Tag Archives: credit crunch

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.

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Skint Picks Six – And Makes the Top 25 Too (Just!)

2 Feb

Hiya Skint pals,

A nice bit of news just in. Skint in the City has been named as one of the UK’s top 25 personal finance blogs here. Just managed to squeeze in at number 25 but I’m not jealous of all my fellow bloggers further up the list, am I? Am I? Nah, just happy (and a bit bamboozled) to be included, frankly. 

Anything higher would just be vulgar.

Anyway, in the spirit of lists I’m kicking off a new feature here today, the first in an ongoing series – Skint Picks Six.

See, I read blogs all the time and I frequently come across some amazing stuff. When I do, I bookmark it or I start to follow the blog, but I’m not very good at sharing it. Now I’ve decided to spread the love. Skint Picks Six will take the six best blog posts I’ve read that week and share them with you, in the hope that you might love them too.

A new find this week is (1) Grand Per Month, a rich, generous blog about ways to make an extra grand every month. Nice, huh? As I’ve been mulling over ways to make my this site better I really enjoyed reading this post about how to make money from blogging – something I’ve never really tried to do: You can check it out here

In at (2) my favourite personal finance blogger, Budgets are Sexy. I love $J Money’s blog and the way he finds quirky yet incredibly useful things to write about every single day, the sort of stuff you never thought you wanted to read till it’s up there and you suddenly find yourself intrigued. For me that’s what blogs are all about – fresh ideas and a take on things which is quite different from my own yet gets me thinking.

(3) This post from Debt Consolidation Care really struck a  chord with me, as I take on the Skint 2012 money saving challenge (Hmm, I’ve a feeling that title makes it sounds a bit grander than it is!) I particularly like the idea of considering how you can rent rather than buy large purchases like cars. It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it – isn’t buying always the best option? But for those who live in the city and tend to bget around on public transport or by foot, owning a car is often an unneccessary expense. Cheaper often to rent one via a car club when needed and to shell out for occasional taxis. I tread the middle ground by owning a car that’s fast approaching pensionable age – hardly ever using a car for anything other than titchy journeys means spending on it just isn’t a priority. 

(4) This post from helpmetosave.com got me thinking about what motivates us all to spend and, especially, to splurge. I’ve read before about fear being at the root of most people’s spending decisions – fear of not keeping up with the Joneses, fear of looking unfashionable, fear of some disaster  as yet unknown. So, why do you spend? Do you agree with this post’s assertion that it’s down to either greed or fear?

(5) Meanwhile, over at Curb your Consumerism, there’s a debate on whether we’re more dishonest as a nation now than we were us 2000. Whaddya think?

(6) And lastly, news just in from another planet. I was fascinated by this blog post, showing that America’s top 1% of earners are really concerned they can’t make ends meet. From struggling to maintain two or three houses, to feeling inferior to their wealthier pals, turns out keeping up with the Joneses never, ever ends. Ah, you’ve got to feel sorry for them, don’t you??

Hope you find something good from reading these. What are your favourite blogs? Just hit the Comments box below to share them, Skint pals.

To get Skint emails or updates every time I post just hit the Follow button or the RSS button  at the top of the page. That’s all you need to do – it’s like magic. 

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.  

If you’re new to the site and want to receive blog posts direct to your inbox from now on, just click the Follow Skint button at the top of the page.

How To Cut Your Energy Bills This Winter

21 Nov

Hello Skint pals and a big welcome to all of Skint’s new readers, who signed up after reading the Huffington Post piece last week. Delighted to have you here.

Something different today. In the first of an occasional series of guest posts, freelance energy writer Tara West gives us her take on ways to save money on staying cosy this winter. Over to you Tara . . .

When the temperatures drop and the days seem to get shorter, your first instinct may be to get home in a hurry and blast the heat so that you and your family can stay warm. However, you may start to regret your energy-dependent heating once you get the electric and gas bill.

 There are ways for you to stay warm without burning through your household budget. Follow these six tips for a warm winter.

 1. Use the fireplace.

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace indoors, you should consider using it more often. Not only is this an excellent way to cut down on your heating bill but it can also bring your family together for some quality time. Make your fireside evenings extra special with a warm drink and holiday treats, and your family will soon be longing for cosy winter nights even in the warmer seasons.

2. Get a thermostat with a timer.

These simple devices can go a long way in saving you money on your energy bill, especially during the winter. You can programme your thermostat to operate at a lower temperature during the day when everyone is at work or school so that you never have to bother with changing the temperature manually. A good rule of thumb is to keep it between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit while you are at home and to lower it to the 50s when you are away.

 3. Bundle up!

Even when you are inside, wear layers of comfortable clothing to keep your body temperature up. Investing in a few pieces made of wool or fleece for your winter wardrobe will ensure that you always have a sweater or two to slip on when you get chilly. And don’t forget about long johns and thick socks for your lower extremities.

 4. Compare energy rates.

Even the most frugal homeowners sometimes find that their bills are too high. If you have taken every measure possible to lower your energy bill and it is still too high, consider switching to a different provider. You can look online to uswitch to compare energy prices, including your current rate, with other companies in your local area.

 5. Fill in cracks and holes. 

Brr. Don't even go there.

One of the most costly mistakes a homeowner can make is to not maintain the insulation of his or her home. Make sure to insulate the usually drafty places such as the attic, and check the weather-stripping on all the doors in the house. If your windows are made of single-pane glass, you may also want to consider replacing them with insulated glass.

 6. Change your light bulbs.

If you are still using old-model incandescent bulbs, switch them for more energy efficient fluorescent bulbs or LED lights. These newer bulbs use far less energy while providing the same wattage of light, and they usually come in the same sizes and shapes as incandescent bulbs.

Thanks Tara – great tips there. While Tara’s been writing this, I’ve been busy whittling down my best-ever vintage bargains and will share them with you in the next post.

See you all soon – and as ever if you’ve got any pals that you think would like to receive Skint in the City’s regular posts please forward to them. The more the merrier round here.

Skint x

Skint Makes Huffington Post Front Page Today!

15 Nov

Well Skint chums, this morning’s going great so far – cos I’m delighted to have been Huff Post-ed! Yep, the Huffington Post, blog extraordinaire with about a gazillion daily readers and a power base roughly equal to Angela Merkel and Lady Gaga’s combined (but without the dodgy accessories), has today picked up a post by Skint and is running it on the front page of their site.

Cue much victory dancing and probably a wee slope off for celebration cake quite soon. See, the Huffington Post’s got a HUGE readership. Like, we could fit myself and all you lovely readers into the Huff Post’s little pinkie nail and still have room left over a giant Skint picnic in the sun. So I’m hoping that being featured on the Huff Post today will bring lots more lovely readers Skint’s way. 

You can read the post here  – front page of the Huff Post.

If you’re new to this site, having beamed in courtesy of the Huffington Post, welcome! Delighted to have you here. If you’d like to read more about the tireless quest to live the high life on a budget tighter than Kate Moss’ skinny jeans, please click the Follow Me button at the top right of the page and you’ll receive all the updates, but no nasty marketing stuff – cross my heart. 

Hope your day’s going really well.  See you soon. x

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