My month in money #17: Cashback issues, energy bill credit, Ocado bags & more

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 May 2023

In the pic: Enjoying a walk in the Yorkshire Dales

Cashback rejection

I’ve always been a huge advocate of cashback sites. They’re a great way to make money with very little effort from your everyday spending (especially if you’re a new user). But I’ve had a few disappointments recently that are worth sharing with you.

First was a £25 bonus for an £80 supermarket order. The way food prices are it’s not hard to hit the threshold, and the £25 is a big savings. The problem was Ocado didn’t have everything I wanted. So the final charge ended up being less than £80. Which meant no bonus cashback!

But worse – and something I’d not experienced before – was a cashback rejection because I returned some of the items I’d ordered. Whenever I buy clothes online (which isn’t often), I’ll get multiple sizes, and often multiple styles, knowing I’ll send some, if not most, of them back.

When I’ve shopped at other retailers and done this, the cashback due has been reduced to reflect what I actually spent. But this time JD Sport declined the amount for the whole order.

I appealed to Quidco and was told this wasn’t an error, as retailers have the right to reject claims on amended orders. Frustratingly it appears this could happen with any order, and it’s down to each retailer what they do and don’t allow.

I spoke to the PR teams at both Quidco and TopCashback. The latter said it might be possible to see individual policies in the terms and conditions for each business within the cashback sites, and if not to check with customer service. But that’s an extra bit of friction which gets in the way of what should be a simple way to save.

And it’s another way cashback could fail, along with tracking problems. It certainly sours my view of cashback sites, at least for buying clothes. I’m not saying don’t use cashback – I’m still a fan. But my advice is to always use a voucher code if it’s available in the first instance as that is a guaranteed saving.

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Checking my energy bill credit

Now we’re entering summer, the warmer temperatures and longer days mean I’ll be using less gas and electricity at home. And that means our energy bills will fall.

However, it doesn’t mean our direct debit payments itself will reduce (although the energy price cap cut in July should see this happen). That’s because bills are averaged out to spread the total annual cost over 12 months into more manageable amounts.

So for the last month or so, I’ve paid roughly the right amount, if not too much. And now over the summer, I’ll pay more to build up credit for expensive winter months. Theoretically, it means May is when I’d expect the credit in your account to be close to zero. At most enough to cover just one month of bills.

Of course, direct debits are based on estimated use a year in advance. And it might be that they aren’t accurate for actual usage. If they’re not right, this can go one of two ways: you’ve either overpaid or you’ve underpaid for the last year.

And if it’s the former, there could be a load of credit sitting on your account. So, I thought I’d check my account – and there’s a massive £374 credit there. Far more than I need right now.

If you are in credit you can request a refund. My firm, Octopus, has the option to do this in the online account, though it may impose a limit – for me that was £317. Your company might require you to phone up.

The flip side is if the direct debits were too low, you’ll have underpaid instead and find you’re in debt right now. Expect your energy company to get in touch to inform you if they’re going to hike it up to cover both the debt and future bills. If it’s too large and you think you’ll struggle with adjusted and larger direct debits then do talk to your provider to see what can be worked out.

Adjusting energy direct debit

While you’re doing this, it’s worth thinking now about whether you need to change your direct debit ahead of the July price cap cut, especially if like me your direct debits have been too high.

I’m paying £250 a month right now. If I reduce it, based both on my actual usage and the price cap change, it should drop to around £200. Again, for me, it’s easy to change this in my online account. Other suppliers might require you to call up.

However – doing this will actually lose me money. I earn 2% cashback up to £5 a month from the Santander 123 Lite account. So my current direct debit ensures I get the full amount. Dropping the direct debit by £50 a month (so £600 a year), would lose me £12 each year.

That’s not a huge amount, but I’m going to keep paying the full £250, knowing I can easily request a refund for any credit at a later point. I’ve made a note to request a credit refund again in a couple of months, to see how much I’m able to withdraw – though of course I’ll still need to build up credit for winter.

No joy from Premium Bonds… yet

Though the prize rate isn’t amazing compared to easy access accounts (3.3% vs 3.82%), I’ve recently moved some money back to Premium Bonds.

This is because I’m going to surpass my Personal Savings Allowance this year, which means I’ll get taxed on any interest I earn over £500.

So if I do get close to the 3.3% rate in these tax-free Premium Bond prizes (that’s not guaranteed), it’s actually the equivalent of interest from a 5.5% paying account before 40% tax is deducted. Despite recent increases elsewhere, that’s not something you can beat on lump sum savings (though it is getting closer).

All the Premium Bond rate increases this year mean there’s a better chance of winning a bigger prize than when I last had them. Back then the most common prize was £25. Now it’s £50 or £75.

Having added money at the end of March, the May draw was the first one I was eligible for. I was excited to see what I might get.

So how did I do? Was it £1m? Or even just the lowest prize of £25? Well, you probably guessed it, I won nothing!

To be fair, this is to be expected. Most bonds won’t win anything, and in fact, I only won in six out of 12 months last time around. But it was still a disappointment.

Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t win. My wife did win £125 though (it took a week for the money to reach her current account), and my friend got a huge £650!

So maybe next time. I’ll keep you updated in these monthly update blogs.

Oh, and at the time of publishing this article, there are still a few days left in May to add money to Premium Bonds so they’re eligible for the July draw.

Incidentally, the NS&I website is a nightmare for logging in! It takes multiple attempts to get into my account, and the same to actually do anything. The website says they’re aware of issues with Chrome on iOS, but my issues have been on desktop. Let me know if you have the same experiences.

Ocado bag return

Years ago, when the plastic bag charge was introduced, I realised I had well over 50 bags that had built up. Since then I’ve mainly been using canvas tote bags and very, very rarely buy the reusable bags at the checkout.

The exception is Ocado, who deliver groceries in bags at 10p each. I don’t use the online supermarket a lot, but somehow I’d amassed 90 bags in the last year! That’s £9 of wasted cash just sitting behind my kitchen door.

Fortunately, Ocado will buy back their own brand bags, so this time I was ready! I bagged up all the bags and had them by the door ready to handover when the delivery arrived. The £9 was knocked off our bill the same day. Though I’ve got another four bags now that I’ll need to return next time.

Back on PAYE

A quick one, but after 5 years fully self employed I’m now back on PAYE, following my joining up with Smart Money People.

This means I’m getting a regular salary again, rather than the ad hoc way I paid myself before.

That actually makes budgeting and transfers a lot easier as I have a set day for money to hit my account, which can then shoot off to the different bills, regular savers and current accounts that require funding.

The downside is my personal savings allowance will drop to £500.

And the rest…

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

  • Last month I shared a customer service issue with Starling regarding how they manage fraud checks on transfers. Since then I’ve had my complaint upheld and been transferred £75 in compensation
  • I used Lotto and Love Your Local Theatre credit, along with the now defunct O2 Priority 50% discount on Theatre Tokens to get two £150 tickets to Hamilton for the equivalent of £57 each (still pricey!)
  • My NUS/Totum card doesn’t get much use nowadays, but on trips to London I saved 10 to 15% at lunches at Leon, Chilango and Itsu
  • Don’t forget you can book train tickets in advance, even sometimes on the day you travel! We saved £10 on a last-minute day trip from London to Brighton – booking at 11.30pm the night before. We saved another £10 thanks to our Two Together railcard

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One thought on “My month in money #17: Cashback issues, energy bill credit, Ocado bags & more

  1. Instead of overpaying your electric/gas bills. Pay for just what you use by VARIABLE DIRECT DEBIT.
    He your own “smart meter”. My usual electric bill is less than £39pm.


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