When we were children, my brother and I loved power cuts. We had a coal fire in the lounge and we used it for toasting bread and even cooking boiled eggs in a battered old pan, which made it feel exciting, like we were camping.
Even better, we then all sat around the dining table with candles and torches and played board games. For kids that sort of thing is pure fun.
But now, as an adult, hearing the National Grid warn that homes and businesses across England, Scotland and Wales could see their power shut-off this winter for hours at a time, it doesn’t sound like such a big bunch of laughs.
They say it is an ‘unlikely scenario’, but that they’re saying it at all indicates to me that we need to be prepared just in case. So here goes . . .
If it does happen, power could be shut off for three-hour blocks, most likely on the coldest days between 4pm and 7pm, although some reports say there could be power cuts in the mornings, too.
National Grid assures us we would have prior warning, which at least gives time to fill up flasks of hot water for tea and coffee.
If it does happen, power could be shut off for three-hour blocks, most likely on the coldest days between 4pm and 7pm, although some reports say there could be power cuts in the mornings, too (stock image)
Stuff cash in envelopes for each of your bills
They said cash was on its way out — then the cost-of-living crisis hit. Now growing numbers of people are going back to basics to help them budget.
The Post Office announced it had seen £801 million in cash withdrawals in July, up more than 20 per cent on a year ago.
There’s even a TikTok sensation now about what they call ‘cash-stuffing’. It’s actually just a reworking of what our mums and grans did for decades — putting cash into envelopes for different bills (rent, gas, food, travel) to help them budget.
It’s a good old-fashioned way of keeping on top of the bills, and it works — as long as you have the discipline not to dip into the ‘gas’ envelope to buy a takeaway!
Study after study has shown that using cash rather than cards to buy things helps you spend less. That is why, in my money management talks, I tell people who are struggling with debt to cut up their credit cards and just take out cash that they know they can afford at the beginning of the week. That way they can’t overspend and get into even more debt.
It’s a great way to save, too. My friend, Sarah puts every £2 coin she gets into a jar, then uses what she’s collected for her festive spending.
And moneyhelper.org.uk says that giving children their own piggy bank and getting them to count coins and notes helps them learn the value of money and how to use it.
Lakeland has a great selection of flasks, as does Amazon, including a large, 3l hot water dispenser from Pioneer, on offer for £27.74 (full price: £32.77). There’s also the Klean Kanteen with Café Cap insulated bottle (kleankanteen.co.uk), £27.95, which boasts of keeping liquids hot for 14 hours.
Stock up on hot-water bottles, too. I am tempted by the extra-long one in faux fur from Lakeland for £24.99 (lakeland.co.uk). The most important thing is to keep warm.
The power cut will affect your boiler and you won’t be able to switch on electric heaters so UK Power Networks recommends keeping blankets to hand and to dress warmly in several layers. I’d suggest a gilet is a wise purchase.
If you don’t have one already, the ultra light down vest from Uniqlo (uniqlo.com), now on sale at £19.90 in some sizes, down from £39.90, is ideal.
It’s also handy for commuting as you can wear it on the train or bus and then pack it away into its small drawstring storage bag when you get to the office.
By the way, it’s worth fishing out your boiler manual to check how to reset it after a blackout.
Most boilers are kept on all year — even when the heating’s off — so you may not be used to turning it on again.
Once you get notice of a blackout, it’s a good idea to prepare some food before the electricity goes off.
A round of sandwiches and a plate of biscuits will keep you going. Or keep a few tins of soup and baked beans in the cupboard that you can heat up on a camping stove, if you have one.
It’s best not to open the fridge too much while the power is off, although it will keep cold for quite a few hours even if you do.
If you have a windowsill, you could put some milk out there to keep chilled while the electricity is off. It’s what I used to do when I was a student and didn’t have my own fridge. That, at least, is one advantage of the cold weather! Don’t open the freezer at all if you can possibly help it.
It’s also a good idea to have boxes of matches handy as many gas hobs can be lit with a match if the electric igniter goes, though some hobs have safety cut-outs that stop the gas working if the electricity fails.
Free veggie recipe book for festive food
The Vegetarian Society is offering a free digital recipe book for Christmas called O Come, All Eat Platefuls! (see what they’ve done there?) which you can download if you go to its website (vegsoc.org/lifestyle/christmas-recipe-booklet-2022/) and sign up to its weekly newsletter.
You can unsubscribe any time you want and still keep the recipe e-book which has dishes created by people such as Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella and TV chef Ainsley Harriott.
Get 35 per cent off men’s accessories at the website Mr Lapel (mrlapel.co.uk). The prices are already good value. For example, you can get a pack of three colourful socks for £12.99, sunglasses from £9.50, ties from £14.99 and cufflinks and tie clips for £9.99. Now, with my exclusive code, JASMINE35, you can get an extra 35 per cent off until December 30
If you like good meat then take a look at these Black Friday offers from MuscleFood: there’s the Plenty for Twenty pack (musclefood.com/plenty-for-twenty) which costs £20 and has enough meat for 20 meals, and its Butchers Box meat hamper for £79.99 (worth £98.35) which makes 65 meals. I’ve tried other hampers before and it is quality food so worth a try.
Get an extra tenner off your child’s ISA
At MoneyMagpie, we have teamed up with the digital investment company Wealthify to help you give the kids more this Christmas. If you open a Junior ISA with Wealthify and fund it with at least £1, they will top it up with an extra £10.
So basically — free money! You just need to make sure you open a plan by December 22 and fund it by January 31, 2023. T&Cs Apply. Find out more on our special page at moneymagpie.com/wealthify. As with all investments, capital is at risk
As so much in our homes is now dependent on electricity, it could be worth investing in a solar-powered power pack you can charge up beforehand. The one I have is from Eden Lotus Power. It will power anything under 300W — from laptops, phones and TVs to small blenders.
The Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500 gets good reviews and is £473, down from £556.99, on Amazon, though you have to buy the solar panel separately.
At the very least, I would suggest investing in a battery pack for your mobile phone as you will need it for wifi via your mobile network, if there’s a power cut.
Argos has a portable charger that gives seven hours of power, on offer for £7.49 (full price £14.99). Landlines will still work, but that won’t help if you have an electrically operated cordless phone. Both eBay and Etsy have ‘proper’ landline phones with cords on sale at the moment, which could be a lifeline if your mobile phone doesn’t work.
Now is the time to dig out candles, torches, matches and batteries. You could top up your battery collection with rechargeable ones, such as the Duracell pack which includes a charger and four batteries £19.99 at amazon.co.uk.
Candles can be expensive, but Asda sells ten taper candles, on offer for £2.25 (full price £3) (groceries.asda.com) and 100 tea lights for £3.75. For a longer burn, try their single pillar candle for £2.50. It goes without saying candles should be placed on sturdy surfaces, away from anything flammable and not accessible by children or animals.
A battery-powered torch is another essential. Screwfix.com has some sturdy ones, including the type you can wear on your head. They may look odd, but they’re useful and mean you can use both hands while lighting your way. Screwfix has one by Diall for £6.98, for example (screwfix.com).
Better still, I have some LED lights that I bought from a hardware store a few years ago that will light a whole room. They can be hung on a hook and produce quite a strong light. Amazon has a pack of three Rolson lights that work in a similar way for £11.44.
To keep you and the family entertained, download films and TV programmes onto your computer beforehand — and buy a battery-powered radio. Argos sells a small one for £12.99 (argos.co.uk).
And lastly, some advice from UK Power Networks that you might not have thought about.
It’s a good idea to switch appliances off at the socket before the power cut happens to protect them from power surges.
You should switch off all the lights for the same reason — bar one, so that you will know when power has been restored.
How to get free MOTS… for life
According to Halfords, four in ten motorists say they are either not able to pay for their next MoT or are concerned about how much it will cost.
Danny Collins of vehicle history checking site, Reg Car Check, suggests looking for discounts online and phoning several garages to compare prices.
If you have an idea of what other garages charge you can go back to your usual one and see if they will match the best prices you’ve found.
Some car dealers will offer free MoTs for life as long as the car is serviced with them.
Or you can get your car inspected by a council-run test centre. These places don’t carry out repairs, so the mechanics have less incentive to fail your car in order to make extra money. Find one of these centres at Carveto (carveto.co.uk/mot-check/council-centres/).
According to Halfords, four in ten motorists say they are either not able to pay for their next MoT or are concerned about how much it will cost (stock image)
Try to do as much as you can yourself before taking the car in for an MoT, too. Even someone like me, who has zero knowledge of the workings of a car, can check lights, wipers and tyres before taking it in to the garage.
If anything needs replacing, do some research online for prices so that you can query the bill if you feel mechanics are trying to overcharge you for parts.
Halfords has teamed up with the charity Family Action to offer 1,000 free MoTs to families struggling to make ends meet but need their car to get to work. The charity will give these directly to families they work with.
When it comes to repairs, costs can be eye-watering, particularly as materials prices have gone up so much recently. Compare garage prices in your area at bookmygarage.com/car-servicing/
Don’t drive without a valid MoT or you will face a fine and your car insurance and car tax are invalidated. If you fail an MoT and don’t do the repairs, you could be banned from driving.