Until about four hours ago, I thought I had my pension situation relatively sorted.

I’ve always signed up for work pension schemes, and when I went on maternity leave with Belle, aged 24, (me not Belle), I also set up a personal stakeholder pension plan, which I’ve been paying into ever since. I’ve recently had a bit of a pension spring clean, put everything into one big nice pot, and upped my personal contributions dramatically to £300 a month. My pension fund at the moment is worth about £60,000, which in my head is a massive amount of money.

So when Aviva challenged me to live on my predicted pension for a week, I thought it would be easy peasy.

Turns out that in the world of pensions, £60,000 is not a terribly large amount of money at all, as I discovered after doing a few sums on the Aviva Shape my Future tool.

Doing some realistic calculations about the sort of lifestyle I’d currently be able to afford on retirement has been a massive eye-opener. I’d always imagined that retirement would be a bit like having a day off work, but every single day. You know how sometimes you get a day off in the week with your partner, while the children are at school, so you go out somewhere nice for lunch, maybe have a mooch around some shops, or go for a stroll and a piece of cake at a local National Trust property? That’s what I imagine retirement will be like every day. Plus maybe a spot of light gardening, because obviously by the time I retire I will know all the Latin names for plants. (I don’t know how this happens, but older people always seem to know them, so I’m assuming it will just pop into my head at some point?)

Oh, and the odd cruise around the Norwegian fjords.

To give you an idea, I created a little mood board for my retirement. View Post

Jon from The Money Shed has written quite a few posts for me. He’s written this one about matched betting, and another about different ways to make money online, working from home. I let him because, quite frankly, they get me a lot of traffic, plus they are actually useful if you want to earn some extra cash. Plus he hassles me until I do.

This is Jon:

The Money Shed

I tried to get him to take a picture with his dog – ‘people trust people with dogs’ – but you’ve just got his face. Still, he looks fairly normal doesn’t he? View Post

July has been a stressful month for me.

My car is due for its MOT in July, and yet for the first 20 days of the month I did absolutely nothing about it. That’s a lie. About nine times a day I thought to myself ‘I really must check when the car is due for its MOT.’

Turns out you can just look it up on the DVLA website, but in my mind it was a gargantuan task that would involve sorting through masses of paperwork and trying to find last year’s certificate. Or, horror of horror, actually having to use the phone to call the garage and speak to a human being.

(I don’t like using the phone.)

Fortunately for me, on July 2oth I went to an event with Compare the Market, that involved me finding out when my car was due for its MOT!

I know right?! What are the chances? It’s true though. I was testing out a brand new product from Compare the Market, called Simples. It’s currently in beta, but I’m going to tell you a bit about it, and how you can sign up now and be one of the first to try it while it’s still in its testing stage. It’s genuinely a fantastic tool, so do read on. Plus, later in the post I’ll reveal whether or not my MOT turned out to be overdue.

DUM DUM DUM DUM!! View Post

This week I’ve been undertaking a challenge. You know I love anything with a competitive element, so this was right up my street. Not that there really even was a competitive element – not against anyone other than myself anyway, but that’s enough for me! 

The idea behind the challenge, which was set for me by NoteMachine, was to see how spending habits have changed, and to what extent we now use card rather than cash, or vice versa. I must say that I’ve never really given much thought to how I spend money, unless I really want a sausage and onion bap from the little sandwich bar around the corner, who only take cash, and so I was interested to see how I got on.

Here’s a diary of my challenge…

Day one – cash

My challenge is to spend three days using only cash and three using only card, but it’s the first day and I’m still not sure which to do first. As I do with most of my serious life choices, I ask Twitter. Consensus seems to be that I should start with cash, as this will be the hardest, and I’m very pleased with this idea indeed, as it’s a Thursday – farmers’ market day in Taunton. The farmers’ market is about a two minute walk from my office, and I do quite like to treat myself to a teeny tiny Japanese chicken curry on a Thursday, and possibly a chocolate brownie. (If they are home made they are wholesome, and therefore terribly good for you.)

I have a momentary panic when I realise I had gone to work without card or cash, but Bee comes to meet me for lunch and saves the day:

So far so good, although there are a couple of things I notice just after one day of cash only; firstly, I took a lot of cash out, because I was afraid of not having it when I needed it. I don’t always carry a bag, and have a tendency to stuff money, old tissues and scraps of paper into my pockets, and then forget about them. I feel immediately like the potential for me to end up out of pocket is greater with cash, as it seems quite lucky that money might literally fall out of my pockets.  View Post

It’s been quite a while since I did a free credit check on myself. In fact, it was about four or five years ago. My partner at the time was applying for a job that had very extensive checks involved and they were going to do a ten year financial check on me, and so I did one too, just to make sure they weren’t going to find anything incriminating. 

At the time, I scored 999, which is the very top score you can get. I have to admit that I was pretty pleased with it at the time, as I’ve worked hard over the years to keep my finances squeaky clean.

But that was a while ago, and so when I saw a TV ad for Noddle, the credit check service that offers you free credit checks forever, (rather than one of those where you sign up for a trial and then forget to cancel), I felt like I should give it a go. I was also about to buy a new Mac on credit, and thought it would be useful to make sure I was good to go for that – I didn’t want that horrible embarrassment of a teenage PC World sales assistant telling me I’d been turned down. Nobody wants that. If you do run a credit check on yourself and it’s not good, there are things you can do to improve it – see my tips below – so don’t panic.

Even if you have a good credit history, running a free credit check from time to time is a really good way to help protect yourself from fraudsters. We share so much information about ourselves nowadays, that we do leave ourselves at risk. Think about it for a minute and I bet you can think of someone you know personally who has been the victim of identity theft, even if you’ve been lucky enough to escape it yourself.

You’d think that we’d be more careful as a result, but apparently not. According to Noddle’s research, more than half of us admit to throwing away letters with personal information on them without shredding them first; nearly a quarter of us have loaned their credit card to someone else, and 16% admit to keeping their PIN written down in the same place as their card.

Oops.

Checking your credit report helps then by flagging up any unusual or unexpected behaviour. It gives you information on current and previous creditors, so you can check that they match your expectations, and shows you other people or addresses that you might be financially linked to. If any of these ring alarm bells, you can then take action.

 

Free credit check from Noddle

The Noddle set up process was really easy, and it took less than two minutes to enter all of my information. The confirmation process was really simple too – a series of specific questions about my finances that only I would know the answer to. Once the set up was complete, I was emailed an activation link, and it was time for the big reveal…

free credit check service Noddle

free credit check service Noddle

free credit check service Noddle

 

Now, I have to say, given my previous 999, that I was a little taken aback by this. 580?! I felt a bit like I’d got back a maths test from school and only got a C+, which, quite frankly, has never happened.

I ran through all the basics in the credit check report, and could see that nothing was amiss, so that was reassuring, as I had worried initially that perhaps there had been activity in my name that I didn’t know about. All of my payments were up to date, (clearly shown by lots of green dots rather than red ones), so I dug a little deeper to find out what might be the cause of the lower than expected score.

free credit check service Noddle

 

Tips to help improve your credit score

From my research, I could see that there might be a few factors bringing my credit score down. If you’re looking to improve your own score, do take these things into consideration:

  • I’ve moved house twice since I got my 999. Frequent house moves can sometimes raise flags for lenders, and this can be reflected in your score.
  • I have a couple of credit cards that I don’t use. You might not think that this is a bad thing, but apparently lenders look at the total amount of credit available to you, rather than just outstanding credit, and so if you have cards with high limits that you don’t use, consider closing these or asking or the limits to be reduced.
  • I’ve had a lot of checks done on my account in the last couple of years. Weirdly, this too can impact your score, and it can happen without you really being fully aware of it, like when you get quotes for insurance. I also had a brief flirtation with matched betting last year, and so had checks from all the bookmakers I opened accounts with. Do keep this in mind as a factor if you’re looking for quotes or doing anything that involves applying for credit. One thing that might help with this is Noddle’s cards and loans matcher tools. Pop in some basic information about yourself, and it tells you which credit cards and loans it thinks you’d be likely to accepting for, before you apply. This doesn’t show on your credit record, so means you minimise the risk of being turned down and clocking up too many unnecessary checks.

These are definitely areas of weakness for me, but there are other contributory factors to keep in mind too:

  • How much credit to you have altogether? Higher balances can make potential lenders nervous.
  • Are you on the electoral register? Get on it if not!
  • Are you linked to anyone financially? A joint bank account, loan or credit card with someone with a poor credit record will impact your score too.
  • Have you missed any payments on anything? This is obviously a significant factor, as are any CCJs against you.
The importance of online safety

The research from Noddle has shown that nearly four in 10 people (38%) in the UK have been a victim of fraud themselves. That’s more than 20 million people. That’s a scary figure isn’t it? This is not one of those ‘it happens to other people’ things, this is a very real problem. It’s a problem however that you can take measures to prevent:

  • Don’t just throw away personal documents like bank statements and gas bills – shred them before disposing of them.
  • Don’t keep your PIN number written down somewhere obvious, and especially not in the same place that you keep your card!
  • Regularly check your credit report to help you identify unusual or fraudulent activity.
  • Double check your social media settings and security – how much personal information are you displaying? How strict are you with friend requests? If you’ve a relaxed attitude to security and are sharing your full name, email, date of birth and home town, you could be setting yourself up for disaster…

I’d be really interested to hear about your experiences of using this sort of service and how it has helped you improve your credit score or protect yourself against fraud. If you’re not sure what your credit score is, sign-up to Noddle now and find out!

free credit check noddle

Sponsored post. Image of coins – Singkham/shutterstock.