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

Supermarket Sneak! Five ways to cut the cost of your weekly shop

1 Apr

Hey Skint pals,

Do you remember Supermarket Sweep? That morning TV game show, so beloved of students everywhere, with Dale Winton carousing round the aisles shouting encouragement, as contestants jostled to fill their trolleys high?save money on food

Back then, pre-internet, finding ways to snag a trolley-load of food for next to nothing seemed the stuff of  dreams. We were so in thrall to the idea of bagging supermarket bargains that we devoted whole mornings to watching others do it.

These days, food prices might be higher but thanks to the internet we can all find ways to stretch the grocery budget.

Here are five skint ways to cut the cost of your weekly shop:

 MysupermarketI’ve written before about this one because I love it so. This handy app  lets you compare prices at Waitrose, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Aldi so you can find out where to do your shop before you leave home – the average saving on a weekly shop is £17. They’ve also just launched an app, mysuperlist. 

Quidco – This cashback site effectively gives you money back for doing your shopping online, so you may as well log on to the Quidco website first, then click through from there to your retailer. Many people don’t know that you can use Quidco on certain items even if you’ve shopped instore – you just upload a scan of your receipt and Quidco will pay cashback on those items too.  

Take your own music – Seriously folks. A sneaky supermarket trick is to play slow music which encourages us to linger instore, thereby buying more. Why else would they play that god-awful musak? So, get the disco music pumping through your headphones and you’ll whiz round the supermarket in no time and escape slow death in the baked goods aisle. 

Read the small print – Those headline offers don’t always give the best value. Make sure to read the small print underneath which tells you the price per 100g or the price per roll etc. A recent Which? study found that Asda was selling 12 rolls of Andrex toilet paper, which it had labelled as great value, for more per roll than a four pack not on offer. Bigger isn’t necessarily cheaper and offers aren’t always money savers.

 Get the best supermarket own brands - Food critic Martin Isark is on a mission to change the perception that generic brands - like Hellmans for example – are always tastier than supermarket own brands. He has chomped his way through thousands of own brand products and rated them out of 10, bless his soul. You can read his findings here in the The Supermarket Own Brand Guide and then decide whether to take a punt on them. Generally I’m happy to use supermarket own brands, but always stay loyal to Schweppes when it comes to tonic water, in the belief that it tastes far better. So, it’s time to try Martin’s suggestions for cheaper brands and see whether or not the cocktails suffer. I’ll report back from the frontline after some serious G&T taste tests. All in the line of duty, pals. You’re welcome.

What’s your top tip for saving money on your weekly shop?

Skint x


Are cash ISAs worth it? And other conundrums.

18 Mar

Spring is here, Skint pals!

Well in Glasgow anyway; suddenly, gloriously.  It has gone from driving rain to daffodils and if I’m feeling particularly chipper it’s because I’m looking ahead to the Skint Garden Makeover, later this month, which I hope will deliver a magical transformation of our titchy city space.  

This time last month we still weren’t sure if it would go ahead – a mix of doubts over budgets and being let down by a tradesman. But it’s full steam ahead now and – all going well – we’ll be enjoying  an evening G&T in it by Easter. 

With garden saving in mind you may remember that I opted to take a little Budget Challenge in February, using it as an opportunity to get my finances in shape. I identified four areas where I hoped to shave money off of my monthly spend and promised I’d report back saying what I’d done, so here’s the results pals:

woman on phone - finance makeover

The very first text message?


    • First up: sort out my savings accounts. These were in a shocking state. Because interest is so low, returns aren’t good generally, and because of that I’d let things slide to the point where an ISA was generating £3 a year. Rubbish! That’s less than the going rate for the Tooth Fairy these day. So I took a morning to search for better rates – such as they are.  An ISA was due to revert from a decent to a rubbish rate on February 27th and I managed to give my provider a call just in the nick of time to switch to a better deal. If I hadn’t made the call I’d have been looking at a shift to a 0.1% rate – as it is I’ve got . .  wait for it . . 1%! Well, hallelujah, huh? That’s surely going to pay for the garden makeover! The only upside of such rotten cash ISA rates is to strengthen my resolve not to bother with them at all in this tax year. Whilst I know a lot of people believe in maxing out their ISA allowance each year – both cash and stocks and shares – I personally see little point in cash ISAs whilst interest rates are so low. The best one I’ve found this year so far offers only 1.75% (Stafford Railway Building Society)  – not enough to lure me in. Any money I’ve got spare to put away I’m putting into a Stocks and Shares ISA, then letting it sit there for as long as I possibly can.


  •  Switch home insurance. At first I though this was going to be an easy one. With my home insurance due for renewal I did a quote comparison and was delighted to find that our current insurer, Swinton, actually came out pretty much on top. With little difference, (about £12),  between the renewal rate from our current insurer (£352), and the best rate from the price comparison site, it made sense for me to take the path of least resistance stick with Swinton. So, I phoned them to renew. I also wanted to remind them that we’d added an extra bedroom this year, following some work on the loft. ‘Right,’ I’ll just have to put you on hold,’ the woman told me. A few minutes later she came back .’Um, having the extra bedroom takes your quote up to £456.’  Whaaaa? £100 a year for an extra bedroom? Don’t think so. The price comparison site quote was for  way less, and was based on a four-bedroom house – so I got my haggling head on, Skint pals, and told her that I’d be moving insurer. Cue some umming and aahing, then me being popped on hold again. Ten minutes later she came back .’Right then, the best we can do is £356.’ Done! That’s £100, just for asking. I’m zealous about always asking for discounts on insurance, utilities, phone deals etc: inspired by Martin Lewis’ classic article about saving £1000 from one day of work on your finances. Boy, it’s worth it. In this case, hanging on the phone for ten minutes saved me £100.


  • Nix the money-eaters. All of those pesky little budget-suckers that eat up a good £50 a month if not more - these were on my list to blitz in February. But, umm, I didn’t. Magazine subscriptions, snacks on the go, buying too many newspapers - I’ve been putting this one off. Perhaps I don’t really want to give up these little pleasures.  And happily I found justification in my decision, when US blogger ,the Dough Roller carried a post this week about how saving money on lattes will never cut the mustard when it comes to getting yourself rich. Phew, that’s what I love – a new financial theory that gets me off the hook and lets me carry on enjoying my coffee . . .


  • Update the Skint monthly budget. I vowed to shave money off other monthly spends and I can report only partial progress on this one, folks. I’m in the middle of the Kafka-esque hell that is switching home phone and broadband provider – this will save me some cash, though may cost me my sanity, as it’s providing only slightly less complicated than running the FTSE. After this is sorted I’m turning my attentions fully to ISAs before the tax year ends on April 5.

Skint pals, do you still think cash ISAs are worth investing in? Are you loyal to them, no matter the rates, or will you, like me, be finding other ways to stash any spare cash this year?

 Skint x

Photo credit: Amoreux Vintage

Do you have ‘secret savings’ from your partner?

5 Mar

Hey Skint pals,

Sorry for the delay since the last posting. For the first time since t’internet was born I’ve had more than a week offline, due to a back and neck injury. It wasn’t all bad. When I wasn’t being pulled and prodded by physios and the like, or quaffing ibuprofen with every meal, I got some time to lie back, listen to music and think. No screens, no housework and no heavy lifting - could have been worse. Now I’m on the mend, but under strict instructions that things must change. So it’s no  more hunching on the sofa as I type – now it’s a retro  desktop for me.

One article that I read whilst on my enforced break has stayed with me and I wanted to share it with you, Skint pals: according to research, just over a third of married Britons claim to have secret savings, which they keep without their partner’s knowledge, with the majority claiming they do so in case of relationship breakdown. Stashing cash away from partners’ prying eyes is  more common than I thought, with 35% of married people claiming to have secret savings. The study was conducted buy vouchercloud, who surveyed almost 2000 couples, all of whom had been married for at least a year.

keep savings secret

What’s fudge got to do with it? Wonder if this pair of fudge-hating hand-holders are clandestine with their cash?

 The top five reasons for secret savings:

1)      In case of relationship breakdown- 47%

2)      Don’t trust my partner with money- 40%

3)      Like to have my own money- 32%

4)      To use on secret purchases for myself- 22%

5)      To use on secret purchases for partner- 17%

Most common ways of stashing secret savings

1)      Savings account- 57%

2)      Money in current account- 31%

3)      Kept for me by friend/family- 25%

The last of these reasons surprised me most – of those surveyed 25% would trust other family members or pals enough to hand over their cash for safe keeping, but wouldn’t trust their spouse with the same.

And, when asked if they intended to tell their partner about their secret savings in the near future, over half - 56% – said ‘no.’ Are they rascals or realists?

In addition, three fifths, 60%, of the respondents with secret savings admitted they thought their partner would be ‘annoyed’ should they find out about their stash – suggesting that they don’t have an entirely clear conscience about their secretive ways.

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting:  70% of those surveyed admitted that they would be annoyed to find out their partner had secret savings without their knowledge.

So, what do you think, Skint pals? Are those who keep their savings stash secret prioritising their loot over love? Or do you think it’s fine to squirrel cash away for a rainy day – it’s up to you what you do with your money after all. Mr Skint, I’d especially like to hear your views . . .  heh heh.

And those who do squirrel cash away – does it stay secret forever? Or is there a point at which you’d reveal all – say if your partner lost her/his job? Or what about if one day you fancy breaking in to your stash to buy yourself a new sports car – try explaining that one . . . It’s truly a conundrum, Skint pals, and that’s how we like it.

Skint x

Photo credit: luridwasbeautiful

Lessons from the Tooth Fairy

19 Feb

Hey Skint pals,

Little Skint is at the wobbly tooth stage. Two bottom ones are already out and last week, whilst on a trip to London to visit Mr Skint’s parents, her first top one was dangling by a thread.

 A retired dentist, Grandad predicted that it would be out by the time we left – he was itching to get his hands on it and whip it out himself. We decided to let nature take its course though and sure enough, the night before we were due to return to Glasgow, the tooth gave its last wobble and fell out just before bathtime. Cue much wailing and a not insignificant amount of blood – Little Skint is rather dramatic at the best of times, so the sight of the blood was her personal equivalent of the apocalypse: till we mentioned the Tooth Fairy. tooth fairy

‘Tooth Fairy?’ she grinned through the blood. ‘I’d forgotten about her.’ 

And, just like that, the blood and pain were replaced by hope and plans for buying ice-cream.

 ‘Does the Tooth Fairy come to London?’ Little Skint asked, familiar only with the Fairy’s Glaswegian route.

 Yes, it was confirmed, the tooth fairy sometimes journeyed south. There was some family speculation about whether London weighting applied, quickly quashed by me. 

‘How much does the Tooth Fairy pay again?’ Little Skint quizzed. 

Now, there’s a question that has perplexed parents since records began. ‘£1.50,’ I answered, fast, before anyone else could put in a higher bid.

 ‘Chloe’s Tooth Fairy pays £2,’ Little Skint flashed back.

 What to do when your tooth fairy is, quite frankly skinter/tighter than the Tooth Fairies of school friends? I do feel that in the interests of national family harmony there ought to be some sort of agreed standard – a task perhaps for the Minister for Families and Children, if not the Chancellor himself. 

After all, when you consider the number of children worldwide, and the potential investment in the global confectionery industries as a result of increased Tooth Fairy expenditure, well, it’s a matter surely for the IMF.  

Anyway, Little Skint got lucky that night in London, because the only small change available turned out to be a £2 coin. But she didn’t get off with spending it on ice-cream. I have decided to use the Tooth Fairy’s visits as a little lesson in saving; oh, lucky daughter of mine.  

 A new, highly sophisticated economic formula has been now devised. Twenty baby teeth = 20 x £2 = saving up for something big. I’m currently trying to persuade Little Skint that ‘something big’ is more attractive than frittering the cash away on buying an ice-cream each time the fairy visits.

 I’m even thinking that the Tooth Fairy might leave Little Skint a piggy bank on her next visit, together with a note suggesting the she saves the cash. After all, what’s the point in going along with the expensive traditions of Santa, the Tooth Fairy, etc if parents can’t exploit them for their own ideological ends?

Easter Bunny, I’m coming after you next. I will find a way to turn chocolate into a lesson on personal finance if it’s the last thing I do. 

What’s the going rate for the Tooth Fairy round your way, folks? And do you have any thoughts on how to get kids saving? Let the tooth be told!

 Skint x

 Photo credit: historyspaces

Holidays less ordinary: cheap holiday ideas for when the beach just won’t cut it.

7 Feb

Hola, Skint pals, guten tag and boujour to you too!

Why am I showing off my incredible command of three major European langauges, I hear you ask? Oh, okay then I’ll tell you . . .

Today I bring you the second part of the Skint mini-series focusing on getting the best deals from your summer holidays this year. Last week I shared some of the best ways to snag a city break on a budget and today we’re looking at holidays less ordinary - great summer holidays which are not only cheaper then your standard package break, but are way more interesting too. frugal holiday ideas butlins monorail

See, so many of the cheap summer holiday deals are a little, shall we say, dull? A fortnight on the Costa Brava has its place, but sometimes you want to think outside the beach a little. But unusual holidays are pricey, right? Surely last-minute packages are the best budget option?  Not necessarily, mes Skint amis!

Sometimes unusual and cheap get into bed together and when they do – ooh, it’s good. Here are four cheap holiday ideas that will keep the snooze factor at bay.

A holiday to boast to office colleagues about, which costs less than a fortnight on a Spanish beach – yup, we’re living the dream over here today . . .

Say hi to the sandman

One of the stand-out days of my life? The day I went to the start of the desert. In Morocco we hired the services of a local guide to take us from the town of Ouarzazate into the desert. We climbed dunes; were taken to a rocky outcrop used by Hollywood to shoot several major films; gave a lift to some women returning home with their shopping, and spent the evening having dinner with our guide, his wife and their three-week old daughter. At night, the stars are the most amazing you’ll ever see and I vowed then to go back for a proper holiday. As soon as the little Skints are just a bit bigger, we’re off. You can camp out in North Africa’s deserts in standard tents, with camels for transport, and hiring a guide will let you see things you’d never have come across otherwise. The price of these holidays can work out cheaper than your standard European resort breaks. Try to support the local economy as much as you can by hiring local guides rather than going through a major operator, or use a responsible travel firm like this one , which lets you stay with local families. Several cheap flight operators fly to Marrakech, then share a Grand Taxi (old Mercedes that seat six) with other travellers heading south, splitting the cost depending on how far you’re going.

Camp it up

You know I love camping. Way back I worked a couple of summers as a campsite courier, cleaning tents, welcoming holidaymakers and making emergency dashes to the hypermarket for more beer. Now I return with the family, because for me camping offers the best kind of holiday – one that’s a total break from daily life. No high street, few cars, just lots of cycling, wine, lounging and chatting to new friends long into the night.  And it can be pretty cheap too. Eurocamp, one of the biggest of the catered camping firms, has a number of deals on its website right now, especially if you can travel in early summer. Here’s the link.

We are sailing . . .
Looking to slash both travel and accomodation costs? Why not combine them in a crafty fashion? A sailing holiday is a novel way to pile on a big group of family and friends and it can work out really cheaply. Meander through canals and rivers at a leisurely pace. Drink wine as you go. Life is but a dream. Don’t worry if you haven’t sailed before – the training’s all part of the package. I’ve never done this type of holiday but have pals who swear by it. Plus, you get to sing that Rod Stewart song A LOT . . . Digging around today I found some deals on barge holidays that might be a place to start. Can’t vouch for it as never used this firm but if you’re thinking of a sailing holiday you might as well get the deals, right?

Take a staycation

If you really lack the cash to travel anywhere but still want to get away I recently met someone who swapped home with an acquaintance in the same city! An easy, free way to experience a change of scene – would you? Even if you don’t have an eligible swapee in your home town, you can still have a true holiday at home. Plumping for a staycation lets you do all the things in your town that you don’t normally get around to doing – seeing that museum exhibition; checking out the arthouse cinema; visiting that new café. And at the end of the day you get to sleep in your cosy bed. There’s one rule though – no chores allowed. No cleaning, apart from the essentials, no using the time to visit the dentist or get the car serviced. You’re on holiday, remember – your mission is to relax and have fun.

 What idea do you have Skint pals for holidays less ordinary? I’d love to know. Share them please? Bonus points for those who pepper their comment with some franglais/spanglish . . .

Skint x

PS – I haven’t been paid or perked for any of these links to holidays providers - just like to share the holiday feeling . . .

Photo credit: Hows

Ouch! Skint accepts budget challenge – then winces in pain . . .

4 Feb

Hey Skint pals,

I’m feeling the pain over here this week . . . February’s an expensive month chez Skint. There are no less then five birthdays in the immediate Skint family this month, so not only is it a month full of cake, it’s also, December aside, my most expensive month of the year.

What better month then to accept a budgeting challenge? When the folks at the Great British Budget asked me to be two goldfishpart of their panel I said yes – foolish, moi? It’s a rotten month for me to maintain any sort of normal budget, yet here I am, agreeing to monitor my spending and report back in a month when hardly a day goes by without a dash to the card shop / flower shop / booze shop and um, goldfish shop. Yup, that’s right – as of yesterday, thanks to Little Skint’s birthday, Chez Skint has two new family members: Wriggle and Wendy.

The cheapest of all the birthday presents, they cost £2 each – if I turn a blind eye to the cost of the tank, food, toys and fern, that is. Just as well, since the rest of the month is a corker in terms of cost. Five birthdays; two new babies; a trip to London to celebrate all those birthdays; a party and yet here I am in the middle of it taking on a budgeting challenge.

I had to though. Got to rein things in a bit if I want to avoid financial ruin before summer.

I also have a big financial goal this year: saving enough cash to get our massively sloping garden on the straight and narrow. Living in the city, our garden is titchy – but its gradient isn’t. Last summer we put out a paddling pool and all the water slopped to one side, leaving the other half bone-dry. We’ve been living with it like this for eight years whilst we slowly save the cash to put it right – and I reckon if we play our budgets right, 2014 could well be our year! I’m determined to save the last of the cash needed for the garden makeover, hopefully in time for us to enjoy some glorious 2014 summer sun . . . 

So, it’s time to start spring cleaning my finances and here’s my plan for the rest of February:

  1. Sort out my savings accounts. I have been lax with these of late. I don’t think I’m maximising interest at all. Because rates are so low I’ve taken a what-does-it-matter approach, when actually it matters more than ever in these lean times to make the most of what little interest’s on offer. I’m setting a morning aside to sort this out.
  2. Switch home insurance. A couple of years back I made a massive saving on home insurance but that was pre break-in. Following the burglary it jumped up, and did so again last year, so it’s time for a review. In my experience, you get no points for loyalty with insurance – quite the opposite in fact.  
  3. Nix the money-eaters. I have quite a few of these: pesky little budget-suckers that eat up a good £50 a month if not more. Magazine subscriptions, snacks on the go, emergency trips to pricey corner shops; sorting this one requires a minsdset change.
  4. Update the Skint monthly budget. If we’re going to get that new garden the Skint savings plan really needs a boost. It’s time to take a look at the monthly budget and see where else we can shave costs and how much more we might be able to stash away.

I’ll be reporting back soon folks on my progress, ( or lack of.  . .).  If you fancy joining me in a little budgeting challenge this February let’s join forces!

Skint x




How to do city breaks on a budget

23 Jan

Hey Skint pals,

I’m writing a mini-series of three posts over the next couple of weeks, all aimed at getting you the very best deals on your holidays in 2014. After all, though you know I love January, when it’s dark and chilly outside, our thoughts naturally turn to summer and to escape. But we can’t all afford those all-inclusive resort deals that pop up on TV come Boxing Day – and nor would I want to, frankly.compare holiday insurance, holiday couple in rome

For me, travel has always been about living like the locals do as far as possible, and doing so on the cheap (with a bit of glamour of course . . . )

That’s why I’m kicking off this series by writing about city breaks.  Some folks see them as a waste of money, shelling out on air fare to spend only three days in a place, but for me, pre-kids, city breaks were the perfect way to refresh and recharge without taking masses of time off. They still are – when I get the very rare chance.

So, here’s how to do city breaks on a budget:

eBay!: Yup, you might be more used to using eBay to buy and sell things, but lots of people use it to sell holiday accommodation that they no longer need. Especially good for last minute deals to major destination, just type the name of your chosen city, followed by the word ‘accommodation’ to view last-minute offerings

Get the right insurance: If you’re doing a few breaks a year, it makes sense to take out an annual travel insurance policy rather than pay each time you go away. In fact if you have a family, it often makes sense to take out annual insurance even if you’re only taking one holiday a year. Debenhams one caught my eye this week because they’re giving away a free £5 Debenhams gift card with every single trip policy or a free £10 gift card with their annual multi trip policy. Don’t think about leaving home without the insurance – in my book it’s always worth taking it. Remember when Mr Skint’s luggage said goodbye? Travel insurance eased his pain.

Go self-catering. Even for a two or three night stay you can get apartments in most major cities. Cheaper than hotels and you’ll save a ton on food by being able to make your own. TripAdvisor has an excellent holiday rentals section where you can search for self-catering options by dates and destinations.

Travel mid-week: That’s when air fares are lowest, so if you can swing it with your job, be flexible about your travel dates.

Eat your main meal at midday: That’s when the fixed price three-course lunches come into their own. Fill up at lunch and then grab street food or café food in the evening.

And my top five places for a city break?

Glasgow of course, my home town. Hotter than ever right now (in a zeitgeist way, not a weather way),  playing host to the Commonwealth Games this summer and chock full of amazing architecture and a vibrant arts scene.

Istanbul. Cheap eats, glorious street food and an city full of incredibly heritage, where East and West meet. It’s a city like no other – and good for budget travel too.

Barcelona, where I lived for a couple of years, way back. It’s got the mountains nearby, it’s on the sea and it has an independent spirit that sets it apart from the rest of Spain. Go and enjoy – just don’t expect to get much sleep!

Paris, bien sur. Avoid the centre for hotels though – too establishment, and too pricey. Montmartre is a better bet, with stunning views, cheaper prices and free entertainment all weekend in the form of people watching, artists markets and the jaw-dropping (and free) Sacre Coeur.  I like L’Ermitage Hotel - top views and just the right side of shabby.

Marrakech. Pricier then it used to be but still way cheaper then Europe, and just as easy to get to. Meals are taken at the stalls in the main square for a couple of pounds, before spending the evening marvelling at the snake charmers, medicine men and card sharks, performers one and all.

What about you Skint pals? What’s your favourite city break destination and do you have any tips for doing it on the cheap?
Till next time,

Skint x

Photo credit: Lena Weber, Queens of Vintage


Depressed? You should be . . . And five quick finances fixes you can do right now.

20 Jan

Hey skint pals,

January again, darling? God help us all. . .

January again, darling? God help us all. . .

You hanging in there okay? I only ask because according to the media we’re all supposed to be on our knees by today, felled by that classic January combination of no money, rotten weather, and months to go before our next holiday. Yep, today’s the day, folks. Every third Monday in January the media love to tell us we’re extra-depressed but you know what? I’m not, no sir, I’m chirpy as they come today, because in spite of what the doommongers tell us I love January. Uh-huh, love it. So shoot me down and call me crazy.

For me, January’s  the most motivating month there is. It’s all about the big goals and it always gets me thinking about whether I’m doing the things that make me happy. Perhaps because my birthday’s at the start of January too, I always start the year with a strong resolve to make the year ahead count. I get lazier as the year goes on, but every January I’m buzzing with plans.

January is also, of course, the best month to do some financial planning for the year ahead – and if you’re feeling the pinch from Christmas then that’s an extra-motivator to get your finances back in shape.

Here folks are five quick ways you can get your finances into better shape by the end of today. Pick one even, zoom through it and hey presto, you’ve turned the most depressing day of the year into something productive!

Five quick finances fixes you can do right now

  1. Clear out your purse. Chances are you’ve still got Christmas receipts in there and all sorts of crap. Clearing out your purse not only makes you feel more in control, it also helps you to get your finances in order by refreshing your memory about gift cards that need to be spent, coupons about to expire and cheques that need to be cashed, as well as any purchases that need to be returned before it’s too late.
  2. Scan your bank statement – and take action. Most people have one direct debit (at least) on their statement that’s really a waste of cash. Be it a magazine subscription that you don’t need any more, or a broadband deal that’s way too high, choose one direct debit today and aim to reduce its cost or scrap it completely.
  3. Check your council tax band. Takes ten minutes with this handy tool from Martin Lewis’ site, and could save you a couple of hundred pounds a year.
  4. Purge your inbox. I’m talking specifically about those daily emails from group-buying sites here. How many are you signed up to?? Find yourself bombarded daily by five or more newsletter, each urging you to buy their electric toothbrushes, meal deals and latest gadgets? Do your finances a favourite and hit unsubscribe. Out of sight, of mind.
  5. List an item for sale. Post-Christmas, we’ve all got stuff we want to sell. I’ve got three crates in the basement marked eBay; they’ve been there a looooong time.  Do it today. List even one item on eBay or Gumtree, get them out of your house and get the cash in your wallet. The first one’s the hardest too. Once you’re in selling mode you’ll find yourself on fire!

Elsewhere, the web is full of great advice on how to make January count. Here are some other posts I’ve read and liked over the last few days.

  1.  My pal across the pond Budgets are Sexy gave these five fun money  challenges for 2014.
  2. Reach Financial Independence is a great blog. I’m wishing Pauline, its owner, all the best with her new blog purchase. Savvy Scot, and with her Financial Bootcamp, giving regular tips on ways to bring your cash under control. You can check it out here.
  3. Let’s face it. Putting our own financial houses in order is one thing, but don’t we all love a sneaky peek around someone else’s? That’s why I’ll be following the new Naked with Cash blog series over at Consumerism Commentary, where ordinary folks agree to let experts audit and advise them on how they spend and save. Perfect for the nosey ones amongst us – I’m part of that gang for sure.

How’s January holding up for you? Do you see it as the start of the great new year? Or would you rather hibernate till February comes around? Got any tips for surviving the (allegedly) most depressing days of the year?

Skint x

Be the Queen (or King) of your Castle: How to Make Money from your Home

8 Jan

Happy New Year, Skint pals!

Wishing you a healthy, successful 2014, whatever that means for you. After a great break over Christmas I’m slowly cranking back up to speed. Very slowly. The whole Skint family slept in on the first day back at work and school – cue panic stations at 8.25. Sign of a good holiday that, and it showed me how fast we can all get ready in the morning if we need to, so perhaps I’ll make it my New Year’s resolution to get up an hour later this year!

I can feel it in my blood, Skint pals, 2014 is going to be an exciting year. I’ve got lots of new goodies planned for the site here – lots more competitions, guest posts and new sections on how to live well on an even tighter budget. And I’ll be road testing some new ways to make money this year too. I figure that by now we all know the basics about taking your own lunches to work and using cashback sites for your shopping etc. I’ll still feature those sorts of tips sometimes but I’m also going to explore new ideas for making money that you might not have thought of before – starting today with some thoughts on how to make money from your home.

how to make money from your home

  1. Cash in on local events: As regular readers know, I’m based in Glasgow, and this summer the Commonwealth Games come to town. For two or three weeks Glasgow will be swarming with thousands of tourists, athletes, coaches etc, bringing a massive cash boost to the city. It’s the biggest sporting event in the UK since the 2012 London Olympics, and I know someone who rented out her flat in London for the whole Olympics for an eye-watering amount of money. I’m seriously considering doing the same with Chez Skint during the Commonwealth Games and have just made an appointment for an agent to come and take a look at the house, advising us whether or not it’s suitable for renting out. According to website, a three-bedroom house can fetch £2000-£3000 a week during the Games. Tempting, huh? But there’s lots to consider – not just the financials such as the tax implications, but also the upheaval of getting the house ready, locking away valuables etc. I’ll let you know what the agent says.
  2. Treat it like a star: A few years ago there was much excitement in our street when one of the houses was used for filming an episode of cop drama, Taggart. It wasn’t just the kids in the street who were hanging around the crew: we all were, desperate for a glimpse of the stars and to see whether they really talk like that in real life. (They do.) Later, I quizzed the house’s owners as to how they’d got the filming gig. Turns out that a TV production company had chapped their door! Our street’s on a hill with good views of Glasgow out the back and the TV folks wanted a window that gave just such a view. But rather than wait for the telly to come knocking, sign up with an agency and bag yourself a couple of thousand pounds easily, plus a stay in a hotel whilst the cameras are in your home. Your house or flat needn’t be posh either – film and TV companies need all sorts of places. In the UK, locations in London are most popular, since that’s where most UK films and TV programmes are shot, but there are still plenty of opportunities throughout the UK. I have one friend, living in Edinburgh, who is registered with an agency and she got £3000 for allowing a bank to film a TV commercial in her home. OK, so she was in a hotel for a few days, but to me, that sort of money’s worth a bit of hassle. One  company to check out is shoot factory, though a quick Google search will throw up the closest ones in your area.
  3. Rent your driveway: One for city-dweller this. If moving out of your house is too much work, how about renting your driveway? Lots of people’s are lying empty anyway during the day, and could be lucratively put to use by renting them on a monthly basis to out-of-town commuters. It saves those savvy commuters money and hassle too, as renting a driveway is cheaper than using a car park every day. A quick search of my postcode, using the parkatmyhouse  site, shows loads of people are doing it, with prices averaging roughly £50 per week. Parklet is another site recommended by Martin Lewis, whom I always I trust. So £200 for letting people park outside your house? If you’ve got a driveway (I don’t), and you’re a city dweller, what are you waiting for?

With all of the above, be sure to check the financial implications, particularly insurance cover. If you’re using an agent, they’ll know the score and advise you accordingly.

 What about you, Skint pals? Have you ever let out your home whilst you’ve been away on holiday? Or rented someone else’s? Do you have any tips on other ways to make money from your home? Let’s share them all and make some serious dosh from our homes this year!

Skint x