February 28, 2006

Switched on to fuel costs

I've finally done it. Although everyone else I know seems to switch energy suppliers more readily than their socks, I've never been keen on the idea. In the past, the savings didn't seem worthwhile and given my hatred of filling in forms (and indeed finding the necessary old bills needed) was just too much hassle.

But the recent massive increases announced by British Gas and today, Powergen, have forced my hand. I've just gone through the simply switch website (I could have chosen uswitch which offers a similar service) and by moving from British Gas and London Energy to Atlantic I should save nearly £200 a year. Naturally, I expect it all to go horribly wrong - for example, what happens about the British Gas warranty on our recently purchased and highly expensive boiler? - but how can you ignore a £200 saving? Am I worrying unnecessarily?

For other money saving tips, go to www.thisismoney.co.uk/moneysavers - and for help on cutting your fuel bills, look at www.thisismoney.co.uk/bills.

Charlotte Beugge

February 02, 2006

Time to sell my shares?

Decision time. I have a number of investment trust shares that I've accumulated over the years through regular saving. I haven't bought any for a few years, reasoning that I should be a bit more diversified. However, about six months ago I decided that if the shares ever reached a set price, then I should sell up and do something else with the money - either invest elsewhere or offset against the mortgage. Well, yesterday the shares passed that figure - and are still there today. And I haven't sold yet...

Is this because I lack the courage to follow my own convictions or (more likely) that I am a bit greedy and hope the shares keep climbing? It will serve me right if the shares fall back to below my set limit, but I just haven't got the heart to sell at the moment.

- Charlotte Beugge

January 31, 2006

(don't) keep me posted

I feel the need to join my fellow bloggers' moans about the postal system. I just can't trust it anymore. Apart from the missing parcels and letters take for ever to arrive, this most recent experience just takes the biscuit. We live at number 4. On Friday, we got post - including what looked like a credit card bill - for number 6. No idea if they got our post, they are seldom at home. Then on Saturday, what plops through the letterbox but the post for number 2. I mean, come on, how hard is it to tell 2 from 4 from six?

Anyway, I decided that enough was enough and chased, shouting, after the departing postwoman waiving the wrong letters. Given that I am very pregnant and the size of a Smart Car AND that the postwoman is, um, deaf, I suppose it was a sign that I have finally lost it. But I'm worried. The thought of any of our important post festering on neighbour's doormats is very distressing. No wonder internet banking is becoming so popular: I'd rather trust my computer than the postman.

Charlotte Beugge

January 27, 2006

it's not easy being green

As four of my prudent colleagues - known as the Money Misers - have agreed to share their money saving tips with the readership of the Daily Mail, in my more subdued way I am joining in. As our biggest expense this year will be the arrival of our first (and last) child sometimes over the next few months, we need to find ways to make sure junior doesn't wreck our precarious finances too much.

So, let's start at the bottom and work our way up. Nappies. It does rather worry me that our sprog will be responsible for the environmental pollution caused by a mountain of nappies. But what's the alternative? Buckets of soggy nappies swilling around? Yuck, what a smell. So, disposables it is.

But which ones? To me, it seems a two sided battle between Pampers and Huggies. Huggies obviously has some deal with Boots which means if you buy them on your advantage card you get some dosh off. Presumably, Pampers has a deal with somewhere else. In price terms, it's like the Ariel-Persil battle - ie, the price is pretty well the same on both brands. Whatever, they are horrendously expensive and the aesthetics of the packaging and indeed the schmalzty advertising offends my sensibilities. After all, they are just recepticals for unmentionables. Maybe those bubbling buckets of terry nappies isn't such a bad idea after all...

- Charlotte Beugge

January 24, 2006

BT openworld is shut...

Here's a problem that, unless solved, is going to leave me much poorer. We have dial up BT openworld internet at home (yes, I know broadband is faster, and we are planning to switch but can't do anything until the following problem is sorted out). Anyway, our home internet for which we pay something like £15 a month isn't working. So we need to call up the helpline. And the helpline costs 50p (!) a minute (!!!!!!!). And, of course, because we are on dial up, that means phoning up on my husband's pay as you go mobile, which the BT website informs me 'may cost more'.

I have no idea how to get round this problem. Either we have no internet at home or we end up paying BT £££££s to sort it out. Any ideas?

Charlotte Beugge

January 13, 2006

my kitchen hell (part 1 of many)

What is it with new years that we all go house maintenance mad? A good friend of mine has the decorators in to her immaculate house painting every room just because she's fed up with white rooms.... and presumably loves the smell of gloss paint in the morning. We, on the other hand, have at long last succumbed to the inevitable and realised if we ever want to sell our house, then we need a new kitchen.

Whatever you do, don't believe any advertisement that tells you that you can have a cheap kitchen. They don't exist. They may all be made of weetabix (well, ok, maybe it's chipboard) but they are expensive. And then you've got to get them installed...and then there's tiling and plumbing and lord knows what else.

Although undoubtedly I will love it when it's finished I do wonder whether we would have been better putting up with our hovel kitchen and selling the house on the basis that a buyer would have to put a new one in. I'm not sure the expense of fitting a kitchen will add a huge amount onto the price of the house, although apparently homes are always sold on kitchens and bathrooms. And with the housing market as it is at the moment - seemingly flat - then surely anything that can attract buyers would be worth it in the long run?

- Charlotte Beugge

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January 06, 2006

What's wrong with Ernie?

I've got a tax bill to pay by the end of the month. There's no problem: I've got the money and I owe it. Indeed, I thought I was being very sensible when I took the advice of a wealthy and very organised friend, who suggested that I should put aside the money for my tax bill into Premium Bonds. I'd done the same thing a few years ago (the last time I had a tax liability that couldn't be taken on my code) and although the returns from prizes weren't stunning, they were better than I'd have done leaving the money in the building society. And of course, the money was out of my reach so I couldn't dip into it should I feel the need for an emergency holiday.

But this time, it's been rubbish. I bought the bonds in August 2004 and March 2005 and guess what, not a single prize, not even a measley £50. OK, so I dont have tonnes of money in Premium Bonds but it's a reasonable four figure sum. Had I left it in the building society then it would have made me somewhere between £100-£200 in interest.

I was moaning about Premium Bonds to someone the other day. Yes, they are rubbish, he agreed. He'd only ever won £1,000 on them. And he'd had his £50 worth of bonds for years. Some people just don't know when they are lucky.

And finally, to add insult to injury, although it's possible to buy Premium Bonds online and on the phone, when you want to get the money out, you've got to queue up at the post office and hope it's got the right withdrawal form. Next time I have to save for a tax bill, I'm putting it in an account offset against my mortgage. Ernie obviously doesn't love me, so I am ditching him.

- Charlotte Beugge

Useful links

TABLES: Premium bond winning numbers

MESSAGE BOARDS: Premium bond theories

SEARCH: Premium bond news

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December 15, 2005

Heading for a breakdown

Breakdown cover is essential if you're as useless with cars as I am. I joined the AA three years ago at about 10pm a night on December 23 when our car had a blow out on the M4. It was raining, there was no hard shoulder, the car's electrics decided to fail in sympathy with the tyre (we couldn't change it because, um, we didn't have a jack or a torch) and I thought our next port of call would probably be Swindon hospital as we were likely to get mown down by a Polish juggernaut. So I dictated by card number (rather hysterically) over the phone to the AA and for £100 plus, they came and rescued us... well, they left us at Membury service station to wait for a nice chap to come and fit a new tyre for us. You guessed it, the spare was ropey too.

So, aside from the memories of spending the early hours of Christmas Eve hyper on free coffee the nice lady at Membury pressed on us, I've ever since vowed never to go without breakdown cover. But since that horrid episode, I've got a new car that doesn't spend its life at the garage and it also has a spare which my husband says he could change (not that he has yet..). And I've just moved the breakdown cover from the AA to Direct Line. I think this only saved me a tenner a year - it was about £35 rather than the AA's £45ish (I have the most basic cover; I reason that I don't need homestart because surely one of my neighbours has jump leads if the car packs up outside my door) but I've also done it because car bores tell me the service is better - though the AA was always pretty good, I thought. Only time will tell - or rather, I hope it doesn't.

- Charlotte Beugge

December 12, 2005

It's that r*mortgage again..

I could honestly do without the stress of remortgaging. I started on this hamster's wheel of remortgaging several weeks ago and it isn't over yet. I've photocopied every document several times, sent lord knows how much confidential, valuable documents through the post and been sent quite a few rainforests' worth of stuff to read. And now it's all getting far too frightening for my liking. The remortgage is due to complete on Wednesday 14. My old lender (I'm starting to feel rather sentimental about them, what harm did they ever do me apart from never offer me as good a deal as a new customer?) is due to take this month's payment on the 15th. Hence, when should I cancel my direct debit?

A (nameless) woman at the remortgaging solicitors says I 'should' be alright cancelling now. I'm not happy with the conditional tense. I email. An anonymous man from solicitors phones me and says I can't cancel until completion on 14th 'because if something went wrong then there would be come back on us'. And anyway he says 'If you do pay the mortgage to your old lender then at least you'll get it back sometime' And he laughs. That makes me feel so much better... I am relying on too many institutions all being efficient at the same time. All for the sake of a few quid.

- Charlotte Beugge

December 06, 2005

What price loyalty?

Having (almost) completed on my first ever remortgage, I'm now considering moving my bank account. Yes, I know everyone else moves their bank account once a month or whatever. But I've been with the same high street bank since I was a student and I'm nervous about change. And added to that, I'm quite sentimentally attached to my account.

My branch is still the one I had as a student and although I've been nowhere near that northern town since I graduated (it had back to back houses. the locals ate meat and potato pies. there were working coal mines and at the time of the strikes - it was a very long time ago - the biggest badge of street credibility was letting a secondary picket sleep on your floor) I quite like having my account there.

And aside from all this soppyness, my bank has never made a mistake with my account, I've never had any nasty charges, I get statements and chequebooks on time and the internet banking is easy peasy. But I earn a titchy bit of interest and I can't call my branch anymore, just some call centre in god knows where. So is it time to end a peaceful, if unexciting, 20 plus year relationship for a bit more interest? Or would the change do me good? Any thoughts? (and can you guess where I went to university?)

- Charlotte Beugge

December 01, 2005

Reindeer sushi, anyone?

Having just had my first mince pie of the year I am now officially in the Christmas spirit. Hence I've been buying Christmas cards. I admit I am very superficial and look for pretty pictures first. But then I don't want to be thought of as mean spirited, so I have to pick charity cards too. I opted for some very posh Japanesy-ish pics (do they have Christmas in Japan? I bet they don't eat mince pies) which give money to a very right-on and worthy sounding charity. However, as just 40p of the £3.50 I've paid for the cards goes to said charity, I wonder if I would have been better off buying cheapo ones off a market stall and just giving money to the cause instead. It may not make my friends and relatives think much of me (or my taste) but it might have been a more Christmas-sprited thing to do.

- Charlotte Beugge

November 28, 2005

The cost of true love...

We're going to a wedding reception on Friday night. Rather than the usual South London bun fight (wedding list at Argos, reception at the tenants' association hall, sausage rolls, bridesmaids crying in the loo and the ever-present prospect of a fight) this is a Posh Do up north (of the river) in Mayfair.

The bride and groom haven't made it easy for guests and have asked for contributions towards their exotic honeymoon. Hereby lies the problem. How much do we give? Do we work it based on how many canapes/glasses of fizz we're going to neck? Or how much we like them? Do we put a few fivers in a brown envelope? Or do we ignore the whole thing and buy them a teasmade? Surely it would be easier on everyone if they just eloped.

- Charlotte Beugge

P.S. Also see - Wedding guests outspend hosts

November 25, 2005

oh no it's chr***mas...

Surely there are good and bad ways to save money at Christmas. Conspicuous consumption is vulgar even though, of course, spending is good for the country: ie if retailers prosper then so will UK plc. But then of course, if we overdo the prezzie buying, it means interest rates too will go up to stem our extravagance.

I do fine the seasonal frenzy to spend and save at the same time annoying - particularly as I've got caught up in it.

Last night, our local Boots had a bonus Advantage card night: lots more points if you spend £50 or more. The shop was mobbed by customers loading up on three for two offers. I wandered round with 10 razor blades and a packet of Aero minty bubbles (yum) and decided that I might as well join in. One loaded down basket later (and £57 poorer) I left, with a nicely loaded up card. Trouble is, I realised I'd only bought prezzies for me. Just a bit of a false economy then...

- Charlotte Beugge

P.S. Check out this report - £2bn loyalty bonuses go unclaimed

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November 21, 2005

not so painful extraction of £70

One of my collegues, so young he has only just lost his milk teeth, has been having a horrible time in trying to get signed up to an NHS dentist; a species as rare as a blade of grass on a Faisalabad cricket pitch. Even when he thought he'd found a dentist willing to look at his pearly whites, he waited an hour before being told the dentist didn't really want to see him (or some such excuse).

  Given that, the £70 I've just paid for a quarter of an hour check up by my private dentist seems cheap. As the comfortable waiting room contains up to date copies of every glossy magazine (rather than flea-blown editions of Women's Realm from the 70s) I was as ever rather disappointed not to be kept waiting for even a second before I was seen. So, not a money saving tip - but surely a time and stress-saving one?

November 17, 2005

I don't like to complain but...

I hate complaining about anything. I've eaten countless dreadful meals but when asked if everything is alright, I've not said anything. I've even put up with those gorgons on so-called helplines, reasoning that it's not their fault they are so rubbish, they're just working to a script and how would I feel working in a human version of a battery chicken farm?

But I know the theory about how to complain efficiently - and this applies to all kind of services, be they financial or whatever. You find out the name of the chief executive of whatever company/corporation has got your goat. You send him a recorded delivery letter.

My theory is that his secretary will be so annoyed that she's had to troop down to the postroom to sign for the blessed thing that you will go to the top of the intray. However, I've no bright ideas on how to complain face to face: I usually just bluster and hope I sound impressive. Has anybody got any tips on how to get your complaint heard without losing your cool?

- Charlotte Beugge

P.S. I did lose my rag slightly today with the good old NHS when a consultant 'forgot' my appointment. I thought I was really scary until I got to work and realised I had my skirt on inside out. Who could be scared by someone who can't even dress themselves? So, make sure you can dress yourself properly before you go out in the morning if you might face battles with authority...

November 15, 2005

Remortgaging doesn't wash

I'm starting to have doubts about remortgaging. It's not the deal I've got (a base rate tracker) nor the fact it will save me a a few hundred pounds a year.

It's the bureaucracy involved. Because I've got both a married name and a maiden name I've needed to provide copies of my marriage certificate to seemingly the world and his dog. But what worries me more is the amount of original documents I've had to post out.

So far, I've sent out credit card statements, utility bills and most worryingly, bank statements: all in all, a easy to assemble identity package for a fraudster. I'm sure that the only interest my bank statements will elicit from those reading them is one of surprise that anyone could spend that much money at Waitrose, but really, isn't this taking money laundering too far?

November 11, 2005

Money-saving tips

We all know Pickwick's recipe for financial happiness - basically, if your income's more than your expenditure, you're unhappy; if it's less, then you're happy. And we also all know (or should by now) how to save money by choosing the best bank account, mortgage, credit card and savings.

But what about all those really wacky savings tips? I had a grandmother who used to create revolting bars of soap by melting down all the scraps, and a great aunt who used to wait until the local street market was shutting up for the day so she could swoop on the disgarded fruit and veg.

(In case you are feeling sorry for her, she lived in a  bit of London which is now extremely posh - it wasn't when she lived there - she even had an outside toilet. Not surprisingly, she never married although lived to a ripe old age and left tonnes of money to a relative)

Personally, I am above such things - although there's obviously a penny pinching streak in my DNA. After all, when funds are low and I've run out of perfume I've been known to walk to work through Boots to get a free squirt. I do stop short of using the sample lipsticks for a free make up but I've seen others doing it.

Confess: what's your favourite low-rent money saving tip?

- Charlotte Beugge

P.S. For other money saving tips, don't forget the special section - www.thisismoney.co.uk/moneysavers

November 08, 2005

Pension payments vs cat neutering

How would you answer this? My next door neighbour, a nice chap in his early fifties, cornered me the other night. He wanted to talk about pensions, I just wanted to get inside because it was cold.

Anyway, the upshot is that this chap has a stakeholder pension to which he contributes less than £100 a month. He's just had a forecast saying that when he retires, the income he'll get will hardly help him to have the retirement he hoped for - indeed, it would hardly give his cat a reasonable retirement income.

You can imagine what his next comment was - it went something alone the lines of he might as well put the ****** money on the horses instead.

I do see his point - his contributions might be too small and he might have started too late to get anything meaningful from his pension - but he was trying to be prudent. He thinks he might as well not bother. I think he should spend some of the money he saves on neutering his tom cat. What do you think?

November 07, 2005

My mum's fund switch hitch

I was prepared for a fight this morning. My mother has been sorting out her portfolio recently - that sounds rather grander than it actually is: we're hardly talking about bundles of shares, racehorses and property, just a few Isas.

Quite rightly, she's decided she might as well get some tax free income from her investments, so it makes sense to put her money into income funds and have the income paid into her bank account.

Easy enough with her existing income funds - it took simple letters asking for the income to be paid out rather than reinvested.

Then came Artemis. She decided that rather than being in two of its rather racy growth funds, she'd prefer to switch all her Artemis holdings into its income fund. So, we wrote and asked how we'd do that - and how much it would cost.

Artemis sends her 13 pages of forms which looked totally irrelevant - application forms for new Isas or for transferring from another manager. The accompanying letter told her to look on page 18 for 'details on how to switch your investments.' This referred to a couple of paragraphs which say you can switch funds - but not actually how you'd do this. Were we meant to trawl through the seemingly irrelevant forms, tailoring them to follow her wishes? Would that be safe/legal/sensible?

So you can imagine how ready I was for a barney with Artemis. How can they send out useless information/wrong forms etc.... I get through first time (damn, was expecting to hold on for half an hour listening to Handel's water music). I bluster and fume, asking why on earth they have sent out impenetrable forms (multi syllable words always make you sound like you know what you're talking about, I reason).

The nice lady on the phone just says, oh well, if that's all you want to do, then just write us a  simple letter and we'll sort it: there's no need for forms. Oh right, so that sounds quite easy doesn't it... though it still confuses me as to why they couldn't have written my mother a letter to that effect rather than bombarding her with reams of paper.

Now, of course, I have to start worrying about whether she'd be better off putting it all on to a fund supermarket (fund supermarket guide), which might be cheaper. But would it involve filling in the dreaded forms?

- Charlotte Beugge

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See also...

This is Money's independent fund tips

November 03, 2005

Why I use a mortgage broker

It's taken me years, but I'm just about to remortgage - for the first time ever.

Being a bit set in our ways - as well as being trapped by ludicrous house prices even in the dodgy part of south London we call home - husband and I still live in the first home we bought back in the mid 1990s.

And, boringly enough, we're still with the same mortgage lender (for the moment, know as the Big Northern Building Society in case something goes horribly wrong while the remortgage is ticking slowly through).

So yes, I'm the idiot on the standard variable rate homeloan, the one paying well over the odds and therefore subsidising all those super deals aimed at getting new customers in.

But when your mortgage is as titchy as ours, really it's hard to be bothered to go through all the hassle to save what seems like a few pounds a month. Which is pretty silly really, as I've at long last realised.

And of course, the answer is to get a nice, no fees charging mortgage broker to do the hard work for you, and that's just what I've done. But am I being sensible in going for a flexible, base-rate tracking, offseting home loan? It sounds like a great covering-all-bases deal for the terminally indecisive ... but then's there's the worry that maybe I should go for a ultra cheap fixed rate? Or a super discount with added cashbacks? Sometimes, it seems there is just too much choice...

- Charlotte Beugge

Some helpful links...

This is Money mortgage finder

This is Money mortgage calculators

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