Raise your hand if you DON'T enjoy making your money go further. Right, those of you that did raise your hand, please feel free to beat yourself with your keyboard (if your on your tablet or smartphone and don't have a keyboard, find the nearest wall and knock your head into it a few times). For everyone else, read on to discover one of my tips to increase your money mileage.
Personally I have a love/hate relationship with high street stores (both online and physically). Going back to the turn of the last century, I can only imagine shopping was a very congenial experience. Shops were nice, shop owners were nice, and they would address you as sir or madam and show you their delectable products, kind of like what you see in Mad Men or how you read a Sherlock Holmes novel. Fast forward to the modern age and cost cutting is everywhere. Everything is mass produced in the east, and products seem generic and unnecessary. I've watched TV shows where people pay for additional storage because they cannot store their crap heirloom pieces in their own home. Members of my own group of friends and family, seem to have more clothes in their singular wardrobes than both me and my other half own, collectively.
As I write this, I can think up of several things I have seen and heard of in the last few days, that cost extra and all they do is fill your life with crud. For example, a battery operated mop that automatically squeezes the water out; A battery operated stirrer for your kitchen pots; A chest of draws for a baby, with a built in changing mat on top, a spinning spaghetti fork. Consumerism. Make a ridiculous product, advertise it as a "must have - your life is sooooo incomplete without this pile of tosh" product , and bingo, you my friend are in the profit!
Other things that get to me, are cheaply produced clothing. As strange as it seems, if I ever peruse a clothes shop, I tend to always check the inner collar or the inner seams for the care label (for every product I pick up - so shop assistants probably think I'm shop lifting or insane). I then check the material that the garment is made of. The vast majority of the time, I tend to see, acrylic, polyester, polyurethane, viscose and a few other oddities. These are man made, cheap to produce, bad on the skin, uncomfortable - and yet nearly everyone buys them. Shop shelves clear out, even at ridiculously high prices. I usually tend to pick out, cotton, wool, linen, cashmere - perhaps paying a little extra in the knowledge that it is higher quality, more comfortable and will last longer. In the sales you really cannot go wrong picking up a good piece made of natural fibers. But do check for construction and sizing, as that is where cost cutting is made - especially in high street stores, sizing is mass produced - so a size medium is designed to encompass as many body sizes as possible. If you are a medium with short arms, your out of luck. Size large with tapered waist - your out of luck. Size small with a larger neck, out of luck. Every size is as generic as they can make.
Anyhow, there are some instances where you can and will find good quality items in high street shops. Debenhams and M&S are 2 shops where I've found wool and brushed flannel trousers, (the M&S one has an active waist feature, that has a built in elasticated bit at the waist that fluctuates as you move or eat too much at the Christmas party). The wool ones are really comfortable for the winter. In any case, how do you bag a bargain for these items?
My rules are simple:
1. Curb wants, fulfill needs
2. Make a wishlist
3. Stack vouchers
4. Only spend what you can afford
Firstly, and most importantly, you MUST train yourself to stop "wanting". Curb your wants, fulfill your needs. Learn to ignore the advertising, they are just messing with your mind. This goes back to what I have said about TV and social media. You might think you are socialising, but your just being harvested for your details for advertisers. Its a one-in-a-million shot that you will see something life changing on facebook or instagram - a new job or a life partner for example. Most often people tend to follow other people to see what they are doing. Holidays, homes, clothing, cars, job upgrades - all things that make us envy them. The term is "keeping up with the Joneses". You just lose time (which we all have a limited amount of, before our final heartbeat), and see things that you "want". A nice dress perhaps or a red fur lined coat or something or another. Then you have a burning desire to fulfill this want, and you search various shops for similar items and pay to own this 'look'. Could that money be spent better elsewhere? Yes. Keep social media and TV use to a minimum for a fuller, richer life. And learn to distinguish between want and need.
My second rule is to make a wishlist. I have an Evernote list, an Ebay watch list and an Amazon wish list. I add things to those lists when I see things I need/want. I probably have more things on my lists than you can think of off the top of your head for your own 'reasonable' list (skip the Lamborghini and holiday home). But this stops me from pulling the trigger immediately and seeing money go down the drain, I tweak and prune these lists every few weeks. I do not need these items immediately, but I will search ebay/google/amazon for them or alternatives every few months. And when I see it or a comparable product at a good price, I will buy it. The list saves me money.
I use the list to the same effect for my high street clothes shopping. I know what looks I want, for example grey trousers or a navy shirt, these are things I want to add to my wardrobe in the long term. Do I buy the shirt I saw today at £49.99? No, I add it to my list. I know what I want, navy, wide spread collar, french cuffs, 100% cotton (or 2-fold or Egyptian cotton), twill or herringbone pattern is a nice touch but not necessary. Then it is a waiting game. I don't have a need to follow the latest fashion trends, I don't need to be hip and trendy right now and I don't have to "be in it, to win it". I am patient. Over the coming weeks or months, I will eventually find the item at a discounted price someday in the future. Check ebay and other outlets. Oftentimes people will have already bought what you want and decided that they no longer want it. Handbags, shoes, cameras, mp3 players, phones (be careful with electronics and warranties) - people buy them and sell them as new or nearly new all the time. Also, buying out of season really helps. Winter coat worn out? Wear it till spring, donate to a charity shop and then buy a new one at the end of spring/or in the summer sale. You can pick it up for half price.
Rule three, vouchers. These will come and they will go. Use them to the best effect. Check cash back sites like topcashback and quidco - to see when cash back rates for high street stores go up. You can set a notification for stores that you shop at or waiting for a discount for. Google for "shopname vouchers". Check HotUKDeals for vouchers. You will inevitably stumble upon a voucher for free delivery or 10% discount. Thats great - I've saved you a few quid.
Most shops have outlets (or clearance sections), check them. Again, remember Rule 1. Curb your wants. Checking through an outlet for Next or M&S (Amazon Warehouse), means you will see end-of-line items cheaper than in the shops. It doesn't mean you have to buy them. But if you find something on your list at a discounted price, this is a good time to purchase - again as outlets are often times online, ensure you check cashback and voucher codes online and use them for a further discount.
Also, most shops accept their own in-store credit. Store credit is either given when you refund items and they want you to spend that money with them again. Or it is bought as a gift. Either way that money now belongs to that specific shop, and cannot be used elsewhere. So people sometimes sell unwanted gift cards, at a discount. I mean, I would too, if I never shop at a computer game store and someone gifted me £50 of vouchers for HMV or Game or another high street store. I would rather sell it for £45 and use the money elsewhere, instead of letting that 'store credit' sit in a draw on a plastic card - that store has already taken £50 and added it to their profit sheet. So search online, on ebay and with a bit of diligence you can pick up vouchers for cheaper than their face value. A word of warning, check the expiry date, check how it will be delivered (email is ideal for online shopping, if you want a physical card, it will take a few days to post), check that there is a resolution process in place (ebay is quite good at this) for your protection, as there might be fake or old codes being passed around.
Also, buy in smaller denominations for greater discounts. A £100 gift card, at £95 cost is really a 5% discount per pound spent. A £10 gift card at £7 is a 30% discount per pound spent. Plus there is less risk of losing money, if a gift card is forgotten about or lost etc...
Finally, live within your means. Lets take a Rolls Royce for example. Do you need it? Can you afford it with the money in your bank account? If the answer is no to either question, then walk away. Its that simple. Buying on credit (finance/loan/mortgage), is not acceptable (unless its a house and absolutely necessary) - the bank will beat you over your head with that finance contract and get their pound of flesh, figuratively speaking (literally they will get back £££ in interest). Credit card purchases are more than encouraged here at the Smart Wallet HQ, as long as you follow a few golden rules. (1) Ensure you can pay off the debt at the end of the month (2) Use a cashback credit card or some other point collection card (i.e. airmiles). This will add a further discount to your purchase, in that the credit card company will pay you back a little for shopping.
I can apply these principle to most of my purchases. But more importantly, from the tone of the article I hope it is clear that buying things do not make anyone happy in the long term. Keeping up with your friends and neighbours will not ensure happiness. Happiness cannot be found on a shop shelf or in the bottom of a DHL parcel. Stop buying stuff for momentary pleasure. You need to define your own acceptable levels of happiness to figure out what you need in life to be happy. Having a minimal wardrobe makes me happy and tides me for whatever occasions I need to dress for. Board meeting, check; Wedding, check; Sunday roast with friends, check - my wardrobe has me covered for most situations. Admittedly, I don't have that turquoise shirt with peach floral print and pearl coloured buttons, I just make do with a sky blue shirt. But it also means I have less stuff to worry about and more time to enjoy other aspects of my life - whilst also saving money to put towards more important things. There is a lot of content to take in here, so to summarise, the saving money aspects in this post are as follows:
Define your NEEDS and WANTS. Reduce your wants.
Create a list of needs and wants. Visit the list regularly and tweak it.
Compare and contrast across a range of shops and websites. Check places like ebay/amazon/retail shops/sale rails for things on your list.
Find vouchers for the places you have shortlisted. You should do this for multiple places as sometimes, combined with vouchers - the more expensive shop might work out cheaper. There are dedicated websites for this, where users aggregate their voucher codes. You can also purchase gift cards cheaper than their face value.
When purchasing, use a cashback card or another type of reward credit card to make your money go further. Ensure you can afford to pay the card back fully at the end of the month, so you accrue no interest of fees.
As an example, a £50 pair of shoes, might get knocked back quite a bit.
10% voucher code, saves £5; Total is £45.
5% quidco cashback saves a further £2.50; Total is £42.50.
Purchasing an unwanted £40 gift card for £35, saves another £5; Total is £37.50.
Paying for it all on a credit card with 1% cashback, saves a measly 40p. (This adds up in the long term).
So in total I will have paid £37.10p for something that should have cost £50. I am a little picky about shoes being second hand, but if this was an item that I dont mind being second hand, buying on ebay would be less hassle and perhaps saved a bit more cash. I hope you have found this informative, and you can use some of these tactics when you actually have a need to buy something from a high street store.
So my fellow smart wallet finance savvy blog readers, you may have noticed that the blog has been a little quiet of late. What has been going on at the HQ? 1. We have been running a side business experiment, over the last 6 months. 2. We have been on holiday 3. We have been contemplating about life, the future and existentialism. 4. I have been busy picking up on some old hobbies that I thought I never would again Having multiple sources of income is great, and I cannot recommend it enough. I have read about a great many ideas, and actually tried a few things. You see these mentioned and hashed and rehashed in so many personal finance blogs, it seems pointless to bring them up again. You know, mow your neighbors lawn or clean windows for a few quid, ebay sales, man with a van - help with house moves, pick up your neighbours kids from school, babysit or tutor for a few hours. There are some more creative or niche ideas, like cake baking, or car cleaning and detailing, tailoring mens suits, dog walking and grooming, tree/vegetation cutting, or wedding planner etc... I just searched google for "side business ideas" and the top few results are teeming with things that you could try. Nothing to lose really, except time. But hey, we lose time all the time and its better to lose it attempting to improve life than watching Eastenders. If we look at any one of these ideas, deep down a microscope, the very DNA of making money is simple. You use your resources (such as time/skill/knowledge) to provide value to someone who does not have the same resources as you. Every business on the planet does that. Why do people buy a house? It provides value to them (shelter, warmth, privacy, storage etc), and they cannot build one themselves. The same principles apply when people buy a car. Or a washing machine. Or fast food. I decided to take a subject that I was passionate about and attempt to make money from it. I love fixing things. And I have always had a burning desire to buy a vintage car and do it up. Obviously there are always caveats - and space, time and cost were mine. I have no place to store the thing securely or out of the elements. I cannot leave an exposed engine on my driveway for 5 workdays until I am ready for the next weekend. So that idea would not work. I needed something smaller, and then it hit me. Watches. People pay a premium for some watches, some are worth pocket change and yet others sell for more than cars. I have always held an interest in watches and timekeeping - sure I don't know enough to repair a watch (I can change a battery or a watch strap) - but in this day and age of Youtube and the internet surely there were enough resources for me to attempt it. I had a few expensive watches myself, Seiko, Citizen, Tissot. So I attempted to search for various online resources for people buying and selling watches. I started off cheap - spending about £20 on a watch. When delivered, I took the strap off, the movement out and gave it a clean with warm soapy water and an old toothbrush, then a bit of brasso, a new strap and put everything back together again. I sold it for a few quid profit after postage and listing fees. I then did this for a few more weeks, changing straps and batteries. I got pretty good and moved onto mechanical watches. I learnt to replace the glass, buckles, crowns and even part of the movements, I learnt to buy broken movements and harvest them for spare parts. I sold 10 watches a week in some cases. I reached out to knowledgable people in the forums, contacted watch makers who could do the difficult parts for me (like service high end mechanical watches). And as time went on, I upped the ante a little. Gone were the days when I was happy with a £5 profit from a single watch. I was making £50~100 profit on some watches. In April, I pondered as my wife showed me £890 profit from selling several vintage Omega and Longines watches. The truth was, I was burning up. I chased the money really hard. It was no longer about learning about watches, but beating last months profit. I needed to slow down, so as happy as I was at all that I learnt, and all the amazing watches that I had held in my hands (and a few that I kept for myself), I slowed down. I'm no longer chasing profits, if I sell 2 watches a week, I'm happy. I have learnt to appreciate lovely mechanical watches, I learnt how to open them, tune them, fix them and work with them. I learnt what is a good buy and what to avoid. And I made money. Have I wasted my time? I don't think so.
With all the money we made, we went on Holiday in June. A week in sunny Malaga; my favourite part of Spain. There is a lot of history, places to explore and fun things to do here. I do plan to come back a third time. So, after the holiday, it occurred to me that I had once again touched base with my expensive DSLR camera. Why had I not used it in such a long time? Who knows, lost in fixing and selling watches, I guess I felt too busy to enjoy a spot of photography. I plan to do more of this in the future. Theres a lot to learn, and great moments to capture and the sheer thrill of chasing the perfect shot. I also read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist and Manuscript Found in Accra. The alchemist remains my favourite book and starts in Andalusia, where we were holidaying - so my connection to the mountains and views of the vast expanses of sea from there were not just for there serenity. I am also trying to learn to play chess again, and ride a bike to work. So we will see how these hobbies pa n out over the next few months. Finally, we had time to catch up and breath from the hustle of daily life. I spoke to my wife about our plans for the future. Family, finance, job. Who are we and and where do we want to go? What kind of people do we want to become? I think we are still figuring this stuff out, but our common goal is to life a fuller and happier life.
Welcome to the "Money Saving Apps and Sites" feature on the site. The idea here is to list and discuss mobile apps, blogs and websites that are designed to help us save or earn money in our day to day life.
Money Saving Apps and Sites: LFS edition
It has been a while since I last posted a Money Saving Apps and Sites post. This one has been waiting a while, but I have been a tad bit busy with a small business idea I have been working on.
So LatestFreeStuff.co.uk is a website but also provides apps for both the apple and android platforms. And is crammed full of freebies!
Commercial samples, perfumes, beauty, food, snacks - they have it all. In essence its a group effort to find and collate all sorts of freebies available on the web. All of the links are vetted and double checked, so you wont be scammed.
However, as you've probably learned from reading some of the previous SmartWallet articles, we would strongly recommend that you set up a new free email address, which will give you a google+ profile, and you can use that to setup a free facebook and twitter account. That should give you all the accounts you will need to claim freebies on this site or elsewhere. The free social media accounts are a good way to avoid having to remember so many usernames/passwords for sites - although you can use a generic username/password across most sites giving away freebies.
This disposable account stops spam and all the mailing lists you will get signed up for. Thats the only reason why all these companies are giving away free samples - so they can market more stuff at you - didn't you know?
Other than this caveat, the site is a great place to pick up small freebies. I don't check everyday, but when I do once a week or fortnight, I usually pick up several freebies. Today I have got myself a free sample of Aveeno Moisturising cream, Pantene shampoo, a 'skinaid' sample, a Venus razor for the missus, a free bar of Cadbury's chocolate, and a free ebook download. Not bad for 10 minutes of surfing the web.
Ah, is it time to renew you insurance? Are you buying a new mobile phone, washing machine, TV, vehicle or any other expensive item? or perhaps you are repaying a credit card purchase? The financial experts behind these services are really helpful - they do not want you to go through any hardships with your daily dose of visual entertainment on the TV. They'll even throw in free next day delivery in most cases. Why settle for a 40" dumb TV with a plain old HD LED screen, when you can have 58" 4K TV with built in free view, smart remote, wifi capabilities, media streaming with a propriety interface and badly designed remote (that takes forever to type anything into the badly coded web browser) and mediocre version of BBC iPlayer / YouTube apps built in - that will update for 6 months and then stop. Surely the latter is the better option? It really isn't better at all in my opinion - a TV built with all of those features, still feels underrated compared to a TV attached to a small energy efficient PC. It has the streaming, WiFi, free view, decent keyboard, latest software updates, Google Chrome, YouTube and pretty much every feature a PC has, on a giant TV screen! Plus a small Bluetooth or wife remote with a reduced sized keyboard is plenty good for that setup.) Unfortunately, despite my proposed solution being better than the latest in Smart TV technology, both still provide access to mind numbingly stupid TV content - which we are all more than happy to consume. There appears to be no known cure to this willingness to succumb to 'reality' TV shows and other stupid content, so far - bar the removal of the TV or very strong will power, and only watching a documentaries or insightful content every now and again; The latter has served me well. In any case, I will rant about TV content and modern media another time, in the meantime I want to make those sales sharks people the core of our discussion. In particular their suggestion of repayment over the long term. It sounds like a very helpful proposition, "the buyer cannot afford, £1000, so we let them pay this amount over 48 months". Here is the sting in the tail: "with interest". See the image below, for car insurance
See the 3rd column? With installments? You are paying back the loan with interest and the total repayment is xxx amount - more than the figure shown in big lettering. This applies to almost any sort of repayment strategy. Buying a £1000 TV with monthly repayments, is effectively a loan for £1000 - at a very high interest rate, which you pay back. The same applies for a mobile contract, if you look at a SIM only deal, you can see talk time is cheap (600 minutes a month, is 10 hours of talking!), so why pay £20 to £40 a month? In reality you are paying for the handset, which when you total the length of the contract, will easily end up in the £1000's - just for owning a bit of metal/glass and plastic - which I assure you, before your contract comes to an end, is going to be a burden on you (slow, laggy, buggy, scratched/damaged) - and you will be itching for the next new phone. You could buy even the most high end handset for half of that price, and put a monthly SIM card in there, for £10 or less. Monthly repayments really are a loan, I do not need any further examples. So what is the solution to this predicament? 1. Do not buy crap, you will find your life is pretty complete with a smaller, less featured model of this item. (obviously car insurance or home insurance leaves us little choice). Even if you can afford crap, carefully evaluate this crap and then decide if you really need it. 2. Do not buy crap you cannot afford. Save up and then buy it outright - you might get lucky and see a price reduction/sale over the next few months and also not have to pay the interest - savings galore! 3. Talk to a human being on the phone and arrange an interest free payment option spread out over 2 or 3 months. That should reduce the sting of having to fork out £2000 or whatever in one go, and instead spread it out over 3 months with 0% interest. Not everything is automated, and speaking politely and explaining your circumstances in some cases, may help. I have done this with my car insurance for a few years now, and off course payment was made with a cashback credit card, thereby collecting a nice tidy bit of cash at the end of the year. 4. Borrow cheaply elsewhere. If it is absolutely necessary that you pay for this large expense, get a loan, overdraft, or a credit card with a lower APR than the sales person proposes. Work it out on paper and shop for cheaper lending options. Research is key. In the above insurance example image, the RAC insurance is £2632 paid outright (its a lot of money to pay in one go), and it works out to be £2895 paid monthly, after all installments have been made, a difference of £263 over 12 months. That is almost £22 in interest per month.
Can you borrow £2600 elsewhere at a cheaper rate? (i.e. on a 0% credit card or a trustworthy friend/family member, overdraft on your bank account (my bank charges me £12 for overdrafts per month - which is cheaper than the £22 interest I would be paying)).
Can you dip into your savings? Surely your £2600 savings are not earning you more than £22 a month? in which case it makes sense to let them earn. Otherwise use your savings to pay this cost, as it will save you £263 worth of outgoings at the end of the year - left in savings it will generate far lower. (Hint: you have to earn 10% interest to get £260 returns on £2600 - which is near impossible for average people like you and I).
I honestly believe, we sometimes pay ridiculous amounts for things we could do without, just for the sake of having something new or shiny, be it a TV or a sofa or a new phone. The novelty wears off within a few days, but the (hidden) interest payments continue for a long, long time...