My month in money #12

What I’ve actually done this month to be clever with my cash.

There are a couple of thoughts behind this feature. Often there are small things I’m doing that don’t warrant a whole article so this can bring them together! Plus, it’s a great way to show that I “walk the walk” and really do follow my own advice!

So here are the key money matters from my own life in December 2022.

Smart Meter shock

I’ve had a smart meter for years, but never really bothered with the display unit. A few months ago though an upgraded one was sent through and I’ve had it plugged in with the intention to do a video and/or article about whether they save you money. And it’s sat there ignored as other content priorities push in front.

Until last week. With it hard to avoid putting the heating on during the recent cold snaps, I thought I’d see exactly what my daily usage is. It varies and has been as low as £5. But on the coldest day (when we possibly had the heating on from early to late) it reached £20!

With a week of the month still to go at the time of writing this, there’s a chance the gas alone will reach £400, and electricity around £100.

I’ve been writing about the energy crisis for over a year now. I know the price hikes have been huge. I know people are genuinely choosing between heating and eating. But seeing the actual price for my use has been sobering.

We’re good with energy use, as far as we can in our 1890s house, with the thermostat at 19 degrees, doors and curtains shut, and wearing plenty of jumpers and using blankets before resorting to heating, so though I expected a big hike, this was so much more.

If as a result of seeing the real time charges you can reduce your usage, you could argue that a smart meter display (rather than the meter itself) does save you cash.

My worry is that for many people all this data will do is worry them even more, and potentially make them ill by living in a freezing house.

New phone means logging back into all banking apps

I’ve just got a new phone, and one aspect of setting it up that I don’t look forward to is having to reauthenticate all the banking apps. And we’re not talking about one or two. At my last count I’ve around 20 current account, savings or credit card apps (don’t worry, you don’t need so many).

The good news is, things have improved a lot since I last upgraded, and many settings were transferred across as part of the set up – but they all required me to either log in, confirm a code, scan a passport or record a video selfie.

What really helped was having all my passwords, usernames and other details stored in a password manager app called Bitwarden!

I thought it would be handy to note down how long it took me to do this, from fastest to slowest (not including needing to reactivate biometrics, but that was seconds on all apps).

  • Curve – Face ID still worked so instant
  • Chip – The same as with Curve
  • Santander – I needed to use my app PIN rather than face ID, but that was all
  • American Express – No Face ID, but password and log-in were all that were needed
  • TSB – Pretty quick, I just needed my memorable info
  • Wise – Though I had to twice confirm different SMS codes, it took me less than a minute
  • Barclays – The only app which has allowed me to generate a code from the still active app on my old phone. If I’d already wiped that it would have taken much longer
  • Nationwide – I needed my customer number and passwords but less than a minute to access my accounts
  • Halifax – A little longer, perhaps two minutes, as I needed all my login details plus had to confirm a code over the phone
  • Lloyds – The exact same process and time as Halifax
  • Monese – It took two minutes. First, an email link was sent through (which arrived instantly) and then I had to record a video selfie which as immediately confirmed
  • Chase – I had to scan my passport and wait for confirmation of review which took about 3 minutes
  • Monzo – The email link was sent to my spam folder, but once I’d clicked it and recorded a video selfie I was in within a few minutes
  • First Direct – logging in was instant, but to register my device as the “secure key” took about five minutes with codes sent via email
  • Virgin Media – This took me five minutes too, mainly because it asked for a customer number I had no record of. I also needed to reset the PIN
  • Starling – A real shocker was Starling. Initially it was super fast. Perhaps 30 seconds to sign in and record a video selfie. But it took 20 minutes for that confirmation to come through and give me access.

Credit rejections didn’t show on my reports

You may remember a few months ago I shared how I’d been rejected by TSB for a new current account, and soon after I also had a rejection from O2. All very weird since I have a great credit score.

I was obviously worried about what this would mean for other applications, and held off going for the Co-operative Bank current account to get the £125 switch money.

But even weirder than getting rejected was the fact no hard searches appeared on my credit report! I waited a while to be sure as the free reports can sometimes be up to a month behind. And nothing. Not even a soft search.

Of course, as I often share here on the blog and in my videos, applications aren’t wholly based on your credit report. They will make decisions based on what you put in your application and what info they already have about you. And I think that’s what happened here.

But what’s really interesting is they rejected me before the credit check, which is actually really forward thinking. I got in touch with a contact at Experian to find out more about this, and sadly there’s no way to know when this might happen!

The good news is that there was no damage to my credit score by these rejections, and in fact I got my new O2 contract last week, along with the Co-operative account just before the refer-a-friend deal ended.

No cashback on a new car

If you read my month in money diary for November you’ll know that we’ve had some pricey car trouble recently, and we decided to cut our losses and get a new motor.

I’ve been asked before about the best way to pay for a car, and whether it’s possible to get cashback. Well I can’t speak for all dealerships, but the ones we went to allowed me to put the deposit on a card (some said no to Amex).

Sadly, they then capped further credit card payments at £5,000, so we opted for a bank transfer for the rest of our upfront payment.

I nearly sent the money without checking the payment details (which were sent to us via email), but fortunately Starling’s prompts were enough for me to call the dealership directly to confirm the communications hadn’t been intercepted.

We also got five days free insurance, while our existing insurer charged us just £5 to switch cars for the last month of our existing policy. This means we’ve time to get a quote and shop around for the full year’s cover – handy when prices tend to be cheapest a few weeks before the start date, but priciest in the day or two before.

Vouchers come through from our hotel bookings

I normally use cashback sites when booking holidays, but for our trip in September and October I actually used a few higher paying offers. These were via Metro for (and I shared them at the time in my weekly newsletter), and I was due three vouchers, worth £30, £40 and £70 respectively.

I was anxious about how well they’d track, but two vouchers arrived via email this week. The downside is they’re for Amazon. Long-term readers will know I generally avoid spending money there, but I might be able to use the credit to buy other gift cards as a partial fudge!

Hopefully the other one will come along soon as that was for a later booking! If they do all come it’ll be the equivalent of 15% – beating the 4% I’d have got from cashback.

And the rest…

I can’t remember everything but a few extras in brief…

  • A non-cancellable hotel break in Edinburgh (we couldn’t go as we were unwell) proved to be partially refundable by calling up the chain (Hotel Du Vin) and getting a gift card minus a £30 admin fee. Better to lose that than £210.
  • The same illness limited my chances to take advantage of Amex Shop Small, but we had a few nice meals out
  • We also used up our Harvey Nichols and dining credit offers on the Amex Platinum before the year ended (and we’ll use them again in January before cancelling the card to avoid paying more of the fee)
  • By ditching Three for O2 I’ve now lost access to Three+ rewards. Not that there was anything I ever actually used there. If I did really want it back I could always try this hack which hopefully still works.

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