November 2023

12 Tips to Help Enjoy a Luxury Christmas for Less

Christmas may be just around the corner, but if it’s looking like a strain on the budget then we’ve got a range of useful money-saving tips to help you enjoy the Christmas you love, for even less.

1. Plan before you spend

Making a budget will not only help you to limit your spending, but knowing what exactly you need and how much it will cost can help to reduce your financial anxiety. Especially as many things are more expensive than they were this time last year, it’s worth taking this into account when planning your spending. Set aside how much for gifts, food, drink, leisure, and entertainment, as well as the usual monthly household costs.

2. Keep track of your spending

Once you’ve set a budget, keeping track of your spending means you’re less likely to bust the budget. Whether it’s by using a notebook, an app on your phone or an excel spreadsheet on your laptop, choose a system that works for you. If your bank offers you alerts for when your current account dips below a set amount, opt in.

3. Do ‘family gifts’ or a Secret Santa

If you’ve got a lot of people to buy for, such as extended family and friend groups, suggesting a Secret Santa is a great way to keep costs down. Similarly, buying a ‘family gift’, such as a large box of chocs, tin of biscuits or sweets or a board game, can be a great way to gift to a group rather than buying individual presents.

4. Consider buying secondhand

Buying someone a secondhand present used to be a bit of a no-no, but all that’s changed with a renewed focus on protecting the environment and reducing waste. Shopping secondhand is more sustainable and frugal, and you can find some treasures. If you want to shop for secondhand items online, eBay for Charity is partnered with lots of secondhand charity stores, including British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research and Oxfam.

5. Avoid ‘buy now, pay later’

Tempting as these schemes are, try to avoid them unless you have a plan in place for repaying the loan within the interest-free period. Otherwise, after the 0% phase ends, you’ll be charged an aggressive interest rate and that new sofa, outfit or TV could end up costing you far more. It could have a negative impact on your credit score if you default on payments.

6. Be smart about delivery

Paying supermarket delivery fees can really add up. A delivery pass, where you pay an upfront fee for deliveries from your favourite supermarket, may work out cheaper. Depending on your basket size and frequency of shop, they can save you time and money. If you’re buying a lot from Amazon, it’s probably worth signing up for your 30 day trial of Amazon Prime to get free shipping — just remember to cancel before the 30 days are up.

7. Don’t lose your head over sales

Christmas sales and discounts are great, but they are only a bargain if you were going to buy the product anyway! Keep a clear head and try to resist impulse buys to save the most this Christmas – and one tip you can do is check online for websites that track prices of key products throughout the year so you can see if you’re getting a real bargain or not.

8. Find the cheapest way to send a parcel

If you’re posting presents this year, do your research to find the most cost-effective option. For example, sending a parcel via the Royal Mail at a post office may be more expensive than using their online Royal Mail Click & Drop service. Similarly, look at other delivery specialists and see how you can make a range of savings just by using a different service.

9. Travel home for less

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of getting anywhere this Christmas or the New Year, whether you are visiting family, travelling to shop or attend events.

If you’re going by train, get organised and book ahead to try and save money compared to the price of a walk-on fare bought on the day itself. Similarly, look at altering the times of your journey to save money, with off peak tickets generally being far cheaper than those at peak commuting times. Look at the National Rail website www.nationalrail.co.uk to see how much you could save.

If you’re travelling by car – the cost of fuel at motorway service stations is often considerably more than in locations away from the motorway network, so by planning your journey ahead you can often save yourself a good few pounds in the process. The same goes for electric cars – with variable charging rates across the country, time spent doing the homework beforehand can be most valuable.

10. Use cashback sites

With sites such as Quidco or TopCashback, you can earn money as you shop. Once you’ve set up an account, click on the retailer you want to buy from. You’ll be taken to the retailer’s website to shop as usual but your purchase is tracked and you will earn a percentage of it back. The amount of cashback you earn varies per retailer and transaction, but it can soon add up to a sizeable amount.

11. Join the club

Signing up to a retailer’s newsletter can bag you immediate discounts, such as 10% off your next purchase or free shipping offers – it’s always worthwhile seeing what you can get by joining the loyalty programmes. It’ll also mean that you’re first to hear about Christmas discount events and can sometimes access promotional offers before those who aren’t members of the loyalty programme.

12. Deploy trolley tactics

Load up your online trolley but don’t check out immediately. If stores spot items sitting in your basket, they’ll ask if you forgot to check out and may send you a discount code to persuade you to buy the goods. You’ll need to have entered your email address, so that they can get in touch.

Remortgages: Don’t Just Settle for Your Lender’s Offer

2024 is set to be a busy time for many homeowners, with the initial fixed term periods on mortgages expiring for a lot of clients across the market1, leading to some big decisions being required on remortgaging options.

What happens when your initial mortgage period expires?

Your initial fixed-term period will often expire after two years or five years, depending upon the specific deal, and after this, you’ll be put onto your mortgage lender’s Standard Variable Rate (SVR)2.

As you may be aware, the interest rates on the SVR may be higher than those that you can obtain with a fixed-rate deal2, so it’s always worthwhile taking action ahead of your fixed-term period expiring, to ensure that you’re not paying more than you need to, and that you’ve got a mortgage deal that fits your exact circumstances.

With interest rates having risen considerably in recent times, it’s also highly likely that the mortgage deals you will come across may be significantly higher than your existing deal, so there’s a lot at stake to ensure that you’re getting a fair rate when it comes to your renewal.

Remortgage or Product Transfer?

How does it all work? Ahead of your mortgage’s fixed-term period coming to an end, we’ll get in touch with you to discuss the options available to you, but to summarise, there is often a choice between a full remortgage, or a product transfer.

A product transfer is simply switching from one mortgage product to another, at your same lender. This is often a straightforward process and allows you to take advantage of some of the fixed-rate deals available from your existing lender, to prevent you going onto the Standard Variable Rate.

However, in some cases, there may be other deals available from other lenders in the market that are more suited to your current circumstances, and to access these would require a remortgage.

The remortgage process take longer, and is similar to that of when you first applied for a mortgage3. There would be evidence required of your earnings and property valuations undertaken, with more chance of fees payable to lenders, however, some may find that this inconvenience is offset through accessing deals that could possibly save more money and be of greater fit to your ever-changing circumstances.

How to know what’s most appropriate for you

It’s not always easy to know what’s right for you and your circumstances, so that’s where the value of professional mortgage advice comes in. We’re here to listen to your exact situation and to recommend the products that we believe are the most appropriate for you based upon looking at a wide range of lenders and exclusive deals that aren’t available on the high street.

It’s highly likely that your own lender will also reach out to you with offers of product transfers, however we would always recommend that you seek our experienced, professional advice before taking up any offers to ensure that these work in your interest as well as theirs. We’re more than happy to arrange both product transfers and remortgages, but pride ourselves in listening to your exact situation before giving bespoke advice that’s tailored to you.

Think carefully before securing other debts against your home. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on a mortgage or other debt secured on it.

Sources

  1. Statista (2023) Fixed rate mortgage loans coming up for renewal in the UK from 1st quarter 2022 to 3rd quarter 2024. Available at:  https://www.statista.com/statistics/1399875/fixed-mortgages-for-renewal-by-interest-rate-uk/ (Accessed 21 November 2023)
  2. MoneySuperMarket (2023) What is a Standard Variable Rate mortgage?. Available at: https://www.moneysupermarket.com/mortgages/standard-variable-rate-mortgages/ (Accessed 21 November 2023)
  3. Experian (2023) Remortgaging. Available at: https://www.experian.co.uk/consumer/mortgages/types/remortgage.html (Accessed 21 November 2023)

All the information in this article is correct as of the publish date 30th November 2023. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. The information provided in this article, including text, graphics and images does not, and is not intended to, substitute advice; instead, all information, content and materials available in this article are for general informational purposes only. Information in this article may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.

Preparing Your Home for Winter Weather

As winter approaches, it’s crucial to ensure your home is ready to withstand the colder months. We’ve put together a checklist of key things you can do to help protect your property from winter-related damage, and keep your insurance valid.

1. Garden and Exterior Preparation

  • Secure loose garden items and trim trees to prevent damage from storms.
  • Inspect roof tiles, fences, outbuildings, bricks, and mortar for potential issues.
  • Clean gutters to prevent blockages and water damage.
  • Check aerials, satellite dishes, and solar panels for stability.

2. Emergency Readiness

  • Assemble an emergency kit containing important documents, a torch, spare batteries, and a first aid kit.
  • Regularly check your boiler and consider adding Home Emergency cover to your home insurance for extra protection.

3. Insulation and Heating Efficiency

  • Properly insulate your attic, walls, and water tank to save energy and prevent heat loss.
  • Use draught excluders for windows and doors and lag your pipes.
  • Upgrade to a smart thermostat for more efficient heating.
  • Bleed radiators to improve efficiency and avoid frozen pipes.

4. Frozen Pipe Prevention

  • Locate and know how to use your stop valve.
  • Insulate pipes and fix any drips or leaks to reduce the risk of freezing.
  • If you’re going away, drain systems during winter to prevent freezing.
  • Insulate water supply pipes, especially in lofts or exterior walls.

5. Dealing with Frozen or Burst Pipes

  • If boiler pipes freeze, use a hot water bottle or warm water to defrost the condensate pipe.
  • Turn off the water and central heating if pipes burst, and drain the system to prevent further damage.
  • Thaw frozen sections gently, and turn off electricity if electrical sockets are affected.

6. Insurance Considerations

  • Check if your buildings insurance includes trace and access cover for locating and repairing leaks.
  • Review your home insurance documents to understand coverage and policy excess.
  • Report any incidents promptly and provide all necessary details during the claim process.    

7. Additional Home Maintenance Tips

  • Inspect your roof for loose or damaged tiles, especially after summer.
  • Clear gutters and downpipes regularly to avoid water ingress.
  • Address trip hazards in outdoor areas like driveways and garden paths.
  • Secure garden furniture and trim tree branches prone to storm damage.
  • Ensure your central heating system is serviced annually, preferably before winter.

Conclusion

Taking these steps can significantly reduce the risk of winter-related damage to your home, ensuring a safer and more comfortable season. Additionally, maintaining your property can help keep your home insurance valid and avoid unexpected costs. Remember, prevention is key, and a little preparation goes a long way in safeguarding your home against the challenges of winter weather.

Selling a Home with a Help-to-Buy Equity Loan

Launched back in 2013, the Government’s ‘Help-to-Buy’ scheme was designed to help first time buyers get onto the property ladder, through offering an equity loan for up to 20% of a property’s value, interest-free for the first five years1.

But a decade on, what happens if you are looking to sell a home and have a Help-to-Buy equity loan outstanding?

This format of Help-to-Buy (HTB) scheme has now ended but offered buyers in the UK to purchase a property with a deposit of as little as 5%, and a mortgage for the remaining 75%, topped up by the Government’s 20% equity loan (or 40% in London)1.

The only catch is that the interest-free period stopped after five years, and with the main condition that when the homeowner comes to sell, 20% of the property’s value today, must be repaid to the owners of the HTB scheme, the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA). With property prices varying, the final amount you pay back will vary too2.

When do you have to pay back a HTB loan?

Homeowners have up to 25 years to pay back the HTB loans, this can either be undertaken either in blocks (sometimes known as ‘Staircasing’2) or in full when the property is sold. However, when selling a property with a HTB loan, there are a few extra hoops to jump through.

How do you calculate what you owe?

A common misconception on HTB loans is that the amount loaned to the homeowner would stay the same, whereas it will fluctuate over time, and is linked to the value of the property at the time it is paid off.

If you are paying off a HTB loan at the time that the house is being sold, the property valuation will be used to calculate the final amount owed, or a valuation will need to be undertaken if the loan is being paid off without moving from the property. In each case, the valuation must be carried out by a chartered surveyor from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in order to be approved by the HCA3.

We’ve put together a practical example to show how this could work in practice:

  • Original Purchase Price of House – £200,000
  • 5% Deposit put down by buyer – £10,000
  • 75% Mortgage Loan from Lender – £150,000
  • 20% Help-to-Buy Loan from HCA – £40,000

In this example, the homeowner was loaned £40,000 as part of the Help-to-Buy scheme, based upon buying a £200,000 property.

When it comes to selling the property, if this has gone up in value by 10% and is now valued at £220,000, then the value of the money owed to the HCA for Help to Buy has also increased by 10%. Therefore the £40,000 amount owed has increased to £44,000.

Selling your Home

When it comes to selling a home with the Help-to-Buy equity loan outstanding, the HCA become involved in the selling process. You’d need to notify the HCA through their administration agents, Lenvi (formerly managed by Target) prior to proceeding with a sale.

Your property will need to be valued by a RICS chartered surveyor, otherwise there is a risk that the valuation can be rejected by the HCA and another survey will be required, at your own cost3.

You can sell your property before the initial five-year interest-free period is up, and repay the equity loan when you sell.

Many useful guides can be found online relating to the finer details to be considered when selling a home with an HTB equity loan outstanding, including these guides from Zoopla and the Home Owners Alliance.

Staying in your home and paying off the HTB equity loan

Alternatively, some may wish to pay off the HTB equity loan without moving home. After the five-year interest-free period expires, then interest will be due each month, so it is recommended to make arrangements to pay off the equity loan as soon as you can to avoid incurring additional payments each month.

Homeowners who have a 20% Help-to-Buy loan only have the option of part-paying off either half the loan or the full amount in one go, there are no smaller payment increments available. This may represent a considerable sum of money, so one option could be to remortgage your property and pay off the HTB loan using a larger mortgage, should your financial circumstances allow. However, this may not be suitable for everyone, and it is important to consider your monthly income and outgoings before making any decisions along these lines.

More guidance on ways to pay off a HTB equity loan can be found at the Government’s website – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-to-repay-your-equity-loan-when-you-remortgage .

Think carefully before securing other debts against your home. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on a mortgage or other debt secured on it.

We’re here to help

If you’re a homeowner with a Help-to-Buy loan, the last thing you want is for it to feel like a weight around the neck, so that’s why we are here to give you the advice you need to make the decisions that are most appropriate for you and your circumstances, just book an appointment and speak to us to see how we can assist.

Sources

  1. Gov.uk (2023) Help to Buy: Equity Loan. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/help-to-buy-equity-loan (Accessed 22 November 2023)

All the information in this article is correct as of the publish date 30th November 2023. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. The information provided in this article, including text, graphics and images does not, and is not intended to, substitute advice; instead, all information, content and materials available in this article are for general informational purposes only. Information in this article may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.

Send us a message

    • This website is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Want to chat?