The Budget: Part III (Jan 2014)
Budgeting. Always always always people ask me about budgeting. How can you feed a family of four for £115 a month? How do you pay so little for your Sky? I wasn’t aware I could be eligible for help towards my electricity bill over winter.
So I figured, it’s January… the longest month in the year… and it always feels longer as we feel fatter, lazier and of course we’re utterly skint from the whirlwind of consumerism.
I am going to give you tips to get you back on your feet. My advice to you is to go onto your online banking or read you latest statement and write down what is leaving your account each month. You should be able to say exactly what your bills are every month. Did you forget about the £2 donation to Cancer Research? That £5 to Netflix? Your £8 pet insurance? Those little payments all add up so don’t write them off, write them DOWN. Then you need to think if you still need to be paying the warranty for that 10 year old computer? Could BoBo the dog have an upgrade on his insurance? Are you paying for movie channels but have a Now TV or Netflix account?
I live in rural Wales and have no main gas. We have oil and electricity. I pay Swalec £80 a month by direct debit. This always puts me in credit whenever they do their statement (I think this is around March). I never “claim” the credit I allow it to run onto the next bill. There are several packages with several companies that work for several different reasons.
People say “oh it’s cheaper to run your washing machine at night”. Yes it is. If you’re a single person with a full time day job, then yes, Economy 7 is probably ideal. If you are a stay-at-home parent or your partner is, then maybe not. Although it’s cheaper to run your utilities at night, it is more expensive to run in them in the day. So think about that.
Get LOCKED in! Now is the time (if not three months ago) to get into a fixed price plan. Find the cheapest, and get locked in. Swalec offered me a fantastic package around eight months ago for two years. There is a fee if you need to get out (£50 for my personal case) should you wish to change firms. I know Lucy uses an online-only electricity company, so if you’re not locked in, take your metre readings, get your last bill and check your usage and pop over to www.uswitch.com and compare your bills. If your bills are “estimated” then ring the provider and give them readings, chances are you’ll be better off doing this as they usually overestimate.
Cold weather payments
These are a payment from the Government available to you if you are in receipt of certain benefits and the weather gets particularly cold (zero degrees or less) for every seven days of severe weather you will receive £25. You can find out more here. There is also the “warm home discount”. This is also for certain benefits and pensioners, however you get a lump sum (£135) credited to your electricity bill; bear in mind some companies do their own criteria making it easier for you to be eligible; it’s worth ringing as some offer it to those in receipt of Working Tax Credit and others to those on Job Seekers Allowance and pensioners only. The larger electricity companies are legally bound to offer this scheme too. You can read more about the warm home discount here.
I was never one for turning off plugs and standby this and switch off that. Until I saw the saving to be made. Switching off your TV at the wall can save you £24 a year. Just your television. £2 a month for just one appliance. I don’t turn off my Sky Digibox because it fails to record, however, the kind chap at Swalec who I grilled about this said that the Digibox was MADE to be left on and switches to an eco friendly energy drain after a certain time at night (I think 11pm).
Always fill your freezers. We have three freezers, it is more economical to fill them up to keep them cold, therefore the freezer appliance works less hard, saving you money. You’re better emptying them all into one freezer if they’re half full and turning the spare freezer off until you’ve been shopping.
Switch your credit card to a 0% interest one. Tesco are doing a 0% interest card at the moment, and you get Clubcard points when you spend on it too. But if you don’t need a credit card or can’t trust yourself to keep up with repayments, don’t have one!
Speak to your bank about a free overdraft facility. Change banks, or just threaten to. If you do decide to change banks, the new bank is legally bound to move all of your direct debit agreements across within seven days, so no hassle for you. First Direct is coming up first for customer service and offering £125 to switch to them, however they are an online bank, so won’t be for everyone. Natwest is offering £100 to switch at the moment too. Don’t be loyal to your bank if they’re not delivering a service you want. Look into upgrading your account. We have a platinum account for £12 a month. This covers both of our iPhones (£13 each with Vodafone insurance), breakdown recovery with Green Flag (we used this already and was no hassle), FREE family passes for the National Trust (we live near the beaches and walks on the coastline so parking in the summer is usually £6 a place, now will be free), a taste card (50% off meals in local and chain restaurants) and free travel insurance. We benefit from these things, not everyone will. So do check into the benefits for you before going ahead.
Sky. Where do I start? I actually LEFT last year in protest because they wouldn’t do me a better deal after being a customer for several years and never missing a payment. My box turned into freeview and I didn’t miss it.
Until after about five months, Sky rang me and offered me a deal for £14 a month. I took it. That’s a bargain. I then found multiroom for £5 including a free box and free installation two weeks ago. I got that too so now I’m up to £19 a month. They then ballsed up my billing for two months and I rang and said just cancel it all, and they gave me free movies for six months!
Threaten to leave, but, be warned, they might call your bluff. That’s fine. Go without TV for a few months, you’ll still have the free channels and E4, BBC3 etc. Panic not, they will ring and offer you a kick ass deal. Beautiful.
Talk Talk. Worst customer service in the world. We don’t use our house phone; we have mobiles and a business line and it’s only there to allow us internet. We take incoming calls but we never ring out on it. I barred out-going calls on it in October, just so I couldn’t be tempted to ring 0870/0845 numbers when complaining to various companies. I was on a package with Talk Talk which was £15.50 a month line rental and £7.50 Essentials (free evening calls and unlimited broadband).
While checking all my bills two days ago, I rang them up. They were advertising broadband for £2.50 a month. I rang them and asked why, when I rang in October barring my outgoing calls, didn’t they tell me they did a sole broadband package? They didn’t know, so they credited £30 to my account. They then said if I paid £110 there and then for the year’s line rental, I’d only have monthly bills for £2.50 a month. With the £30 credit I’m now paying nothing. Superb. Ring your companies, ask if they can do something better.
My car insurance is with Tesco. If I get a quote online and Tesco aren’t the cheapest, just ring them and say “Admiral are £40 cheaper” and Tesco will match it there and then.
You can also choose to pay your instalments over 10 months instead of 12. Slightly more expensive but, you get a break at the end of your contract for two months which is well worth it. When you get your renewal, don’t accept the existing company’s offer! You have 28 days to cancel and go elsewhere, I did that and saved 2/3s of my bill every month!
Our insurance is sky high and they over charged us for the past 10 months so we are now paying nothing until May 12th (our renewal is April 12th) and January was our last payment, and at £92 a month, we’ve really made a saving… this helps because our MOT and Tax is due in March so that covers that!
You pay money to these companies. Speak to them. Ask them what they can do for you, can they reduce your bill or offer you more? Go online, go on the compare sites, CHANGE companies. Stop being loyal to conglomerates who couldn’t give a monkey’s bollock about you; it’s your hard earned cash, spend it wisely and spend it twice.