Monday, 8 June 2015

Fuel bill arrived today...

It's all good news.  Not only did I manage to get through this past winter without getting frostbite, I actually managed to use/pay less for my combined gas and electric than I did the previous year.  Just shows that with a little bit planning, we can spend less.

The billing systems for fuel are impossible to understand.  Basically, you either pre-pay for these by loading money onto a card which then goes into a slot in the meter, or you pay monthly.  The prepaid method costs more, which seems insane because most people who prepay for these services are watching their pennies and are on this method either to avoid getting into debt, or because they have previously got themselves into debt with their fuel provider/s.

The government has stepped in recently to force utility companies to be more transparent with their price plans, but after visiting a few sites to compare the options available in your area, I am certain that you will feel more confused than ever.

Standing Charges - Most plans include these.  This charge is levied for a number of days in the month or year, even on days when you do not use any power at all.

Unit Charges - These are easier to understand, and it is what it is - A charge for each unit of power you consume.  The annoying thing here is that the unit charge can vary.  There is a higher charge for the initial number of units, which drops after you exceed a certain quantity of units in the usage period.  Got it?  If you have, then you are brighter than me by far.....

Discounts - Some plans offer a discount for paying by Direct Debit, or sometimes for using one company to provide both/dual services.  These are often quoted as annual (savings) amounts, but might be credited to your bill monthly in smaller amounts.

Bills - To make things more interesting, bills are often estimated because meters are not read very often.  I got myself into a jam after we arrived in England because I assumed that the amount requested on the bills I received from my energy provider was the amount that I needed to pay.  This proved not to be the case at all.  There was no history available on my family's usage in our first apartment, so the estimates that were used to bill me were based on nothing.  After my meters were eventually read, the shock bills arrived.  I called to query, and the advisor I spoke to told me that if I wanted bills that were more in line with my actual fuel consumption then it was up to me to telephone them with my meter readings.  I still do not have any explanation as to why they employ staff to read meters when these readings are done at random times, often more than a whole year apart.

End of rant.

Avoid getting into debt with your utility bills

1. Don't pay more than you must.  Using comparison websites is a good idea because they do give an idea of what is available, and they do the calculations for you.
*Note that some of these sites do get a referring fee from some providers.  This will be stated on the site, so just keep an eye open for this information.  It doesn't automatically follow that site will favour the companies that pay them, but they could.  Get the best deal.  For reference, you might consider - , , for starters.  There are others.

2.  Be frugal.  You pay for what you use.  There is some information on this site to help you decide what heating is best for you, there are other resources out there too.  The suppliers have sections on their websites that are a mine of information that is worth reading through.  It is vital to know whiat it costs to run your heating, lighting and appliances.

3. Avoid shock bills.  Supply meter readings regularly.  You can telephone the company, but often it's cheaper and quicker to provide these readings directly online, through the website.

About Donna

I am a woman, mother, employee and many other things.  Moved to the UK with my family, and am currently settled in Hull, on the east coast of England.  My passions?  Well now, that would be telling, but I have a thing for fast cars, folk music and growing edibles.  Currently, I am trying my hand at growing currants, but this like all things will change with the seasons.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Arrived from abroad? Hate being cold?

Just come from abroad to live in the UK or do you just hate being cold?


At some point, you will wonder just how people survive the biting cold of winter. Summers seem to fly past, but the short, dark icy days seem to drag on forever. These tips may help you, as well as more experienced "winterers" aiming to survive the bite without blowing the holiday budget on bloated heating bills.

The best time to think about heating costs and bills is before you rent your first place.  Whether it's a house, flat, room, loft or even a sofa, check what's included.  In the UK, there are add-on bills that you might not have in your home country.  Monthly, Council Tax will cost you around £90-£100,
water around £60, and fuel could be almost anything.  Gas is by far the cheapest way to heat a large indoor area, electric and oil heating is super pricey.  Shop around, "bills included" is THE way forward if you can find it.  Second best, some bills included, third best, gas central heating WITH double glazing.

When scanning "to let" adverts, d/g does not mean double garage - Just double glazing.  Basically, this means that windows have been treated so they hold more heat inside.  Without this, as soon as the heating goes off, the temperature drops quickly and it feels almost as cold indoors as it is outside. Most heating systems work on a timer, the idea being that you generate expensive heat for the times you need it the most.  Many people set their timer to start an hour before they get up in the morning, then it goes off but it ought to stay warm inside until after you leave the house for school/work.  The house remains unheated when empty, so the timer can be set to start the heating back up around an hour before people arrive home.  It might run for a few hours, before switching off again.  The double glazing helps to keep the home warmer for longer after the heating goes off and stops burning expensive fuel.

Many of the buildings in the UK are old, often more than a century old.  Some are better maintained than others, and when starting out everyone is after the cheaper rentals.  Many of these are poorly insulated, and some have no double glazing.  Instead, they may have huge sash windows that slide up and down - & to make it worse, these old windows often come with high ceilings and cheap, thin carpets.  This can mean that the bills costs more than the rent!  If heat cannot be held in a room, then the heating has to be powered all the time and costs become impossible.  That's why they say that in winter, some people have to choose between heating or eating.  That said, there is always something that can be done to make things a bit easier.  

If you are stuck with having to live in one of these old buildings, then try to get a room or flat on a middle floor.  That way, you can benefit from the hot air that rises from the area below, as well as above you.  

The quickest and most efficient way I have found to deal with big sash windows in the winter might seem odd, but I have tried it and it helped me through three winters which I do not think I would otherwise have survived.  With rentals, you cannot do very much to the building without the landlord's consent, so this method is workable, cheap and very effective.  Later, during a bad winter after I moved into a house with double glazing, I used the same process on two of my coldest windows.  

  1. Bubble wrap Windows:
  2. Minimise cold air through floors:
  3. General tips for keeping warm:
  4. Layer clothing:
  5. Head & feet:
  6. One cup kettle:
  7. Pressure cooking pot:

Materials - Rolls of bubble wrap, bleach, fairy liquid, scissors or a sharp knife.  Spray bottle.

Measure the window pane.  Cut a piece of bubble wrap to fit.  Do the same for as many window panes as required.  Fill the spray bottle with a water, add a squirt of fairy liquid and a tablespoon of bleach.  Spray the 1st pane, the bubble wrap that matches it will just stick to it.  Repeat.  If you need to remove a piece at any time, go ahead, it just sticks back on.  The bleach stops any mold or algae growing.  

The method above is a cheap & very effective way of insulating the windows of any hard to heat room.  

During the post-war poor years, people used to lift their carpets, layer the floor with cardboard, then replace.  With the advent of charity & bargain shops, the least invasive method to insulate floors is simply to layer with rugs.  Fire is always a hazard, so check rugs are fire resistant, & place them so they do not pose a tripping risk.

Layers of thin clothes are lighter & more comfortable.  Drying washing hikes fuel bills, & lighter layers dry faster.  A decent coat is an investment, you don't need to spend much.  Scan the charity shops for one well fitting coat that feels good to wear.  

Lots of heat escapes through our heads, so cover up.  A simple scarf or balaclava works well.  I love being barefoot, & dislike wearing slippers or closed shoes, but socks are cheap enough.  Whatever you choose, make sure they don't increase the chance of slipping on your floor coverings.

Tea, coffee, soup, hot chocolate  - These all seem to taste better in winter.  They also get cold quicker. Think small cups to avoid waste, & choose a right-size kettle.  Boiling water is expensive, & you will save money by boiling just what you need.  A small kettle helps avoid overfilling.

Get retro with a pressure cooker for super quick & very economical soups & stews.  Great for softening cheap cuts of meat quickly & efficiently & the shorter cooking time slashes fuel bills.  Go for one pot all-in-one meals to get the best saving.