The Escape Artist recommends…

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Yeah Mr TEA, we’re loving the fancy psychology…but what about some meat and potatoes?…how about some actionable consumer advice for UK FI-seekers.  Where can we get stuff for less?

OK, so this week I’m putting up in one place where I buy my stuff from.

In order to beat the system ethically and stick it to The Man, we’re going to be using the principles of life-hacking, including crowd sourcing and alignment of interests.

Crowd sourcing is why Ask The Audience is the best lifeline on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?  So the way I’d like this to work is that I put up some suggestions and then you frugality ninjas out there can laugh at my extravagance and suggest smarter / better / cheaper alternatives via the comments section. If you’ve got a better idea than mine, great…leave a comment.

Alignment of interests is when you benefit by being on the same side of the deal as someone smart and well informed.  If Warren Buffett is buying, would you rather be buying or selling at the same price? Avoid conflicts of interest. Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.

The stuff on this page is what I actually buy and use. I’m on your side brothers and sisters, so cut me some slack in the comments. I may not always be right, but I’ll always be honest.

Investing

Investing can be made simple enough for everyone to manage their own portfolio.  If someone else manages your investments, then you are being screwed.

Fire your financial adviser. Dump your wealth manager and avoid expensive funds. Check out Vanguard’s low cost tracker funds instead.

You can use Monevator to find the lowest cost broker / platform as well as lots of free info on investing.

Personally my favourite is  The Share Centre. I like The Share Centre for UK and international shares as they don’t screw you with an FX commission (unlike many other platforms).  The service is excellent and its really easy to transfer an existing portfolio over to them. They will even pay the exit fees levied by your current platform.

Credit cards

For spending in the UK, I use the American Express platinum cashback card which gives 1% cashback and has no fee. Why wouldn’t you want a 1% discount on everything? Just don’t spend anymore than you would have done if you’d used cash. Pay the balance off every month by direct debit and never, ever pay interest. Obviously.

When overseas, I use the Halifax Clarity Mastercard which is the best way not to get shafted with ridiculous hidden FX charges.

The Bankers Jar

Mortgages

Use Moneysavingexpert to find the best deal. Look for a flexible mortgage that allows over-payments with no penalties. Then pay off your mortgage as if it were an emergency (it is) and 15% interest rates were coming back in a couple of years time (they might be).

Consider an offset mortgage. This is like having a flexible line of credit and has hidden option value.

A bigger house never made me happier. So don’t automatically buy the biggest house you can afford. Be careful and remember what’s in The Banker’s Jar.

Rent

If you own a house and have a spare room, rent it out.  If you want cheaper rent, share a house or flat. Either way, take a look at www.spareroom.co.uk.

I haven’t used the property guardian hack myself yet but I’d love to hear from someone who had used this smart-looking scheme to get cheap rentals in London and elsewhere in the UK.

Cars

I think of cars as Money Incineration Units.  The bigger the car, the more money it can burn.

If you want a large and super-luxurious family car that’s cheap to run, the Skoda Octavia works really well and is what we have. skodaThe (smaller) Skoda Fabia is even cheaper. You can also check out the Seat Toledo or any small car by Toyota or Citroen. Diesel not petrol. Used not new. Cash not finance. Obviously.

Can you live with 1 car rather than 2? Do you have a bike? Legs? If you drive distances less than 5 miles, you are at risk of Car-Clown Syndrome.

Petrol

This is not like burning money. It is burning money. So use less and buy smart.

Groceries

Buy real food that grew in a field or used to walk / swim / fly.  Read the book The De Vany Diet (also called The New Evolution Diet).

Avoid ready meals and other stuff made in factories. That means avoiding brands, packaging and processed food.

We use Tesco home delivery which is the height of decadent luxury. Why pay more? Frugality ninjas should check out Costco, Aldi and Lidl.

Don’t confuse saving money with deprivation.  Experiment with blind taste testing to see whether its really worth paying more. For example, I blind taste-tested Lidl’s fruit and nut chocolate versus Cadbury’s and am now a huge fan (Lidl’s is a fraction of the price).

Mobile phone

Here’s a clue…anything on a multi year contract is probably a rip-off. Why the fuck would you allow yourself to get locked into a 3 year contract when telecoms bandwidth expands exponentially and the price of IT related shit comes down every year? Respect Moore’s Law and the value of optionality.

Check out the smaller brands (3, Giff Gaff, Lebara). I’m on the 3 network with a pay as you go tariff which is as cheap as chips…even when you are overseas.

Books

Are free from your local library. Or can be bought used from Amazon for next to nothing.  You can get a better education (virtually free) by reading the right books than you can from any university.

Satellite / Cable TV

Are you kidding? Why would you pay money for the privilege of having someone beam adverts, news and other toxic waste at you?

If you insist on watching TV, you can watch the BBC free on iplayer with no adverts messing with your head.  You are also allowed to watch Channel 4 if you fast-forward over the ads. We also use Netflix which is good for films and documentaries.

Newspapers and magazines

No need to spend any money on these. Newspapers should be treated with scepticism. Glossy magazines are toxic and full of consumerist propaganda: avoid.

Podcasts

Essential : interviews with FI gurus

Recommended: think like an entrepreneur

Recommended: relationship advice for guys

Bikes

Bikes are incredible frugality machines that come with healthy side effects like small bones and fast metabolisms. You can get a bike second hand for almost nothing.

Bikes

What do you mean you don’t ride a bike? Bikes are incredible frugality machines that provide free transport plus healthy side effects like small bones and fast metabolisms.

You can get a bike second hand for almost nothing. Try local ads, Gumtree, Freecycle etc. Use Ebay to find high end nearly new bikes at large discounts to the showroom price.

If you want a fancy new road bike then anything from Trek or Specialized between £500 and £1,000 will be more than enough bike for 99% of the population. If you’re not a professional cyclist, I’d recommend the Trek 1.5 or the Specialized Allez road bikes. If you are a professional cyclist, you should be using your team sponsors bike…so that’ll be free then.

Gas / electric

Two thirds of home energy costs are spent heating the air. Get your house properly insulated (start with the loft and cavity walls). Grants are often available so this might even be free. Experiment with turning down the thermostat by 1 degree and wearing clothes.

We use the Moneysavingexpert Cheap Energy Club to tell us what provider and tariff is cheapest.

Water

Find out if you are on a water meter or not. If not, you can ask the water company to install one. Our bills went down when we did this but obviously this might not be the case for everyone.

Schools

Can you give your children an elite private education for free?

State schools are free in the UK. And no, standards have not fallen. If you’d been to my comprehensive school, you’d know that.

Insurance

Most people buy too much insurance. I prefer to save the money and self-insure…unless its a legal requirement like motor insurance where you should always shop around for the cheapest.

Health insurance is unnecessary in the UK. If its serious, the NHS provides great healthcare. If there’s a long waiting list, use some of the money you’ve saved to pay for what you need.

Gyms

Ditch that expensive private gym subscription. Local authority gyms are cheaper. Exercise more naturally. Use your bike. Walk. Take the stairs. Do press-ups. Try sprinting – like you are being chased by a lion – every now and again. Read the book Convict Conditioning. Check out your local Park Run.

Swimming pools

…are luxuries and not required spending. But they can be bought for under £90 here.

Holidays

Go off peak. Use the internet to unbundle holidays and see if that’s cheaper than the cost of a package. Try booking direct with the owner of your villa / apartment. Always negotiate.  For a family it can be cheaper to drive not fly to Europe in peak season.

Consider a house swap or renting out your house while you are away.

Nature

Is free and is all around you…enjoy it. Rent your own country estate the cheap way with The National Trust. Own thousands of acres of private woodland via The Woodland Trust.  Get ridiculously cheap accommodation in amazing locations by joining the YHA.

Happy Saving!

You can follow The Escape Artist on Twitter here

37 comments

  1. Nice post and lots of good advice. Thanks, TEA.

    I currently don’t have any insurance whatsoever (even car, as I don’t have one!). I recently had my bike stolen and for a brief moment regretted it. Then I worked out the sums and the time over which I had not claimed and my likely insurance charge covered the value of the bike by about 6 times.

    Of course, that does not mean all insurance is bad. Far from it. But being away of whether it is actually good value is important.

  2. The Big Monkey · · Reply

    TEA, great post. I like the fact that it is UK specific.

    Anyway……… you forgot about allotments. We’ve had one for half a year now. It’s £45 per year for a 400 square yard plot. Plenty big enough for us. A greenhouse and shed have been offered to us for free, as have most of the tools we require.

    The neighbors around our plot keep giving us great advice and free veg. It also gets us out and about. The exercise is a great bonus right? In the summer we will make cider from all of the apples that are not wanted. It works and tastes great.

    http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2014/04/22/brew-your-own-cider/

    TBM

  3. Great post. Love that it is UK specific. Will be visiting repetitively.

  4. On mortgages: seriously worth considering offset mortgages. Like over-paying you are reducing your risk to interest rate hikes as you increasingly offset more & more of you debt, but should you have a major life emergency then you can get the money back in a mouseclick…. & once you are full offset then you are basically using the bank as YOUR overdraft facility.

    Do you homework though on how quickly & how much you can offset your debts by: may be that a regular mortgage is better for some (though I personally doubt it).

    Obviously you need to be extremely disciplined financially to leave all the cash their offsetting no matter what, but if you are reading this blog then you’ll probably be just fine 😉

    1. Great comment…the higher the spread between savings rates and mortgage rates, the more an offset mortgage makes sense. Plus I like the hidden option value of being able to draw down more via a flexible line of credit if a true value opportunity presents itself. I am going to reflect your points when I update this as a new “TEA Recommends” page

      1. Thanks for the affirmation of my strategy!! The wonderful “tipping point” is when your mortgage is 100% offset…. fully insulated from interest rate changes at that point, & each month there on in as you pay down your mortgage you have free cash to put into the market.

        Mrs LCIL & I even managed to gain tax sheltering in our offset accounts with cash ISA’s as part of the offset. This was with the now largely closed down “intelligent finance” bank…. i’m not sure if any current offset lenders have this option though.

    2. Another one for mortgages, go with an online money back mortgage broker. They pay you part (I think it’s half) of their commision to get a mortgage through them!

      We went with Money back mortgages dot com* (just google it) and the service was fantastic.

      Obviously check against moneysavingexpert or another comparison site to check you are getting the best deal on the rate first but they cover 95% of the market or something like that so for most people the rates should be the same as whatever you are quoted on comparison sites and other brokers.

      Cheers!

      *No affiliation with them, just a satisfied customer

      1. Yep second mention for them (money back mortgages*) from me: once i heard about them i used them for my second offset remortgage. Only worth it if you know exactly what product you are sourcing though, you’ve got to have the financial knowledge to ensure you are getting the best overall mortgage for your circumstances available in the market. Again, most readers of this blog will have done their homework.

        My current (& last) mortgage: offset lifetime tracker at baserate +1.09%. They don’t make them like that any more i’m afraid. If memory serves i got paid around £600 for taking it out :-).

        *No affiliation with them either, just another happy customer.

  5. Chandon · · Reply

    Thanks for some interesting ideas. Here are a few others that may be of interest. For any of your readers who do not feel it is ethical to buy anything from Amazon, I would suggest that they have a look at acquiring books via a web site called Green Metropolis. On the food front, stop eating out and cook from scratch at home. Check our food co-ops and farmers’ markets. The best money saving food tip is to go vegan, as not eating animal products will save you lots. Think about applying for an allotment or grow your veg at home if you can. Stop driving a car if it is not an absolute necessity in your life. Stop watching television as it will only keep you hooked on pointless consumerism. I hope that this is of use.

    1. Another allotment recommendation…I’m loving the dig for victory to escape the Prison Camp metaphor here!

  6. Great tips. Most of the stuff you mention that is applicable to Austin, Texas, I do. Except the bike thing. I need to get over my fear of hopping on a bike at 52. After all, it’s “like riding a bike.”

    1. Yep, and 52 is NOT old to be riding a bike. There are plenty of 52 year olds that I cant keep up with…

      1. If you’re thinking about getting back on the road on one after a significant break it’s very worthwhile reading the Cyclecraft book (has UK and US versions).
        Given that Elvis was in the charts when I last had cycle training it was a bit of an shock to see how much things have changed (for the better).
        If you feel you lack confidence then get some training, it’s not just for kids. In the UK, a bikeability instructor will teach to the cyclecraft manual and maybe subsidised/free if you live in some London boroughs.

  7. TEA,, great info. Especially on cars, insurance and schools.

    On bikes, I recommend the Boardman bikes, you struggle to do better than their current road bikes for £1,000. Far far more bike than you get with many other names, more bike than you will ever need (great frame, good group set and a cracking set of wheels), it’s only brand snobbery that stops people buying them. But that means a better deal for the FI wizards out there.

    The Santander credit card also offers cashback, not on everything, but the rates are from 1% to 3% depending on what you buy (including petrol). Free money is good money 🙂

    Live music – sack off paying £90 to watch some pop star shite and go watch some free open mic nights. You might not be able to show off to a random over a coffee but it will be more fun, there will be less bellends about and you can even have a chat with the performers.

    1. I agree with you on the Boardman….and will check out Santander….I think when I looked at it before there was a fee on that card?

      1. Yes – £24 a year, but do the maths, it might work out. 3% on up to £300 of spending on rail/TfL per month with an active travelling for work requirement and you could be quids in

  8. Underscored · · Reply

    Aldi. Seriously, £50 a week in savings and better food.

    1. Thanks. Haven’t used them myself but fair point.

  9. Good tips thanks

    any regular payment such as insurance or utilities etc, when you have found your good deal put it through a cashback site for further savings. I use a different browser which i think gets round cookie issues. It all adds up

    1. Thanks…can you suggest a good cashback site?

      1. Topcashback is awesome… QuidCo is the other big one in the UK but I haven’t used it personally.

  10. Hi, my view on this -> “Then pay off your mortgage as if it were an emergency (it is) and 15% interest rates were coming back in a couple of years time (they might be).” is that if you are a 40% tax payer with a good amount of equity in your property (>40% so you can get the best rates) is to go interest only, put the money you would use to payoff the capital into your pension, saving ~42% on the way in. You can then use the lump sum (if this is still available) to payoff the capital, (or if that is not available use the extra income to cover the mortgage). This view seems uncommon(?), and I except there is some risk, but given the attractiveness of DC pensions these days is this not a potentially reasonable and more efficient alternative?

    1. Good suggestion. If you are a higher rate taxpayer and reclaim the tax on your pension contributions then this could be a good route to go. For me, the psychological benefit of getting mortgage free was a golden moment…a staging post on the road to FI…but worth considering for others.

  11. Tight from Yorkshire · · Reply

    Love the site. My two penneth, some small beer, some more legitimate than others.

    Use Hotukdeals to find the cheapest price things have ever been – that can then act as a baseline for what you are prepared to pay.
    Amex Offers – one that sticks out was spend £50 at Argos get £25 statement credit back. Argos sell gift cards so £50 M&S vouchers for half price. Plus cashback
    Offset Mortgage Account – agree with previous comment that this is a great way to work a mortgage and provide savings flexibility.
    Santander 123 account + associated cashback credit card. Pays you for paying council tax.
    Halifax Reward account – free £5 each month. I allow myself to day trade with only the money that has built up from this over a couple of years.
    First Direct £250 interest free overdraft. No reason not to use it.
    Open lots more current accounts for all the free money they entice you in with.
    Buy quality kids clothes/coats (Boden etc) then if in reasonable condition once they have grown out of them, sell on ebay once the kids have grown out of them. Likely to get half to two thirds of the purchase price back – they end up net the same price as supermarket clothes.
    Noddle for free credit check reports
    Quidco for cashback on most spending. Also good for free bets from online gambling firms.
    Check foreign websites of a company for a cheaper price. Eg we recently booked a Disneyland Paris holiday in Euros via the French website. £300 cheaper for precisely the same holiday as the Brit version.
    Scrape the web for an NUS number. 10% off on lots of online shopping
    For free Books / Music and you feeling anarchical carefully consider a Pirate Bay proxy site & Bit Torrent Client.
    Nights out for free. Pitcher and Piano pub chain have a get a free drink offer each month. Restricted to one per email address. Use Gmail alias trick to get multiple codes to one email account. Jsmith+1@gmail.com, Jsmith+2@gmail.com etc will all get redirected to jsmith@gmail.com. Bar staff don’t seem to care if you have multiple codes.
    Use web.archive.org to as a backdoor for some sites that have implemented access restrictions / pay walls.
    If you buy Apple products, refurbished ones from the Apple site are cheaper and seem no different quality to brand new.
    O2 Priority app for £1 lunches on Mondays and other free stuff. If you are not on O2 borrow a friend sim, put in in your phone and download the app. It will register that number. Put your own sim back in the phone and the app will still work

  12. I’m put off the Share Centre by their dealing costs.
    They appear to charge 1% for a trade, so if I make a typical £5k purchase, that’s £50, whereas my other accounts charge £10 to £12.95.
    There is an option to pay an annual fee and get a lower dealing charge. However, none of my other non-ISA trading accounts make any annual charge.

    What am I missing?

    And if I did open an account, I would have to start a non-ISA account and see if they are any good first. (I max out the ISA allowance each year & then have to make trades in a non-ISA account as well)

    1. Thanks Jeff. Re Share Centre, here’s what you may be missing:

      1. No FX commission. This dwarfs the dealing commission for overseas share deals (a lot of my shares are US listed)
      2. I never pay 1% on a trade – I always deal on the £7.50 per trade fixed charge (the frequent dealing tariff)

      Do the maths to see if paying the quarterly fee for the frequent dealing tariff works for you. It may be different for you but for me paying the frequent dealing tariff works out much cheaper than paying £10 – £12.95 per trade PLUS fx commission of up to 2% on US / European shares.

      The frequent dealing tariff is quarterly and optional…so I only pay it in the quarters when I deal. I minimise churn and costs in my portfolio so much of the year I don’t pay it.

      But if you haven’t missed anything and you think there’s a better deal elsewhere (with great service) please let us know which provider you recommend…

  13. “There is only one name that most people need to know and that name is Vanguard.”

    I agree with you here but I’m also having success with some iShares products which could be worth adding. iShares are providing me with 2 benefits:
    1. Low cost products that I want and Vanguard don’t currently have. For example a European Property Index ETF and a Corporate Bond ETF that doesn’t include Financials.
    2. IMHO it’s highly unlikely that Vanguard is going to do a Barings/Enron/WorldCom or similar on you but I still sleep more soundly without all my investments from one provider.

    1. Thanks RIT. Fair comment…I’ll take a closer look at iShares.

    2. “What if Vanguard gets Nuked?” – covered quite nicely by this US chap who i read from time to time:

      http://jlcollinsnh.com/2012/09/07/stocks-part-x-what-if-vanguard-gets-nuked/

  14. Gigs and events. Scan Twitter and Facebook for spare tickets on the day, and do a deal. The other party will get more than they would from a tout. And you’ll get a cheap(er) ticket and the satisfaction of having avoided the booking fees. Of course, you must be prepared to fail and end up not going!

  15. Great list – my only addition would be to the insurance section. For me insurance should only be used for “asymmetric risk”, ie where the possibility is small, but the impact incredibly high. This covers house insurance, car insurance, health insurance if you’re not in the UK and liability insurance if you have your own company. Insuring your phone? Pah! Just be more careful with it!

    1. Thanks Matt…but which insurance co.s would you recommend? We are after actionable advice here. Esp for car insurance which is compulsory…

  16. Pete Armstrong · · Reply

    A newcomer for non-ISA/SIPP trading is DeGiro that was in the financial press this week.
    Could shakeup the investment industry with low dealing costs and sounds like they are looking at introducing ISA coverage

    http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/diyinvesting/article-3118235/DeGiro-offers-chance-buy-sell-shares-just-1-75.html

    http://www.degirogroup.co.uk

  17. Hi TEA,

    Your are spot-on about satellite TV. My Sky sub is getting ditched this month.

    This is a really helpful list.

  18. Jonathan · · Reply

    Hi TEA
    I think your blog is great and have picked up a lot of ideas from you, over the past few months.

    Here are some suggestions wrt bikes, where, I think, maybe you could do better. The wisdom of the crowd is a great thing, but in this case you need to be listening to the crowd that rides 200 miles per week, every week, in all weathers ie club cyclists.
    There’s nothing very wrong with the bikes you suggest, nor with the Boardman (although I have seen a number of bikes picked up new from an out-of-town motor parts emporium that each required several hours’ work before they were ridable.)
    If you look at the bikes used in the Sunday club runs, the weekly training sessions or even the club time trials, you will see Ribble, Planet X and Dolan in abundance. Hinde, also, have a big following in the North-West. All offer bikes that comfortably beat the spec of the larger brands, often at 60% or less of the price.
    If you’re planning on continuing with cycling for a few years, then it might pay to think ahead. ‘Factory built’ wheels can look very attractive, at first, but they are not repairable. Whereas ‘hand-built’ wheels are not only often much less expensive and better-performing, but also can be rebuilt very economically, when the rim wears out, as inevitably it will.
    Rather than starting with a ‘race-ready’ bike, it might be best to buy a bike with mudguards (often referred to by club cyclists as a ‘winter bike’), that can be used in all weathers. (training rides in the wet and the cold are even less pleasant, on a race bike). And if you’re still into bike riding, a year or two after purchasing the winter bike, then you could upgrade to a full-on race bike, but still use the winter bike in bad weather. Within my family, there are winter bikes well over 15 years old, that are still used regularly.
    Bikes for kids have long been a problem. With our eldest, we went the same route as you; I hope it works out for you, but I have my doubts. Ten years ago, for our second child, we bought an Isla (a properly-specced road bike designed for a child/small person). Not cheap, but really good and hold their value amazingly well. Ours is still providing great service ten years later.
    My final suggestion, when it comes to bikes, is that you need to find a good bike shop and get to know them. I would suggest you find the shop where the local club riders take their race bikes- since road riders are extremely aware of costs, it probably won’t be a place that sells only big-name bikes; it might not even seem to sell bikes at all. There’s nothing particularly challenging about bike mechanics, and it can be quite therapeutic; but a lot of us need to learn how to fettle bikes. The best way, in my opinion, is to get the local bike shop to teach you how to do things; they won’t mind, as long as you keep bringing them work to do. Definitely worth investing in bike maintenance. Not only does a properly-maintained bike ride much better, but it lasts a lot longer too.

  19. EdwardJBean · · Reply

    Great website – I am 33 and am one of the lucky few with a chance to hit FI before the age of 40. Thanks for all the info, and reminding us that achieving FI is as much psychological as it is financial.

    With regards to the American Express Platinum card, there is currently a £25 annual charge, meaning that you don’t break even until you spend £2.5k on the card. Alternatively, the Platinum Everyday card comes with no annual charge at the expense of slightly lower interest on the first £7k of spend. Working through the numbers, you’ll only ever be worse off by £11 on the Everyday card, so I personally am going to opt for one of these instead.

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