The Most Joyful £40 I Ever Made

26 May

Hey Skint pals,

Sorry to have been away for so long. So many things - like a busy work period, two Little Skints, and some family illnesses – all conspired to make the last few months just too hectic to do much of the fun stuff, like writing this blog. But I’m (hopefully!) back at it in earnest. So let’s see – is it like riding a bike? Once a money blogger, always one? Or will I tumble and crash somewhere round the end of the first paragraph . . . hang on . .  I’m wobbling . . . wobbling . . . going . . . phew, saved it.
I discarded a lot of ideas, thinking about this blog post. Money can just be downright dull sometimes, can’t it? Yikes, that’s the kind of sentence that gets money bloggers flogged and sent to hell, but you know what I mean. On Saturday I was pottering at home when Moneybox started on Radio Four. Well I felt compelled to listen to it, knowing it would be good for my general financial health, but Good Lord it was the aural equivalent of eating a never-ending cardboard box. Yet I know some personal finance bloggers who  manage to keep it compelling, like J Money over at Budgets are Sexy, who even manages to make compound interest sound as thrilling as whizzing along the Amalfi Coast on a Vespa
With that as inspiration, I decided for my  first post back to tell you about the most joyful £40 I ever made.

The most joyful £40 I ever made

I’ve always loved singing and especially jazz – hah, you didn’t know that did you? We all have our secret passions. For many years I did nothing about it – too busy working the day job - till in summer 2006 I spotted an ad that made my heart jump for joy. A week long vocal jazz workshop as part of the Glasgow Jazz Festival – well, before I could have second thoughts I put in for a week’s holiday and signed right up.

do what you love

Because a post about singing jazz deserves Ella’s photo.

That first day wasn’t easy. I found myself in a group with singers all way more experienced than me who knew stuff I didn’t like how to count in the band, work with musicians and put a set together . I felt like a total beginner – well, that’s what I was. But the course ended with a concert where I sang one number and I was hooked. From there, I started doing a song or two at open mic nights, travelling miles sometimes to sing a three minute song.
You know sometimes you say yes to an offer then think what the hell have I done? My first proper gig came about like that. After singing a few songs as part of a charity gig at the wonderful Jazz Bar in Edinburgh, I was offered my own show there. Clearly, someone thought me more experienced than I really was. Two months to pull together a two hour set, from an existing repertoire of about six songs! I said yes, of course,  the excitement outweighing the fear. Then I got home and thought – oh hell, what now? 

Two crazy months

Those next two months, I worked like crazy to pull it off. Knowing what I wanted to sing wasn’t a problem – I’d been gathering jazz songs like a magpie since I was about twelve – but I had to put them into some sort of a cohesive set, find musicians, rehearse with a pianist and grow a whole lot more courage too. I spent hours on youtube watching scores of versions of each tune, taking some ideas, rejecting others and slowly finding my own way to do each song.
The day of the gig I was so terrified I could hardly swallow. I considered calling it off, pleading a sore throat, but knew I couldn’t. People had booked babysitters to come and see me, my name was on the programme, it was happening.

Drum roll, please!

Oh, and what happened? I took to the stage with a whisky and lemonade and three great musicians and I loved it. My performance wasn’t the world’s greatest of course, but it went pretty well. I got an encore, I didn’t screw up, and most importantly I felt as if I was doing something I was born for. Seriously, that’s how great it felt.
The deal with payment for this gig was that it was based on what the bar took. A portion of money would be split equally between the band – there was a pianist, double bass player and drummer as well as me. When we finished the set and sat down for a drink together (best whisky ever), the bar owner came up and handed me £40. I looked at it incredulously. Sure, £40 isn’t a lot of money, but all I could think was: What? I get paid to do this? I’d enjoyed it so much I’d have paid the bar three times that for the pleasure. I kept that £40 in my purse for a while without spending it, tucked at the back away from the rest of the money as a reminder.
I’ve had other gigs since, all joyful, but none have equalled that euphoric feeling I got from my first solo set, and no money I’ve earned has ever brought me the same pleasure that £40 did.
What’s the most joyful way you’ve ever found to make cash? Was it also the most lucrative? Share your story of doing what you love with your Skint pals – let’s get the inspiration going!

Skint xx


Would you fake a complaint to get the compensation?

2 Feb

My Skint pals!

Hello to you all, and apologies for being so out of touch. There’s been a lot going on here to keep me away from the blog lately, but I’m delighted to be back now, and resolving to be back for good! Thanks for sticking with me.

So, that’s a controversial headline question, eh? I ask because research just out reveals that 61% of UK citizens have made fake complaints about goods and services, simply in order to get compensation. 61% guys. When they weren’t actually unhappy at all. Wowzers. complaing about bad service

I’m always hearing that we Brits don’t complain even when we should, that we hang back, leaving our American cousins to get all assertive. Yet, here we apparently are folks, complaining about fake stuff  just to get the moolah. Then I remembered the debate on the site before about how so many of us have worn clothes then returned them for a refund.

But this fake complaining malarkey takes things to another level, doesn’t it? Restaurants, supermarkets and takeaways are the most popular places in which to make false complaints, in the survey carried out by vouchercloud, as part of the company’s research into the lengths British citizens go to in order to save money.

The five top targets for fake complaints:

1)      Restaurants – 54%

2)      Supermarkets – 48%

3)      Takeaway food outlets – 35%

4)      Fashion retailers – 32%

5)      Banks – 15%

 And the level of success? Well, it’s a pretty even split, folks. Yep, pull a complaint from thin air, cook it up in the Land of Make Believe, then take it to a shop and you  basically have a 1 in 2 chance of getting what you want. Of those fake complainers, more than half – a whopping 55% – revealed that their sham gripes had been upheld. The majority of these (51%) received discounts on their product/service, 34% said that they had received vouchers and 14% revealed that they had been offered cash incentives. For complaining about nothing, pals. About stuff that doesn’t exist. Crazy, huh?

Now, the study doesn’t say what people complained about, but I guess there would be a lot of ‘this fish tastes off’ etc.  I remember a pals’ dad returning an empty steak wrapper to a supermarket, complaining that the steak had tasted bad. He had still eaten it though, then just returned the wrapper! And guess what, he got his money back! In the absence of real examples of complaints I bring you these ones for a laugh.

So: fake complaining – it is worth it? (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.) Aside from it being totally morally wrong, of course. Well, lots of people clearly think it’s an easy way to make money – each fake complaint netted the complainee an estimated £55.complaining about bad service

Of course, businesses are pretty terrified of complaints these days, ruled as they are by how social media can break a reputation in minutes. Maybe that’s why they’d rather tackle a complaint immediately than take the time to investigate whether  it’s really legitimate.

What do you think? Have you ever done this? Would you? Or are you a business owner with any stories to share about people’s downright brazenness? Share it with us – it’ll be worth a read!

 Bye for now, Skint pals. See you soon – I promise! Hope you’re all doing well.

Skint x 

PS – I did an interview over at Mint personal finance recently, where I chat about my views of saving and spending money. If you’re interested you can read it here.

Phone Overboard! An SOS for sinking (and costly) mobiles everywhere

12 Nov

In the swimming pool last night I saw the lifeguard drop her mobile into the water. She was fooling at the side of the pool with another staff member, pretending to climb a pillar and she gave a little jump to get onto it and bam, that’s all it took for her phone to fall out of her pocket and into the pool , doing the hundred metre dash to the bottom. It was in the fast lane too.

save money on your mobile phone bill

Quick! We’re passing over a swimming pool! Everybody wave their phones from the train!


What a look of panic on her face. A swimmer dived, swooped it up and handed it back to her pretty quick, but God knows if it was able to be saved. I’m guessing she’s in the market for a new phone now. As a bit of a clutz myself, I sympathise.  Just a couple of months ago a bottle of water burst in my bag, killing my phone stone dead. Bad, but not my worst disaster. That award goes to the time I left my mobile in a dressing gown pocket when I put it in the wash. Or possibly the time I dropped it into a cup of tea.* Splosh. See? There’s a bit of a water theme going on with these gadgets. So, all in all I’ve been in the market for a new phone rather more than I’d care to admit.

The only benefit of buying so many mobiles is that, having had to negotiate so many mobile phone contracts,  I have learnt a few tricks for saving money on them. Here are my top four: 

Never buy the add-ons

When you’re buying a new phone and it’s as shiny and gorgeous as a newborn, insuring it may seem like a smart idea - especially if, like the lifeguard and me, your mobiles have a homing device for the nearest water source. But in spite of having killed more phones than is surely right, I still wouldn’t recommend insurance. You’re better off getting a sturdy case (waterproof, natch), to protect the phone from breaking and spills. I quite fancy this one from Amazon.

Shop around

 The competition among mobile phone providers is fierce; stressful for them, but brilliant for us, because the deals they offer to entice new customers are often excellent. And if you’re in the market for the full package of internet and TV services along with a mobile contract you’re in an especially good position to negotiate the best price. Don’t go direct to any one firm but be sure to go through a comparison site  to get a good overview of the available deals. But even once you’ve found the best deal, don’t stop there in your pursuit of greatness, Skint pals. It’s time to . . .

 Ask for a better deal

 Oh yeah, we mobile phone-droppers are nothing if not bold. Bitter experience has taught  me that even if the paperwork suggests you’re locked into a mobile phone contract, it’s never set in stone. Give them the M word (moving) and see what happens . . . Some companies have special deals only for customers who threaten to sign up with other carriers.

 You got it covered?

So you’ve found a lovely deal, well done, Skint friend. But before you jump ship, don’t forget to check if the new supplier has good coverage where you need it. Biggest waste of money there is, if you sign up to a new provider then discover you’re sentenced to making all your calls in the front garden. The Ofcom website has a very handy tool to check coverage for for all the main suppliers: Check mobile phone coverage for your area on the Ofcom website

What about you, Skint pals? Got any top tips for saving on your mobile tarrifs? Or any disasters you’d care to recount that have befallen your mobile? The more watery the better . . .

Skint x 

*For all fellow waterbabies out there, here’s a nifty guide to trying to rescuing your phone after it’s been for a little swim.

Capital Tips! How to Save Money on a Trip to London

10 Oct

Hey Skint pals,

Sorry that it’s been such a looooong time. My pesky back problem continues to limp along, meaning that periods of sitting at a desk are rather painful, but there is hope on the horizon. On the advice of a physio, I’ve taken up swimming and find that if I go every day – five or six days a week anyway – I can keep the niggles at bay well enough. Onwards and upwards!

I am now such a fan of the pool that any time I hear someone complain of an ache or a pain I’m practically shoving a cozzie and a towel their way. Next week I’m heading down to London with the family to visit the in-laws and my swimming cozzie is at the top of my packing list. I’ll be finding time to visit the local pool every day if I can. These days, visiting London isn’t especially cheap for us. A family of four in the Big Smoke can quite easily rack up a Capital bill – unless you know the tricks to pull. Here are some of my favourite ways to save money in London:

Getting there      how to save money in london

With five main airports serving the city, flying is the obvious choice if you’re any more than about four hours away by road/rail. And though it’s tempting to go straight to the websites of the budget airlines when looking for a flight, they’re certainly not always the cheapest by the time you’ve added on the extra charges. When it comes to comparing deals you really can’t beat Skyscanner.

A little-known trick, but one I’ve found has paid for itself over the years is to look at London City airport. The bargain basement flights don’t go there but Flybe does. Having done the maths I’ve often found that it’s cheaper for us to pay for the slightly pricier flights to London City than to go for  dirt-cheap flights, then have to pay for the expensive express trains from Gatwick and Heathrow, followed by onward tube travel. With flights to City, we don’t have any oncosts at all – Grandad Skint picks us up and we’re home in half an hour. City airport connects to Dockland Light Railway, too which is a good, low-hassle alternative to the Tube, depending on where you’re heading.

And try to buy a Visitor Oyster Card before you go and have it delivered to your home. It’ll save you a bundle – I use mine on every trip for better-than-half-price buses, tunes and trains.

Staying There

The success of Airbnb is well-documented by now, and it’s hard to see past it. Why shell out £200 on a boxy hotel room, when you can get a whole apartment for half of that with Airbnb? But if you’re travelling with little ones it’s worth checking out another site which is getting great reviews lately. Kidandcoe is sort of like airbnb for people with young kids, listing family-friendly homes and apartments, complete with toys, cots etc. Prices are roughly equivalent to hotel rooms, with a lot more on offer for the money. Here’s the London link. 

Eating there     how to save money in london

My in-laws are an adventurous bunch when it comes to eating, which suits me just fine. It means that over that years I’ve enjoyed dinner on China Town benches, in Wembley cafes with amazing South Indian food and under the twinkling lights of a Moroccan haven . For me the best of London food isn’t the fancy-schmancy restaurants, it’s sampling the café and street food of the many cultures that make London such a buzzy place to be. The fact that this food is often cheap as chip (or chapatis) is an added bonus. 

Seek out the off-the-beaten track spots to eat like the locals do. The mighty Martin Lewis posts the best current London restaurant deals here. But for the best round-up of London’s Cheap Eats, this Time Out list gives you its take on the best 100 in the city. You can search by area or by the type of food you fancy scoffing.

 Playing There

Forget Madame Tussauds and the tourist shtick; much of London’s best stuff is totally free. Wander the streets. Up and down both banks of The Thames there’s so much to see, from gawping at the London Eye to crossing Westminster Bridge for a view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Kick through the leaves in gorgeous St James’ park, then at the end watch the changing of the guards outside Buckingham Place – a great free show especially if you have kids.  

London has a jaw-dropping number of terrific free museums. The British Museum, the National Gallery, the V & A and the Natural History Museum are all free,  the parks are amazing and, of course, you can always go swimming! I love this round-up of the city’s best lidos.

For budget shopping, great market food and a feast for all the senses go to one of London’s many markets. Portobello is a good one to start with if you want to savour that Notting Hill vibe.

Top Sites Round-Up

There’s too much good stuff in London to list here, so instead here’s the lowdown on the three best sites I’ve come across/used for saving money in London.

You may have your own! Got any tried and true ways to save money in London? Share ‘em, Skint pals!

Skint x

Image credit: Pop up painting 




Meet the Money Cupids . . .

6 Aug

Hey Skint pals,

Remember back when the banks reigned supreme? When a job in a bank was a byword for trustworthiness and good character? How, when the creators of Mary Poppins were looking for a reliable, even downright dull occupation for the children’s father they called him Mr Banks and set him to work in one to show just how solid he was?

peer to peer lending

‘Peer to peer lending? Did I give my permission?’


Hmm, now fast forward a few years. To economic slump time, when banks are brought to task for lending decisions which are far from solid, far from responsible and far from dull. In an effort to reign things back, they panic. They stop lending, even to safe bets. The numbers of loans they give are slashed. Who fills the gap?

Meet the Money Cupids!

As you know, us Skint folks are always interested in what’s new in the money world – especially if it involves the chance to make or save some money. Step forward a new form of lending which I’ve been reading lots about lately . . . peer-to-peer lending, (*peer-to-peer lending takes a bow*). It’s the new kid on the money block, promising low-cost loans on a different, more collegiate model than the one used by banks, and returns for lenders (savers), which reportedly exceed any ISA or savings rates offered by the banks. Peer to peer lending platforms basically operate like a matchmaker, fixing up individuals or firms who need capital with lenders who are happy to tie their money away for a while in the hope of getting good returns.

And of course, like any good matchmaker, the best peer-to-peer platforms should do plenty of vetting and checking before fixing you up on a date, just to ensure there are no nasty skeletons.

So far, peer-to-peer lending platforms, such as one of the best-known, Lending Works, report impressive returns for lenders, suggesting that it might be a good alternative method of boosting savings in the se times of low interest rates. And I can see that such platforms, which don’t have the costs of big bonuses or big buildings to shell out on, might be able to offer better rates for both lenders and borrowers because they’re more nimble. peer-to-peer platforms directly connect lenders and borrowers, cutting out the financial institution in the middle. I like the spirit behind the whole thing - it sounds cheerful and collegiate, but how safe is it? Would you put your money into it?

If you are thinking about lending via a peer-to-peer platform, one of your main concerns will be whether the money you lend is safe. What happens if a borrower defaults on payments? If you’re worried about being left of out of pocket, it makes sense to look for a peer-to-peer platform which has strong levels of lender protection money to cover nasties like borrower defaults, fraud and cyber crime, maybe through a guarantee scheme. And of course you want to be sure you choose a platform which carefully checks and vets all of its applicants.

I haven’t dipped my toe in the water yet, but I’m reading all I can find about this new way of borrowing and lending money and would love to hear from those who have taken the plunge.  Would you do it, Skint pals? Would you join the peer-to-peer brigade, borrowing and lending money in an entirely new way? Or do you still feel safest with the banks?

Skint x




Apps to pack . . . three fab money-saving apps for your summer holidays!

23 Jul

Hey Skint pals,

I’m back! After a humdinger of a holiday in France I’ve returned to find that Glasgow’s glorious – waaaaaay sunnier than France was actually, and with the Commonwealth Games kicking off in the city today the place is in full party mode. Everywhere I turn there’s someone walking along with a map, or a flag, or an ice-cream – Glasgow’s looking great this week.

So, in the interests of Commonwealth spirit, I’m sharing three apps that made my holiday better. For those of you still with your summer hols to look forward to, and for those of you visiting Britain from overseas this summer – these apps work well anywhere and save you money in any language! apps to save money on holiday

1. For help with the local lingo

Ever tried to decipher charges in a foreign language and meekly given up, simply handing over your largest note instead? I have. That’s why I found Word Lens Translator a genius app and a real holiday essential. It’s free on Apple and Android devices too, and basically translates anything using just your phone’s camera – point your phone at the nonsense word and wait for the app to translate it. You need never point your finger blindly at something on a menu and hope for the best!

At the moment, the app translates between English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Russian, and it’s free for both Apple and Android users. No internet connection is needed for the app either, meaning it won’t drive up your overseas phone bills.

2. Slash roaming charges

Talking of phone bills, Roamer is a brand new app that allows you to bring your own phone number along with you around the world. When you’re ready to travel, you tell Roamer you phone number. Any calls to you are then forwarded to a local number in the country you’re visiting and you answer them just as you would at home, paying local rates instead of exorbitant roaming ones.

3. Get sat-nav for free

Navfree is a nifty, free app  which transforms your phone into a GPS smartphone into a sat-nav,  with pre-loaded maps, route planning and voice prompts. And, like the translator app, it doesn’t need any internet data to find routes – putting it ahead of Google Maps in my book. Download it before you go, work out your routes and store them in your phone. Ok so it’s not as bells-and-whistles as high-end sat-navs but it does a good job and it’s free I tell you, FREE!

Any money-saving holiday apps you’d like to share with us, Skint pals? Or any humdinger holiday bargains?

Skint x

Six ways to make the holiday cash go further

17 Jun

Hey Skint pals,
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Apologies for the lack of posting here over the last couple of weeks – the old Skint back trouble flared up once again, making it nearly impossible to sit at a computer. for longer than ten minutes. Still, after a bit of a rest, and with cushion firmly tucked in behind me I am now back in the fray.
I’m now counting the days till the annual Skint camping trip in France. As regular readers will know, if you cut me open I’ll save money on holidayshave Camping Roolz written on my heart. There’s nothing like practically living outdoors for a couple of weeks after a long year in the city - and it happens to have the not-inconsiderable bonuses of being a great laugh and pretty damned thrifty too.
So thrifty in fact that we have managed to squeeze our pennies that bit further and be away for nearly three weeks this time – and I already know at the end of it I still won’t want to come home. We’re going with Eurocamp this year and have a week in the Dordogne and two on the west coast and now, with hols and flights booked I’m recoiling in terror at the thought of forking out three weeks spending money.
Camping’s a bargainous holiday, but you still need to eat and live once there, so I’ve put together a few ideas for making sure the holiday euros really go the distance.
 1) Buy suncream before you go. It has always struck me as one of summer’s little ironies: why suncream should cost waaaay more in warm, sunny climates than it does in our chilly homeland. You’d think, given economies of scale, that it should retail for less, but if you’ve ever run out of suncream abroad then you too will have experienced palpitations at the prices. A bottle of cream that costs £5 in the UK can easily set you back as much as 25 euros abroad. So, this year let’s all do our wallets a favour and and pack plenty of cream into our suitcases. In my experience the Skint family always needs three times as much as my initial estimate, so I’ll be packing more suncream and fewer clothes this year.
 2) Max your Money: Of course, if you want to make the most of your money whilst abroad, you have to know how to make it work for you before you even leave home. Don’t wait till you get abroad to withdraw cash at the ATM – savvy travellers sort it before they leave, using a service such as MoneyMax, which zips around all of the online currency sites in milliseconds, then does the maths to work out which deal is best for you. It takes fees into account as well, which can be rather mind-boggling.
 3) Plan your lunch at breakfast. This doesn’t apply to camping, but if you’re on a bed and breakfast or half-board deal at a hotel, you might want to think ahead a little and stock up at breakfast on a few goodies that will see you through the day. Some may call its sneaky, but I  say it’s savvy – butter a couple of rolls, wrap some slices of cheese and ham in a napkin, pop a banana or two in your beachbag and you’ve got yourself a ready-made picnic to see you through till dinner.
 4) Eat like the locals. This one scores both on value for money and on getting the most out of your holiday destination: wherever the locals eat dinner, make that your local too. Avoid the restaurants on the main strip offering overpriced tourist menus. Instead ask for recommendations in local shops or from hotel staff, explaining that you want to eat where the locals do. That way you can rest assured you’re not being ripped off with tourist prices and odds are that you’ll have a more memorable night too, really getting under the skin of the place you’re visiting. Check out tripadvisor’s forums to find out the best local haunts.
save money on holidays
5) Rent out your house whilst away: With the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer and lots of people travelling here from abroad, I know many savvy folks who will be leasing their homes through airbnb, then using  the revenue to fund their own summer holiday. This post from fellow blogger Prairie Eco Thrifter shows you how to give airbnb a try, as does this one from Paula at Afford Anything, who in her usual super-smart fashion, is using airbnb as a whole new income stream.
6) Turn off your 3G and roaming: Every year we read the horror stories of poor souls who kept the kids happy in the car by letting them watch kids TV on the iphone, then racked up a million pound bill.  You don’t want to be that person. Make sure your roaming is switched off , download any films etc you might want before you go, before you and use your nearest Wi-Fi hotspot whilst away whenever possible.
There are more holiday money-saving tips at this Dealchecker guide, which I contributed to recently as one of many money-saving bloggers. It’s worth a look before you pack your suitcase!
What about you, Skint pals? Do you have any other tips on how to get the most bang from your holiday bucks? If so, please do share them with us all.

Skint x

My early morning police call – and the Skint credit check results . . . revealed

14 May

Hey Skint pals, 

Remember the Skint break-in? How, when Baby Skint was just ten weeks old, chez Skint was burgled as we slept, leaving us without a car and as well as those irreplaceable items like newborn photos? 

Nasty at the time, but almost two years down the line we had put the whole thing behind us – or so I thought till a phone call from the police wakened me yesterday morning. 

Now, being wakened by a call from the police is enough to give anyone a fright, but thankfully it wasn’t bad news – more the intriguing kind. The police officer was calling to tell me that, two years after its disappearance the stolen Skintmobile has been found. What are the chances, eh? At the time, we were told that most stolen cars are recovered within three days – and if they’re not, you’ll most likely never see it again. So, where’s the Skintmobile been hanging out, eh?

Apparently its new owner had taken it to the garage for an MOT, triggering some sort of alarm bell to DVLA. Yikes, if the new owner had bought the car in good faith, that was a pretty nasty shock they must have got.

It’s all a bit of a mystery – the old Skintmobile always got its MOT in January, so I’m assuming the car must have been off the road for a bit: the police have said they’ll do some digging and let us know if they find out more. And they’ll also notify our insurers, because the stolen Skintmobile is legally theirs now. 

All this got me wondering again about how the break-in might have impacted on my identity security and credit history. I haven’t needed to apply for credit since the break-in but yesterday I couldn’t get it out of my head. With some key personal documents stolen in the break-in, and with a car registered in my name being stolen and presumably sold on – do I have anything to worry? 

check credit score - woman on phone

Take your own check – avoid nasty surprises


I decided it was time to run myself a little credit check, whilst there’s time to sort any issues. Better finding out about any ugly truths now than waiting till I might REALLY need to make an application for credit, (nice information here from Citizens Advice), and find myself with a poor score. It makes sense to be proactive with this one, because while credit checks alone won’t affect your credit status, a series of unsuccessful applications might. 

Whilst I know that there aren’t any big skeletons in the Skint closet, I have certainly missed the odd credit card payment deadline through lack of organisation, rather than lack of funds. Also, I just don’t know what the impact of the break-in has had on my identity and security. Stolen identity is, at its most dramatic, great fodder for psychological thrillers: on a day-to-day level though it’s a real pain in the neck to fix.

So, yesterday I used the independent Experian CreditExpert facility to check my credit score – heart in mouth the whole time. It’s astonishingly simple to run – I’d thought I’d be asked to enter all sorts of data about my mortgage, bank account details and so on, but actually the amount of data entry is mercifully minimal. Thankfully, because I was pretty nervous whilst waiting on the results, but: fanfare! Heraldic angels sing on high! My credit rating, Skint pals, is not just good but excellent! I am, it seems, in no great danger!

Here’s how they calculated it:

 The yippees

  •  I’ve had the same bank accounts for ages
  • I’ve had the same mortgage provider for more than twelve months
  • I have a low number of credit cards
  • I never max them out (I am very old-school in my use of credit cards.  They are used so rarely they might as well be wrapped in tissue paper      and kept in a display case.)

The yikes

  • I’ve recently missed payments on my credit card. Silly  me. I went on holiday and forgot to pay my card before I left. Twice.      *slaps wrist*
  • My credit card and store card limits are low. This  one surprised me – I’d thought I was being sensible by keeping them low      and would get a pat on the back for being responsible. Turns out having a low highest limit shows that lenders might view me as higher risk.

Right now I have a sort of Ready Brek glow of happiness around me  – all the better because I was worried before I did it. Even if the check had shown bad news however, I think it’s better to know, then take steps to fix it.

 What about you, Skint pals? Have you run a credit check on yourself? If so, was the diagnosis good or bad? Oh, and can you beat the Skintmobile record – have you ever had a stolen car recovered after even longer than two years?

 Skint x





Win £100 of supermarket vouchers!

30 Apr

Hey Skint pals, win supermarket vouchers

Phew, Glasgow is positively continental here today, and in a burst of spring cheer, I’m bringing you the chance to host the barbecue of the century for you and all your Skint pals. Or, if you’re the more sensible sort, the chance to stock your fridge and larder full of basics and a few special treats.

You see Skint pals, in collaboration with the folks at Debt Free Direct, we’ve got a little competition going to win supermarket vouchers worth £100. The vouchers are available for either Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, Waitrose and M&S - handy, eh?

And whilst there’s no such thing as a free lunch, this comes pretty damned close: all you need to do is answer a simple question, to be entered into a prize draw.

Debt Free Direct run a blog called Making Money Go Further which is home to lots of money saving tips. They recently wrote about the importance of having an Emergency Budget and are on a mission to educate the nation about the importance of having some cash stashed away for rainy days and bad luck.

And so pals, that’s the thinking behind this little competition: a bid to let you put £100 of your usual grocery spend into your emergency budget instead.

Gimme the competition, you say! Well, nearly there. Before entering you just need to do a little light reading. Simply head over to the  Making Money Go Further blog and read the post ‘Why and how you should set up an emergency savings fund’. Done it? Then let’s go! 

<a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’d be lost without an emergency fund. If you own a house or have any sort of responsibilities at all (and who doesn’t have some?), it’s vital. What happens otherwise when a storm blows slates off the roof, or the boiler bursts in winter? Without an emergency fund you’re looking at trying to scrape cash together from family and friends or, worse, from quick loans. Having enough put aside to keep going for a bit if the worst happens is vital to my piece of mind.

What about you, Skint pals? How much do you think is right to set aside for emergencies? Three months salary? Six months? Let me know  – and best of luck for the competition. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, May 13. 

Skint x

Terms and conditions: The competition closes Tuesday May 13. Open to UK readers only. The vouchers are available for either Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, Waitrose and M&S 

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Full of good intentions, outfoxed by life . . . sound like you?

15 Apr

Hey Skint pals,

The secret to making a success of life as an adult, I read recently, is to master the principle of deferred gratification. You know: study now, earn more later; ease off on designer shoes, be able to eat in your old age – that sort of thing. Simple formula really – so why is it so damned hard? Why, even when we know that the secret to a happy retirement lies in building savings, not designer dress collections, do we continue to resist?

Anyone who let the ISA deadline of April 5 slip past, full of good intentions to save, but outfoxed by life, will know what I mean. It takes a fair bit of effort to plan properly for your financial future. In fact, for most of us, getting a retirement plan together is up there in the fun stakes with getting more iron in your diet and regrouting the tiles round the bath. And so financial planning slips along at the bottom of the to-do list week after week – tell me I’m not the only one, am I? But . . . here and now Skint pals . . . this is where things change! After taking a little budget challenge in February, then examining my finances last month for the Skint garden makeover, I’m determined to keep moving forward with my rookie financial planning, chip chipping away till, by the end of the year I’ll be all financially tidied up.

A couple of things I’ve come across recently have strengthened my resolve to get seriously planning for retirement with minimal faffing around. The first was reading this jaw-dropping article by my favourite finance blogger J Money about the power of compound interest. Yep, compound  interest, folks. Even the terminology makes the eyes glaze over, doesn’t it? But when J Money showed how one penny doubling day by day would turn into $10 million by day 31, my eyes didn’t glaze any more. Can you imagine? Of course, we can’t expect 100% return on our cash every day, but it’s a neat trick to show the power of investing asap, then letting your money grow.

Then, right when I was open to it, this infographic from AJ Bell Youinvest popped into my  inbox, showing how much cash you need to invest, and when, for a decent retirement.

investing money

Well, that’s quite a read, huh? Whilst some of the more general stats, like the retirement age in 2050 being 84 (really?), make me raise my eyebrows all quizzical-like, the key message:  get your speed on when it comes to saving, is clear. That bit about what saving £200 per month gets you in the end if you start at 30 (£252,000), as opposed to if you start at 45 (£73,000)? That’s the scary bit for me. I tick the age box somewhere between those two (your guess as to where, my friends), and that stat brought home to me how procrastinating on decisions about saving and investing have one heck of an impact on your later quality of life.

And so, with the Skint garden project nearing its end (more on that in my next post), bringing the nine-year renovation of Chez Skint pretty much to a close, any savings from now on are earmarked for the Future, (which is, as we all know, light years ahead of the future). Short-term savings goals are less important to me now – I’m thinking of the bigger, foggier, scarier days, years and years from now, when my misspent youth catches up with me health-wise, at exactly the same time as the Little Skints’ are misspending theirs at college. (Or at cyber-school, or whatever it’ll be called then.) Going to need some financial cushioning then, pals – better get serious about it now.

At what age did you start seriously saving with a view to your future? Not for fairly immediate purchases like a car, but for your retirement/kids’ college fund etc? Or is that ship yet to set sail? Are you still on the party boat; destination good times? Let me know, Skint pals, maybe we can get a little savers’ support group underway!

Skint x