Category Archives: Finance basics

How to save hundreds by switching your energy supplier

As winter rolls in it is more important than ever to switch your energy supplier and save a lot of cash. There are many bills to pay in life so paying more than necessary should be avoided where possible. This step to step guide shows my approach to the process and the key things to consider. Any savings can be used for acquiring assets such as investments rather than losing the cash forever.

Why you should switch you supplier regularly

The main reason why you should switch your supplier is that in the energy industry loyalty does not pay. Energy suppliers know that a lot of customers believe that they will be treated well by staying with the same provider for a long time, therefore are very unlikely to change a supplier.

Companies exploit this by jacking up the costs once the initial, usually cheaper, contract period has elapsed by moving you to the deceptively named standard tariff. In other cases customers simply cannot be bothered to switch as they see this as a hassle or think that the process is difficult. These reasons should be disregarded as I will show here.

Know how much your use in kWh

Knowing your annual usage is critical as it enables you to calculate how much a prospective deal will cost. The units to use for energy are Kilowatt hours (kWh). 1kWh is equal to 3.6 megajoules. For a constant supply, overall energy used is equivalent to the power supplied (kilowatts) in for the period in hours. It is not difficult find out your overall use figure; this can be done by recording meter readings for a certain period or obtained from your energy supply account and bills.

Electricity usage in kWh

Electricity usage in kWh

Above is an example for my electricity only usage of about 5.2 kWh a day or 1,898 kWh per year.

Compare energy suppliers’ tariffs

The next step is to compare different supplier tariffs when your contract comes to an end. If it is a fixed term contract, you can do this from 49 days before the end date. Within this period you can switch without paying an exit fee.

Look for 2 key pieces of information; the daily standing charge and usage per unit. The standing charge is fixed while the usage per unit determines costs according to your needs. Armed with the annual usage information and tariff information, you can estimate with reasonable accuracy how much you will spend with different suppliers. The following shows the figures I used while carrying out my recent electricity supplier switch.

Current SupplierRenewal offer – current SupplierBest Quote – new Supplier
Standing charge (daily)17.47p x 365 = £63,7717.17p x 365 = £62,6721.20p x 365 = £77.38
Usage per unit14.25p/ kWh x 1,898 = £270,4618.49p/ kWh x 1,898 = £350,9413.60p/ kWh x 1,898 = £258.13
Total per year£334.25£413,61£335.51

Annual Electricity Supplier Comparisons

Even though I have not managed to reduce my annual bill, it is projected to remain about the same which is less than inflation and 25% less than if I had been loyal to my current supplier. It is worth noting the renewal offer from you current supplier but I have always found this to be more expensive than the previous tariff or other suppliers’ offers.

Make the switch

There are numerous websites which can be used to compare energy suppliers once you get to that 49 day final period. All you need are details of your current tariff and estimate usage. These online services are generally good but care should be taken when using them as they do not facilitate the switch to all suppliers on the market.

This is not much of a problem as it is only a few extra steps to contact the other, often cheaper, suppliers directly and request a switch. Once you give the instruction the switch is painless, there will be no interruption in supply and should take about 3 weeks. Both companies will handle the changeover and all you need to do is supply the final meter readings.

Notes on gas supply

If you also have a gas supply the steps above apply. I always find that it works out better value to avoid using dual-fuel tariffs where a single supplier provides both gas and electricity. A dual-fuel tariff seems easier to manage but it is definitely not cost effective.

For gas the meter readings refer to recordings of gas volume consumed in cubic metres (m³) or cubic feet (ft³) for older ones. However, as with electricity, customers are billed in kWh following a conversion.

As shown above it can be tricky to determine the best deal for energy. The table provided and tips within this article should make that decision easier and lead to long term savings if applied consistently. It is also useful to set up reminders and to document essential tariff details such as name, switch date, cost rates, start date, log in details etc. The next switch will come before you know it.

I recommended switching energy supplier once a year separately for electricity and gas supplies in order to get the best value. There are numerous small energy companies out there which offer a decent service and the best prices. In such a competitive industry there is no need for the customer to pay more than needed.

     

£3000 for a new iPhone – no thanks


It is September again which means that Apple will be releasing its latest and greatest iPhone, their best selling product. Many will splash out a lot of cash on this gadget without assessing how this may impact their finances in future. After doing some assessment of my own I was astonished at how big the impact is due to the huge costs involved.

I have to admit that as an iPhone 6 user I have been tempted to jump on the bandwagon and upgrade to the new version of the product after watching the slick Apple 2018 keynote product launch presentation which was streamed from the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino.

The average selling price for iPhones is now higher than ever before following the release of the Xs, Xs Max and Xr versions with starting prices at $999, $1,099 and $749 respectively in the US. The annoying thing is that the same number (£999, £1,099 and £749 ) is used for the price in the UK despite the pound being stronger than the dollar. These prices are obviously crazy if you consider what other phones with similar specs are currently on the market.

Buying on contract

Costs are even crazier once you realise how much people end up paying by getting these devices on contracts as most cannot afford to pay cash upfront. My strategy is to buy a phone SIM free for cash and buy a separate monthly contract which is suitable for my needs. Currently I have a contract for just £10 a month and purchased an iPhone 6 for £260. The phone was refurbished but you couldn’t tell it apart from a brand new one.

To see how much a new iPhone would cost I logged on to my mobile service provider’s website. In-order to have the new iPhone Xs Max on a typical contract you would need to pay £100 cash and then £103 a month for 24 months. Over the 2 year period total costs would come up to £2,572.

As it is such an expensive purchase, the service provider suggest that you insure the device, at £14 monthly. This would result in a total cost of £2,908! This is shocking as I would have paid only £240 on my current plan over the same period by not doing anything. I might be missing something but the iPhone 6 seems to be pretty fast, runs the latest quicker IOS 12 software, has a good “retina” screen, decent battery life and perfect camera.

Investment impact

Being a personal finance geek, I decided to plug the numbers for the contract for upgrading into an investment calculator to find out how much someone could have from investing all the payments in the stock market (or better yet in Apple stocks) at a typical 10%  annual return rate.

Phone contract payments invested over 2 years

Phone contract payments invested over 2 years

The figures keep on rising and the final total cost for the insured gadget comes in at £3,364.24. This is definitely not worth it. I don’t  even want to go into the impact over a 10 year period.

Moore’s Law

While studying electronic engineering I got acquainted with Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law is an observation that the number of transistors in a microchip doubles every year while the costs are halved.

This is why computers have gotten smaller, better and cheaper with time. For this reason, the £3,000 iPhone we are considering here would have greatly devalued and seem outdated compared to new devices by the end of the contract. Some may consider taking a further hit then by buying the latest device.

I would prefer to maintain my current device for as long as practicable and invest in real assets for now. After investment, some of the proceeds may be used to get a good device at a good price in when the need arises.

Your Savings Rate: Why it is the most important metric in personal finance

euro notesA personal savings rate sounds like the most boring term in personal finance. It is something most people are not concerned about or have no idea what it is. However, I consider the savings rate as the single most important metric when dealing with finances.

Why it is important

Imagine that you are striving to achieve Financial Independence – a state in which you have assets generating income which exceeds your expenses. If you read this blog and follow the strategies, as a general rule you would need to have stock market investments which equate to at least 25 times your annual expenses. Such an asset base is huge and can take many years to build up.

As an example suppose your core monthly expenses are £1,000 and your monthly net income is £3,000. You would need an asset base of £300,000 to be Financially Independent (£1,000 x 12 x 25). At a healthy 50% savings rate (£18,000 per year) it would take 10 years to reach this goal as determined by the compound interest calculator below.

compound interest calculation example

300K accumulation at 50% savings rate

This calculation assumes a typical annual stock market return of 9.5%. As £300,000 is a lot of money it is easy to presume that the bulk of the amount would be raised due to investment returns. Surprisingly, this is far from true; compound interest, what Einstein called the eighth wonder of the world, only starts to kick in with a meaningful effect after a long time. Even this 10 year period is relatively short when thinking of investments.

Over 10 years the amount raised by savings would be £180,000, a proportion of 60%. If investment returns are less than 9.5% it would take a much larger proportion of savings to achieve the same goal within this time frame. It is entirely plausible for investment returns to be as low as 5%. At this rate the investor would need to save an astonishing £276,000, or 92% proportion, in the 10 years in order to achieve their goal.

Savings rate needed at 5% returns

Savings rate needed at 5% returns

These calculations prove that along with keeping investment costs low, avoiding debt and minimising taxes, a high savings rate is one of the sure ways to guarantee accumulation of reasonable amount of wealth.

Proportion of savings needed at a 9.5% return vs 5% return rate

Proportion of savings needed at a 9.5% return vs 5% return rate

You can not control or forecast investment returns but you can control how much you spend which directly impacts the savings rate.


Fascinating alternative scenario*

The above two investment return rates are very realistic. Just for fun, if we assume an overlay optimistic return rate of 20%, the size of nest egg generated would be truly astounding. I repeat that this is overly optimistic and would be in the world of the likes of Warren Buffett. Such a rate would result in a portfolio of nearly £600,000 over 10 years! This is very unlikely but to give yourself any chance at this the high savings rate would be key. The good old savings rate stops being boring here.

Portfolio value with very optimistic 20% savings rate

Portfolio value with very optimistic 20% savings rate


Calculating your Savings Rate

There are many ways out there for calculating a monthly savings rate. Here is my take on this. The savings rate has to be taken in context of net income which you can actually access rather than gross income. Therefore the savings rate would be the proportion of money which is put away in relation to the money which is actually made available. Savings rate = sum of savings / net income.

Sum of savings can include the following:

  • savings into cash accounts
  • investments in stocks and shares
  • personal pension contributions
  • employer pension contributions
  • government pension tax relief payments
  • income saved from other employment sources such as business proceeds

Regardless of which method you use, the key thing is to maintain a high rate. There is little point investing a tiny amount in even if you get exceptionally high returns. As this year has shown, market volatility is never far away. You can only control what you can and when opportunities arise it will be those who maintained high savings that will reap the benefits.

Interesting reading:

     

How to avoid investment scams – top tips

“A fool and his money are easily parted”. This proverb is succinct advice about how to avoid losing money in general. Investment scams have been around for a long time and it is important to know how these can be avoided. The tips provided here are not by any means conclusive but are my take based on personal knowledge and experience.

Basic financial education helps

The publication of this post is timely, as there is currently a campaign in the UK which is raising awareness about pension fraud. Aimed at vulnerable retirees, the campaign is run by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority).

Since pension freedoms were introduced, many have been having access to relatively large sums of money quickly. A lot of it ends up in very low interest savings accounts and the other may be deployed in all sorts of ways with the aim to gain better returns.

According to the regulator, victims lost an average of £91,000 in 2017 and 32% of 45 – 65 year olds can not identify a genuine pensions provider.

I find this shocking; it is quite sad how workers can retire with unnecessarily reduced incomes after working at their jobs diligently for decades. The scammers are very sophisticated and know their targets well so it is not surprising when unknowledgeable people get conned.

If it looks to good to be true, it probably is

The bait to investment scams seems to be excitement and a get rich quick mentality. Good investing should be boring, deliberate, long term and disciplined.

As legendary investor Warren Buffet said “Inactivity strikes us as intelligent behaviour” and “Lethargy bordering on sloth remains the cornerstone of our investment style”. Scammers often promise very quick big returns on exotic “investments” such as the following:

  • Gold or mines
  • Foreign real estate
  • Shares in the next Google or Facebook hot stock
  • Paintings or art items
  • Green energy schemes
  • The latest lucrative cryptocurrency

These should be best avoided and probably do not even exist. To make things worse most of these schemes would not be even protected by the relevant financial regulatory authorities, leaving you to carry all the losses once the money is gone.

A major benefit of being in the Financial Independence and potentially Early Retirement movement is that you can gain good knowledge about various investment and retirement accounts, along with what to invest in at an early stage.

Costs and long term strategy matter

The key thing in investments is to keep costs low. This can be achieved by following the advice and strategies outlined on this blog and set out by the founder of Vanguard investments, Jack Bogle. The sure path to wealth is to take the long term view, investing in funds which track the whole stock market, while minimising costs to as low as possible. By doing this, you will effectively be taking ownership of real businesses which generate revenues by providing goods and services.

This can be achieved by buying and holding simple index funds (e.g. for the FTSE All Share, S&P 500 or global) which typically cost less than 0.1% a year in fees. Trying to beat the stock market returns by investing in actively managed funds is a loser’s game as these are very costly due to high management charges and the additional frictional costs of frequent trading.

It is easy to think that financial literacy is common sense. However, as studies including the S&P Global FinLit Survey have shown, in most countries less than half of the population is not financially literate, making them easy pickings for scammers. The detailed analysis, based on responses to a few basic questions, shows that just a third of the global population is financially literate.

Good starting points for investment information are the Bogleheads UK site and the books below. Knowledge is power; self education about these matters will surely help you avoid investment pitfalls.

     

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