watervole: (Default)
 I've been investing in Funding Circle for five or six months now.  It's a peer to peer lending system.

I like it for several reasons.  

Firstly, I'm getting an average interest rate of 6% and that will increase slightly over time (the minimum lending rate has increased over the time I've been with them, and reinvesting interest pushes up the overall rate).

Secondly (and very important for me) it's  very ethical system.  All the money is invested in British businesses, so I'm investing money in my own country which means it's benefiting the people around me.  But more than that, I can choose exactly which companies I invest in.  I have small investments in everything from organic farms to  companies producing improved paint for exterior walls.  I never invest in anything involving cars or aircraft (bad carbon footprint) and I can be as selective as I like.  I chose not to invest in a firewood company this morning as their blurb said nothing about planting new woodland, just about buying up stuff they can fell, but I chose to invest in a firm making children's play materials.

Thirdly, I can invest small sums.  I typically invest £20 - £60 (usually £20) in each business. ( £20 is the minimum investment.)  Therefore, I can invest small sums when I have them, but I'm not tied to any regular schedule or amount.

Fourthly, it has play value.  It you don't have much free time, you can use the autobid facility which will invest across a spread of businesses at the rate you request (but you lose the ethical advantages of choosing where you invest).  If you have a bit more time, you can treat it a bit like a computer game.  It works very much like ebay in reverse.  Investors bid the interest rate they will lend at, and when the auction ends, the lowest bidders get accepted.  (But as the business needs lots of those £20 bids, they may end up accepting 1300 bids at 6.2%, 231 bids at 6.3%, 20 bids at 6.4%, etc.)  If you like sitting around near the deadline, you can often slip in a high value bid and get it accepted.

Fifthly, the borrowers are mainly small businesses who have difficultly getting bank loans at sensible rates.

Sixth, you can choose your risk level.  Funding Circle assign each business a risk level which is essentially their estimate of how likely the loan is to default.  Higher risk loans attract higher rates of interest.  (their estimate of risk seems reasonably accurate.  I've had a few defaulters, but no more than feels right statistically)  I'm currently beating the odds by about 2%, but then most of my loans are still in the early stages.  (They pursue defaulters, so you don't get involved in any legal hassle)

Seventh, capital is repaid as the loan progresses along with interest.  I like this as it means I get back a steady trickle of money which I can either withdraw or reinvest.  (you don't have to wait until the end to get all your capital back)
(You can 'withdraw' money by selling your loan parts to other investors, but you may have to take a small loss if you want to sell them quickly)

NB. (pasted fro Wikipedia) The peer-to-peer industry adheres to standards set by the Financial Conduct Authority. Peer-to-peer depositors do not qualify for protection from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which provides security up to £85,000 per bank, for each saver[12] but the Peer-to-Peer Finance Association mandates the member companies to implement arrangements to ensure the servicing of the loans even if the broker company goes bankrupt.

If anyone would like to try Funding Circle, they've got an offer whereby I can send you an invitation.  If you invest a minimum of £1000 in your first month, we both get £40.  

watervole: (Default)
 When I got my car insurance renewal from ASDA, it was £1869 (and they could no longer include breakdown cover in that as the car was getting older).

Thank goodness I shopped around.  My new premium is under £800 and includes RAC Roadside.  And my new insurer has a telephone number.  ASDA used to stress me out terribly as you could only communicate by email - and they didn't always reply even then.  Most things had to be done by logging onto the policy and manually editing it to change anything (like a new driver) and I just hated it.

I'm now with IGO4, via Moneysupermarket.com

If that sounds like a bit of an advert, I guess it is.  Saving £1000 means a lot to us at the moment.  And having an insurer where I can also speak to a human being (I phoned up to ask a question about one part of the policy and had an instant helpful answer) is important to me.
watervole: (Default)
Interesting to see the difference that the angle of the sun in the sky makes.  it's getting towards 4om now and generation has fallen to around 1.3KW - which is still far less than the 300W I'm actually using, but you can see the pattern.

Electricity use will rise a bit in the evening with lights switched on and more computers in us (though it's surprising what a difference it makes if you get serious about switching off lights in rooms you're not actually in).

It will be interesting to see how much difference clouds make.  If a cloudy day can still manage 2-300W, then it will be really useful.

Incidentally, if anyone is interested, this is the monitor that I'm carrying around the house with me to view the net electricity generation/consumption.  It's a remarkably handy little gadget.  I've been using it for a month or two and not only does it give me a good feel of which appliances use how much electricity, I find that now I'm used to the normal patterns, I can often spot when things have been left switched on elsewhere in the house.

At low readings during the day, I'll now find it tricky to tell difference between a small gain and a small loss solar electricity-wise, but I'm sure I'll get used to it.  I can always go and look at the solar reading in the meter cupboard if I really want to know.

watervole: (money)
When I changed banks, several direct debits went missing.  Most of these were not a big issue, I contacted each person who complained of a missing payment and sorted it out.  In the case of my credit card company, it was more serious.  I  ended up with penalty payments and interest charges to the tone of over £50.

It's taken several phone calls (and telling them firmly that their offer of refunding half the interest was unacceptable), but we've got there in the end.  I now have printed proof in my hand (in the form of a BACS record provided by First Direct), that MBNA were indeed informed of my change of bank 12 days before they billed my old bank and charged me all those penalties.

They're refunding the extra charges in full.

That's saved me writing a letter to the financial ombudsman.
watervole: (money)
Martin Lewis (Money Saving Expert) blogs about his energy monitor and mentions savings that he hadn't initially expected.
watervole: (Save the Earth)
According to my gas supplier, we use less than a fifth of the gas of the average person living in a three bed terrace (which is what we live in).

I'm impressed.  I knew we had a lower than average gas consumption, but I'd no idea it was that low!

I'd love to show you the graph for the last six months, but I can't figure out how to copy it from their web site.

I think it's probably due to a combination of excellent insulation and low hot-water usage.
watervole: (Default)
Cooking with towels is a trick I've tried a couple of times now.

I recommend it to all Hitchhikers fans, cooks, people with busy lives and those who want to save money or reduce CO2 emissions.

It's very handy if you need to cook a casserole or similar and aren't sure exactly when you'll want it and also want to make sure you don't burn it if you go out and abandon it to its own devices for an hour or so.

It's also very cheap, because you don't use any gas or electricity after you've heated it up.

I'd read about hayboxes, which struck me as a good idea, but far too demanding on space and involving bits of hay in your kitchen, so I adapted the concept in the spirit of Douglas Adams

Cook your casserole (or pressure cooker) on the hob until it's boiling and then simmer for a couple of minutes to make sure the heat has penetrated all the ingredients.  Then, turn off the heat, leave your casserole right where it is (you can move it if you want to, but if it's an electric cooker, you might as well use the residual heat in the hob), wrap the top and sides of the casserole in a couple of thick, fluffy towels.  (If you take it off the hob, then you'll want towel underneath as well)

Leave for several hours and eat whenever you want to.  The one we cooked yesterday was still hot four hours later.  The long, slow cook had allowed all the flavours to seep into the liquid and it tasted fabulous (guests asking for spoons to make sure they didn't miss any of the liquid on their plates).  Slow cooking can also give beautifully tender meat.

The bigger the meal, the better it's going to retain the heat.  It can't burn, because you've turned off the external heat.  I went out for  a walk after setting up yesterday's towels.

You can cook pretty much any kind of stew this way.  Yesterday's one was sausages, parsnips and carrots for five people.  

It's cheap, it's great for lazy people who can't plan meals to exact deadlines, and it makes great-tasting food!
watervole: (Default)
Been pottering a mixture of things the last few days.

Mowed the front lawn, raked it and mowed it again.  I had to take occasional breaks.  The great tits are nesting in the box above our front door, the chicks are quite noisy now and the parents tend to be nervous about visiting the box when I'm using the mower, so I gave them some chances to get in and feed the young.

There are blackbirds nesting in the ivy in the back garden.  Their main concern is a long-hair tortoiseshell cat.  I've got very good at recognising blackbird alarm calls, so if I'm in the kitchen/lounge and I hear them calling, then I come out and chase the cat away.  They're not afraid of me if I'm working quietly in the garden, which is rather nice.

I'm working my way through the house, gradually clearing piles of stuff from here and there.  The only problem is that some of the older piles are a bit dusty and the dust sets off my allergy and makes my hands really itchy.  Occasionally I wear disposable gloves, but they do make your hands rather sweaty, so I prefer not to use them if I can help it.

The sock is making progress.  I'm past the heel and about half way down the foot now.

Thanks to those who recommended Ravelry to me - the people there have already helped me solve one knitting problem.

The allotment is making progress.  I've been watering because it has been so dry of recent, but the recent showers (while not really enough to soak into the ground) will at least have stopped the soil blowing away every time I hoe it. 

The peas are several inches tall, spinach and beetroot seedlings are emerging.  Rocket is growing in the way that rocket does.  Rhubarb is being harvested (cook it with ginger for best effect).  Sorrel has been split and replanted and survived. (dead easy to grow native perennial.  Leaves taste of lemon and are nice in mixed salads).  Ramsons (wild garlic) are flowing in the garden.  They look beautiful, grow in awkward dark corners under trees and have leaves that are delicious in cheese sandwiches as well as in cooking.

I was going to be learning some Cotswold morris tunes from a friend today, but he's got to go and have a blood test, so I'll probably do some more work on the garden and the allotment.

Richard and Henry are massively busy today with an important work deadline.

I've got a jumper of Henry's to repair.  (Got it in a charity shop originally, nice chenille knit that I thought he'd like).  The sleeve caught on something yesterday, but I think I can fix it okay.

We've had steady income for over a year now, but the habits of eight years of little/erratic/no income die hard (and I'm not sure that I'd want the habits to die).  I still buy nearly all my clothes in charity shops.  I still scrutinise every annual renewal of insurance, gas, etc. and nearly always save at least 5% by either changing supplier or by simply phoning and asking for a reduction.  If the premium goes up by more than inflation and I haven't made a claim, then I always ask for a reduction.

Many habits remain because they have environmental gains as well as monetary ones.  I still don't use my tumble dryer (I may Freecycle it at some point).  Hanging the washing to dry on the line is free, as well as reducing CO2 emissions.

watervole: (money)
I just got a note from BT:
We'd also like to make you aware of some changes to our prices, terms and conditions, effective from 1st April 2010. These include changing what we define as the evening call period for all types of calls: at the moment from 6pm-6am, but changing to 7pm-7am. For more details about this change, as well as changes to our call set-up fee and daytime rate, please see below.

Watch out for that one if you're in the habit of making early evening phone calls.

However, on the plus side,
Calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers1 - included at no extra cost:
 - During the weekend if you have our Unlimited Weekend Plan.
 - During evenings and weekends if you have our Unlimited Evening & Weekend Plan.
 - At any time if you have our Unlimited Anytime Plan.

So if you make your calls to 0845/0970 during the period when you'd normally get free phone calls, then those are free as well -but NOT during the rests of the day.

During the day, it's still cheaper to use 18185   BT aren't even in the same game when it comes to overseas calls.  I can call a phone (landline or mobile) overseas for less than the cost of some UK  calls!
watervole: (money)
I've been with Southern Electic for a while via a tariff that gives money to the RSPB.  However, I had a salesman round this morning from Scottish Power who reckoned he could undercut them.

Being a regular reader of Money Saving Expert, I was instantly suspicious, especially as Martin Lewis had been complaining about salesmen saying that he recommended them when in fact he doesn't.  And indeed, they were quick to cite him as an authority, although the price comparison site they suggested wasn't his favourite (though it was one he does mention).

I got them to wait while I did some checking online.

Turns out they were partly correct.  Energyhelpline, Martin's top comparison site, confirmed that they were cheaper than my existing supplier.  Unfortunately, Ovo's all green tafiff undercut even further... (and the rate is fixed for the first year - as was Scottish Power's, to be fair to them)

So,  I've just signed up with Ovo.  I reckon the RSPB were probably getting a tenner a year from my previous supplier.  I'm saving over a tenner a month with Ovo, so I've just increased my monthly direct debit to the Charities Aid Foundation by a tenner  a month and both the RSPB and I will end up with more money!  And I have a green supplier into the bargain.

And becasue I used the link from Money Saving Expert to energyhelpline, I should get an extra £15 cashback...

I should add that the Charities Aid Foundation have quick, efficient and helpful staff on their telephones.  If only my bank was that easy to use! 

For those who don't know about it, the CAF allows me to have a direct debit every month from my bank account, which will have gift aid added automatically.  Whenever I get the urge, I can log onto their web site and give money from my account  (by name or anonymously) to any registered charity of my choice.  It keeps a list of my favourite charities: Marine conservation Society, Durrell Foundation, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, etc. and I can add new favourites at any time.

watervole: (Bang Bang)
I find myself in need of an even angrier icon than Gene Hunt, but I don't have one equivalent to "I'll tear you into little pieces and then stamp on the pieces."  --  Where's Arthur Dent when you need him?
Read more... )
watervole: (Money)
Some of you will remember that a couple of weeks ago, I celebrated Richard's new job by going out and buying a new doormat.

Well, today, I hit the real heights.  Not only did we renew our National Trust membership and venture into their tearooms after walking round the snowdrops at Kingston Lacy, but I also bought -Wait for it... )
watervole: (Money)
Got the insurance renewal for my son's house through the post this morning.  Looked at the figure, went and checked what I'd paid last year, made a phone call.

"Hi, my insurance seems to have gone up by more than I'd have expected."

Five mins later, not only is it reduced, it's significantly less than we paid last year.

I'm a very happy bunny.

I've definitely gotten more ruthless as I've got older.  There was a time when I just automatically renewed insurance policies without looking at the price at all.  Now, even though I like the company I'm with, I won't accept a rise that's more than reasonable for inflation (expect for last year when there was a big jump in the premium after we made a claim for water damage - I felt that was reasonable.)
watervole: (Toothache)
The bad news is that I had to visit the emergency dentist - I had a temporary filling yesterday on a sore tooth and today it got a lot worse. Severe pain with even the gentlest bite (it was when I hurt to bite a banana that I knew I was in trouble) and hyper temperature sensitivity.

Have been given antibiotics for an abscess. Oh Joy. Eating soup at lukewarm temperatures. that hurts a bit, but not nearly as much as anything else.

I'm going to try and find an NHS dentist.  I'm fed up of paying what I'm currently paying.  I'm even more fed up of paying it when I need to visit an emergency dentist a day later...

On another front, Tivo has become a lot less useful as the thumbs up facility no longer works (a general problem affecting all UK Tivos, though I gather there may be a hack that would solve it.)

Decided to see whether it was worth going back to Sky in order to get Sky +

Price online - £99 with any normal Sky package.

I don't read Money Saving Expert for nothing. I phoned up Sky, pointed out that I was a former customer who'd left nine months ago for reasons of cost (all verified by their records), that I had a Tivo and thus felt Sky + wasn't worth as much to me as to everyone else, and asked what the best deal they could offer me was. Net result? I'm getting Sky + for free (no cost for box/installation) as long as I keep a Sky contract for twelve months, and if I cancel Sky TV before then, I only have to pay £10 a month for the first year to keep the Sky + box, and that's no more than I was paying for Tivo anyway.

Not bad for someone whose tooth feels like a lance has been stabbed through it every time I drink a sip of warm tea.

watervole: (Save the Earth)
It's a happy coincidence that many things that are good for the environment are also good ways of saving money.

This works for me - I'm an environmentalist and a skinflint...

Today's handy tip for reducing your heating bills.

Go down to your local charity shop, find a suitable length curtain, and hang it behind your front door.  (You'll have to pay for a curtain rail/pole unless you already have one or are very creative, but it's only a short one)

I did this last winter, and if I drew it every night, the hall was definitely warmer in the morning.

Actually, the cheapest energy-saving tip of all is simply to draw your curtains when it gets dark.  I'm continually amazed by how many people fail to do this when the weather gets cold.
watervole: (Default)
I've found this little gadget from Maplin to be wonderfully useful and mine has paid for itself several times over.

They have them discounted for the next week, so now's a very good time to by one for £15 plus postage.

Find out which items in your home eat electricity and which you don't need to worry about.

If you're concerned for the climate, get one to save CO2.  If you're worried about your wallet, get one to save cash.

If you're me, do it for both reasons!  (I'm finding that almost everything I'm doing to save the planet is also saving me money.  As a rough rule of thumb, if it doesn't save you money, then it probably isn't environmentally friendly, no matter what it says on the packet.)
watervole: (Save the Earth)
I've been using my Nat West Visa card very little this last year or so as it collects Air Miles and I don't fly any more (I'm discussing with a charity about whether I can transfer my existing air miles to them for their staff to use).  I've got another card that collects money for the WWF, though suspect it's a fairly small %, as they never openly state what it is.

One of the things I've become a lot more confident about since I started hanging around Money Saving Expert is being willing to haggle and to state up front what I want.  Today, I phoned up Nat West Visa and stated that I wanted a card that gave me cashback or a decent charity donation and no Air Miles of any kind whatsoever.

I now have a Nat West Visa 0.5% cashback card.  Given the amount we put through the card annually (we always pay it off in full each month) that's a non-trivial amount of cashback.  I can take that cashback when it's added to the card in November and donate it to charity and know exactly what I'm getting - and I can pick any charity I want.

And all without the hassle of applying for a new card.
watervole: (you dig)
Started as I mean to go on...

I've obviously spent too much time reading http://moneysavingexpert.com/    I'm far more willing to haggle than I used to be.

It's almost too late to plant raspberries, but not quite impossible.  This also means that the garden centres have precious few canes left and they aren't in the best of condition.  The ones down the local garden centre were priced at £1.20 and didn't look terrible happy.

I offered them £4 for the lot.  We settled on £4.50.

So, I have nine canes that look as though they will live, though not all will fruit this year, and a couple that may/may not live thrown in for good luck.
watervole: (Eye of Horus)
I get really annyoed by statements such as:

"four out of five people paid less for their home insurance when they switched to us"

The other one in five were obviously stupid and, of course, all those who compared the price and didn't switch aren't included in the statistics.

It's such a totally obiously stupid claim that I'm amazed anyone ever falls for it, yet people obviously do or they wouldn't keep trying it.
watervole: (Save the Earth)
We're probably one of the few people in the country who didn't have one already, but after having discovered how easy it was to use [livejournal.com profile] auntygillian's when I was cat-sitting recently (hers has a broken timer, so if that's easy to use, then the rest must be child's play), we decided to get one ourselves.

By way of a bonus, they use less than a quarter the electricity of a conventional cooker, so, less CO2 emissions as well. It's hard to calculate exact savings, as I can't measure what the normal cooker uses. However, according to a site I just looked at, the large ring on an electric cooker uses around 2kW and a microwave is less than 1kW (think of a small ring as just over 1kW). Things cook in roughly a quarter of the time in a microwave, so the electricity usage will be between a quarter and an eighth of what I'd normally use.

Sticking a finger in the air, I'd expect to save at least a tenner a year in electricity if I get in the habit of using the microwave regualarly.

Quicker, cheaper and less CO2. Works for me.

(the microwave was thirty something quid, so will pay for itself in less than four years, without adding anything for the convenience)
watervole: (Save the Earth)
I've been asked where to get the monitor that I use to measure how much electricity my household appliances use.

This one costs all of £13.49 from Maplin and has already paid for itself several times over.


According to the web site, the price will go up after Xmas, so now might be a good time to buy one - why not get another for someone else while you're stuck trying to find a different Xmas gift?
watervole: (Save the Earth)
I just got my electricity bill. It's a lot less than the comparable bill for the same quarter last year. £30 less.

There's inevitably going to be some random variation depending on when they actually read the meter and when they've estimated and got it wrong, but I'm still pretty confident that the saving is real.

The usage was 686 kWh as opposed to 1201 kWh

That's a reduction of over 40%!

I'll wait and see what the bill is next quarter before I cheer too loudly, but it looks as though the measures I've taken to cut the electricity usage (without reducing our standard of living) may be having a real effect. That's a lot of carbon dioxide saved, as well as hard cash.

The gas bill is also well down, but the weather has been very mild, so I don't yet know how much of that saving is due to the double glazing and other insulation work.
watervole: (Save the Earth)
About a year and a half ago, sparked off by a really excessive phone bill (http://watervole.livejournal.com/96055.html) I started looking into ways to cut down our household bills. Read more... )
watervole: (Save the Earth)
Last year, 5 October to 5 December, we used 1202 kWh of electricity.

When I get my next electricity bill, I'll see if I've managed to reduce that.

Think of it being like a dieting challenge. How much can you reduce your electricity usage without reducing your standard of living? Instead of shedding pounds, try shedding kilowatthours. Any reduction at all gains you Brownie points, as the general trend is upwards rather than static. (I'd award a prize, but we probably all get bills on diffent dates, so I couldn't really pick a suitable finish point)

Anyone else like to give it a try? [livejournal.com profile] fjm is going to go for it.

(I'd do the same for gas, but the mild weather means that we haven't switched on the central heating yet, so the comparison with last year would not be a valid one)
watervole: (water vole)
I've finally got around to doing something that I should have done a year ago. We've long had the habit of switching the TV off at the wall rather than leaving it on standby, though we have to confess that this virtue originated with the TV having a dodgy capacitor and refusing to work most of the time unless it was switched off at the socket. (using my handy gadget for measuring electicity, I discover that this has probably saved us around a fiver a year).

What we did today was to rearrange plugs and sockets so that other things like the stereo and the DVD player are now easy to switch off at the wall (they're all on the same on the same socket bar now)

In the case of the DVD player, this is saving very little electriticy as it uses next to nothing on standby. However, I was horrified when I measured the stereo. It was drawing 30 watts! That may not sound like much, but taken over a year that's about £26.

How to help the planet and save cash at the same time.

(Sadly, we can't do similar with the satellite box as that has to remain on)
watervole: (water vole)
I'm very happy with my new fridge/freezer's electricity consumption. I plugged my little meter in and had to wait quite a while before it regsitered anything at all!

After a couple of hours, it's usage appeared to be around .03kWh If if had to cope with this kind of temperature all year round, it would still only cost me £23 (assuming 9p per kWh)

The old one cost vastly more than that. Around £70 per anum if memory serves. THe payback period is about 4 years. And a lot of saving in CO2 emissions as well.

Now, I wonder what else is eating electricity in the house...
watervole: (Default)
I've just moved our car insurance from the AA to Swinton - saving around £30 a year and with better coverage with regard to courtesy cars if your own car is written off. (the Swinton's basic policy is very spartan, but I added on the features I wanted, such as legal cover, and it still came out cheaper).

Try visiting http://www.moneysupermarket.com if you need to cut your insurance and want to compare prices.

I've moved from the AA to Auto Aid, which saves nearly a hundred quid a year. The main difference is that with Auto Aid, you have to pay for the repair and then make a claim afterwards. As long as you're disciplined enough to do that and not forget, it's amazing value for money at £29 a year including relay and home start (though there is a max of £45 that they'll pay on home start).

Interestingly enough, when I told the AA I was going to cancel, they instantly offered me free home start for a year.

As the year moves round and other insurance policies come up for renewal, I shall be running them though the comparison web site as well.
watervole: (Default)
We just reduced our Sky package by dropping channels we no longer watch. That's £6 a month or £72 a year that we're saving.
watervole: (Default)
I just got my BT bill for this quarter. It's dramatically down. My last bill was for a total of £239 which triggered off a flurry of trying to find better alternatives. One of the reasons it was high was becasue they'd been hiking up the prices on Home HIghway (a precursor of broadband), another was becasue they'd abolished early-morning cheap rate calls on the quiet and the last was because their rates were high overall anyway. I was already using OneTel for international calls, so that adds another £12 to the total making it £251 for the quarter. What's my latest bill? Read more... )
watervole: (Default)
I decided that I was way too much in credit with my gas bill. The direct debit had been ever so slightly too much each month for the last few years and I hadn't noticed how much had accumulated.

I phone them up and they're going to keep the payment the same but mail me a nice large cheque for the outstanding credit.

That's our memberships for Discworld paid for, and my Novacon membership.


watervole: (Default)
Judith Proctor


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