Wednesday, 23 July 2014

NISA ISAs - a guide to the new ISA rules.

If it were left to me I would probably shove money in brown envelopes under the mattress. The many varied bank accounts and investment plans available often leave me confused and bewildered and I suspect I am not alone in this!
 Luckily since my mum and the internet both tell me the mattress is not the best place for any spare cash I might save which is fairly infrequent to be honest there is no need for burglars to tidy my room to get to my cash. What little I have is stashed safely (and I hope sensibly) away with people who know more about how to look after it than me.
Pink Piggy Bank On Top Of A Pile Of One Dollar...

 (Photo credit: kenteegardin)
Now if you have any extra money and are wondering what to do with it.....well you could send some to me but I'm guessing a more formal investment plan might be what you are looking for. Have you considered an NISA?
Most people have heard of ISAs which have been around for a while now. But did you know that new ISA rules ( and a name change)  came into effect on 1st July this year (2014)? 
The Government announced the New ISA (NISA) at the last Budget raising the investment limit from £11,520 to £15000 to supposedly make the system simpler. You used to only be able to pay in half of this (£5,760) as cash - the rest had to be stocks and shares etc, but from July 1 you can theoretically pay in the whole £15000 to a cash NISA.
Here's a round-up of the new rules:
From 1 July, you could choose to pay in:
  • £15,000 to a cash NISA and nothing to a stocks & shares NISA.
  • £15,000 to a stocks and shares NISA and nothing to a cash NISA.
  • A combination of amounts between a cash and a stocks & shares NISA, up to the overall annual limit of £15,000.
  • You can only open one cash NISA and one stocks and shares NISA to put new money into each tax-year. But you can also open other NISAs to transfer old ISAs into. This is the same rule as for current ISAs. (information from Money Saving
But Scottish Friendly  is warning savers to be wary of being drawn automatically into holding all their ISA funds in cash and to consider the alternative funds available through ISA investments.
Apparently in the last few weeks before the new rules came into effect a number of savings providers lowered their already low interest rates even further in anticipation of the launch of the NISA and the mutual organisation believes that more needs to be done to communicate the alternatives that are available to ISA investors.
Neil Lovatt, Scottish Friendly’s Director of Financial Products, said: “For every one investment ISA taken out, three cash ISAs are opened.
“Cash is easier to understand as it offers security and access to the savings without penalty that investment ISAs do not. People are being put off by what they think is pure equity investments and instead are opting for accounts that offer poor returns on their cash.
“The changes introduced in the budget gave savers a glimmer of hope and incentivised people to put more money aside each month. However, the Cash ISA market has not risen to the opportunity, instead choosing to offer low rates of interest on cash ISAs and in some cases actually reducing their rates for fear of overly high inflows”.
Still with me? The very simple moral of the story is you should definitely do some research before investing your money. Not all providers offer the same deals! 

You can follow Scottish Friendly @scotfriendly on Twitter for news, top tips and events and check out their profile on The Drum.
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. If you are in any doubt as to whether any plan is suitable for you, you should contact a financial adviser for advice. If you do not have a financial adviser, you can get details of local financial advisers by visiting Advisers may charge for providing such advice and should confirm any cost beforehand.

K is for Kiss- The Alphabet Photography Project

couple kissing at Drag Queen themed dinner party

Every time I look at this picture I laugh. Note the tiaras, my interesting eyebrows, DH's feather boa and diamonte eyebrow decoration....

Together with friends we hold "Come Dine With Me" style dinner parties. Four couples taking turns to host over four months (one a night or even one a week would be too much!) and we theme our evenings for added fun.

This picture was taken on our night (a few months ago) which was Drag Queen themed and people threw themselves into it whole heartedly.  Unfortunately I can't show pictures of our other guests as they have the sort of jobs where it might not be appropriate for them to be seen in extreme fancy dress!

I watched youtube videos of how to create a drag queen look with makeup - the eyebrows are key! We had glittery high heels as place card holders and I gave everyone Drag Queen names. The meal itself was a bit of a disaster as until three hours before we had no electricity for 24 hours due to a major safety issue which resulted in lots of men in and out of the house and digging up our driveway!

Hunting this picture down for the #alphabetphotoproject made me nostalgic - I might have to see if I can arrange another round. Come Dine With Me anyone?

This post is linked to The Alphabet Photography Project run by Charly Dove over at PODCAST.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Planning affordable holidays when you have a larger than average family.

When we had just a "normal" amount of children we, like many people, aspired to at least one getaway a year. Not a tropical beach or exotic location but just a break and a change of scenery. That's not always the case now but I have managed to plan or blag a few cheap hols over the years so I thought I'd share how we managed to holiday with 7 children.

Our first holidays with children were at campsites in France where the tent is already erected for you. Proper beds, a decent kitchen, a real fridge for the cheap wine and continental meats and best of all a barbecue.

DH enjoyed his morning walks to the boulangerie to pick up French batons and croissants for breakfast and we enjoyed relatively cheap and easy holidays just enjoying the countryside and beaches near our camps.

We even managed to do Disneyland Paris on a budget a few times, booking campsites within an hours drive of the park and buying day tickets, one at a time throughout the year from our local Disney store to spread the cost.

Pregnant with DS#3 (when both of us had proper jobs) we even upgraded to mobile homes - some of them better equipped and with more bathrooms than our actual home!
boys with crab on spade
We caught a crab!

But as our family grew and my full time job gave way to part time and badly paid casual work we had to accept that even cheap French holidays were out of our range.

We bought a tent - a big tent! We discovered some amazing campsites in the UK and revisited holiday locations from our childhood taking delight in rock pooling and crabbing. We had a whole week on a lovely site near Bournemouth for just £90!

Then camping became trendy, more and more people bought large tents. Many campsites caught on and started charging a premium for big tents and disappointingly for us, started charging per person. That same holiday in Bournemouth went up to £300 - cheap I suppose but add on petrol (the price of which had also rocketed) and ice creams and excursions and it became undoable.

So we asked around to see if anyone had a static caravan on a site they were willing to let us use cheaply. Better than that, our priest's mum offered us the use of her beautiful home near Portsmouth for a week while she visited family elsewhere. It was ideal - she got a free house sitter and we got a free holiday. We also had the biggest car break down disaster ever necessitating rescue from friends driving two cars 100s of miles to rescue us, and a badly broken leg (DS#4) while we were there but still, good memories on the whole!

girl digging on beach
DD#2 nr Portsmouth
We had two years in a row staying there and I would love to go back but it seems cheeky to ask again. The children loved it and in fact my eldest now lives in Portsmouth!

We've also had breaks at a friend's lovely cottage in the Cotswolds. No seaside obviously but lots of fun to be had river wading! And stayed with my friend in Germany and my cousin in Sandhurst -which is a better holiday destination than you might think but that's mainly down to the company!

I'd say it's definitely worth asking around or posting a begging message on Facebook - you never know who might be looking for a house sitter and even if their home isn't near a beach a change is as good as a rest!

Social networks also great for hunting down last minute bargains - a lot of holiday accommodation providers post messages looking for people to fill last minute cancellations at knock down prices.

In recent years our holidays have consisted of one-night camp-outs organised by our local Team Parish which are now anticipated with the fervour I would associate with going on a cruise. Bizarre that the prospect of hurtling round a field with their friends in the dark while their dads drink beer and barbecue is apparently the perfect holiday for young children!

Milton Keynes shopping centre beach
DD#1 on the beach at MK
We have even enjoyed a few days on the beach in Milton Keynes - no, not  not by the lakes but in the shopping centre where for a few years they have opened a fabulous sandy "beach" and provided buckets and spades - all FREE!

And through an inheritance and the generosity of a friend we have twice managed to get our whole family out to visit Grandma in Cyprus. Obviously the children would choose to do this every year but flight costs alone prevent this. Although you can swap Tesco club card points for flight discounts with some carriers.

This year - well this year was extra special. I was dumbfounded to discover last summer I had been chosen as a Butlin's Ambassador. This entitled me and mine to one free holiday at any of their sites. I was a bit nervous - had always vowed I would never go to Butlin's imagining a seedy, tatty holiday camp with badly behaved kids and their badly behaved children running riot.

Butlin's  giant deckchair
relaxing at Butlin's
I could not have been more wrong! The Wave Hotel at Bognor was sophisticated and tasteful and extremely well equipped and ideal for families. They accommodated our bigger than average brood with ease and the food alone was worth the trip!

The children (and the adults!) loved all the activities - go-karting, fencing lessons, fairground rides, shows, spa sessions, swimming, playgrounds, gaming, soft play.....Oh and theres a lovely beach just over the road too!

We enjoyed that holiday during the May/June half term a few weeks ago and I was a bit nervous as that left us with nothing planned for the long summer hols.

But thanks to the church "Dads, Lads, Daughters and Dogs" annual camp and a variety of days out (mainly free and blogging related thankfully)  plus a trip to the Black Country for Nanny's 90th birthday party the children are happy with what we have planned.
boy on campsite eating ice-cream
Grumpy at church camp

I shall also throw in a few walks and picnics, playdates and BBQs and hopefully when their big brother has moved into his new house, a trip to the seaside to see him and FDIL. I'm also keeping everything crossed for good news from Butlins - having had such an amazing time I am hoping to be chosen again for 2014-15 so I can visit their other sites and spread the news about how awesome Butlins is for all ages for another year. New Ambassadors will be announced later this week. Eek!

Anyway -surviving the holidays when you have a big family -not always easy but it can be done, and on a tight budget too with a bit of imagination, a helping of sheer cheekiness and a dollop of luck.

Monday, 21 July 2014

All about Cholesterol - know your numbers and keep your heart healthy!

When I was a child I used to have nightmares about developing Diabetes. My granny had diabetes and was pretty much blind. It terrified me - the thought of blindness, needles, special diets....
It turned out my nightmares were prophetic. I did develop Diabetes Type 2 despite being neither obese or particularly inactive. Well- I'm not a keep fit fanatic but as you can imagine having seven children I don't get to sit down often.
When I was pregnant I did have to inject myself with insulin although despite my sobbing and snivelling the first time I had to jab my leg it's actually almost painless and not anywhere as bad as I expected!
Mostly however I rely on a (relatively!) healthy diet to keep the all crucial blood sugar figures as near "normal" as possible. OK so I fall off the wagon occasionally (it's hard to resist when your Brownie daughter wants you to sample the cakes she made for her Hostess badge) but on the whole I manage my condition quite well.
Having Diabetes is not just about keeping your sugars under control though- after diagnosis I discovered that the condition can leave you at higher risk of other problems including high (bad) cholesterol levels which can raise the risk of heart disease.
I have been lucky up 'til now and my cholesterol levels had been fine. But at my last appointment I was shocked to learn my levels were up. I was very upset and frightened and was determined to learn more about bad cholesterol and what I could do to lower my numbers! I thought it would be useful to share what I have learned - and tips on how you can lower your bad cholesterol.
So -What is cholesterol and how can it affect the heart?
A lot of people will have heard about cholesterol but what is it and why is it in their bodies? 
Cholesterol is a white waxy substance which is found naturally in the body. It is key to keeping every cell working well. The body also uses cholesterol to make vitamin D, some hormones and bile for digestion.  
Too much cholesterol can however cause problems. Heart disease occurs when the coronary arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls. This fatty substance develops when the level of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol is too high. In time, the arteries may become so narrow that they cannot deliver enough oxygen rich blood to the heart muscle
What about the different types of cholesterol?
There are also different types of cholesterol that are spoken about.
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) is known as the bad type of cholesterol. LDL carry cholesterol from your liver to the cells that need it. 
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL) is known as the good type of cholesterol. HDL carry cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver to be broken down.

Where does the body get cholesterol from?
Most cholesterol is made in the liver and a small amount comes from the diet. Eating too much saturated fat and trans fat (bad fat) - found in fatty meats, pastries and full fat dairy products can increase blood cholesterol.  Choosing leaner meats and fish, and low fat alternatives of these foods together with replacing saturated fat and trans fat with unsaturated fat (good fats)  - found in seeds and nuts and their oil and spreads can help keep cholesterol levels healthy.
What else causes high cholesterol?
Although eating too much saturated fat is a common cause of high cholesterol, some people have high cholesterol even though they eat healthily. Some have high cholesterol as a result of their genes, age, an underactive thyroid gland, diabetes, long term kidney problems, or drinking too much alcohol. Also about 1 in every 500 people in the UK has high cholesterol because they have an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia.

A GP, practice nurse or pharmacist can perform a simple blood cholesterol test. Get both your HDL and LDL levels . To help keep heart healthy, it’s important that bad (LDL) cholesterol remains low and good (HDL) cholesterol stays high. 

I know - it sounds complicated but your GP or nurse can explain your figures and whether they are good or bad.

I would highly recommend getting tested - particularly if there is any incidence of diabetes or heart disease in your family. Hopefully you will have cholesterol in the normal ranges, but if not, the earlier you do something about it the better.

I'm due a repeat blood test very soon so I'll let you know how I got on. I suspect a very Merry Christmas had a lot to do with my last test results. As it used to say on my school reports - I  decided I "could do better" so I plan to make use of what I discovered in my research and hopefully will get a gold star for effort next time!

Simple pleasures - outdoors takeaway picnic

lantern on table with candles and wine bottle
I am easily pleased. I love candles, preferably scented. I love food, especially eaten outside. I love my friends and I don't mind the odd glass of wine!

So this picture, taken in my friend Ruth's garden on Saturday night, kinda epitomises happiness for this madmumof7.

We had decided to order a takeaway and after scoffing a fine Indian feast had settled down to chat and eat chocolate.

The air was warm with a breeze gently playing in the trees over our heads and your could just about hear the birds making the most of the fading sunshine.

As it grew dark  we lit the candles and my friend's husband quietly played guitar as we chatted and I scoffed After Eight Mints. Bliss! As I said, I'm easily pleased.

This post is linked to #magicmoments run by the lovely Jaime at Oliver's Madhouse and to #whatsthestory run by the equally lovely Charly Dove at Podcast. Special congrats to Charly - #whatsthestory is a year old this week!
 photo 93142f35-6d39-479f-b3de-d94dbca68162_zps58499252.jpg

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Lantern. The Black And White Photography Project

This is a solar lantern in my friends garden. Pic snapped with iPhone then edited using iPhone editing  gadget. Simples!
Post is linked to The Black and White Photography Project over at Podcast by the lovely Charly where there are many more pictures better than this one! 

#silentsunday #mysundayphoto

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