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Help to Buy ISA providers announced

By 9 August 2015 Money

The Help to Buy ISA was announced in the Government’s Budget back in March. It aims to give first time buyers’ deposits a boost by giving them an additional £50 for every £200 saved. Read what the Budget 2015 means for first time buyers to find out more.

From 1st December 2015, the Help to Buy ISA will be available and six banks/building societies have already signed up to the scheme. These are Lloyds, Barclays, Natwest, Nationwide, Santander and Virgin Money. It’s possible to open the account with £1000 and earn an additional £200 from the Government that month. After your first deposit, it’s only possible to invest a maximum of £200 per month so it’s worth opening the Help to Buy ISA with that maximum amount.

The maximum contribution from the Government is £3000. You’ll need to pay in £12000 to get this, which gives you a total of £15000 towards your deposit. The bonus will only be paid to you when purchasing a house so you won’t be able to use your Help to Buy ISA to get free money to do whatever you like with. Shame…

The lenders will set their own interest rates so once they’re released it’ll be worth shopping around for the best rate. It’s also not possible to have more than one cash ISA (which the Help to Buy ISA counts as) during one tax year. This means that in the year that you’re planning on opening a Help to Buy ISA you need to make sure you don’t open, or pay into, another cash ISA.

Martin Lewis, founder of, predicts:

“Banks that want to sell you a mortgage may well offer stronger rates for Help to Buy ISAs than normal ISAs, in the hope that they can cross-sell you their mortgages later on. This is especially likely because you can only put a relatively small amount in a Help to Buy ISA each year, so it isn’t that expensive for them to pump out loss leading rates. Only time will tell though.”

The Help to Buy ISA will be available to open until December 2019. Once open you can keep it indefinitely. What’s great is that you can have one per person, so if you’re saving as a couple to buy a house so can each pay in £200 per month and each benefit from the bonus. I plan to do this with my husband so we can save more quickly. We’re aiming to have enough money for a deposit in 2 years. But that’s only because we’re planning on moving away from Kent to somewhere we can actually afford to buy a house. This BBC calculator is pretty interesting as it shows you where you can afford to live: Where the BBC affordability says I can afford to live As you can see, this rules out most of the UK for me! We might move to Yorkshire, where it’s possible to buy a lovely 3 bedroom house for £140,000.

Critics have pointed out that £12000 isn’t enough of a deposit for most people and that’s probably true. But don’t forget buying as a couple gives you £24000, which is much more like it. Yes, in some areas this still isn’t enough but you can still save additional money in another savings account if you want.

What do you think of the Help to Buy ISA? Will it help you? Let us know in the comments below.

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Frozen churros for cheats

By 5 May 2015 Lifestyle, Money

This Cinco de Mayo celebrate with a tasty (and a little bit naughty!) treat that’s surprisingly cheap. The other week, Lidl were celebrating the tastes of Spain and had a great range of Iberian goodies available including these frozen churros.

If you’ve never had them, churros are like strings of donuts that are deep fried and tend to be eaten with coffee or hot chocolate for breakfast. You can also buy them from street food stalls to enjoy at any time.

The last time I had churros was at Broadstairs Food Festival, and the time before that was in Mallorca. I love them and was very excited to find them in the freezer section at Lidl.

Rather than having to make the dough and pipe it into the fryer, now all you need to do is grab however many you want out of the freezer and either deep or shallow fry them.

Lidl churros

Frozen churros from Lidl

Heat oil to cook churros

Shallow fry the churros

Churros with cinnamon sugar and chilli flakes

I prepared a simple cinnamon sugar to sprinkle over the churros and because it’s Cinco de Mayo I added a few dried chilli flakes.

Churros top view


What frozen gems have you found lately? Share your secret in the comments. I promise I won’t tell anyone….

This post forms part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge. Tomorrow’s prompt is ‘share the blog love’. Follow along with all my BEDM posts here.

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Bank accounts with benefits

By 28 April 2015 Money

In the UK we’re pretty lucky in that personal banking is generally free. So why would you want to pay for a current account then? Accounts where you pay a monthly fee have benefits attached to them. Whether or not it’s worth the money depends on what you get and how much you’re saving.

Here’s a selection of bank accounts with benefits:

Natwest – Select Platinum Account

What do you get?
  • Worldwide travel insurance
  • Mobile phone insurance
  • UK breakdown cover including Homecall
  • Two family day passes per year for over 300 National Trust sites
  • Tastecard membership
  • Preferential rates on foreign exchange


How much?

£16 per month

Barclays Bank Account

What do you get?

It’s up to you. This is a basic bank account with ‘packs’ that you can add on to make your own packaged account. Discounts are available when you add more than one pack.

  • Home Protection Pack
    • AA boiler and central heating cover
    • Home essentials and appliance cover
    • Optional boiler service (additional fee)
  • Tech Pack
    • Mobile phone insurance for up to 2 phones
    • Worldwide gadget insurance cover for up to £750
  • Travel Pack
    • European family travel insurance
    • RAC UK breakdown cover
    • Card Secure


    How much?

    Home Protection Pack £12 a month
    Tech Pack £7.50 a month
    Travel Pack £8.50 a month

    Halifax Ultimate Reward Current Account

    What do you get?
  • Travel insurance
  • Mobile phone insurance
  • Breakdown cover
  • £125 for switching your main current account to Halifax

    How much?

    £15 a month, or reduced to £10 a month if you pay in more than £750, pay out at least 2 different direct debits and stay in credit in the previous calendar month

    Yorkshire Bank Signature Current Account

    What do you get?
  • Travel insurance for you and family
  • Mobile phone insurance
  • Gadget insurance
  • ID defender
  • UK breakdown cover
  • Discounts on travel, leisure and shopping

    How much?

    £13.50 a month

    Nationwide FlexPlus

    What do you get?
  • UK and European breakdown and recovery assistance
  • Worldwide family mobile phone insurance
  • Worldwide family travel insurance
  • Extended warranty on appliances
  • 3% AER in-credit interest on balances up to £2,500
  • Commission-free cash withdrawals abroad
  • Identity theft and emergency card assistance

    How much?

    £10 a month

    Santander 123 Current Account

    What do you get?

    This account is a little different as you don’t get any products included in your monthly fee but cashback and in-credit interest instead. How much you get depends on how much money you keep in your current account and how much you pay out in bills.

  • 1% cashback on water, council tax and Santander mortgage payments
  • 2% cashback on gas and electricity bills
  • 3% cashback on mobile, home phone, broadband and paid for TV packages
  • Tiered in-credit interest so the higher your balance, the more interest you receive

    How much?

    £2 a month

    Are paid-for bank accounts worth it?

    Well, it depends. It can be easy to look at how much the banks are telling you the products are worth but you need to think about whether you’re going to use them. Work out how much the account’s going to cost you over the whole year and then tot up the cost of all the individual products that you would normally buy.

    It’s also worth finding out if you can open a joint account and share the benefits for one monthly fee. My hubby and I pay £10 per month for an account that gives us both European travel insurance, AA roadside assistance and mobile phone insurance. The price of phone insurance alone makes this account worth the tenner a month it costs us.

    I like knowing that we have travel insurance covered so have one less thing to worry about when we go on holiday. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions though you should call up the medical screening hotline to make sure you’re covered.

    If you could get any one benefit free with a bank account what would it be? Tell us in the comments below!

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    What the Budget 2015 means for first time buyers

    By 23 March 2015 Home, Money

    Last Wednesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered what could be his last Budget. This is when the government sets out its intended spending and tax initiatives for the coming year. This year, alongside the usual tax increases and cuts, George Osborne announced Help to Buy ISAs.

    The Help to Buy ISA offers a bonus for those saving up to buy their first home. It’s a type of cash ISA specially designed to reward first time buyers with a 25% bonus. If you’re not sure what a cash ISA is, read What is a cash ISA and should I have one?

    With this new ISA, which will be available through bank and building societies from autumn 2015, for every £200 you save the government will give you an additional £50. Individuals over 16 can open a Help to Buy ISA. You can take your savings out whenever you like but the bonus is only paid when you buy your home. The maximum bonus payable is £3,000. This means that if you save £12,000, you’ll end up with £15,000. It’s not often you get something for free!

    Help to Buy ISA facts

    • You’ll be able to open an account at any time during the 4 year period starting this autumn
    • If you’re saving as a couple, both of you can open a Help to Buy ISA, so you can each benefit from the max. £3,000 bonus.
    • There’s no minimum amount you have to pay in each month, but you’re only allowed to pay in up to £200 per month per ISA
    • You can open the account and immediately pay in £1,000 if you wish
    • The bonus is going to be available when buying a house for up to £250,000 outside London and up to £450,000 in London.

    The new ISA has been welcomed by some and scoffed at by others. One criticism is that £15,000 wouldn’t be enough for a 10% deposit in most parts of the UK. However, most people aren’t able to buy a property alone so two people together could save £24,000 over 5 years and that would be turned into £30,000. Of course, this still might not be enough to buy in London.

    Team the Help to Buy ISA with the proposed starter homes, and it should become easier for first time buyers over the next few years. As a girl who’s determined to buy a house in the next 4 years anything that’s going to help this happen is music to my ears.

    What do you think of the Help to Buy ISA? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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    How to create a budget and stick to it

    By 12 March 2015 Money

    Do you go from one day to the next not knowing whether your card’s going to be declined at the till? Is your bank account hovering on or below zero before the end of the month? When you first start working it’s easy to let money burn a hole in your pocket. You live month to month spending every penny but ten years later this probably isn’t the best way to carry on.

    Creating a budget will help you to rein in your spending and put some money into savings. Even if you haven’t got something in mind that you want to save up for at the moment, creating a cushion to fall on when you need it is always a good idea. If you start putting away 10% of your earnings you’ll soon have a tidy sum that can turn into a house deposit or tide you over should you lose your job. Afterall, you only have as much job security as the length of your notice period.

    How to create a budget

    The first step in planning a budget is to look at your outgoings by going through past bank statements. Take a look at your direct debits and see what you’re paying out on a regular basis. I find it easier to budget on a monthly basis so if you have any annual or quarterly bills, work out how much these equate to per month.

    This is what I have in my outgoings:

    • Rent
    • Bills
    • Water
    • Gas
    • Electricity
    • Council tax
    • Phone/Internet
    • TV Licence
    • Contents insurance
    • Car insurance
    • Travel / fuel
    • Grocery shopping
    • Mobile phone
    • Bank charges (I have an added-value bank account that has a monthly fee)

    A few years ago I spoke to someone at a debt advice company who helped me put together my budget. I already had one but wasn’t including some items that the women suggested I should be. These were clothing and health and dental care. Even people who organise IVAs don’t expect you not to buy new clothes from time to time. I think they suggested £20 per month, so we’re not talking designer labels here, just subsistence items. I didn’t even think about health or dental care because I don’t often go to the doctor or dentist and don’t have regular prescriptions, however accounting for these costs, perhaps putting the money aside, is a sensible idea. We created a contingency account that we pay into each month to cover this sort of thing. You don’t want to put the cost of that root canal on your credit card, do you?

    Once you’ve worked out your regular, essential outgoings look at your income and work out the difference. This will tell you how much you can afford to save and how much you have to spend. Ideally, you should aim to save 10% of your earnings but this will obviously depend on how much you earn versus what your outgoings are. Nobody want to save all their residual income. Life would be very dull.

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    [gdlr_heading tag=”h2″ size=”28px” color=”#ffffff” ]Budget Template [/gdlr_heading]

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    To help you create your own budget, I’ve created this blank budget template that you can copy and paste into your own spreadsheet or download in the format of your choice (in Google Sheets, click File, Download as).

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    [gdlr_button href=”” target=”_blank” size=”medium” background=”#76e4a7″ color=”#ffffff” with_border=”yes” border_color=”#B14A93″][gdlr_icon type=”icon-external-link”] Get free budget template[/gdlr_button]

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    The formulae are already in there so all you need to do is fill in the rest. This budget template is based on my own spreadsheet. Once you’ve created your own, feel free to adapt it as you see fit. It’s got to work for you, otherwise there’s no point. In my spreadsheet, I have an extra column for my husband and a column that adds up our two columns. This works best for us because we split the cost of the bills and the idea is to both be paying roughly the same out each month.

    Once you know how much money you have to spend each month and week, think about how you are going to stick to this. If you can trust yourself to keep a mental note of your spending then fine, but personally that’ll never work for me. When I was saving up to go travelling I only gave myself £25 per week spending money. I did cheat occasionally as I decided that if I had to buy something that was to be used while travelling it didn’t count. Oops!

    I took out the £25 cash and left my cards at home. It’s amazing how much less you can spend when you physically have to hand the money over. Plus you can always see how much you have left for the rest of the week. Another option is to open a second current account and transfer your spending money over monthly and only use that card. If you choose this option, setting up regular mobile alerts with your bank account balance would be a great idea. I know my account with Lloyds Bank lets you do this, I don’t know about other banks but most, if not all, have mobile banking apps anyhow so you can regularly check your balance.

    Budgeting tips

    • Don’t try and cheat your budget, you’re only cheating yourself at the end of the day.
    • Be honest about your outgoings and what is essential. You might think you need that £3 Starbucks each morning but this should really come out of your spending money rather than be included as an outgoing.
    • If you have debts, concentrate on paying these off first before saving money. It’s pretty pointless to put money into a savings account when you’re paying interest to a creditor.
    • Set up a standing order so that your savings come straight out as soon as possible after pay day. This means that you’ll be used to not having that money and won’t even think about it.
    • If you don’t think you can trust yourself to dip into your savings for something less than essential, consider a savings account that is not instant access. Some accounts you have to give 30 or even 60 days notice to withdraw money. This is ideal if your savings goals are long term but if you’re putting money away for emergencies this probably isn’t a good idea. There are accounts that are instant access but you are limited to how many withdrawals you’re allowed each year, maybe check those out.
    • If you want to understand where your money goes each month, an insightful exercise is to go through your bank statement for last month and put everything into categories, e.g. food, clothes, coffee, eating out. This can help you to identify areas where you can make savings. Which leads onto my next tip…
    • Look to reduce your outgoings. Check that you’re on the cheapest tariff for your energy bills, shop around for your broadband supplier and home insurance, and if you’re always buying branded groceries try some alternatives and see if you notice the difference. There are only a few branded things I swear by, one is Fairy Liquid Platinum (the best washing up liquid around!), but otherwise I’m usually happy to buy the supermarket own brand.

    Creating a budget can seem like a boring thing to do but it really does help. Sticking to your plan is the most important thing. Whether you want to be debt free, travel more or buy a house, budgeting can actually change your life.

    Share your experience of budgeting in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

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