Monday, 8 February 2016

How to make money from your house

Your home is your castle, but it's also likely to be your most expensive ever purchase.  With many of us feeling the pinch, here are some clever ways to make your house work harder for you and actually bring in some cash.

As with any form of additional income, you should seek professional tax advice about declaring this income to HMRC, and also investigate with your local council whether you need any specific planning or change of use permissions. You should also check with your mortgage company and home insurance provider if any special restrictions apply.

Welcome occasional guests with Air BnB

Since it was founded in 2008, Air Bnb's rise has been phenomenal.  Providing reasonably priced and interesting accommodation to travellers tired of the hotel experience, and allowing property owners the opportunity to earn some income from their otherwise empty spare room.

There are over 2million rentals listed on Air BnB now, with people sharing their whole house if they travel away a lot, a spare room, a camper van on their driveway, even their back garden as a tent pitch.

It can be a great way to meet people from other countries and cultures.  Most guests will expect some kind of local information, but you can simply put together a folder of tourist attractions, local restaurants, taxi firms and contact numbers.

The company offers a host guarantee of £600,000 so you're covered should anything go wrong.  Guests also have feedback ratings, so you can check them out first before letting them into your home.

Using Air BnB's calculations, my spare double ensuite room could be worth around £900 per month.

Long-term -rent your spare room

Under the government's Rent a Room Scheme, homeowners can earn up to £4,250 per year tax free.  Seen as a way to help the housing crisis, people are encouraged to open up their homes to lodgers, and can enjoy the money made without being liable to tax.  After this year, the threshold is expected to rise to £7,000 so there's even more potential to earn from your home.  Even if you're a tenant, you can still participate in this scheme with your landlord's permission.

One of my family members has successfully done this, renting out her spare room, en suite and access to the kitchen to work colleagues, to fund renovations for the rest of the house.

Rooms must be furnished under the scheme. It's advisable to draw up a tenancy agreement and secure references if you want to organise it yourself, otherwise use a company such as Spare Room to take care of the details for you.

Take in language students

If perhaps you don't like the idea of a long-term rental, them maybe language students are the answer. This is something my own parents did when I was younger, taking in students from the United Arab Emirates and Oman.  It was a great way to learn about different cultures and many of the students remained friends, sending gifts back, writing and visiting for years to come.

There are many language schools, colleges and universities around the UK looking to host students for anywhere between a week over the summer, to six months.  You may even find sports students looking for accommodation during exchanges and tournaments.

Typically you'll be expected to provide breakfast, and some arrangements require and evening meal too, so you will be welcoming this person into your family as well as your home.

Blogger Anya Harris from Older Single Mum is an old-hand at hosting language students and has this advice:

'I live in a town full of English Language schools. They pay for families to host some of the foreign students who attend for anything from one week to six months. They come from all over the world and the fee varies as much as they do - £70-£120 per week depending on which school you're registered with. The idea is to help them integrate into the English culture and they are supposed to spend time with the family. I provide breakfast and evening meals and although it's quite a commitment it's relatively easy income. They are always extra desperate for host families over the summer so it is a good way to boost your income even if only then. My kids practise their languages and play football or Uno with them. Once you all get to know each other and they realise how cross you get if they don't let you know when they're not coming home for dinner, you can all tick along nicely for quite a few quid!'

Contact your local language school and look out for adverts in the local papers looking for hosts.

Rent your home office space

Image credit: The Telegraph

If you don't fancy the idea of having to be sociable with strangers in your house at the weekends and evenings, then why not consider the growing trend of renting your home out as office space.  With more and more people 'working from home' and the ever increasing cost of office rental, an innovative way to work is at someone else's home.  As a work-from-home freelancer myself, I can see the attraction in this.  You're free from the distractions at home - how easy is it to think 'I'll just put a wash on...I'll just tidy the kitchen...' and all too easily hours have gone by when you should be working.  It's also good to get a distinction between home and work, and lots of people miss the idea of actually going out to work.  Some people prefer somewhere a bit smarter to meet their prospective clients or don't have room to host a meeting at home. Or maybe they'd simply like to mix with other home-workers and have more chance to network and communicate with people during work.

Companies Vrumi and Space Hop have sprung up to fit this gap and home-owners can rent their space out during office hours, when perhaps they're out themselves at work, and still have their homes to themselves in the evenings. Office space hoppers typically pay between £7.50- £15 each per day to rent.

Hire your house as a film set

How do you fancy seeing your living room on the big screen or on the latest BBC drama?  Companies such as Film Locations and Shoot Factory hook up home-owners and film production crews and photographers looking for shoot locations.

Generally, those the most in demand are within the M25 area.  You should also be able to offer plenty of parking for the film crew, and ideally have good natural light.  Expect the crew to completely take over your house while they are using it, they may remove furniture, move personal items, change the decor, but you should have a contract in place to state that everything will be left as it was found.

You don't necessarily need an uber-cool show home either, TV dramas and films need access to all kinds of properties, so you may be surprised.

Rent your loft

If you don't fancy house guests at all, you could rent out your attic, garage or shed for storage space.  With more and more apartment living, people doing loft conversations and turning their garages into living spaces, storage is becoming a premium for a lot of people.  They may have a treasured LP collection, baby gear they want to hang on til the next arrival, or files of important paperwork.  A traditional storage facility in a warehouse may be too large, too expensive or too inconvienient, so more and more people are renting space from nearby home-owners.  

Storemates matches home-owners with spare space with those looking to store items.  You can rent a few square feet in your box room, your entire attic, shed or other outbuildings.

Loft space in my local are is up for rent at around £18 per month, which if it's currently sitting empty, is a nice little earner. You could earn around £50 for your garage.

Store mates looks after advertising your space, contracts, insurance and even has downloadable storage labels for your 'tenant'.  They charge a 15% fee.

Rent your driveway

If you want to keep your front door firmly closed, another option is renting out your driveway or parking space.

If you live near a rail station, airport, sporting stadium or music venue, then your driveway could be a little gold mine.

Check out the cost of a weekly parking season ticket at your rail station, and undercut that you could be on to a winner.

Use a reputable company who will advertise your space free of charge, offer template contracts and help in any disputes.  You could try Just Park or Your Parking Space.  My own driveway which is a five minute walk from our train station, could be advertised for around £50 per month, per car. Considering the station car park charges £96, that's a good deal to the customer too, and their car is likely more secure with me!

Advertising on your house

Image Credit: Right Move

This final suggestion won't be for everyone.  You're likely to need a gable-end wall in a high traffic area, but if your location is suitable and you're happy to have an advertising hoarding erected on the side of your house, you could be quids in.  You'll also need to obtain planning consent which can sometimes be tricky, but you could earn yourself up to around £1,000 per annum.  Granted, it's doesn't make your home look beautiful, but once your inside, you can't see it!

If you think your house might be suitable, contact a reputable advertising agency who'll make a site visit before going about securing the correct permissions, and brand bookings.  Try Prime Site or Ad Site Management.

So what do you think?  Have you ever made money from your home?  Would you consider any of these options?

Friday, 29 January 2016

Saving money on your pet costs

Let's face it, owning a pet can be expensive.  Vaccines, insurance, visits to the vet and routine products like flea treatments and worming tables can all mount up, yet we can't afford not to take preventative healthcare measures.

I mentioned recently that purchasing pet-care items online can be a savvy way of saving money, and now there's a great web store from the long-established and trusted name in pet products, Bob Martin.

On the Bob Martin Vetcare site you can save money not only on their own branded products, but on many others recommended by your veterinary practitioner such as Drontal, Advocate, Metacam and Frontline.

Offering a wide range of healthcare and wellbeing products for both cats and dogs, this could be your one-stop-shop for all those care items we need to buy when our pets get sick or need routine treatment.

Some products are only available with a vet's prescription, but they will still probably work out cheaper than purchasing them at your veterinary practice. Others can be purchased without prescription and include a range of worming treatment, flea treatments, ear cleaners, grooming products and training pads.

If you've not purchased prescription medication in this way, it's worth noting that your vet is legally obliged to issue you with a prescription if your pet requires treatment.  You do not have to purchase it directly through your practice if you can find a better deal elsewhere.  Some practices will charge you a nominal fee for issuing a prescription, others issue free of charge and some charge around £10.  But with savings of over 50% on some items on the Bob Martin Vetcare site, it could be well worth it.

Sending your prescription over is straightforward. You can do it by post, email or fax and there are full details on their site.

So let's take an example and see how much you could save:

Cerenia travel sickness tablets for dogs have a recommended retail price of £52.42.

Bob Martin Vetcare sell them at just £23.23.

Even paying £10 for a prescription to be issued by your vet, you are still saving £19.19.

Now, we have to look at postage costs.  They offer free p&p on orders over £25 or on any order including a Bob Martin branded product, so it's probably worth popping some poop bags, vitamins or shampoo into your basket, otherwise you pay £3 for delivery.

There are some exceptions to the discounted p&p costs, including bulky items and medicines which need to be refrigerated, and you can find out more here

Their Spring Grooming range smells lovely and we are trying out some of their coat cleaning wipes and no-rinse shampoo which are ideal for quick clean-ups at this wet and muddy time of the year.  They sent Delilah a lovely selection to try out - she was delighted with her mail which was serendipitously waiting for us after a particularly muddy walk! I can recommend popping some of these products into your basket.  The wet wipes are enriched with aloe vera and we've found them really handy for quick wipe-downs.

You can rest assured you're in good hands when ordering as Bob Martin is run by pet experts and pet owners and they work alongside the Veterinary Medicines Directorate as a licensed supplier of prescription and non-prescription medication. They also have a resident vet available to answer any queries or concerns you may have.

My advice would be to bear them in mind next time you visit your vet and do a quick comparison of costs on your mobile before you pay out in your practice.

Let me know about any money-saving you manage to achieve using the site!

Thank you Bob Martin Vetcare for Delilah's treats!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

How to maximise your family budget

January is surely the tightest month of them all, with many of us feeling the pinch after the Christmas expense.  If you've made New Year resolutions to get your finances in order and bring down your monthly expenditure, then I've got some handy hints for you.

Switch your energy providers

You've probably heard this time and again, but many of us still haven't changed our gas and electricity companies for the best deals.  What's stopping you?

Be an energy shopper and you could save around £200 a year.  It really is simple to do, and even if you have switched previously, maybe it's worth looking again?  New companies, deals and tarrifs come on the market all the time, so it's a good idea to set up regular calendar reminders to have a quick check on an OFGEM approved comparison site.  The first time we did it we saved £70 per quarter on our gas bill alone - I had no idea we were paying so far over the odds.

Property maintenance 

At this time of the year you may not be spending too much time out in the garden. However, it is worth investing some time to check for any wear and tear or damage that may come back to hit you in the wallet later.  

Check your guttering is leak-free and clear of those autumn leaves to keep rainwater flowing properly.  Damaged or blocked guttering can easily lead to costly damp problems.  Check for dripping outdoor taps - especially if you're on a water meter as this could mean you're literally pouring money down the drain. I recently noticed our downstairs toilet cistern was faulty and water was pouring out of the overflow, both risking damp issues and racking up our water charges.  A quick change of a washer has fixed it.  If you have any outdoor pipes, it's worth getting them lagged before the cold snap finally arrives to save frozen and burst pipes and a huge bill.

Pet care

Our four-legged friends come at a price.  It had never occurred to me to shop around for cheaper vet care, but it's definitely worth doing.  Our old dog had a long-term medical condition which required daily medication and regular blood tests and it was only after asking around I realised we were paying far too much at our local vet.  We switched to one of the large chain partnerships and paid around a third of the cost for the same tablets, and they also wanted to see her less frequently for blood tests meaning our bills were hugely reduced. We still got great service, but at a much better price.

For maintenance products like regular worming and flea treatment, consider buying online instead of through your vet as you'll often be able to purchase the same product much cheaper.

Finally, pet insurance is something I'd thoroughly recommend.  Again, shop around for the best deal and plan for you, but be sure to carefully check excesses and exclusions.  I know some people who don't use insurance, preferring to save money themselves in an 'emergency fund' and while this may be a good option for some animals, I think it very much depends.  I mean, your fluffy rabbit is hardly likely to ever see you in the High Court, but a dog however could easily nip someone or run out into the road causing an accident leaving you with massive legal bills.

Staying in is the new going out

It's eye-watering nowadays the cost of a night out. Whether it's rounds of drinks at the bar; a trip to the cinema or a meal in a restaurant, the prices just keep going up and up and for many the household budget won't stretch that far.

It's still important to factor in leisure time, so a £10 supermarket meal deal and an evening with a good box set is a bargain by comparison. Plus there's no taxi fare or babysitting bill to pay! Try renting a DVD from your local library and make homemade popcorn for a fraction of the price of a trip to the multiplex.


If you aren't already, do sign up to a cashback site. By channelling your online purchases through one of the sites, you can earn a percentage back on most things you buy.  I typically earn around £500 per year so it's well worth doing.

Most of the sites also have mobile apps too so you can even earn money instore, and some offer cutback if you scan and send them receipts of certain products.

So, how are your monthly finances looking this new year?  Do you have any great ideas you'd like to share?

This is a collaborative post.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Bloo Loo Giveaway

Last week the Bloo Loo team were in London cheering people up on what is traditionally known as the most miserable day of the year.

But the commuters and shoppers in One New Change at London's St Pauls couldn't possibly feel blue with the swinging tunes booming out from the live band and the team handing out a thousand pink tulips, 50 bouquets and lots of other spot prizes.  I was lucky enough to receive my own beautiful bouquet of spring tulips.

The team were joined by the eye-catching giant loo, reportedly the largest in the UK, and against the stunning backdrop of the cathedral it was certainly a talking point!  Passers-by were able to write down their woes and literally flush them away.

It was all part of their launch of the fabulous #BlooMonday competition which is running until 1st February where you could win a £1,000 Thomson holiday voucher - now that's gotta put a smile on your face surely?

To enter, simply tell the Bloo Loo team about your 'little burst of happiness'. Maybe someone's done something to cheer you up recently, you've had some unexpected good news or you've finally completed a project that's been hanging over you.

Pop over to their Facebook or Twitter account and tell them about it using the hashtag #BlooMonday and tag them.  Full terms and conditions can be found here.

Now I know cleaning your loo isn't exactly the happiest activity, but with their new floral fragrances and easy-to-use products, Bloo Loo make it a breeze.  They're not just about cistern blocks either.  Their range includes handy toilet cleaning wipes, gel cleaners and their brand new product Foam Aroma which will be launching in Tesco soon.  The foaming powder works to clean your pan, remove limescale and once flushed away will leave your loo smelling gorgeous (just thank your lucky stars that you don't have a loo that big to clean!)

The Bloo Loo folks have offered a selection of their products as a giveaway prize to one lucky reader of my blog too, so if you'd like to be in with a chance, just complete the rafflecopter below and don't forget to enter the #BlooMonday grand prize giveaway too.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is in association with Bloo.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Positive and Inspiring Reading Books for 6-9 Year Olds - And A Giveaway!

Ruby loves to read, she absolutely loves it.  She was delighted to receive book tokens and story books for Christmas.  I'm very happy to indulge this passion with trips to the library, regular bedtime stories and the occasional treat of a new book.

A little while ago we were sent a set of books by Clever Tykes for her to try out. Designed to provide positive role-models, encourage enterprising behaviour and show how to overcome challenges, these stories were sure to not only provide entertainment, but leave young readers feeling empowered.

Ruby chose to read Walk-It Willow first. Given our new puppy's arrival in the home she was drawn to a story where the main character (a girl, which was also a bonus) sets up her own dog-walking business.

She was thoroughly engrossed in the book on our train journey and had read it cover-to-cover by the time we reached our destination.  She loved the illustrations which brought the characters to life, but did feel the story was a little short - she's used to reading longer chapter books now.  Although she's only 7 she is a fairly advanced reader, but of course, all children read at different levels and she certainly found these much more engaging than the books she's used to in her school reading program.

She was able to pick up the key messages about how to be enterprising - good organisation and planning, networking with your contacts, having a positive attitude and utilising your natural talents and interests, as well as key life skills such as admitting your mistakes and learning from them and being honest.

Clever Tykes is a series of storybooks for children ages 6-9, which introduce important life skills and characteristics through positive entrepreneurial role models.  The stories follow three separate protagonists as they each realise that there is something they are especially good at or passionate about, and they set about making this into their own venture. The stories are fantastic reading books in their own right and incorporate the target literacy and numeracy skills for the specific age range. The entrepreneurial messages are subtle whilst important characteristics such as innovation, independence, goal-setting, hard work and resourcefulness are promoted.

There are two other books in the series as well, each with their own stories of entrepreneurialism and problem-solving. Code-it Cody follows a young boy who together with is computer club friends, each have to come up with a new video game.  Will hard work and perseverance win the day? Change-it Cho features sporty Cho who leads a healthy lifestyle and sets about encouraging her school friends to make positive food choices but comes up against lots of opposition from those with a vested interest in children buying sugary treats.

I've been really impressed with this series and how the messages are subtly woven through stories, yet are simple enough for children to understand.

Clever Tykes have been working with schools developing resources for PSHE lessons covering topics such as e-safety, equal opportunities and healthy lifestyle as well as offering the tools to develop enterprise clubs as extra-curricular activities. They have some great resources for teachers and parents on their site and their blog is worth checking out too, I really enjoyed their post 38 ways to make your child more enterprising - full of genuinely useful advice.  My daughter is already showing sparks of entrepreneurialism and is very interested in the fundraising work I do for the PTA, she's always looking for things she can make and sell or innovative ways to raise money for charity, so I think I'm going to be spending a lot of time following Clever Tykes!

The books are available to purchase at £7.99 each, or £19.99 for the set of three.

They have been kind enough to offer the set of three books as a giveaway prize to one lucky reader here.  To be in with a chance, simply tell me below which of the three books you think your child will choose to read first and why, and complete the rafflecopter form.

Disclosure: I was sent a set of books for review and a set will be provided for the winner.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Thursday, 7 January 2016


2015 will always be remembered as the year we lost Ella.  She bounded into our lives when we were a loved-up couple just moved into our first home.  Course, we had our initial teething problems, as she chewed her way through the kitchen table leg, gnawed through my entire cookbook collection, and demolished the bookcase too. A Labrador, she'd eat anything, and even after puppyhood, some of the funniest memories are of her helping herself from the pantry – goodness know how she ate an entire box of Weetabix, but I'll always remember her sheepish look, those guilty eyes and oatie-goatie beard.

But she was the perfect dog.  She never batted an eyelid when Ruby came along, enduring hours being mauled about by chubby little hands,  her bed invaded by a chunky toddler, she was no longer centre of attention.  She never got annoyed, not once.

Ella was such a central part of our family, yet slotted right in.  Equally happy on a 10 mile hike as she was curled up snoring all day if we were out. She had the bladder of a camel, the constitution of an ox but the patience of a saint.  

Her health declined rapidly last summer.  The vets were perplexed, but after numerous tests, she was diagnosed with leukaemia.  She wasn't eating and could barely walk - her two greatest pleasures in life.  It would have been cruel and ultimately futile to put her though any treatment.  We had to make the saddest decision, which weren't ready for - it hit us like a body blow. 

On her final day she was pampered and petted, she slurped her way through endless cups of tea and was hand-fed roast chicken.  We all piled on the floor for cuddles and told her how much we loved her.  While we wept, she feebly wagged her tail.

The loss was devastating.  I was broken.  My best friend had gone.

Our first holiday after we lost her was difficult.  She wasn't there to jump in for a swim with the Old Man; to dig in the sand and help Ruby make castles.  We didn't have to ask for a dog bowl in every coffee shop and pub we visited.

At one of the places she loved the most, by chance we got chatting to a couple and their two dogs.  We told them all about Ella and how much we missed her. Sounds crazy I know, but it was almost like she gave us her blessing when the couple said they thought their girl was carrying pups, so we exchanged numbers and waited.

And what do you know, a month later I got a picture message of those Springer Spaniels with eight little bundles of fluff.

Delilah is very different to you Ella, but I think you'd approve.  She has a lot to live up to, but we're getting used to her odd little ways, and I never believed I'd be able to love this much again.

This post is my entry to the #PetLovers competition with and 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

DIY Copper Leaf Plant Pots

There's a super easy and low cost way to add some of this season's must-have metallic look into your home.  These plant posts are so simple to make for your home or as stylish Christmas gifts.

Applying copper leaf is very straight forward.  You will need some specialist glue which you can buy in art stores and copper leaf.  I purchased mine from Amazon and the service was excellent with it arriving the next day.  For less than £5 you will get 25 pages of copper leaf, enough to do tonnes of pots - set up a production line to make your Christmas presents!

There's a useful guide to applying the metallic leaf here, but it's really simple.  Just clean your pots (I used vintage terracotta plant pots I'd picked up at car boots), apply the adhesive size in the pattern you want, then gently lay the sheet over the top, rubbing gently on the reverse.  Leave to dry for an hour or so, then use a clean soft brush to brush away any excess.

You can go for bold geometric patters, or simple banding like I did, but I'm really pleased with the finished effect.  It brings my houseplants bang up to date!

Have you used copper leaf?  What do you think of it as an idea for adding the copper trend to your home?