Author Archive

Dump your junk in time for summer

We recently held our second #dumpyourjunk spring clean and decluttering Twitter party with founder of ZeroWasteWeek Rachelle Strauss (known to many as Mrs Green).

We asked for tweeps’ own spring cleaning, decluttering and storage solution tips, and we weren’t disappointed.

We went off on a bit of a tangent, as you do with these things, but that’s often the best way to find pearls of wisdom. So below is just some of what happened.

Reusing milk bottles, tin cans and toilet rolls

We asked what you do with reused milk cartons…

What would you do with this?

Gardening was the answer…

perfect for salads

Rachelle (@myzerowaste) pointed out they can be used as watering cans…

watering

While @madvixen1983 suggested plant pots…

growing

Wardrobe decluttering was forgotten in the heat of the moment…

Decluttering was forgotten

And baked bean cans made an appearance, too…

Baked beans made an appearance..

Which inevitably led to toilet rolls…

which lead to toilet rolls...

Thankfully Rachelle steered the conversation to safe ground with a toilet roll seed-growing demonstration…

Rachelle steered the convo to safer ground...

‘But we might need it…’

Decluttering isn’t just a physical challenge, but a mental one at times, too. Who hasn’t said "we might need it" when trying not to let go of unused items?

We might need it..

@Cottage_R has…

We might need it wires...

And so has @Kitty_Smith

We might need it cables...

But Rachelle had a handy solution she’d created for this particularly, wiry problem…

Rachelle's Leads

More decluttering tips

For more top tips read February’s Dump your junk part 1 blog post, follow @MSE_Forum and @myzerowaste, and keep an eye on the #dumpyourjunk hashtag for news of the next Twitter party.

You can also join our Old Stylers forum board for chat with like-minded spring cleaners.

When you’ve finished decluttering, we’ve also stacks of ways to make cash from the clutter in eBay Selling Tips and Boost Your Income.

To leave you with some inspiration for your own decluttering, see how well @mommyemu has done…

And there were cheers

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.

£28k Ideal Home Show savings and probably much more!

People trying out our Ideal Home Show app

MoneySavingExpert.com currently has a stand at the Ideal Home Show – something we’ve done in past years too. (If you haven’t been and want to go, the show’s on until 6 April and you can still grab the Ideal Home Show 2 for 1 deal.)

This year the stand’s next to the super theatre and on the days MoneySavingExpert.com creator Martin is appearing he answers questions there afterwards (see the link above for the dates and times).

Members of the MSE Team are also there to help you, as are representatives from Citizens Advice and the Energy Saving Trust. See MSE Wendy’s guest post on Citizens Advice for more on how we worked together at the show.

The stand also has a bank of iPads with our specially designed quick quiz on to see which areas of your day-to-day life you could save money on, or are due money from, and how much.

For example it looks at water bills, gas/electricity bills, motor insurance costs, council tax bills, mobile phone contracts, checking if you’re eligible for flight delay compensation and PPI reclaiming.

I’ve worked on the stand for the last few years and each year what I really love is finding out how much we’ve managed to save people.

I was on the stand this past Saturday and thought this year, as a very unscientific experiment, I’d ask people if they minded telling me how much we could save them.

Several people thought that as they already use our site and are signed up to get our weekly email, the quiz wouldn’t be able to find them anything they could save on. But for me that’s the MoneySaving equivalent of a red flag to a bull – the challenge was on!

In total I asked 12 people how much the quiz told them they could save. Of the 12, the smallest possible saving was £350 and the biggest £6,650. In total the maximum saving from my random sample was £28,400!

Many, many more people than that did the quiz in the four hours we were on the stand and of course people will have used it in the hours before I arrived and after too. So the savings people are making are likely to be far greater than even £28k.

MSE’s stand at the Ideal Home Show

Hopefully the majority of people who take the quiz choose to get the results emailed to them so they can follow up on it by taking the next step to actually save that much.

Have you visited the Ideal Home Show stand and completed the quiz? If you have, let us know what it said you can save, and whether or not you’ve acted upon its help, via the comments section below or on the forum.

Grow your own food for ‘free’ – my top 10 tips

Some fruit and vegetables only need a bit of work to start growing

If someone asked if you wanted ‘free’ fruit and veg, you’d probably grab the chance with both hands… and mouth! But some fruit and vegetables only need a bit of work to start growing and you’ll have them coming back year after year, giving you virtually free fruit and veg forever.

And if you don’t think you can grow stuff believe me, if I can, you can. This summer alone I expect to save around £50 by growing my own strawberries, rhubarb, apples and pears.

So what gardening tips and tricks can we show you to help you produce “free” fruit and veg? We’ve compiled a list for gardening virgins.

If you’re no longer a gardening virgin and can help those who are with tips of your own or disagree with ours please share your thoughts below.

1. Got land? Any land? Use it

I don’t know about you but healthy AND cheap ticks several boxes on my list. So do you have access to a piece of land? Any piece of land? If you do, don’t waste it! It doesn’t have to be large – any space will do.

It could be a tray of salad shoots on a window ledge or pots on a balcony.

2. Start small

If you’re one of the gardening novices this blog’s aimed at you probably don’t want to splash the cash only for all your plants to die. So start off small so you don’t knock your confidence early on.

3. Good sources of “cheap” seeds, bulbs and more

There are stacks of places you can buy seeds and plants cheaply – they’re no longer the preserve of expensive garden centres. To help I’ve done a quick round-up of what’s available at the moment. Let us know if you spot any more.

4. Get “free” seeds from veg you eat

Back in the olden days my Grandad would grow vegetables from the veg’s own seeds. For example, using seeds taken from tomatoes before he ate them, growing potatoes from packs he’d bought in the supermarket, rather than buying the seeds from DIY or gardening shops.

This is a great cheap/free way of getting seeds.

Some gardeners still do this but some believe if you re-use seeds too much or try to grow supermarket-bought potatoes instead of commercially produced ones, it can produce diseased vegetables later on.

I asked our Greenfingered gardeners on the forum what they thought and had some interesting replies.

  • Forumite Mojisola says “Many seeds gardeners use, especially the more expensive one, are… cross produced from two specific parent plants. When you grow those in the garden, they will be open pollinated by unknown pollen so the plants from the next generation won’t have all the characteristics of the F1 plant, although that doesn’t mean you won’t be pleased with the results.”
  • HappyGreen says “I have successfully grown Kale and Mizuna leaves from my own seeds. I also have many self-seeders which I transplant later in spring if I need to, mainly Chards.”

5. Grow “cut and come again” fruit and vegetables

I love rhubarb. I love swiss chard. I love apples, pears, plums… Can you see where I’m heading with this? They’re all fruit and vegetables that, once planted, grow back each year without you having to do a load of work.

The technical term is “perennial” but it’s this kind of talk that makes it all seem like hard work and can put some people off getting started so we’ll leave it at that… My technical term, once initial plant costs are factored in, is “CHEAP”!

If Andrea can grow fruit & veg, you can too

6. Cut vegetables off from the stalk?

I’ve heard a rumour that if you leave the end of the cucumber on the stalk when you cut yours off a new one will grow from it. It’s not something I’ve tested (I’ve only grown cucumbers a couple of times and they weren’t very successful so I used my mini greenhouse for something else instead).

If you’ve grown cucumbers and tried it I’d love to hear if it worked? I might give it a go this year.

7. Even the experienced gardeners get it wrong sometimes

Just read the fab forum discussion Highs and Lows of growing your own dinner 2015 by forumite queen of cheap to see what can happen.

8. Read around

A few years back I wrote a gardening blog with tips and tricks to save on fruit and veg. Since then grow-your-own seems to have grown even more popular (pardon the rubbish pun!). So have a read around for more tips and ideas.

9. Get “free” water

Butt, butt, butt…. how? If you’ve given gardening a go and decided you like this free fruit and veg lark, install a water butt for free rain water. It’s a no-brainer – I have three; two in my back garden, one out the front – I wanted another but my husband pointed out we don’t have any more drainpipe I can use!

Don’t forget a stand and connector to link the butt to your water pipe. You can buy each part individually or get them all in a kit.

A standard size is 210L or you can get a slimline 110L.

DIY stores such as Homebase or B&Q etc sell them from around £30 upwards but also check for offers from your water company or council. SaveWaterSaveMoney is a good site to check too.

10. Make your own, “free”, compost

Want to save money on bin bags? Compost your cardboard, your scrap paper, egg cartons, kitchen towels, even cat litter if it’s biodegradeable. Just remove your cat’s poo first! Websites such as myzerowaste and The Rubbish Diet have good tips on composting and reducing waste in general.

Are you an experienced gardener with tips to help new gardeners start off without forking out a shedload of cash? Or do you disagree with any of my tips? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or on the forum.

Planning a spring clean or declutter this month? We can help

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.

My New Year’s resolutions – why my decluttering resolution includes cyber security

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.

Living without Sky – we did it!

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.

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

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.

Comping – it’s great fun and a possible income booster

I admit it, I'm a secret, but lapsed, comper

I admit it, I'm a secret, but lapsed, comper

I admit it, I’m a secret, but lapsed, comper. Admittedly work and kids mean I’ve not comped (entered competitions) much lately but I encourage my kids to have a go when we see a free one and I’d encourage anyone else to join in too.

First and foremost it’s huge fun. On Mothers’ Day this year my kids entered two competitions; one a Muppets treasure hunt at Cineworld, and the other a hoola hoop challenge in Bella Italia. My eldest girl won both, getting two cinema tickets for any film and a muppets DVD from Cineworld, and a £25 voucher for the restaurant.

We haven’t used the Bella Italia voucher yet so that’ll be a treat for sometime soon as it expires this month.

If that isn’t enough inspiration, we also have a fantastic community of compers on our Competitions Time forum board. I love reading all their supportive comments and, especially, the I Won, I Won, I Won board where people flag up their wins and thank the forum members who posted the competition in the first place. 

The community there even gives a shout out if prize winners haven’t yet claimed, so if you’re a comper it’s well worth bookmarking.

So if this has encouraged you to start comping, have a read of our 40 Comping Tips guide and consider joining the forum to become part of the comping community.

And while you’re there, Homebase is giving our forum members 10 real Christmas trees. You’ve got until 10am on 10 December to enter and all you need to do to is say "Merry Christmas" on the forum.

If you’re comping to boost your income, don’t miss our Boost your Income guide too for other ways to earn.

Are you a life long comper or are you a newbie planning on giving it a try? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

Make do and mend – I’ve turned into my mother!

Three years on and my daughter's clothes are still going strong

Three years on and my daughter's uniform is still going strong

I’m sure we all remember our mums saying "you’ll grow into it" when we were kids. I never thought I’d end up the same. Yet here I am, three years after my eldest daughter started school, hoping she doesn’t have a growth spurt in the next three months.

In my eldest daughter’s first year at school – reception class for the uninitiated – I bought her a jumper and a cardigan with the school logo on. It was in a size that was quite a bit bigger than she needed as I’d hoped it would last for a while and I wouldn’t have to shell out on buying a new set.

At her school it isn’t compulsory to buy school uniform with the logo on, although it’s nice to have two smart ones for special occasions like school trips and school photos, so she also has cardigans from Aldi and M&S too.

But I definitely over-estimated the sizes. I thought I’d be buying new uniform after a year or so. Yet almost three years later she’s coming to the end of Year 2 and her clothes are still going strong.

Granted, they’re a little faded and the cuffs are a bit frayed. But while I should get the sewing kit out, for now I’m just turning the cuffs back.

She moves up to junior school in September where the uniform is blue – at infant school it’s red – so I need to order a new uniform now so it arrives in time for the start of the new school year in September.

Someone asked me if I’d sew up the old red uniform and pass it onto my younger daughter who starts school for the first time in September. It’s tempting, and I’m going to reuse the plain cardigans for her, but I’ve decided it’s only fair she gets a couple of new items with the school logo on just as her older sister did.

Now I just need to guesstimate what sizes to order for both of them that’ll last at least another year or two! If you’re a parent, grandparent or guardian, what do you do to make your kid’s uniform and clothes go further? Tell us below or in the forum.

Yes, I admit it. I have solar panel envy

My solar panels don't qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive

My solar panels don't qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive

As someone quite excited about all things renewable energy, when I found out just over three years ago that my new home came complete with solar panels on top, I was over the moon. They’d combine my passion for MoneySaving with my love of saving energy. But the relationship’s turned a little sour…

When you buy a new-build, housebuilders have to meet strict environmental guidelines (see My New-build Tips and Tricks blog post). They can do that in various ways, such as by providing solar panels, heat pumps, wood burners, insulation and even, at the time I bought, by including “cycle space” in your garage.

So, among other measures, all properties on the housing development I moved to came with solar panels on top (great). Yet there are two different types of panels.

“What’s wrong with that?”, you might ask. I should be pleased with my solar thermal panels. After all, both types save money. Well, yes, they do, but as solar thermal panels generate less energy, the savings are smaller.

See the table below and our Solar Panels guide for the savings.

What do they do? Rough yearly energy saving before incentive (£s) Additional Government incentive scheme Scheme launched Typical est yearly scheme payment (£s) Scheme payback period
Photo-voltaic (PV) panels Generate electricity £125* Feed-in tariff (FIT) April 2010 £630* 20 years (was 25)
Solar thermal panels Heat your water £60* Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) April 2014 (announced July 2009) Not yet known 7 years
*Source: Energy Saving Trust

The icing on the cake

As you can see from the table, photo-voltaic (PV) panels are eligible for the Government’s feed-in tariff scheme, which means they get paid, usually by their energy supplier, for the energy produced, even if they use it themselves. PV owners on my new-build estate have been receiving this for the last few years.

An equivalent of the feed-in-tariff has been planned for solar thermal panels for some time. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) finally launched the Renewable Heat Incentive for domestic properties April.

Thud (that’s the sound of me falling down to earth with a bump)

But new-build homes (other than self-builds) aren’t eligible for the scheme.

I wanted the house anyway, so it wouldn’t have made a difference to my decision to buy it.

Yet if I were a house buyer who’d heard of the Renewable Heat Incentive when it was first announced, and decided to buy a new-build home with solar thermal panels as a result, I think I’d be more than just a bit gutted right now.

DECC says that to be eligible for the scheme, you (or a previous owner of the heating system) need to have made some kind of financial contribution to installing the panels.

Why I think it’s ambiguous

But as far as I’m concerned, as a new-build owner I have made a financial contribution towards the cost – that cost was incorporated into my home’s sale price, which I’m paying a mortgage on. The mortgage, and therefore the heating system, hasn’t been paid off yet.

I’m not the jealous type, but…

OK, I am. I find the fact new-build homes with PV panels are eligible for feed-in tariffs, yet ones with solar thermal panels aren’t eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive, very curious. I freely admit to coveting my neighbours’ PV panels!

I’d love to hear if you’re in the same position. Let me know on the forum thread or via Facebook below.