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Archna Luthra

We're hoping to run a collective switch

We're hoping to run a collective switch

Collective switching first hit the scene in May 2012. The generic concept is that a trusted intermediary or local agency, such as a council, negotiates a deal with an energy supplier, then gets people to switch.

The idea is great in principle, but in practice so far most collective switches haven’t come up with market-leading deals. Plus, it’s not easy to compare the results to what’s on offer on the rest of the market, so a comparison site wins almost every time.

But we’re attempting to change that. With 1.2 million Cheap Energy Club members we’re in the perfect position to tackle the energy providers and try and haggle a market-leading deal. We’ll then show it alongside the results of our whole of market Cheap Energy Club so you’ll know if it’s definitely the cheapest tariff for you.

It won’t be easy – so far when we’ve tried to negotiate with big suppliers they have been unwilling to offer anything decent without imposing terrible conditions such as "you can’t then contact consumers for three years after the cheap fix ends to tell them to switch again" but hopefully the tide is turning.

While we very much hope this will work, if suppliers don’t come up with worthwhile offers, we won’t recommend them to you by publishing them on the site.

Energy regulator Ofgem’s rules say we have to publish our intent to run a collective switch so that all interested providers can take part, and that we must include the criteria we’re looking for. So here’s a rundown of what we’re asking and the process we intend to use…

What tariffs are we looking for?

There will be a number of categories that suppliers will be able to bid for:

  • Auction 1: The cheapest market-leading 12 month fix.
  • Auction 2: The cheapest long-term fix of three years or more.
  • Auction 3: The cheapest green fixed tariff.
  • Auction 4: The cheapest prepay fixed tariff.

How will it work?

  • Step 1: Suppliers will submit their bid on auction day. They can enter more than one category.
  • Step 2: MoneySavingExpert will assess the offers. In the event suppliers offer a similar bid, those suppliers will have the the opportunity to undercut further.
  • Step 3: MoneySavingExpert will choose the winning bid in each category.
  • Step 4: Once the winning bid has been determined, it will be uploaded to the Cheap Energy Club Collective Switch page so users will be able to compare it alongside all other tariffs available on the market. 
  • Step 5: New and existing Cheap Energy Club users will have 10 days to apply for the collective switch tariffs.

What criteria must the tariffs meet?

  • The tariffs must be the cheapest on the market at the time of the collective switch.
  • It’s preferred that exit fees are not attached to any of the tariffs, though they will be considered alongside their other merits. For example, if a tariff is particularly cheap, exit fees will be less of an issue.
  • Credit meter tariffs must be available across dual fuel and also single electricity and Economy 7.
  • Users must be able to pay by direct debit, except those with a prepay meter.
  • Tariffs must be available to new and existing customers.
  • Suppliers must provide a bespoke MoneySavingExpert email address and telephone number to deal with any customer service issues. Suppliers must agree to resolve any issues on the basis of fairness, not just law. We would require the winning supplier to sign up to a guarantee that bills will be issued and billing errors will be resolved promptly.

Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

FAQs for suppliers

Q. Will you contact users when this deal ends?
A. We will contact users that join Cheap Energy Club during the collective switch in exactly the same way we contact other Cheap Energy Club members, meaning we will alert them when they can save by switching to a new tariff.

Q. Who will be able to sign up for the collective switch tariffs?
A. Existing members of Cheap Energy Club, as well as anyone joining during the 10 days that the collective switch is open.

Q. Can we offer an added freebie and how will you factor this into your decision?
A. Yes, you can. Preference will be given to a voucher for a large high street store (or even better, more than one store). If an alternative incentive is offered, eg, an energy monitor, we will make an assessment on its worth based on the going price.

For example, if an energy monitor’s RRP is £40 but it’s available for £20, we would assess it based on the cheapest price it’s available at. The incentive needs to be significant and have a wide appeal — a free hotel stay for use on 1 February in Timbuktu won’t be received well. 

Q. How will you tell your users about the collective switch?
A. We will be sending a special email to existing Cheap Energy Club users and mentioning this in the weekly money tips email.

Q. Can we have a cap on the number of people that can sign up to our tariff?
A. Yes. If there is a limit to the number of people you can offer the deal to, that’s fine provided we’re able to tell users clearly what the limit is and when that cap has been reached.

Q. Will there only be one winning tariff per category?
A. We will choose more than one tariff per category if the winning tariff has a cap on the number available.

Q. Will this tariff be available elsewhere?
A. No, this is a MoneySavingExpert.com collective switch so the tariff will only be available via MoneySavingExpert’s Cheap Energy Club.

The structure of the scheme has been discussed directly with Ofgem.

What are your views on collective switching? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Megan Clark

My dad has always been a smoker and I’ve always encouraged him to stop. So when Stoptober came up in a forum brainstorm session, I jumped on the chance to help run the campaign.

The idea behind Stoptober is to challenge people to give up smoking during October. It’s great as it not only improves people’s health, but it helps their pockets too.

A smoker of 20 a day earning an average wage will spend nine weeks a year working to fund their habit, according to our Demotivator tool, and it’ll cost them £3,000 over the course of a year.

That’s a lot of potential savings you could make and then sink into other things, such as repaying any debts or being able to afford an extra little treat you maybe couldn’t have justified before.

As someone who would rather spend their money on Céline than cigarettes, I probably need a Stop-Shopping-tober of my very own. But rather than giving up smoking (or shopping), I am in the forum every day providing support on our Stoptober thread.

Stoptober roadshow

I also went to visit the Stoptober roadshow when it came to London. As soon as I got there, I was told to stand in between two jugglers as they threw juggling clubs either side of my head! It was incredibly close but I escaped unscathed.

Here I am getting involved in the Stoptober action

Here I am getting involved in the Stoptober action


Jugglers at the Stoptober roadshow

Jugglers at the Stoptober roadshow

On a more serious note, the jugglers worked fantastically to grab the attention of young families passing by to encourage them to learn about the Stoptober campaign.

While there I also spoke to Rowan from the local NHS Stop Smoking service. She gave me an insight into the toll smoking can have on your health – and your wealth.

Rowan explained how the roadshow targets the areas of the UK with high smoking rates, and that in these areas, it is often the cost of smoking that motivates people to quit – rather than health concerns.

She said the best way to quit costs nothing: "The most effective way to stop smoking is support. Things like Stoptober also really help. It takes the pressure off those quitting and provides a light-hearted escape from withdrawals."

Quit now for your health and your pocket

Quit now for your health and your pocket

As most people find cold turkey hard, I asked her what she thought of e-cigarettes. She said: "As they weren’t marketed as a stop smoking tool, I’m not convinced. There are also large doses of heavy metals in them, which aren’t healthy. However, they are a lot better than smoking cigarettes, so if you have to use them to quit, it’s better than relapsing."

She also recommended NOPE – Not One Puff Ever, a mantra to keep you on track when those cravings are particularly strong. "You can never have ‘that one cigarette’ to tide yourself over, always be strict on yourself."

The roadshows will be continuing around the UK this month, although there’s no schedule for when they will turn up – just keep your eyes peeled. There’s a bit more info on the Stoptober Facebook page.

It’s never too late to quit

According to Stoptober figures, over the course of 28 days, a 20-a-day smoker will save a huge £250. That could be a credit card cleared, a weekend away or even 1/4 of a Céline handbag (I’ll get there one day!).

But just because Stoptober has already begun doesn’t mean it’s too late to stop smoking – it’s never too late to quit.

For help and support you can join our forum, which is full of MoneySavers who’ll give you tips on how to stop, as well as ideas on what to do with all that extra money at the end of Stoptober!

Are you taking part in Stoptober? Or do you have any tips to help others quit smoking? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

Stoptober Q&A with Lee Nelson

As giving up smoking is hard, we’ve also lined up a few surprises for our forumites during the month. One of these was a Twitter Q&A with Stoptober celebrity ambassador, comedian Lee Nelson (real name Simon Brodkin).

All the questions below were asked by the MSE Forum team and all the answers were given by Lee Nelson. Here’s what happened…

Lee Nelson ready to answer our questions

Lee Nelson ready to answer our questions

Q. @MSE_Forum: What was your first job?
A. @RealLeeNelson: I’ll let you know when I get it.

Q. If money were no object what would you buy?
A. Two cinema tickets – not on a Wednesday.

Q. Are you giving up smoking for Stoptober?
A. Of course, I think Stoptober’s amazing. I always start smoking again in November to be part of it the following year.

Q. How many did you smoke a day?
A. Once I’m awake I’m like clockwork, one ciggie every 30 minutes. So I’m usually a 10 a day man. Four on weekends, you need a lie in.

Q. Best joke off the top of your head?
A. Alan Pardew.

Q. If I gave you £1,000 right now, what would you do with it?
A. I’ve always fancied myself as a numbers man so I’d spend £500 on a new telly and save the remaining £400.

Q. Best suggestion to stop cravings?
A. Patches, gum, cold turkey even cold chicken. Any meat really.

Q. What will you be doing with the money you save this month?
A. I’d invest it very wisely in scratch cards.

Q. Who’s the biggest diva of the Stoptober ambassadors?
A. Jason Bent. He doesn’t get into bed for less than £200,000.

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MSE Sam McFaul

Now I'll always check the manufacturer's warranty before making purchases

Now I'll always check the manufacturer's warranty before making purchases

When my earphones stopped working after two and a half years of almost daily use, my first thought was that I’d simply buy a new pair from the same company (RHA).

It wasn’t until I was comparing prices that I noticed that the earphones came with a three year warranty. I’m the type of person who keeps original packaging ‘just in case’, although it turned out I didn’t need it as I quickly found a warranty claim form on RHA’s website and filled it out.

The only hurdle was finding the original receipt. Fortunately, I had ordered the earphones online and was able to find the receipt in my email inbox.

Despite sending off the warranty claim, I still wasn’t convinced it would be so easy to get my well-worn earphones replaced. Yet within 24 hours, I had received an email asking me to confirm my address so that a replacement pair could be sent to me.

Just a few days later a brand new boxed set of earphones arrived in the post, along with a prepaid envelope so I could send back the defective pair.

I’ve read information on MoneySavingExpert.com about claiming on warranties, but never really thought it could apply to or even be worth it for smaller items. The original cost of £30 had seemed a reasonable outlay for nearly three years of wear and tear, but now I’ll definitely be checking the manufacturer’s warranty before making a new purchase in future.

Have you claimed on a warranty before? Did you find it easy to get your money back? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Guy Anker

The ball has hit our arm, we've not committed a bad foul

The ball has hit our arm, we've not committed a bad foul

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has today ruled that a TalkTalk broadband and line rental deal we wrote about earlier this year was not clear enough – something we disagree with.

Naturally, we are deeply frustrated by the ruling, particularly as it claimed – wrongly in our opinion – our write-up was "misleading".

The ASA upheld two complaints about us, but also rejected two.

See the full ASA ruling and immediately below is our write-up of the deal (minus links to other pages as the deal has now expired), followed by my summary of the ASA’s ruling.

IMPORTANT NOTE: THIS DEAL DOES NOT EXIST ANYMORE, IT IS PURELY FOR REFERENCE.

B’band & phone equiv £15.25/mth + £75 Love2Shop (if line rent paid upfront)
New hot deal that can save some £100s a year. Check what you pay now – many on c.£16/mth for line rent ONLY

Add up what you pay for phone & broadband now. Many people typically pay £300+ a year before calls. Yet if you pounce on short-lived hot promo deals you can nearly halve that. Full info in Cheap Broadband, here are the headlines:

  • cheap broadbandEnds Thurs. £75 high street shops voucher on hot deal. MSE Blagged. Until Thurs, TalkTalk newbies (ie, not had it for 12+ mths) can get this Simply Broadband deal on a 1yr contract:

    – Compulsory line rent: You pay £15.95/mth. But we suggest, if you can afford it, you opt to pay £141 upfront for the year (equiv to £11.75/mth), during the online sign-up.
    - Unlimited broadband: Currently £3.50/mth, so £42 for the year (avail to 85% of UK).
    - Included calls: None, but you can add ‘boosts’ for anytime to landlines.
    – £75 Love2Shop voucher, spendable at Boots, Argos & over 80 other stores.
    Once your broadband connection is live, log into TalkTalk My Account, and the voucher will be posted within 28 days.

    Analysis: Excluding calls, if you pay line rent upfront + broadband, the year’s cost’s £183, equiv to £15.25/mth (pay line rent monthly, it’s £233 – £19.42/mth), plus you get the £75 Love2Shop voucher. If you’d spend that at, say, Boots anyway, factor it in too & it’s effectively £108 over the year, equiv just £9/mth (£158 a year or equiv £13/mth).

    Need a new line? If you don’t have a line (or only have a cable one or, in a few circumstances, Sky customers) installation’s £50. You’ll get that back on your first bill but WON’T get the voucher.

Issue 1: The ASA claims our write-up implied calls were included when they weren’t

You’ll see our headline states the deal is for "broadband and phone". The phone element came with just line rental and no inclusive calls.

The ASA thinks we "misled" because it interpreted such a headline would have people think calls were included.

If you look at our full write-up, we did mention calls are NOT included, so we DID include the key info.

Headlines often can’t tell you the whole story, they give an overview. In this case, if you read the full piece you will see we included the relevant info.

Yes, we could have written ‘line rental’ instead of ‘phone’ in the headline to make it even clearer (something we do now) but we don’t agree that many people will read our write-up thinking calls are included. And don’t just take our word for it…

Martin Lewis asked people on Facebook the following question when we became aware the ASA was investigating.

If I headlined "phone & broadband deal £12/mth" would you think:

  • A. You got line rental, broadband and all calls for £12.
  • B. You got line rental broadband and no calls for £12.
  • C. You got line rental, broadband for £12 and not sure about calls so you’d look more to find what calls you got.
  • D. Something else.

Out of 1,567 people who answered the question, here is how they responded.

  • A: 9%
  • B: 21%
  • C: 53%
  • D: 17%

So only 9% of people thought you definitely got calls.

Therefore, 21% don’t think calls are included, and more than half would have looked for more information, which the rest of the write-up provided.

Issue 2: The ASA thinks we omitted a key piece of info

The ASA also thinks we failed to disclose that anyone who took the deal who racked up £20 worth of calls could be barred from making a chargeable call until they made a payment to bring it below £20.

We saw this as very much minor detail, and we linked to TalkTalk’s terms and conditions which stated this. This is because calls were not even included in the deal, plus the term did not cost anyone any cash. In fact, it can be viewed as a positive term and therefore not something to warn about given it stops people building up a big debt.

We also reviewed how similar deals are written up by other websites and we did not find any that mentioned an unbilled call limit, leading us to assume it is industry practice not to do so.

No complaints from users

What’s more, we have not seen any complaints to us that relate to the points raised – the one person who complained to the ASA about this write-up is a journalist, though we don’t know who he or she is.

Our suspicion is that person went fishing for something to try to catch us out with on a technicality as the complaints are so specific.

In case you’re wondering, the ASA is allowed to investigate based on just one complaint.

So that means we have not seen anyone who thought they were getting inclusive calls included but was upset when they realised they wouldn’t. And we have not seen anyone who feels let down by us not disclosing upfront that they would not be allowed to make a chargeable call when their bill reached £20.

Other issues rejected by the ASA

The person who made the complaint about this write-up didn’t just complain about the points above.

He or she also challenged the accuracy of our write-up where we stated calls weren’t included, but that you could pay extra to get an inclusive allowance bundle. This was accurate so the ASA threw the complaint out.

The person who complained also thought we had misled people as we subtracted the value of a voucher that came with the deal to give users an equivalent monthly price.

The deal was advertised by TalkTalk as £15.25/month but it also came with a £75 Love2Shop voucher. We stated that if you would have spent that voucher anyway, it is the equivalent of £9/month. The ASA had no problem with that analysis so threw that complaint out.

We are journalists, not advertisers

I must admit to much frustration at this saga, as unlike newspapers, our journalistic writing is caught by the ASA’s rules.

The key word in that is “journalists”. We are not advertisers.

Newspaper journalists are not caught in the same way, as they have a different model as they take paid advertising. We are caught because you can click a link from our content and go direct to the product provider to get the deal. We do not have any advertising banners.

I used to work in national newspapers and we worked in exactly the same way as we do here, only that at MSE we explain products in even more detail to help users make as informed a decision as possible.

With our model, we write about the best deals, and we may or may not get paid if people click through to a product from our site. But when we write, we write as independent journalists, regardless of whether we are paid or not.

We’ve a good relationship with the ASA

MSE has a good working relationship with the ASA, which has been very helpful in trying to make us understand its viewpoint and how it works.

But we believe the ASA is too blunt an instrument. Even if we had done wrong, it has grouped us in with companies that genuinely mislead.

An analogy we’ve talked about internally is in football where a referee can award a penalty for a nasty two-footed tackle, but also for handball where the player unintentionally uses his or her arm.

In this case – even if you think we’ve done wrong – the ball has hit our arm, we’ve not committed a bad foul.

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Amy Ellis

I found it hard to let go of such a consistent part of my financial life

I found it hard to let go of such a consistent part of my financial life

We’ve all been there. We’re going out with a girl/guy (delete as appropriate) we know is no good for us, we know we could do better and yet we stay with them because… well because, often it’s just easier. Usually it’s not until you break up with that person and find a real winner that you realise how bad the situation really was.

I opened an account with what was then Lloyds TSB over two decades ago. I distinctly remember going into the branch and my nana giving me my first money to deposit into the account. And then I became one of those people – until I started to work for MoneySavingExpert – that just stayed loyal.

And like with the slightly dodgy boyfriends I’ve had in the past, it wasn’t because I was completely happy, but I think it was just because it was habit and it was familiar.

But it was the splitting of the bank into two separate entities, Lloyds and TSB back in 2013 and the terrible service I received as a result, coupled with working at a company that advocates "ditching and switching" if you’re not happy, that convinced me to switch my current account.

So after Christmas I came back into the office and opened an account with First Direct with a view to switching my TSB account to it when it was all set up.

So far so simple. I received the card, pin number and all the usual reams of paperwork you’d expect in the post. I called and spoke to a very cheery woman at First Direct that I informed I wanted to switch my current account. I then reached the final step where I had to read one last lot of paperwork First Direct had sent before I agreed to switch. And then, nothing.

That must have all been back in late January and it wasn’t until my colleague reminded me First Direct is a fee paying account unless I deposited enough money into it – aka my salary – that I realised I was going to start to get stung if I didn’t actually switch.

Why did it take me so long to switch?

But why had it taken me so long to switch? I had a half-hearted attempt at AS psychology back in school, and by no means am I an expert, but something makes me think there is something psychological going on here!

Everything was there to encourage me to switch, bad service with my existing bank, a lure of £100 to switch to the new bank and yet I dragged my heels.

I kept telling my colleagues the reason I was being so slow was that I was busy with the new flat I’d just bought, or planning for my wedding, but I think these were just excuses.

A part of me didn’t seem to want to let go of something that had been such a consistent part of my financial life. Even though I wasn’t happy, I knew what to expect, I knew how everything worked and for the familiarity, I was just willing to put up with the bad service.

But you’ll be happy to know I have finally switched. And when I went onto my TSB internet banking and saw that my old current account had finally been deleted, instead of feeling a bit sad as I expected, I actually felt a sense of relief.

I still hold some accounts with TSB and it’s my plan to slowly get rid of all ties, but I have a feeling that after taking this first step it won’t be as bad the next time round, especially if First Direct turns out to be a winner.

Do you keep meaning to switch banks but feel like something is holding you back? Maybe like me you have some strange emotional connection to your provider. Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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MSE Sam McFaul

Life's too short for regrets, so I cancelled my EE contract

Life's too short for regrets, so I cancelled my EE contract

My budget Android smartphone has been on the blink recently, and as my Sim-only contract comes to an end soon, I decided to look around for a new phone.

Still after a relatively cheap mobile, I was torn between the Nokia Lumia 635 (Windows Phone) and the Motorola Moto G 4G (Android). I tried them out in-store and liked both, but I decided change is good and decided to go for the Nokia.

Before buying it, I rang Orange – my existing provider – to see if it could match a good deal I’d found with Tesco Mobile. It couldn’t, so while on the phone I ‘upgraded’ to EE and took out a price plan that cost more, and had fewer inclusive allowances than the deal I’d found with Tesco Mobile.

Not very MoneySaving I know, but I was wary of moving away from the mobile network I’d been with since I was 18.

The phone arrived quickly, but it didn’t take long for me to realise I hated the Windows mobile operating system and began pining for my old phone. Regret piled on when I calculated I’d be spending £80 more over the 24 month contract period for this phone with EE than I would have with Tesco Mobile’s deal, and getting less to show for it.

I remembered reading about cooling off periods

Luckily I remembered reading about cooling off periods on MoneySavingExpert.com and how under new consumer rights regulations, which came into force in June, contracts and goods bought online, over the phone or on the doorstep can be cancelled and returned within 14 calendar days – up from the previous seven working days.

And indeed the letter that came with the phone mentioned the 14 day cooling off period in its small print.

Life’s too short for regrets, so I rung EE and to its credit, it was a very easy process to cancel the contract I’d just taken out. It informed me it would send me an envelope to return the phone to it, and that my contract would be downgraded back to my old Orange Sim-only one.

The envelope soon arrived and I got prematurely excited thinking the postage had been paid for. Unfortunately not, although £7.15 special delivery was a small price to pay to erase my mistaken purchase.

I’m back to my old phone now and slightly worse off financially, but I have just taken out a cheaper contract with Tesco Mobile for the Motorola Moto G 4G. The phone hasn’t arrived yet, but hopefully I won’t need to test the cooling off period again!

Have you bought something over the phone, online or on the doorstep and then cancelled the contract during the cooling off period? Did you have any problems doing it? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Amy Ellis

How much would you pay for travel vaccinations?

How much would you pay for travel vaccinations?

I can’t move either of my arms. "Oh that must be all that gym work you’ve been doing in a pre-wedding panic", I hear you cry. Sadly not (I have been going, but I never work so hard that I can’t move my arms the next day, that’s just silly). I have been injected with vaccines in both of my upper arms.

Yes, after the wedding comes the honeymoon. And with that comes the recommendation that both my fiancé and I should be injected with seemingly every vaccination under the sun.

Ok, so that’s an exaggeration. But the question still remains, when faced with so many possible vaccinations that you could have before travelling to some far flung place and most coming with a hefty price tag, which ones do you go for? And can you ever be moneysaving when it comes to this sort of thing?

Luckily, under the NHS I was able to go to the doctors and have a lot of the vaccines that I needed before our travels for free, leaving a slight dent in my arm, but not my wallet.

But the NHS only covers a certain number of vaccinations for the places we’re visiting, so we went to a private travel clinic to have a consultation on the other recommended vaccines that we might need. It was then that I started to feel faint from the prices being bandied around.

Here’s what the private clinic recommended to us for the different places we’re travelling to and the price tag attached to them:

  • Japanese B Encephalitis – course of two, £100 per injection = £200.
  • Hepatitis B – course of three, £35 per injection = £105.
  • Rabies – course of three, £55 per injection = £165.
  • Malaria – £2.30 per tablet + £10 prescription fee, we would need 10 = £33.
  • Total cost: £503 – that’s over £1,000 for the two of us.

I’ve spoken to some people who have been to where we’re going and have just risked it, not having any of the vaccines – but one who as a result ran scared from a cave after they realised it had bats in it! And others who say you can’t put a price on your health and have gone for the whole kit and caboodle.

After all, maybe it’s better to spend a couple of hundred pounds now, rather than thousands of pounds if something goes wrong when you’re out there? Though hopefully a good insurance policy would kick in then!

As for me, I have decided to go with the rabies injections and the malaria tablets, the two things I feel are most important. But I am still very much in two minds about whether I should be trying to be moneysaving in this type of situation.

I don’t know the answer to this and would love to hear your opinions on it and what decision you’ve made in a similar situation. Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Amy Ellis

My invitations with 2nd class stamps arrived the next day

My invitations with 2nd class stamps arrived the next day

We’ve been conditioned into thinking that first class is, well, classier. Whether it’s flying or getting the train, first class is what everyone aspires to. But with that added class comes added cost.

It’s no different when it comes to sending a lowly letter. Here the class comes from the speed of delivery, and that speed of delivery by Royal Mail will cost you an extra 9p on a stamp for a normal-sized letter.

"Only 9p?" I hear you cry. "That’s small change." And that’s what I used to think. That’s before I sent 70 wedding invitations in the post this week.

As the control freak that I am, I decided a self-addressed, stamped envelope for people to send their RSVPs back, was entirely necessary. After all, what’s the point of going to all the effort with the invites if people don’t even bother to reply?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, our invitations were rather chunky (in a classy way), and didn’t fit Royal Mail’s required size for a normal-sized letter, so I was now faced with the dreaded ‘large letter’ cost.

There was only one thing for it. I had to bump the invitations down to second class delivery. We’d put an RSVP response date on the invitation, but I decided second class, which states it will get there within three working days (as opposed to first class next working day) would just have to suffice.

I tried not to feel too embarrassed as the couple next to me, who were sending out their invites as well, decided they would take the extra cost on the chin and stumped for first class.

Second class, but next day delivery

Turns out it’s the best postage-related decision I ever made. I posted the invitations on Tuesday morning before work, and by Wednesday morning (the next day) I was getting texts off friends and family saying they had already received them. I now felt sorry for the couple that paid the extra for first class.

Working at MoneySavingExpert.com, I couldn’t help myself but do the maths and work out how much I had saved by sending second class and receiving the same service as if I had sent them first class. Here’s how much I saved…

  • Second class stamps for RSVP envelope – 70 x 53p = £37.10
  • Main envelope large letter second class stamps – 70 x 73p = £51.10
  • Total = £88.20 (don’t judge me!)

What it would have cost me to send first class:

  • First class stamps for RSVP envelope – 70 x 62p = £43.40
  • Main envelope large letter first class stamps – 70 x 93p = £65.10
  • Total = £108.50

That’s a total saving of £20.30. Not a life-changing amount, but when you’re forking out money left, right and centre for a wedding, every penny counts.

Now obviously I could have avoided any such costs in the first place by sending an e-invite, but I like the tradition of sending an invitation by post. In fact I still enjoy sending letters despite the fact we now live in the digital age (the most recent one I sent I had actually written on a typewriter).

But when I send letters and cards in the future, I will no longer be wasting my hard-earned cash on first class stamps. It’s second class all the way for me.

Do you use first or second class stamps? Do you notice a difference in when letters arrive? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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MSE Rebecca

My friend came to me about baking her wedding cake

My friend came to me about baking her wedding cake

As long as I can remember I’ve been into baking, be it cakes, scones, biscuits or flapjacks. It’s a well-known fact among my friends and family, who frequently request baked goods when we meet up (chocolate Guinness cake being the most requested).

So when one of my best friends got engaged at Christmas and rapidly sped into planning mode, it was me she came to about the wedding cake.

Why not buy it from a professional you ask, and risk any potential disasters? But with prices starting at £500 for a personalised wedding cake, and even £100 for a ‘budget’ M&S version, this wasn’t an area they could splurge on.

While I might be good at baking and enjoy pottering around in the kitchen, I’m no Mary Berry and have no real clue when it comes to intricate decorations. Despite this, I agreed (after some gentle persuasion) to make it and started planning the big bake.

After much research and Pinterest scanning I went for a ‘naked’ wedding cake. This is a plain sponge cake covered in icing sugar and flowers – a bit of a cheat’s option as it avoids any icing dilemmas.

I made several practice cakes, with varying success, in the months leading up to the big day – these went down very well with the MSE team. I made the real thing the day before and it all went pretty much to plan.

All the ingredients for the humongous cake (feeding 100 guests, plus extras) came in at £40 for the day, plus about £30 for the practice versions – a saving of £430 compared to buying a professional personalised cake.

All the ingredidents came in at £70

All the ingredidents came in at £70

A continual shower of praise from impressed guests, combined with being able to really get involved with her big day, made the hours spent staring into my oven praying for the cake to rise and not poison all the guests worth it.

But while it’s significantly cheaper to go for a DIY wedding cake, it’s definitely not stress-free.

So if you’re going down this route for your wedding, unless your baking (and organising) skills could see you through to The Great British Bake Off final, pick a friend to do it for you.

The wedding cake I baked

The wedding cake I baked

Have you made a wedding cake before? How much did you save? Do you have any tips you could share? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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MSE Rebecca

Swap Shops: How to get something  new for nothing

Swap Shops: How to get something new for nothing

As a natural-born hoarder, the thought of a Swap Shop fills me with both joy and fear. The fear that I’ll actually be forced into clearing through my worldly goods, and the joy of picking up some new bits to add to the collection.

For those who don’t know what a Swap Shop is, it’s basically a chance to bring in anything you’ve got lying at home that you’ve been meaning to clear out, but haven’t got around to, and swap it for something else. After all, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

So aside from my love of collecting things, the reason we held a Swap Shop at MSE Towers was to coincide with Recycle Week 2014, as MSE Wendy helpfully pointed out.

Recycle Week is a nationwide event, held this year between 16-22 June, but individuals and groups (like ours) can get involved throughout the year. The theme of this year’s was "Recycling at Home and Away", so a Swap Shop fitted perfectly.

Despite most of the team at MSE being super-efficient with extra clutter and making as much money as they can from it on websites such as eBay, we had a pretty good turnout.

The rules were simple – bring along anything you no longer need, excluding clothes. Officially you’re meant to hand out tokens to ensure people only get something back when they’ve dropped something off, but as we’re newbies to it all we waived this rule.

Most items were books or DVDs, with a few curveballs such as a kic=- boxing helmet, Ryan Gosling colouring book, hi-vis jacket and an animal-themed top trumps game.

I’d put myself under strict instruction NOT to take anything home but still ended up with three new books to get stuck into. First on the list is The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time, which has been on my reading list for a while.

The idea’s simple but it works. Instead of throwing your old stuff away, it’s an easy way to swap it around. You save money by getting something for free and not forking out for another brand new item, and everything left over was taken to a charity shop.

As it worked so well, we’re planning to make it a semi-regular event at MSE Towers.

Have you held or been to a Swap Shop? Do you have any tips you could share? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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