In collaboration with Car Guide

How confident do you feel when it comes to buying a new car? Are you the sort of person who spends hours researching and comparing running costs, doing a thorough car check and looking into the MOT history of each potential purchase? Or maybe you just buy the first one you see in a blind panic and hope for the best?

I’ve spent most of my life in the second category.

I’ve essentially just applied my principle of second crappest and kept my fingers crossed. Sometimes I’ve not even done that, like the time I bought a 20 year old metro on eBay, unseen, for £87. Or there was that time with the satsuma, which it’s best we don’t dwell on.

Basically when it comes to buying new cars, I’m scared. I know nothing about cars or what I’m meant to be looking for in a new car, and so I bury my head in the sand. ‘Do you not even get a free HPI check?’ you may ask. No, no I do not. Honestly, I’d not even heard of an HPI check until I wrote this post. I can just about manage an MOT check for dates, (mainly because I forget for my own car’s and have got good at checking), but I have no idea how to check car history, what questions I’m meant to ask a seller, what repairs to expect at different points in a car’s life – nothing.

I WANT to feel more confident buying a new car though. I do so many other things completely on my own, I feel like I’m letting myself down when it comes to cars. I feel like I’m letting WOMANKIND down. It’s just a car, I need to pull myself together and get some SKILLS, especially if I’m going to realise my midlife crisis dream of buying and renovating my own campervan. (I may not have mentioned this yet. Let’s save this as a story for another day.)

If your feel the same way as me about buying a new car then BUCKLE UP – I’m about to take you on a rollercoaster of a ride around the world of car checks.

Why should I use a car checker?

An excellent first question! Why is it important to get a car check? Doing a car check is a really simple way to boost your car confidence and should be a first step when you’re thinking about buying a new car. A free car check can quickly highlight serious issues like whether or not the car has had a plate or colour change, been exported, might be an ex-taxi – all the classic red flag stuff that you want to avoid when buying a new car.

Doing a quick car check online can help rule out the real bloopers. (Wouldn’t it be good if you could do an online check for potential new partners? Pop in a few basic details and find out if they’re secretly married, have a history of being an absolute loon, that sort of thing. I might write that down as a business idea.)

Can’t I just Google a cheap HPI check?

Well I can’t stop you, obviously, I’m not your mother, (unless this is you reading Bee, in which case I am, but still can’t stop you.) Keep in mind though that not all car checks are created equally. So how do you find the best car checker?

Obviously I can’t claim to have tested every single car check service, but I HAVE had a lovely long chat with the founders of Car Guide and found out all about what makes their car checker different from a lot of the others. I was impressed, not least because Mima, one of the founders of Car Guide, has three cats just like me, AND I got to meet one of them – Tabitha – on our Zoom chat. I find it very hard not to trust someone with three cats. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Portify – the app that could help improve your credit score

We flew to Ireland a couple of weeks ago to see my sister and to celebrate my mum’s 70th birthday and before we went we all had to do PCR tests. Completing the tests and waiting on the results made me incredibly anxious. I couldn’t figure out why, but then I realised it made me feel exactly the same way I used to feel having credit checks done.

I read the test instructions carefully over and over, filled out all the forms, and sent them off. I nervously awaited the results, knowing it was completely outside of my control and yet at the same time worrying irrationally, as though the results would somehow be a reflection on my very worth as a human being.

If you’ve ever been in debt or had a bad credit rating then you can probably relate. I’ve talked a bit before about getting into debt as a single parent in my teens and early twenties. Doing your degree as a single mum at a university 50 miles away from where you live is never going to be exactly cost effective, and I lived with the consequences of that for quite a long time. Every time I moved house and had to complete credit checks through an agency I would feel that potent mix of dread and shame. I felt judged for my poor credit score, even though I knew the test were probably being done automatically by a computer. I felt the computer judging me.

Facing up to those debts and feeling like I’ve reached a financially secure place in my life is something I’m really proud of. I was pregnant aged 16 and have been a single mum on and off for 25 years. I’ve had very little financial support from ex-partners and honestly, raising a family alone isn’t cheap – the cost of single parenting is high. I’ve also been self-employed as a writer for 12 years, and didn’t necessarily give that a huge amount of thought before I jumped in and bought a second hand desk on eBay*, so finally being able to do things like buy a house feels amazing.

It’s a small house, sure, but it’s mine. I made it happen, no one else. I also finally feel like I have the freedom to start thinking about what I might like to save for in the future. I would absolutely LOVE to have a campervan for instance, and drive around having adventures and ideally solving mysteries.

Why is your credit score important?

Does it really matter if you have a bad credit score? Yes is the short answer. Your credit score not only impacts your ability to borrow money, (including basic things like getting mobile phone contracts), but it also effects how much it costs you to borrow money. If your credit score is poor then lenders will consider you a riskier proposition that someone with a good credit score and so will allow for that by charging you higher rates of interest.

This means that you could end up paying a lot more than someone else for borrowing the same amount of money. This is particularly noticeable for large, long term borrowing like a mortgage. Being charged just a percentage point or two more interest can add up to tens of thousands of pounds over the term of your mortgage. Try the Portify calculator now to see how much money you could save by improving your credit rating from ‘fair’ to ‘excellent’.

How can I improve my credit score?

It takes time to improve your credit score, but the good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to help it along the way. Simple things like making sure you’re on the electoral register, finding out your current score and checking your file for mistakes or erroneous links to other people can all have an impact.

If you long to improve your credit score and lose that shame around debt then I’ve picked out four key ways to improve your credit rating, including one that you might not even know about.

1. Face up to your financial problems

This sounds so easy but being in debt and having a bad credit rating is scary. I understand, I really do. You want to pretend it’s not there, ignore the letters, maybe even try to make yourself feel better about the shame by spending more money. You’re human, it’s normal to want to run away from something scary.

It’s not going to work though. Sorry. Debt isn’t going to go away. Your credit score isn’t going to miraculously improve if you ignore it. Moving house is only delaying the inevitable – debt catches up to you and it’s far better to turn and face it head on than to constantly feel like you’re running. Wouldn’t it feel good to not feel like you’re hiding?

What I learned from being in debt is that most companies are happy enough as long as you are honest. Stuff happens, money gets out of control, it’s okay, you just have to own that and deal with it. Take stock of your finances and write down exactly what you have going in and out. Get in touch with the people you are struggling to pay and lay it out for them. Make them a realistic offer – not a huge amount that you think will please them but that isn’t sustainable – something you can stick to.

Take charge. Be the boss of your credit score.

2. Do not miss payments

Well dur. This might seem obvious, but it’s absolutely key. Missed payments are one of the most significant things that effect your credit score and so making sure you pay all of your bills on time, from your broadband to your mortgage, is vital.

Making all of your payments on time is one of the most important ways to prove to credit agencies that you’re trustworthy and reliable, and it ties into the first point too – taking control, monitoring your expenditure and generally just not burying your head in the sand can help to make sure you don’t miss payment dates.

3. Consider a service like Portify

This is the sort of help that wasn’t around when I was in debt, but it’s something that you might want to consider if you’re serious about building up your credit score. The Portify app works in several ways to help you manage your credit rating, through free and paid for packages, and you can sign up in just three minutes.

Improve credit score Portify review

At the free level, Portify empowers you to feel more in control of your money by tracking your income and expenses, and will alert you to bills that could impact your credit score. Through Open Banking, the app identifies your subscriptions and recurring payments and then sends you smart reminders to help you make payments on time. The app also has a handy expense predictor that will learn your financial behaviour and predict if any upcoming bills may push you into your overdraft.

Portify also offers a Lite and a Plus membership, based on flat monthly fees of just £5 or £9 and with no hard credit checks. These memberships could improve your credit score with the big credit agencies – Experian at the Lite level, plus TransUnion (Credit Karma) and Equifax (ClearScore) at the Plus level – and users typically start to see improvements after around three to four months. Building a good credit score takes time and consistency and you need a while to build up a positive payment history.

Portify is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, and the app currently has an ‘excellent’ rating on Trustpilot, based on 752 reviews. Users should maintain good financial behaviour when using the app to get the best results. Results may vary, visit Portify.co for more information!

Improve credit score Portify

4. Keep your credit utilisation rate low

Credit utilisation rate basically means how much of your available credit you’re using, and is another significant factor in how credit scores are calculated – a low credit utilisation rate is better than a higher one.

For example, if you have a credit limit of £1,000 on a credit card but a balance of £100, your credit utilisation rate is only 10%. You can improve your credit score therefore by avoiding maxing out on credit cards and paying balances off in full every month if possible. By doing this you’re effectively showing credit agencies that just because you have access to credit, you’re not rushing out and spending, you’re using that credit line responsibly.

Improving your credit score is a long game and it does take patience and determination, but it’s absolutely possible. Taking back control of your finances is such an empowering experience too, and getting to a place of financial freedom and security is wonderful.

So what are you waiting for? Take your head out of the sand, start taking positive steps to improve your credit score and you’ll be solving mysteries in your campervan in no time.

vintage vw camper

*Everyone knows that all you need to become a writer is a desk right? Like I said, not a great deal of thought…

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This is a paid advertorial with Tesco

Today I’m talking about Tesco Clubcard Plus, giving you a three month update on my post from August. With Tesco Clubcard Plus you can save 10% off 2 in-store shops per month up to £200 each, so up to £40 every month* on your in-store grocery shop and 10% on selected Tesco brands, including clothing and homeware, but is Tesco Clubcard Plus worth it? Am I still using it and saving money? Read on to find out…

 

Being an ‘influencer’ is a funny old job, not least because a lot of the time you have no idea whether or not you’re any good at it.

I know I can write of course, I don’t suppose Penguin would have asked me to write my book if they thought I was rubbish at that bit, but I don’t always know the power of my words. Just because I write about something, does that actually influence people’s decision making? Do my words impact people’s choices?

I like to think yes, but it’s always nice to get feedback, like these Instagram messages I got after I posted this slow cooker pulled pork recipe.

how to be an influencer

That’s reassuring isn’t it? You know the power is in your hands if someone buys three pork shoulders on your say so. You can see what I did there though – lured him in with the cats and then boom, sold him the pork.

One of the easiest ways to tell though whether or not I’m an effective influencer is how much I influence MYSELF. I’ve worked with loads of brands and businesses over the years where I’ve tried a product or service and loved it so much that I’ve never gone back. It’s quite exciting actually, because since I started blogging I’ve got to try so many new things that I might not otherwise have known about, and hopefully that’s where I come in handy for you – testing things out so that you don’t have to.

One of the most recent things I’ve converted myself to is Tesco Clubcard Plus.

I’ll be honest, when Tesco first asked me to give Tesco Clubcard Plus a whirl back in August I was cautious – it’s £7.99 a month and although you’re free to cancel at any time I was wary of signing up for another monthly commitment. In fact, even though I could absolutely see the value in it when I tried it, I did initially cancel after my first month because I was worried about forgetting to use it.

I know, not the best advert right?

BUT…

Then I RESUBCRIBED. View Post

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Advertisement feature

When you read the words ‘protection products during coronavirus’ you probably think face masks right? Or maybe one of those snazzy plastic visors that makes you look like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance? (The welding bits, not the exotic dancing.)

That’s not what I’m talking about today.

(Sorry Flashdance fans.)

I’m talking about financial protection products like life insurance, critical illness cover, that sort of thing – insurance products that protect you financially when the worst happens. I mean I guess you could print out a copy of your insurance certificate and try and fashion it into some kind of face covering but it’s really not the same thing.

Can I get life insurance to cover coronavirus

Pretty sure Jennifer Beals didn’t have a beard but you get the idea

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I’ve got Jon from The Money Shed here again today blabbering on about Bonus Accumulator. I honestly don’t know what he talks about most of the time but I know a lot of people find his articles on matched betting and earning money online really useful, plus he’s stuck at home without his usual time out with a bottomless coffee in Wetherspoons, feeling sorry for himself, so here he is.

If youve been working from home or earning on the side for a while, then youve probably heard of matched betting. If not, matched betting is a risk-free strategy that allows you to turn bookmaker bonuses into withdrawable cash.

Matched betting has been around for years but received mainstream attention when Sam Stoffel released a membership-based service called Profit Accumulator. For a small monthly subscription fee, users were able to log in and be told exactly what bookmaker bonuses were available at any given time and given a step-by-step guide to guaranteeing a profit from them.

Profit Accumulator is still going strong but what theyre best known for is making the whole process easy for anyone to take part in.

The exciting news for long-term matched bettors and newcomers looking to make money online from home is that Sam Stoffel is back with a new product called Bonus Accumulator thats sure to keep the profit rolling in on a monthly basis.

What is Bonus Accumulator?

Bonus Accumulator is different to Profit Accumulator because it focuses on casino and bingo promotions as opposed to sports betting. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Widilo

Question: do you like getting FREE MONEY?

What do you mean no? Hush. You’re just being awkward because you know it’s a leading question. Nobody actually wants to go out of their way to spend more money than they need to do they? If you could get exactly the same product and it cost you £100 or £90 then you’d go for the £90 wouldn’t you?

Right. Thank you.

That’s essentially what cashback is – getting the exact same product you were going to buy anyway, but getting some money back when you buy it.

There are quite a few cashback opportunities around already, from cashback credit cards and offers through your bank account to dedicated websites curating cashback deals. It’s great to have options and you definitely don’t have to restrict yourself. You might use a cashback credit card when you go to the supermarket for instance, but then choose a cashback website like Widilo to look for offers before you shop online.

‘Widilo you say?’

Yep. Widilo is one of the new kids on the UK cashback block. They’ve been a leading cashback destination in France for a while already, and are now coming to the UK offering cashback offers and discounts across thousands of brands.

Widilo cashback offers View Post

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Today I have another post from Jon at The Money Shed, as his money saving and making blogs, like this one about how to make money online, are always popular. If you have any questions, leave a comment and Jon will get back to you.

There’s no doubt that online shopping is KING when it comes buying the products you want. There’s also no question that Amazon is the go to website for many people looking to buy things. With over 90% of UK Shoppers now using Amazon I don’t see things going back to how they used to be anymore!

I still remember in the late 90s when Amazon first appeared and had nothing but books for sale and even those took about 4-5 days to reach you!

Now you can buy anything from TVs and laptops to groceries and spa weekends! And with Amazon Prime available in most UK cities you can get whatever you need the very same day you order it!

But what can you do to help make things cheaper on Amazon for you?  Here are 3 top tips to make sure you are always getting what you want at the lowest price available on there!

Use a Discount Finder

Amazon is a website where you can spend a lot of time searching around and playing with filters to get the biggest discount on the products you want. But what if they could all be done before you head to the site, or better still, automatically!

There are some fantastic tools out there like The Money Shed’s Amazon Discount Finder which will let you choose which item you want and how much discount you are looking to get (the more the better!) and then will take you straight through to Amazon with those discounts already applied!

how to save money on Amazon

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Advertisement feature in association with CISI

Did you know that October 7-11th is Financial Planning Week? As part of the week, the CISI (Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment) is encouraging everyone to sign up for a FREE financial planning session.

Now before you switch off and think ‘oh that’s not for me because I don’t earn enough money’ then think again. Although typically financial planners do work with relatively wealthy clients, helping them manage their investments and savings, Financial Planning Week is for everybody. In fact, if you don’t currently have much in the way of savings or retirement plans then all the more reason to take up the offer of a free session.

I know that looking at your finances can be scary but financial planning is actually something I feel very strongly about as money has an impact on so many other areas of your life. In my twenties I spent a long time ignoring debts I had built up as a student and single parent, hoping they would go away, but you know what? They don’t. All that happens is that you get more and more stressed and worried about them. At some point you have to stare your finances right in the eye and remind them that YOU are in charge. Once you stop being afraid of money, that’s when you can start to feel more in control and make proper plans.

Feeling confident about your finances is incredibly empowering.

So how does the free financial planning session work and what can you expect?

The first step is looking at where you are right now. What plans do you already have in place? What savings or pensions, if any, do you have? This was covered in a few simple forms that I had to fill out before my session with Andrew and Sarah at Berry and Oak, so that they could have a picture of my situation before we spoke.

To be honest, even just this stage was really valuable as it forces you to take stock. I consider myself relatively well-prepared financially, but I still couldn’t tell you exactly what the terms are on my life assurance, or for how long my income protection insurance would pay out should I find myself unable to work. I wasn’t even completely on top of what my monthly income and expenditure was. Just taking an hour or so to fill out the forms gave me a much clearly idea of my current position, and made me feel much more confident, before I’d even spoken to Andrew and Sarah. I also checked my state pension online, which was much easier to do than I’d imagined and is really important as it tells you how much state pension you’re set to be entitled to.

TOP TIP from Andrew and Sarah: even if as a family you think you earn too much to be eligible for child benefit, claim it anyway and then pay it back as part of your tax return. If you’re a stay at home parent, your state pension only knows to take this into account by checking to see if you’ve been receiving child benefit, so if you stop claiming because your partner is earning too much, but you’re at home raising your family, then you could miss out.

Next you think about where you’d like to be, both in the short term and years down the line when you’re ready for retirement. It might seem like a long way away but the sooner you start thinking about it, the more you can get out of it. Because that’s the ultimate goal after all right? To be in a position to be able to spend more time doing what you love. Like taking amazing train journeys around the world. (I’ve never done this but always felt like I’d love it, especially if I had to solve a mystery on board.)

free financial planning session for financial planning week

Photo by Johannes Hofmann on Unsplash

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Today I have a guest post from Jon at The Money Shed. Jon’s written before for me on things like making money from home and matched betting – he’s all about getting stuff done and bringing in cash and is very knowledgeable. This post contains affiliate links.

When you decide to create a blog it can seem there is quite a high learning curve involved at times. What is WordPress? How do you install WordPress? What is self hosted? How will I link my domain name? Can I really create website from scratch?

Maybe you just want a creative outlet for your writing, maybe you want to build a blog you can earn money from via paid sponsored posts or promoting affiliate links to your favourite online retailers.

Having your own self hosted blog comes with some HUGE advantages compared to going for one of the free options such as Blogger.

Advantages for going self hosted include :

  • Owning your own URL
  • Being able to receive better technical support
  • Having your data backed up
  • The ability to customise your blog more
  • You own ALL the content
  • The ability to monetise your blog
  • Being taken far more seriously by brands and their PRs.

Some people will have you believe that setting up a blog is quite a technically long winded process but actually it can be all done and dusted in 15 minutes. I’m going to break it down to just two simple steps and you’ll be up and running!

Now before we get going I am going to make the assumption that you already know the domain name you want for your blog. If you don’t then now is the time to give it some thought as you don’t want to fall into the same trap and everyone else when it comes to choosing your domain name. View Post

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In collaboration with PayPlan

Let’s think about the cost of single parenting shall we? There’s the relentless pressure of being solely responsible for bringing up children, self-neglect, money spent on treats to alleviate guilt over them not having two decent parents, helping them become independent, ultimate loss of sanity

I jest!

(Sort of.)

This post is actually more about the financial cost of being a single parent, inspired by research from PayPlan, a debt advice service, into the unfair costs of activities and days out for single parent families.

Generally you might think that being a single parent would be cheaper – there is only one of you after all – but the reality is that it’s anything but. For starters you still need pretty much the same sized house, and your bills are basically the same, save for the 25% discount on council tax. Your children need all the same stuff. The difference is though that you’re paying for it ALL BY YOURSELF.*

In my case I did save a fair bit of money after my last partner moved out, but that was more about his slapdash approach to his own (and therefore my) finances. He also wasn’t the father of either of my children (the scandal!) so probably not quite the same anyway.

In terms of days out specifically, it has definitely been my experience that you miss out on discounts as a single parent family, as ‘family tickets’ for things tend to be based on a family of two adults and multiple children. The research from Payplan, which is summarised in the infographic below, backs up my own experiences.

Now you might look at the results and think ‘Okay, fair enough though, if you’re going on ‘cost per adult’ then obviously it’s going to be more for single parents as you don’t have anyone to split it with’, but if you have a look further down in the infographic you’ll see that PayPlan has also worked it out on a cost per head basis. Under this way of working, single parents are STILL getting a raw deal – in every example the cost PER PERSON works out higher for single parents, because they don’t get to enjoy the discounts that result simply from being in a relationship.

It hardly seems fair does it? View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with hotukdeals

A few years ago now, back when I lived in Bristol, I had a boyfriend who was obsessed with hotukdeals.

I don’t just mean that he would check the site for offers before he bought something significant, I mean that he loved browsing, scrolling through the listings, just for fun. ‘Someone’s just found a half price patio set in an Asda in Doncaster!’ he would shout out, excitedly. It makes you wonder really how engaging I was as a girlfriend, but let’s brush over that.

He actually saved us a lot of money over the few years we lived together – or should I say hotukdeals did, because the beauty of the site is that you don’t actually do any of the research yourself, you just wait for other people to find the bargains, post about them, and then you swoop. Hotukdeals is a place for real consumers to share their stories, deals, vouchers. and tips. The purpose of the site is to encourage honest advice from genuine consumers, getting insight from other real people about hot deals and products.

There’s also an app, which is totally free and allows for on the go bargain hunting. You can also use the app to set keyword alerts, so if, for example, you’re after some LEGO for Christmas presents, you can get a notification as soon as a LEGO offer gets posted. I actually did a little project with them a couple of years ago, where I saved £527 on my Christmas shopping, so coupled with my obsessive boyfriend history I consider myself something of an expert.

When hotukdeals asked me then if I fancied using the site to discover some bargains for a garden makeover, I was PRIMED, ready to strike while the deal was hot. (Or, as it turned out in my case, while the half price barbecue was hot.) They’ve also given me two £50 vouchers to give away, so read on for more info on how to win those too.

My garden is one of my favourite bits of the house because it’s the area where I have made the most difference. The rest of the house was already redecorated and ready to go, but the garden was like a prison yard. I did a whole garden makeover post, complete with kitten in a wheelbarrow, if you want to check it out, and I’ve added a lot of plants along the way too. (It’s worth noting too that the plants from that second post are doing really well a year on – I’ve been really impressed with them.)

HotUKDeals garden offers

So I set about searching the garden section of hotukdeals for some garden bargains that would add to the tropical paradiseness of my garden.* View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Hometree

boiler cover options

My house. IN MY DREAMS.

If you’ve been considering boiler cover and fancy a free £40 Amazon voucher then BOY OH BOY, you are in luck today.

When I bought my very first house in 2017 there were a lot of things I’d never had to think about before. A fricking great DEBT for a start obviously, that I won’t pay off until I’m about 143, but smaller things too.

Like the ROOF. When you live in a rented house, you never have to worry about the roof. It’s just sort of there, covering you, and if anything goes wrong with it then it’s someone else’s problem. Ditto the plumbing, wiring, sewerage, radiators – basically ALL OF THE THINGS.

Being very sensible and nearly 40 at the time, I realised that you probably can’t take the ‘satsuma on the dashboard‘ approach to owning a house, like I do with owning a car. I would need to think carefully about grown up things like insurance, having the number of a good electrician and where to put the gin cabinet.

I’ve always been a big believer in only insuring against things you couldn’t otherwise afford to pay for. Obviously there is stuff you HAVE to have, like buildings insurance, but I’ve never spent money on extended warranties for electrical appliances, or cancelling train tickets or anything like that, because I could afford the hit if I absolutely had to.

In my new house though I decided that there were some things that, having used all of my savings for my deposit, I wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for should anything go wrong.

For example, I now have pet insurance*, because I really never want to have to spend thousands of pounds on a teeny cat leg plaster cast. The boiler and central heating system also fell into this category.

Apart from anything else, I wouldn’t actually know what to DO, in a first response sort of a way, if the boiler broke down – who do you even call? How much is the call out fee? How does ADULTING WORK??

*takes deep breaths*

Besides, I’m a very big fan of being warm – I definitely didn’t want my boiler out of action. View Post

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