Tuesday, 25 November 2008

ARE THE UTILITY COMPANIES KEEPING A LOAD OF YOUR MONEY?

Christmas is a very expensive time of year, even if you're a happily frugal person! So, have you checked the statements from your electricity, gas and water companies lately? If not, perhaps now would be a good time to take a look at them.
If you are like me (and thousands of other consumers) you may see a small note somewhere in the statement that says they have put up your monthly direct debit payment. British Gas has put mine up from £37 per month to £59! - and this has been done even though we are in credit - and have been since this time last year. These rises are being forced upon us despite the fact that wholesale prices are falling; the utility companies are not passing on their savings to the consumer.
An MP (Peter Luff, Mid Worcestershire) has noticed that the utility companies appear to be using these overpayments by the public, to aid their cashflow - a sort of interest free loan on a gigantic scale! He has suggested OFGEM investigate. OFGEM says it has had no complaints about misude of the direct debit system! But as of 1st October 2008, they are no longer the authority to complain to - the government is in the midst of organising another consumer watchdog type of organisation!
Many consumers are considering going back to quarterly payments as the small incentive to persuade us to use the direct debit system is being cancelled out by the amount of interest lost by the consumer on money they could be earning interest on in their bank accounts!
You have to ask yourself - just how many frail, sick or elderly people are not able to check their statements and are unaware that their direct debit payments are going up when they are in credit with their suppliers! The utility companies are dipping deeper and deeper into our bank accounts and many of our most vulnerable members of society are on fixed incomes. This is a recipe for disaster. Isn't it time we all took a stand?

  • Check your bill, if you are in credit contact your supplier and ask for a refund - it may just help with those Christmas bills!
  • If you are not very much in credit, check how much energy you've used in the past year, average out that cost over 12 months and make sure you are not paying too high a monthly amount.If you consider that the latest hikes in the DD payment are too high -contact your supplier and ask for the payment to be reduced- or at least kept the same.
  • Help any elderly friends, relatives and neighbours to do the same.
  • If you have no success with your utility companies- contact the Energy Ombudsman and complain!
MP Criticises Energy Firm Charges - read more HERE
1000 Mail on Sunday readers tell power bosses: stop charging us for gas and electricity we haven't used - Read more HERE

Sunday, 23 November 2008

HOW TO REALLY AFFORD CHRISTMAS

Christmas is an artificial, commercial construction.
Yes, I know that sounds a bit "Bah! Humbug!", but I want you to stop for a moment, still your mind, quieten your surroundings and think carefully about what Christmas really is. Strip the whole concept back to bare facts and even if you're not particularly religious, our present day excesses at Christmas are unexplainable.
  • The 25th December (probably not the actual date, but never mind) is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ.
  • We buy gifts for each other (just don't ask why - I can't say) to represent the gifts he was brought at his birth.
That, to me, is the essence of Christmas.
Now let's think about the Christmas of present times;

  • works and office parties from November onwards (needing posh frocks, hairdressing visits etc., etc., much imbibing and buying of alcohol, lewd use of the office photocopier, dodgy activities in the stationery cupboard, home truths told to the boss in drunken, rash moments, dreadful hangovers the next day).
  • Christmas trees (a Victorian idea begun when Prince Albert was given a tree by the people of Norway - no link to the birth of Jesus), crackers (another Victorian invention), Christmas cards (ditto) and carols(ditto)).
  • Shops full of all sorts of goods, cheap and tacky or large and expensive for us to buy for our friends and relatives (often with money we don't have).
  • Boxing Day (traditionally a public holiday dating from Medieval times when a clay box was opened and money distributed to lower classes) appears to have nothing to do with Christmas.
  • Mince pies - well, they do have a tenuous link to Jesus ( the Crusaders brought back spices from the Holy Land and deemed it appropriate to eat a pie containing these spices, as they came from the place of Jesus's birth).
  • Nativity plays at school and Nativity scenes (although rare) are a reminder of what Christmas is all about.
  • Endless advertising on TV, in magazines, on the internet, bus shelters, billboards, buses - everywhere, to instruct us to buy, buy, buy and persuade us that a "stocking filler" really should be a diamond watch or a pair of Jimmy Choos.
  • Huge tins of cheap chocolates - NO!
  • Turkey dinners - dates from Tudor times as Henry VIII was the first person to eat turkey on Christmas day!
  • Bottles and bottles of booze, satsumas, nuts, pickled onions etc., etc. - sorry, can't find any connection to Jesus.
  • Christmas Stockings and Santa Clause have more to do with Jesus than you may have thought - they originate with Saint Nicholas in the third century selling his possessions and helping the poor (as directed by Jesus) and with gifts of gold coins thrown through windows that landed in stockings and shoes!
  • Christmas pudding - hmmm, I don't think so.
  • A White Christmas (Day) - two in 1938 and 1976. There are no meteorological records back as far as Jesus's birth - but I don't suppose, given the weather in the land of his birth, it was snowing at the time.
So, having run out of things to list, I'll tell you what I think really makes Christmas - and it's only one thing - being with people we love.
I'm not suggesting we don't give gifts, or have a drink or two, or eat a little more than usual - just that we curb our spending and think more about what we give. Spend time with your family and friends if you can or get together with neighbours or friends who may be alone at Christmas, if you can't.
Your children will remember the time you gave them, the hilarious games of snakes and ladders or monopoly, helping you make paper snowflakes and sticky paper chains, decorating the tree or leaving a glass of milk, carrot and mince pie for Santa Claus and Rudolph, not the perfect table setting and the 3 course lunch you cooked for 15 or the new carpet you felt you had to have before Christmas!

Happy Frugal Christmas!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

FRUGAL CHRISTMAS GIFT MAKING

We still have time to make some gifts for Christmas. Small knitted or crocheted items take only small amounts of yarn and are reasonably quick to complete.
Take a look HERE at over 30 quick ideas for gifts to make for your family and friends this Christmas. There are free knitting and crochet patterns and other ideas for frugal gifts.

FRUGAL LENTIL AND BACON SOUP

Here's something to warm you through on a damp, windy evening!
This soup is easily made a bit more frugal by missing out the bacon. You can sometimes buy packs of bacon offcuts from butchers and supermarkets, but as these tend to be huge, it may be easier to leave it out altogether.
Serves 4-6
1 dsp oil
4 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped (use smoked bacon if you like it)
1 chopped onion
2 diced carrots
200g (7oz) red lentils
400g can tomatoes
1 vegetable stock cube
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of fresh, chopped parsley (optional)
  • Gently fry onion, bacon and carrots in the oil for about 10 minutes or until bacon is golden and vegetables are starting to soften.
  • Add the lentils and stir. Roughly chop the tin of tomatoes and add. Crumble in the stock cube, add 1.50 litres (2.5 pints) of boiling water and stir well.
  • Bring to the boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
  • Add parsley if used and a couple of twists of freshly ground black pepper then liquidise, adding a little more water if necessary.
  • Freeze in containers and label. Keeps in freezer for up to 3 months.
More Frugal Recipes!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

HOW TO AFFORD CHRISTMAS - NOW!

It's time to hit those charity shops everyone! I've been out this morning to all my local charity shops and most of them have displays of Christmas goods. Get them soon before they're gone! Today I have seen:
  • a cream fleece cushion cover decorated with plush snowmen, gold sequins and beads in vgc- 99p (I had difficulty resisting that, but I did!)
  • a brand new Marks and Spencer's fleece hat, gloves and scarf set, still with all its shop labels and hanger - £2 (I stood for ages trying to think who I could buy this for - damn! There just wasn't anyone!)
  • a china snowman candleholder complete with silver sparkle and glass holder - £1 (I resisted, only because I have loads of candleholders already).
  • a brand new pair of Debenhams fleece thermal ladies' gloves, still with shop tags - £2
  • a set of Christmas fridge magnets - £1 (and no, I wasn't at all tempted!)
and there was much, much more in the way of Christmas decorations, candles and ornaments. I suppose it's all on show as we've now hit November, but I'm betting most of these items won't be on the shelves long. Make your lists now and get charity shop-ping!