Ten Top Tips for First Time and Solo Cruisers

Ten Top Tips for First Time and Solo Cruisers

In recent years, like many older people, I have become a big fan of cruise holidays. This applies especially since my partner Jayne passed away.

Cruises are great for solo travellers, as every day there are different places to see. There are also games and activities on the ship, so you never need be short of something to do.

And most cruise lines make a particular effort to support solo travellers and bring them together, so they have company (if they want it) and don’t feel left out.

Based on my experiences, here are my ten top tips for anyone, single or otherwise, who is considering booking a cruise for the first time…

  1. Pack at least one smart suit or dress. Most cruises include one or more ‘formal’ nights, and you don’t want to miss out.
  2. Plan in advance what excursions you would like to take. This information will generally be available online so you can assess trips carefully and decide which would appeal. You can book on the ship as well, but personally I think it’s better to do this in advance when you can peruse all the information carefully and take the time to make up your mind.
  3. Think carefully about cruising if you think you may be prone to sea-sickness. Once you are on a ship at sea there is no easy way of getting off, and being stuck in your cabin with acute nausea is no fun at all. Cruises on the Med are unlikely to cause this, but cruises on the Atlantic or Pacific (where the sea can be rougher) might. If you’re unsure, start with a short ‘taster’ cruise offered by many of the cruise companies.
  4. Once you are on board, look out for the daily newsletter. This will be put under your door every night and set out everything you need to know about the ship’s itinerary the next day and all the many entertainments on offer.
  5. One thing you will have to do early in the cruise is the lifeboat drill. This involves putting on a life-jacket and assembling at your designated muster point. The drills are a necessary evil, so just do as you are told and ask for advice from the crew if you’re unsure. Remember that as soon as all the passengers are assembled and accounted for the drill is over and you can get on with enjoying the cruise, so try not to be the person who holds things up for everybody else!
  6. One big attraction of cruising (for me) is the range of food on offer, and I especially enjoy the themed buffets. Use common-sense, however, and be wary of eating things such as cheese or seafood that have been left out for a long time.
  7. You will probably be given a special card to show when you get off and on the ship at its various ports of call. Guard this with your life, as without it you could in theory be denied re-entry to the ship on your return.
  8. Be wary of all-inclusive cruises where passengers can drink as much as they like. Some people inevitably overdo it and I saw some VERY drunk (stupefied) people on the one such cruise that I went on. The smell of beery breath in the theatre in the evenings was quite unpleasant as well. Obviously if you enjoy drinking heavily you may disregard this, but one such cruise was more than enough for me. And I would think long and hard before taking children or grandchildren on one either.
  9. Remember that the sun’s rays are reflected off the sea, and in warmer latitudes especially it is very easy to burn. Put on a high-factor sunscreen every day, therefore, and don’t spend too long in direct sunlight. Drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic!) as well, to avoid dehydrating.
  10. Throw yourself into the cruise experience. Keep an open mind and be prepared to try new things such as deck quoits and carpet bowls. These can be a lot of fun, and however bad you are at them, chances are someone else will be even worse! A few people approach these games very seriously and try to win as many as they can, but most just do them for the fun of it. It can also be a great way to meet fellow passengers and make friends.

I hope you find these tips helpful. If you have any comments or queries, as always, do post them below. And likewise, if you have any tips for first-time cruisers of your own, please do share them.




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Upgrade and Save Money with Hassle Free Boilers

Upgrade and Save Money with Hassle Free Boilers

Central heating boilers aren’t the most exciting subject in the world, but the huge majority of us in Britain depend on them for heating and hot water.

In recent years boiler technology has improved dramatically and modern gas boilers are vastly more efficient (and environmentally friendly) than their predecessors. But of course, they aren’t cheap to buy and install.

So what do you do if you’re stuck with an old, inefficient boiler that is generating large gas and repair bills or even worse gives up the ghost altogether? If you don’t have a few grand in the bank for a new one, your options may appear limited.

A company called Hassle Free Boilers offers a solution to this problem. They will install a new, modern boiler for you at a competitive price and maintain it for a monthly fee as low as £19.99. You can choose from a range of premium ‘A’ rated Vaillant, Ideal or Worcester boilers. The fee includes annual servicing, breakdown call-out cover, full system flush, thermostatic radiator valves and a magnetic filter to ensure the ongoing maximum efficiency of your gas heating and hot water system.

Hassle Free Boilers have a range of finance arrangements for the boiler, including a ‘nothing to pay upfront’ option. Obviously, though, if you are able to pay an initial deposit, your monthly payments will be lower. HFB quote a representative example on their website of someone paying £1,999 up front for their boiler and installation, followed by payments of £19.99 a month.

Hassle Free Boilers offer a 12-year contract, which in effect serves as a warranty or guarantee. They say, “You’ll always have a gas boiler in your property and you’ll never have to worry again and can get on with the other things you want to do in your life. We’ll always be there to ensure your boiler and heating system do what they’re supposed to throughout this period.”

If you decide to move home, you can pass on the contract to the new buyers if they wish to take it over. Alternatively, you can settle out at any point. HFB say that you could pay as little as £299 in your third year. In any event, whenever you decide to move, they say you will never have to pay more than the price of the boiler.

What if you’re not quite ready for a new boiler yet? Hassle Free Boilers say they can cover your current boiler and central heating until you are ready to upgrade. This cover will include all parts and labour and a full system flush, and you can then decide when you are ready to have your new boiler installed.

Big Savings

There are substantial savings to be made by installing a modern efficient boiler. The Energy Saving Trust say that heating accounts for about 60 percent of what you spend in a year on energy bills. They state that you could save up to up to 40 percent on your gas bill by installing a new ‘A’ rated condensing boiler with a programmer, room thermostat and thermostatic radiator controls. In  money terms this can translate to savings of up to £570 a year.

Viewed in that light, Hassle Free Boilers’ offer (including servicing and repairs) provides the potential for big savings, not to mention reducing your carbon footprint and giving you twelve years’ peace of mind. The company are part of the part of the award winning Ecovision (Group) Ltd. They are Which? Trusted Traders and have already installed over 7,000 systems across the UK. You can read nearly 400 independent reviews of the company on the Reviews UK website.

For more information – and to request a free, no-obligation quote – visit the Hassle Free Boilers website or give them a call on 03456 474747.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Hassle Free Boilers for which I am receiving a fee. I am not an employee of Hassle Free Boilers or an affiliate for them.

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Make a Sideline Income Renting Out Your Driveway or Garage

Make a Sideline Income Renting Out Your Driveway or Garage

Today I thought I’d share a sideline money-making opportunity that – if you’re in a position to do it – can bring in a steady income for very little effort.

The shortage of parking spaces in many towns and cities has created an opportunity for anyone who has a driveway or garage they aren’t using all the time.

One of the best-known operators in this field is JustPark. Through their website and mobile app, they put drivers in touch with home-owners (and businesses) who have parking spaces available near their destination. They claim to have over a million registered users and over 200,000 parking spaces on their books.

Listing your space is free (JustPark add up to 25 percent to your asking price and take this as their payment) and you can set your own price, based on how long the driver wants to stay. JustPark say that charges are still typically 60% lower than on-street parking (if you can find it), which makes the service attractive to motorists as well.

One big attraction of JustPark is that they handle all the admin on your behalf. All payments are made via the website, and space-owners can withdraw earnings via PayPal or direct to their bank account. JustPark also ensure you still get paid even if the booker doesn’t turn up.

All drivers using the service have to register on the site, so you know exactly who will be using your space on any given day. There is also a rating system so you can see any comments other users of the service have made about them. Space-owners are also rated by drivers, incidentally.

You can offer spaces by the day, week or month, and set any restrictions you wish on when your space is available. Anyone is welcome to advertise spaces on JustPark, but the locations in most demand are those near airports, stations and stadiums, and in major cities. According to a recent article in the Daily Mail, people in such areas are making more than £3,000 a year doing this. Even if that doesn’t apply to you, though, you can still earn from a few hundred pounds a year to £1000 or more by this means.

Of course, if you don’t have a suitable space to offer, you won’t be able to benefit from this opportunity. You could still use JustPark to save money on your own parking costs, though. Either way, the service is well worth checking out!

Disclosure: As well as being a registered user of JustPark I am an affiliate for them and will therefore receive a small commission if you click through any of my links and sign up. This will not affect the money you earn through the site and/or any savings you make if you use them to find parking spaces.

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PrimeStox - An Unusual Way to Make Money Investing in Food

PrimeStox – An Unusual Way to Make Money Investing in Food

If you’re looking for a more remunerative (and interesting) home for some of your savings than a low-paying bank account, you might like to check out what PrimeStox has to offer.

PrimeStox is basically a crowdfunding platform for high-quality food producers and sellers. These businesses are seeking short-term funding (typically for four months) to make products and get them to market. Once the products are sold, investors get their money back with interest. This is generally around 8% for four months, which works out as an annual rate of around 24%. If you immediately reinvest your money in another project, the annual interest rate will be more than this, due to the effects of compounding.

The opportunity may be best explained by an example, so here’s one product I invested in recently. Scarlett and Mustard is a range of premium salsas, dressings, and so on produced by a husband and wife team in East Soham. They say all the ingredients they use are 100% natural and sourced locally.

Last month they were looking for a total investment of £6,000 to fund 6,000 jars of their tomato salsa range (pictured below). I decided to invest a modest £50, which made me the beneficial owner of 50 jars. All being well, I shall receive £54 (my original investment plus 8% interest) by the end of September 2017.

Tomato salsa jars

You might ask what will happen if they don’t sell the salsa. The answer is that all investments are secured by the products concerned, so in the worst case scenario I will receive 50 jars of tomato salsa, which would keep me going for a very long time! Or I could sell them or give them away to friends, of course.

In practice, though, that is an unlikely scenario. So far all investments on PrimeStox have been repaid with interest on or before the date specified. If there is a problem, all investors vote on how best to resolve it, e.g. by selling the goods to a third party for a smaller margin. It is therefore highly unlikely that you would ever lose all your money.



Primestox Pros and Cons

Obviously, investing in PrimeStox is not as safe as putting your money in the bank. In addition, the money will be tied up during the investment period with no easy way of accessing it (although this.is generally no more than a few months). You shouldn’t therefore invest money you may need urgently in the near future.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things I like about it…

  • Rates of return are highly competitive, even compared with other crowdfunding and P2P investment opportunities.
  • The minimum investment is very low – typically £20. You can therefore test the water without risking any significant funds.
  • If you are prepared to spend a bit more – say £100 or over – in many cases you will receive a higher interest rate.
  • Unlike some other crowdfunding platforms where demand from investors greatly exceeds supply, with PrimeStox there are generally a few days to decide whether you want to invest and how much (though I have noticed that opportunities are filling up faster and faster).
  • You are supporting small businesses in the UK and abroad who are dedicated to producing high-quality foodstuffs.
  • And, as mentioned earlier, as an investor you hold title in the product until it is sold. PrimeStox will even send your share to you free of charge if you want.

As for why producers are offering these sort of returns, it is basically to aid their cashflow by covering the cost of raw materials, production, storage, transportation, and so on. But also, they hope that investors will act as ‘brand ambassadors’ for them, helping to promote the product, and maybe even buying some themselves.

In that spirit, here are links to the three products I have invested in on the platform so far, with the amounts I purchased included.

Scarlett & Mustard – Tomato Salsa – £50

Strong Roots Sweet Potato – £100

Bread Tree – Rainbow Pasta (pictured below) – £56

rainbow pasta

 

There is absolutely no obligation to promote any of the products you invest in, but obviously as an investor you have a financial interest in ensuring they are successful. Investors are also sometimes offered rewards, discounts and other incentives by the producers in question.

Clearly nobody should invest more than a small portion of their savings in PrimeStox, but the potential returns on offer are compelling, and investing this way is certainly more fun than stocks and shares!

If you have any comments or questions about PrimeStox, as always, please feel free to post them below.

Disclaimer: I am an investor with PrimeStox but have no other relationship with the company and am not an affiliate for them. Neither am I advising anyone to invest in PrimeStox. Investment decisions are personal to every individual and if in any doubt you should seek advice from a qualified financial adviser. This post is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice..




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Find Your Nearest Cashpoint with the Link ATM Locator

Find Your Nearest Cashpoint with the Link ATM Locator

If you own a smartphone (Android or Apple), you can now download a free app that will show you the location of your nearest ATM anywhere in the UK.

The Link ATM Locator, which was launched this month, shows the location of all 70,000 Link ATMs, which is effectively every cash machine in the UK. It was developed with the support of the Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national sight loss charity who work to increase awareness and understanding of the needs of people with sight loss.

When you open the app, by default it shows a map of ATMs close to your current location. Free machines are shown in green and those that charge a fee in purple.

You can also search by town name or postcode if you want to know the location of ATMs there. As I prefer not to post my own address on this blog, here is a screen capture showing cash machine locations in the Tyseley area of Birmingham.

 

Link ATM locator app 01

If you tap any of the coloured dots, it will show you more information about the machine in question, including how much (if anything) it charges for a withdrawal.

 

Link ATM Locator 02

Additionally, by tapping the three-line options menu at the top left of the screen, you can set filters on the display. These include all the following:

  • £5 notes
  • Audio assistance
  • Mobile top-up
  • Wheelchair access
  • PIN management
  • Only free to use

There are a few other options you can set via this menu as well including Favourite ATMs. This lets you request alerts when you are near a particular ATM, in case you want to take the chance to withdraw some money. There are also hints and tips on staying safe when using ATMs.

The app is free to download from the Apple store and Google Play for Android. Just search for Link ATM locator.

I hope you find this app as useful as I do. As a keen smartphone user myself (I have a Samsung Galaxy J5) I plan to discuss other helpful apps in forthcoming posts on Pounds and Sense.

As ever, if you have any comments or questions arising from this post, please do post them below..




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Matched Betting: How to Profit from Acca Insurance

Matched Betting: How to Profit from Acca Insurance

I’ve mentioned matched betting a few times on Pounds and Sense. It’s one of my favourite income-generating sidelines.

To recap, matched betting is a risk-free money-making method that involves (legally) taking advantage of bookmaker special offers. By this means you can generate a guaranteed profit for no risk, regardless of how the event/s you are betting on pan out. You can read my post about how matched betting works here, and my post about why I believe matched betting is particularly suitable for over-sixties here.

In my post today I want to talk about a matched betting technique I’ve been using with considerable success recently. This is profiting from acca insurance. Obviously, for the benefit of those new to betting, I need to start by explaining what an acca is.

What Are Accas?

The term acca is short for accumulator. It is a set of bets (usually four or more) where every bet has to win in order for the acca to succeed and generate a profit. That means accumulators are typically quite risky bets. When one succeeds the returns can be substantial, however, as your winnings are calculated by multiplying all the odds together.

Normally if one leg of an accumulator fails, the whole bet is lost. However, a number of bookmakers offer something called acca insurance with football bets. In this case, if one leg of your acca lets you down, your stake is refunded, generally as a free bet to the same value as the original. By laying off some (or all) of the bets in your acca – and staking carefully – you may be able to take advantage of the ‘added value’ from the insurance to guarantee yourself a profit.

As we shall see there are various approaches you can use, but my clear favourite is the Lock In method. This guarantees a set profit however many legs of your bet fail, from none to all five.

Of course, this profit is less than you would get from a winning accumulator that you didn’t lay off, but as I said earlier accas are risky bets. Using the Lock In method all but removes the risk of losing money (in theory you could still lose if the lay odds on later legs move massively against you, but that is highly unlikely – and much more often the odds actually move in your favour).

Finding accas that will work with this method and calculating the required stakes is not easy if you are working alone. I therefore recommend that you use my favourite matched betting advisory service, Profit Accumulator. They have recently added an online tool called Acca Catcher to the range of resources on offer to Platinum members.

Acca Catcher is an amazing tool that will find accas with insurance for you, show you how much profit they can generate, and reveal exactly what you need to stake on them and when.



About Profit Accumulator

As I have mentioned on Pounds and Sense before, Profit Accumulator is a membership website that provides in-depth tutorials on how to apply matched betting strategies to make money. They also provide special ‘oddsmatching’ software to find suitable bets and calculators to work out the necessary stakes (which is of course crucial).

In recent months Profit Accumulator have added a number of new tools to their Platinum Membership. These include Match Catcher (a tool for those doing horse-racing refunds) and Dutching (a tool for finding arbitrage opportunities among two or more bookmakers). I’ll talk about these in future posts.

As mentioned above, however, the tool that I want to focus on today is Acca Catcher. I will reveal how this works below, though to get full details I highly recommend signing up with Profit Accumulator and watching the training videos they provide.

 

Using PA’s Acca Catcher

Here is a screen capture of the page that opens when you log in to your Profit Accumulator Platinum account and click on Acca Catcher in the Oddsmatching menu. Obviously, by the time you read this, the accas shown will have changed.

Acca Catcher opening screen

Acca Catcher shows a number of accas you can use with this method. By default they are arranged in order of EV, which stands for expected value. This is a measure of how profitable they should be, so the larger the better is the rule here. As you can see, the top one listed here (with the highest EV) Is with William Hill. This is often the case, as William Hill have the most generous terms and conditions and allow you to stake up to £50 per acca (some other bookies limit you to £25 or less).

The QLoss figure stands for qualifying loss. This only applies if you use what they call the Normal method. In this case you stake in such a way that if you end up with exactly one losing leg in your acca you get a free bet (from which you should be able to generate an 80% profit) and with any other outcome a modest qualifying loss. Using this method, on average you should make a profit equivalent to the EV shown. This is typically slightly higher than the profit available using the Lock In method, but of course it is only an average, and some of the time you will lose money.

Personally I prefer the certainty of the Lock In method even if it might be marginally less profitable overall. You may see this differently, of course.

The other things shown on the opening screen are the actual games in the acca, the total back and lay odds, and the start and end dates of the acca.

One other thing you will notice to the left of each acca is a small calculator icon. This is very important, as if you click on it, it will show you everything you need to know in order to extract a profit from the acca in question. So let;s see what happens when we click on the first of the accas shown…

Acca Catcher - calculator page

Note that by default the ‘Normal’ button is selected at the bottom left. As I prefer the Lock In method, however, I have switched it to that.

The calculator now shows you the acca bet you have to make and the first lay. Note that while you place all the back bets together in your accumulator, using the Lock In method you place the lay bets sequentially. This is necessary as the required stake can change depending on whether each leg wins or loses (and after two losing legs with the lock-in method you stop laying).

If we were doing this bet, then, our first step would be to place a £50 acca bet at William Hill containing the five bets shown. We would then lay off the first leg using a lay stake of £47.67, exactly as shown in the calculator.

Once the match has been played and the result is known, we then return to the calculator and click on the green tick on the right if the result was as forecast (in this case a win for Manchester United) or the red tick if it wasn’t (a draw or away win). The calculator then shows us the lay stake we need to place in the next leg (see below).

Acca Catcher - after first leg played

So we now place a lay bet of £73.26 on Manchester City. This process continues until we reach the end of the acca or there are two losing legs, whichever comes first.

Let’s say for the sake of argument the middle leg of the acca loses but all the others win. The final calculator screen will look like this:

Acca Catcher - final outcome

As you can see, because one leg lost, the acca doesn’t pay out and you have made a net loss on it. However, you qualify for a £50 free bet on the acca insurance. By backing and laying the free bet using standard matched betting technique (and the free calculator on Profit Accumulator) you should be able to extract around £40 profit from the free bet. In the example above, as the calculator says, you would therefore end up with a net profit of £9.12. Give or take a few pence, your net profit would be just the same if all five legs won or none of them.



More Acca Insurance Tips

I have set out above the basics of how matched betting with acca insurance works. As I said earlier, I highly recommend watching the training videos on Profit Accumulator to see exactly how it works step by step. Assuming you are a PA Platinum member you can also play about with the software to your heart’s content without spending any money until you are confident with it. Here though are a few more tips to help you on your way…

  • Bear in mind that if you can get better odds than those shown in the calculator, the net profit will be boosted. I find that often as a match gets closer the lay odds will go down, making your bet more profitable. You can enter the new lay odds manually and the lay stakes and profit figures will be automatically adjusted.
  • Sometimes Acca Catcher shows lay odds from Betfair, other times from Smarkets. I use the latter as much as possible, as their fees are lower and it simplifies matters to lay all your bets in one exchange. In any event, it is often worth checking the other exchange, as you may be able to get a better price there than the one shown on the calculator. Exchange prices change constantly, and if there is plenty of time before the next leg you may want to try entering a lay bet lower than the current offer price in the hope that it will be matched subsequently.
  • As mentioned above, an alternative to the Lock In method is the Normal method. With this you aim to have exactly one losing leg in your acca in order to qualify for the refund. With any other outcome (no losing legs or two or more) you suffer a small qualifying loss. With the Normal method, as soon as you have one losing leg in your acca, you stop laying. With the Lock In method, by contrast, you don’t stop laying until you have two losing legs.
  • Another option on the calculator is ‘Lay All’. This is where you lay all your selections at the same time (obviously before the first leg starts). This method only works when all the selections are available at extremely short odds (generally no higher than 1.20). The profits vary according to how many legs win – typically you will make a decent profit if all legs win, but if one loses you will make a very small profit or break even. With two or more losing legs the winnings increase again, but at such short odds this is obviously rare. I haven’t bothered with the ‘lay all’ method myself, but the option is there if you want it. It does have the obvious attraction that you can do all your backing and laying at once.
  • One thing to watch with accas is that you don’t have more than one ending on the same day. In the case of William Hill (and some others) they will only give you one refund per day – so if you have two accas ending the same day, each with one losing leg, you will only get one refund. That would leave you with a net loss on the other acca, of course.
  • As you may gather, I’m a big fan of William Hill, not least as they allow you to stake a generous £50 per acca and have this refunded as a free bet if one leg loses. Using the Lock In matched betting method, I would generally expect to make a minimum of £10 per William Hill acca. I therefore highly recommend using William Hill with this method, but would also advise placing other ‘mug’ bets with them to try to reduce the risk of having your account restricted (or gubbed, as matched bettors say). You can lay off your mug bets to minimize your losses from them.
  • Different bookies have different rules about accas, e.g. Ladbrokes only allow insurance up to a maximum stake of £25 and a smaller range of national leagues is eligible. Other bookies specify minimum odds for each leg of your acca, e.g. with Paddy Power the minimum is 1/5 (1.20 in decimal format). Acca Catcher from Profit Accumulator should incorporate any such restrictions into its recommendations, but it never hurts to check if you are uncertain.
  • When entering results in the calculator, remember that the outcome that counts is the one at full time (90 minutes). Some cup and international matches have extra time if the teams are drawing after 90 minutes, but the result after extra time isn’t relevant for acca betting purposes.

Good luck with your acca insurance bets. If you have any comments or questions, as ever, please do post them below.

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How I Saved £252.72 on my Virgin Media Broadband Bill

How I Saved £252.72 on my Virgin Media Broadband Bill

I just saved £21.06 a month (equivalent to £252.72 a year) on my Virgin Media Broadband bill, all by making a quick phone call. Here’s the full story…

I have a broadband-only contract with Virgin Media (I use the internet-based Vonage for my home phone service and am happy with Freeview for the TV). I have had this for several years, and the price has kept nudging upward. When it went over £50 a month I realised I really had to see if I could get a better deal, or else switch to another provider. I was reluctant to do the latter, though, as I have cable broadband from Virgin and switching suppliers would have involved getting a landline phone reconnected. And anyway, I’ve had good service from Virgin and my broadband connection is fast and stable.

So not without some trepidation I phoned up Virgin’s customer relations department (the number is 150 from a Virgin Media phone or mobile or 0345 454 1111 from any other phone). I told them I was unhappy with how much I was paying and was thinking of switching. Their operative didn’t seem the least surprised. He explained that I was on ‘an old contract we don’t offer any more’. And he immediately offered me a new, cheaper contract, with a faster connection and a £3 a month ‘loyalty bonus’ (until October 2018).

So I am now paying £29.25 a month for my high-speed broadband service. I guess I could have saved a little more by switching to someone like Plusnet, but I didn’t want the hassle, and anyway the connection would have been slower.

I did think at the time that it would have been nice if Virgin Media had alerted me themselves to the fact that I was on an obsolete contract. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they were happy enough to go on taking my money so long as I was happy enough to go on paying it. But then again, it’s my fault as well for not reviewing how much I was paying sooner. As a money blogger I really should have known better!



Top Tips for Cutting Your Broadband Costs

Here then are my tips for reducing your broadband bill if you find yourself in a similar position to the one I was in…

  • Don’t be afraid to phone up your ISP and see if you can get a better deal. The companies are well used to this and will often be happy to offer you a better rate rather than lose your custom entirely.
  • Remember that broadband has become a commodity a bit like energy or mobile phone services. All the main ISPs have special offers and discounts running all the time. If you reach the end of an offer and are put on their ‘standard tariff’, call them up and ask if they have any better deals going. They almost certainly will, the only downside being that you may be tied in to using their service for another 12 or 18 months.
  • But if you can’t get the deal you want, it’s easy enough to switch. In most cases you just sign up with a new supplier and they will make all the arrangements for you, including contacting your old ISP and arranging a changeover date. I recently helped a couple of friends switch from BT to Plusnet. It all went smoothly and they cut their monthly bill by more than half as well as getting £50 cashback. They are even still using their old BT modem/router, although I have tried hard to persuade them to switch to the more modern one provided by Plusnet!
  • Be aware that in some cases it can actually work out cheaper to have a broadband and telephone service from one supplier than broadband alone. My own circumstances are a bit unusual. I do like the Vonage (VoIP) service, as it includes various free features that other suppliers charge extra for. But if I was starting over again now I could undoubtedly save money overall by buying my phone and broadband services from the same company.
  • Make a point of reviewing your broadband costs at regular intervals and also any time your bill goes up or you reach the end of an offer. Don’t rely on the internet for this. There really is no substitute for phoning up your supplier’s sales or customer services department and negotiating politely but firmly.
  • And finally, if you decide to switch, bear in mind you may be able to save even more money by joining your new provider via a cashback site such as Quidco or Top Cashback. You can read my recent blog post about cashback sites here.

Good luck, and if you have any comments, tips or questions about Virgin Media or switching broadband suppliers, please do post them below!

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The Alternative Guide to Property Investment - Review

Review: The Alternative Guide to Property Investment by Frazer Fearnhead

Today I’m reviewing a guide to property crowdfunding that has just been published by Frazer Fearnhead. The full title is The Alternative Guide to Property Investment: How to Build Your Property Portfolio via the New Property Crowdfunding Platforms.

The book is available in both hard copy and Kindle e-book form. I bought the e-book version, partly because (I admit it) I’m a cheapskate, but also because I wanted to get my hands on it as quickly as possible.

For those who may not know, Frazer is the founder and managing director of The House Crowd, one of the UK’s leading property crowdfunding platforms. In his book, he explains what property crowdfunding is and the pros and cons compared with other forms of investment. The book is organized in twenty-three main chapters (most of them quite short), as follows:

  1. Why Invest in Property at All?
  2. How Much Diversification is Sensible?
  3. Why Property Investment is the Best Vehicle to Supplement Your Pension
  4. Establishing Your Own Investment Criteria
  5. Capital Growth vs Cash Flow
  6. Residential vs Commercial
  7. How to Beat the Averages and Give Yourself the Best Chance of Making a Successful Property Investment
  8. The UK Property Market – 2017 and Beyond
  9. Passive Property Investment
  10. A Brief History of the Alternative Finance Industry
  11. All About Equity Crowdfunding
  12. How Does Property Crowdfunding Compare with Traditional Property Investment?
  13. All About Peer-to-Peer Secured Lending
  14. Commonly Asked Questions About Property Crowdfunding
  15. Comparison: Equity Crowdfunding vs Peer-to-Peer
  16. What Returns Can You Expect?
  17. Taxation
  18. How to Decide Whether Crowdfunding is Right for You
  19. Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Property Crowdfunding Platform
  20. Using Your Pension to Invest via Crowdfunding
  21. Crowdfunding Your Own Property Deals
  22. FCA Regulated Companies
  23. In Conclusion




My Review

The Alternative Guide to Property Investment is well written and neatly presented, with illustrations where relevant. It covers most things someone new to property crowdfunding would want to know. As I have been investing this way for several years (using The House Crowd and other platforms such as Property Partner and Crowdlords) quite a lot of the information was familiar to me already. Nonetheless, it is valuable to get Frazer’s perspective as one of the pioneers of property crowdfunding, and there is plenty of food for thought even for seasoned property investors.

Clearly, as the MD of The House Crowd, Frazer has a vested interest in promoting the attractions of property crowdfunding. Nonetheless, he gives a balanced view of the pros and cons and is not afraid to state that it does carry a degree of risk. I agree though with his view that people should not automatically rule it out because of this. While property crowdfunding is not as safe as putting your money in a bank savings account, the potential returns are much higher. And a variety of safeguards exist, including the fact that most property crowdfunding (except for the most speculative development projects) is secured by bricks and mortar. But of course, you should only invest in property crowdfunding as part of a balanced portfolio.

Another aspect of this book I liked is that it explains the range of investment opportunities now available in property crowdfunding. These include equity crowdfunding – the original and most familiar form of property crowdfunding – where investors purchase shares in a property and receive a proportion of the rent paid as well as capital appreciation when the property is sold. But the book also covers secured lending – an increasingly popular option – where investors provide cash to property owners and get the capital and interest back at the end of the loan period (typically 6 to 12 months). And finally, the book discusses property development projects, which offer greater potential profits but also involve bigger risks.

Another important topic covered in the book is taxation, and specifically how property crowdfunding can be used to make the most of your tax-free allowances. The latter include savings interest, dividends, and capital gains. This is a feature of property crowdfunding that can be highly advantageous for investors.

If you are new to property crowdfunding, The Alternative Guide to Property Investment will provide a concise and easily digestible introduction to this field, from someone who really does know this business inside and out. The asking price is modest, and all profits from sales are going to the charity Lifeshare who work with the homeless and vulnerable in Manchester (where Frazer was born).

If you have any comments about The Alternative Guide to Property Investment (or property crowdfunding more generally) please feel free to post them below and I will do my best to answer them. You might also enjoy reading my earlier post How to Profit from Property Crowdfunding, which sets out the basics of how property crowdfunding works.

Disclosure: I have a range of investments with The House Crowd and other property crowdfunding platforms, including development loans, secured lending and equity crowdfunding. I am also a shareholder in The House Crowd. I firmly believe that property crowdfunding can be a worthwhile addition to any investor’s portfolio, and have put my own money where my mouth is!

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The Tremeifion Vegetarian Hotel - A Great Place to Stay in North Wales

The Tremeifion Vegetarian Hotel – A Great Place to Stay in North Wales

I have just got back from a long weekend in North Wales. I stayed at the Tremeifion Vegetarian Hotel in Talsarnau (near Harlech). It’s a place I’ve been visiting regularly for around twenty years now, and I always feel relaxed and reinvigorated after staying there.

Tremeifion is owned and run by a couple named Barbara and Kevin. Barbara is an amazing vegetarian cook. Even if (like me) you’re not a strict vegetarian, it is certainly no hardship to eat the delicious food she prepares, using many ingredients from the hotel’s own gardens.

Tremeifion has amazing views across the estuary towards the Italianate resort of Portmeirion (famously the location of cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner) and beyond that to the Lleyn Peninsula. There are often beautiful sunsets that you can watch from the conservatory or dining room in the evening. Here is a photo I took of one, although it’s hard to do justice to it with a mobile phone camera.

The hotel is in a quiet, peaceful location. It’s on a hill just above the village of Talsarnau. There is one pub in Talsarnau and not a lot else. It’s definitely not a place you would visit for the night life! But it’s a wonderful place for relaxing and chilling out.

Here are a few more interesting things about Tremeifion…

  • The owners have a dog themselves and welcome guests’ dogs, as long as they are well behaved.
  • They don’t have television (no reception) but guests are welcome to watch DVDs in the lounge if they wish.
  • It is a small hotel with only three rooms that are regularly used, so you do tend to get to know your fellow guests quite well. On my latest visit I met two ladies who I only discovered as I was leaving were former members of the England women’s cricket team. Hello, Laura and Lucy!
  • Although the village, Talsarnau, is small, it does have its own railway station, which is on the scenic Cambrian line. Trains run to Harlech, Barmouth and beyond in one direction, and to Criccieth and Pwllheli in the other. On my latest visit I bought a one-day ranger ticket using my Senior Railcard for around £8 and enjoyed wonderful views of the coast and countryside travelling up and down the line.
  • As from this year Barbara is only providing full evening meals at the weekend (Friday and Saturday nights), although guests can stay from Thursday and leave on Sunday if they wish. Full cooked breakfasts (different every day) are of course on offer every day during your stay.
  • If you arrive on Thursday you could always dine on Thursday night at Portmeirion, which is only 10-15 minutes away by car.
  • It is possible at certain times of year to book the whole hotel on a self-catering basis. The owners are also building a yurt in a secluded part of the three-acre gardens. This should be a stunning place to stay once it is open.

You can find out much more about Tremeifion on the hotel website. If you end up visiting yourself, do say hello to Barbara and Kevin from me. Check out the visitors book as well to get some idea how often I visit the place!

And of course, if there is anything you would like to ask me about Tremeifion, please do post it below.

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12 Great Ways to Save Money on Amazon

12 Great Ways to Save Money on Amazon!

I admit I’m a bit of an Amazon addict. I love their huge range of products and the fact that you can read reviews of the products concerned from actual buyers. I’ve always found their customer service first rate as well.

Prices on Amazon are generally competitive, but over the years I’ve discovered a variety of ways to ensure you get the best value for money from them. So here are my top twelve tips for saving money on Amazon…

      1. Always search for the product you are thinking of ordering on eBay as well. Often you will find the same product there, and sometimes cheaper as well. Of course, you will want to check that the eBay seller has good feedback and the delivery charges are reasonable.
      2. If you’re going with Amazon, getting free delivery has become trickier in recent months. In general, though, if your total order value is over £20, delivery is free of charge. If you’re just under the £20 threshold, it can make sense to buy a small item to bring it to the magic £20. Before I joined Amazon Prime (see below) I often bought a pen for this purpose. I can always use more pens!
      3. If you can’t find a small item for the right price, visit Filler Checker. At this website you can enter whatever price you require to bring your order up to the free delivery threshold, and it will then display items you can add to your order to achieve this.
      4. You might also want to think about signing up with Amazon Prime. This service requires the payment of an annual fee, but for this you get free next-day delivery of millions of products on Amazon (and same day delivery in some major cities). There is a growing range of additional benefits for Prime members as well, including instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows, free borrowing of thousands of e-books from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and secure, unlimited photo storage with anywhere access. If you’re a regular Amazon customer it’s well worth considering Amazon Prime, especially as you can try it free for 30 days.
      5. Prices on Amazon go up and down to a surprising extent. Only last week I was looking at a snazzy digital radio for under £50. I went back the next day and found it had gone up to over £100! To keep track of the price of any item you are interested in, you can sign up at the oddly named Camel Camel Camel and they will notify you by email if and when the price of your chosen product falls below a certain level.
      6. If you’re unsure whether a particular product is good value or not, Camel Camel Camel can tell you that as well. Enter any product details and it will show you the price that particular product has been selling at on Amazon over the preceding weeks and months. You can also install their ‘Camelizer’ browser extension (Chrome and Firefox) to view the price history of any item on Amazon.
      7. Check out the Today’s Deals link at the top of most Amazon pages. Items listed here include ‘Deal of the Day’ and ‘Warehouse Deals’. The latter are pre-owned and refurbished items, and you can pick up some real bargains.
      8. If there is something you buy regularly – e.g. vitamin pills or nappies – you may be able to save money by placing a regular order using Subscribe and Save. Subscribers typically get a 5% discount on the usual selling price, and you can of course cancel at any time.
      9. Check on cashback sites such as Quidco and Top Cashback to see if you can get cash back on your Amazon purchase by clicking through a link on the platform in question. Cashback tends to be available on specific categories of product rather than across the board, but if you’re thinking of buying a large product it’s always worth checking whether cashback may be available for it. See my recent blog post about cashback sites for more information.
      10. And even if you’ve earned cashback on Quidco or Top Cashback from purchases at other stores, you may be able to take your cashback in the form of Amazon vouchers. Typically you get a few percent more this way than if you ask for money.
      11. Lots of market research and survey sites also offer Amazon vouchers as a payment option. People for Research is one that I have done well from myself.
      12. Leave reviews of the products you buy on Amazon. Not only is this public-spirited, it may lead to an invitation to become a Vine Voice (as I am) and get products free in exchange for reviewing them. See my earlier blog post for more information about reviewing for Amazon Vine.

I hope you find the list above helpful. If you have any other tips for saving money on Amazon, please do share them below!

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