Golden rules of shopping local.

This weekend, is "Small business Saturday" (Yes I hear you sigh, yet another sales/marketing gimmick assigned to the calendar, to increase the flow of money from our pockets, but I digress).
Shopping local is a great way to ensure that money spent also helps to boost the local economy, instead of lining a shareholder's or corporate business' pockets in some far away place.

However, it is vital that those on a budget, watch their pockets (as I'm sure we do anyway) and there are some golden rules I've come across in my years of cutting back supermarket influences on our home and budget.

Avoid butchers that are on the high street!
By this I mean there are those in villages and located on main roads that have considerably lower overheads than those on the high street.
I've also found these to be cheaper, by some distance.
When missing my main road butcher, I have tried others, on main shopping streets and the price/quality differences have been substantial.
My usual weekly order of meat comes to around £25. The same meat from a "Local" high street butcher was close to £40 for the same items.

I also get my cheese (made in the area) from the butchers, the price difference between my regular butcher and the high street butcher was over £6 for two blocks of cheese.

Look out for the staff numbers - in my regular butchers, they have two staff serving, one more cutting and one more cleaning.
At the high street rival they had four people serving, three cutting and two seperate staff for their "Deli counter" - wage bills are reflected in their prices I'm sure.
The meat quality is also a factor. The old addage applies - "Tough meat is old meat!"
My regular butcher pays less attention to his deli counter and serves a close knit community from a main road (running through the area) shop.
It is always busy, with good reason, their meat is always fresh. I cannot remember the last time I had tough meat from them, I incinerate lamb chops, they still come out tender.

Many businesses are trading on the back of being "Local" and "not supermarkets" but is essential their prices and quality are good value.

Buying fresh fruit and vegetables - simple one this, use your outside market!
Look out for market stall holders that supply businesses in the area. They have less storage space, less access to freezers, make use of wholesalers more often and have a faster turnover of stock. This keeps their produce fresh!
Those with shops have more room to freeze and chill stock, prolonging shelf life for their goods, shortening the value and shelf life for you the customer.

I cannot reiterate this enough, NEVER buy fruit and vegetables from a supermarket!
They can be anything up to a year old before you pick them from the shelf. They are chilled all the way along the process, they are chilled in storage, transportation and each and everyday they are kept in the supermarket.
One easy point to make, their prices are extortionate!
I pay 40p per kilogram for my King Edward potatoes (granted I buy them once a month by the sack)
Asda price is currently 90p per kilogram (works out at £22.50 per sack!)
Tesco price is currently 90p per kilogram (coincidence?)
Waitrose price starts from £1.25 a kilogram (works out at a staggering £31.25 per sack!)
It makes you wonder why they have foodbank collections in supermarkets when these are the prices they charge!

The quality is far better as well, not starting to turn for around 5 weeks.

High street prices from greengrocer shops are running at around 85p per kilogram.

Eggs:
As my local greencgrocer also supplies businesses, they also supply eggs!
A full TRAY (2 dozen) of medium/large eggs costs me £3
How much did you pay for your last half dozen? £1? £1.10? £1.20?
My outside stall market greengrocer has lower overheads, faster turn over of stock (fresher stock) and is way better on price than anything on the high street for deals.

Fresh fish:
A market can have a few fishmonger stalls on it.
Look for the small one man band outfit that does not have the biggest counter.
The fish I get, finney haddock, kippers, beautiful white cod, huge plaice fillets, all boned and ready to go, is reasonably priced and fresher than anything I've tasted in any supermarket/high street.
Once again, he has little storage space, he has a vast knowledge and experience of how to cook his wares and lower overheads, so cheaper prices.
I haven't found anyone offering the same service he does for anywhere near the same quality and price. It's a no brainer for me.

Farmer's markets:
Many people speak highly of these and in certain areas are a welcomed break in terms of quality of goods on offer.
But for me, they are a no-go area.
They pop up every couple of weeks or month, in my experience their prices are way above what should be charged, a premium!
Anyone can run a stall on them and often do.

While there are those whom do not have the choice that I have in my area, two small towns with markets within a couple of miles of each other, I can fully see why farmer's markets appeal.
Look out beyond the town centres, look at the places surrounding you, on the way there see if you notice a road side butchers, greengrocers or little market.
People make a living from travelling around up to 6 farmer's markets every month, the cost of stalls is often higher than a regular market, which has all to be made back in profit for them to break even.
This comes from the prices they charge YOU!

I use local small businesses every week of the year. Established quality and prices are extremely better value than any supermarket can provide, they have low overheads so this is factored into their prices.
Goods are very high quality and shelf life is long.
But be aware, there are some that are trading on regenerated high streets that are milking the "shop local business" bandwagon, it's YOU that could be paying for it!

New boiler energy saving myths, true or false?

In my family's experience, replacing our old G rated boiler with a new A rated boiler to "save money" turned out to be false.
Our energy bills, in metered units used, increased, albeit by a small number.

Any so called "money saving" vanished when the price of the boiler and installation, we discovered later, would never be recovered. The new boiler would never pay for itself, over the boiler's lifetime.
You can read the original post here "New boiler energy saving myths exposed" (Scroll down for the comments)

A recent comment on there left by Jeff, was a tad harsh, labelling my post as "dangerously inaccurate" and "you don't understand your bill, how energy works, central heating systems, how companies work, or basic mathematics. You're comments are dangerously inaccurate, and you're doing a great disservice to anyone else who reads this and is as misinformed as you"

So should people be replacing or have replaced their old G rated boilers?

The Energy Saving Trust (EST) stated during the government funded warmfront campaign, savings of "up to £300"
Jeff posts "... EST's estimate of £300 savings, this is based the fact that the average UK gas heating bill is approximately £1000 per year"
Well Jeff (and others) it's all well and good saying this now, but nowhere on their website were these estimated figures being based upon the "average gas heating bill being approx £1000 per year" published at the time they were running the warmfront scheme, nor are they posted upon there now that I can see?

Today, there is no reference of this claim on their website. All that is posted is this...
"These are estimated figures based on installing a new A-rated condensing boiler and full set of heating controls in a gas-heated, semi-detached gas heated home with three bedrooms"

Today's version of the energy saving trust's website, showing how they reach their calculations can be seen here http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Energy-Saving-Trust/Our-calculations (UPDATE: Their calculations page has been removed and now directs you to a contact web page)
The energy saving trust state, "The efficiencies shown are SEDBUK 2009 efficiencies, the current standard for boiler comparison."
But on SEDBUK's own website (Found here http://www.boilers.org.uk/pages/sap2009.htm) it states clearly, "...the results are not themselves a satisfactory guide to efficiency achieved under installed conditions. Neither can the results be used to compare one boiler with another, as different test conditions are applied according to boiler type and fuel used"

Just to remind you, the energy saving trust website states... "The efficiencies shown are SEDBUK 2009 efficiencies, the current standard for boiler comparison" SEDBUK's own website says their findings/results CANNOT be used for boiler comparison!
So who is being inaccurate Jeff?
Sounds like the energy saving trust to me Jeff....

There is nothing to support your statement of what the EST's calculations are based upon.
Is this not being dangerously inaccurate, as you say I am?
If your statement is true then where is it posted by the EST or SEDBUK?
Why isn't it widely published and easily accessible to people that are looking to cut their energy bills via their heating system?

Jeff claims that I do not know how central heating systems work.
I put it to Jeff (and others) that the energy saving trust do not know how central heating systems work.

While at the time and to a great extent today, consumer groups and the energy saving trust make vague claims of the benefits of A rated boilers over G rated back boilers, would be better, what not a single one of these so called "experts" have picked up on, is that the old back boilers (G rated or better) heat hot water at the same time as heating the home.
A simple grasp of reality shows that a home heating water using the same energy that also heats the home HAS to be more beneficial to the user.
Millions of back boilers were removed under the warmfront scheme that the energy saving trust ran for the government at the time, yet at no point in their annual reports, summaries, or findings is this shown to have been taken into account. Why not I wonder?

The energy saving trust go even further.
Since they stopped running the warmfront scheme for those in power and revamped their own website, they now advocate that "...A regular boiler is actually more efficient than a combi at producing hot water in the first place" Just for clarity, "a regular boiler" is most commonly a back boiler with a hot water tank - the very same type of central heating systems they were advocating removal of under the warmfront scheme!

Jeff continues... "As for your assertion that your maintenance plan eats into your savings, no one's making you purchase one of these. It's a choice as to whether or not you think you'll have the funds available if your boiler breaks down. And it's an entirely independent choice and has nothing to do with whether or not you have an old G- boiler or a new A- one. So get that out of your head."
Lifetime of new A rated boilers - according to the energy saving trust warmfront figures - shows they last around 12 years.
Are people to seriously not bother servicing their boilers? Or to pay out of their pocket each year to have it serviced?

Then there are repair costs on top of this.
Let's not forget, combi and condensing boilers have many more parts that can go wrong than a conventional back boiler.
A neighbour of mine has had to fork out over £80 three times in 4 years because of early winter boiler breakdowns of her trusty A rated new boiler.
Monthly maintenance contracts or repair costs as and when the boiler breaks down, it matters not, it will eat into any predicted "savings" to the owner.
I know it's an entirely independant choice and I never said it mattered that's it's an A rated or G rated boiler... some form of repair/maintenance costs have to be factored in to the "savings" as they are unavoidable.

Back to Jeff... "As for your BG friend who told you that new boilers use the same gas, but produce less CO2. Did that really make sense to you?"
As I explained, I have long since given up on being able to believe anything from the big 6.
Less emissions while using same gas is just one in a long line of claims from energy companies.
Not my BG friend, but a time served engineer whom tested meter, pipework and appliances in an official capacity.
The fact remains that with one less adult in the home, more energy saving measures fitted than any of the big 6 energy company's own "energy efficiency expert departments" could recommend, less appliances using the new boiler, my metered units used INCREASED.

 ... and finally, "A common mistake people who install energy efficiency measures make is to take advantage of the extra comfort those measures provide. In other words, a previously cold home had it's occupants wearing lots of clothes in the winter to stay warm. But once the new measures were put in place, they cranked up the heat and shed the extra layers. Well, sorry to say, that's going to have an impact on your energy usage"
Of course it is, but we heat our home without using any gas now, yet metered units used INCREASED.
We wear MORE warm clothing than when we had the old back boiler, we no longer have a gas fire, we have one less adult in the home.

I'll leave you with a twitter reply from none other than British Gas.
They asked what their customers would like to see in the future, I replied, "Energy saving measures being fitted and bills FALLING"

Here's what they said, https://twitter.com/Frugal_ways/status/362562467093676033 "Energy efficiency will reduce the cost of future bill increases" - they will not cut or save you money off your energy bills.
Many many people are finding that fitting a new boiler does not cut their bills, worse still, at the same time a new boiler cost is never recovered over the lifetime of the boiler in "estimated bill savings" - in our case, believing all the hype has cost us in the pocket.

If the cost of buying, fitting and running a new boiler is not recovered in REAL cuts to energy bills (Not even under "estimated" figures is this the case) then that leaves the individual OUT OF POCKET!
Simple mathematics!

Has this happened to anyone else?

A day in Lytham St Annes

Driving into St Annes for an afternoon to check out an alternative to Blackpool, we didn't know what to expect.
Trying to avoid the over £7 parking charges of Blackpool, all I was hoping for was a decent chippy, some ice cream and a beach.

Driving through the main shopping street was easy enough for us as first time visitors, right on to the prom, we managed to bag a parking space no problem at all.
£4.30 for all day parking within a stones throw from the beach was a great start.
At last, we thought, a council using it's common sense to attract visitors.
Varied shops, including a Bon Marche (thought they had gone bust?) and a few charity shops, with banks within walking distance from the sea front.

An open air kiddies pool just off the beach, another plus.
Not too many kiosks to choose from, just enough to offer some choice.
A mini toddlers fair was yards from the beach, along the sea front. Another plus.
Those big balls that you can run around in and some small boats to take out on a small cove of water seperate from the sea was more good stuff to see.

Food... Not too many chippies to pick from but we went for the chippy just off the main shopping street.
Tables outside were littered with cigarette stubs on the floor, no probs we'll eat take-out.
The award for the most staff ever seen in a chip shop goes to... still they were all very friendly and chatty, good service.
Where it fell down was the price.
£9.50 for two lots of fish and chips!
Fish were a regular size and chips were a small portion, but they were decent enough.

We decided to eat them on the beach. The sandy beach, near to the small pier, had lots of litter (it was teatime though) and broken shells, some quite sharp. Tide was out.
Barbeques were going nearby on the sand, good to see in my view. There were donkey rides available. The volleyball net was a nice touch, although whether this is a council thing or someone's own I couldn't make out.
We scoffed the fish and chips and made our way to the main seafront to grab an ice cream. Bins were full and rubbish piled up alongside them, where we placed our tied up bag of fish and chip wrappers, but we did spot a council worker emptying bins further down the front, a thankless task on a hot day.
We stopped at a brick kiosk for a Mr Whippys ice cream. Double 99, single 99 in a chocolate cone and a single cone 99 for the sprog set us back a shocking £8.50!
(The same items from our local ice cream van would cost £4.60)

Clearly their ice cream needs more cream and less milk, as within 5 minutes all had completely melted, even the adult ones could not be eaten quickly enough.

We noticed that the beach further down the coastline away from the pier cove, was alot cleaner and better quality. If we return we will park further down.

So to sum up;
Parking: Easy, plenty of spaces and a lot cheaper than Blackpool. 9/10
Attractions: Good variety, more for the younger ones. 8/10
Town: The main street we walked around, just off the seafront, decent variety and easy to find banks, interesting buildings and a few pubs. A good mix. 8/10
Food: Fish and chips - decent quality, but over priced. Ice creams - poor quality and over priced. 4/10
Beach: Too much litter (but it was late in the day) 4/10
Better to aim further up the coast for better quality beach.

I don't understand how a fish bought in a coastal town can be around a pound more expensive than a fish bought 20 miles inland and needs to be delivered?
If you fancy a day out, there are a lot worse places to visit than St Annes, good variety, plenty going on, but take a packed lunch/some fruit if you are on a budget.

Frugal internet catch up TV via windows 7

Mrs frugal loves to watch the soaps and various TV series.
For some time now, we've been recording them on a freeview recorder box.
Occasionally, it misses but more often than not, it managed to record everything ok.

Factor in, that I have been looking at why we have a HDTV, yet only ever use it via our old blue-ray player?

So I attempted to get the internet on our TV, through a new recorder box.
I asked around and was advised by our TV equipment provider that there were two options available to us.
I could rent a recorder box that has smart TV built in, enabling us to get easy recordable access to iplayer, itvplayer, etc, as well as conventional recording.
Or option two, rent a new "smart" TV.
The recorder box was only £6 per month more, the smart TV would cost around £20 per month more.
Me being of the frugal ilk, opted for the recorder box option.

I went through the scenario of what is a weekly occurance in our home, via recording off freeview.
I asked dozens of questions, can the box get BBC iplayer? Can it receive itv, channel 4OD, channel 5? Can it receive tubeyou, etc?
Yes was the answer, so we booked one out and waited eagerly.
When the brand new box came, not only was it faulty, not recording any freeview programs, but it also had no options to receive BBC iplayer, itvplayer, channel 4OD, etc.
I returned the box and got the old one back after haggling them back down to the original price I was paying, for their clear misrepresentation at the point of sale.

Visiting a number of forums, the Humax recorder box never had BBC iplayer available and had no plans to, this was the statement put out on the Humax bookface page.
This got me thinking.
My computer is relatively new and next to the monitor plug I had a HD socket. Why didn't I just use this?
Connecting the sound up seperately is no problem, I use a cable from my computer headphone socket to my amplifier anyway, I have for years. No problems there.
For the picture it was a little more complicated.

After connecting my HD lead from my monitor socket to my HDTV, I needed a way of changing the resolution.
After a little trial and error I found a way of doing just this.
A problem I had was that using windows 7, whenever I turned on my TV channel to match my computer output, my computer screen would display fine, but the TV display was either blocky or a small percentage of the screen.
Not good for viewing TV, films, videos, etc.
I found that both monitor and TV had a "priority" option.
The monitor was classed as 1 and the TV was classed as 2.
But when I turned on the TV to view my desktop, windows 7 automatically switched these two around so the TV became the priority monitor for the computer. No matter how much I fiddled around with them, changed and saved new settings, this remained the case.

I read website forums, windows forums, questions and answers, but was left with no clear way to get my head around it and resolve the issue.
So off to bed I went, as I often do, leave it alone and an answer will come.
Sure enough it did.
It suddenly dawned upon me that I was attempting to change the resolution that windows used, I could use "dual display" through windows 7, but the TV resolution/screen size, was actually controlled by my graphics card... in particular, my graphics card settings.
A quick change of my graphics card settings and when windows automatically reverted my TV to priority 1 for my computer monitor, it then followed my graphics card settings.
My desktop monitor, now priority 2 (when my TV was being used as a monitor) was being run off windows 7 settings (even though it is connected to my graphics card in the same way).
The picture problem resolved, the sound was never an issue, I can now display anything on my computer through our main TV, as and when I choose.

Tubeyou music videos, even old boxing videos, anything from all the terrestrial catch up websites.
The beauty of it all is that it cost me just £20 for a HD lead long enough to reach my TV, the better half can still record anything she wants but if she misses anything, I can now play it back on our front room HDTV.
There are no more hassles, as I've set up a simple limited account on the computer, that she can use when I'm not around, it's as easy as switching the TV over to the feed channel.
I am no longer reliant on a smart TV or an internet recorder box and what they choose to allow me to watch.
The tubeyou video search is no longer only a partial service featuring the top few videos they allow me to watch and search for (as was the case with the internet box), instead I get tubeyou music videos in full of what I want to watch, without limitations.
I can watch films stored on pen drives, my hard drives, etc. All the family can view all the family photos and home videos on the main TV in glorious HD, all in all, a very frugal way to watch everything we want to see.

World consumer rights day - a total failure

How did your "World consumer rights day" go?

Mine was right up there with the failings of business to grasp any sense of the law or honesty and even more distant from those organisations that are supposed to be "protecting" people!

First up, Box clever, from which we get our TV equipment:
The better half occasionally forgets to record things on her Humax freeview recorder box.
My aim was simple, find a box or TV that we could connect to the internet via our modem, so that she could, at the push of a button, switch the TV over to BBC iplayer, ITV catch up, 4oD, channel 5 catch up, etc.

Sales advisor one informed me of two options.
I could either go for a smart TV - costing £20 a month more than we pay now, or get an upgraded recorder box from Humax, that enables all these services and more to be accessed, downloaded, saved, etc.
I opted for the Humax HD-FOX T2 Freeview HD Set Top Box or the "fox box" as it's called.
Appointment was booked for today.

I came home to have the box sat there all ready to go.
Unfortunately, the picture on all channels breaks up, so is unwatchable, let alone good enough to record.
I rang Box clever, a lady didn't even bother to listen and said a technician would phone back sometime in the next 3 hours.
A call came two hours later, asking about my repair booking that I had made on Monday.
Not made one, but the "advisor" had kindly gone ahead and booked one, without mentioning it, ringing me back or even bothering to ask if it would ok.
I was told I may get a call from a technician, I may not.
The appointment was rebooked for tomorrow instead.
That was ok I thought, I'll set up the internet connection so that the wide variety of online TV channel catch up websites can be watched. Sadly, this too, turned out to be nothing more than made up business marketing spin to attract a sale/upgrade.
Only BBC iplayer is available on the Humax HD-FOX T2 Freeview HD Set Top Box.
No ITV, channel 4 or channel 5 player is available, unless you download and install some firmware, which invalidates the warranty.

So when the sales staff on the phone were saying it has these and more, they were misrepresenting at the point of sale.
When the two installation staff came to fit the box today, they were also misrepresenting as the box does not do anything like this.
Even on the youtube screen, only certain songs would play due to a conflict of file type, yet another failure.

Humax, that make the boxes openly stated on their own facebook page back in 2011, that they have no plans to include ITV, channel 4, channel 5 or sky player catch up services on their machines, so where exactly have box clever staff got their claims from?

Next up, we have the wonderful world of Indesit, or more accurately, the world that they own, Hotpoint:
Hotpoint washing machine bought in September 2012.
Faulty power switch, draining conditioner off before start of a cycle, power knocking off by itself.
Four visits by engineers, two of which informed us that the Hotpoint washing machine we bought only months earlier, was in fact a recently new model, "It's only been on the market about 8 months!"

So after four visits, waiting in most of the day each time and various parts fitted that did not solve the problem, I contacted them to demand a new machine as is my right.
"You have waited over 28 days since our last repair, so we have the right to send out another engineer to try and fix the machine!"
No, I think you'll find that regardless of Hotpoint's policies, I have given you a fair time to fix the machine and you have failed to do so. Under trading standards law, I am now within my rights to demand a replacement machine or a full refund.
"No you are not!"
Well it's this way or the a small claims court, you decide!
"Either myself, the engineer, or his department will call you back within the next 48 hours"

A couple of days later, a call came, from none of them. The replacement department left me a message to say that they didn't have any of this machine in stock at the moment and they were waiting it coming in.
Three days went by and today another call.
Our machine is obsolete (only months since it came out they said earlier?) but instead we would like to replace it with the more up to date model.
I was given the model number so that I could have a look at it before confirming that we wanted one sending out. The new machine they proposed, was nothing short of an insult.

1kg smaller wash load
250rpm slower spin
No hand wash
No silk wash
No digital display
No half load wash

I stopped looking after this and rang them back. Their offer was a complete joke.

"How is it different from your machine now?"
I was stopped from reeling off more reasons not to accept it.
"It's obviously nothing like the standard of machine you have, I shall email them and get them to ring you back as soon as possible!"
That was hours ago, still I've heard nothing from Hotpoint.

So it's world consumer rights day is it?

When we, the public get some, then perhaps I will take any notice of it.
As it stands, we pay more than we ever to have a voice, yet never has it been so ignored. It is a complete joke!