Friday 27 May 2011

Money Saving Tip #3 Paying down debt and investing

This isn't a substitute for going to Citizens Advice if you are really well in debt!

Nor does this constitute any form of financial advice, I am only stating what has worked for me over the past few years and cannot predict market conditions for the future!

When I was growing up my Grandma told me - never get into debt, if you are stuck for money come to me...
Well I never needed to take up the offer but the first bit I thoroughly took to heart. The only debt I have ever had was the mortgage, and that got paid off after 13 years. No, I didn't suddenly come into a pile of money, but when we re-mortgaged three years earlier we got on a mortgage that allowed us to pay up to £500 extra each month without penalty, we also fixed for 5 years at about 5.6%

So, we paid the maximum extra each month, and every month we got a rather pleasing letter from the building society saying we had so many months less to pay! In the end it got to a choice of paying off in a lump sum or just paying until the end of the fixed rate and indeed that would have been the end of the mortgage, so we used a far chunk of our savings and got rid of it altogether.

Being debt free makes a huge difference, and of course the satisfaction of having a home that is 100% yours!

How many people nowadays seems to have forgotten that it's rather a good idea to save up for something, not just buy it right now on credit and put off the bill until some indeterminate future time? So b****dy what about keeping up with the Jones or having a new car - they depreciate when they drive off the forecourt anyway! Live within your means and pay off any debts as quickly as possible - therefore less interest to pay and a much more well-off future!

Keep an eye on what banks and building societies do with your money - when you aren't looking they lower the interest rate on your accounts....

Never trust a financial advisor that isn't truly independent. We made the big mistake of going for a With-Profits fund in 2001 as it seemed at the time a way of avoiding big fluctuations of the stock market and giving a reasonable rate of return. We were sold this by an adviser from a bank at a time when these bonds were all the rage. Seemed good at the time but very quickly developed into a without profits fund.....

So, after deciding to chuck the bond in on it's 10th anniversary - where none of the fiddles and charges would apply, I put a similar amount of money into a self select funds ISA and some money into shares which I picked and researched myself.

Two years later and it's 40% profit so far on the funds and (although some shares are down, and one was a failure) I have been between 60% and 100% up on the share portfolio, one share being 500% up.

I informed the with-profits fund managers that a complete amateur like me could do these things for myself and do far better than someone on a rather unjustified bonus...they just tried to persuade me to leave my money in and gave me some bluster about the fluctuations in the market over the past 10 years - wasn;t that what the bond was supposed to guard against?!!!

It takes time and effort to do your own research into shares and you need to properly understand the terminology, a company balance sheet and research the markets and companies, but who better to look after your money that yourself!

A word of warning - don't follow share tips from newspapers, or from friends unless your own research and intuition agrees it's a good idea...

Don't put more into a single share than you can afford to lose

Spread your money over several funds and about 15 or so shares over different sectors and different geographical areas, although you may want to weight your investments towards a particular area e.g metals or technology or retail for instance depending on market conditions.

Invest when no one else is looking, not when everyone is jumping in, corrections occur!

Try and invest as the market starts to pick up after a crash, picking the bottom is difficult and only for the brave but when there's clear signs that things are starting to pick up then look for shares and funds that are undervalued compared to long term average

Unless you have pots to invest then shares with dividends don't generally make much - although they are mostly more stable, but capital growth will make a lot of difference to your portfolio.

Anyway, just what works for me!

Tuesday 24 May 2011

about our allotment - how we organise it etc

Today I thought I would describe to you how we have organised our allotment.

We got our allotment quite easily really about 5 years ago now, we just went and asked and at that time they had a number available so we were able to choose and get on straight away rather than going on a waiting list.
That first year we divided the allotment into 5 sections, with one permanent bed and 4 rotational plots. The first year was potatoes at the top, then brassicas, beetroot etc, then the permanent bed (more on that later) and then onions then peas and beans. The following year beas and beans went to the top and everything shifted down - except of course the permanent bed.

This year we have come full circle and now peas and beans are at the top, potatoes in the next one, then the permanent bed, then brassicas and sweetcorn, then onions, leeks, carrots and parsnips at the bottom.

At the back of the allotment we have now got a strawberry bed, some compost bins, and the blackberries that were there when we took over - very much free food! We must have had at least 100 jars of blackberry jam by now and we didn't plant any of them! We also have a minarette apple tree which we are training along the back fence.

In the permanent bed we have blackcurrants, raspberries, two more minarette apples, a damson, a blueberry plant and we did have asparagus, but that may well be no longer, time will tell. We also have rhubarb (taken from my mum's plant grown in Yorkshire's "rhubarb triangle" ) We have also planted two minarette pear trees which may well have pears this year.

We have plenty of compost - guinea pigs are very useful for that, and a local farmer leaves manure to share out amongst the allotment owners once or twice a year.

Monday 23 May 2011

money saving tip #2 Turn things off!

Turn off electrical appliances when not in use....

It's so easy not to remember to turn things off or leave electrical appliances in standby. Standby draws power from the mains, so it's almost a religious duty to switch off completely!

Turn off mobile phone and other chargers when they have finished charging - I have heard that they draw power even after they have finished charging - certainly they seem to turn a lot of the power they consume into heat!

Turn off the kettle as soon as it gets near boiling - once the steam starts coming out that means that water inside is boiling - I never seem to drink my coffee piping hot anyway - I either forget or end up being distracted by another task....

Keep doors and windows shut in cold weather - heat leaves very easily!

Switch lights off when not in a room   - my children are now very well drilled and now tell each other off when a light's left on!

windy day!

Unusually for this time of year, today was an incredibly windy day - still blowing a gale as I type this. The allotment is quite open, although we have planted hedge bushes at the top end to try and break things up a bit. However, everything blows all over the allotment!
I have tied up a couple of the minarette fruit trees so hopefully they will withstand the wind - especially as the apples and the damson are laden with fruit.

One of the pear trees has a strange disease - black spots on the leave and the fruit doesn't look too happy. No idea what it is - any ideas anyone?

Tuesday 17 May 2011

money saving tip #1 Drive slower!

I have figured out how to get the car to tell me fuel efficiency on each trip. It's a Renault Scenic 1.6. Manufacturer says 38 mpg, I am getting 39-40 mpg in city and up to 42.9 mpg on motorway / A road.

How? Well I don't go above 65 mph if I can help it, and generally stay around 60. Once upon a time I would generally cruise, well let's say a little (but not too much) above 70! But that's when petrol was 60 pence per litre and I had a Cavalier and then a Laguna which were more designed for motorway slogging.

Now with petrol at 133 pence per litre it makes sense on a lot of levels, not just from a petrol saving point of view to slow down - less emissions for a start, it's safer as well. And it doesn't really add too much to a journey time.

Also the way I drive has changed, smoother acceleration/deceleration when possible, trying to cruise at an even speed, using the gears efficiently and so on.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Home grown tomatoes - yes already!

Can you believe it? 15th of May and we have home grown tomatoes! The tomato plant lives on the window ledge in one of our bedrooms, just above a radiator. My wife decided to leave the tomato plant from last year, gave it a bit of a trim and put bubble wrap on the bedroom window to help protect against the cold. It worked, but with the winter we have just had, only just!

However, we have lots of tomatoes coming, and 7 ripe today - going into the spaghetti bolognaise...

Friday 13 May 2011


Ended up watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on TV the other night. I am not one for usually watching cookery programs but having read one of his books on holiday a few weeks ago, I thought I would see what his programmes were all about.
Anyway, interesting idea about saving crusts to make breadcrumbs. Basically, save up crusts of bread - perhaps in the freezer. Shove in a tray in a hot oven for about 3/4 hour or so to dry out all the moisture, then grate up into breadcrumbs. They have to be really quite crisp and dry otherwise they might go mouldy. Then store in a jar.

Neat idea if you can't get your kids to eat crusts, especially if they like all things in the form of a nugget or crispy crumbs!

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Our allotment

Just two minutes walk from where I live we have a 80ft by 40ft approx allotment which we got about 5 years ago. It was a chance discussion with a friend that got me interested but - having heard about waiting lists of in some cases years - we thought it would be a while before we got one.
Not so! A trip down to the brewery who owns the land and rents out the allotments and we were shown a plan  - which one do you want? Choice of about 6 or so vacant ones at the time (that isn't the case today - there is now a waiting list). So straight on and into clearing stones and weeds, athough the brewery did plough the land for us to start with.

That first year we didn't cultivate the whole plot, I think it was potatoes in the top section, brassicas in the next. We then started a fruit section, with onions, carrots etc in the next. Peas and beans went in the last section.

We rotate every year, so this year it is peas and beans at the top, potatoes in the next (though the broccolli from last year is still in a bit as it hasn't finished!). The fruit section is now very much established, with 2 minarette pear trees, two minarette apples, a damson and a blueberry bush. Also blackcurrant bushes and rashberry canes.
The next section is brassicas and at the bottom onions, garlic, carrots, leeks and parsnips.

We also have strawberries and blackberries down the side and another apple.

So, we are quite busy but the aim is to try and have something from the allotment to eat every day of the year even if it is a pot of jam!

Introduction to Cash and Carrots!

Whilst on - of all things - a satellite TV forum the other day, I replied to a post from someone who was really starting to struggle with money and was asking for ways in which they could save it.
Having had an allotment for several years, and trying to live in a way such that we reduce waste, recycle, re-use, save energy etc, I gave a number of useful pointers to this user, but also had the idea that I would like to share these tips and ideas with a wider community.

So, having once had a blog on Yahoo 360 (no longer on the net) about allotments, I have decided to take up this and write up my thoughts and experiences regularly for you all!

Take care and I hope you find something useful!