Wednesday, 26 September 2012

I Only Have Myself to Blame!

Good news: we got the internet yesterday! Bad news: I spilled tea on my laptop and now it doesn't work properly. :(

I know, I know, how stupid can I get?? It's been turned off, upside down on a tea towel for the past two days but I just tried to turn it back on and the keys are malfunctioning. I can't even log on because the shift key is messed up and I assume it's typing random capital letters in my password!

It's an old laptop and I have actually been saving to get a new one, but I don't really want to spend so much money on a stupid mistake! Maybe I should get a second hand one or just use the University's computers? Maybe I could even get this one repaired. I haven't really thought about it much beyond OH NOOOOOO! :-/

I can't even say "that's life" because that's not exactly true. It's more "that's clumsy me.. again"!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Becoming Frugal

Thanks for your recent comments. Sorry I haven't been around - we still don't have the internet and I have been writing at home to post at the coffee shop down the road!

It's been about a year since I started this blog.

I had just finished University and once the graduation ceremony was out of the way I was faced with the stark reality of my bank balance. I was pushing the limits of my overdraft, I was carrying a (small) balance on my student credit card and I was just about to borrow a few hundred pounds to replace my car, which I needed to get to work.

I used a budget at University, which worked well when the going was good, but it had no room for error. When anything unexpected came up (car repairs, dental work, a night out, a trip home etc.), I didn't have a back up. The money came out of next week's/month's budget, which of course sent me into a downward spiral of not having enough money at the end of each student loan instalment!

When I got my first job after Uni (a chambermaid in a hotel – top graduate employment!), I wanted to learn how to budget properly. I spent hours learning why my Uni budgets never worked and how to fix it (answer: no wiggle room). I eventually came across some of the Frugal Living websites and blogs. I had never really stopped before to think about HOW to save money, just that I knew I should! (My frugality at University stretched to Tesco Value everything, but that was about my limit!)

When I first began work last summer I was still determined to live away from home as soon as I could afford it. I figured since I was earning I could afford to do pretty much as I pleased. Once I had read up on frugality I swung the other way and entered extreme frugal mode! Have you ever read Mr. Money Moustache's post about how debt is an emergency? He says if you're in debt then you should buy food and fuel to get to work, and the next penny you earn should be put towards debt. Well I was almost that extreme. I felt guilty spending money on ANYTHING that wasn't absolutely essential. I was constantly saying no to invites and learned how to make do and mend instead of buying things.

It did work though and I quickly paid back my debt, despite working for minimum wage all year. Since then I guess I've become a bit more extravagant (if I want a coffee, I'll buy a coffee), but I tend to keep myself out of situations where I am likely to buy unnecessary things. I enjoy reading new tips for frugal living, recipes and avoiding wasting money.

It's easy to slip back into old habits even now. I would like to take a step back up the frugality ladder. Life is much more expensive living away from home, even if it's on a student budget. We're settling into a routine now, and we've got the basic essentials we need (sofa's arriving on Tuesday!). Now the new truly frugal budget starts. Let's see how low we can go!

What about you? Are you frugal or a spend-a-holic? Have you always been like that, or is there a turning point story you'd like to share? :D

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Moving Home – Lessons Learned!

This is more of a journal entry than my normal posts. Normal blogging will resume ... when I have the internet!

I never really understood why people think moving home is stressful. Packing up a room full of stuff to take to Uni was usually done in an afternoon. Now that The Boyfriend and I have moved out properly into a flat I understand and I NEVER WANT TO DO IT AGAIN!! When I'm stressed, my ears feel weird and my back gets hot. Strange symptoms I know, but close friends over the past few days!

I've learned a few things about moving home now too.

Lesson #1 – get a BIG van!
We hired a van to move our stuff. It was a huge transit van, which I thought would have TOO MUCH space! Haha! We secured The Boyfriend's motorbike against the side, then put the bed in and I wondered how on Earth we were going to get everything else into the half-a-van that was left!

We loaded all his stuff first because he had all the furniture, so by the time we got to my house there was about a 2m x 0.5m gap at the back. I kept thinking, “I'm NEVER getting all my stuff in there”! Fortunately I'd downsized a lot and the boxes I had weren't as big as I remembered!

Lesson #2 – check everything works
When we arrived in Bristol, we pretty much just unloaded all the stuff, turned round and went back to Cornwall because we had to take the van back. Two days later (Saturday) when we returned, we realised the toilet had been leaking a trickle of water into the bowl, possibly for the entire two days! Argh! Water meter! Hopefully this should be sorted by the letting agents... Hopefully.

Lesson #3 – never trust Jools
Long story short, we decided to keep Jools the Peugeot. The cost of running him home to Cornwall every now and again was pretty similar to the cost of two hugely expensive rail tickets, even with the Young Person's Railcard discount.

After returning the van we put the last of our belongings into Jools' boot and set off for Bristol. We got almost to Devon before a bodged repair on a radiator hose started leaking coolant, meaning I had to pull over on the grass verge of the main dual carrriageway through Cornwall (The Boyfriend didn't mind – we were opposite a Subway!). After waiting for breakdown recovery (a worthwhile investment if you drive an old car) we were taken back to my parents' so my Dad could fix the car. He drove us to Bristol the next day (thanks Dad!) but we are carless for now.

Lesson #4 – life without the internet is very difficult
Most questions are answered on our website. Please go to www. ...”
Ever noticed how EVERYTHING is online these days? It does make life a lot easier, but if you don't have an internet connection it takes longer than ever before to get anything sorted! Registering that we've moved, setting up utilities, or even finding out what day the rubbish is put out on – we keep getting referred to websites that we can't access until our internet is set up. You even need the internet to GET the internet!

So yes, I'm currently fairly off the grid. We've come to a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi in order to try and get everything sorted out. I wrote this post sitting on our bed (we don't have a sofa yet!) surrounded by half-unpacked boxes and piles of clothes, wondering how long it will take for a wardrobe that I can't order yet to arrive!

Blogging will return to my version of normal soon-ish. I'm trying out lots of tips for saving water and power.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

What NOT to Buy for University

I'm writing this whilst “packing” for our big move to Bristol and post-graduate studies. (This has involved several hours of surfing the net and very little putting stuff in boxes!) We're moving on Thursday so by the time you read this I'll be up to my eyeballs in cardboard. Wish us luck!

Going to University for the first time can be very expensive. People keep reminding you of things you will need, like duvet covers and shampoo. Most are things you've probably never bought before and the cost of buying the furnishings of a complete new life might be quickly mounting up!

Good news: you don't need to buy most of this stuff!

People go crazy buying hundreds of pounds worth of kitchen stuff equipment they'll never actually use and all the latest gadgets! Don't do it!

Here's a handy list of stuff you probably WON'T need to shell out for:
  • Pens and stationery You will get A LOT of free pens during the first weeks of Uni. Hundreds of companies line the walls of the Freshers Fayre, eager to give you pens as a way for you to remember them. (Barclays bank also give out free pens in their branches – jus' sayin'!) You can easily hoard enough pens/erasers/calendars etc. to last the year. Get anything else you need from a cheap supermarket when you get there. Don't buy fancy stuff - it'll just get slung into your bag anyway!

  • Kitchen stuff If you are in self-catered accommodation, wait until you get there before buying pots and pans! I found that EVERYONE turns up with 3 saucepans, a frying pan and enough cutlery to sink a ship. There's usually not even enough storage for it all! Check to see what you all have, then share the use of the equipment. Offer to cook them a meal for use of their saucepan! I would say to bring your own tupperware though, because people seem to be incapable of washing it properly.

  • Laptop Most people arrive at Uni with a shiny new laptop. If you don't have one, don't spend £400 of your student loan before you even arrive! (DON'T get a tablet - it's just asking to be nicked/dropped/beer spilled over). All universities have multiple computer labs dotted around campus, or you could pick up a second hand one very cheaply on eBay or even fairly often on Freecycle. You'll probably only need an old-ish one for using the internet, typing essays and the odd spreadsheet. (If you are studying any intensive-graphics course, for example The Boyfriend's architecture course, you will probably need a more up-to-date computer).

  • Clothes Don't be tempted to rush out on a spending spree with your new 10% student discount! People generally turn up to lectures wearing comfy clothes like hoodies and even jogging bottoms. I've seen a LOT of people wear pyjamas to lectures, so don't feel you need to be the trendiest kid on campus!

  • Textbooks! - Your parents will kill me for saying this, but DON'T buy new textbooks! They cost anywhere from £30 - £100 EACH! Yes, that's what your student loan is for, but it's also for eating and rent and it barely covers that! You have several free or cheap options:
    1. Use the library (you're paying tuition fees for it)! There are often many copies of the most important textbooks available for loan on a rolling basis (as long as someone doesn't reserve the book, you can keep renewing your loan indefinitely).

    2. At the start of the year there are often LOTS of second/final year students selling off their first year textbooks very cheaply. Look on student noticeboards, on the intranet, even posters in the toilets! You can offer them less than they are asking too, because they'll be glad to get some money back. 

    3. Other cheap options are eBay/Amazon

If you do buy them, follow my tips for selling old textbooks when you are done with them.
Everyone knows your first few weeks at Uni are the most expensive (going out most nights, going for lunch to get to know your new flatmates, etc. etc.), but be careful with your student loan. I knew a few people in the first year who ran out of money by the end of Octover and had to scrounge food from their flatmates, living on pasta and bread until the next loan instalment in JANUARY!

All in all, have a great time! Make a budget, try to stick to it and DON'T GET A CREDIT CARD! :)

Any other advice for things new students may or may not need? I might be able to use the advice myself! :D

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

How to Claim Your Uniform Tax Rebate

Do you wear a uniform to work and earn enough to pay income tax? You're probably entitled to a tax refund! :)

If you have to wear a specific uniform to work and wash and repair it yourself, you are entitled to reclaim tax relief for uniform maintenance. This is taken from the income tax you have paid, and HMRC requires that:
  • It's a recognisable uniform
  • Your employer requires you to wear it
  • You have to pay for laundering it yourself (so either wash it at home or pay to wash it at the laundrette)
  • There are no facilities provided for you to wash it for free at work
  • You have to have paid income tax in the year in which you are claiming for

How much am I entitled to?
The basic tax relief is £60 a year, although some jobs are higher if agreed by their union. If you are reclaiming tax already paid, this means you will probably get a rebate of 20% of £60 (if you pay the 20% basic rate tax), which is £12. Some professions can also claim for tool maintenance if used for their job. 

You can reclaim uniform tax relief from up to four years ago, so if you've never claimed before you have a few quid coming your way! It might not be £100s but it's worth the cost of a stamp!

Please note: you must have paid at least the amount of income tax you are trying to claim back in order to be eligible!

How can I claim my uniform tax rebate?
It's very easy to reclaim your uniform tax allowance and no, you don't have to sit on hold for an hour to do it. All you have to do is write to HMRC (HM Revenue & Customs, Pay As You Earn, PO Box 1970, Liverpool, L75 1WX) stating the following:

  • Your name, National Insurance number and address.
  • Your occupation(s) and your employer's name and address for the past four years (if applicable)
  • What your uniform consists of and why you cannot wear it outside of work (for example, it has a company logo)
  • Inform them that there are no laundry services or payment for laundry costs provided by your employer (of course, if you DO have laundry costs reimbursed then you are not eligible for this tax relief).

Template Letter
Here's the letter I sent to reclaim my tax, with places for you to enter your own details:

Your address
Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to request a possible work uniform tax rebate. I wore a uniform during the following jobs:

Date - Date : Job title at Employer, employer's address
Date - Date : Job title at Employer, employer's address
Date - Date : Job title at Employer, employer's address
(include all jobs you wore uniforms for within the last four tax years, as well as your current job with a uniform if you have one)

No laundry service or compensation was provided for the cleaning of these uniforms by any employer.

The uniforms were specific to each job and could not be worn outside of work:
  • Description of uniform for job one: (eg. black shirt with company logo, black work trousers)
  • Description of uniform for job two
  • Description of uniform for job three
    Etc. etc.

Many thanks for your time.

Yours Faithfully,
NI number
Date of birth

A Happy Ending
I was sent a cheque for £54 to cover the costs of laundering my uniform in the past! 
Give it a try! You have nothing to lose (but the price of a stamp) and you could get a nice bit of cash back for the past few years!

Have you tried this? How did it go?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Four Month Warning: CHRISTMAS!

Several people have recently found my blog by Googling “frugal Christmas gifts”. Be afraid; people have already started getting organised!

I know, I know, you probably think it's too early. Well after I nearly passed out from exhaustion last Christmas working two jobs, looking for the perfect PhD project and trying to handmake all my own gifts, I am DEFINITELY getting organised early this year.

The other day The Boyfriend and I were walking through The Range and I spotted something my sister might like for Christmas. When I mentioned it, he went on a long rant about how it was FAR too early to even CONTEMPLATE Christmas, which meant I took great joy in walking round the corner and pointing out all the Christmas craft things they are already selling! IN YOUR FACE!! :D

Since you've got time on your side, why not do some very quick planning? I'm not asking you to think of what you're going to give everyone, but grab a bit of paper or an Excel spreadsheet and getting scribbling:
  • Write a list of all the people you want to give gifts to, in some order of importance.

  • See how much you have saved already, if you have been putting money aside, or examine your budget for the next few months to see how much you could save for Christmas gifts. (Don't forget that if you need decorations/Christmas dinner/other expenses that you'll need to work out how much of your saved money to allocate to gifts vs. other Christmassy expenses!)

  • Now see how much you can AFFORD to give. Don't try to base your gift budget on what you WANT to give. Don't go into debt for Christmas or you'll add more stress to what you want to be a happy time of year. If your budget is small, think about bumping a few people off the bottom of the list (write them a thoughtful Christmas card perhaps), or think about homemade gifts instead.

Now you know vaguely what your budget will be like, you can start keeping an eye open. Whenever I think of a possible gift idea for someone, I write myself a little note on my phone. (Let's not lie, I text myself. I don't think my phone can even write notes!)

If you want to get even more organised, A Thrifty Mrs has got loads more ideas for ways you can start organising and stocking up for the big day! 

Anyone else started planning? (Don't tell anyone, but I've already got a couple of little gifts for my family. Haha!)