now, I don’t know where they buy their coffee – $6 a pop? – but the rest is sound advice.

Pulling in the Cash

Of all the ways to earn money, passive income is surely the dream, and the rise of the web has made that seem more possible, with promises of get-rich-click schemes that will get your bank balance swelling as you snore. I can’t say the web’s doing that for me, but I was intrigued by this article from Passive Income to Retire, looking at the cash to be made from blogging. I think I’ll be getting in touch for a few tips.

Hate frugality? Then just earn more. That’s the message from Former Banker, who makes some very intelligent points here about how frugality is, by its nature, always limited (ie there’s only so low you can go), whilst earning has no such limit. I can see his point – no matter how many potato peelings you recycle into coleslaw, it’s never going to make you rich. Are you better spending that time earning a fortune? Ah, if only the choice were that simple.

If you’re firmly in the earn more camp you might be interested in this post from Money Reasons about working two jobs without anyone being any the wiser. Personally, just the thought of doing that made me want to lie down in a darkened room, but it takes all sorts.

Saving for the Future

Retirement’s a biggie, isn’t it? Whilst the Joneses may have it all worked out – winters in Aspen and summers by the sea – for the rest of us it’s a scary thought. That’s why I liked this post from Early Retirement Investments about how to save for your retirement when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

Using divdends to finance your retirement is another smart idea and I learnt a little more about it by reading this from The Dividend Ninja. Oh, I’ll be running with the Joneses in no time at all.

Meanwhile, for all of us dreamers, this post from Free Money Wisdom about where to find beautiful retirement locations on the cheap from let me dream a little dream of where in the world I might see out my final days.

The Psychology of Spending

I’m really interested in all of our different attitudes to spending, and what drives us to do it. I don’t mean spending on things we all need, like milk and red wine (whaddya means that’s not a necessity?), but on why some people view shopping as a hobby or a stressbuster, whilst others would do anything to avoid it.

So I liked this post by mybrokencoin, looking at the different reasons why we spend money. And yep, those pesky Joneses get a namecheck again.

This post by Frugal Confessions looks at why we can be superstitious when it comes to money, and why our beliefs about it can be so deeply rooted.

Lastly, Afford Anything explores the link between money and happiness, here. Which is something those Jonseses have known about all along.

So that’s it folks. Hope you found something here that sparked your interest. And if you’re a fellow blogger and interested in hosting the Totally Money Blog Carnival, visit Totally Money Blog Carnival Hosting for details, or click here to find out how to submit an article.

Thanks for reading. Skint x

If you’d like to read more about how to live the high life on a shoestring budget just click the Follow Skint button at the top right of the page. 

Slashing Energy Costs – The Group-Buying Way

6 Mar

Hi Skint pals,

Hope you’re all doing great. Me, I’m just about to go and lie down with an eyemask and a herbal tea to try and recover from the shock of receiving a gigantic electricity bill. It was the winter what did it, and living in Scotland where you only get about 35 minutes of daylight in the whole of December, I should maybe have seen it coming, but I didn’t. See, I’m on a fixed tarrif, which I guess I read as ‘leave as many lights burning as you like and we’ll only ever charge you thirty quid a month.’ Anyway, it seems as if the leccy company got wise to my love-affair with the washing machine and decided it was time for me to pay the price.

Save money on electricity bills

Whaddya mean, this wasn't included in the fixed tarrif?

Luckily, there are other skint girls and boys out there who are fed up with the size of their bills too, and fed up with all that tedious hunting around for better deals. Step forward our caped crusader, Which – ta-dah! The stalwart consumer champion has gone all down-with-the-kids and decided to follow in the online footsteps of sites like Groupon and Wahanda by launching a new group-buying venture with a difference: offering not the usual romantic weekend getaways or blocks of ten pilates classes, but using crowd-power to lobby for lower energy bills.

Here’s the deal: Which is inviting people to sign up to its campaign, the Which Big Switch before March 31. All you need to do is leave your contact details and the names of your current gas and electricity suppliers. Then, Which will use the number of people interested in switching (currently standing at nearly 180,000) as a bargaining tool to get suppliers to offer better deals. Simples, huh? Kind of like a trade union for . . . well, for everyone really, unless you’re like the bloke at the bottom of the post who prefers to go it alone. 

Now, usually I have some reservations about crowd-buying. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been seduced into buying something on a group-buying site that I didn’t really need, then forgotten to use the voucher before it expired. But I figure that gas and electricity is a pretty safe bet.

Although Which is doing all this out of the goodness of its campaigning little heart, there are actually a couple of commercial firms that already offer group-buying discounts on energy – Incahoot and Utility Warehouse. Interestingly though, they don’t offer the best deals on the market – to grab those you’d be better going through a cashback site such as Quidco or Topcashback as bagging the money back that they give you for buying through them.

I’ve decided to stick with Which though. I trust them, and am interested to see what sort of deals they manage to lever if they get enough people behind them. Something about the campaign appeals to my inner protester too – I like the idea of joining with thousands of others to lobby for better deals. If the billpayers are united, they will never be divided . . . or something like that . . . (you get my drift).   

Got any tips on how to save money on gas and electricity? Do tell – we’d love to hear them.

save money on utility bills

 

Oh, and I got an exciting delivery yesterday. The final draft of my lovely ebook cover which I’ll share here just as soon as it’s formatted. It’s got bright lights on it too . . .

Sign up for all the Skint updates by clicking the Follow Skint button or RSS at the top of the page. x

Tax Needn’t Be . . . Oh, Yes It Need!

22 Feb

Yuk. Excuse the abrupt start to this post skint pals, but as I write I’m on hold, on speakerphone, to our illustrious tax people, HMRC, and have been now for 23 minutes – and counting.

If this was the first call I wouldn’t mind, but my one-sided attempts to connect are becoming a regular thing. In fact, I’m starting to feel just a teensy bit like a stalker, constantly trying to get in touch with a target who doesn’t want to know. The problem? Well, it started a few months back when I got one of those letters we all dread, informing me that I had apparently underpaid tax by £576  last year. Yikes. Except, I was pretty sure I hadn’t – and still am.

The source of the confusion is a company car that I had for two months from April – June 2010. HMRC in their wisdom seem convinced I had it all year, despite receiving a letter from my former employer giving them the exact dates. They’ve got the letter, I’ve got a copy of the letter, but you know those times when you feel that you’re actually living in a Kafka short story, such is the bureaucracy you’re swamped in? Well, that’s been my pleasure for the last few months as I try to sort it and as HMRC request the same info again and again, seemingly without sorting a thing.

Half an hour on speakerphone now and I’m still hearing that ‘one of our advisers will be with you as soon as possible.’ It’s reminded me once again that it’s this kind of tedium that puts me – and half the population – off sorting my finances at all, as I blogged about before here. If it takes this much energy to sort out money stuff, the temptation is always going to be to leave it till tomorrow. But, as I promised in the Skint  2012 savings challenge, I must stop being an ostrich and try to tackle these things head on.

To pass the time (42 minutes on hold now – and it’s not a freephone number), I’ve been trying to find images that reflect how I’m feeling right now:

save money on phone bills

This phone correspondence really seems to be getting out of proportion . . .

Ah-ha! Goofing around searching for images seems to have worked! I actually got through to a nice woman (48 minutes), who noted what I wanted and has now put me back on hold whilst she searches for the paperwork. Grr.

Lady Gaga telephone

I'm going gaga here too.Though possibly not in quite as glamorous an ensemble.

Oh, she’s back  . . . . . . excuse me folks.

‘!!?£grrr. . . . .’ 

‘No! $!!£?? Car . . . no way . . . hang on a minute . . . !!!!’ (and so on, and on, and on).

Right, sorry about that. The upshot is that HMRC say they’ve got some of the paperwork they need from me but not all and could I please send it in again, please? I am channelling Gaga and trying to keep my cool. I will keep you posted. So, an hour after I started the call I’m off to re-re-resend the stuff. Thanks for keeping me company, Skint pals. I promise that my next post will be cheerier, but if you’ve got any HMRC or other bureaucracy tales of woe that you’d like to share they might just, perversely, cheer me up. Schadenfreude makes the world go round, after all. 

Anyway, I’m still glad I made the call to HMRC today. See, in years gone by I used to stuff any envelope marked with HMRC into that Agent Provocateur bag, unopened, never to see the light again. At least these days I’m taking action. And it will get sorted I know, just perhaps not before I die. Hope you’re afternoon’s going well. May all your frustrations be small ones, and all your savings huge.

xx

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Top Money-Saving Websites

20 Feb

Hiya skint pals,

Today Skint wrote a round-up of top money saving websites and apps for the Daily Record’s Record Women section and I thought I’d share them with you, since they’ve really saved me a bundle. Some of these I’ve mentioned before on this sites, others are making their debut. With salaries squeezed and prices climbing, these are some of the sites that I think can help us all to survive and thrive in the tough times. 

mysupermarket.com – Next time you shop online for food, check out this site, which lets you enter your shopping list, selecting from five main supermarket chains, then keeps a running total of what your items cost in each store. When you’ve finished, this clever site tots up where you can get the whole lot cheapest and redirects you to the supermarket that will give you the best deal. It takes the same amount of time as doing a normal online shop and can typically save you 5-10%. Genius! 

Homelink  –  House-swapping has really taken off in the recession and there are now plenty of websites where you can meet people happy to hand over their keys for a fortnight – in return for you doing the same. With house-swapping you can go pretty much anywhere in the world, staying in places you’d normally only dream of. From villas in Florida with an outdoor Jacuzzi and pool, to city pads in Berlin, all it costs is a small fee to the house-swap agency, then your plane fares. Many holidaymakers car swap too, meaning no car hire costs. A reputable agency like www.homelink.org.uk will keep you right. Membership costs £115 – not bad for potentially three or four free holidays a year. 

myus.com With the weak dollar, there’s many a skint UK woman who wishes she could grab herself some Carrie Bradshaw style by shopping direct from the USA. The problem? Many US sellers’ won’t post goods to Britain, either because they only deal in dollars or just consider if too much faff. That’s where package forwarding services come in. For a one-off fee of around $10, services such as myus.com set you up with your own US address, then forward items to you faster than you can say I’ll-take-that-in-red.

top money saving websites

'Um, our broadband seems to be rather slow this morning.''

theappliancedepot Loads of people are put off by a scratch on their furniture. Me? Ooh, I’ve learned to love ’em. Whether it’s appliances or dining room tables, shopping at outlets that specialise in slightly imperfect items can save you a ton. Last summer I saved hundreds on a fridge freezer because it had a tiny scratch on the side – and I mean tiny. For slightly imperfect fridges, washing machines and so on, scratch n dent sites are the way to go if you want to save a ton.

 surveycompare.net  If you’ve got an opinion on everything, why not get paid for giving it? Companies across the country want to hear what you think of their products – and they’re willing to pay. Doing online surveys is never going to make you rich, but it could be a nice sideline whilst watching telly. Typically you’re paid £5 per completed survey. 

quidco.com: An internet phenomenon, retailers pay these sites for sending them shoppers, then the sites pass some of that cash back to you! The percentage paid back can be as much as 20% of the price of the goods you’re buying, making for huge savings. http://www.quidco.com

Red Laser – This simple app lets you scan the barcodes in shops and tells you if the item is cheaper anywhere else. Just swipe your phone camera over the barcode and let it get to work. Happy shopping!

Skint hasn’t been paid or perked by any of these sites mentioned – just sharing the love . . .

If you’d like regular Skint news straight to your inbox just click on the Follow button above and skint tips will beam straight into your inbox without you having to do another thing – it’s like magic.  

What To Do If You Have Bad Credit

8 Feb

Today brings a sponsored guest post from comparethemarket.com 

Having poor credit can severely limit your options when it comes to getting a loan. So, what do you do if you find yourself in that position, but still need to borrow?

Find Loans Geared Toward You

There are lenders out there who do give loans to those with less-than-perfect credit – and at the same time allow you to improve your credit rating as you borrow. The interest rates might be high, but you are assured of getting an approval from these lenders. Credit building credit cards could be just what you need to bring your credit score up to what you would like it to be. Do a quick search online to find lenders that cater for this market – if you’re sensible it’s a good way to rebuild your credit rating.

Secure Your Loan

Securing your loan with collateral can make a bank think twice about denying you. Collateral can reduce the risk the bank takes when issuing you a loan. A secured credit card uses a security deposit to reduce risk in the event of non-payment. This option will make it easier to get a loan should your credit score be right on the borderline of what lenders are looking for. This is a high-risk strategy though and only to be used if you are sure you will repay the loan on time.

Get A Cosigner

Putting another signature on the loan can make it a lot easier for a bank to approve your loan. The cosigner will vouch for you in the event that your credit score isn’t good enough to get a loan. Student loans commonly require a cosigner for approval. For everyone’s peace of mind, the individual who cosigns on the loan should be ready and wiling to make the payments if need be, before signing the loan. 

Put More Cash On The Table

A large down-payment can be good enough to get you a loan. Lowering the amount that you need financed can make it easier to get a loan – and will save you money in the long-run too. It’s all about reducing the risk that a lender has to take on you. You might not qualify for as much as you want, but lowering the amount of money that you need from the bank will make them think harder about approving you.

Getting a loan when you have poor credit can be a difficult journey. However, there are many ways that you can improve your chances. Just make sure that you are aware of these options before you assume that there is no chance of ever getting that loan. 

Saving in the City – My 2012 Savings Challenge, Part Two

30 Jan

Hey Skint pals, 

 As I blogged last time, I’ve been using this month to start sorting out some finances that were frankly getting way out of shape. Like, so out of shape they’d basically given up hope. You know like when you skip the gym a few times and then suddenly it all seems to have become too out of hand to tackle and you just concede defeat and start spending your evenings with sticky toffee pudding and The Killing instead? That’s how bad my finances had got; we’re talking years of fat to shift.

But, this January I committed to tackling the big six things that were bothering me. At a slow pace of one a week, because after years of inaction I don’t think my mind could work much quicker than that. And I promised to keep you posted on my progress, so here’s the first update on the great money-saving plan of 2012.

Checking my Statements: I own a large gift bag. It’s very pretty. Pink and black, from Agent Provocateur, it looks just darling, tied with a big satin bow. It sits in the corner of my bedroom and gives the room a sexy, slightly sleazy feel – but in a good way. And inside?

My bag. So pretty on the outside, a pit of hell within.

Oh, inside it’s the pit of hell. One glance beneath the satin bow could kill you outright. See, that bag is where all my financial messes go to die. All my unchecked bank statements, Inland Revenue nasties, depreciating ISAs and expired cheques. That bag is the outward manifestation of my financial chaos.  It scares the crap out of me.  But, in the spirit of this money-saving challenge, I have delved into hell and stared it in the face. I’ve sorted a year’s worth of bank statement (frankly anything that happened in 2010 or earlier has been written off – my life really is too short for that), and gone through them line by line in a bid to identify where I’m hemorrhaging cash. And the reading, though not pretty, wasn’t all terrible. I discovered that my internet and phone costs are actually okay, that the mortgage deal’s not bad at all and the leccy bill, though needing shaved, isn’t as bad as feared. I did discover some regular outgoings though that had slipped through unnoticed (well frankly, an HGV could have slipped through), and have begun to deal with them, as faithfully promised.

Identify the Moneyeaters: This is the step where I’ve started to tackle those expenses that siphon away my income bit by bit. We’ve all got them, whether it’s a subscription for a magazine we could do without or a titchy standing order we forgot to cancel. This month I’ve dealt with two. First up, I discovered from scrutinising my statements that I was paying £10.66 a month to my previous web host for this blog. I didn’t cancel it when I moved across to WordPress because I wanted to keep it active for a month or so, in case there were any problems with the switch. And what happened by the end of that month? I forgot, dammit. So, I’ve been paying £10.66 a month for exactly a year for sweet FA. When I called Vistaprint to cancel they couldn’t have been nicer and the whole thing was sorted in minutes. Saving – £127.92 a year.

Secondly, and this was such a biggie it took me a fortnight – I’ve sorted something which I’ve been meaning to do for FOUR YEARS. Yup, you read it right. Since 2008, my massive home insurance premium has been hanging over me like the school bully, occupying more of my head space than any piece of paper should. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve written ‘sort out home insurance’ on a to-do list, then not done it, because I was, well, I don’t even think I can articulate a good reason. A killer combo of lethargy and pain avoidance maybe – see, I knew it would take ages and it did. Still, once I got stuck in and did the homework, sorted all the bits of the policy, agreed the excesses and cover and got all the paperwork together it probably took three hours. To recap, that’s three hours versus four years. You know how much my old premium was? An eye-watering £1200 a year, buildings and contents. Mm-hmm. It started out at £300 back in 2004 and steadily climbed to the point where last year I was rewarded for my loyalty with a giant price hike. A fortnight ago, before casting around for another insurer I asked the Halifax what they could do and they took £100 off a year. Not enough, guys. And so today, after three hours of work I have the same cover, a slightly higher excess (but only marginally) and the new premium is . . .  drumroll please . . . £251 a year! Ha! I am feeling a combination of jubilance and embarrassment right now. Embarrassment that I didn’t challenge the rising cost before, mixed with the joy that can only come from scrapping something from the to-do list that’s been there for FOUR YEARS!!  So, Skint pals, that’s a saving of £949 a year!  

Which means that from these two actions I’ve saved myself £1076.92 a year so far this January. Now, home insurance was the biggie, so I don’t expect anything else I do to net me such a large saving, but oh, I’m starting to enjoy this. Good riddance to the financial ostrich I used to be. I’m getting my head out of the sand, one piece of paper at a time. 

What about you? Does this inspire any true confessions? Horror stories and tales of hope equally welcome – what have you done to get your finances into better shape, or how are you planning to do so? I’d love to hear from some fellow survivors – let’s face it, few of your tales of financial neglect could be worse than mine! Will you commit to sorting something that’s been skulking on your to-do list for years? Let me know,  xx

New Year, New Book – And Getting Smart with the Cash

10 Jan

Happy New Year, Skint pals! This first post of the new year also kicks off with an apology for being so lax in my posts this past six weeks or so. Now, you may imagine too many mince pies and parties to be the reason and while that could have had something to do with it, the main reason is that I’ve had my head down finishing Skint in the City, the book. Yep, Skint in the City is now to become a book as well as a blog – and I FINISHED IT YESTERDAY!!! Cue much dancing round the living room, followed by a very long sleep (oh yes, I sure know how to celebrate, wild-style).

I'm sure mine is in here somewhere

Now all I need is to get it out there into the big wide world and let it do its thing. So, thanks for your patience while I finished it – I promise not to disappear for so long again.

And suddenly I’ve come out of my coma and it’s 2012. How did that happen? Will you be sorry to see the back of 2011? I won’t. Just got this feeling that 2012 is going to be a better one. Even with all of the gloomy forecasts about the economy, I’m just feeling something good going down.

And now that the Skint book is out of the way I’m turning my attentions to the usual resolutions. There’s one this year that tops them all for me – getting my finances into better shape. You see, even though I blog here, I’ve tended till now to look upon saving money as a means to spending more. you know, stop buying daily takeaway cappucino, buy a new pair of shoes a month instead. All very true, and I’d rather have new shoes than coffee, but lately I’ve been feeling that I’m missing the bigger picture.

Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie finds herself flat broke, then realises than over her lifetime she has spent $40,000 on shoes? I will be, she concludes, literally be the Old Woman Who Lived in Her Shoe. That episode resonated with women across the world but it was also, I thought, terribly sad. I felt Carrie’s pain and I know I wasn’t alone.  

She got them shoe bankruptcy blues . . .

Why does properly sorting out our money drive us to tears? Why would we rather spend hours on the web tracking down a discount designer bag than take half-an-hour applying for an ISA that could easily earn us a couple of hundred quid for that thirty minutes work? I don’t know, but if you find out please tell me because I am as ostrich-like about money as they come – or at least I used to be. Till recently (even the thought of all those years now fills me with regret) I was stunningly, ridiculously anti-money. Not that I was against spending it – that was a cinch – but I was against saving it or even knowing about it. Just the mention of an ISA would make my eyes glaze over. The merest whiff of a percentage sign would get me yawning – unless it was to direct my attention to a discount in the sales. I NEVER checked my balance. Money flowed in and out as furiously as a river in a flood and I can’t really explain why. I even hesitate to write about this because I don’t want to add to the impression that women can’t get their heads round finances. I don’t think that’s true anyway. I know a lot of smart women who handle their money really well, and a lot of smart women who don’t.

I also know a lot of guys who could use a few lessons in money management but who prefer to spend their time and cash on the high street, so I don’t think it’s got much to do with gender. I think the reason is simpler: the desire to avoid pain. There’s no doubt that minding your money, tracking interest rates and so on isn’t the pinnacle of fun. Much easier to go online and check out some fashion blogs. And because there’s no real deadline, sorting finances is one of those things that you always thinking you’ll get around to next week, and often never do. It’s a bit like going to the gym: you frequently can’t be bothered and yet because the consequences of not going to the gym show faster than the consequences of not saving, it’s saving that gets put off.

So, I’ve decided that even if the thought of sitting down and working out my income and expenditure sounds about as much fun as sticking pins in my eyes, it’s time to face up to it. Like it or not, the only way to have an even more fabulous life in the future is by getting real about saving money now.

That’s what I’ve come to realise anyway, and that’s why this year I’m sorting my finances out good and proper starting with these six simple steps:

Checking my Statements – Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Like, who doesn’t do this already? Umm, that would be me, sticking my guilty little hand up. So, in a spirit of repentance, I’ve now started the task of going through my bank statements for the last six months and noting how much money is coming in and flowing out. Which figure is largest? Which figure ought to be? I’m looking at where my biggest spends occur, particularly my habit of going to the cash machine every couple of days and withdrawing more than I should?

Identify the Money Eaters – Working from my statements, (oh, that sounds organised), I’ve made a quick list of the top six moneyeaters every month, things that I either don’t need or simply aren’t worth the money. I was staggered to see how much I pay for home insurance and it’s first on the hit list, followed by cancelling a subscription for a magazine I now longer care about. I’ve resolved to sort these money eaters, one a week, over the next six weeks. Baby steps, but this way I’ll still find that six weeks from now I should be far better off. I’m looking forward to totting up how much I’ll save each month from doing this – think I might be getting addicted.

Become Money-Aware – Already, just a few days in to starting this process I’ve become more aware of money eaters and how to weed them out. Whereas before I might have overlooked a few quid here or there rolling out of my account, from now on thinking about how purchases will  look on my monthly bank statement will provide a great incentive to more frugal living. Before I spend I’m resolving to stop and think if the purchase will really enhance my quality of life. If not, maybe the money’s better off staying snugly in my account.

The 10% Rule – If I stick to the three above rules like a good little squirrel I should find that I’ve got a few extra quid in my account each month. Now, my usual impulse would be to withdraw that and buy an extra blouse, but in 2012 I’m going to save it instead, trying to   put away 10% of my income every month. It’ll be a stretch, but I’m going to start at 10% and scale lower if needs be. I don’t mean keeping it under lock and key till I’m 60 – just saving it for a holiday or a really big purchase. To make sure I don’t renege I’m going to set up a direct debit each month into one of those high interest saving accounts; that way it leaves my account (relatively) painlessly, without any interference from me.

Use my ISA Allowance – Boring? Not if it nets me a couple of hundred extra a year. 

Be a Financial Floozy: Sometimes it pays to be a little bit of a floozy. The financial crisis has proven, once and for all surely, that the big financial institutions don’t value customer loyalty, so why give it to them? My exorbitant home insurance bill grew so big because I’ve never bothered to switch, so HBOS keeps piling the pounds onto me. From now on I’m keeping an eye on where the best deals are and will be prepared to jump ship accordingly. 

That’s it. Six steps that will hopefully make a sizeable difference in my bank balance. There’s plenty of other stuff I want to do, like getting to grips with cashback sites, but for now those six will do me fine. What about you? Have you made any financial resolutions this year? I’d love to hear them.  

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