Best ways to build your nest egg

It’s amazing how, even as adults, we subconsciously associate planning for things like pensions and retirement as something to worry about in the future. A problem for old people, if you like. But the sobering reality is that many young adults and those in their 30s in the UK are headed for severe financial problems later in life. In fact, a recent report suggests that in today’s terms, we each need a pension pot in excess of £600,000, but the average 35-year old has saved just £14,000. And even though the state pension comes in handy, it is not a sufficient amount of money to live off in isolation.

True, as parents, our gut instinct is to invest in our children and family as much as possible. But it’s so important to leave a bit behind for your golden years. Otherwise, perversely, you could end up being a drain on the very people you’re trying to help – your children.

Of course, the key is to build your nest egg in the best possible way. Or ways. It turns out there are actually many ways to skin a cat…


For those mums who are in work, auto-enrolment into a pension will become a legal requirement for any employer in the next 18 months or so. You as the employee will have the ability to opt out, but really, there are unlikely to be too many occasions where this is a sensible option. That’s because pensions have two significant benefits. Firstly, the employer has to match your contribution up to a set percentage – which essentially amounts to free money. Secondly, your pension contributions are deducted before tax, meaning the taxable amount on your salary is reduced.

There are different types of pension too, but the good news is that a change in regulations last year means that you’ll have access to your pension from the age of 55, and be able to draw the first 25 per cent tax free. Thereafter, you can take an income from the remainder at your marginal rate of tax.


The downside to pensions is that they really are sometimes hideously complex to understand. Not so with Cash ISAs though. Like a savings account, you put your money into the account and let the interest do the rest. Of course, these days that doesn’t amount to very much in the way of a return. Added to that, there is no benefit of an employer contribution, nor a tax efficiency on your salary (although you don’t get charged on interest earned).

However, that will become less of a problem when the new Lifetime ISA goes live next year. This new type of account will let you save into it and receive a bonus of 25 per cent for every penny put away – up to a maximum bonus of £1,000. It will be available to those who are 18 years or older (up to the age of 40), and the savings bonus will apply until you turn 50. That means ‘free money’ to the tune of £32,000 could be earned – if you are young enough!

Either way, it’s an attractive option, especially when you consider that withdrawals will be free after you turn 60. Just be careful of withdrawing from your Lifetime ISA early, as charges will apply (unless you are taking the money out for a first-time home, or treatment of a terminal illness).

P2P lending

One option which is growing in popularity is peer-to-peer lending (P2P), which involves lending your savings directly to consumer borrowers via an online platform. Because there is no middleman like a bank, you as a lender can benefit from returns of up to 6 per cent if you’re willing to lend for five years.

There is of course the risk that the borrower doesn’t pay you back, although the platforms typically have pretty robust ways of dealing with risk. Nevertheless, while you probably wouldn’t want to put all your savings into it, P2P lending looks to be a good way to generate a retirement income for yourself at some point, given that you can usually take the repayments from borrowers direct to your bank account each month.

Setting yourself up

It can be a bit daunting to have to learn all the nuances involved, especially if you’re brave enough to look towards the stock market or other forms of investments. But retirement is something that’s worth taking the time to put some careful thought into. We humans are living longer, yet financial support from Government is slowly decreasing. Rather take matters into your own hands, and ensure that you can look forward to your golden years safe in the knowledge that you’re well prepared. It’s the least that you and your partner deserve.

Review: Fitbit Blaze

fitbit blazeSince the weather has taken a turn for the better, it’s sudden less of a chore to be outside again, and thoughts once more turn to getting fitter. I’ve cancelled my gym membership as the logistics of actually going to the gym have been much complicated by the addition of Brownies and drumming lessons. I should make it clear at this point that I act as a taxi service for both; I am neither a Brownie myself, nor a drummer and as such have no desire to die in a bizarre gardening accident*. View Full Post

Do I need planning permission for my loft conversion project?

A loft conversion is an excellent way of adding value to your home (by up to 20% in fact), as well as more space for your family to enjoy. But do you need planning permission for such a project?

If we take a look at the Government’s Planning Portal website, it confirms that permission is only required if you are altering or extending the roof space in a way that exceeds ‘specified limits and conditions’.

Therefore, if you are simply installing Velux windows from Ken’s Yard, you won’t need to seek out the appropriate permission before the fitters come round but if you are including a balcony or veranda along with your newly fitted skylights you will need a thumbs up from your local authority.

Planning permission will also be required if:

  • The extension is higher than the highest part of your property’s roof.
  • The materials used are not similar in appearance to the rest of the house.
  • The roof enlargement overhangs the wall of the original house.

As well as planning permission, there are other important aspects of a loft conversion to consider such as the presence of protected species in your attic space. Bats, for example, may be lodging in the roof, and these are protected so if you find some while checking the space you will need to apply for a wildlife license before any work can begin. This ensures the safe removal of any protected animals from their habitat and that work in their environment can be carried out.

Fire safety is also important, so this needs to be taken into careful consideration when designing a loft conversion and the provisions for escape accounted for. Fire resisting doors are a new necessary feature for loft conversions, because escaping from a window is too dangerous so the integrity of the stairs to the lower floor must be protected.

A buildings regulation approval will also be required when converting a loft into a liveable space, even if planning permission is not. This ensures the structural strength of the floor is sufficient, there is a safe escape from a fire and the stairs have been safely designed; sound insulation is also required between the loft and rooms below and the existing roof structure will need to be checked to ensure the new design will not endanger its stability.

When it comes to obtaining or checking if you need planning permission for your loft conversion it’s best to do this as early as possible, it’s safe to say it’s not a quick process! Use a professional to put together your drawings and perhaps work with a solicitor to submit the application to the local council. This will cost money but it’s a guaranteed way of ensuring you have everything you need when making your application.

A loft conversion can also have implications when it comes to home insurance, so ensure you’ve done everything by the book to be able to class this space as another room and get it covered with the rest of the house!

Review: Philips PowerPro Aqua Vacuum and Mop

A couple of weeks ago we reviewed the PHILIPS FC9920/69 ultimate bagless vacuum cleaner. I think it’ the best vacuum we’ve used, finally suprassing our Karcher yellow peril. Philips also sent us their PowerPro Aqua Vacuum and Mop for testing too. This is a cordless affair, powered by an 18V Lithium battery. It’s a different beast to the FC9920/69, being designed for whipping out for those spills and messes that kids generate all too easily.

Rather than being a cleaner for giving your house a full once over, the AquaPro is designed for trouble shooting- those bits of cleaning that can’t wait.

It works as a conventional cordless vacuum cleaner:

And it also works as an electric mop:

In practice, in a much smaller and more child infested house, I was pleasantly surprised at how the AquaPro worked. We’ve had experience with various cordless vacuums over the years. The AquaPro is less cumbersome than most- the Bissell I reviewed back in November was heavier and didn’t suck as well as this does. The AquaPro comes with the added bonus of it’s clever mop attachment. I’ve given it an outing on our kitchen floor which as per usual is covered in a mixture of split drinks, grass from the garden and grated cheese (don’t judge me, the kids are fully capable of helping themselves to food at any time day or night.

I’ve done a quick Vine to show it in action:

The mopping was a lot more impressive than I thought it was going to be. Rather than just getting the floor a bit wet, the AquaPro properly cleaned the stains and lifted up the water to boot. A nice trick in addition to being a pretty nifty cordless vacuum cleaner.

The Philips AquaPro has a RRP of £260, which for a cleaner with the dual purpose of a vacuum and mop, is good value.

Review: Smite the Wooden Outdoor Game

Spot of Smite!

You may have read our post about wild camping- we went to a great camp site over the Mayday bank holiday, where there were literally no amenities save a large fire pit and a composting toilet. We had to make our own entertainment. For the adults this involved fire and alcohol (responsibly taken- honestly) and for the kids it mostly involved running around like lunatics.

We did also take the outdoor game Smite with us though, something I’d been offered to review the previous week and something that seemed tailor made for a camping weekend. View Full Post

Review: LEGO Angry Birds King Pig Castle set 75826





So thepig Angry Birds movie is out today- hurrah! and you can read our thoughts on it here– and there are of course a plethora of tie ins relating to it, not least of all an extensive range of LEGO sets, the entirety of which you can see here.

The boy got lucky, and was extraordinarily pleased, as you can see, when those nice chaps at LEGO sent him the King Pig Castle set to review. This is probably one of the first sets we’ve owned that doesn’t have a conventional mini-figure in it, so let’s see how the set went down… View Full Post

Review: Angry Birds the Movie

I love Angry Birds. It’s one of the few puzzle games I’ve completed (well I’ve completed the free version of one or two iterations of it, so that counts) but when the news broke that a movie was being made, I was more than a little sceptical. A film about a physics based puzzle game where you hurl flightless birds at pigs in rickety houses looked like a brand stretch too far.

I’m glad to say my fears weren’t realised. View Full Post

Gardening 101: 6 Fun Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Whether you’re a gardening wizard or are just starting out with a spade and trowel, there’s probably plenty of things you didn’t know about gardening. Here are six fun facts to plump out your gardening knowledge:


  1. Sunflowers can grow to 30ft tall…

…but you might need some scaffolding to support them. The tallest sunflower on record reached 9.17m high – so around 30ft – and was recorded by the Guinness World Records back in 2014. The grower (Hans-Peter Schiffer based in Germany) has broken the record twice previously and is an expert when it comes to producing mammoth sized plants.


Bonus fact: A sunflower isn’t actually a flower at all, the brown centre and yellow petals are actually around 2,000 flowers all grouped together on a single stalk!


  1. Mixing certain plants together can create distinctive scents

Orchids are renowned for their strong scent but did you know if you mix certain types together you can create the smell of your favourite dessert? The Sharry Baby orchid produces a smell like chocolate while the Golden Elf smells like cinnamon, plus vanilla comes from an orchid plant, so mixing up varieties of the plant can make your garden smell like a dessert cart!


You could also try to do something similar with pansies or miniature roses, perhaps using easy fill hanging baskets to create stunning looking and smelling displays.  


  1. Your hair can help deter slugs

Don’t throw away the hair you pull from your hairbrush, instead use it to create a barrier that can be placed around plants you want to deter slugs from. The abrasive feeling stops them from climbing over the hair and onto the plant and the hair itself is also a great source of nitrogen for the soil as it decomposes.


  1. Cooking water is great for plants

Another thing to avoid throwing away is your cooking water. The water you use to cook your pasta, potatoes and rice in is full of nutrients after cooking that will do your garden a whole world of good, so save it water and use it to give your plants a boost once it’s cool. It’s also a great way of recycling!


  1. Gardening is a great way of burning calories

Ever woken up the next day after a full afternoon of gardening and experienced aching muscles? Well that’s because gardening is actually a fantastic form of exercise and way of burning calories. Pulling weeds and planting flowers can burn between 200-400 calories an hour while mowing the lawn uses up 250-350 calories per hour! If you’re watching your weight you’ll definitely be heading outdoors at the weekend now!


  1. Plants like a cuppa too

Chamomile tea is apparently fantastic to water plants with, as the tea contains natural anti-fungal properties which can prevent diseases. You can simply whip up a batch of tea, let it cool and then spritz it onto plants or pour it directly into the soil when its looking dry. If you have seeds that need planting it might also be worth soaking them in chamomile tea to make them hardy against fungal diseases.


Review: Philips FC9920/69 Ultimate Bagless Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner

Philips FC9920-69 1My wife and I have 16 years of parent blogging between us but if you asked us all those years ago which product we’d end up reviewing the most, I’d have been surprised if the answer came back as vacuum cleaners but we’ve reviewed over ten of them between us, and now I’m on the road to upping that to a round dozen with the Philips FC9920/69, a cylinder cleaner that Philips have kindly sent us for review. View Full Post

Saving money through lifestyle choices: Green Living in 2016

imageforalexIt’s fair to say that we would all like more money to spend at the end of the each month. It is also safe to assume that we would all like to do our bit to stop climate change and live more environmentally friendly. So saving where possible whilst simultaneously being kind to the environment is surely a win-win situation? This article will go through the basics that are key to achieving both objectives.

  1. Reduce energy consumption and the associated costs

Starting with the most obvious, the reduction of energy consumption offers two key advantages to low-income and conscientious home-owners. Firstly, it reduces your carbon footprint, helping you to play your part in driving environmental awareness. It also leads to considerable cost savings over the course of a typical year, reducing the amount spent on heating, gas and similar amenities. Those with a minimal budget can even look to insulate their homes (if built prior to the 1990’s) and loft spaces to optimise the amount of heat that is retained during the winter. Seemingly obvious but rarely put into practice.

This will lead to cheaper winters and reduce your heating bill considerably!

  1. Install LED Lights in your home

We are now in the fifth generation of LED lighting, as the technology behind this has changed considerably since the 1970’s. While this type of product has always delivered energy and long-term cost savings, for example, previous iterations were an eye-sore and prohibitive to buy and install in the first place. This has now changed, however, to the point where LED lighting is affordable, available in an array of stunning designs and still capable of delivering huge energy and financial savings over the longer-term.

  1. Integrated Smart Technology into your home

On a similar note, smart technology has also become increasingly accessible in recent times, while the development of central, intuitive control hubs has also enabled home-owners to take real-time control of the amenities and security in their home. With most smart technology hubs accessible through an accompanying mobile application, you will have ample opportunity to completely minimise your energy usage remotely regardless of where you are in the world. This will also require a small, initial investment, but your savings will quickly accumulate and all through a desire to make sustainable, Eco-friendly lifestyle changes! Saving £30 a year though will eventually pay for itself.

  1. Use  a Laptop instead of a PC

Quite an obscure one, but over the course of a year a standard laptop will go through 85% LESS electricity than a standard PC. Quite a shocking statistic, the theme applies to all corded vs cordless devices. For instance a cordless vacuum cleaner is much more energy efficient than its standard corded counterpart and electric power tools are more of a sound investment than their corded equivalents as well. It is not advisable to replace what you already own, but if your corded devices are coming to the end of their lifecycle invest in cordless where possible.

  1. Buy an Eco Friendly shower head

Another fairly obscure suggestion, but having the right attachment can save you over £67 per year. Why literally pour money down the drain when you can keep it sealed nicely in your pocket! For more money and energy saving tips around the home and Garden you can view this handy interactive guide. If you follow all the tips you can save well over £1600!