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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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.

Keepy Uppy those fitness goals

New Year fitness goals

Is your New Year fitness resolution becoming a challenge? Are your fitness goals looking unrealistic?

Joining a gym just isn’t for me. I was put off years ago at the sight of sweaty muscle men grunting as they lifted an impossible bar of weights, and by the ladies in the changing room that paraded around naked as they got changed, and then put on a full face of make-up before heading home to bed. I just don’t fit in.

Aerobics and steps classes are not my scene. I’m the one who steps left when everyone else moves right, and I just don’t feel like I’m part of the in-crowd. I’m worried that Zumba would be a step too far, and Salsacise just reminds me of food.

I’ve tried Spin (crazy cycling to music for 30 minutes) but I mistrust that anyone else EVER raises the resistance level on their bikes when the instructor says so. They can’t possibly keep peddling against that level of resistance and still be able to walk out of the room at the end of the session.

Cats doing yoga
Cats are better at yoga than me (Image: Flikr)

Pilates and Yoga have also had my custom, and I got on OK with them, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was lying down for an hour and not really getting a workout. (note – I now understand the difference between cardio and strength training!) But now there aren’t any classes nearby that fit in my busy week.

If like me you just can’t (and don’t want to) keep up with the glamourous, co-ordinated fitness extroverts, then there are other options for keeping up your New Year fitness regime.

Set your own fitness goals

Setting fitness goals can feel a bit like you’re setting yourself up to fail, so for me the important thing is to set goals that are right for me. They might be too much or too little for the next person, but this is not a competition – it’s about you and no-one else. In running, it’s all about the Personal Best (PB), which is an individual measure and a great principle to transfer to any activity you do. Personalise your fitness goals to suit your expectations and no-one else’s.

Build activity into your normal day

I try and run, walk or cycle if I’ve got errands to do locally. I did look like a bit of a loon this morning jogging with a carrier bag full of clothes to take my Next returns back to the local retail park, but it killed two birds with one stone. Cycling is fun – you feel like a teenager all over again and the sense of freedom is great.

Count your steps with a pedometer or a phone app as that really makes you realise how sedentary you can be – on days that I’m office based I can just get over 2,000 steps – no-where near my 10,000 daily steps goal!

Join a team

A few years ago I joined a local netball club at the same time as a friend. I hadn’t played netball since school, and initially wasn’t very good at it. She’s since moved on to other things (and is awesome at them!) but I have kept going and now can hold my head up on the court. I’m not a great player but am doing OK through perseverance and the lucky circumstance of being slightly taller than average.

As well as fitness and challenging myself to develop a skill I’ve met so many lovely women and broadened my social circle. There’s a wonderful initiative by England Netball called Back to Netball that is a great entry point for people new to the sport, or those who haven’t played for years. If netball’s not for you then search for women’s basketball, football, korfball or a racquet sport. Teams and clubs are great motivators to keep going with a sport.

Run rabbit run

Run rabbit run!
Run rabbit run! (image:PDSA)

I started running a few years back, after various post-children health problems were sorted out, and whilst I haven’t always stuck with it I have definitely now made running part of my life. At first I could only jog 100 yards before walking for a bit, but now I am running 5k twice a week, and really love that chance to get out on my own with just music for company. There’s loads of couch to 5k apps that can help you on this journey, and I’ve found Runkeeper and ParkRun to be great motivators to set your own PB goals and keep going with them.

Work on your Apps

I have a few free apps that I use a lot to motivate and track my activity. I’ve already mentioned Runkeeper, which also lets you track activities other than running. You can find friends so that you can see each other’s activities, or you can share your achievements on Facebook if you want to be really shouty about it.

Withings Health Mate is also good as it tracks weight, activity, blood pressure and sleep (you need extra gadgets for some of those). I use it to track weight and activity. It takes data from Runkeeper and also my daily step count, and it gives me a daily step total.

Daily Abs Workout is a  free app that gives you a quick 5 minute workout for the core muscles that you can do at home any time of day. The videos show you how you should be doing it, and gives you a count-down for each exercise. The upgraded version is not expensive and gives you more workout options and removes the annoying adverts! I am just getting back into this after a break, and I remember that last time I used it regularly the exercises definitely got easier as time went on, which means my core muscles were getting stronger.

Myfitnesspal is an app with a massive library of foods and recipes, so if you are calorie counting this one is for you. I used it for a while to see what my calorie intake was, which really helped to understand portion sizes and make informed decisions about what I was taking in as fuel.

Find your perfect moment

Juggling mum
Juggling to find the time (Image: miastylemamma.com)

Finding the time for exercise is a challenge when you’re a busy working mum, but once you’ve identified a slot or an opportunity then you can build exercise into your routine. For instance: Jog whilst your child cycles to school/clubs;  Liftshare to drop your kid off at a party and jog back home; Go for a swim whilst your child is at Brownies/Scouts; or do some crunches whilst the kids watch TV.

Any activity is better than none, so don’t beat yourself up if you are not initially meeting your high expectations. A short run is better than none at all, and swapping a car journey for a cycle will notch up some miles.

 

What are your tips for staying motivated?

(Image credit: Freepik Vectors)

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!

 

 

 

 

 

5 ways to get free ebooks

look

Ebooks are great. OK, they will never replace REAL books where you get the joy of ownership, the feel of paper in your hands and the pleasure of being able to use your favourite bookmark. BUT eReaders and eBooks are great for avid readers who have run out of space to store their library of books, for taking multiple books with you which would otherwise not fit in your bag, and for the fact that there are loads of free eBooks out there just waiting to be read!

Just a word of warning – Kindles will only accept eBooks in their particular file formats, hower you can convert ePubs to Kindle by using the Calibre software. Kobos allow you to read books from any source (Kobo store or other) so long as they are in ePub format, and iPads and other tablets allow you to read any format via the eReader apps – Amazon, Kobo, Nook and Bluefire for instance.

1. Libraries

Most local libraries offer free eBooks for loan. If you have a library card then check online or ask at your local library. In Nottinghamshire we are given a pin number and you simply log in, find a book and download it to the Bluefire app and off you go. You get to borrow up to 5 books at a time for loan periods of 1 to 21 days (depending on the publication). If the book you want is out on loan you can request it and you can opt to be emailed when it becomes available to you. The drawbacks are that the ePub format won’t download to Kindles, and works best via the Bluefire app on iPads. Most libraries have a decent catalogue but it is not always up to date with the latest titles.

2. Amazon

Amazon compiles a handy Top 100 Free eBooks list, but you can also search for books by price by using this handy link from MoneySavingExpert. That second link lets you narrow down the list by category, recency and author to find the books you want using the left hand menu. Don’t search or you will end up back in the paid section!

MoneySavingExpert Forums also have a thread where users post free books they have found – on Amazon or other sites, so join the forum and follow the thread to be notified of free eBooks by email.

3. Kobo store

The Kobo store by WH SMith has over a million free eBooks, which you can read via your Kobo or the Kobo app downloaded to any tablet.  Just visit the site to create a Kobo Store account (free) and start adding books to your library. Then access the store via your Kobo eReader or download the app and sign in to your account from the device. Your books will be visible in your library and ready for you to read! The free eBooks available from Kobo are listed here.

4. Barnes & Noble Nook store

The Nook eReader is supported by an extensive store of books by Barnes & Noble. They list nearly 2 million free eBooks on their site, so once you have set up your

5. Other useful sites

There are a host of other sources for free eBooks including:

Apple iBook – This app come pre-loaded on most Apple devices and allows you to access a range of free eBooks. The range is limited compared to other sources but still worth a look.

eBook Friendly site lists a good number of sources in their post.

And if none of those have the ebooks you want for free, then sorry folks you will have to buy them!

Have you found any other great free eBook resources?