Money money money money.... money!

Hello everybody!

This week in England 10- and 11-year-olds have been completing their end of Primary school exams, known as the SATs (not to be confused with the S.A.Ts over in America). Now, I have said more than my fair share about these tests and, while I am very tempted to say even more about them now… I’m going to resist because I promised you and I promised myself that I would complete my series on how to save you money while we suffer through this kafkaesque cost-of-living crisis.

You’ll recall that I have already furnished you with a whole slew of recipes that are easy on the wallet, easy on the pallet and easy on the… they’re easy to make. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can catch up here.

I have also given you many many ways to entertain yourself for free via various TV, movie, book and magazine apps. Oh, one bonus thing that I forgot to mention actually. Last week when I said you could save yourself £159 by not watching BBC TV and cancelling your TV licence, I forgot to mention a work-around if you absolutely must know who danced the paso doble or you can’t live without talk shows hosted by Irish comedians. YouTube. The main clips are always uploaded to YouTube, often within minutes of airing live on TV. The great thing is, you don’t need a TV licence to watch YouTube and the BBC, far from copyright-striking its content, actively uploads it to its own channel! It’s a great little side-step; you get the content you want without all the filler.

Anyway, that was last week, the end of which promised actual money gains, free laptops and a sure-fire way to stop wasting money.

Now, I don’t know about you but I get really annoyed with money-saving advice columns and blogs that patronise you with advice like, ‘Just don’t buy that extra Starbucks during the day’ or other helpful tidbits like, ‘Stop buying your lunch at Pret-a-Manger’. We are teachers. We couldn’t afford the coffee and bagel even if we had the opportunity. Which we don’t because we’re too busy working 13-hour days. So, I promise, none of that nonsense here. The advice I have is genuine and has honestly been tested and used by me.

And yes, I promise, the final few paragraphs are all about how to get actual free money legally.

Let’s begin with that free laptop I mentioned…

...because that’s the only contentious one of the list.

When I said ‘free’, I meant it… sort of. What I really mean, I guess, is I can tell you how to avoid buying a new one if yours is getting a bit old and slow. First of all though, I need you to think seriously about what you use your laptop for. I am pretty confident that it is mostly planning lessons, consuming media and shopping. Maybe some of you are coding in your spare time but I’m pretty sure that, for the majority of us, free time is a fantasy.

So why do I mention this? Well, if that’s all you’re using your laptop for, and it is getting on a bit, you might not have to replace it. Google recently bought a company called Neverware. 

Neverware had created an operating system called ‘CloudReady’, a Linux-based OS that borrowed heavily from Chrome OS, Google’s own version of Windows or MacOS. If all of this is gibberish, don’t panic, the techy bit is almost over.

‘CloudReady’ was so good because it took old Windows or Apple laptops that were struggling to run the latest updates, and overwrote them to run a much more light-weight system. Essentially, they turned ageing laptops into Chromebooks. Google were so impressed with the programme that they bought it and took it further. They have now created ‘ChromeOS: Flex’. A completely free-to-download-and-install operating system.

All you need is an 8gb memory card and an old laptop (there is an official list of machines that this will work on; however, Google have pointed out that this is not exhaustive, nor is it exclusive. It is just a list of machines that it has been tested on). You open up a Chrome browser tab and install the extension Chromebook Recovery Utility. Don’t worry that you don’t have a Chromebook, that doesn’t matter.

Once that (completely safe) extension has been installed, you do the following:

  1. Click Get started.
  2. Tap on Select a model from a list.
  3. Select Google Chrome OS Flex inside Select the Manufacturer.
  4. Choose Chrome OS Flex (Developer-Unstable), and click Continue.
  5. Assign the USB media for installation. (Use USB 3.0 if that's available)
  6. Click on Create now.
  7. Let things run their course.

It won’t take very long but you may as well go and have a cup of tea at his point. When everything is done, insert the newly loaded USB stick into the laptop you want to breathe new life into and press the power switch. If it doesn’t automatically boot from the USB, you might have to press F11 while it is turning on (if this doesn’t work, there are further instructions on the website where you downloaded Flex).

You will be given the option to install from the USB or try the OS first. Honestly, you decide but be aware that if you opt to install completely, it will overwrite the existing operating system including anything saved onto the hard drive. So make sure you've taken everything off that you need!

Once you’re done, you will have a much faster device that will serve you well. But I can hear some of you now. Aren’t Chromebooks rubbish? Don’t you have to be online all the time? Aren’t they just for kids? You can’t do anything on them.

Au contraire. I have used a Chromebook for everything except editing videos and podcasts for nearly nine years now and I’ve never looked back. My wife has completed two masters degrees and is finishing a PhD on hers. They are more than capable for doing pretty much everything you could ever need to do. If that hasn't convinced you, I wrote this blog post a while back, which goes into more details.

Pretty much.

Full disclosure, I have not yet been able to try installing external programmes through ChromeOS: Flex and, in all honesty, since you can’t install external programmes on a Chromebook, I doubt you will be able to with Flex. This means that software like ActivInspire or SMART Notepad will not be available.

I have worked around these issues in the past by creating lessons on Google Slides (Google’s equivalent to PowerPoint) and opening them through the whiteboard at school.

While we’re on computers, if you aren’t using Google Workspace then you’re kind of missing out. When you sign up for a Gmail account, you automatically have access to Google Workspace, which is Google’s suite of productivity programmes. You have Google Docs, Slides and Sheets (Google’s answer to Word, PowerPoint and Excel) as well as Google Photos, Drawings, Maps, Jamboard (an online, interactive, cooperative whiteboard), Calendar, Keep… the list goes on and on… and it’s free!

If you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, but my school needs everything to be opened in Word,’ Google’s got you covered. You can open any Word document as a Google Doc and you can save any Google Doc as a Word document. Or, if you really can’t face moving away from Microsoft Office, you can open and edit Word documents online anyway. For all the top-tier features, you will need to access your Office365 account… which you have to pay for (unless your school is paying for it). Either way, you have avoided shelling out for a new machine.

Or maybe you have been able to buy a cheaper refurbished laptop and rejuvenated it with Flex - you’ll only need 4gb of RAM; although, if you’re going down that route, just buy a Chromebook. Trust me, you won’t look back.

So that’s the, admittedly slightly contentious, free laptop.

What about the ‘avoiding spending money’ thing?

This might be an unpopular opinion but I'll say it anyway: teachers are paid pretty well (in the UK, at least). With a new starting salary of around £30k and an almost-guaranteed pay increase every year, we're doing okay salary-wise. Now, I know that if you work out what teachers actually get paid for every hour they work, it comes out to a pittance, but, on a month-by-month basis, a teacher's salary doesn't suck (especially that paycheck in the middle of the Summer holiday).

So how come we so often feel underpaid? It might have something to do with rent or mortgage payments, student loan repayments, tax, national insurance, Teachers' Pension contributions... but there is a way to manage whatever is left to help it go a little further.

A few years ago, when I was getting upset because after bills and mortgage payments, I felt like I had no money left for myself, I realised something. I don’t actually need all that much money.

What was I going to spend it on? Food? I already had a budget for food and anyway, food wasn’t entertainment, it was necessity. Clothes? Maybe… but I only have so much closet space and I’m at school a lot of the time, so I can get away with wearing a mix-and-match outfit set for the week. At the weekend, I just want to be comfy. So what was I spending money on?


Okay, so I needed pocket money. An allowance. I should pay myself one. But it’s really hard to set aside an entertainment budget when the chance of dipping further and further into your essentials budget is all too great.

So I went online and found a free account that was a)easy to transfer money into; and b) easy to use in pubs, restaurants, shops, cinemas… places where I would spend my money. I ended up using Revolut (not sponsored, and there are other banks out there, but this was the one I liked). Opening the account was easy and, while they charged for a physical debit card, a digital one was free. I use my phone for everything anyway, so this was ideal. And, bonus feature, when the account was low (or empty) the card wouldn’t work. No more accidental overdraft dips for me!

I set up a standing order to pay myself £50 a month (which I later upped to £90 because I figured I could hire myself as a cleaner - I’m not going to lie, the extra spending money was good motivation to keep the place neat and tidy!). This was guilt-free money. If I wanted to buy a peppermint mocha on the weekend, I could. But here’s the thing… I ended up not.

It turns out that I am one of those people who, when faced with acknowledging the money I was spending, decided that I didn’t really need that coffee after all. I would rather put this month’s money towards a new pair of shoes or a video game (I said it was pocket money, don’t be surprised that I used it for childish things!).

Anyway, I ended up spending much less than I was before I had the dedicated card. Give it a go. If it doesn’t work for you, you’ve not lost anything.

Before we get on to the free money...

I have another piece of money-saving advice. This one is a bit divisive though because people have a strange attachment to their phones.

Ages ago, I had a mobile phone contract and I was happy with it. I would upgrade my phone every year and the price increases were minimal.

But they were still there. The price kept going up. And the choice of ‘new’ phones I could get became more and more limited (unless I was willing to spend an extra £30-£50 a month for the sake of the actual latest handset). So I made the choice to switch over to a SIM only contract. An immediate saving of £15 a month.

It was a pretty sweet deal as well, I had plenty of data allowance (this was back when data allowance wasn’t really a big deal) and infinite calls and texts. Unheard of at the time. And things were great for about five years. Then signal started to get patchy. Customer service started to get snarky. Pay-monthly SIM-only deals were a lot more prolific. So my wife convinced me to switch providers.

I was not happy because I have this tremendous sense of loyalty to things (it’s pathetic, really). It took me ages to unsubscribe from some podcasts that I was no longer enjoying because it felt like a betrayal to themes behind them. But that’s crazy! They don’t know me! I owe them nothing! Switching phone companies was the same. It didn’t matter how bad the service had become, or that I had to walk to the end of the garden just to make a half-decent call; I had been with them for years!

But my wife pulled a Godfather and found me an offer I couldn’t refuse. For £10 a month, I would get unlimited calls and messages and 30 gigs of data! 30! T.H.I.R.T.Y. That’s crazy. So I signed us both up. Imagine my delight when, because both accounts were charged to the same person, I got a 10% discount on the whole thing. So now I’m paying £9 a month for everything.

And it gets better...

After a couple months of never even coming close to that 30gb limit, I discovered a package with the same company that offered the same calls and messages but with 5gb of data. My wife and I weren’t using 5gb a month combined, so five each seemed ideal. And that was, get this, £6 a month. I put my mum on the same deal for her birthday so now, with a multiple-account discount, I’m paying just £5.40 a month for my phone. That’s less than £65 a year. And I have never run out of data allowance (I use wifi hotspots and my phone’s built-in VPN a lot, and I automatically download podcasts and music playlists at home before I leave the house. Alternatively, make sure you're signed in to your school's wifi and download what you need during the school day).

For context, the average UK mobile phone contract costs around £47.20 a month. I am paying 89% less than that.

Hang on a minute, I hear you say. There must be a catch.

There is but, depending on your gadget needs, it’s not a big one. With SIM-only deals, you need to provide your own phone and you won’t have an upgrade every year. This has not been a problem for me. I bought the Google Pixel 2 when it came out and used it very happily until the Pixel 4a was released. I’ll be merrily toting that around until the Pixel Notebook comes out (hopefully in the Autumn of this year). So I tend to upgrade my phone every three to four years. But that’s fine. Phones are so good now that a two- or three-year-old flagship phone will function just as well as a brand new mid-range one and they’ll cost the same.

You can save even more money AND do your bit for the planet by getting a refurbished phone. Second-hand Samsung Galaxy phones cost as little as £200. A nearly-new iPhone will set you back just £200. You can grab an older-model Pixel phone for even less; however, if you are getting a refurbished phone, it is a good idea to check how long they will be supported with software updates. This website has a really helpful table that shows you how long your phone has left. Now, not getting updates doesn’t mean your phone will stop working; it just means that it is not guaranteed to get the latest features and that some of the security protocols will be older.

Okay, now for the main event…

Free money!

According to, 25% of Britons think they won’t have enough money saved up for retirement.

Now, as a teacher, you probably have a Teachers’ Pension account (if you don’t, or you’re not sure about this, please find out! It’s so important). And this is one of the last truly good pension schemes. Once you’re enrolled, the scheme automatically takes out between 7 and 11% of your monthly salary and saves it for when you retire. That might sound harsh but your school then tops this up by another 23%. So every month, you are saving 34% of your salary for when you retire.

But there are caveats. You have to stay in educational employment until you reach retirement age to qualify for the maximum payout, which will probably be high enough to be taxable. At the moment, that’s 65 but realistically, by the time you’re set to retire, it’ll be 68… maybe 70. Can you really see yourself still teaching when you’re a septuagenarian?

You’ll have your state pension as well, which is covered by your National Insurance contributions. You must have made 35 full contributions to get the maximum amount… but that’s only £185 a week NOW. Who knows what it will be in 2030, 2040 or beyond? And they can charge tax on that as well!

You know what they don’t tax?

Lifetime ISAs (and also regular ISAs).

Lifetime ISAs are useful for two things; if you are a first time homebuyer in the UK or as an extra tax free retirement pot. If you live in the UK and you’re older than 18 but younger than 39, you can open a Lifetime ISA (Independent Savings Account). Don’t be put off by how grown-up that sounds; it is a really, REALLY good idea.

There are loads of places that can set you up with one of these savings accounts and they offer the best interest rates available at the moment. You have to put in your own money and I would recommend at least £50 every month if you can. That gives you £600 every year. You can contribute up to £4,000 a year up until you reach the age of 50, which would be great, but I think £50 is sensible.

Here’s the free money bit.

The government will give you a 25% bonus on contributions – that's a potential £1,000 free money every year. You don’t even have to do anything; just make your contributions, which can be automated through standing orders with your bank. So that £50 a month turns into £750 without having to do anything. But what if you could make that number even higher?

If you’re happy to take a bit of a risk, you can swap your cash LISA for a Stocks and Shares LISA and do a bit of investing. From what I’ve read, buying really boring funds is the way to go (sorry, no Tesla or Bitcoin).

Index funds invest in the entire stock market, so your money is already spread over the top 250 or 500 companies; the theory being that they can’t all fail at the same time.

But what if some companies do fail? Will I lose money?

There is a risk but, while companies can fail, the stock market [usually] continues to grow. It might grow slowly; it might grow quickly, on rare occasions, it might take a nose-dive but it has always recovered. Like it or not, capitalism is winning. You could be too. Remember that £50 a month? If you can keep that up, just £50 a month, by the time you hit 60-years-old, your LISA could be worth over £200,000*. That’s tax-free money that’s not only additional to your state and Teachers’ pension but also available 5-10 years earlier.

*(interest calculation based on £50 deposits for 32 years (age 18-50) and 25% gov bonus, 7% interest rate per year. Then 10 years of interest growth of 7% (no deposits or withdrawals are permitted until age 60)) = £203.818

I did tease last week that I would share information on how to make you a millionaire by the time you retire. Well, if you can manage to save the maximum £4000 every year, which the government will then top-up to £5000, and you start doing this when you are 25 and end at 60, your Stocks and Shares LISA could be worth around £1.8 million. This is based on average annual stock market interest-gains at the moment.

Obviously, I am an education blogger and teacher, NOT a financial advisor. I’ve had this information checked by someone who knows more about it than I do but even then, don’t take it as knowledgeable advice. I don’t know you; I don’t know your situation. If any of this has piqued an interest in saving, then please check out some actual financial advice. I’ve had this guy recommended to me.

That's it. That's the end of my three-part series on how to make the most of what money you have and how to grow a little more for the future. According to the Money and Pensions Service, around half of the adults in the UK are worried about money. It's not something to be ashamed of; it doesn't make you less of a grown-up... and it's not something you should ignore.

These last few blog posts, while genuinely attempting to help alleviate some of the financial pressure you might be feeling at the moment, if you are worried about bills, the cost-of-living increase, or simply concerned for your financial future, please go and speak to someone! 

Citizens Advice offers help with debt. Other organisations offering helpful advice online include:

You don't have to worry alone; sometimes, the bravest thing you can do is ask for help. 

Until next time, remember, you can do this: You’re awesome.

Carl Headley-Morris

Email me!              Tweet me!              Visit my website!          Listen to the Podcast!