How to save money - Get a credit card!

First off, please read my disclaimer post.

With that out of the way, you can rub your eyes in disbelief at the title of this post: save money by getting a credit card? You must be out of your mind!

No. Well, maybe, but hear me out:

I'm talking about a particular type of credit card: cashback. There are a few providers that will pay you a small percentage (anywhere from under 1% up to around 5% with introductory offers) of whatever amount you spend on your card.

Just follow these simple steps:

1. Get a cashback credit card
Shop around, and be mindful of fees. I signed up for an Egg Money card a couple of years ago, and whilst they're still giving cashback on all purchases, new customers will also have to pay a £1 per month fee to use the card. Depending on how much you spend, you can still end up quids-in, but for some people you'll be out of pocket at the end of the month, which beats the point. This page at is usually pretty up to date with regards to the best offers available, but deals change so check the facts at source before signing up!

2. Set up a direct debit to pay off any outstanding balance in full every month
This step is crucial. It's so easy to do with most companies - mine was set up automatically and operational within a few days. Why bother? It means that you automatically clear your debt every month, therefore removing the possibility of incurring interest charges. The interest charges on any credit card will be considerably higher than any cashback offer, which means that if you pay any interest at all, you end up out of pocket.

3. Use your cashback card to pay for everything
Use your cashback card to pay for things wherever possible: where you would normally pay with a debit card, cash, cheque, I.O.U, string or gold pieces, use your cashback card instead. This might sound scary, but as long as you don't usually go overdrawn and you've followed step 2 above, you shouldn't have any problems at all.

There are a number of benefits to taking this simple step. I'll outline a few of them below:

  • The biggest reason, and the whole point of this post, is that everything you buy will be effectively 1 or 2% (depending on your rate) cheaper: you'll never see this cashback in your pocket (it's usually applied to your credit card account on or near your anniversary), but less money will be leaving it in the first place.
  • To put it in perspective, imagine you're spending £10,000 every year on your 1% cashback credit card. At renewal, you'll get £100 back on your bill. This might not sound like a lot compared with what you spent, but remember that this is £100 that you wouldn't otherwise have. Every little helps.
  • You're better protected for two reasons: Firstly, the credit card is a buffer between criminals and your bank account. If a crim gets your debit card and the right details, he has access to your bank account. If he manages to get hold of your credit card, you can isolate him from your main money store much more easily. Secondly, if you buy anything over £100 on a credit card and things go wrong (including the company you purchased from going bankrupt) your credit card issuer is liable, and you have a level of insurance as standard that you just don't get paying by other means.
  • Everything you buy will be listed in one place, making it easier to see where your money is spent each month, and therefore simplifying budgeting. My credit card issuer goes one step further and automatically categorises my expenditure so I can see at a glance how much I spend each month on, for example, petrol, eating out and supermarket shopping.
  • If you regularly pay for things that you can reclaim from your employer as expenses, you'll actually make money out of this: pay for something, get cashback, then get reimbursed by your employer: Free money!

Some words of warning!
  • Don't ever, EVER withdraw cash on your credit card or use the credit card cheques that some companies send out automatically. These work under different rules, and you'll probably end up paying a fee as well as buckets of interest that far outweighs what you're gaining from the cashback portion of the card.
  • Don't transfer balances from elsewhere to your cashback card: many cashback cards have seductive introductory balance transfer rates, which is not surprising as any balance that's deducted from your card will come out of your transferred balance preferentially, meaning that you'll end up paying interest on your higher-rate spending debts.
  • Keep an eye open for fees that may be introduced. Your supplier is legally obliged to tell you if  they are intending to introduce a fee, so make sure you read any letters they send you rather than leaving them to rot on the sideboard with the rest of the post.

A top tip for anyone who's read this far!
Many cashback credit cards have introductory offers that give you an elevated cashback rate for the first few months of use. If you're shrewd, you'll apply for your card at a time which means you'll be taking advantage of the introductory rate at a time of heavy spending- just before Christmas, for example.

Please feel free to post your comments, concerns, experiences and suggestions, and if you haven't already, please read my disclaimer post.

Windows Movie Maker - First outing

We had a training session on Windows Movie Maker recently, in which we were introduced to the software, shown a couple of example movies, and then given half an hour or so to play around with it. Below is my thirty minutes' worth of effort. Yes, it's rubbish, but it's my first attempt so be gentle.

Who knows, I may feel like extending my abilities and having a go at something more sophisticated. For now, though, I hope it's enough to say that the movie below was made with absolutely no prior knowledge of the software involved, and with only the raw materials (sound files and images, etc) that I had at my immediate disposal on my laptop. It is my hope that it'll serve to inspire at least one person to give it a go themselves and produce something far superior.

The software, incidentally, comes free with Microsoft Windows (I have XP, and I am assured it's still there with Vista. Couldn't comment on any other versions), although I am sure there are open source alternatives available if you're of the type that wants to steer away from Microsoft. Any suggestions for free alternatives would be most gratefully received!

How to save money - A disclaimer

I'll be making posts from time to time about my experiences of cutting costs in various different areas. I must stress first and foremost that the things I write about are from my experiences only, and I will not write about things that I haven't personally tried.

Having said that, I am not financially qualified, so there may well be issues that I don't think to cover. You are more than welcome to follow my lead on any and all of the things I suggest, but please bear in mind that whatever you decide to do is your responsibility. Anything you do should be researched and considered: please don't take anything I say for granted. The world of finance is a rapidly changing one, in terms of rules and regulations as well as the market. I won't suggest anything that is illegal (to my knowledge) at the time of writing, but if you want to try anything out for yourselves, I suggest doing a bit of research and making sure that the rules haven't changed in the meantime.

In short, I won't be held responsible for anything that may happen to you (good or bad!) as a result of trying out anything I suggest in this blog. Your life is your responsibility, and "he told me to" just won't wash!

Having said that, I'd love to hear some of your success stories, as well as anything you've tried that I haven't commented on yet.

As I've mentioned before, a good place to start researching most matters of a financial matter is Martin Lewis's website

Happy saving!

How to save money - A good website

I'm a little bit obsessive over certain things. Anybody who knows me can confirm that for you. One of those things is not spending more money than I have to. Or, even better, spending less money than I have to. If I have to make a new purchase, especially big ones, I put inordinate amounts of time into researching the best route, financially, for doing so.

In time I'll make some posts about specific things I do regularly to shave off a few pence (even pounds) here and there, and maybe a few one-offs as I come across them. But for now, I'd like to introduce you to a website that has given me the inspiration to try a number of the money-saving things that I have, and is usually my first port of call when I have any of the larger financial decisions looming.

The website is Martin Lewis's Martin Lewis is an expert and enthusiast on all things financial. He has a regular Friday afternoon slot on Jeremy Vine's BBC2 radio show, which is where I was introduced to him and his website. The site contains obscene quantities of advice, facts and figures on everything you can possibly think of (and a few more besides) on the subject of money, with a distinct bent towards spending less of it.

From buying new cars to choosing a new credit card; from buying insurance to reclaiming bank charges; from calculating your budget to stashing your cash, it's all there. It's well worth taking a look whether you see yourself as financially savvy or a complete savings-novice- I can guarantee there'll be something there for most people that will open your eyes.

There's a mailing list that you can join, various online financial calculators, links to resources, and even a forum that you can join to talk to other avid moneysavers. The best thing about the website, though, is that although it's a brilliant, useful, accurate and well-researched resource, it's also absolutely free to use.

Great stuff on the interweb - Maths and Queen merged!

I've been off ill the past two days (after three: one; two; three - aaawwwwwhhhhh), but I've been trying to spend the bits when I haven't been asleep vaguely productively, which means a certain amount of interweb searching on various mathematical topics. Yesterday evening, Emma (of Challenge That!*) IM-ed me** the link to the following Youtube video. If you're a Queen fan, it's a good way to spend the next six minutes and four seconds of your life. If you're a maths fan, it's an excellent way to spend the next six minutes and four seconds of your life. If you're a maths fan and a Queen fan, make sure you've got your leak-free underwear on, and then it's an essential way to spend the next six minutes and four seconds of your life!#

Oh yes; don't forget to head over to Mathsqs to ask your maths related questions!

I present to you............ Calculus Rhapsody!

* She is also, of course, my girlfriend. But a little free publicity doesn't go amiss, does it? It's a relevant blog anyway.
** From the living room, two floors below me at the time. We like to keep our relationship dynamic.

Does God exist?

I've just got back from Market Harborough, where I went to experience this year's Arts Fresco. But that's not what I want to talk about right now. We parked near Emma's school, and then walked into town, passing this billboard on the way:

That's what I want to talk about*.
Look at the picture above and choose one of the available answers to this question: Is this a rubbish, heavily biased survey question or what?
a) Definitely
b) Yes
c) Probably
d) Thursday
e) No.

I am many things. Just two of those things are Atheist and Mathematician. I feel qualified to take some slight umbrage at this piece of advertising from both, or rather a mixture of both, points of view. For those who don't know,
'Alpha is an opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith in a relaxed setting over ten thought-provoking weekly sessions, with a day or weekend away.' [In their words, from their website]
My own experience with the Alpha Course is limited, so my views about it are likely to be a little biased. I have been pointed towards the course on a number of occasions, usually when a debating opponent has reached the end of their reasoning tether with regards to the existence of a God or Gods**.

But anyway, back to the poster. It annoyed me. Not because it was an advertisement for someone's religion; if you've got a club you're welcome to recruit members as far as I'm concerned***. It annoyed me because the whole God(s) / no god(s) debate is a long running and often heated one, and I don't like it when one side tries present so-called statistics which have been manipulated or collected in such a way as to skew the results in their favour.

As a maths teacher, at some point in the next few weeks I will be teaching at least one lesson on what makes a good (or bad) survey question. It's part of the AQA Module 1 handling data syllabus, and there are a number of 'why is this a bad survey question; how would you improve it?' type questions evident in the last few years' past papers. This billboard is a prime example, and I may well make use of it in future lessons.

Why's it a rubbish survey question? It's biased. That's the most fundamental survey flaw that GCSE (and earlier) mathematicians are trained to look out for. Survey questions should not be leading. 'You do like football, don't you?' is the kind of thing that's demonstrated as poor questioning. But the available responses are also a rich source of bias and attempts to lead people into picking the 'right' answer.
Lets look at the question in, er, question:

Does God exist?

Taking things back to absolute basics, lets assume that someone answering this question does so by picking one of the available responses at random. That means that each response has a 1/3 chance of being picked. But in reality, most people won't pick an answer at random, particularly on a survey on this subject!
So assume that everyone will either pick yes or no. That seems fair, doesn't it? You either believe or you don't. Right? No, actually. In a brief, internally conducted straw poll of the perceived standpoints of the people that I know, most people appear to be undecided on the matter. So they don't want to vote for a definite yes or a definite no. But look, here's a third option: probably. Well, it's not committing myself to a definite, so I'll have to take that one...

But it's still in favour of the existence of the questioner's God. It isn't 'I don't know.' It certainly isn't 'probably not'. It's not even 'maybe'.

So, back to the idea that everyone votes randomly: that's a 2/3 (almost 67%) likelihood that you'll pick an answer in favour of the thing that the questioner undoubtedly wants you to vote in favour of. Even when you take into account that most people won't be voting randomly, the closest thing to a neutral answer will grab many people who are quite happily on the fence or undecided about the matter and claim them as positive responses.

I think the most important question that such an advertisement conjures up is this: Why would a considered, rational thought or belief system have to resort to such blatant bias in its advertising****?

Feel free to agree / disagree / debate / comment. But please remember that I'd like to keep this blog a place that's suitable for all audiences, so profanity will cause your comments to be deleted.

Don't forget to head over to Mathsqs to ask your maths related questions!

* The Alpha Course website has this very poll on its front page. Why not vote? Just for fun.
** Mostly it's just 'a' God, as it's a Christian course and, as far as my limited experience leads me to believe,  doesn't give the possibility of any of the world's many and varied, and just as sensible, other religions any airtime.
*** As long as it doesn't promote such pastimes as rape, genocide, misogyny and slavery. Any more.
**** Yes, I realise the irony in this post: I have supplied the Alpha Course with a little bit of free advertising. But I'm considering the fact that very few people read this blog, and those that do aren't likely to be here for the boobies,

Things to do in Northamptonshire - AMEF presents... Strictly Culture and New Music Nite Weekender

First of all...
Street team needed!
The AMEF presents... Strictly Culture and New Music Nite Weekender event URGENTLY needs a street team to do the following:
  • Work as crew over the weekend
  • Distributing leaflets and fliers
  • Putting up posters
  • Spread the word!
Get in touch with Angela (landline 01933 352997, mobile 07739 507442,, or via myspace or facebook) if you're interested in taking part. Keep reading to find out more about the event!

AMEF presents ... Strictly Culture and New Music Nite Weekender - a weekend of music and arts 
Two days of music and arts - this year's answer to the AMEF Music Festival.
  • Saturday 17th October, 12 noon until 4 (AMEF presents... Strictly Culture) and then 7pm until midnight (AMEF presents... New Music Nite Weekender)
  • Sunday 18th October, 12 noon until 4 (AMEF presents... Strictly Culture) and then 6pm until 10pm (AMEF presents... New Music Nite Weekender)
The Pemberton Centre, H.E. Bates Way, Rushden, Northamptonshire NN10 9YP
More details about the weekend
Saturday October 17th 2009
  • Strictly Culture (12 noon - 4pm):
Events for the whole family to enjoy, including dance and orchestral performances as well as some workshops to get involved with, such as street dance and art workshops. There will be stalls set up so that you can find out more about what's going on in East Northamptonshire, as well as a bouncy castle and more! On Saturday only there will also be an ice-skating rink!
  • New Music Night Weekender (7pm - midnight):
Just like the New Music Nites, only better! A series of live bands play sets of original music. In between the bands there will be a disco, and food and drink will be available. There will also be a video feedback booth for you to leave your opinions!

Sunday October 18th 2009
  • Strictly Culture (12 noon - 4pm):
Similar family-oriented events and performances as on Saturday, but without the skating rink.
  • New Music Night Weekender (7pm - midnight):
Sunday night's New Music Nite will be more disco oriented, with some drum 'n' bass, hip hop, break beats, as well as some local bands, and maybe a cover or two!
Strictly Culture:
  •  £3 per day, or get a two-day ticket for only £5
  • Free parking 
  • Under 4s are free
  • Parents come free with at least one paying child (aged 4 - 17)
  • Get your tickets at or from the Pemberton Centre Reception.
 New Music Nite Weekender:
  •  £5 per nite, or get a two-night ticket for only £8
  • Free parking
  • Remember your I.D if you're over 18!
  • Get your tickets at or from the Pemberton Centre Reception.
More information

Happy New Year

The view from my classroom up until the end of the summer term:

The view from my classroom at the moment:

The bunnies and squirrels have gone :-(

Things to do in Northamptonshire - Open Studios

Starting in June each year, the Open Studios Northamptonshire project start printing and distributing brochures about the event. Over the next four months, more than twenty thousand brochures are given out in Northamptonshire and the surrounding counties of Warwickshire, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Lincolnshire.

What is it?
During the first two weeks of September every year (since 1996), shedloads of Northamptonshire artists open up their studios to the general public as part of the Open Studios Northamptonshire event. Every type, format, medium and style is covered by a variety of artists, from abstract acrylic through pop art painting and stylised sculpture and on to clay work, ceramics and textiles.

Many of the artists have works available for purchase, and some will accept commissions. A number are just displaying work they have done in the past, and a few will probably be working on something while you're there.

Where is it?
All over the place. The Open Studios brochure includes numbered listings of all exhibiting artists, including addresses and other contact details, and brief descriptions of their work (usually with a photograph or scan). The numbers are referenced on a map (usually located on the centre pages for easy location) which covers a fairly wide area - on the edge of 2009's map are Milton Keynes, Brackley, Banbury, Rugby, Market Harborough, Uppingham, Oundle and Bedford.

The exhibitions are in all sorts of different places, many clustered in towns, but with a worthwhile number out in all sorts of village locations that you've never heard of. The venues are equally diverse: your first visit may be to a funded art gallery, while the next is in somebody's garage or shed, and the one after that in a communally rented studio space. There are also exhibitions in various pubs and cafés throughout the county, as well as artworks on display in some of our halls and stately homes.

When is it?
Each of the brochure's individual artist listings include a calendar indicating on which days over the Open Studios fortnight (the first two weeks in September each year) they are exhibiting, and at what times.

Any tips?
A lot of artists participate in Open Studios. So many that it's not feasible to get round them all in one day, or even a weekend. With this in mind, the brochure is useful for planning your visits- have a flick through, circle the ones that snag your imagination, and then see where they are on the map.

Depending on who you are and your motivations for visiting artists, you may want to see if you can split your chosen artists into groups based on location- one clump for Saturday, one clump for Monday, etc.

Anything else?

Devising your own Open Studios 'tour' can provide an opportunity to see bits of Northamptonshire (and just over the boundaries of other nearby counties) that you didn't even know where there. In past years, we've come across lovely cafés tucked away in remote corners that we wouldn't otherwise have had reason to visit, and discovered views of the local countryside that take your breath away.

For the artistic, it's an excellent opportunity to go and see what everyone else is doing, pick up hints, tips and inspiration, and to chat to other people in your field.

For the more inquisitive people out there, it's a great opportunity to have a nose around other people's houses and gardens!

More information
If there are any Open Studios Northamptonshire exhibiting artists out there who read this, I'm more than happy to include a link here to your websites; just get in touch!

MORE thoughts on the Wii internet channel

After a couple of brilliant (and depressingly obvious) suggestions from Rob and Martin (let me know if you'd like your names to link to anything in particular), I decided to check out the BBC's iplayer and youtube on my Wii during this afternoon's exercise session.

I tried iplayer first. The home page loaded, as did the program pages that I clicked on. The programs themselves would not load, however, and just got stuck with those little loading-circles-going-round-in-circles things doing what they do for an agonisingly long time, before giving up and showing me some alternatives I might like to try. After none of these alternatives would load either, I went to youtube.

Youtube works well. It loaded fairly quickly, and the video itself was of decent quality when you take into account things like the camera used and the fact that the Wii is not a HD machine. The sound quality was excellent.

I went back to iplayer to give it one more chance- same result. Still pedalling away, I FWSE-ed to see if anyone else was having the same problem, or if it was an issue at my end. Apparently, since the free update on September 1st, many (if not all) Wii internet channel users have been experiencing the same thing. There appears to be a gremlin somewhere between iplayer and the Wii's version of Opera that is eating iplayer programs before they can be watched. Let's hope someone, somewhere works out what's gone wrong and how to fix it soon, so I can play with my toys. Maybe the google reader issue might get fixed along the way...

Until they do, the Wii internet channel remains little more than a gimmick, unless someone can come up with a genuinely useful use in the meantime!

Wii internet channel - some comments

I made a post the other day about the Wii's internet channel now being free to download. I thought I'd blog some comments for the interweb to hear, read, and either agree with or refute.

I mentioned in my previous Wii post that I thought the Wii's internet browser was 'largely a gimmick,' so I thought I'd see if I could come up with a genuine use for it.

I also mentioned that I use my Wii and my copy of Wii Fit to help my chart my progress with an ongoing weight loss plan. Another part of that plan is my exercise bike (bear with me; this is going to come back to Wii internet). I'm not hard working enough to just get on the thing and pedal. I need something to do while I'm on the bike, so I set it up in front of the tellybox and watch DVDs or play on the Wii*. But I get bored with limited choices after a while.On my new bike I can balance my laptop on handlebars that seem almost custom-built (as I'm doing now) and check my email, Facebook and google reader, and occasionally write blog entries.

Unfortunately though, even with my bike's (possibly) tailor made handlebars, this still isn't that comfortable- it's a small, fairly dim screen (I'm power conscious) that jiggles around (because it's sat on an in-use exercise bike). The thought occurred to me that I could use my Wii to do most of this instead- a much larger, brighter and considerably more stable screen, and a controller that's wireless, single-handed and doesn't require a certain uncomfortable seating position to use. So I tried it out.

  • The Wii Internet channel has a fairly decent and intuitive 'favourites' page, which works well when you consider that this isn't a machine that's built for internet browsing, and you only have about four buttons on the controller.
  • Writing blog posts in this situation isn't great, and I didn't think it would be- my constant movement (I'm cycling, remember) reduces my accuracy with the Wiimote somewhat, so typing lengthy passages is difficult, time consuming and, after a short while, incredibly boring. It beats the point of sitting on the bike to do it.
  • Checking my email is easy enough. I use gmail, and the text, whilst not as clear as on a PC or laptop monitor, is readable. Replying to emails is difficult, however, for the same reasons as writing blog posts, and I find that I have to stop peddling if I want my aim to be steady enough to click on a link, which degrades the efficiency of my exercise routine. So great for checking; give it a miss if you want to reply at the same time.
  • As for Facebook, well, mwergh. I have mixed feelings about this one. Stuff happens how you want it to happen, but it's so slow. Slow to load, slow to scroll, slow to react when you attempt to click on anything.
  • Google Reader was the one I was really rooting for; it seems to me to be the most fit application for the task as it involves looking at the screen and reading, for the most part. Unfortunately, however, it doesn't work. All that loads on the Wii is the menu bar, and a thin sliver below it that shows only two or three lines of any post. As is only sensible, I had a bit of a search to see if anyone else had experienced the same problem and, more importantly, if they'd solved it. Apparently in May 2007 google released a version of google reader that was actually optimised for the Wii browser. What a shame that it no longer works.
So, in conclusion, my quest to find a use for the Wii's internet channel has found nothing. For now, it must remain a just gimmick until I get another idea.

I was just about to hit 'publish post' and had an idea. Hang on a sec...

... it worked!

If you point your Wii internet browser at , you can load the mobile version of google reader. It's not perfect, but I think it just about lifts the Wii internet channel out of the 'gimmick' box. Hooray! I couldn't be bothered checking now, but the same tactic may well make Facebook etc more usable in this situation.

If anyone else has found any genuinely useful uses for the Wii internet channel, comment!

* MarioKart is surprisingly easy to play whilst riding a bike

Where did that saying come from - “once in a blue moon"?

We, as a species, often use words, sayings, phrases, idioms, quotes, clichés, proverbs, maxims, quips, adages, epigrams and epithets without actually knowing what they mean. Sometimes this happens so widely and consistently as to butcher the original meaning, and billions of people end up wandering around saying things that are wildly inaccurate and linguistically nonsensical. I digress; back to the subject. I was researching a post over at Blogstronomy and came across the phrase 'blue moon,' or, more usually 'once in a blue moon.' Of course, I know what it means:
This is not a "blue Moon", just the Moon photographed in the daytime.
Image by Susan Cipriano from Pixabay

'Once in a blue moon' is used to describe something that doesn't happen very often.

For example "Tommaths is read once in a blue moon."

But where did it come from?

Wii internet channel now free (again)!

When Nintendo's Wii games console was first released its internet browser was free to download and install. Just before I bought mine, however, they decided in their infinite wisdom to charge users to download it. Being as tight as a duck's bottom, my Wii has remained internetless.

Until now. I turned it on about half an hour ago to perform my daily Wii Fit body test, and realised I had a message in my Wii inbox. It was from Nintendo, and states that the Wii internet channel is free again!

So this is my first Wii-based blog post.

Initial thoughts? It's largely a gimmick. Very few people will use their Wii as their primary internet portal, which is why I wasn't prepared to pay for it. I think this may be why it's free again: Whilst it's great as a free toy, I fail to see why anybody would actually part with cash in order to use it.
The typing interface was difficult to begin with, but I'm getting quicker. I'm at about the speed my dad reaches on a normal keyboard, so far.

That's it for now, but if you have a Wii and would like to exchange friend codes or suggest some decent online multiplayer games (I have Mariokart!), then please get in touch!

Back to Wii Fit now...

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