Dad diary - Family finances, the family unit and the opportunist

In recent weeks, I've had first hand experience of how important the role of family finances plays in maintaining a stable home life.
For me, my family is essential to my well being. I love my family, always have and always will, but when factors are out of my hands, I am left to deal with the consequences, which is a personal nightmare.
Of course I accept, there are other factors involved, other people's decisions and actions, but after recent times here, "Money" has been the single most common factor in what's gone on.

This website is not a sideline business as others of a frugal/thrifty ilk often are.
I don't sit here in a quarter of a million plus pound house, looking after my children, while my better half earns enough money to support us all three times over.
This website is a personal reference for me.
All the things I talk about are real life, they are essential to financial survival for my family or that of our friends.
When the family finances take various hits, as they have done in the past 3-4 years, pressure builds on the family unit.

For example, in 2012 we had £2700 LESS money to play with (Tax credit cuts - 1% wage rise - rising prices of over 3% on everything from food/petrol to insurances, etc.)
These financial constraints took away our holiday plans, for the sixth year running, when the old second hand banger (essential for shift work on a non bus route) needed work, cuts had to be made to balance our books.
Imagine working all year round, booking your time off, then having to watch as one by one your workmates jet off to sunny climbs and you have to cancel your plans and sit at home for 2 weeks. Totally demoralising.

Of course you could change your plans, holiday in the UK at one of the wonderful rip off britain priced caravans or holiday homes.
Take days out? For us to go to the seaside for the day costs £8 in parking and £30 in petrol alone. For the zoo, again the petrol is a factor, plus £30 for us to get in. It may not sound much to most people, but for a household that's on a strict budget to balance the books, it is the difference between fixing the brakes on the car so it can be used for work and taking a day off away from it all.

There are other factors to financial limitations. We struggle to do anything around the house, like plastering. To get someone in to do it costs in the region of £100 per day, plus materials. When you are juggling money around to scrimp together a spare £150 a month, this is unworkable without borrowing.
In 2012 I was able to have 2 nights out. For my hard working wife, this was limited to just one Christmas meal with her friends.
This has had a devastating personal effect on our family.
It also affects buying new clothes, birthdays, Christmas, special occasions, etc.

In all walks of life, there are those that consider others and those that do not.
While businesses play the game to extract maximum money from your pocket, with extras, add ons, hidden charges, etc, as well as yoyo pricing to increase their profits, there is also a personal side to the opportunist.
Years of scraping to get by and balancing the family books, can have a devastating effect on personal lives.

There are those out there that show scant regard for others, by taking advantage.

The workplace banter and little in jokes, the casual flirting, etc, at the pub or a work's night out. Their target, because that what they are, a target, can easily have their head turned away from the stresses and strains of daily life.
What starts out as a bit of fun, a distraction, can quickly lead to a total break up for a family.
There will be those that say it's down to the individual, personal choices, but as we all know, when a person has their head turned in jest, they can easily lose sight of what their other half is doing in day to day life and the situation that financial constraints have put on the family.
For me this is not true. Yes it's personal choice, but there is equal blame also.
Head turning would not happen had the opportunist not taken advantage of the situation for their own ends.

Opportunists are cowards, they take no responsibility for their actions.
They have no regard for the family unit, regardless of whether it's opportunism on a personal or financial level. Had the family unit had sufficient finances available to them, there would have been holidays, nights out, work around the house, relief from the day to day strains of work and balancing the family books.

Some family breakdown may well be personal, but on the whole, there are underlying factors, a major one is the finances of the family unit.
For me, the easiest thing would be to start borrowing, take out a couple of credit cards and "flash the cash" with a holiday, nights out, etc. This would make me more popular I dare say, but once the brass had gone, yet more strain would be put on the family finances in future months and this would create more problems than we have now.
It would leave more openings for the sympathetic ear that is the opportunist, who is only too quick to take advantage.

I don't know of anyone who doesn't like the distractions and excitement away from the day to day toil of the UK adult, but extra borrowing would come with longer term costs.
We can all be interesting and fun when we don't have to say no because our hands are tied financially. For me, the biggest lesson I've learned is, it is important to remember people have needs.
The relief and satisfaction of balancing the family books for another month gives me great pleasure, but to others, this is boring/dull. If we couldn't balance the books every month, more borrowing would lead to a deeper financial hole (and more personal problems) down the line, so it's vital to a healthy family life.

This monthly battle is getting harder each time, with 0% pay rises, over inflation price rises in food, petrol, household bills, etc.
Government is taking help away, wages are failing to keep pace, times are hard.
Remember to keep your eye on the ball, as regards a personal level.
Make the effort, no matter how small or mundain it may seem to you, it maybe of vital importance to those around you. If you choke off the oxygen for the disaffected party to confide in an opportunist, this is half the battle won.

Dad diary - Money, Hobson's choice!

I was in the bath earlier this week, pondering about how to spend the £80 we had coming in this week. I enjoy this kind of thinking, it's a relief to be thinking about something positive for our clan, the options that this modest amount will give me and of course, it distracts me from worrying. It's a win-win.

Christmas will be here very soon, perhaps use some of the money for a few stocking fillers?
I could use almost two thirds of it to buy ceiling plaster board for the back room, this would still leave me around £30 to play with.
What about a "Chinese hat" for our flue pipe that will be ordered next week? Least then another cost will be out of the way. (A chinese hat is the chimney plate on which the flue pipe is attacjed and the chimney pot sits upon)
This £80 would cover our christmas fresh meat hamper, cheeses, fish, fruit and veg for the christmas fortnight, all bought off local traders and leave us a little bit extra in the pocket.
Some of it would pay for our new fake christmas tree, the better half has been pestering for us to get.

The opportunities are endless...

Then my ponderings turned to more realistic (some would say boring) things.
It could be put away to cover some of our easter car tax or put towards our soon to be needed cat part of the exhaust that's on the way out.
I could put it away to pay for February and March logs, leaving only the £10 recent increase in price to find.
You get the picture.

It was all pointless brain work in the end, as no sooner had I collected it, then real life took it away from us.
£20 of it disappeared on yet another extra gas payment, bringing this month's total to £100 so far for putting the heating on and off, to get the temperature up to 18 degrees. The burner is out of action until we can afford to put a new flue pipe in.
£15 went on the magically disappearing electricity - we don't heat the house, water or cook with it, yet still the winter months see mysterious unexplained costs added, "Because it's been 3 degrees colder than in summer/autumn months!"
£20 went on extra petrol, as running with the petrol light on in freezing temperatures is never advisable, especially with defrosting the car.

The last £25 will cover the slow puncture repair needed, buy us some milk for the week and leave us with a couple of quid loose change.

Not to worry, there's always an 8% increase in electricity prices in January to look forward to and another year of the same wages, we have just found out a 0% rise will be coming this year.
Funny enough, I wasn't advised life would be like this when I was at school...

New boiler energy money saving myths exposed

As I write this post, it is "Big Energy Saving Week" - promoted all over twitter (search for #besw), comparison websites, so called consumer groups (like which? consumerfocus energy, citizens advice, etc), in the media, at roadshows up and down the country.
Most claims are quoted using figures obtained from the Energy Saving Trust (EST).

You, yes you, "can get free energy saving advice that can save you money off your energy bills!"

In this post, I look at energy/money saving by replacing the boiler in your home.

The Energy Saving Trust are an "impartial" and "independant" reliable source of information on boilers
"Impartial" and "independant" are common claims bandied around these days, so you decide.
The Energy Saving Trust (EST) from April 2010 until early 2012 was funded jointly by taxpayers and by it's members, by way of "membership fees"
Today, the EST is now a "non profit organisation" which is funded jointly by taxpayers and the private sector by way of "donations".

So who are the members paying the energy saving trust donations?
Many of the same "members" that are now listed as making "donations"

Of the big 6 energy companies - Centrica (British Gas), EDF energy, E.on UK plc, RWE Npower plc, Scottish and Southern energy, Scottish power plc, all donate to the energy saving trust.
Of the big 6 energy companies, I have asked Npower, Eon and British Gas, how much money they paid in a calendar year to the energy saving trust in membership fees, all three admitted paying fees, but declined to tell me how much these "membership fees" were, deemed to be commercially sensitive information!
As the energy saving trust have updated their own wikipedia page, I have no reason to doubt that donations are being made to the EST by the big 6 energy companies.

Of the big boiler makers - Baxi heating UK Ltd and the Worcester Bosch group, also pay donations to the energy saving trust.
National grid transco plc also pay donations to the energy saving trust.
Back in 2008, British Gas, EDF and Scottish power directors sat on the board of the Energy Saving Trust.
Do you still consider the energy saving trust impartial or independant?

"Boilers account for around 60% of what you spend in a year on energy bills"

Sadly not, this is factually inaccurate.

(UPDATE: Since posting this in October 2012, the Energy Saving Trust have reduced this figure to "Around 55%" - Edit May 2013)

Angela Knight is the new head of energy trade body, Energy UK.

In one of her first articles she revealed that it was time for an honesty box to be opened with energy companies.
In the same article she stated, "the time is surely past for allegations, assertions and criticisms. We agree that people need to know that their energy costs are fair"
The head of Energy UK (representing energy companies of the UK) then said, "...already the actual cost of energy is half or less of a total household bill"

Now do the maths... If only 50% or less of your yearly bill is the energy that you use, then the running energy costs (because maintenence/insurance is a seperate cost from energy) of your boiler cannot be physically or mathematically "around 60% of what you spend in a year on energy bills" can it?

It can only be 60% of half of your yearly energy bill at the most.
This significantly reduces the initial claim of energy costs that the energy saving trust put forward as fact, before basing it's entire "save upto" projected money savings for an energy efficient device, such as replacing a boiler as we are discussing here.
I did ask the energy saving trust for their views, they declined to comment (in real life, they ignored my requests).

Replacing a G rated old boiler with an A rated condensing boiler, with a full set of heating controls, estimated savings (based on a gas heated, 3 bedroomed semi detached house) of £300 per year!
UPDATE: The Energy saving trust have now changed this figure to "£310 per year"

We now know (thanks to Energy UK's honesty) that only 50% of your yearly energy bill is to pay for energy used.

So at the very maximum (if the energy saving trust's savings figures are accurate), the saving could only be up to £150 a year.

How can fitting a new boiler give you energy bill savings, when 50% of that same bill is paying for transco costs and environmental policies made by the government of the day and enforced upon the energy companies?
The simple answer is, it can't.
The energy saving trust website goes further;

Replace a F rated boiler - save up to £200 (UPDATE: Now increased to "Up to £205")
Replace an E rated boiler - save up to £150 (UPDATE: Now increased to "Up to £155")
Replace a D rated boiler - save up to £105

These figures are at best 50% wrong, now that Energy UK tell us only 50% or less of your yearly energy bill pays for the energy you use.

A new A-rated boiler will use less energy than an older, lower rated boiler
Not true.
Not my words, but those of a British Gas engineer who, when visiting our home to pressure test our gas meter and pipework, told us directly, "A new boiler will use the same amount of gas as an old boiler"
A new boiler may well emit less Co2 than an old boiler, but in units of gas, they will use the same.
If your boiler has a hot water cylinder and heats hot water everytime your heating is on, as is the case (completely missed by the EST) in millions of council homes, then a new A-rated boiler will use MORE metered units of energy.

A new boiler is more efficient and saves money on hot water
For homes with a regular boiler, ie. those with a hot water tank, depending on the size of your family, the regular boiler is actually MORE efficient.
Not my words, but those of the energy saving trust!
"A regular boiler is actually more efficient than a combi at producing hot water in the first place..." & "...A large family using lots of hot water could be better off with a regular boiler"

It took a while for the energy saving trust to post this, I cannot recall it being included on the pre 2012 version of their website, it seems to have appeared since their website was updated, but I could be wrong.
According to the energy saving trust, a large family using lots of hot water will be better off with a regular boiler (in normal speak, this is an old back boiler with a hot water tank) - my family are not large, not even above the average 2.4 children size, yet we have found that it is more expensive - uses more metered units, with the new boiler than it was with our 30 odd year old back boiler and tank!

A new A-rated boiler uses less energy
When measured in units of energy used, our new boiler uses more energy.
With the old back boiler, hot water was used, the water was gravity fed from a tank, water was replaced in the tank via a mechanical device (ie, the float) which uses no energy.
With an A-rated boiler, water is pumped through the pipes all the time, using energy.
Water is heated as it goes through the boiler, using energy.
The new boiler continues to operate up to 2 minutes after the hot tap is turned off, using more energy.
The new boiler uses more water than the old boiler (energy saving trust promote saving water as well) when I run the hot tap, the water takes a minute or so to come through as hot. With our old boiler, only the water in the pipe was run through and cold. Even with shorter pipework from the new boiler to the kitchen sink tap, the wait for hot water is longer.

With an old back boiler, the amount of gas used can be controlled, similar to gas cooker ring.
Under the fire there is a control knob to reduce the amount of gas used.
With an A-rated boiler there is no such control. Regardless of use, regardless of climate, it uses the same amount of gas.
In summer, on our old boiler we used to turn down the setting for heating and hot water to 2, in winter we used to turn it back up to 6. Makes a mockery of all the new smart energy meters we are paying for through our energy bills, to gain control of our energy use, when we used to have control of the gas used with our old back boiler!

A new boiler will pay for itself over time
This is one of the main reasons for this post. This claim is false.

We have established that the energy saving trust's projected bill savings, even when maximum savings are made, are 50% out.
The energy saving trust have dropped their average lifespan of a boiler, from their website (I cannot find it - you try) which was quoted as being 12 years for an A-rated boiler.
If this 12 year lifespan is accurate, then at the maximum possible saving of £150 per year for changing a G rated boiler with an A rated boiler and the average cost of £2300 for the boiler itself (ours cost £2700 to buy and install) it would take over 15 years to pay for itself.

That's right, your boiler would be more than 3 years out of its normal lifespan before it covered it's own and installation costs!

Costs to maintain your new boiler?
I can find no mention of maintenance costs on the energy saving trust's website, nor are they mentioned by media, websites, etc, that promote fitting a new boiler quoting energy saving trust figures - British gas homecare cheapest plan is £9 per month, covering just your boiler and not your heating system, which is an extra £108 per year to pay out - cutting your "savings" even more.

£2300 to fit new boiler with a 12 year lifespan.
£150 maximum savings - boiler would take 15.3 years to pay for itself.
£150 maximum savings minus a basic maintenance policy to cover the boiler with british gas, reduces maximum savings to just £42 per year on energy bills.
(£150 - £108 for year long maintenance contract = £42 saving)
At £42 per year (maximum savings) a new boiler (£2300 to buy and install) would take a staggering 54 years to pay for itself!

This is why it was important to show how the energy saving trust is funded and by whom prior to looking at replacing your boiler.
For me, it shows the energy saving trust is nothing more than a marketing tool for the energy industry.

I can see no financial case for changing a working old G rated back boiler for a new A rated energy efficient boiler.

How do the energy saving trust get away with publishing figures that are clearly inaccurate?
It's not as if the advertising standards agency has anything to do with the energy saving trust, does it Sir Hayden Phillips, who is the "independent" reviewer of the adjudications of the Advertising Standards Authority and a trustee on the board of the energy saving trust!

Satellite system care - 0844 8000 405 - refunded!

Back in August 2012, I posted about an elderly neighbour of mine, whom was misled by Satellite system care, portraying that they were taking over from sky, for the repair and maintainence of sky equipment.
(You can read the full post here - )

After discussions with their "Sales" office, Satellite system care were adamant that they had not misled my neighbour in their cold call sales process, despite taking all her remaining money out of her account for the next two weeks.
A few more attempts were made to contact them directly, my neighbour received no reply.
My neighbour then became even more distraught, after promises made by her bank, Natwest, were not honoured and her promised visa chargeback was refused.
This, despite the facts that SSC were being investigated by the bank's own fraud department, they were selling insurance while not registered with the Financial services authority (FSA), their website had been removed from public view, no answer/reply on the phone lines, etc.
Several promises by Natwest later - things like a form will be sent out, but took four attempts over two weeks to get a simple form - finally we managed to get someone higher up to have a look at the case again.

As it stood my neighbour was getting nothing from satellite system care, nothing from natwest and was £175 out of pocket.

After more weeks of filling forms and sending emails and phone calls, unanswered questions on twitter, my neighbour came back to me saying she suddenly had extra money in her account, had I heard anything?
Today, it gives me great pleasure to tell you, that my neighbour has a huge smile on her mush.
Natwest staff informed her that Satellite system care have refunded her money in full!

Why this has happened or how, I have no idea.
Satellite system care said they would not refund.
Satellite system care said they only ever refunded by cheque and never straight back to a bank account.
Natwest have said they will not issue a visa chargeback.
Neither satellite system care or Natwest, have been in touch with my neighbour or myself for weeks.

Out of the blue, the money has been magically paid back.
Once again, if your receive cold calls, put the phone down on them. Save yourself a lot of trouble.
My elderly neighbour has had to learn this through an experience that really did upset her. Don't you be the same!

IDE to Sata, reusing your old hard drive

It's always difficult when your computer finally packs in or is not up to scratch and you give in to updating it. As I recently experienced, the world of the computer boffin/expert is one that can be the most infuriating.

In my new basic computer, I simply wanted to use my old hard drive, which was an IDE drive. IDE drives have the old 4 pin power plug. The new computer has SATA power plugs and plugs on the motherboard. The process should be relatively easy. A couple of quid for a power adaptor plug to convert from the SATA plug to fit the back of the IDE drive, no problem.

A few quid to convert the IDE drive to the SATA plug on the motherboard, should have been just as easy. The store fitted my old drive, connected the power and drive convertion plugs no problem. I turned on the new set up, eager to start transferring all my tunes and pictures of sprog2 in various guises. Eight hours later my new set up still could not find my old IDE hard drive.

"Buy an enclosure and turn your old hard drive into an external drive, plugging it in using a USB connection" was suggested as a possible solution. More expense and time as well.

The solution, was trial and error for about an hour.
* The jumper position - the tiny plug on the rear of the IDE drive, try it without, then in the "master" position, then "slave" position, then "master with slave present" position, then without.
Solution - mine was with the jumper in the "master with slave present" position.

* Powering the IDE to SATA adaptor coming out of the back of the IDE drive - the tiny white plug that slotted into the adaptor, only powers the adaptor and not both the adaptor and the IDE drive. Confusing the "expert" who fitted the drive for me, as it lit up the yellow light on the adaptor card plugged into the IDE drive.
Solution - was to power both the IDE drive AND the IDE to SATA adaptor card. Plugging in a power plug to the back of the IDE drive and the little white plug to the adaptor card itself,  lit up both yellow and red lights on the adaptor card.

* The IDE card itself - the IDE adaptor can fit both ways into the rear of the IDE drive upside down as well as the right way around!
Solution - I placed the adaptor card into the back of the IDE drive with both lights facing the underside, ie, the bottom of the card.

Each time I tried all the adaptor settings I had to turn the computer on and go into the bios (Holding down the delete button on start up) to check if the IDE drive was recognised on start up, each time it was not, I had to switch the computer off and move the jumper along one slot, then start up again. I changed the IDE adaptor card around each jumper setting as well, covering all possible settings.

When I came to the last but one possible set up (just my luck) it worked and recognised my old IDE drive.

This trial and error way worked for me, always read the instructions provided and ALWAYS earth yourself before moving equipment around inside your computer - safety first! - contact your equipment provider/manufacturer if known, before you start messing around. This prevents any damage being done and covers your back if you are following advice.
I had exhausted all avenues of "experts advice" before I went through this process, even having the IDE drive to SATA adaptor fitted by them. For the record they had not powered my IDE drive and fitted the adaptor card upside down!

Good luck, I know only too well how many needless hours have been wasted on computers, that could have been avoided if only the so called "experts" actually knew what they were doing.