Saturday, August 17, 2013

A standing desk for £8

As someone who earns their living by staring at a computer screen all day the issue of sitting down for 40+ hours a week has always being in the back of my mind.

A recent issue with neck/back pain made me seek alternatives to the normal sedentary life of today's PC bound worker.

It doesn't take much browsing of the usual day-to-day improvement sites, E.g., to come across the idea of using a standing desk.

The thought of paying £800 for a professional standing desk did not exactly make me eager to proceed, but one of the most popular DIY jobs in recent years was done by Colin Nederkoorn, co-founder and CEO of His IKEA hack standing desk for $22 caused quite the internet stir.

This was entirely Colin's idea. I simply hijacked it and wrote this post for the UK market. Perhaps some people are also interested to see how a dual monitor stand looks on top of this rig.

So off I trot to IKEA and here so forth is what I found.

The hit list (If Colin's was budget, I went for super-budget!)

Total cost, £7.75 + 8 screws which I had lying around the house.

Assembly instructions are as per Colin's link earlier. It's not rocket science. Screw the shelf to the side table. Tack the side table to your existing desk. Only one point to note, the legs ot the LACK table are hollow, therefore you need to make sure you use a suitably sized screw (not as long as you think).

The result:

The back lightning is provided by a previously owned DIODER LED 4-piece lighting set.

The dual monitor mount is made by DURONIC and can be purchased from Amazon UK for a very reasonable sum of £29.00. Totally recommended, sturdy, heavy and has been solid for over a year. 

Ensure to place the shelf correctly based on your height.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bank loyalty - you cannot get comfortable in this economic climate

Important Edit!

Make sure you go via TopCashBack if you plan to open a 123 account with Santander - you will get cashback of £45.45 which is certainly something you don't want to miss.

Thanks to rosered in the comments section for reminding me about this!


I've been with Natwest for around 17 years, they hooked me early on with an attractive saving account aimed at children. In fact, if I think about it, our whole family were hooked years before this by a certain family of pigs.

Anyone remember these guys?
The Problem

However the current rates offered by Natwest don't quite cut the mustard - especially if you are focused on tweaking every aspect of your life for optimum financial position.

Their e-ISA is reasonably competitive at 2% (net) for balances over £10,000 but their regular savings account is near the bottom of the pile, offering 1% (gross). 

So it was time to break the mould and leave the warm fuzzy comfort of having all my accounts in one place.

All under one roof, easy access, terrible return
After assessing the market is was clear that the Santander 123 current account was the way to go. Offering 3% (gross) on balances of £3000-£20000. A few minor caveats to keep in mind:
  1. You need to deposit £500 a month (no problem, I'll create a standing order in both directions each month)
  2. You need to switch two direct deposits to the new account (no problem, our gas/elec and council tax will be switched over... in fact this makes financial sense as they offer cashback on these regular payments)
  3. There is a £2 a month account fee (not ideal, but definitely offset by the interest if holding the maximum balance of £20000)
So, all said and done, the switch should create the following annual difference to our balance sheet:

You can work out your own expected cashback here
At first £21 a month might not seem like a lot - but as you get deeper in to this frugal min max game, £21 a month for doing absolutely nothing is a gold mine. Also, what is the point trying to save pennies on biscuits and tea if you are going to let pounds slide away because you feel loyalty towards your bank?

For myself, this account will act as a hybrid account, primarily for the 3% (gross) savings rate on £20k, but secondly as a cashback account for direct deposits. You may choose to use it as your primary current account.

Obviously this only takes care of £20k, if you are holding liquid assets greater than this you will need to look elsewhere. Our strategy for easy access is:

[1] 2x Max ISA > [2] 2x Max Santander > [3] Remaining funds in basic 1% rate savers scheme (this should hopefully be invested in property soon, if not, we will probably ship it off to a Vanguard fund, more on that another time)

In summary

With interest rates at rock bottom, and inflation steady at around 3%,  now is the time to assess your chosen financial establishment. Often people stay with the same provider through loyalty or laziness. This is why banks try so aggressively to get students on-board with attractive student and graduate accounts - they often stay for life.

The hassle is often far less than you anticipate - and once it's complete, that's an investment for life (or until you have to move again for a better rate!)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Frugal tea fail

In a previous post I talked about my love for Tesco Everyday Value Rich Tea Biscuits. Yesterday I thought I would complete the frugal dunking experience and picked up some Tesco Everyday Value Teabags.

As a side note, Tesco's new Everyday Value packaging is 10-fold better than the old version
At 27p for a box of 80, that is 1/3rd of a penny per cuppa.

However I'm afraid to report I won't be buying them again. Perhaps its the 20+ years of drinking Tetleys and PG Tips, but something is not quite right about them. Even when brewed for a good 3 minutes they taste somewhat flowery, lacking any sense of flavour depth.

Oh well - nothing ventured nothing gained. I will continue working by way through the Value range and report what works and what doesn't.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My favourite biscuit

Warning, this post contains excessive amounts of English-ness.

Like most English folk, I'm addicted to tea. I have at least 2 cups a day, one when I wake up, and one before bed. Before bed I like to have the odd biscuit with said tea.

A year ago I discovered the following:

Surprisingly a lot tastier than cardboard

Tesco Everyday Value Rich Tea. 31 biscuits, 23 pence. That's 0.7p per biscuit. Considering I have maybe 2-3 a day as a treat with my tea, my fiendish biscuit habit is costing me no more than 50p a month.

Eating biscuits just before bed probably isn't a great idea, but at least its cheap, and anywhere I've talked before about my eating habits and catering for them.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why I run

One of my local running routes

I was a chunky child, ever since escaping the world of chubbiness I've vowed never to return. However I service a habit that constantly tries to pull me back; I bloody love eating. My girlfriend cooks some epic home meals, portion size goes out the window. We eat out (frugally) regularly and generally do not count calories. We don't eat BAD, we just eat WELL. My mantra is this; its much better to stay the same (healthy) weight by eating LOTS and exercising LOTS than it is to eat nothing and never move.

To make room for all these lovely +calories I need to create some -calories by moving more. Over the years I've hopped from gym to gym as I've moved around the country but never really taken to it for more than 12 months at a time.

That brings me on to reason number 1.


If I feel like running, I just run. I put on my shorts and open the door. I live in an urban area but can be in the countryside within 15 minutes. We are quite lucky in the UK, even in most urban areas, there is a park with plenty of greenery and well maintained trails. As a side note, thinking like this does make me feel better about paying council tax ;-)

What I'm getting at is there is no hurdle to get over before I can start exercise. If I wanted to get to the gym, that a 10 minute drive. That effort/nuisance has a surprising effect on your lust to move more.


I run in a pair of Reebok trainers I had professionally chosen for me over 6 years ago. I had my gait assessed and matched to an appropriate pair. These cost me £70 at the time. Expensive but I've never had an injury related to running. Aside from this I run in any t-shirt I can find. I have one pair of shorts that I wash as required. These shorts probably cost me £10 a few years ago. Clothes last much longer than manufacturers would like to believe. Aside from this I use a fluorescent vest in winter (£5 off ebay). That's it. If I averaged out the costs over the years, its probably less than a penny per hour. The biggest cost is having an additional shower after the run.

8 hours a day I am basically a sloth

Humans are not supposed to sit down and stare at a screen for 8 hours. But I do. I take regular breaks but that is ultimately a large chunk of my day; it's what brings in the money and is a necessary evil of my profession. If I didn't run, I'm pretty sure I would be old before my time. The world has a wave of back pains and joint related illnesses coming, in 40 years time generation office is going to be a plague on health systems the world over.

Me time

When I run I think. I listen to music, but I'm not really listening, it's just background noise that my brain prefers to nothingness. What I am really do is replaying the days events and thoughts and putting them in a order that makes more sense. It's meditation with the secondary tangible benefit of burning energy that would otherwise sit around your waist as a jelly like substance.

Pretty numbers

I'm an excel geek, well, Google Drive Spreadsheets to be exact - long name, awesome free product. I log everything from my expenditure, car miles per gallon, weight. I make projections, when will I retire, when does this car pay for the investment I made. I observe trends. Running is just another funnel for this rather queer past time. I log every run, the time taken and distance. For example, let's take a look at my first two months getting back in to running this year after a period off the wagon.

Average running speed over time
As you can see, I am no Mo Farah, but over time I hope to run a 10KM in less than an hour. Who knows, lets see where it takes me.

For a much more humorous take on why us humans run, checkout The Oatmeal's take here.

Mine and my GF's running trainers. Mine still going strong after 6 years and several insole replacements.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A short tale regarding car insurance

Hammer, duct tape and a visit to the scrap yard

For me its that time of year where I obey our laws like a good citizen and pay my car insurance. I've been doing this for 9 years now and it's no joke:

Year 1, £1000
Year 2, £900
Year 3, £800
Year 4, £600
Year 5, £300
Year 6, £400
Year 7, £450
Year 8, £450
Year 9, £450

(Total: £5350, ouch. £1.60 a day or nearly £50 a month)

In recent years the annual reduction thanks to no claims bonus has somewhat plateaued. However this year, I was in for a pleasant* surprise:

Year 10: £205

This is probably due to several factors explained here:

My renewal came through at £265 and I did two things to bring this down:

[1] Barter. There are no rules. The insurance company wants your money. 90% of people probably accept the renewal and pay up. Stand your ground and be nice, but firm. I made it clear that I was willing to jump to another company and loyalty was not important to me. Ask the operator clearly if there is anything they can do. I used to work in a call centre myself - there is always room to negotiate.

[2] Perhaps not applicable to everyone, but as part of my renewal I had to change the address on my existing policy, due to a home move. The T&C clearly states an extortionate admin charge of £25 for this. I asked politely that in light of the fact I was offering to renew for next year, could this be waived? I also casually remarked that £25 to update a computer screen was somewhat inflated! Without much of a fight the company obliged.

So in summary, be cheeky. Even with household brands there is often room for price adjustment. Don't be afraid, but also don't be pushy. That person on the end of the phone is a human and they are about to become your new best friend.

*There is nothing pleasant about car insurance. It feels like throwing money away, but its a part of out society and you are either in or out. Take it on the chin and make the punch as weak as possible