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Guy Anker

Valentine’s Day is a day of (hopefully) love

Valentine’s Day. A day of (hopefully) love, giving, time spent with a special one and… delivery firm Yodel leaving people’s flowers on the pavement.

OK, so I may have exaggerated that final point a tad, but I was astounded to get to the front door of my apartment block on Saturday afternoon to see a box of roses left all alone in the drizzle outside the front door to my block.

They were meant for a neighbour of mine in the block (they weren’t from me!) but given my block is on a fairly busy street, anyone could have run off with them.

I took them inside to the rightful recipient’s front door (I left the flowers in the hallway as there was no answer at the door, but at least they were well within the walls of a fairly secure block of flats and firmly out of public sight).

As you’ll see from the pic below, the delivery firm that left them there was Yodel. That’s the same firm that was voted among the worst parcel delivery firms in December by our users.

The box of flowers Yodel left in the open

We have also heard tales over the years of Yodel customers saying parcels arrived with damaged contents, or drivers claiming householders were not in but where customers insisted no attempt was made to contact them.

Without having spoken to the sender of these flowers, they may of course have asked for the package to be left outside (although this seems unlikely given it’s on a busy road) but as there are dozens of flats in my block, you’d think the delivery driver could have gotten a neighbour to answer the main door and so left the flowers more safely inside.

I’m also aware that it’s no good delivering Valentine’s flowers a day late, which puts delivery drivers under pressure when no-one answers the door, but was this really the best thing to do?

Yodel is not alone in attracting criticism from customers. In fact, DX was rated worst by our users last time out.

However, it is the name that has consistently come up over the years in my mind for being synonymous with bad parcel service. When I saw the parcel lying there, I thought to myself "I bet it is a Yodel parcel" – and I was right.

Yodel’s public relations team often gets very shirty when we cover it in a bad light, more so than many other firms (1).

Yet this is just one example of what appears to be bad service. That’s why we hold it to account on behalf of our users. We – and they – expect better.

Have you experienced problems with Yodel or any other parcel delivery firm? Please let us know via the discussion below or on the forum.

(1) Update, 1pm, 18 February. Credit to Yodel’s PR team on this one. After the blog was published it got in touch, not to have a go, but to find out further details so it can stop this happening again.  

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Andrea Hirai

One way to declutter is to have a car boot sale

As part of our New Year’s Resolutions campaign we hosted a #dumpyourjunk decluttering Twitter chat with founder of ‘Zero Waste Week’ Rachelle Strauss (known to many as Mrs Green).

What was originally planned as a half hour Q&A turned into an inspirational, hour-long Twitter party with many other declutterers joining in.

The tips that came out of it were fantastic and left everyone wanting more… so watch this space for news of #dumpyourjunk Part 2. (Follow @MSE_Forum and @myzerowaste for updates.)

In the meantime, have a read of some of the great tips below that came out of the Q&A and click through to the #dumpyourjunk hashtag to see the full conversations.

Q: @MSE_Forum: What’s your top decluttering tip?

  • @myzerowaste: "Swishing [swapping clothes] is fab if family don’t want to swap – add friends, nibbles and wine!”
  • @coachykim: "My top decluttering tip is… getting rid of things I haven’t used or worn for a year."
  • @CantSwingACat: "Also, carboot sales are one of my faves for ridding old clothes, though you’ll probably just get £1 or £2."

Q: @MSE_Forum: Do you sell stuff when you’re decluttering or give it to charity?

  • @CantSwingACat: "Probably mostly sell as I need the money. But I buy from charity shops & tell myself that’s how I’m doing my bit."
  • @RaisingWildOnes: "Yep, until we’ve paid off debts, then the junk will be donated :p"
  • @DRnaturegirl: "Everything! Give away, freecycle, eBay, local ads, recycling banks and charity."
  • @Mehubbyandkids: "My dining room has five boxes in to go to the charity shop. Been there nearly two weeks now."

Q: @MSE_Forum: What can I do with half-used toiletries?

  • @RaisingWildOnes: "Give them to kids to play with in the bath & get clean at the same time. Or just use them all up if you like them!"
  • @coachykim: "Check them first for expiry dates, and liquids for separation or bad smells. Any of the above, chuckout!"
  • @TotsAdventures: "I use half-used conditioner to make my kids paint."

Q: @MSE_Forum: What are your top tips for waste-free make-up removal?

  • @Cottage_R: "I use an oil based liquid makeup remover – only needs a towel so no waste! Bottle can be recycled!"
  • @Mehubbyandkids: "Crochet little make up remover pads. They can be washed and reused instead of cotton wool that needs to be thrown."
  • @CantSwingACat: "Stick a box of half-used toiletries in your bathroom, ban yourself from buying more until you’ve used them up."
  • @myzerowaste: "Tips for waste free make up removal here."

Q: @MSE_Forum: When it comes to decluttering, are you a flylady or a slow burner?

  • @myzerowaste: "HaHa! A procrastinator, unfortunately! But then a whirlwind who burns out *sigh*."
  • @makeandmendyear: "I go in fits and starts! I did the #minsgame last year – one item on day 1, two on day 2 etc, up to 30, and that was great."
  • @KarenCannard: "A slow burner, most definitely. Surprised husband hasn’t tripped over anything yet."

For more ways to make cash from your clutter, check out our How to sell on eBay and Boost your income guides and join our Old Style MoneySaving the Best Upcycling and Re-use Tips forum threads to talk it over with other declutterers.

Do you have any of your own tips on how best to declutter and have a spring clean? Please let us know your thoughts in the discussion below or on the forum.

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Helen Knapman

What was your favourite team blog from last year?

As we’re coming towards the end of January (and hopefully one step closer to some warmer weather!), I thought now would be a good time to publish our top 10 team blogs of 2014.

Hopefully you’ll already have read these posts, but if not, why not have a read now? And please keep coming back this year to let us know your thoughts on the diverse array of subjects we cover in the Team Blog.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 team blogs of 2014 based on the number of page views received. (Please be aware that the information in these blogs may no longer be correct.)

1. How to buy the cheapest Christmas turkey

2. Downshift your Christmas dinner and feed six people for £15 … with all the trimmings

3. Only got Sky Sports for the Premier League? Here’s how to cancel for the summer

4. How I got a £3,300 Virgin Atlantic upper class flight for £1,500

5. Why I won’t ever send a letter first class again

6. Tesco’s Double The Difference policy left me nearly £50 richer

7. My top tips for bagging cheap hotel rooms

8. How I boosted my income by £200 with websites and smartphone apps

9. Yes, I admit it. I have solar panel envy

10. I’ve a mountain of toiletries. So why am I rushing out to buy more?

If you’ve got through that list and it’s made you hungry for more, you can also view Martin’s top 10 blogs of 2014 and our Deals Hunters’ top 10 blogs of last year.

Do you agree with the team blog top 10 list? Or is your favourite blog of the year missing? Please let us know your thoughts in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Andrea Hirai

cybersecurity

Don't let hackers get their hands on your personal details

While many people are giving up smoking, getting fitter, clearing their debts, etc,  my New Year’s resolution is to try to be better organised and declutter.

One resolution I don’t think we hear much about though is doing more to make sure we’re safe online. It shouldn’t be overlooked as it’s hugely important. Use a weak password or forget antivirus and you could find yourself in a whole heap of financial pickle, not to mention face a huge time-wasting hassle.

If you’ve been given a tablet or laptop for Christmas or grabbed a bargain in the January Sales, making sure it’s fully protected should be a priority.

Our 30 Ways to Stop Scams guide should get you up to date on the latest scams doing the rounds. As it can be a long month, if you’re short on cash at the moment, at the least get free anti-virus sorted.

If you’re an MSE Forum user, as with any form of social media, always use the latest version of your internet browser and make sure your password is strong enough, difficult enough it can’t be guessed and change it regularly.

We’ve been working with the Home Office’s CyberStreetwise campaign for over a year now to highlight online security issues that people can sometimes forget. We held a Twitter Q&A using the #becyberstreetwise hashtag just before Christmas to do just that and the team is answering questions on our forum too: New Year’s Resolutions: Stay Safe online, Stay Cyberstreetwise.

Read the questions below and click through to the #becyberstreetwise hashtag to see the full Q&A.

Q: @MSE_Forum: How important is it to protect your home wi-fi?

A: @cyberstreetwise: It’s extremely important, take a look at our tips on how to secure your wi-fi.

Q: @MSE_Forum: Is it OK to download apps from individual websites?

A: @cyberstreetwise: We would recommend only downloading from the official app store for your device, if not sure of validity, don’t download!

Q: @MSE_Forum: Is all public wi-fi encrypted?

A: @cyberstreetwise: Not all public wi-fi is encrypted, take a look at our advice on wireless networks here.

Q: @MSE_Forum: How often should you update your software to stay safe?

A: @cyberstreetwise: Always download & install software updates immediately when they appear. Remember to also check for updates manually.

Do you have any tips on how to stay safe online? Please let us know your thoughts in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Amy Roberts

Pensions advice

Are you getting guidance or advice? It's important to know the difference

This is a blog about pensions. So stop searching for your first profile picture to post on Facebook, stop watching the hilarious video of the cop singing along to Taylor Swift, that can wait – what I’m about to say is more important (you can always watch the funny video afterwards, it’s worth it).

If you’re retiring this year and planning on taking your pension post-April when the new pension freedoms come into force (or even if you’re not), it’s crucial that you understand the difference between guidance and advice.

This became abundantly clear to me following a discussion on pensions I attended last week. A question from the floor asked the panel of pension experts to explain the distinction between the two. Their answers were confusing and they appeared to be having trouble doing so. It made me think: “If a panel of experts is struggling to differentiate between what guidance and advice means when it comes to pensions, what chance do consumers have?”

But let’s rewind for a second to put everything into context. In his Budget last year, the Chancellor announced changes to pensions the likes of which have never been seen. In a nutshell, instead of having to take an annuity when you retire – a product which gives an annual income each year until you die but which has provided notoriously poor returns – come April you’ll be able to take your pension however you like.

As part of these changes the Government has set up a service it recently coined “Pension Wise” (read the news story here). Its basic function is to give people guidance (and guidance being the operative word here) on how best to take their pension under the new freedoms.

The distinction between the two words and their meaning is especially confusing when you consider that consumers will be offered this guidance by organisations such as Citizens Advice – which in the regulatory sense, cannot actually give advice when it comes to pensions, just guidance. You can see how there could be some confusion.

So this is the part that you really need to pay attention to…

If you’re planning on taking your pension post-April, you will be offered free guidance either online, over the phone, or face-to-face. But this is guidance, it is not advice and whatever decision you make is yours and yours alone, meaning you’re liable for whatever choice you end up making.”

A neat analogy used by one of the panel members might help put this in context…

Imagine Joe asks how to get from London to Brighton. If Jane gives him a map/sat nav/app to download and then says ‘there you go, it’s up to you to find your way’, any mistakes Joe makes are his own fault (guidance). If Jane says ‘no worries, I’ll get a taxi to pick you up and take you from London to Brighton’, any mistakes made are out of Joe’s control, he’s relying on the taxi driver to take him to the right place (advice).

Possibly the biggest difference between the two though is money. The guidance that you’ll be offered by the Government schemes is free. If they then point you in the direction of financial advice, or you choose to take this, you will pay for it (see the Financial Advisers guide for more).

A whole raft of other questions came up in relation to the difference between these two terms, such as…

  • What do we do for the people that don’t want to take the guidance, is there a default product for them?
  • What happens if the people giving guidance get overexcited and stray into the realm of advice and the advice they give is bad – what redress does the consumer have?
  • What happens to the people that have small pensions and don’t just want to take a lump sum, but can’t afford to pay for advice?

I’m aware that this blog is already quite long, so I won’t try and give the answers to these today. Instead I’ll keep blogging on pensions up until April to give you all the information you’ll need when it comes to making one of the most important decisions of your life.

In the meantime, if you’re concerned with any of this, or what to do with your pension after April, then please do get in contact and let me know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Andrea Hirai

Television

Could you live without some of your favourite channels?

Back in 2012 I did a TV viewing audit and decided we weren’t watching Sky channels enough for it to be worth paying for them.

We’d had Sky TV for a few years and had considered cancelling before we decided to move house, but we were offered free installation with a new dish and a discounted package in our new home on a new 12-month contract, so we took it up.

We figured we could cancel at the end of the new contract and we’d still have the dish if we ever chose to go back to Sky.

We let things slip though and ended up paying full price for channels we hardly watched after the discounted package ended (bad MoneySaver, see our Cancellation Heroes guide for tips on avoiding this).

However, after a year of paying more than we wanted to for Sky, we decided to get a Freesat box for about £200.

We could have gone on to Freeview and not paid anything, but Freesat had a couple of extra channels that made up for some of the Sky channels we’d be losing. It had NHK World, an English-speaking news channel from Japan (my husband’s Japanese), and while we thought we’d really miss National Geographic, we later found we could watch Air Crash Investigation on Channel 5, so we were happy bunnies.

For more than two years we have been entirely happy with the channels we can watch on Freesat. There are plenty of kids’ channels to keep the children entertained when they watch TV, plus we top these up with the odd Blinkbox rental and DVDs, many of which we already own and which can be watched over and over again for free.

I’d like to add that we do also do a lot of activities that don’t involve watching TV, such as going out and getting fresh air!

We broke even in roughly a year compared to when we were with Sky and saved around £250 in the 18 months after that even factoring in the cost of the DVDs and rentals.

If you’re not quite ready to give Sky up, see our Haggle with Sky, AA and more guide for tips on how to get the cheapest price.

Have you given up Sky, or even TV completely? Did it work for you and have you calculated how much you’ve saved? Tell us on the forum or below.

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Amy Roberts

The trials and tribulations of changing from a Miss to a Mrs

The paperwork is a lot trickier than the ceremony it turns out

I got married back in September. If you Google the process of how to change your name on important documents after you get married, you’ll be faced with an abundance of feminist-driven articles about why women shouldn’t feel in this day and age like they have to change their name when they get married.

That isn’t what this blog is about. So if you don’t agree with people changing their name when they get married, you may as well stop reading now.

If, like me, you recently got married, or are planning on getting married in the future and want to change your name in the process, then the below might help you – it’s a few hints and tips I picked up along the way and then a breakdown of the different areas where I changed my name.

  • My first tip would be – before you get married you’re asked by the registrar if you want to order more copies of your marriage certificate. Say ‘yes’. The one that you sign and are given to take away with you on the day will feel a little bit special, so make sure you have copies that you won’t mind putting in the post (and to avoid any upset if the worst happens and it gets lost or damaged).
  • My next tip before you get going would be to make sure you have your new signature watertight. You sign your old signature on the marriage certificate on the wedding day itself, but when you get going with your name-changing documents you’re going to have to have it pegged as though it’s been yours for years!
  • Anything new you sign up to will obviously be in your new name – this can get confusing as you may still be using your old name for other things that you haven’t switched over. You’ll need to keep your wits about you and remember what surname you’re supposed to be using.
  • Last, if you can’t find the information you need on the company’s website about how to change your name and both you and said company are on Twitter, then just fire off a quick tweet asking what you need to do. I did this a few times and the responses were generally pretty much instant.

The specifics on becoming a Mrs across the board

Banking. I bank with First Direct and when I Googled how to change my name with the bank, I couldn’t find anything helpful. Instead I tweeted them and within minutes I had the answer. They gave me the number to call to get a change of name document sent out to me. I filled it out and was told I needed to send it back with my marriage certificate. I wondered if I could avoid this step and just go into a branch (HSBC) with the marriage certificate. I phoned up and checked and sure enough I could go into the branch with the change of name form and my marriage certificate and they changed it all for me.

With this knowledge I then went into the branches of banks where I have my ISA and credit card and got them to change my name in the same way. New cards where needed were sent out pretty quickly. When you get them just cut up your old ones and you’re good to go.

Mortgage. This was high on my list of things to get sorted sooner rather than later. Again, this was really easy, I just went into a branch of the bank who my mortgage is with clutching my marriage certificate and they changed it for me there and then.

Driver’s Licence. You’ll need to go into your local Post Office and pick up the correct form for this, it’s the D1 ‘Application for a driving licence’ forms. This one has to be sent by post with your marriage certificate, there isn’t an option of doing it all online as I know you can with a change of address. This one will take a bit more time, but you get a booklet with it containing instructions on exactly how to fill it all out correctly, and there’s no charge for a new licence if you’ve changed your name due to marriage.

Note: They send you your proof of name change documents back separately but don’t tell you they’ll do this, so when you receive your licence back and not your marriage certificate, don’t worry, it’s a security measure apparently!

Passport. This is the only change of name that is actually going to cost you. I have all the forms to do this (also picked up from the Post Office, they’re handily next to the driver’s licence ones), but for some reason (maybe it’s the cost!) I haven’t quite got round to doing it. The process will be the same as for the driver’s licence though, so I know what I need to do.

If you’re a real keen bean, are going on honeymoon straight after your wedding and want everything to be in your shiny new married name, then you can change your name before you go. This can be done up to three months before the ceremony, it’s post-dated and at that stage your old passport will be cancelled. This means you can’t use either of the passports before the ceremony if you’re thinking of jetting off to Spain for a ‘pre-moon’ (don’t ask!) to top up your tan for the wedding.

Phone. I’m with O2 and I just Googled what I needed to do – there was a link to a form that needed to be sent off with my marriage certificate. Strangely enough, although most others needed to see the original form, O2 accepts just a copy scanned that can be sent over with the form, which is good.

Electoral Roll. Luckily for me, my husband and I got letters about Individual Electoral Registration not long after we got married, so I used this opportunity to use my new name on the forms. If this hasn’t happened to you, you’ll need to contact your local electoral registration office and get a change of name form (they’ll need your marriage certificate as proof of your name change).

Other things you might have to think of that I didn’t need to change…

  • HM Land Registry (if you own land or property)
  • Vets
  • Library clubs, societies and associations
  • Magazine subscriptions

Some things you’ll find easier to do as and when, such as the doctor and the dentist. You can pick up a change of name form when you next go in for an appointment and then all you need to do is fill it in and go in with your marriage certificate next time you’ve got an appointment or are passing and they can change your details for you. I still need to do this, along with others things such as changing the name on my life insurance and some of our utility bills.

The biggest debate for me throughout this process was whether I should keep my maiden name for work. In the end I decided if I didn’t change my name at work as well, then I would never truly feel like a Roberts. So I let the techno whizzes at MSE know that I wanted to change my name and that was that. However, by doing that a couple of other things cropped up that I hadn’t considered, such as changing my name with the insurer of our company pension and the healthcare cash plan that we have here – so they’ve now been added to the ever growing list of things still to do.

Apologies if I have left anything off, as you can see I still have a way to go. I think if you’re really enthusiastic then all of this could be achieved in a month or so, especially if you have multiple copies of your marriage certificate that you can send off. If you take the approach to change things as and when they crop up, it will obviously take a long longer.

Finally, good luck, changing your name is not as easy as it sounds at the time when you decide to do it, turns out you use your name for A LOT of things!!

Have you changed your name? How did you find going about doing it? Let me know your thoughts in the discussion below or on the forum.

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Andrea Hirai

Having a DIY fireworks display for New Year's? Here's how to do it safely

Fire is a risk with fireworks but there are plenty of ways to avoid it

If you’re planning a New Year’s Eve party with fireworks and sparklers, it’s important you are safety-conscious as well as MoneySaving.

For Bonfire Night 2014 we ran a Fire Safety Twitter Q&A with the Manchester Fire and Rescue Service using the #bonfirenight hashtag. One key point made by the fire team was that shoppers should make sure they buy legal fireworks that have been produced to British Standards.

They provided this video showing the dangers posed by illegal fireworks.

Read the questions and answers below before you start your New Year’s Eve party to make sure you’re as safe as houses.

Q: @MSE_Forum: If you’ve bought fireworks but realised they don’t have the ‘safe’ marks what should you do?

A: @manchesterfire: Return them to the shop where you bought them or call your local fire service and ask them to dispose of them for you.

Q: @MSE_Forum: What safety precautions should you take if you’re having your own fireworks party?

A: @manchesterfire: Prepare for the party in advance and in daylight. On the night you will need a torch, a bucket of water, eye protection and gloves.

Q: @MSE_Forum: Where should you keep fireworks when you’re not using them?

A: @manchesterfire: Keep fireworks in a closed metal box when not being used.

Q: @MSE_Forum: Are sparklers safe?

A: @manchesterfire: Yes as long as you light them one at a time and wear gloves. Never give sparklers to a child under the age of five.

Q: @MSE_Forum: How old do you have to be to have fireworks in a public place?

A: @manchesterfire: It’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to possess fireworks in a public place.

Q: @MSE_Forum: What time do the fireworks have to stop?

A: @manchesterfire: It’s illegal to let fireworks off between 11pm and 7am except on Bonfire Night (midnight),Diwali, New Year and Chinese New Year.

Q: @MSE_Forum: What’s the best way to dispose of fireworks safely? A: @manchesterfire: Contact your local fire service. If you’re in Greater Manchester you can call us and we’ll pick them up.

Are you having a fireworks party for New Year? Discuss this blog and more on the forum.

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Tara Evans

Don't go overboard on Christmas food shopping

Don't go overboard on Christmas food shopping

It’s easy to get carried away with a festive food shop. Christmas is, after all, an indulgent time of year. But with a bit of planning it’s still possible to cut costs. Here I reveal how much you save if you shop around, ‘downshift’ on branded items – and avoid stocking up for a zombie apocalypse. 

1. Compare the cost of your shop online

There are only a few sleeps until Santa makes his way down the chimney, and if you’ve left your shop to the last minute then it’s likely you’ve missed your chance to order an online delivery. But you can still benefit from comparing prices online before you head out.

Below I’ve worked out the cost of feeding six people turkey and all the traditional trimmings, comparing prices at eight supermarkets using the grocery comparison website MySupermarket.com. First, a couple of disclaimers:

  • In the table below, I’ve looked at branded goods, while in the table further down I’ve looked at own-brand products. However in both tables with the veg I’ve just considered each supermarket’s standard offering.

  • These are the supermarkets’ official prices, but you can sometimes get even find even more of a bargain if you go towards a store’s closing time, when the yellow ‘reduced’ stickers come out. The risk then, of course, is that they may have sold out of what you’re after.

Where to get the cheapest (branded) Christmas food items – to feed six

Item Cheapest supermarket Total price
Bernard Matthews Golden Norfolk frozen turkey large 4-5.4kg Farm Foods £10.95
Cowbelle brandy butter with Courvoisier VS Cognac (200g) Aldi £1.49
Brussels sprouts 750g Aldi 49p
Carrots 1.5kg Aldi 49p
Colman’s cranberry sauce (265g) Asda, Ocado, Sainsbury’s & Tesco £1.00
Bisto Favourite gravy granules (170g) Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco & Waitrose £1.00
Mr Kipling Exceedingly Merry mince pies Sainsbury’s & Tesco £1.00
Parsnips (500g) Aldi & Tesco 49p
Potatoes (2.5kg) Tesco 49p
Paxo sage & onion stuffing (85g) Morrisons 59p
TOTAL COST OF FEEDING SIX: £17.99
Source: MySupermarket.com. Prices correct as of 22 Dec 2014.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you go around the houses and actually traipse around all eight supermarkets – that would be silly. But it’s easy to see how shopping around could save.

In practice, the best thing to do is probably to compare prices and then head to the supermarket with the total cheapest overall basket. It’s especially worthwhile comparing the prices of big-ticket items such as washing powder, toilet roll or (more apt at this time of year) champagne.

(By the way, I’m assuming at this point you’ve already got your turkey sorted – but if not, it’s worth looking at my separate in-depth blog post on How to buy the cheapest Christmas turkey.)

2. Scrimp on your sprouts – take the Downshift Challenge

Have you ever taken the Downshift Challenge? This is when you swap branded items for supermarket own-brand items. It can cost considerably less – and it’s not always true that the quality will suffer.

It’s worth noting that for one ITV programme a few Christmases ago, Martin held a blind taste test party for nurses at a hospital. An amazing 73% preferred an own-brand turkey compared to the most expensive brand.

Where to get the cheapest (own-brand) Christmas food items – to feed six

In the first comparison I selected branded goods, but in this one I’ve selected the cheapest products possible by switching down to own-brand items. Again, the idea is to get enough food to feed at least six people.

Item Cheapest supermarket Total price
Whole turkey (frozen) 2.8kg – 4kg Lidl £9.99
Cowbelle brandy butter with Courvoisier VS Cognac (200g) Aldi £1.49
Brussels sprouts 750g Aldi 49p
Carrots 1.5kg Aldi 49p
Tesco Everyday Value cranberry sauce (185g) Tesco 50p
Morrisons’ Savers gravy granules (200g) Morrisons 20p
Everyday Essentials mince pies Tesco 50p
Parsnips (500g) Aldi & Tesco 49p
Potatoes (2.5kg) Tesco 49p
Tesco Everyday Value Sage & Onion Stuffing Mix (85g) Tesco 15p
TOTAL COST OF FEEDING SIX: £14.79
Source: MySupermarket.com. Prices correct as of 22 Dec 2014.

Here the savings you can make when downshifting become apparent. While the cost of the veg remains unchanged (we were already looking at supermarkets’ standard prices) everything else is cheaper.

For example, Tesco Everyday Value cranberry sauce (185g) costs just 50p, half the price of the Colman’s cranberry sauce.

If gravy is where you’re willing to scrimp, then for just a fifth of the price of the Bisto’s Favourite gravy granules (170g) you can get Morrisons’ Savers gravy granules (200g) for an incredible 20p. Tesco’s Everyday Value sage and onion stuffing mix is just 15p – 44p less than Paxo’s alternative.

All in, it’s possible to get the full Christmas dinner and trimmings for six for just £14.79 – around £2.47 a head. And of course, you won’t use up all of every item either, so there’ll be some leftovers.

You can read taste test reviews of own-brand items on Supermarketownbrandguide.co.uk, or take the challenge yourself with our Downshift Tool.

3. Track previous prices to see if a bargain’s really a bargain

MySupermarket isn’t just good for comparing current prices – it also has a nifty tool which allows you to compare the historical price of an item across supermarkets.

For example, you might fancy a bottle of premium bubbly to pop at the dinner table this Christmas. One 750ml bottle of Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial Non Vintage champagne will set you back £24.99 in Tesco at the moment, but as you can see from the image below that’s actually a bit of a bargain – some 19% cheaper than the average price.

Check out historical prices
Historical price of 750ml bottle Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial Non Vintage champagne

 

You can find this graph by selecting any product in your basket. It’s probably not worth doing for your sprouts and greens but it might be worthwhile for more expensive items, like alcohol, toiletries and cleaning products – especially if you favour a particular brand.

4. And finally… don’t panic buy

As you head out of the house on your way supermarket, there’s just one warning I want you to heed (though there’s a full set of tips and tricks in our Cheap Supermarket Shopping guide.)

Now, I don’t know what happens in your family home, but as Christmas approaches my parents’ kitchen starts looking like it’s preparing for the onslaught of a zombie apocalypse.

There are already four boxes of mince pies, six Christmas puddings and two tins of Roses… by the big day comes around there’ll be enough to feed an army, and definitely plenty to keep our small family of four happy.

So the key message here is that the world is not going to end. Don’t panic buy. It’s easy to go wild in the supermarket aisles when you’re doing a food shop for Christmas, but it’s important to stick to your guns and avoid overspending.

Of course, you may choose to avoid all the info above, but I’d love to hear what your Christmas food shopping tips are and if you will be downshifting this Christmas. Please let me know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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MSE Eesha

Last month I taught an A-Level class some basics about money

Last month I taught an A-Level class some basics about money

With my role as a money analyst here at MSE and my previous experience working in a bank, I like to think I know a thing or two about the financial world.

However, for many people, growing up involves being thrust into the financial world without knowing the basics of managing money – it’s something many haven’t been properly taught about from early on.

So last month I went back to school for a day to teach an A-Level class some basics about money.

Armed with my Teen Cash Class presentation, I began my talk with a simple question: "Who here has a bank account?"

Most of the students put their hands up. Brilliant.

Next question: "What do you know about your bank?" There were a few responses, but most didn’t know anything.

So I went on to explain how banks make money, the concept of earning interest and the types of products banks sell to customers.

I stressed the benefits of having a bank account, such as earning interest and other rewards and, perhaps most importantly, how it can help you to get a mortgage in the future. But at the same time, I explained that they need to be cautious of some products they may be offered, such as credit cards.

So then we discussed whether credit cards were good or bad. The general consensus among the students was that they are a bad thing, and in a way they were correct. If used incorrectly, credit cards can be toxic. However, use them correctly and the rewards can be great (see our Cashback Credit Cards, Avios Points and Credit Card Stoozing guides for more on this).

It was also important that students understood that credit cards don’t give free money, and if they do ever get one they must always pay it off in full each month. Now I know I can’t do Martin’s "IN FULL" shout as well as he does, but I made sure they heard the message very clearly.

Is there such a thing as good debt?

Next I went on to talk about whether there is such a thing as good debt. The idea surprised most of the students, as they never thought debt could be linked with good. But mortgages and student loans are, of course, a form of debt, and are these necessarily bad, I asked the students? It got them thinking.

Unless you’re extremely lucky and have the money upfront to buy a house, most people will need to borrow in the form of a mortgage to buy one. And actually most students would be better off taking a student loan and saving their money for a house deposit rather than paying for university upfront (read our Beware paying uni fees upfront guide to see why).

Take our Good Debt/ Bad Debt Quiz to test your knowledge.

Financial education is so important

Spending time with these students made it clear how important financial education is in schools. At the end of the session the students were brimming with knowledge and were ready to embark on their adult life armed with the basic, yet often neglected, financial knowledge.

But not all students will receive this help. Since September, financial education has been incorporated into citizenship classes only for 11- to 16 year-olds in all maintained schools in England, and there are also stronger links to it in maths for all ages. This is something which MoneySavingExpert.com had called for over many years.

However, this only applies to schools that follow the national curriculum, so disappointingly many will still miss out.

If you’re a teacher and want to talk to your students about money, or a parent who wants to teach their child, there are a host of free resources on the MSE site to help you – see Teen Cash Class and our Financial Education section for downloadable activities and guides.

Do you think more needs to be done to help kids understand finance? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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