Friday, 2 December 2016

Premium Bonds Review - Good or Bad Investment ?

To the uninitiated, Premium Bonds are a form of lending to the UK government but without any guarantee of an investment return (although your original capital is always safe, in nominal terms at least).  Instead of paying a regular bond coupon, there is a prize draw on the first day of each month in which it's possible to 'win' from £25 to £1m.

The bonds are denominated in £1 units, although these days there's a minimum purchase amount of £100 each time you invest, and every £1 bond has an equal chance of winning at the prevailing odds each month, which are set by the responsible treasury department, i.e. National Savings & Investments (NS&I).  

At the time of writing, the odds of winning are 30,000 to 1 and the prize fund is configured to return 1.25%.  All prizes are tax free and do not need to be declared in your annual tax return, so there's no administrative burden.   There's an upper limit on the number of bonds you can hold, currently set at £50,000, and no lower limit except for the minimum purchase requirement.

You can opt to have any prize wins automatically reinvested into buying more bonds, up to the maximum holding limit, or just take the cash each time.

Because the lowest prize value is £25, the real chance of winning anything at all is quite complex - if you don't hold very many bonds in total, then the odds are actually heavily stacked against you.  This is better explained on this site, where there's also an odds calculator based on your own particular holding value and time horizon.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Making Planters from old car wheels....

Another post on the same theme as the last one !  

Although I don't intend the blog to become simply a repository for information on making garden planters, there's no doubt that it's the flavour of the month in our household...

The wife wants to grow some ornamental grasses, yet we've no specific location fixed in our minds and so we'll put them into planters that we can move around for maximum effect.

Grasses tend to be quite shallow rooted, and therefore we don't need an excessive depth to the planter.  I decided to try out an idea I'd considered before, namely to make some planters out of old car wheels.

It doesn't really matter if they're steel or alloy, they can be prepared in much the same way.

I found some on eBay from a seller just a few miles away, three alloy wheels off an old Saab 900.   I've actually owned two Saab 900s in my life, but the last time was around 25 years ago and so I can't imagine there's a huge market for their old wheels these days ...

as advertised....

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Making Planters from an old gas cylinder...

As a disclaimer to this post, strictly speaking even old and abandoned fuel gas cylinders still belong to the company that issued them - when you buy the gas, you're only renting the cylinder which is why there's usually a hefty deposit the first time around and then you swap like-for-like with full bottles when they're empty, and only pay for the contents.   Despite this, there's still a ready market for empty gas cylinders (just search on eBay, for instance) but perhaps their general sale may be outlawed in the future, as has happened with beer kegs.  However, there will still be damaged cylinders out there that would otherwise be condemned if they're beyond economic repair.

And on a safety note, never attempt to cut a cylinder unless you're 100% sure it's unpressurised, completely empty of gas and has been adequately purged !   Note that if you fully open the valve and leave it open with the cylinder upright, after an initial escape under pressure it will still remain full of gas at atmospheric pressure because these fuel gases are heavier than air and therefore can't escape upwards - the cylinder would need to be inverted to empty it of gas.  If in any doubt at all, unscrew and remove the valve adaptor altogether and then fill the cylinder to overflowing with water from a hose, leave it full for an hour, tip it up and empty it, and then leave it standing upside down for a few days.

Anyway, lecture over and back to the post....

We're always on the lookout for garden planters, and this autumn we'd bought two rhododendron bushes of varieties Rasputin and Golden Torch for which we wanted to find a permanent home before the cold weather really starts to bite.  These evergreen shrubs need acidic soil to thrive, which we don't have in the garden here, and so they're better off in pots filled with ericaceous compost.  The planters themselves must be large enough for the shrub roots to grow into over many years, and also heavy enough so they won't get blown over in the wind.

I regularly search on eBay to see what's available locally on a secondhand basis, using keywords such as barrels, urns, planters, drums, pots, tubs, bins, cauldrons etc, but it's difficult to find anything pleasing for a reasonable price, i.e. next to nothing !  

However, I remembered there was a damaged 47 kg propane gas cylinder lying behind the shed, just accumulating snails...  I'd tried to chuck it out in a skip once, but the driver said he couldn't take it.

So I heaved it out, measured it up and in spite of the damage (a crease in the centre), I decided I could still make two 40 litre planters from it.  It's around 375 mm in diameter, and I cut around the cylinder with an angle grinder in two places to remove the damaged section and make two half shells of around 400 mm in height.  

the cut cylinder...

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Garden Review - in Pictures

I don't seem to have been out in the garden very often with the camera this year, but here's a brief review anyway :-

apricot blossom in late winter...
and a futile attempt to protect the apricot flowers from frost with fleece....
it's just too cold & windy here to set fruit outdoors on plants that make
blossom so early in the year, so the tree's now been cut down.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Yet more landscaping works ....

Our rabbits both died this year, within a few months of each other.  They were getting on for seven years old, so I suppose they had a decent enough innings in rabbit terms.

We'd already decided we won't be keeping any more animals, so we demolished their large roofed shelter, hutches & runs, and set about cleaning up the area they'd occupied with a view to re-integrating it back into the rear and side gardens.  

They'd had a very generous plot between them, around 30 square metres including the hedgerow behind, and so it's now freed up quite a large additional garden space.  

the rabbits and their enclosure, taken after we'd built it in early 2011

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Should I continue to add to the Investment Pot ?

From the last few years of monitoring, I can see I've been saving around 50% of my income, most of which is now added to the pot on a monthly basis.

At current valuations, the pot has grown to the point where my monthly additions increase the pot value by only a fraction of a percent each time.    This is well within the expected volatility range of the combined investment pot, even in the most stable of market conditions.

So does it make any sense to continue to add to the pot, or should I put a stop to the monthly contributions and just accept the market return without adding fresh money ?

Now, I'm not about to start wild spending on things I don't need, so you might well ask what's the advantage here, since there's a monthly surplus anyway and therefore doesn't it count as savings if it's not being spent ?

Sunday, 9 October 2016

A Grand Tour ...

I mentioned in a previous post that we intended to take our 'new' convertible on a driving tour of Europe.   Well, we've now returned from a great holiday, and here's brief diary of the trip.

the route, anticlockwise from Zeebrugge to Amsterdam