How I cut our energy bills by half

Energy Company logos

I realised this week that we have cut our energy bills (gas and electricity) by half compared with what it was this time last year. I’m quite proud of that! I haven’t done anything radical, but I have played the system a bit, so here are my tips to see if you can make a saving too.

You probably shop around for a mortgage deal and the best credit card, so why not your energy account too? We’ve ended up saving hundreds of pounds per year on our energy bills, which actually makes me quite embarrassed now that we paid so much before!

[At this point I will declare an interest that I have an energy company as a business client, but what that does mean is that I can share a bit of insider knowledge!]

1. Get an online account

Most of the UK’s energy providers allow you to register for an online account. This enables you to access your details via the web and gives you better visibility of your energy usage and therefore puts you in control. Look for a ‘log in’ or ‘register’ button on your energy company’s website.

2. Check you are on the right tariff

Using your online account you can see if you are on the right tariff for your needs. If you have come to the end of a fixed term deal (just like mortgages you can get 1-year or 2-year fixed price deals for energy) you may have been transferred onto a standard tariff, which is normally higher rate and will be costing you more. Use your company’s tariff checker to see if you could save money by switching to a different product. Before you switch check if there is an exit fee for the product you are currently on.

3. Select the money saving options for your new tariff

Some companies give discounts for paperless online billing and monthly direct debit. Unless you have an aversion to either they can save you a reasonable amount of money (£50+). If you are on a pre-pay meter try to get a credit meter installed as they generally offer better priced deals. If you opt to take both gas and electricity from the same provider you may also qualify for a dual fuel discount of £15-£20. Some providers offer extra benefits such as Tesco Clubcard points or Amazon vouchers either as a one-off golden welcome or as an ongoing customer benefit, so take those into account too.

4. Opt in to price alert emails

Some providers will notify you each time they drop their prices or issue a new product that could be cheaper. Other providers will notify you 6-monthly. Either way, it is worth signing up for this service as it ensures that you are kept up to date on the latest deals from your current provider.

5. Join the Cheap Energy Club and switch supplier

Sign up for Moneysavingexpert.com’s Cheap Energy Club. This works as an intermediary, using the collective buying power of all the members to negotiate the best prices for a fixed time period. Again, it is worth signing up to join the club and you will be notified when a collective switch is available. When the switch opportunity comes along you get to select the best tariff for you, from whichever company you want, and the switch is managed via the intermediary.

Before you switch just check out the green credentials and customer service ratings for your new supplier, as it is sometimes worth paying a little extra to get a good service. You can however even use the club to switch tariff and stay with the same supplier.

6. Get accurate bills

Estimated bills are not good for you or the energy company, so provide regular (at least monthly) meter readings (either online or via your company’s mobile app) to ensure that you get an accurate bill. Otherwise you could be paying over the odds for energy you haven’t used. Watch out for what they call the ‘billing window’ which is a period during which the meter reading/estimate that is on the system is used even if you provide an accurate reading.

Once Smart Meters are installed across the country you won’t have to provide meter readings any more as they will be automatically transmitted to your provider, but for now the responsibility is for you to provide accurate consumption data to your provider.

7. Cut your energy use

Whilst the biggest savings to be made are by switching supplier and/or tariff you can still save money by cutting down on the amount of energy you use.  A lot of the energy saving tips will save you a few pounds a year, but I discovered that the biggest savings you can make are by turning your heating and/or hot water down by a few degrees.

Being completely nesh [Nesh: Nottingham slang for a person who feels the cold] I couldn’t face turning our heating down but have dropped our water temperature to 60 degrees (Hot water should be stored at 60 °C at least in order to kill legionella bacteria.) No-one has noticed and I am sure it has made a difference to our energy bills!

Many energy companies offer an energy saving tracker tool online, or a counter-top energy monitor which are worth using for a while at least to understand where you use energy and how you could make savings. Worth looking into if you have the time and sufficient attention span!

I’d love to hear how you get on and if you manage to make savings too!

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Easy Papercraft Valentines Decoration

I made this valentines decoration today. Easy peasy valentines-themed papercraft decoration. You can make them with any decorative paper, left over wrapping paper, foil or plain coloured paper.

Paper heartsStep 1 – Cut out paper hearts from a range of papers. I used a cookie cutter for the stencil and a fab book of paper patterns. The contrasting papers look great once they are put together.

Step 2 – Fold all the hearts down the middle. Collect a range of ribbons. Some of these are from the tags you get in new clothes!

Ribbons

Step 3 – Stick a ribbon onto the back of one of the hearts using sticky tape.

Sticky tape

Step 4 – Stick two other hearts onto your first heart, so that you have a set of 3.

Set of 3 hearts

Step 5 – Fold each heart along the crease again to make sure they are 3-dimensional.

Step 6 – Attach to a ribbon or decorative twig to brighten up your home.

Valentines hearts

 

Step 7 – Sit back and relax with a coffee whilst you enjoy your handiwork.

Coffee heart

 

Working Parents Unite!

I remember when I first went back to work after having a baby. Most of my colleagues were unmarried, child-free and unable to relate to the difficulties of working parents trying to juggle work with children. “The times they are a changing”, I think as I saw this wonderful poster at a large London agency yesterday.

Parents forum poster
Parents unite to support each other

It’s great that an employer recognises that there are particular challenges to balancing family and work, which can be solved with the right level of support and understanding. At the same time acknowledging that parents are valued employees who haven’t suddenly gone to seed, just because they arrive at work with yoghurt smeared across their shoulder.

Snot and Weetabix

It seems like a long time ago for us now, but I remember those trying years like they were yesterday! Trying to function in meetings on little sleep, the coughs and colds and sudden temperatures that necessitate a day off at short notice, trying to keep your work clothes free of snot and Weetabix every morning, and the urgent phone calls from nursery or school because little one has bumped their head. Not forgetting the need to leave on the dot to get home before chucking out time, and arriving at nursery to find that your little darling has a bump note, not eaten at all or has bitten 5 children during the course of the day (true story!).

Bad makeup
Not a good idea to put your makeup on whilst half asleep

At work there were raised eyebrows because of repeated days off ill or to look after a sick child, lack of understanding about arrival and departure time, and social invitations dried up because they assumed you had no life outside of Pampers-land.

Work life balance

Not all employers are the same, and I was lucky enough to have a more understanding employer and boss when number 2 child arrived. For my part I always tried to give my team the understanding and flexibility they needed to care for family (whether children or older relatives) and accommodate part-time working or job-shares as well as supporting people through those blips that happen as part of our lives. I believe that with the right support employees will repay that understanding many times over. And importantly, dads are parents too – not just mums.

I like to hope that employers and colleagues are more aware of the challenges of balancing professional and home life now, which is why I was so chuffed to see this Parents Forum poster yesterday. Power to the parents!

Happy Second Christmas!

second christmas

Last weekend we held our second Christmas – complete with cracker jokes and paper hats.

There we all were, towards the end of January with our full Turkey Dinner, crackers, presents, party games and a bit of booze to merry us along. One year we even had the tree and lights out again! The kids love catching up with their cousins and we get to sit and relax with family just like on the big day itself.

This tradition started one year when one family member had been ill over Christmas and therefore hadn’t managed to enjoy the festivities on the day. We thought it would be great to give Christmas a second chance in January or February, exchange presents and re-enact it all. It’s been such a success that we now plan head for our second Christmas, getting the date in well before 25 December itself.

An added bonus is that it takes the pressure off over the Christmas break, when we used to spend long frustrating days driving up and down the country to make sure that we saw all the family. One memorable Boxing Day was spent in a traffic jam on the M6 with our toddler howling his head off for now apparent reason for literally hours. Now we know that we will all see each other at Second Christmas, so there is no pressure to dash about ticking family off the list.

Yet more presents!
Yet more presents!

The kids get to open their presents from aunties and uncles, we get to have a few drinks with family and most importantly relax. I don’t think there is any other time in the year, other than Christmas, when we allow ourselves to chill out, enjoy good food and company for a whole day. It feels incredibly indulgent to give yourself the day off again in the New Year and not adhere to your weekend routine of kids clubs, chores, grocery shopping and so on.

We share out the responsibilities and cost for the Christmas Dinner so that it’s not too much for any one host, and we all bring along left over Christmas crackers, chocolates and anything else that is still fit to be consumed.

The downsides, if there are any, are that it doesn’t help with Dry January or any new year diets! I did also wonder what the passengers on the Number 108 bus thought we were doing with our Christmas cracker hats on in the middle of January.

Sharing my energy saving tips

Engergy saving tips

Brrr! A bit frosty isn’t it?! If, like me you feel the cold and have to stop yourself from turning the heating up the minute the temperature drops below ‘mild’, then these easy energy saving tips could help you avoid nasty energy bills.

Cold weather pushes up our energy needs as we have the lights and heating on more, and typically boilers need to work harder to push out the same amount of heat. We all know that insulation is a good thing, but what if you don’t want to go to the expense and upheaval of major DIY? According to USwitch turning your thermostat down by 1°C can save you as much as £60 per year, so by avoiding putting the heating on for a while or keeping it at a lower temperature you could save yourself some dosh. Here’s how I avoid wacking the heating up to tropical:

Layer up

Love your jumper
Love your jumper

Don’t just pop on an extra jumper, make sure you are layered where you feel the cold. Wear thicker clothing or thermals under your clothes. Several thin layers are typically more effective than one thick layer, with the added benefit of being able to peel a layer off if you get too warm. Wear slippers to keep your feet warm rather than shoes or just socks. Most heat escapes from your head, so if you are really cold wear a hat! Once your face starts to freeze you might need to pop the heating back on again though!

 

Such a hottie!

Hot water bottles are not just for bed time. Keep one on your lap if you are sitting at a desk working or snuggling up on the sofa under a blanket. It’s amazing how much heat they retain and they really do keep you warm.

Close curtains and blinds

Close curtains or blinds as soon as your heating comes on, and to retain heat in the room in between. Curtains should be tucked behind the radiator if possible as otherwise the heat will just escape up behind them and straight out the window rather than into the room.  If the sun comes out then throw the curtains open wide as the sun will naturally warm the room.

Use your doors

By keeping the doors of rooms closed you will stop warm air escaping into rooms that aren’t in use. Given that heat rises the upstairs and loft doors (if you have them) are the most important to keep closed. If you are going to be in one room for a period of time close the door behind you to keep the heat in. It really works!

Bleeding heck!

Use a radiator key to bleed any air out of your radiators whilst they are cold. Air stops the warm water circulating properly and can make radiators less effective.  Don’t put anything on top of, or in front of radiators as this stops the heat getting out into the room.

Move it and shake it

Being active warms us up, so move about every now and then – dance to the radio, tap your feet whilst sitting down or get up and have a stretch to get your blood pumping.

Time for a cuppa

Warm drinks are your friend and go nicely with a biscuit. Ginger is warming, so Lemon and Ginger Tea is idea. So pop the kettle on for a tea or coffee and top up your hottie at the same time.

So, you’ll be dancing around wearing multiple layers whilst trying not to spill your tea in no time at all! Stay warm!

(Image credit: Freepik Vectors)

 

 

Easy way to always bag a bargain

Always bag the best bargain

With the sales happening in the shops and online how do you know that you are getting the best deal? How do you know if the heavily discounted item is a bargain or not?

Here’s a really simple way to check prices and make sure you know where to bag a bargain.

This simple app is called Red Laser and is available for Apple, Android and Windows mobiles and tablets.

Red Laser
Bag a bargain with Red Laser!
  • Simply download the app from the app store to your smartphone or tablet
  • Scan the product bar code or search by product name
  • The app will show you the best prices for that product online
  • You can look for local retailers or product reviews
  • Add things to your favourites or lists so you can come back to them later.
  • You can scan in your store cards so that you don’t have to carry them all around with you

The app does loads more, but those are the key points.

I’ve used it for books, printer ink cartridges and lots of other things in the run up to Christmas.

Happy shopping!

 

 

 

 

 

New Year Sparkle!

Sparkly apples

The house always looks bare when the Christmas decorations are packed away – the baubles are safely packed away and the tree is looking forlorn dumped in the front garden. I do quite like having order restored, and putting everything away but the rooms look very empty.

This year I’ve kept some sparkle in the house as a ‘new year’ decoration. I picked up the glitter apples from Tesco in the sale, but there are similar ones available on Amazon (see below).

New Year Decorations
Twiggy Sparkly Apples!

The twigs are cuttings from a friend’s twisted willow tree, but anything decorative will do, or you could spash out and buy some decorative twigs.

I prefer the arrangement to be more 3-dimensional but with kids pushing past I have arranged the twigs to be quite ‘flat’. Hope you like it.

What have you done to keep some sparkle in your home?

Quick links:

Glitter apple decorations

Tall square glass vase