JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Pedal power to the rescue
Being reunited with my ancient Crossroads Specialised bike has saved me a small fortune in travel costs this year – although not as much if coronavirus hadn’t reared its destructive head.
I started the year thinking the 30-year hybrid bike had been stolen from the garage under the flats I lived in – it had disappeared one night from where I had locked it up. But I discovered it had been ‘moved’ by the block’s janitor and sold to another resident without my permission. Maybe the janitor thought the bike’s owner had moved away and left the dusty relic behind. Wrong.
I then located the bike hiding away in a cage, and, after a little bit of explaining with the new owner, reclaimed ownership. Its near loss spurred me into giving it a polish and an overhaul. I also made a vow to clock up the miles.
Sweet profits: Toby Walne has set his sights on selling his honey at farm markets in 2021
The result is that with the exception of my daily work commute – too hazardous and too long to contemplate on a bike – and the occasional lung-busting run, I now go nearly everywhere by bike. No Tubes, no buses, no local trains, minimal use of car – and all done without electric aid.
Pound-saving which ever way you look – weight-wise and light on the pocket.
RACHEL RICKARD STRAUS: Save for the short and long term
In July, I had a taste of how difficult it is to follow some of the advice we financial journalists freely dole out. Moneywise, the magazine for which I had been editor, was closed and I was made redundant. It was a confusing time, we were still in lockdown, and the future was unclear. So when I received a redundancy payment, the last thing I wanted to do was lock it away for more than 20 years in a pension fund where I couldn’t get my hands on it – even in an emergency.
A financial buffer against future uncertainty seemed more appropriate. But deep down I knew what I had to do.
I couldn’t ignore my own words which I have written in articles over the years: ‘If you receive a lump sum, consider putting some in your pension before you get used to having it.’
So I compromised. I placed a portion in an easy-access Isa and the rest into a pension. Some for me, some for future me.
Thankfully things have turned out well.
In September, I happily joined The Mail on Sunday. I’m glad I was reminded it’s not always easy to do the ‘right’ thing. I will remember that when I share money advice and tips in future.
TOBY WALNE: Making a profit from nectar
This year, I finally made some money from making honey – pocketing £500 from selling 100 jars at £5 a pop. Jars full of the finest nectar that money can buy.
The trick was to have two hives rather than one.
As an amateur beekeeper, I had stubbornly refused to own more than a single colony for my William Broughton Carr (WBC) bee dwelling. But all too often they would die over winter – until last year when I got another hive.
Having doubled up, I discovered two is certainly stronger than one at fighting off wasps, robber bees, bad weather and disease. By early summer I had two healthy hives brimming with honey.
It meant more than enough for personal consumption plus plenty to sell. Home-made labels helped, as did a stream of staycation tourists with nothing better to do than take a jar from a table strategically placed outside my Hertfordshire home – and put a fiver in an honesty box. Excellent value all round. Raw honey is not the same as the honey-flavoured sugary syrup you buy in shops that often comes from China – and is also heated to 75 degrees Centigrade, killing off all the yummy nutrients.
My two hives are still intact, so the prospects for Patmore Heath Honey are looking good. Farm markets beckon next year, provided we have conquered coronavirus.
LAURA SHANNON: Avoiding a scam
The scourge of scam calls is rising, infecting millions of landlines and mobile phones. Despite being aware of the threat, I’m not immune.
I recently answered a call from a woman warning me of a problem with my BT broadband connection. I indulged her, knowing full well it was a scam (I’m not a BT customer).
Apparently, there was an issue with my broadband speed. When I told her I’m not a customer, she claimed my provider rented the connection from BT’s network. Rubbish.
Upon learning I only used an iPad and iPhone (a white lie), she lost interest and said she would call back. It was obvious what she had wanted to do: gain remote access to my home computer – and then to my online bank account.
She did phone again a couple of weeks later – to warn that my broadband would be disconnected in 24 hours. I cheerily replied: ‘OK, thanks for letting me know, take care!’
Such scam calls are insidious, relentless and, sadly, some people are tricked into giving away personal details. Rather than indulge them, hang up – and think about getting a call blocker.
SARAH BRIDGE: My financial audit comes up trumps
J making it through to the end of 2020 with my health and sanity relatively unscathed feels like a victory. As a freelancer, finding sufficient work to keep me busy and pay my bills is essential. So in recent weeks, I’ve made myself as fabulous as I can on jobs website LinkedIn.
I’ve also applied for dozens of roles and updated my travel website ALadyofLeisure.com with an eye to earning an income from it next year (assuming we’re allowed to travel again).
I’ve also made sure I am as financially secure as I can be. I’ve cut out unnecessary spending and buy food for the fortnight ahead rather than drifting into Waitrose every other day. I’ve also got into a home DVD workout routine rather than continuing with an expensive gym membership.
Just the act of planning my future income and getting on top of my spending has stopped me worrying – crucial when there is so much else to worry about. Yes, a victory.
My smart meter signals money stress – but the kittens both love it
JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Failed by customer service
Some companies are nigh impossible to contact. For them, quality customer service is dispensable.
Step forward 3 UK, an offshoot of Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Holdings. Earlier this year, I tried to extract myself from a mobile broadband deal with 3 UK I no longer required. But wherever I turned I couldn’t make progress. I rang, only to be met with either a wall of silence or automated requests for details I couldn’t provide. As a last resort, I cancelled my direct debit.
A couple of months went without hearing a thing. Then the letters started coming, requesting back payments. Of course I paid up, by cheque, but the whole experience was deeply impersonal. BT, my new provider, couldn’t have been more helpful. UK 1 Hong Kong 0.
RACHEL RICKARD STRAUS: Not getting smart soon enough
‘Get a smart meter’ has been on my to-do list for years. But it took me until this month to have one installed. I know people are wary – and we’ve highlighted their concerns in these pages – but I wish I’d got round to it sooner.
Curious: Rachel Rickard Straus’s smart meter is appealing…at least to her kittens
It’s all so handy. For example, I know that yesterday I used 51p of electricity and £1.22 of gas. It makes me think twice before over-filling the kettle or turning the heating up when a second jumper will do.
Another unexpected upside is that our two kittens seem to love it. I’ll regularly find one curled around it fast asleep. Strange, but adorable. When the novelty has worn off, I can imagine having a smart meter could get stressful. Seeing the energy bill rise in real time is a bit like watching the meter in a minicab when you’re stuck in traffic.
TOBY WALNE: Failing to have breakdown cover
Not having emergency breakdown cover when my daughter Sophia, 21, broke down on the hard shoulder of the M6 motorway was a big defeat.
If only I had bought her cover. First, there was the £150 recovery charge to get the car off the motorway. Next came a fee to get the vehicle towed to a garage. At £1.50 a mile and a journey of 60 miles, it seemed OK, but I did not know before it was too late that the charge would include the return trip for the tow truck. So, £180 instead of £90. Ouch. A week later, there was a £550 bill for getting the clutch replaced. Oh dear. Cover is now in place for 2021.
LAURA SHANNON: Missing out on a savings deal
Last month I advised readers to snatch a better savings rate while stocks lasted. Did I take my own advice? Sadly not. So I missed out on a one-year fixed rate bond paying one per cent interest. I should have acted sooner.
While in the mood for confessing, I have failed to transfer the Junior cash Isa belonging to my three-year-old daughter Orlagh to a stocks and shares alternative where I think it belongs. And I’ve neglected to open an account for my youngest child, one-year-old Maddie. Poor Maddie.
SARAH BRIDGE: Paying too much for broadband
A chance remark from a Sky broadband engineer who had come to solve the mystery of my non-working internet informed me that I’d been ‘out of contract’ for months and had resultingly been paying over the odds.
I phoned up to complain and while I was tempted to ditch Sky I stayed – but at a future lower cost and faster broadband speed. Prompted by this I then tackled my mobile phone provider and discovered I was about to be out of contract with it too. As a result, I’m moving to a rival with greater data allowance.
Similar value for money exercises are about to be conducted on my breakdown cover, travel insurance and utility suppliers.
From the jaws of defeat, victory is snatched.
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