Monday, November 17, 2008

Help the Aged

I received a letter from Help the Aged today telling me that the goods we've donated have so far made £42.90 for the charity. That's pretty good - as I recall it was old clothes and toys that we really had no use for.

As I read it (it isn't 100% clear), they're now giving me the option to claim back the £42.90 (less a 5% administration) fee, or I can let them keep the money in which case I have freely donated it to them so they can claim another 28% tax from the government and I can add it to my tax return and save 18%.

It's a shame we gave them 5 bags of stuff at 4:50 this Saturday when they weren't willing to let us in the shop so they didn't ask for my Help the Aged card and neither of us will get the tax benefits.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A good month for QuidCo payments

This lot have turned up in my QuidCo account over the last few days, which should result in an overall payout in a couple of days of £108.49

30 Jun 2008 15:04:55 EmpireDirect £42.54 £0.85 - JCB Pressure Washer

04 Jul 2008 18:52:40 £79.98 £3.20 - PS2 Guitar Heroes III inc 2 guitars

04 Jul 2008 22:55:56 Purple Parking £57.94 £7.50 - Gatwick parking for Nice holiday

07 Jul 2008 13:55:07 Carphone Warehouse £0.00 £20.00 - iPhone :)

10 Jul 2008 07:58:54 £20.97 £0.84 - CD and earphones

13 Jul 2008 08:56:33 Prudential Car Insurance £0.00 £75.00

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This year's buildings and contents insurance

I won't be getting this year's buildings and contents insurance for free this year ;( The highest Quidco cashback rates have dropped since last year.

But if the cashback comes through then it's still looking free for contents and good value for buildings. Here're the numbers:

Contents: Halifax, £55 cashback, £52.50 quote, £150 excess, unlimited cover (excluding credit cards, mobiles phones and cash). Paid via interest free direct debit.

Buildings: Asda, £68 cashback, £92.15 quote, £200 excess. Paid using VISA as they didn't accept American Express so a missed 1% cashback opportunity.

Note, it's worth playing with the excess because some companies didn't increase the premium when reducing the excess, eg for Asda, it made no difference to have an excess of £150 or £250.

I also checked out Lloyds as they are offerking £120 cashback if you get joint buildings and contents cover but the quote was £197 so it wasn't a cheap as buying separately from different companies.

Update: Checked Quidco this morning and pleased to see:

£68.00 from Asda Finance tracked* on 14/09/2008
£55.00 from Halifax Home Insurance tracked on 14/09/2008

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Abbey credit card to charge £10 dormancy fee

I have two credit cards with Abbey - one because it gave 5% cashback on the first £1000 of spend at supermarkets, and the Zero card which has 0% foreign transaction loading.

The Ts&Cs have been updated to say that if I don't use a card for 6 months then they can charge £10.

So that's one more thing to remember :(

Friday, August 29, 2008

Abbey Zero credit card versus Natwest for foreign purchases

I just received two credit card statements, one from an old Natwest VISA card and one from the Abbey Zero card. The Zero card is one with zero loading on foreign purchases. Normal cards like the Natwest one say they add around a 2.75% surcharge.

I see a transaction on each card for purchases in Euros from France that are reported on the same date. The Zero card gives an exchange rate of 1.2609 Euros to the pound, Natwest 1.204

This is a bigger difference than I expected - about 4.6%. I spent £336 on the Zero card so using it in preference to the Natwest card saved me about £16.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Farnborough Airshow 2008

Red Arrows and the Airbus A380

Airbus A380


On Sunday I went to the Farnborough Airshow. I went with my 2 daughters on the train from Eastleigh to Farnborough station, where free buses took us to the airfield.

We saw lots of static and flying planes and helicopters of which the Vulcan bomber, Eurofighter Typhoon F-35, Airbus A380 and the Red Arrows where the most memorable. The Vulcan was by far the loudest plane of the day.

There was a fair amount of free stuff to collect from the stands, although they were mostly engineering firms doing specialist pieces for planes so it was mostly the likes of Rolls Royce and BAE that had free stuff that interested us. The University of Manchester had a good stall with hands-on puzzles for children to experiment with. They gave us a badge and a keyring, but had run out of bouncy balls :(

There was an IBM truck, demonstrating the various Blade technologies to customers and partners. They also had a PS3 and Wii to play with and the very nice man I spoke to gave my kids a (VGA+, 800k) digital camera, a baseball cap and a folder. We also got to nibble on biscuits, Miniature Heroes and (full-fat) cold Coke.

The Red Arrows closed the show with their full display - it requires a fairly high cloud base - which lasted 30 minutes and was very impressive and polished. But for me, the highlights were the noisiest planes - the Vulcan and Eurofighter.

Even the kids said they had a good day out and would do it again. It helped that they had their Nintendo DS's for when they got bored but they enjoyed the atmosphere of the event - 80,000+ visitors, not including the 1,000s of support staff and pilots etc. Looking forward to going again in 2 years...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

This years car insurance

Last year I got car insurance from Swiftcover at a premium of about £220 with £35 cashback from QuidCo.

The renewal price was similar, £221. But renewing won't get me any cashback.

I got quotes at the start of July and Privilege was the best with a quote of about £226 and £70 cashback.

But when I came to make the purchase last weekend, the cashback had dropped to £50. Grr.

So I've gone with Prudential with a annual premium (paid up front) of £234 with £75 cashback (which has tracked already). ie, annual premium of £159.

The Privilege quote included a 0% APR for monthly payments, but didn't include a courtesy car. The Prudential cover does include a courtesy car for as long as it takes to get the car repaired. The excess is quite high though at £300, but I've not claimed in 13 years so fingers crossed it doesn't matter.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

iPhone - one day in

I'm just letting the kids have a go on a free app from the AppStore named Cube Runner where you steer a little spaceship using the iPhone's built in accelerometer. This little break seemed like a good time to right a quick blog post.

Here's an unstructured list of things that spring to mind.

Shiny. Shiny. Shiny.

The 3G coverage seems fine around Eastleigh. I used it at Boyatt Wood shops whilst waiting for our pets to see the vet (they're fine, the rabbit didn't seem to mind being jabbed with a needle).

Web browsing speed over wireless and 3G is perfectly acceptable but a real computer is still much nicer to use. I logged in to the Hampshire Online Library, used HotUkDeals, checked - so far everything going well.

I've set up Yahoo and Google mail and they're both fine.

I installed the free Shazam application - I hadn't come across this before and I'm very impressed. It collects 10 seconds of music using the iPhone's microphone and sends it to Shazam who tell you within a second or two what song it is. It's worked perfectly so far listening to music played through my Thinkpad's speakers and a radio station being listened to on the TV. Neat.

O2 have started charging me from the 9 July - the device didn't arrive until Friday 11th. So that's £2.00 I might consider asking for back.

The Google maps application is neat but definitely not a Sat Nav app. It doesn't track where you go, it just asks the phone where you are "now" when it is relevant. Like the online version you can get a route planned and drawn on the maps and it generates a list of turn by turn text directions if you have someone in the car to help navigate. But if you deviate it won't know. But you can always replan a new route from whereever you are "now".

The location awareness feature is cool. I installed the WeatherBug app (which is buggy, not yet recommended) and I started to add a new location, thinking that I'd be telling it my post code or town. But instead I just clicked on "Current location" and it said that Southampton was the nearest point it new about. Cool. But then it crashed - I'd guess that it hasn't been tested using UK locations.

The auto-capitalization and correction functionality was a real pain when I was trying to enter my email address in some web forms. It kept changing russell_finn to Russell_Finn which some systems will tolerate (Google) but others won't. It also kept changing .uk to .I'm Because this was a web form and not an iPhone app the data entry mechanism wasn't the specialized email address entry sort but was the vanilla one - I've now turned off the smarts but now I'm missing them. A way to switch between them more easily would be good - it's buried in the Settings section.

The Safari browser works so well that rather than complaining about basic functionality I'm wishing that it had more features like Firefox like addons for, Secure Login etc.

I guess there's a Password Safe type app, and hopefully it's free, as I need to put passwords somewhere (not my IBM internal ones, just websites etc).

iTunes has some neat features but the basic spreadsheet approach to displaying songs causes performance problems, even on my quite powerful laptop. I can live with it.

I've switched networks from Vodafone to O2, and I didn't move numbers (to let another family member have the Sony Ericsson k750i) so I need to tell people the new number. But probably not on this blog :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

iPhone 3g coming tomorrow?

I received an email from Carphone Warehouse:

"Your new iPhone 3G is now available and will be sent to your chosen delivery address on Friday 11th July. It will be delivered by our courier Citylink. If no one is available to sign for the delivery, a card will be left with contact details so you can rearrange it at a more convenient time. Deliveries will be made between 9am - 5.30pm"

I'm going to be at the Goodwood Festival of Speed tomorrow but hopefully Emma will be in to sign for it, or I'll collect from the Citylink depot down the road when I get home.

It's like waiting for Christmas day...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I've ordered an iPhone 3G

Sadly it seems that the Pay as you Go option won't be available until much later this year.

By the time I realised that O2 were selling the iPhone their ordering system was down. By the time I realised that it was back up again they had sold out of the 16GB version.

But Carphone Warehouse have the 16GB version and have accepted my order. I went via QuidCo and it's already tracked at £60 cashback. (Nb. They're out of stock now).

Update: Now QuidCo shows this transaction as "declined". Hmm.

I chose the £30/month package which includes unlimited data and 75 mins + 125 texts per month which is way more than I currently use.

So for 18 months it'll cost £159 + 18*£30 - £60 = £639.

The iPhone hardware must be worth about £360 (that's what it looked like O2 would charge for it), which seems fair based on a 16GB iTouch costing £230 and the iPhone has GPS, telephony and always on data.

The unlimited data is worth about £180 (maybe less, but about that amount).

Getting £200 worth of the phone in advance and paying in installments must be worth something, say £40.

So that means that the minutes and texts are costing about £3.27/month (or £6.61 if the QuidCo doesn't come through).

Seems pretty good to me.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

iPhone 3G

I think I'm going to get an iPhone 3G (the new version includes a GPS receiver and 3G support).

The main questions are:

1) 8GB or 16GB. The latter costs an extra £60. I'm currently favouring the 16GB.
2) Black or White? You can only get White with the 16GB option, not 8GB. What do you think?
3) Contract or Pay and Go?

My average spend is about 50p/month as I very rarely make calls or text, although I do normally carry it with me.

a) Contract : £160 for phone, then 18*£30 = £700. This includes 75 minutes and 125 texts.
b) Pay and Go : £360 for phone (which includes 6 months data), then 12*£10 (for unlimited data) + PAYG=£30 = £510 ish.

Note: the Pay and Go rates are not finalised - they were temporarily visible and hastily removed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Prescription sun glasses

I've been looking in to prescription sunglasses recently.

I'd really like some sports wraparound glasses but the curved lenses can't be made prescriptive so you end up with normal sunglasses with prescription lenses in a simple frame that is inserted behind the sunglasses. So they look cool from the outside but a bit silly on the inside. You'd also be looking through 2 sets of lenses.

But the biggest drawback is that they cost £200+. £100+ for the frame and tinted lens, £40 for the insert frame and £60 for the lenses.

I was killing time in Southampton whilst Emma and the kids were in Lush, and went in to Vision Express. They have an offer at the moment where you get tinted, UV protecting lenses for £39. You pay full price for frame which range from £20 to £150+.

My prescription is -3.5 and -3.0 which meant that I couldn't get the Hackett shades I wanted as they were too curved. I found another pair, Studio 123 WEH01, that were good (not as good but they were also £20 not £60).

I needed an eye test (£25) to get a current prescription and, asking at 2:40, they had one appointment left which was at 3:10 so that was perfect. By 4-ish we were leaving the store having ordered the glasses and arranging free delivery.

The receipt shows that the lenses normally cost £82 so getting them for £39 seems like a genuinely good deal.

Anyone for table tennis?

I've just ordered an outdoor table tennis table. I spent a couple of hours researching the options, mostly these in the £280-£375 price range:

  • BUTTERFLY Easyfold Outdoor Table Tennis Table
  • Cornilleau Hobby First Outdoor Rollaway Table Tennis Table
  • Cornilleau Sport 140 Outdoor Rollaway Table Tennis Table
  • KETTLER Stockholm Outdoor Table Tennis Table
  • Cornilleau Sport 240 Outdoor Rollaway Table Tennis Table

I managed to avoid going for the most expensive option, being reassured that all the Cornilleau tables are truly weather proof and have a 5 year guarantee on the playing surface (3 years for the rest of the frame).

I ordered the Hobby First from Millet Sports, priced £297.99. This is better than who want £325. This table comes with 4 bats, 6 balls and a cover.

I chose them over who have the same list price because I should get up to 6% cashback from Millet Sports as I ordered via They also accept American Express so that's another 1% cashback.

Hopefully it'll be here within a week or so - I can't wait.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Orbea Orca - how I got my bike

Here's the full (you may fall asleep) story about how I acquired a bike worth £2300-ish for £1100-ish. More photos here

At IBM we have a flexible benefits scheme. We can opt to take some of our pay in a variety of forms other than cash, typically without paying (as much) tax.

For example, we can get paid in food vouchers for use at work without paying any income tax on them whatsoever. So an 88p latte (mmmmm...) really only costs 52p for a higher rate tax payer. There's also tax free Child Care Vouchers which are great as people insist on being paid lots of money to look after my kids.

One of the options is to hire a bike for a year. Technically it is not a bike purchase scheme but in practice you always get the option to buy the bike at the end of year for 5%+VAT of its purchase price. You pay in 12 monthly installments so you also effectively get an interest
free loan.

We can choose to spend anything from £100 to £1500 on a bike and bike-related accessories each year.

So I started out thinking I'd spend about £600 post-tax = £1000 pre-tax on a bike. I found the Trek 1.9 for £1000 which is a nice looking bike, with fancy wheels.

Then Rob Smyth and I joined forces and looked at bikes together as we had the same requirements. We went to the Peter Hansford in Winchester to look at the Trek 1.9 but they didn't have one in the shop. Looking at the Trek, BMC and LeMond bikes they had (with lots of helpful advice from Richard who works at the shop) we left having decided that we now both wanted a Trek Madone 4.5 (£1400), leaving £100 for shoes, pedals, pumps etc.

Then we went to the Peter Hansford in Chandlers Ford and left there being very happy with the help from their road bike guy, Adam, and we were leaning towards getting an Orbea Onix. This bike seemed like a better overall package than the Madone, but it was close.

After some web research we finally decided to order 2 Orbea Onix bikes. Peter Hansford do an excellent bike fitting session where you get measured for height, leg length, shoulder width, arm length and get to try the different "clipless" pedal technologies. We compared Shimano SPD and Look and decided on the Look system. I had thought that I'd choose SPD so that I could walk around a town after cycling there but trying the shoes made me realise that there's no way I'd choose to walk for more than a couple of minutes in SPDs - I'd take a spare pair of shoes instead.

We were originally told that the bikes would take about 3 weeks to be ready. But after 3 weeks we were told that Orbea were struggling to source the Shimano Ultegra groupset for the bikes and there'd be a delay. After a while Adam persuaded Orbea that he would source the groupset in the UK and invoice Orbea, which they agreed to. But then after another week or two we were told that Orbea had said that they didn't actually have any Onix frames and that it would be another 3 or 4 weeks before they'd be built. Aaargggh.

BUT, they did have one top of the range Orca frame that they could let us have instead of one of the Onix frames at no extra cost. This is a frame that costs about £1800. It was used by the Orbea racing team during 2007/2008 - a serious piece of kit.

But there's 2 of us and only one frame. We agreed that we had to get the Orca - we weren't going to turn down their top of the range bike. But who'd get it? We considered tossing a coin, but neither of us were willing to risk losing the toss. We worked out that if £186 was to
be given from Orca-buyer to the cheaper-bike-buyer then the percentage discount we'd be getting would be the same. But we both said that we'd definitely give the other £187 to have the Orca. But we also agreed that if the other offered £250 then we'd let the other have it.

We finally agreed that if I gave Rob £210 then we'd both be happy. Rob chose Madone 4.5 and it would only take 2 days to be built. The Orca was shipped from Spain and built in about the same time so we both had our bikes by the start of the next week.

So Rob's got a bike worth £1460 (he got Look Keo Sprint pedals thrown in for free for the inconvenience) for about £650 and I'd got a bike worth about £2300 for about about £1100. Both bikes are beautiful frames to look at: full carbon frame and fork, decent groupsets and pretty wheels.

When my bike turned up I realised that I had also been given the top of the range Orbea seat post and handle bars (Zeus Cat III) so that's another ~£100? of value which I hadn't been expecting.

And yes, it rides like a dream. Worth every penny.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Cashback card - one year in

I just got my first annual cashback from the American Express. As expected, I seem to have received 3% cashback for about the first 3 months, then 0.5% for the remaining balance up to £3500 then 1% for the remainder up to £10000.

I didn't quite reach £10000 this year so I didn't break in to the 1.5% band - mostly because I also got an Abbey card that paid 5% cashback on supermarket purchases.

Total cashback from Amex for the year = £131.05

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Switching Gas and Electricity

About 3 years ago I used an online Gas and Electric switching service to move from Southern Electric and British Gas - the default local suppliers which is the generally the most expensive option - to a dual fuel scheme from Powergen (now called EON). I'm sure it saved money but I forget how much. I got £20 cashback by switching using a link from Mutual Points

So time's moved on and there's more money to be saved, and cashback to be reaped.

The best place to start is with Martin Lewis' excellent site,, specifically the switching article.

I used a recent bill and today's meter reading to work out how much gas and electric I've used since December to give me an idea of my annual use (about 14600 kWh gas and 6800 kWh electric).

I then used MoneySuperMarket to get started. My current estimated annual bill is £1084.

Switching to a dual fuel option with British Gas would save me about £68.50/year (6.3%) and get me £30 cashback.

Switching just the Electric to the same British Gas option would reduce that part of my bill by £62.60 to £602.73 and get me £17.50 (or £20 according to QuidCo - UPDATE It has tracked as £20 so hopefully that will be the pay out in a few months).

Switching just the Gas to Atlantic would reduce that part of my bill by £23.50 to £395.33 but not get me any cashback (other providers had cashback but not Atlantic).

So dual fuel is an annual bill of £1,015.61 with £30 cashback

Gas and Electric sourced separately is an annual bill of £998 with £17.50 cashback.

So doing thing separately is a little cheaper, but I'd really like 2 lots of cashback. So I put my Gas details in to who seem to offer £15 cashback for all providers.

So I've switched using MoneySuperMarket for my electric and EnergyHelpLine for my gas and should net an annual bill of £998 and get £35 cashback.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Helicopter downdraft

Today an air ambulance came to Hursley in case it was needed to transfer a man who was having severe heart pains (it wasn't used in the end).

We went outside to see it take off. It made a lot of noise whilst spinning up, and then when it actually started to take off there was an impressive amount of force in the downdraft. A nice bit of excitement at the end of a working day.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Deer just over the road

This morning we saw deer in a neighbour's front garden. The kids got very excited and after getting a photo and looking at them through binoculars they eventually got spooked and ran when Jenny waved at them.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Hour, by Michael Hutchinson

Last weekend I read a great book that I heartily recommend (isn't the library great?)

It is about Michael Hutchinson's attempt to cycle further in one hour than anyone else ever has - although of course it isn't that simple.

He covers the history of "The Hour": the riders, technology, drugs, and how it has now become the anti-technology Athlete's Hour.

He talks about how he got in to cycling quite late in life, his training, racing, creating the bike for the attempt, the attempt itself and much more.

He has a writing style that is easy to read and addictive - I read the book over one weekend. There are lots of funny bits and his descriptions and opinions of the people involved are refreshingly honest - especially of himself.

I'd recommend this book if you're at all interested in cycling, record attempts or the mind of professional athletes - great stuff.