Posted in Blogmas, Christmas, Lifestyle, Savings, Tips & How to's

December 14th – Christmas on a Budget: Part 2

Dec 14th

How can we do Christmas on a budget?

Back in the day…well Wednesday…I wrote a post about gifts on a budget. You can see it here if you fancy it. In it I mention ways you can save on presents, which is always useful as they do form a large percentage of our holiday costs. Another area of big spending, which is ripe for big savings, is the food budget. We all love nibbles and treats at this time of year, but so much is wasted that it is certainly worth looking into ways to either buy less or at least spend less. Household waste studies carried out last year claimed that well over 70 million mince pies and 4 million Turkey dinners were just thrown away, so it is prudent to plan ahead when it comes to festive food.

Festive Food

Magazines and Social Media feeds would have you believe that if you haven’t spent

dinner

hundreds of pounds or you haven’t got a metric ton of chocolates in your house ‘have you even Christmas-ed , bro’. TV adverts show tables laden with such tempting goodies, to the extent that food appears in all of the top results for surveys about what people like most about Christmas. While none of us want to skimp at this time of year, a bit of planning will help you get more for your money.

Plan ahead and make a list

Lists are very important if you are trying to keep to a budget and want to ensure you are only buying what you need. Be sure to remember to add the essentials to your list; while treating yourself to Pringles and Twiglets you will also need milk for your coffee, and bread for your left over turkey sandwiches. Don’t get so carried away with Christmas food that you forget the ‘proper’ food. Christmas is more than one day, so stock up; you don’t want to be constantly popping out to the shops to top up on butter or teabags. Also take into account the opening hours of your local stores so you are not left without.

Making a list will keep you focused and will help you organise your budget, just be sure to stick to it!

Look for offers

Plenty of stores are offering deals, but be sure they are for things you intended buying in the first place, or at the least make a good enough replacement for something you intended getting so as to be worth it. Remember it is not a bargain if you end up throwing it away because nobody ate it. Be sure and check those dates too, it’s not a lot of good getting a Salted Caramel Cheese Cake for Christmas Eve if the use by date is December 15th. I mean, who wants to go through the stress of having to eat an entire cake to themselves, just so it doesn’t go to waste… It would be terrible, I imagine.. Not that I have ever done that.. I was just saying, it would probably be really hard work…

Check the internet for voucher codes, and remember to cash in any points you may have been saving on club cards. The Money Saving Expert website offers loads – as the name suggests! – of money saving advice, tips,and printable coupons to help you on your cash crunching quest, while if you look on the Voucher codes website, there are – again, the clue is in the site name! – voucher codes, that you can use for discounts for a variety of things.

If this is you first ever attempt at cooking the Christmas Dinner it would be worth a look at the Save the Student website which provides a useful guide.

New Traditions

Do you remember that list of things people hate about Christmas from Wednesday? Sprouts appeared on it. They seem to be a very unpopular vegetable! So why do we buy them? Because it is Christmas – think about it, do you have them any other time of the year?

Just because something is traditional, it does not mean you have to have it. I can’t remember ever having turkey for Christmas. We always had chicken and pork because it was what we liked and it got ate rather than wasted. If no one is a fan of mince pies or Christmas pudding don’t buy them in just because tradition dictates.

If you still want turkey, consider a crown rather than a whole bird. It will cook a lot quicker and will be a great deal cheaper. We have bought the pre-prepared frozen joints before now and they have cooked up a treat. In fact frozen food is a boon this time of year; no worries about waste as you only cook what you need and no one can go in the freezer and graze on things like they do with the fridge.

Make your own

While I fully appreciate it is a busy time of the year, setting aside time to bake a few biscuits or to make mini quiches is time well spent. If you get the family involved it can become a new tradition to get you all in the holiday mood.

This recipe for tiffin claims to take about 10 minutes, it can be frozen and kept for 3 months – if it lasts that long! If it turns out okay it may make a nice present for someone too.

Be realistic – if something requires obscure ingredients or appears well beyond your skill set, give it a miss and buy it in. No-one is expecting you to press and make your own cranberry sauce, and now is not the time to risk poisoning the family if you get if terribly wrong (ask me about the sausage plait incident some time… Don’t ask my bloke though; NEVER mention sausage plait to him, he is still traumatised… )

If you are a risk taker, you could always wait until Christmas Eve in the hopes of getting some last minute bargains. Not that I recommend this if you have the entire family coming over, but if it is just a few of you and you are not too particular about your festive spread, it could potentially lead to some huge savings.

What are your must have Christmas foods? What do you buy in that usually gets wasted? Where do you think you can make savings in your food budget?

Let me know in the comments.

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Posted in Blogmas, Christmas, Lifestyle, minimalism, Savings, Tips & How to's

December 12th – Christmas on a Budget: Part 1

Dec 12th
Because Christmas can be expensive!

How can we do Christmas on a budget?

As someone who spent a number of years struggling financially I know how stressful Christmas can be when you are skint. Even now we are a bit better off (i.e I am not an impoverished student anymore!) Christmas can be an expensive time. But once a frugal tightwad, always a frugal tightwad; I am not going to let my newfound wealth (!!!!) spoil my money saving ways, so I thought I would offer some realistic suggestions to help you out this Christmas.

I have a love/hate relationship with money saving tips; while I am all for saving some cash I hate those patronising suggestions like ‘cancel your gym memberships’ or ‘don’t buy a latte in Starbucks every morning’ – like we can afford to do those things anyway! What I really wanted, when I was ‘poor people’ were tips I could use, not to be told to buy my food ‘a brand cheaper’ – it doesn’t get cheaper than 9 pence noodles!

With that in mind, here are some ways we try to keep on budget for Christmas. Part one is going to look at presents and the associated stress of giving!

Gift Giving

How many people do you buy presents for?

Now how many people do you really need to buy presents for?

While trimming up the house, consider trimming down your present list. I go into this in one of my Pondering’s, but chatting to family and friends about not buying things is a conversation worth having when you are feeling the pinch. If you don’t have the option of not buying certain people presents – I remember suggesting it to my Mum one year and she was singularly unimpressed- then maybe temper their expectations. Tell them you have a budget and that is all you will be spending. And don’t feel guilty if they then choose to spend more and buy you a bigger present, despite you explaining to them. That was their choice and you shouldn’t be manipulated into giving what you don’t have.

Maybe you can get the whole family involved in a mass Secret Santa? That way you just buy one present, but you can set a slighter higher budget. I have been involved in a twitter based one this year and as I write this the present I have been sent by my Blogger Secret Santa is sat under my tree, eyeing me up, begging to be opened. We used an App called Elfster to organise the whole thing (I say we, the whole thing was sorted out by Casey), which is free to use and makes organising secret gift giving easier.

If you have children to buy for, whether your own or someone else’s – tell them what your budget is. Explain how much you have to spend and let them select presents that fit it. One year, when we were particularly poor, all of our kids agreed to having their presents after Christmas and we went out in the sales and they got almost twice as much as they would have had, had we had to pay full price for stuff! In the same vein, if you know you won’t be seeing the person until after Christmas, maybe hold off buying their present until the sales start and pick up a bargain.

Remember that there are plenty of cheaper options available. The Pound Shop – who I may have mentioned before!– have an amazing range of toys, home ware and chocolates, while Charity shops and church sales can also be a great source of gift sets and toiletries. If you have a very limited budget, you could even consider IOU’s or vouchers for babysitting, gardening or cleaning. Maybe you have art or crafty skills and could make presents, or bake cookies.

Never Ever …

I know we all want to buy our loved ones everything they want – especially our children, and it is tempting to go into debt or use credit cards to pay for it, but you must try to never do this. One day of the year is not worth the stress of having to pay off loans for months to come. Much of the stuff you will buy will be cheaper after Christmas – as I mentioned above – and a lot of the other things that people claim they just have to have are often forgotten about in a few months. Try to remember the point of the holiday : quality time with family and friends, repeats of films on TV and copious amounts of sherry…but mainly that first one about family and stuff.

If being, what you feel is a bit stingy this Christmas makes you feel a bit guilty, resolve to save in advance for next year; While I appreciate that this tip is of no benefit to you now -unless you happen to have a time machine that is- from the beginning of next year, look to start putting some money away each month for Christmas and look forward to a less financially stressful season.

What are your top gift buying budget tips? What limits do you set?

Posted in Lifestyle, Regarding polly, Savings, Uncategorized

5 Things That Could Make Getting A Mortgage Easier.

Maybe you have seen my post on home owning and despite all my words of warning have decided you want to buy you own home anyway.  Well, as promised here are five things you will want to get in order before applying for that mortgage.

mortgage tips

Deposit, Savings and Debt Busting.

saving houseIf you intend applying for a mortgage, you should already be working on that deposit, with the recommended amount being 10% of the purchase price of  home you intend buying.  However the deposit will not be the only fees involved and saving ‘too much’ is never going to be a problem; there will always be something to spend that money  on: surveys, solicitors fees,moving costs…  If you can stretch to a 15% deposit you will potentially bring down the LTV on your proposed new home and get better rates.  The LTV is the Loan to Value; how much you owe the bank verus how much of the purchase price you have paid yourself.  Many banks will lend up to 95% on purchases, but if you are able to reduce this with a bigger savings pot, then you may be able to access lower interest rates and save money over the term of your loan.

While a good deposit is important you should also work on reducing your DTI; your Debt to Income.  Even if you are making all of your payments regularly if a bank believes the amount of debt you have is high in comparison to your income this could have an impact on whether they will lend you money.

What is going out?

While the focus is always on saving when you are looking to buy a home, you need to also consider you current outgoings.  Credit cards, store cards, loans, including student loans and childcare costs will all be looked at and affordability will then be calculated.  If you have paid off credit cards be sure that you actually cancel them, rather than just cut them up and forget about them.  If you haven’t cancelled them the amount of credit available may still appear on your file even if you are not using them.  Look at your credit commitments and which ones you can potentially reduce to help improve both your credit rating and affordability when you finally move into your dream home.

Credit Building

credit cardsYou’ve read the tips that suggest you get a credit card (that you definitely pay off every month!), or a small low interest loan to build up your credit standing.  Be sure to keep notes of how often you apply for credit, because even when you are refused a record is kept on your credit file.  It is worth checking one of the free sites to find out your current credit standing, some even offer tips on how to improve it; what you could stop doing and what you are doing well.  One of the more important aspects of good credit that is often overlooked is when someone has lived at an address for more than 3 years, and they are on the voters register.  Due to it being a legal requirement there is an expectation from lenders that you will be on the voters roll at your current address, and questions will be asked if there appears to be gaps.  Even if you are apolitical and choose not to vote, always make putting yourself on the register one of your first jobs when you move into a new home.

Also, never think that you can miss out a few addresses when asked for your residential history – banks have their ways of finding out, and will be suspicious if you haven’t disclosed all of the places you have lived.

 

Save that paperwork

The bare minimum that you may be required to show, depending on your lender, will be 3 months payslips and a full months bank statement – preferably one that can reconcile the salary credit that appears on your payslip.  Remember if you are paid weekly, you will need about 13 payslips.

Just two quick notes on bank statements – I know a lot of people have online banking now, and as such don’t receive postal statements, but if you intend to apply for mortgage it is worth having the statements arrive at your home address via the post as it can be seen as further proof of residency.  The second note will not apply to everyone, but when you transfer money to friends and family through online banking, be careful with regard the wording  you use; I’ve seen bank statements where boyfriends have jokingly paid back their girlfriends and used ‘sexual favours’ as the reference.  Not the greatest impression to leave on a potential mortgage lender!

If you are self-employed you will need to produce your SA302’s and tax overviews to prove your income or certified accounts, depending on the lender, as well as business bank statements.

 

Wages, Employment and How Much You Can Borrow

The amount a company will lend you is entirely depend on their own criteria, but as a general rule lender will calculate an amount that is between 3 to 4 times your annual wage.  Remember that your bonus and overtime payments may not necessarily be included when calculating how much you can borrow, and benefits are often not included as they are not a guaranteed long term income.  You will be looked on more favourably if you have been in your job at least 6 months or so, although the longer the batter.

If you have been on maternity leave some lenders will also need confirmation that you are returning to your job from your employers.

home key

So hopefully these tips will help you as you save for that new home, and help you start putting things in place.

One final thing I was told during a mortgage course was that people should really look at mortgages before they look at houses; they should find out how much they can borrow, and how much they will be expected to pay in fees before finding their dream house and realising it is outside of their budget.

If you are now home hunting, ‘Good Luck’, and if you can think of any other homeowner related posts that might help you, let me know in the comments.

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Posted in Lifestyle, Savings, Tips & How to's, Uncategorized

So you want to be a homeowner? Why buying a house is not all that.

As much as I love blogging, it does not pay the bills -yet- and as such I have a proper grown-up day job: I am a Mortgage Case Manager.  I know, right!  In my privileged position as both a homeowner and as someone who gets to help other people become homeowners, I am able to let you in on a little secret … owning your own home is not all that.

homeowner

There I said it.  It is an intrinsically British phenomenon to want to burden yourself with hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt for your entire working life, and I know that no amount of me telling you will convince you otherwise, but hopefully the following points will be of comfort to those who think they are failing in life because they aren’t mortgaged up to the hilt yet.

An average first time buyer borrows almost 4 times their annual income, meaning that someone who is earning the average wage in Bristol, where I live, of approximately £18K a year would only be able to borrow £72,000. The average price of a house in the city is £255,000.  For those who don’t have a £183K deposit saved up, it would appear that home owning is near impossible!  But take heart.  There are many plus sides to not being burdened with homeownership.

 
Home ‘owning’ – there is something particularly galling about watching You tubers, or seeing Instagram posts of beautiful interiors that belong to people half your age (I am a bitter old woman, what can I say)  How can someone that age possibly own a house! But take heart – technically, most of them don’t either; The bank does. This means that they are effectively renting too, just without a landlord to fix the boiler for them. And what if you had taken out an interest free mortgage? These are all but unavailable to new borrowers now, but back in the day they were all the rage.  They meant you only paid back the interest that had been incurred on your loan, but that you still owed the full amount you borrowed at the end of the term.  Mortgage companies are working with people to help those stuck in the ‘interest trap’ but if you cannot rearrange your finances, you will probably have to sell your home to repay it – that is unless you were preternaturally lucky with your endowment and you have managed to find the one repayment investment vehicle that is actually making good on its promises. (Totally not bitter about my crappy endowment that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on… deep breaths)

Mortgage debt per household is at the highest level recorded; in the ‘Money Charity’ report produced in the last quarter on 2017, the figure for the average outstanding mortgage was over £120,000. This has come about due to the high house prices which have in turn resulted in higher loan amounts and longer loan terms; the number of people with 35-year mortgages has effectively quintupled since 2005.

Therefore many owners are tied into the ultimate long term lease; they have the major downside of renting – potential homelessness if they don’t pay up, but none of the bonuses.

Hidden costs – My house is… let us be generous and say ‘in need of a bit of TLC’; okay it is a dump.  The flush just snapped off the toilet, we have no hot water and the double glazing is shocking.  Here’s the thing though. All those repairs cost money.  If I had a landlord I could get them done for me, but as it is the cost of upkeep for my money pit falls squarely on my impoverished shoulders.  It turns out that homeownership comes with loads of hidden costs that no-one thinks about until the bills roll in. While those who have rented for a while will know what to expect in terms of utilities, anyone moving from a parents home will be surprised at all of the costs they hadn’t taken into consideration once they become homeowners.

Planning on buying a flat? :
When I bought my first property, back in the heady days of 1995, all we could afford was a flat.  This was fine by us, we were a young couple, starting out and it would be plenty big enough for us.  I mean, okay, it was on the second floor, and completely the other side of town to my entire family, but it was ours! We were property owners…Weren’t we?
The flat we purchased was one of a block of six.  While our flat, and the one belonging to couple opposite was owned, the four flats below us were ‘council’, this meant when all of the flats had their windows and heating upgraded, we went without.  It also appeared that they were paying a heavily reduced ‘service charge’.  We were not made aware of the service charge until we moved 5 years later.

It was at this point we were advised that we should have been paying monthly charge towards the communal gardens (that had we never used), the staff who ‘cleaned’ the stairwells and common areas (whom we had never seen the whole time we lived there), and we had to pay towards a window that had been broken on the main entrance door, that had occurred during a rather loud party of the lad in number 23 on the ground floor.  Our flat was held hostage; we could not move until we had forked over a few thousand pounds in charges.

Problems often occur when purchasing leasehold properties. This essentially means that while you own your home, you are ‘leasing’ the land on which it stands – this is very common in flats as the leaseholder will own the whole building but rent or sell the flats as separate units.  It can also apply to some houses. In this instance you may be charged ground rent.  Mortgage companies ideally expect there to be at least 85 years remaining on your lease, and they can be next to impossible to sell on once this lease gets closer to running out, so ALWAYS confirm the length of the lease on a property before even thinking about buying it!

Fine then, I’ll get a house – a freehold one! – Instead.
You’ve jumped through all the hoops, starved yourself and gone without new clothes and holidays to save a deposit, you got your mortgage and now you are a homeowner…of a house, you’re not falling into that ‘leasehold flat’ trap! The first thing you will need is lots of insurance:
You’ll need Life insurance – don’t think dying will get you out of paying back that mortgage! You will need a policy that covers your mortgage term as a bare minimum, with a sum insured that will cover your loan amount, and possibly enough to bury you if you want to be sensible about it.
Public Liability Insurance – just in case the postman trips on your pathway, bangs his head, and tries to sue you.  Don’t worry though, this is often included in your…
Building insurance which you will now need as a condition of your mortgage.  You may have had contents insurance if you previously rented, and this is the same…except for boring stuff, like the wind taking your roof off, or your pipes bursting and flooding your bathroom.  To be fair, the insurance itself is not that expensive…it’s the excesses that can by pricey.  Many insurers will not pay the first £1,000 of any claims relating to subsidence, and if a large crack starts appearing across the front of your house it will be something you want to get sorted pretty quickly! No landlord to sort it – it is all on you now!

It’s not just insurance, there are all the other bills which will suddenly seem really expensive – you will certainly realise why your Mum was constantly telling you to turn the lights off once you start paying for a whole house worth of electricity! And maybe your new house has a water meter… goodbye long showers! Don’t forget council tax; what band is your new house in?  And as for neighbours, fences and trees…

Negative Equity:  You’ve invested all you have and are now diligently making your mortgage payments every month.  But what if the market crashes! Or, slightly less melodramatically, the council decides to open a quarry down the road, or a massive out of town shopping centre means a massive bypass will be built outside your house.  All of these are going to have an impact on the value of your property, and you could now find yourself in negative equity.  All his means is that the amount you still owe on your mortgage is now more than what your house is worth.  In everyday terms, this isn’t a huge problem.  This is your home and it doesn’t matter what it is worth…unless you want to move that is. It will only take a 10% drop in house prices for one in every ten borrowers to fall into negative equity, and as most of these people will then choose to stay put rather than move there will be a knock on effect on the housing market as less properties will become available to buy. This links to our next homeowner problem…

Lack of change: You are now stuck in one place.  With renting comes flexibility; you can swap homes, cities, counties if needs be or if employers request it, and all you have to do is wait for your rental lease to expire and pack up your stuff.  If your place had been furnished, you don’t even have the stress of dealing with lugging wardrobes! There is a reason why moving appears in the top five most stressful life events. Suffering the pain of paying out for a survey, only for the chain to break and the house you thought you were going to move into slipping from your grasp is something few people want to repeat. However, staying still is not for everyone, and the idea of living in one place for the next 35 years may be enough to put someone off the idea of owning a house entirely.

I had planned to write a positive takeaway for those still determined to be homeowners; there are plenty of tips to share, but this piece is a bit longer than I had intended.  It also means I can do some more research and I can go off and work on a piece with (totally non legally binding) advice for improving your chances of getting on the housing market if this piece hasn’t put you off.

Obviously all housey based comments are my own, and your home is at risk if you do not keep up repayments…bla bla bla.. please talk to your lenders/brokers/read reliable sources, before committing to long term borrowing.

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Posted in Lifestyle, minimalism, Savings, Tips & How to's, Travel

5 Tips to help you save up for your dream trip

Blog post 2 Header

Lots of Bucket Lists contain travel…

… And as such, you may be required to do a bit of saving if you want to start getting some of those challenges ticked off

One of my earliest challenges on my original 40×40 list  (#10 in fact) was to save up £3,000 for my trip to Japan. I, obviously, managed to achieve this; I visited Japan in April 2017 and haven’t stopped obsessing about going back to the place since.  I am currently in the process of saving up for my younger daughter’s 18th Birthday trip to L.A, and many of these tips have come into play as I try and put as much money away as I can so that Hannah will get to see the Hollywood sign, walk along Santa Monica Beach and eat her entire body weight in various naughty foodstuffs she is currently making a list off.

Continue reading “5 Tips to help you save up for your dream trip”