Are you a Home Bargains shopper?

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No? You should be! My shopping habits have been revolutionised since they opened up a store near me. They sell everything from stationary, to groceries, toiletries, toys, cleaning products, hardware, home furnishings, pets and more!

One of regular purchases here is 4 packs of John West tuna chunks. They sell 3 varieties – in brine, in sunflower oil and in spring water. All are £2.79 for a 4 pack, that’s 67p per tin! The next cheapest I could buy is an economy, supermarket brand at around 80p per tin, although the price has come down recently and you can buy Asda Smartprice or Tesco Value for 65p per tin. However I don’t think the quality compares, as economy brands are usually grey mush and barely resemble a tuna steak. I rarely see John West for less than £4 in the supermarkets. The tuna is pink and meaty, definitely top quality!

I use a lot of mailing bags and tissue paper for sending eBay items. I used to buy my mailing bags at Wilko, as I found them the cheapest. Their A4 mailer bags x5 are £1.50 are and A3 x5 are £1.75. The same at Home Bargains are 49p for 6x A4 and 89p for 6x A3. They sell 10 large sheets of tissue paper in a rainbow of colours for 49p, the next cheapest I can find is at a local bargain store for 99p. There’s just no contest is there? You can see how the savings start to add up!

I regularly buy sweets and chocolate here, as they are so much cheaper than the High Street. They have a HUGE range! I also love my oatcakes and I can buy them for 65p per box here. Compare that even to Poundland, where surprise, surprise – they cost £1 a box! They have a huge range of cheap biscuits and top brands too. As someone who eats a gluten-free diet, I often spy gluten-free items in Home Bargains at a mere fraction of the supermarket cost. A while back they were selling Nutribix for 79p a box! They cost £3.79 a box in the supermarkets- they had a slightly shorter best before date of 1-2 months, but what does that matter when you’re going to eat it soon anyway?

I buy some of my toiletries here too, dental products are much cheaper than the high street and I always pick up big name toothpaste for £1 a tube, like Colgate, Sensodyne or Arm & Hammer. They often have bumper sized packs going for this price too.

Do you use Cif cream cleaner? They sell it here for £1 a bottle. You might find it for £2 in the supermarkets if you’re lucky and occasionally £1.50 a bottle at Wilko. But other than grabbing it from time to time, in Poundland – you won’t find it regularly, this cheap. They also sell Dri-Pak Soda Crystals at 65p for 1.5kg which is way cheaper than £1 a bag at Wilko. These have so many household uses and I’d never be without a bag.

In the pet section today, they had pet carriers for £20 and scratching towers for the same price. They are always cheaper for treats here, like Weebox sticks at 79p per pack, next cheapest is 99p in the supermarkets or Wilko.

I regularly pick up Sequin Art kits here for £6-£7 instead of the £15-£18 they are full price. I have had lovely hardback Disney notebooks for £1-£2. If you check out http://www.moneysavingexpert.com and look on the ‘Quick Grabbit’ forums, you will find a Home Bargains thread where members post the hottest deals. But I want to encourage you to go there anyway for your everyday basic items because they are much, much cheaper! Oh and be sure to come back and tell me what you’ve found 🙂

The Truth about Frugalwoods and other US ‘Financial Independence’ Blogs

If you are like me, you read a number of financial independence blogs for inspiration. I admit to reading the occasional bit of Frugalwoods or Mr Money Mustache. However, the more I have read the more I have pondered whether these US blogs can bear any relevance to UK readers hoping to achieve financial independence? Today, I hope to uncover more of the truth about this for my UK readers. This is as much to put my mind at rest, as yours.

Frugalwoods say that they own a large detached homestead with land in excess of 20 acres The only equivalent I could see here in the UK is buying a VERY large country property or ex-farm, with a lot of land. I’ll plump for the farm option, as they state they have outbuildings (from their photos it is a very large barn, the size of 2-3 massive houses here in the UK), as well as woods and more. From their photos, I would estimate the main residence to be twice the size of a large UK house, although that is not unusual by US-standards. Actually here is their run down:

Frugalwoods Homestead Specs:

  • 66 acres of primarily wooded land in central Vermont, 35 minutes from Hanover, New Hampshire (where Dartmouth College and every attribute of the ‘big city’ are located)
  • A 4 bed, 2.5 bath, 2,300 square foot house, built in 1991, with two woodstoves
  • An 1,800 square foot barn/shop with a woodstove
  • One pond
  • Many streams
  • Countless apple trees, several plum trees, and a forest of sugar maples
  • Two acres of cleared “yard” with extensive garden beds

They paid $389,000 for their homestead which equates to £300,000. So now you start to see how these US financial independence blogs are laughable here in the UK. I mean, no-one but a multi-millionaire would own a piece of property that large over here! And you’d be lucky to get a normal 3-bedroom, semi-detached house where I live, on a tiny plot of land. I doubt that would even buy you a studio flat in London. They would have put around £97,000 down as a deposit.

They also have a rental property in a US City, which they paid $466,500 for and that equates to approx £360,000. They only put a £50,000 deposit down on it. So, now we’re looking at that owning around £660,000 of property but none of it is full paid for. They have 30-year mortgages (the norm is 25 years here in the UK). They are in their mid-thirties, so they’re looking at carrying that debt until they are 75. I wouldn’t want that noose around my neck until well into retirement!

You can read the reality is then that they worked solidly from University to their mid-thirties to be able to put £147,000 cash on houses. I’m not knocking that, but I expect most people in the UK would be able to sock that away as a deposit too, if they had the luxury of a well-paid job. 20 years of  2 people working full-time and saving 65% of their income, means they were only saving £7,350 a year. That’s as little as £3,675 per person. Undoubtedly achievable here, if not more- it’s just that you would never be able to buy a home or retire on that here!

The truth is that both of these properties still belong to the bank and they’re only a few years into the mortgages on each. If anything happened to prevent them from keeping up payments, they could lose both in a very short period. For example, if they couldn’t get tenants for their city house – one wonders if they would be able to cover the mortgage? They also only keep around 6 months worth of liquid cash which is a very small amount. The rest of their ‘net worth’ they have ploughed into stocks and shares. Whilst it is all very nice to base your ‘net worth’ on what the current selling price of the shares is, it’s all pie in the sky really. In 10 years the value of what they have put away could halve or worse. They are basing their ‘net worth’ on a projected rate of return of 7%, but the reality again is that if anything happened to the stock market (which I think is very likely given the volatility of world markets lately) they could lose a significant proportion of their money or the whole lot! They won’t even have the properties they live in to sell because they don’t own them. I bet you would then find they have stopped blogging and had to go back to work. Probably renting somewhere and lamenting their former choices, except they wouldn’t blog about that!

In actual fact, I think they are quite dangerous examples of how to live. Unless you like an extreme level of risk. I wrote this because I don’t want UK people to compare themselves to some unrealistic ideal. Unless you are planning to move to America, then you’d better expect to be working the rest of your life to pay off a small piece of modest UK property. I don’t think anyone lives under the illusion of early retirement here anymore! The best you used to hope for was retiring at 50, but certainly not 35!!!! You are better to pay off your mortgage before making too many other investments so that at least you have something solid that you own. I think it’s safer to pay into a pension, than invest all your money into stocks and shares.

More received wisdom

I spent some time at my parents house today, the frugal things they do as a way of life immediately caught my eye! It’s been a long time since I lived with them, there are things even I’ve forgotten!

  1. Save old cereal packets (the inner plastic bags) or bread bags (if you are still using either of these). They can be used to clean out pet litter, gather fruit from the garden and lots more! My mum uses them for pet litter and instead of throwing away a half full bag, she pops it outside the back door (where the smell can dissipate) and keeps filling until it is really full, before throwing away.
  2. Save all the envelopes that come through your front door. If you open them carefully with a letter opener, they can often be easily re-sealed or sealed with sticky tape. This method is fine for anything unofficial that doesn’t need to look really smart. Let’s face it, they will unfortunately probably be thrown away without re-use at the other end. In offices I have worked in, they have special envelopes with multiple areas marked out for the destination. Admittedly these have mostly been used for internal posting, but I am sure a sticky label over the old address could be just as effective for external mail.
  3. Alternatively, both my parents and an old workplace saved envelopes for writing lists and notes on. You could even push them onto an old spike (like the kind they have in restaurants for receipts/ orders) for safekeeping.
  4. My mum saves reasonable length pieces of thread either by threading a needle or putting them in the front of her needle case (she has a book style needle case). That way she often has a ready-cut piece, in the right colour for quick mending jobs when only a short piece is required.
  5. Here’s one I learnt from my plumber- keep old sheets, table cloths and curtains to protect your flooring when decorating or doing other messy household tasks. He found people very willing to donate them! My parents also taught me to keep large pieces of plastic or cardboard- say if you have a sofa or mattress delivered. These can be re-purposed the same way.

Look out for more tips coming soon!