You may be thinking of making a big purchase like a car or a fantastic holiday, considering some home improvements or simply want to reduce your outgoings by putting all of your debts into a single repayment. Whatever your situation, there is likely to be a personal loan out there which will fit your particular circumstances.
We check the product for taste, while food expert Joanna Blythman gives her health rating
Polenta is warming, hearty and filling. Prepare this versatile and cheap ingredient with care and you’re in for a treat: “unique, golden, refuge food,” wrote the journalist Giovanni Arpino. It is made from ground cornmeal mixed with water or milk, then simmered and stirred until it thickens. Polenta is a staple dish in northern Italy — the late cookery writer Marcella Hazan said eating it was “like receiving a sacrament”. She favoured the creamy results achieved by stirring it on the hob for a minute every 10 minutes. You can add garlic, fresh herbs, chilli, mushrooms or meats, or keep it simple with butter and parmesan. Eat it freshly cooked, or allow it to cool and set, before cutting it into slices, grilling, frying or baking. But polenta is best when it acts as a bed for bolder flavours; serve it instead of pasta, rice or potatoes. It’s also gluten-free and can be used as a replacement for flour. Take inspiration from Ottolenghi, who has a recipe for cake that combines orange and quick-cook polenta.
MONEY makes money, they say — and that’s certainly true of this section of The Sunday Times. This year Money has won five payments for readers worth at least £20,000 each as well as one worth almost £200,000 — and that’s not to mention the countless smaller “gestures of goodwill” and compensation.
In June, Jill Insley, who writes our Question of Money column, celebrated her first year with us by revealing she had recovered about £630,000 for readers — that’s £52,500 a month.
As we approach the new year, it is a good time to reflect on our biggest wins in 2015, and they are not just financial ones. We take pride in forcing firms to reassess how they operate where we feel they have failed you and consumers generally.
Our efforts have been recognised by the industry, with Money sweeping up four prizes at the prestigious Headlinemoney awards in May, the Oscars of the personal finance industry, followed by the top two honours at the Santander media awards in November, the equivalent of the Baftas.
Here we highlight some of our successes in 2015.
Jill Insley ended the year on a high having recovered a staggering £199,905 for one reader this month after getting to the bottom of a nine-year battle with Axa to repair subsidence damage. The company paid up only after her column, Question of Money, highlighted the inappropriate alternative accommodation offered to the family, which included the reader’s younger brother, who has cerebral palsy, while the repairs were carried out.
But perhaps the most poignant win was in May, when we told the heartbreaking story of a reader trying to prevent his son from frittering away compensation he had received after being hit by a taxi.
While his son’s bank, Cater Allen (owned by Santander), agreed to allow withdrawals only when both the reader and his son agreed, it failed to honour the pledge. This resulted in all the money being withdrawn without the father’s knowledge. The son, who suffered from depression, committed suicide at the age of 35.
Cater Allen admitted mistakes, apologised and paid the reader £51,900. Insley wrote: “In 27 years of writing about personal finance, this is the most upsetting example I have seen of a bank failing its customers.”
Earlier in May, Insley secured a £39,000 payment from the insurer Phoenix Life after it refused a payout for a terminally ill reader who had 12 months to live. Despite both verbal and written assurances that payments would be honoured once a terminal illness was diagnosed, this was not stipulated in the insurer’s terms and conditions. Unsurprisingly, the insurer insisted on following its terms and conditions — until Insley stepped in.
Play fair on age
Our campaign for a fairer deal for older customers was launched in October 2014, and our relentless fight, spearheaded by Anna Mikhailova, helped to kick-start industry reforms this year.
In March, Ros Altmann, who became the pensions minister and a peer two months later, supported the campaign, accusing mortgage lenders that refused to offer deals to older customers of demonstrating “real ageism”.
The following month we revealed HSBC had become the first bank to be criticised by the Financial Ombudsman Service for denying a mortgage to a couple in their forties because they were too old.
It all came to a head last month when the Building Societies Association told Money it had ordered all its members to review their mortgage policies on older people. Market Harborough building society became the first to raise the maximum age by which a mortgage must be paid off, lifting its limit from 80 to 85. Dudley building society follows today (see below).
Our reports about insurers automatically renewing policies at inflated prices struck a chord with many readers. In July, Insley helped one whose mother had been mistakenly charged by Halifax for a 99- bedroom property for years. The reader realised the premium was excessive only after spotting the renewal letter at his mother’s house quoting £1,239. He found he could get cover for just £200 by switching. Our intervention resulted in a £3,386 refund.
The following month, we reported many more cases of insurers charging significantly more than people needed to pay on auto-renewal.
This month the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced plans to force insurers to include the previous year’s premium on renewal quotes so customers can see how much more they are being charged. It hopes this will encourage more to switch. However, it is disappointing that the rules will not come into force for months. The FCA is seeking feedback on the proposals until March.
In June, our Personal Account columnist, Ian Cowie, urged the government to change the generous tax breaks for buy-to-let landlords, who can claim up to 45% tax relief on mortgage interest payments.
He argued this was an unfair perk, especially given the difficulties faced by first-time buyers. At the time, he wrote: “What about the unintended impact that this generosity [towards landlords] is having on younger people, who are increasingly being priced out of home ownership?”
Unsurprisingly, there was a mixed response from Money readers, some of whom are landlords. Many warned that rents would have to rise if the tax relief was changed, thereby penalising the young.
But George Osborne clearly reads Cowie’s column. The following month, the chancellor announced that tax relief on buy-to-let mortgages would be cut to 20% from April 2020. In last month’s autumn statement, a three percentage point stamp duty premium was announced for buy-to-let properties and second homes, which comes into force on April 1.
The internet was abuzz, and readers incensed, after we revealed in February that Amazon Prime, which offers home entertainment and online shopping, was charging consumers up to £79 a year for a service many did not realise they had signed up to.
Giles Coren, the Times columnist, tweeted that he had found out only after reading about it in Money, saying: “You bastards @amazon! I can’t believe you’ve been screwing me for £79 a year for Prime! I had no idea. Only found out from @ST_Money.”
In March, the Advertising Standards Authority banned Amazon’s “misleading” adverts for its 30-day free trial for Prime. It said the retail giant did not make it clear charges would apply if the customer did not cancel after the trial period.
Fraud has been a big theme for Money amid growing evidence that financial institutions are failing to keep up with scammers. Refunds were paid in cases where we pointed out delays in bank staff acting on reports of fraud.
In February Terry Lawson, head of fraud at the Royal Bank of Scotland, said some retraining was required after Money revealed bank staff mistakenly thought fraud teams worked only Monday to Friday, from 9am-5pm. This meant that if customers reported fraud on a Friday, staff would not act until after the weekend.
There was a big reader response in April after we revealed the National Trust did not automatically apply the 25% membership discount available to anyone aged 60 or over; only those who asked for it received it. The charity said it had since “reviewed” its website to make this discount clearer.
Free Spectre cinema ticket!! Use this fab deal to get a free ticket after cashback to see the new 007 James Bond film, Spectre, at any cinema in the UK.
James Bond may one of the first things that springs to mind when you think about the secret service but this deal is by not means a secret anymore. The new Spectre film has just been launched in cinemas across the UK and here you have a change to bag a free ticket to go see the film for yourself.
Whether you have the GoldenEye or have a License to Kill, this film is not For your Eyes Only!
Topcashback are offering all new customers the chance to watch the new 007 film for free after cashback. You can get a cinema ticket up to the value of £12 and get 100% cashback on the purchase using Snap and Save.
To take advantage of this free cinema ticket offer simply:
- Buy a cinema ticket for £12 or more from any UK cinema
- Create a TopCashback.co.uk account for free
- Take a picture of the till receipt and upload it to the Snap and Save app showing the:
- product items
- retailer name
- receipt number
- date and time of purchase
Cashback up to the value of £12 will then be tracked in your account within seven working days and you will be able to withdraw your cashback within 30 days.
If you don’t have a smartphone then you don’t need to worry! You can still earn cashback by uploading your receipt via the TopCashback website directly.
This offer is running for new TopCashback members only through until midnight on Sunday 8 November. However they are running the deal on a first come first served basis to only 2,500 people.
If you’re already a member of Topcashback and want to go to the cinema for less, there are plenty of other ways to get a good deal at the cinema so I hope you don’t feel like you’ve missed out too much.
NEW Tesco voucher code! Tesco Clothing have just released new discount codes to get up to £25 off your F&F shop.
The promo codes can be used for online shops only at Tesco Clothing and – brilliantly – can be used multiple times by both new and existing Tesco customers.
The following eCoupons can be used at Tesco F&F:
- Save £10 when you spend £50 or more – 20% off – use code AUTUMN10
- Save £15 when you spend £75 or more – 20% off – use code AUTUMN15
- Save £25 when you spend £100 or more – 25% off – use code AUTUMN25
Tesco Clothing also have an up to to 50% off sale running on the site at the moment so you could well grab a great bargain!
Tesco offer free standard delivery when you spend over £50 and you can get FREE UK Click+Collect. When you order by 3pm you can collect from a store the next day. Oh! And don’t forget your Clubcard points.
If you are using another promotional code or a Boost voucher then make sure you enter one of the Tesco voucher codes first otherwise the discount won’t go through.
As a heads up, the voucher code will not discount against delivery charges that may apply.
The eCoupons expire at 23:59 GMT on Sunday 15th November 2015 and you can use one voucher code at a time.
You reap what you sow; well that’s what I believe and because of this I am truly delighted to share with you something I have been planning for quite a while: The Skint Dad Give Back.
So what is this Skint Dad Give Back I hear you say?
Since I started Skint Dad back in August 2013 my life has changed beyond belief. Back then I was struggling through life, not really going anywhere. Yes I had a beautiful wife and my adorable children but life was tough.
Financially we were in a real mess. Debt up to our eyeballs, just about living pay cheque to pay cheque. Getting by on credit cards, borrowing from friends and family and even resorting to the dreaded payday loans.
We had been in such a spiral of debt for a long period of time that we just couldn’t escape it, or so I thought!
Anyway, nearing the end of September 2013 everything really did come to a head. We were so in the red, borrowed all we could, and had nowhere else to turn. We were literally surviving on the breadline.
It was at this moment when we were at our lowest that our lives changed, never to be the same again. It was at that time Skint Dad was truly born.
We didn’t end up losing everything but instead we took that moment of despair and turned it on its head. We started living a more frugal and thrifty life and instead of debt being in control of us, we took control of the debt.
Over the next couple of years not only did we manage to smash a huge amount of the debt we’d accrued but my blog Skint Dad went from strength to strength.
With mentions on some of the biggest sites in the UK, winning a plethora of awards and carving out a freelance writing and media career, producing money-saving content for the likes of Quidco, Mirror Online, BT and even getting my own weekly column, the Skint Dad blog has gone from a handful of readers in the early days to today where we have just passed one million page views!!!
There is no way I could have imagined back on that cold and desperate September day what would transpire. Every day I try to work harder than the last so that we are never in that position again.
And with all the success there have been a group of people which I owe everything to and that’s you – dear readers.
The thing is, I know it might not be all roses and rainbows for you either.
From speaking to quite a number of you I know that some of you are doing okay, just managing. You can pay the bills and maybe have enough for a small treat at the end of the month.
On the other end of the spectrum, I know that some of you are not doing quite so well. You are where we were a few years ago. You are struggling. Struggling to keep up with everything, in debt (maybe still in denial) but you want to do something about it.
No matter who you are, together we are helping each other. Giving each other support and ideas to save money, make a bit more cash and manage our finances better.
Without you reading my blogs, commenting on social media and sending the hundreds of emails supporting me through our journey, I would never have got to where I am today.
And it’s because of this I now want to give something back.
The Skint Dad Give Back
Starting in January 2016 and carrying on every month thereafter I am going to be giving away 10% of my net blog income. 5% of it will be donated to a charity and the other 5% will be given to one of my readers – you!
Now you may be thinking that I’m crazy to be giving away a portion of my hard-earned money but for me it is a simple decision. Not only will I be rewarding my readers but I will be also helping charities that are close to my heart.
This is very important to me.
I want to be able to give back however big or small. I want to continue building relationships, I want to grow and I want to make a difference.
So what are the next steps?
Well I already know how it will work, although there are a few finer details to iron out. The main thing you need to know is that the wheels are in motion and The Skint Dad Give Back is happening.
At the beginning of December I will be posting a blog outlining those details, the charities I want to help and also how you can be in with a chance to walk away with that other 5%. To make certain you read that blog post be sure to sign up to my weekly newsletter here as this is where I will notify you that it’s been published and where you will find updates of all future give back recipients.
I’m so thrilled about this and it’s great to finally be able to share it with you guys. Hopefully as I grow the Give Back will grow and then who knows where it could lead?
Exciting times ahead!
Getting into debt is unfortunately very easy and something that can spiral out of control but there isn’t just one reason why debt can strike.
Getting into debt is an easy thing to do and something that can easily spiral out of control.
The thing is, there isn’t just one reason why debt can strike. Different people have different reasons why they get into debt and circumstances for everyone can be different.
I think if you can recognise why debt can happen, it may be that you can stop yourself getting into debt in the first place, or at least recognise that you have a money issue and can hopefully get some support.
One of the reasons we got into really bad debt years ago was due to changes in our incomes. After being made redundant, we had less household income and we really struggled to pay the bills. It took a few months to find work again but, by this time, we had spent all our savings and were living off credit cards to get by.
Other things can change too. What would happen if you moved house and the council tax band goes up, or your landlord puts your rent up or the interest rate goes up on your mortgage? How will you cope with changes?
Instead of struggling to make ends meet while you are adapting to the changes in your life, speak to people you currently owe money to and explain the situation. If you are upfront and honest about your finances companies are more than willing to either put a repayment holiday, or lower your payments for a month or so until you can get to grips with your situation.
Lack of emergency fund
If you have a small pot of money to call upon when the worst happens you can hopefully stop yourself getting into debt. Even £500 sat in a savings account can be a lifesaver if your car breaks down or your fridge freezer needs replacing.
According to the Money Advice Service, four in ten adults – or 21 million people – have less than £500 in savings.
Just saving a little each month can easily boost your emergency fund. Set up a standing order to transfer just a little our each pay day and you will see the savings rack up quickly.
Burying your head in the sand
Not opening the mail that falls on your doormat, avoiding phone calls from creditors and purposefully ignoring financial issues will see you get into debt very quickly – and this debt will spiral. Trust me. I’ve been there, got the t-shirt and had to sell the t-shirt to help clear my debt.
Maybe you that you don’t have enough time to deal with your finances so just outright avoid them or think that by not opening your post it will make the situation go away? Both wrong.
By not dealing with the situation things are just going to get worse. If you can’t pay a household bill then call them (or even get an email address or write if you can’t bring yourself to make a call). Tell then why you can’t pay and what you plan to do about it.
If you ignore one bill, soon it will turn into a bad debt. The next letters will be from a debt management company or a solicitor. They will start chasing the payments instead. Your credit file will be hit badly. Fees will get added on. You may get taken to court and be given a CCJ. Enforcement Agents (which you may know as a bailiff) will turn up, unannounced, at any time of the day and knock on your door.
Don’t bury your head in the sand. Don’t ignore the issues as one letter can very quickly spiral to a lot more letters and a lot more costs.
Living beyond your means
You may not even be trying to keep up with the Joneses in terms of what you are buying. You may find that you buy all the basic brands, rarely go out and have no treats. If you are living pay cheque to pay cheque and are still struggling to make ends meet you could quite easily get into debt to help when things are tight.
The thing is, do you actually know what money is coming in and what you are spending out. Get a hold of your finances by creating a budget and listing out every penny that you earn and receive through benefits as well as writing down everything that you spend out on from rent/mortgage, household bills, groceries and other everyday spending. By seeing things in black and white you can then ascertain how much money you really have left at the end of each month and can start looking at what you can cut out.
It could be that you are spending out on lunch at work each day, or have an expensive gym membership, that could go and would mean that you could balance the budget each month, avoiding the need to slip into debt.
Keeping up with the Joneses
The neighbours have just bought a new car, your colleague is off on another holiday and there are 12 cousins who are all buying presents for each other for Christmas.
Spending money because you think you need to have the same things as those around you or you need the latest bit of tech will soon see you get into debt if you cannot truly afford them. We very much live in a want it now society. Fashions change with the season (some of them worse than others) and the media push products to love and want. It can be easily to get caught up in the splurge.
However, it’s also very easily to not get caught up. Just stop! If you don’t have the money then it doesn’t matter what others are doing, just don’t do it yourself.
Debt is not cool.
Going to Egypt on a two week 5* holiday and getting a killer tan may be cool but not being able to heat your home this winter is not cool.
Having the latest designer clothes may be cool but wearing those clothes while having to eat tins of basic beans – every single night – because you can’t afford other food is not cool.
Sorry to say but there is no other way to say it – if you don’t have the money then don’t spend it.
These reasons are all about bad debt. This is all about unmanageable debt that you cannot clear each month. Debt that happens when you are not in control of the situation. If you don’t think you can make a full payment each month to clear a credit card then don’t get one.
If you already have debt you could be one of the eight million have problems with debt. Of those people only one in six are seeking help.
Don’t struggle on alone – please.
Please get support and get yourself out of bad debt and into a debt free life.
You can get free debt and money advice from Stepchange (call free from a land line on 0800 138 1111 or go to their site and ask for a free callback) or National Debtline (call them for free from a land line on 0808 808 4000 or use their online web chat service).
When you want to save money but struggle to cut out spending it can be hard. Don’t cut back but use these hassle free ways to save money without even trying.
Whether it’s Christmas, a treat or your emergency fund that needs to grow, saving money can be hard work if you like spending or don’t have much spare cash left at the end of each month.
Saving money when you’re not in a habit of doing so can be hard. There are lots of things to tempt you to spend instead of save and if the money is sitting in your account it can be a real tempter.
With these tips, there is no giving up your favourite brands, ditching your coffees or cutting back on Netflix.
There are some easy ways to trick yourself into saving money so you won’t even notice the pounds totting up – getting you closer to your savings goal.
Skim your account
I try to balance the money I spend on my card and the amount of cash I draw out from the bank. They both have bonuses. If I have cash then I know when I’ve run out of money but if I spend on my debit card then I can track my spending easier.
If I’ve been out shopping and have used my card, at the end of the day, I log into my bank and skim any pounds and pennies off my balance.
Say I have £101.25 in my bank, I will transfer £1.25 of it to my savings leaving a whole round number.
One pound here and there soon adds up and I can easily save £30 a month without realising.
Fill a piggy bank
Just because I spend on my card doesn’t mean that I don’t have to have cash.
Whenever I’ve spent any money, the first thing I do when home is empty my pockets. Any notes left over go straight back in my pockets, along with pound coins, but any smaller denominations go into either a piggy bank or spending pot.
The spending pot has the coins worth the most. We use them if the children have been extra good and need a chocolate treat or if we need another loaf of bread or pint of milk – it saves us having to break into another note.
The piggy bank is sealed and collects all our shrapnel and 5p’s. When it get full up, we head out to one of our local banks who have a machine which changes all the change up for free.
52 week saving challenge
You may have seem similar challenges to this – well I have anyway! Have you seen the plank challenge, or the one for squats or sit ups? You have to stretch yourself each day or week to do a little more. This is very similar but with money.
This is a challenge that I’ve never tried myself. I’ve seen a number of people start this in January as one of their resolutions but not heard many people finish it.
The idea is that you save a bit of money each week, every week, for a whole year.
So, you put in £1 on week one, £2 on week two, £3 on week three and so on. By the time you get to week 52 you will be saving £52.
At the end of 12 months you would have saved a whopping £1,378!
Don’t stop paying
If you have a debt that you’ve cleared, instead of the money getting lost among other outgoings, save the money instead. You’re already used to the money coming out of your account each month so just change where the money needs to go.
Alternatively, if you still have other debts, you could snowball the payments and clear your debt off quicker (but I was talking specifically about saving here).
A similar thing could be said for the months off on council tax payments – that could be a couple of hundred quid saved!
Why not change your energy supplier and save up to £300?! In the same way, use that money saved from a household bill and put it straight into your savings account.
Use your standing orders
Set up a regular standing order on your main bank account. Every time you get paid, have a set amount get transferred into a savings account. Would you miss £10 each week? Really you probably wouldn’t. If you didn’t have the money then it wouldn’t get spent.
Even if you wanted to transfer out £40 as soon as you get paid, you won’t notice the money gone and by the end of the year would have saved £480 – easily! If you could stretch to £80 each month that’s a massive £960 in one year!
What other ways do you have to save money that are hassle free?