Five frugal fails

Frugal fails

I loved posting about my five frugal victories last week and I think the #5frugalthings meme that Cass, Emma and Becky have set up is fantastic. However, I have had one of those weeks this week, where the victories were in short supply and the fails kept coming. And I think it is just as important to recognise fails and try and learn from them as it is to celebrate victories. So here are my 5 complete frugal failures this week:

  1. I posted last week about coming into work early and avoiding my usual £2 car parking charge. This backfired when I was told that I am not allowed to do that and I had to pay work back for the day I didn’t pay. Not only did I not save the money, but I felt embarrassed too. Double fail.
  2. I received my car insurance renewal documents yesterday. I went online to comparison sites to get the best deal. Being completely tired at the time but wanting to get it done, I accidentally renewed the insurance on my other car! So I now have one car insured twice and the other car not insured at all! Obviously I am going to fix this today, but ugh, this is so annoying. Lesson learned: do not do important life admin tasks after midnight.
  3. I went out with work one night this week and was going to drink water and only pay for food, but I had a glass of wine and a diet coke. I’m not sure if I should count this as a fail, but it felt like a fail the next morning when I realised I spent £10 more than I had budgeted.
  4. I made a costly mistake in matched betting this week and have now lost over £20 so far this month. I need to stop rushing when I place bets and check all details thoroughly. There is no point in speeding through the process when money is on the line. I would have been better off not doing any betting at all at this point.
  5. I had a haircut  and it cost me £36. With my new focus on frugality that feels too high. Is it too high? I need to do something about this, so I will research the cost of haircuts near me and see if anything is cheaper. But it will be very hard to leave my hairdresser, who I like – so I am still pondering this one.

Have you had any fails this week that you want to confess? I would love to hear about them in the comments section. Let me know if you have been able to learn something from your fail to help you in your savings goals in the future.

Matched betting: playing the short-game?

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I stumbled across matched betting six months ago after reading about it on a few personal finance blogs. Matched betting is a lucrative and tax-free side-hustle available in the UK that uses gambling bonuses and a system of buying and selling (or laying) bets online to lock-in guaranteed profits. After researching the opportunity I decided to try it  despite not  having much spare time  (full-time job + part-time MBA + volunteering + husband + son + dogs = no spare time!). But the draw to tax-free side income was too strong to resist and I dived straight in.

I am glad that I did. At the time of writing this post I am exactly £2,196.09 better off than I was 6 months ago. That amount of income tax-free is incredible. However, my monthly profits have taken a completely nose-dive since February and I am currently facing a net loss for the month of May. Have a look at my profits since starting in December 2016: Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 20.45.14The reason for the poor performance in April and May are the result of being short of time, getting restricted by a few key gambling websites, and making three careless mistakes.

Matched betting is normally sold to people as being a long-term income stream for those who put in the time. I agree with this and there are profits to be made, but I also think that matched betting has an expiry date for those with a busy life.   Even for those with the time, there are diminishing returns. People that make £2,000 per month every month will be putting in 30 to 40 hours per week on gambling sites. They will also  have thousands of pounds pumping through a range of gambling accounts at any given time.  I have deposited £8,662 into gambling websites so far and currently have £1,042 currently sitting in gambling ‘wallets’ online.

Matched betting is not a side-hustle to approach lightly. I have made 3 mistakes over the past few weeks, which resulted in around £200 of losses. I was able to cope with this level of losses easily, but if larger stakes were at play, my losses could have easily been much higher than this.

If you are thinking of dabbling in matched betting, I have a few tips to pass on from what I have learned in my first 6 months:

  • Keep your expectations in check: the first £1,000 will be easy but each £10 after that will be harder as diminishing returns kick in.  This makes matched betting a short-term side-hustle in my view.
  • To make a decent return, you will need to join a matched betting site that has matching software available. There are two main sites in the UK. I personally use Oddsmonkey and think they are great, but it costs £15 per month. (Please note: I am not affiliated with this company).
  • Expect to make some mistakes and only risk what you would be comfortable to lose. Keep your stakes low to start and only increase them once you have learned your way around the gambling sites and the matched betting forums.
  • There are many different types of offers available on the forums that are not risk-free because once your first £1,000 or so is made, you will need to branch out to casino offers, bingo offers, etc. Make sure you understand which offers are risk-free and which are not before you start them.
  • You will need to commit time to get the most out of the offers. In particular, Saturday mornings are a busy time for matched betters because it is when the horse offers are available. If you are busy every Saturday morning, you will need to lower your expectations of what you will be able to make.
  • Use a separate bank account for your matching betting activities to keep it separate from your main account. You will also need a set amount of investment to start with. I recommend starting with £500 (£200 in an exchange account and £300 to spread amounts the bookies).
  • Do not chase losses. You will lose some money once you branch out into offers that are not risk-free. If you lose £5, you will be tempted to keep going to try and make this £5 back. Do not do this. If you lose £5, walk away and move onto the next offer.

I am very glad to have tried matched betting and I am thinking about how best to invest the money I have made. It has absolutely been worth the time, at least for the first four months when I made decent profits. However, I would warn that unless you have the time and are open to branching into risky offers with increased stakes, matched betting is a case of playing the short-game.

 

Five recent frugal victories

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Since starting this blog a few weeks ago, I have become extremely focused on the actions we take as a family and how they affect our debt pay-off plan. In the past, we would spend throughout the month hoping we were within our budget, often getting to the end of the month, tallying the figures, and saying “oops, we overspent again”. Now, through the help of this blog, my whole outlook has shifted. I think about every transaction. And I now want to celebrate every small frugal victory in the knowledge that each small saving is a step towards financial freedom. Inspired by the #5frugalthings meme, here are five frugal victories for our family this week, big and small:

  1. I normally pay £2 per day to park at my work car park. On Thursday, I drove into work 45 minutes earlier than normal. I was so early that the car park attendant had not yet arrived (he arrives at 7.30am) and I got into the car park for free!
  2. I made a huge batch of vegetable soup last Sunday with leftover vegetables.  It was enough to feed me and Mr Small lunch for 3 days.
  3. I was picking up my son from a friend’s house and noticed his friend’s twin bed. I mentioned to the other boy’s mother that my son was still in a cot bed but we are planning to get a twin bed for him soon. She said she had a spare twin bed frame in her garage that she was going to donate and asked if I wanted it. “Yes please!” I shouted – perhaps a bit too excitedly. We will pick it up next week. 
  4. I completed a survey for a University research project and received a £5 Amazon voucher for participating.
  5. Not really a frugal thing, but I worked out the amount of SIPP contributions needed to push Mr Small under the higher-rate tax threshold and then set up a direct debit to transfer this amount to a SIPP fund each month.

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky.

 

Our savings strategy

oli-dale-139169.jpgNow that I have declared our ambitious plans to pay off our debt and mortgage in 10 years, I suppose it is about time that I set out exactly how we might be able to do this.

It will not be easy, especially since we have debt from fertility treatments,  MBA tuition fees, and a house move. So yeah, it’s a going to be a long journey. Here is how I think we can do it:

  • Firstly, and this is absolutely fundamental to our plan, we are now living well within our means. Our monthly income is more than enough to cover our expenditure. Here is what our typical monthly income and expenditure looks like, including regular transfers to investment/saving accounts:Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 20.01.25So even after £800 transferred to savings and investment accounts, we have £1,632 left over. Over the next year, this surplus will be earmarked to pay for the final year of my MBA course. We will hold it in our main bank account (we get 2% interest in there up to £5k) until the fees are due.
  • My MBA will be paid for in July 2018. At this point, assuming only minimum debt repayments have been made, our unsecured debt will total around £16,500. We will start to over-pay our highest interest (3.4%) debt by £1,000 per month. The £632 remaining will be kept in our main bank account for annual family trips and other non-emergency yearly costs.
  • Following this plan, our highest interest debt will be paid for by March 2019 and our next highest by June 2019. We will then only have our mortgage outstanding.
  • We plan to then snowball our debt towards the mortgage, plowing £1,416 into a  stocks and shares ISA on the premise that our mortgage interest is less than 2% whereas annual returns on stocks will be much higher than this. We will also divert our SIPP investments to the ISA so that it is not locked away for when we want to pay off the mortgage.
  • Finally, assuming all goes to plan (fingers crossed!) we will have saved the value of our mortgage in an ISA by April 2027 and exactly 10 years from now we will pay the mortgage off all in one go!

Here is my net worth forecast (excluding the value of our house and any emergency funds held in cash) at the end of December for the next 10 years if all the above goes to plan:

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I have made some assumptions in working out these figures. They are:

  • We will receive an average of 5% annual return on investments in stocks.
  • Salary increases will not be invested, but kept for annual cost of living increases.
  • The ISA allowance will increase to £21k by 2020.
  • We will not incur any penalty to pay the mortgage off early.

I would be more than happy to receive any comments on if our plan could be improved in any way.

After the mortgage is fully paid, we will then work on retiring within 3 years from that. Using those dates, I will be 49 and Mr Small will be 55, at which point he can cash in his work final salary pension and SIPP. This may not seem like early retirement, at least compared to the extreme early retirees out there, but for us it will be less than 15 years after we start our financial independence plan and we would be absolutely thrilled with that result.

 

 

On the costs of conceiving a family

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I have to let you into a secret that not many people know about me…

I am infertile.

Those three words are severe and harrowing for me to write down. In fact, I spend a fair amount of energy keeping my infertility hidden from nearly everyone. But it is the truth. And in an attempt to overcome this infertility, my husband and I have spent a stupid amount of money on medical bills over the past 9 years.

The brief backstory

After 4 years of marriage, my husband and I were having no luck in the baby-making department, so went to see our GP. Luckily we live in a part of the UK where the National Health Service (NHS) will fund fertility treatments if neither partner has another child. After 3 years and 13 free treatments, we had a successful IVF cycle and ended up with our loving, magnificent, cheeky 4-year old son, born in 2012.

Once he was around 2 years old we felt the strong urge to provide him with a sibling but we were no longer eligible for state funding so we decided to self-fund one more round of IVF.  We took out a £5,000 personal loan, went through the pain and stress of the cycle, and had nothing to show for it.  At this point, my husband and I were cognisant of our debt and knew that logically we should stop and enjoy our perfect family of 3. But when it came to family and emotions and thoughts of what ‘should be’, logic got clouded. At our follow up appointment at the fertility clinic, we were passed a leaflet.  In large letters next to a staged photo of a smiling chubby baby (of course!) was: “IVF plan with a money back guarantee. Finance available”.

In a what feels like a blink, and clearly under the haze of fuzzy logic, we signed up to a 3-cycle money-back guarantee plan. We paid £12,000 cash upfront for it and if after 3 cycles we do not have a baby, we will get 70% of this cost refunded.

Where we are now

We have now completed 2 out of our 3 cycles. We were nearly successful in the last cycle, but it ended in a miscarriage at 6 weeks. We are due to have our final treatment next month and today we went to the pharmacy to spend the usual £400+ on the first tranche of drugs.

I am ready for this to be over. I am ready to come to terms with our family size, whatever it may be and to stop fretting over what-ifs and uncertainties and possibilities. I am ready to focus on my family for what it is right now and to be grateful for it in its entirety.

The cost of creating our family has been financial and emotional. We are paying off a debt for a child we never had. With our new focus on financial freedom and simple living (and in the clarity of hindsight) it becomes obvious to me: society’s message that one child is not enough has led me to this point.  Society is wrong.  My son is definitely enough.

As we approach this last cycle I have had time to reflect on our journey to get here. If I had known then what I know now, things might have gone differently. During my soul-searching I have written a list of things I wish I realised before going into infertility debt.

Five things I wish I realised before going into infertility debt:

  1. The infertility industry is a business that profits on couples during a time of desperation. If you have failed in a previous cycle, they will try and sell add-on treatments, most of which have no empirical evidence to prove they will increase your chance of conception. But of course, the fact that an additional option is out there leaves you thinking: “maybe I just need that one extra thing and it will work”.
  2. Only children are completely and utterly fine and well-balanced and lovely. Research has backed this up. There is no requirement for a sibling and the bond between a parent and an only-child can be so strong and so beautiful.
  3. Having more than one child does not guarantee they will be friends as adults. I hear many people say that they want their children “to be there for each other once they are gone” or to “share the burden” of caring for them in old age. My husband and I are planning our financial independence now so that our child does not have to care for us in old age. Hundreds of thousands of people enter old age without any children and rely on alternative care without a problem. I have also come to realise, based on recent experience, that in many cases there is one adult sibling who ends up doing the vast majority of care for old-aged parents. This is a sweeping generalisation but I have seen it happen in my family a few times now.
  4. Some people know how many kids they want (if any) but some people will never know; it is okay to not know. I have a friend who has 3 children and feels a great deal of sorrow for the 4th child she wants but her husband doesn’t. I also have a friend who absolutely knows that 1 child is all she wants and is content to stop. If I were to have a 2nd child there will not necessarily be an internal switch that says ‘enough’. I could have a sibling for my son and still feel unfulfilled. My life is as full and satisfying as I make it.
  5. Going into debt for a child that does not exist yet is all too easy to do. Companies exist solely to finance fertility treatments and are charging up to 15% interest for loans to fund treatments. Their websites are polished and professional and filled with beautiful babies, but remember these are profitable businesses. Getting sucked into these deals during a time of desperation is hard to resist.

If we are successful in our upcoming cycle we will rejoice I am sure. If we are not we will look forward to a special, fulfilling life as a family of 3. All family sizes, from a single person on their own to a large family, are wonderful in their own way.

Importantly, whatever happens next month, we will not abandon our financial plans to pay off ALL our debt in 10 years. Paying off our debt is a gift to our future family, whatever size it may be, and we deserve it.

Net worth update: April 2017

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Our net worth increased this month by £2,044 or 5.7%. This is a good increase for us. On average over the past year we have been increasing our net worth at a rate of only 2.5% so I am pleased with the increase, but also know there is still room for significant improvement.

The main driver for the increase was a boost to our savings accounts as we try and focus on building an emergency fund before tackling our short-term debts.  I cashed out £342 of matched betting profits in April and the stock and shares ISA also performed well.  I  opened up a savings account at our bank which has a 12-month bonus interest rate of 3%. I plan to put £400 per month in there over the 12 months.

The short- and long-term debt payments are the standard amounts, i.e. without any over payments.

 

 

Small successes: refinancing and cost cutting

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It has been about two weeks since we have embarked on our ambitious plans to become completely debt-free in 10 years. I have been daunted (and haunted!) by this task and to be honest after crunching and re-crunching numbers am not convinced it is achievable just yet. That being said, we have had some successes in getting us closer to our goal and I am trying to focus on these rather than our debt mountain.

Financial successes this month:

  • Student loan – This loan bugged me, so after some reader advice, I went straight to the internet and found a better deal. I was quickly approved for a £7,500 loan through M&S bank at 3% over 5 years. I estimate this will save me around £1,400 in interest plus the monthly payments have decreased by £26/month. 10 minutes of research for a £1,400 savings – I’ll take it!
  • TV, Phone and Internet – Our monthly expenditure on TV, Phone and Internet was £102 per month, split as £44/month with Sky and £58/month with BT. After reviewing our bills I was convinced this could be improved, so Mr Small called Sky, threatened to leave, and they offered a combined package of TV, Phone and Internet for £55.20/month. That’s a savings of £46.80/month or £561.60 per year. I’ll take that! Note: I understand that Cable TV is a luxury and could be cancelled completely; however we enjoy watching family movies and TV shows and see it as a good alternative to going out and spending even more.
  • Shopping deliveries – We were paying £9.99/month with Ocado on their Smart Pass. This allows us to get unlimited home shopping deliveries. I am looking at our grocery spending and considering changing stores so I called Ocado and asked to cancel the Smart Pass. Lo and behold, they then offered the same exact product for £2.99/month with the first 3 months free. I took the offer.  I will now have 3 months  to look at alternatives without paying a penny for deliveries.  So the savings will be £9.99/month for 3 months and then £7/month thereafter if we stay with Ocado.

In summary, over the past 2 weeks we have saved £82.79 per month in regular outgoings. This is not life-changing savings by any means, but we can put that savings directly into our emergency fund. It also means that all our debt is at a 3% interest rate or less. After a useful reader comment, I have now decided to focus on our emergency fund rather than debt overpayments to try to build it to £10,000. We have 2 old cars and need both of them for work, so I want to make sure our emergency fund will at least cover the cost of 2 new (old) cars. A decent used car can be purchased for £5,000, a price which also falls comfortably within Financial Samurai’s one-tenth rule.

Note: I am not affiliated with any of the above products and do not endorse them in any way. The savings realized above are based on my personal circumstances only.