Tuesday 7 November 2017

20 Ways to Cut the Cost of Christmas

Although the shops were gradually reminding us that Christmas was on its way back in August, if you’re anything like me, you’ll only really be starting to think about it now that Halloween and Bonfire Night are over. 

Christmas can be such an expensive time but there are lots of ways you can cut the cost:

  1. Write a list of the people you need to buy presents for, set a budget and jot down some ideas.  If your list involves children, make a few calls to see what they are into at the moment.  Buy a few things each week to spread the cost.  The earlier you start the better!

  1. Extended families could organise a secret Santa type present buying rule.  Every family member buys a present for one another (drawn from a hat or by using an online generator such as www.secretsantaelf.co.uk).  Set a limit per person and stick to it. 

  1. Agree to only buy presents for the children in your extended family.

  1. Consider making some homemade gifts.  I love pinterest.com for this kind of thing – it’s full of inspiration.  Festive jars of jam or chutneys.  Some home baked biscuits wrapped in Christmas colours.  Homemade bath salts.  There are so many easy to follow “how to” guides out there, you don’t have to be a craft expert.

  1. Offer vouchers for your time instead of presents (these are great for the kids to do too!).  Here are some examples:
An evening babysitting
A day tidying the garden
An evening meal (cooking and serving)
Dog walking
Car Washing

  1. How about creating some word art?  Sites such as www.wordle.net will gather meaningful (or just plain random!) words together and create a picture for you for free.  Print it out, stick it in a frame and voila - a lovely and unique present!

  1. Make decorations with the kids.  Old favourites like paper chains, paper snowflakes and stain glass windows (black card with shapes cut out and tissue paper stuck over) are simple and fun.  Again, check out pinterest.com for some more adventurous ideas!

  1. Look out for the sales leading up to Christmas.  Sign up to the Money Saving Expert’s weekly email and you’ll often get advance notice of these.  

  1. Use loyalty points towards the costs of gifts. 
Tesco Clubcard vouchers can be exchanged for magazine subscriptions, days out and lots of restaurant deals.

Nectar Card points can be used at a variety of different places.

Boots’ Advantage card is great for treating others (or yourself!)

  1. Compare prices before you buy any presents and find the best deals.    Use sites such as www.kelkoo.co.uk and www.megashopbot.com

  1. Search for discount codes when shopping online.  www.vouchercodes.co.uk and www.myvouchercodes.co.uk are popular.

  1. Sign up to cashback sites such as www.topcashback.co.uk and www.quidco.com and buy through them for all your online shopping.

  1. Ebay is always a great place for a spot of Christmas shopping and finding some bargains. 

  1. Local Christmas Fayres are brilliant for finding local handmade and unique gifts and it's great to support small independent businesses - you’ll be helping the local economy too!

  1. Make a list of all the Christmas food essential and start stocking up on the non-perishables now to spread the cost over the coming weeks.  Think about what you can make yourself and look out for festive favourites that are reduced that you can freeze for the big day (like nice stuffing, pigs in blankets or joints of meat).
    I love the Feed Your Family for £20 Facebook Page and website. They have some fantastic Christmas food tips here:  www.facebook.com/fyf20quid/

  1. Consider donating to charity rather than sending Christmas cards.  I’ve done this for several years now.  I don’t send cards to my friends who are on Facebook, I just post a festive message on Christmas Eve and add a fun video (see below) or festive photo.

  1. Have a toy clear out to make room for the new things Santa will bring!  Sell your unwanted items on local Facebook selling pages or in the local paper for free and make a few extra pennies to go in the Christmas pot.

  1. Enter competitions to try and win some Christmas presents!  Money Saving Expert has a great guide to comping. 

  1. Write your Christmas cards before the last second post date of 20th December and use second class stamps to post them.
    For a full list of last posting dates visit: 

  1. Some free Christmas fun:
Personalised video from Santa: www.portablenorthpole.com/home

Elf Yourself – fun personalised Christmas greetings: www.jibjab.com/holidays

There are some ideas for you.  
What are your top tips for cutting the cost of Christmas? 

Thursday 3 August 2017

Teacher Tax Rebates

Summer holidays – a time for Teachers to take a break and finally get around to doing all those little jobs that they just can’t fit in during term time.  Like, for example, claiming a tax rebate from HMRC on your fees and subscriptions or for sports clothing for PE.

Many Teachers are not aware that such refunds are due to them.  There are many companies who will charge you a fee and percentage to take care of this for you (please double check the Terms and Conditions if you want to use one - they could keep much more than you had bargained for) but applying for your own refund for the price of a stamp is perfectly possible!

If you can answer yes to these questions, you could be due a tax rebate:  

  1.  Have you paid union fees or fees to a professional body (including the GTC) in the last 4 years? Please check against the list of the qualifying bodies here:    www.hmrc.gov.uk/list3/index.htm
  2. Does your work require you to wear specific items of clothing for which you are required to wash and maintain such as:
·         Sports clothes for the teaching or supervising of P.E.
·         Laboratory Coat
·         Protective Clothing
·         A uniform with your Employer’s logo 

      How do I Claim?
      Claims can be made going back 4 years and you may also be entitled to an increase in your personal tax allowance for the current tax year so that you pay less tax.  I have put together a letter template which you can add your own details to.  Please complete as instructed, pop it in the post to HMRC and await a reply (hopefully with a cheque!).  
      All it will cost you is the stamp and any money you receive is all yours to keep! 

If only the clothing aspect applies to you, please see: 

      What Next?
      Please be patient.  HMRC can take up to 3 months to process the rebates.  If you have not heard anything from them after that time, you can contact them on the Employee Helpline number: 0300 200 3300

       If you do send a letter off, please do let me know how you get on by leaving a  comment below.  Good luck!

© Pennies 4 Parents July 2015

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Statutory Maternity Pay 2017 - 2018

To help you take time off work with your baby, if you are an employee, you may be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) which is a payment from the government and is paid to you via your employer. 

(You may also be lucky enough to have this enhanced by a company maternity pay scheme).

Do I qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?
To qualify for SMP you must meet the following criteria:

Have been in your current employment continuously for at least 26 weeks prior to the 15th week before the week your baby is due (the Qualifying Week). In plain terms, you should have started the job before you fell pregnant and still be in the same employment at approximately week 26 of your pregnancy. 
If you are made redundant or resign from your job after the qualifying week but before your maternity leave was due to start, your employer will still be obliged to pay your maternity pay if you are eligible.

You must be earning on average an amount which at least equals the Lower Earnings Limit (LEL). The LEL for 2017/2018 is £113 per week or £490 per month.
This must be the case on the Saturday at the end of your qualifying week.

You must give your employer evidence that you are pregnant. This is the form MATB1 that you will receive from your midwife around week 21 of your pregnancy.

You must give your employer notice of your intention to take maternity leave in writing on or before the qualifying week (ie by week 26 of your pregnancy.) 
For help working out your qualifying dates and weeks, visit:    

How is SMP calculated?
SMP is calculated over an average of 8 week’s (if you are paid weekly) or 2 month’s (if you are paid monthly) worth of gross earnings before the Saturday at the end of your qualifying week. 
The more eligible pay you receive during these periods, the more SMP you will receive for the first 6 weeks of your payments. 

The payments used must be eligible for national insurance deductions.
Examples of these are:
Salary or basic pay/hours
Bonus payments
Sick pay
Holiday pay

If you are paid monthly, the 2 payments are multiplied by 6 to give an annual average.
This is then divided by 52 to find an average weekly amount.
If you are paid weekly, an average of the 8 weeks is used to find the average weekly amount.

How much SMP will I get?
SMP is paid as follows:
6 weeks at 90% of the average weekly amount
followed by 33 weeks at the statutory amount
(for the 2017/2018 tax year this is £140.98 per week)

39 weeks at 90% of your average weekly amount if your average weekly amount is less than £140.98

Some companies offer additional occupational maternity pay, so please check your contract and speak to your HR Department.

(SMP is subject to tax and national insurance.)

NB    If you are due a pay rise while you are on your maternity leave, your average weekly amount will need to be re-calculated to include it.

Workplace Pension
If you are in a workplace pension scheme, your Employer must continue their pension contributions at their normal rate for the period you are receiving Statutory Maternity Pay.  Your contributions will reduce based on the amount of SMP you receive. Please remember, if you opt out of the pension scheme at this time, your Employer will stop contributing to the scheme too.

Holiday Entitlement
Your holiday entitlement continues to accrue as if you were at work while you are on Maternity Leave.  This is worth remembering should you wish to stagger your return to work or go back on reduced hours.  If your holiday is in credit before you take your Maternity Leave, you could request to take the holiday accrued to date before your Maternity Leave starts.

Keeping in Touch (K.I.T.) Days
You are allowed 10 K.I.T. Days during your maternity pay period (while you receive your SMP).  These are days when you can go into work to stay in touch with what’s going on or for training.  It could just be for half an hour or a full day.
You are not usually paid extra for these days, but you do not lose any of your SMP for that week.  (Some employers may offer additional payment on top of the week’s SMP so please check your contract.)
Don’t exceed the 10 days though as you will lose the whole week’s worth of SMP, and don’t do a K.I.T. day in the same week (seven day period) as you go back to work as you will also lose the SMP for that week.

It is important to be aware of all of your Employee rights when you are on Maternity Leave.  There is a useful guide here: 

I don’t qualify for SMP – what can I do?
If you do not qualify for SMP from your employer or you are self-employed, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance which is paid to you directly by the government. 
For more information visit: www.gov.uk/maternity-allowance or see our post "Help! I don't qualify for SMP"

For further help and information, I recommend the following websites:

If you have a question, please do leave a comment or contact me via email if it is of a more 
personal nature.

Contact Pennies 4 Parents

© Pennies 4 Parents November 2017