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A Fool and her money - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
A Fool and her money
Motivated partly by the regular appearance of Motley Fool newsletters in my inbox, I finally got round to sorting some financial bits and pieces out yesterday.

First, I've got a new NSPCC credit card into which I'm transferring the outstanding balance on my egg card. That should save me about £3 a month, which isn't much, but it'll cover the cost of a birthday card, or one tube ticket, or even just one more slightly-more-guilt-free pint of beer. It also results in £20 being donated to the NSPCC when I start using it -- that's a donation I wouldn't have been able to justify making myself, to a charity which I believe to be worthwhile.

Second, I've fought my way through the Orange website and had another shot at changing my payment plan on my mobile phone, moving from Talk120 to Talk30. (I tried to do this a couple of months ago but somehow they don't seem to have changed the plan, and of course I was too apathetic and avoidant to do anything about it at the time. If it doesn't work this time, I'll be able to tell them when I tried to do this on the website, and complain loudly at them.) This should save me £10 a month, which is actually a noticeable amount.

Third, I've had a look through the records that I'm keeping of what I've been spending my money on, and it came as no great surprise to me to find that the costliest categories were food and train tickets. The train tickets are currently non-negotiable: I want to see as much of addedentry as possible, and while we live where we do the only sensible way to do that is by train. I knew I was a clingy and needy girlfriend but I'm amused to find that I really am more willing to economise on food than on time spent with Owen -- though that's partly because there's no way I can make the train journeys cheaper (except possibly booking tickets in advance, which is something I should investigate) whereas I could definitely be more economical about my food-shopping habits.

My expenses spreadsheet wasn't without its surprises, though. I was amazed to find that I was spending twice as much on gifts for other people as on books for myself (though I have been trying really hard not to buy unnecessary books), and horrified to find that I was spending as much on toiletries and medication as on gifts! Gifts are a tricky area to economise (and I'm not really in the best frame of mind to wander into that particular minefield of guilt at the moment) but toiletries really aren't: I could probably halve that figure if I just stopped buying things in Lush. If I don't buy the stuff for myself, it'll mean there's always an easy option for birthday/Christmas presents when my parents have no idea what to buy me. (Not that I would demand presents from them at all, obviously, but realistically they're likely to keep on giving me things, because they're like that.)

The really surprising thing is that according to my spreadsheet I've spent a grand total of £2.77 on music since New Year. Now I think that may be failing to take into account the couple of quid I spent on tapes in a charity shop, because I'm not infallible in my record-keeping; but even so, I'm amazed I've managed to resist the lure of Fopp's cheap CDs for this long.

The next items on the financial task-list are to investigate ways we could save money by moving the mortgage elsewhere, and to sort out my savings account. I've no idea about the mortgage but I'm guessing there are websites where you can type in the figures and they'll tell you if you could save money. As for savings: I don't really have many, but I've got some birthday money and suchlike in a Sainsburys account which was fairly high interest when I opened it but now is frankly rubbish (though still better than keeping the money in a sock under the mattress, I suppose). It would probably be better in a cash mini-ISA or something, but I keep hitting a wall of avoidance when I look at the millions of accounts that are out there which are all nearly the same, and I can't face working out which the best one would be. I think I need to just draw a line under that particular avenue of worry and find something that's better than the current situation.

So much for the outgoings and the savings. The actual income is harder to adjust; there's no way I can get a pay-rise, and I don't really want to look for another job at the moment unless I'm relocating completely (and that's all up in the air at the moment). I'm selling bits and pieces on eBay (though I haven't yet resorted to trying to sell my old train tickets -- thanks to addedentry for the link), and I'm on the lookout for psychology experiments for which I can volunteer my elite button-pressing skills in my lunch-hour (those usually pay a fiver or so), but is there anything else -- anything more productive? I keep prodding at the question of whether I could earn money from any of the skills I have. (Please, nobody suggest that I become a professional cake-decorator: I think it would take up too much of my time for too little money, and I also worry that it would take the fun out of doing cakes for friends and family.) The only thing I can think of that I could do on weeknights (I'm clutching at straws here) would be something like offering revision tutorials for GCSE/A-level English; okay, I don't have any (relevant) formal teaching qualifications, but then one-to-one tuition isn't formal teaching in that sense anyway, and I've got a degree in English -- and people do teach in schools with just a degree in their subject! The problem is, I have no idea how I'd go about starting to do the tutoring thing -- would any self-respecting parent even consider paying for tuition for their child from J. Random English Graduate? Does anybody have any experience of trying to do anything like this, or useful advice to offer?
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juggzy From: juggzy Date: March 16th, 2005 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
You could easily earn extra money, if not a living, from writing part time. I don't know how to go about getting contacts who will give you money for writing, but you know other people who do; ask them.
burkesworks From: burkesworks Date: March 16th, 2005 06:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
For finding outlets for writing, grab a copy of the annual Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, published by Black's and available at any decent bookshop. Very useful and helpful.
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livredor From: livredor Date: March 16th, 2005 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cash mini-ISA: this is a really boring thing to know about, but the Cambridge Building Society are better than most. I found it worth my while to go through the hassle of pretending I lived in Cambridge (by means of borrowing my parents' address) in order to invest with them. And they're, like, local and friendly and not a big monster conglomerate. They genuinely do remember me by name and, ok it's a trivial thing but that kind of personal friendliness is not that common in the world of 21st century personal finance.

Tutoring: it should be extremely possible to get a few hours a week tutoring work. There are various organizations that handle this kind of stuff; unfortunately I don't have current information on Cambridge stuff. One good place to try is language schools. Cambridge is (as you know) full of the blighters, and they usually have a reasonable population of kids, mostly from the far east, who will pay any amount of money to perfect their English. They probably want tuition geared towards various EFL competency tests (the English Proficiency thing is a major one) rather than GCSEs or A Levels, but I don't see why that should be a problem.

Anyway, language schools are good places to advertise; they usually have notice boards where you can put little cards, and probably you're looking at a less dodgy clientele than you might get putting your card in a newsagent window. They may also be able to point you in helpful directions if you ask nicely. And if not language schools, crammers are a possibility; people who are paying exorbitant rates for what basically amounts to exam training will probably be prepared to pay for personal tuition as well. Same kind of deal.

Things to think about: are you prepared for people to come to your place? OTOH if you're thinking of going to your pupils' houses, you have the hassle of getting there (and we all know driving across Cambridge is a barrel of no fun), and you have to expect that studying conditions might not be great. I've done tutoring where I had to compete with a screaming baby and a television and there was no working service but a coffee table that was also being used for younger siblings' supper.

Main thing: have a sensible hourly rate in mind before you start. It'll make you look more professional than just 'well, what are you prepared to pay me?' I would guess £15-20 ph is a sensible place to start, but I haven't investigated the market in any detail recently.
juggzy From: juggzy Date: March 16th, 2005 06:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Twenty quid an hour, minimum. Soften the blow slightly by offering an introductory lesson at a cheaper rate, and to tutor two for the same price ie twenty quid an hour for one or two people.
From: bibliogirl Date: March 16th, 2005 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I did some tutoring (maths and physics) back in the dim and distant past and it worked out OK, though people did usually want their school-age children tutored at a just-after-school sort of time which might not fit well around a job. EFL-type tutoring might be easier in that regard... can't hurt to try, anyhow...
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: March 16th, 2005 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
The NSPCC credit card is worth considering, but do the Halifax charge you a handling fee for transferring a balance in from another card? I was going to go with the Holiday Inn Priority Club card (very similar) because they would give you a free night at a Holiday Inn as well as 0% interest for 9 (10?) months, but they wanted to charge £35 handling fee for transferring money in from my egg card. Not going to happen.

Well done you for keeping records on whewre your money goes, by the way. Seriously!
j4 From: j4 Date: March 16th, 2005 11:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Handling charge -- if they do, I can't see it in the small print. Am I being dense?
oinomel71 From: oinomel71 Date: March 16th, 2005 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm a big fan of the Fool, although they do seem to have a remarkable talent for offering the same advice over and over again in slightly different ways.

Don't sweat looking for the "best" savings account, just go for one that's good and convenient. There really isn't that much to choose between the good ones.

And well done!
bjh21 From: bjh21 Date: March 16th, 2005 07:25 pm (UTC) (Link)


Assuming that addedentry's userinfo is correct, I doubt you can get advance-purchase tickets for visiting him: WAGN don't do advance-purchase tickets, and 'one' don't do them from Cambridge. You have got a Network Railcard, yes?
j4 From: j4 Date: March 16th, 2005 11:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Trains

I've still got a Young Person's Railcard actually! But that runs out in May, & after that addedentry says he'll be able to get a cheap Network SE or whatever it is railcard for me as part of some crazy London commuter Oyster thingy deal. Or something. I trust him. :-) But, yeah, I am already saving a fair amount on train tickets. And sometimes they don't check my return half, so I get away with using the same return several times. Ahem.

I didn't realise you couldn't get advance-purchase tickets, though! That's good, in a way, though, because it's something I always feel guilty about being too disorganised to do... so if I couldn't do it anyway, I needn't feel guilty. Hah.
norantiskitchen From: norantiskitchen Date: March 16th, 2005 08:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey. I have experience in tutoring children at an after-school cram school and one-to-one at home. You *must* charge at least 20 pounds per hour for this or you undercut the market and make the rest of us cross. You can charge up to 40 pounds as you become more experienced. The initial layout is going to be a) in books and b) in advertising yourself. Local papers are best, though if schools, churches,etc let you stick up notices that works well. You must be prepared to work several evenings a week and possibly at the weekend to get the classes. Once you have one or two word of mouth tends to take over. The most important thing is to prepare by getting some syllabus, revision, workbooks etc. The skills these days are pretty specific so you've got to know what you're talking about. Then just offer a spiel about catering to the individual child's needs and you're away.

Generally, my advice is - go for it. It's very very rewarding seeing a one to one student improve. And the nice mums bring you tea and cake while you're teaching.
k425 From: k425 Date: March 16th, 2005 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mortgage - go and look at http://www.lcplc.co.uk - they talked me through a variety of options and helped us find the best remortgage last year. It was good enough that the deal they got us is still appearing in the Guardian's top five remortgage deals a year later. They also offered to call us when the deal period ends to see if they can find us another good deal, so I agreed - I can stop worrying about thinking about it myself.

Useful advice for tutoring. Hmm. The people who are looking for tutors are going to be the parents of kids rather than the kids themselves. So, I wouldn't bother asking in schools. Isn't there a cam. group for ads? Stick an ad in there. Stick ads up at work, and maybe in colleges/the university. Oh, and remember that in some cases tutoring may be for the parents, not the kids - the parents want it, the kids don't. You'll need to have plenty of patience to teach kids even one-to-one if they really don't see the point.

And livredor's got a point about the Open University too.
bluedevi From: bluedevi Date: March 16th, 2005 08:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
You could easily tutor GCSE English. I do (and I don't even have a degree in it) and I think they make progress with me.

I advertise on A+ Tutors - it's thirteen quid for a year, you can specify area, and I've got lots of work from it.

Twenty quid is normal for GCSE in London, like people said.

But k425 has a point - it's not just about conveying the knowledge. How would you feel about trying to inspire a disaffected kid to study?
j4 From: j4 Date: March 16th, 2005 11:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
How would you feel about trying to inspire a disaffected kid to study?

There are teenagers who aren't disaffected?

Seriously, though ... it sort of depends what it is that's making them feel like that. If they're just not interested in studying for its own sake then frankly I'd want to be able to tell them that, actually, that's fine. To be able to be honest with them about the value of what they're studying. None of this "if you fail a GCSE you will be CAST OUT INTO THE OUTER DARKNESS" malarky that we got at school, just "realistically, it will be easier for you to do the stuff that you want to do later if you jump through this largely pointless hoop now while somebody else is paying for your bed and board". I don't think it's necessary to inspire everybody to love a subject for its own sake, to embrace academia; different people are different.

OTOH if they're just convinced that English is boring, well, I'd love to try to convince them otherwise. How to go about that depends what they are interested in. All human life is there in literature, if you can see it; there's got to be something that stands a chance of sparking an interest, even if it's only a passing interest, even if they still drop the subject like a hot potato after GCSE. I've tried to convince geeks that poetry isn't all a load of shit, and mostly I've failed because they're all 30-somethings who are never going to change their opinions because They Know They're Right; but occasionally people have said "oh!" in that kind of I'm-totally-not-going-to-admit-I'm-interested-but-actually-that-might-have-made-me-think tone of voice.

[Now feeling very nervy having written all that down because I fear all the actual real teachers are going to jump on me with both feet and say "You can't do that, that wouldn't work, you don't understand kids at all, you'll never make a good teacher".]

And I'm sure there are all sorts of other issues I haven't even thought of. And yes, it's usually the parents who want extra tuition, and it may well be that the kids don't even need it, and what they actually need is somebody to vent at a bit for half an hour, and/or a bit of reassurance that they do actually know their subject and they're not going to fail horribly. (That's one worry I do have, actually; what happens if you give people extra tuition and they still fail? Do the parents come round and yell at you?)

I dunno. Maybe I'd be hopeless at it. Maybe I'd have my idealism kicked out of me within a week. Maybe I'd just end up getting frustrated and cross and miserable. But, well, I'm already frustrated and cross and miserable about a million and one things, and I'm not achieving anything for it.
perdita_fysh From: perdita_fysh Date: March 16th, 2005 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Morgages: best to use a broker (in my experience). First off many places (particularly high street places) don't offer their best deals to punters off the street, only via brokers. Next, they know what is currently hip with it on the market. Also, they do all the chasing when the lender isn't processing the application fast enough and finally their cut is paid by the lender, not you.

I used mortgagearrangers.co.uk to arrange my recent one - they were an entirely random google pick but they got me a good deal (a base rate tracker at -0.11% below base rate for 2 years with no tie in) and I have no complaints. Plus the guy was email compliant which suits phonophobic old me.

Cash ISAs bad, Stock ISAs good. Ok the stock market has underperformed cash in the last year or so but that was like the first time ever ever and makes it an even better bet to invest in stocks instead now. But as a fool reader you already know that.

Cake decorating: I can understand not wanting to make it 'work'. I did a nightschool course in decorating, which I thoroughly enjoyed. You could teach it at nightschool? That pays quite well I think, nightschool teaching? And the teacher of the class made my wedding cake for me (as I knew I'd beat myself up over it way too much) and charged me a mates rate of about 120 quid. It costs about 4-500 quid for a wedding cake now I believe. So if you wanted to do it, there is money to be made there.

Tutoring: If you get one student, the rest should follow. I know the one tutor I had (for maths alevel) my parents chose because Elizabeth's parents sent Elizabeth there, who chose him because someone else etc etc. He was a rockstar though (albeit a rather elderly one).
karen2205 From: karen2205 Date: March 16th, 2005 10:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
A spread of savings is a good thing.

If you've only got a small amount of savings most of them should be in something safe - and here a cash ISA is generally the best place for a taxpayer to put them.

Only once you feel that you've got enough money stored away for a rainy day + a bit more should you think about buying stocks & shares.

It's worthwhile considering whether it'd be cheaper to get a bank loan to replace the credit card debt - it'd probably be rather cheaper.

In the teaching line - how about local adult education colleges? Are they looking for tutors - either in English or in cake decorating? You might also like to look at becoming an examiner (http://www.examinerrecruitment.org/whocandoit/default.htm)
rmc28 From: rmc28 Date: March 17th, 2005 08:11 am (UTC) (Link)
On the teaching side, what about undergraduate supervision? I don't know if it's the same for English as the sciences, but my college was always looking for extra supervisors, and it's pretty easy to get sorted out even if you're not currently attached to a college (as I discovered a few years ago).

The money's probably not as good as tutoring teenage children of rich parents though :)
j4 From: j4 Date: March 17th, 2005 08:48 am (UTC) (Link)
I thought you had to be doing a Ph.D. to do undergraduate supervision?

Also not sure I'd be good enough to teach at that sort of level. :-(
From: scat0324 Date: March 17th, 2005 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
As well as the fool, http://www.moneybasics.co.uk/ and http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/ have some good advice. There's a free printed guide to re-mortgaging (also available as a PDF) linked from the front page of the latter. It's pretty recent so the advice is up to date and I've just been using it to work out what I need to do now our special offer period is up.

I'm sure you don't want advice from me, but I can say that my experience (personal, and in training with http://www.creditaction.org) is that no matter how big the financial hole, there is a way out, and you're on the right direction at the moment.
satanicsocks From: satanicsocks Date: March 20th, 2005 07:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Someone pointed me to this entry, as a friend of mine runs a tutor matchmaking company in Cambridge, A Grade Tutors -- basically taking the scary stuff like advertising, vetting, CRB checks, etc out of it, and handling all that for you. He mainly does GCSE and A-level tutoring as taught by undergrads. Another, similar, Cambridge-based service is Bright Tutors. Plus, there's always supervising (as Rachel says) - it's always worth getting in touch with a college DoS or two and asking if they have supervision slots. Having done this myself last year the practical approach is just to email the DoS and the appropriate person within the department, but they are less keen if they don't know you, unfortunately. Opportunities are probably few and far between this year, though perhaps revision supervisions next term are a possibility.
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