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MISS MONEYSAVER: 10 budget boosting tips you (probably) haven’t thought of yet

Oh joy of joys, a host of bills are going up this month.

Council tax is rising by between 3 and 5 per cent, depending where you live; water bills are being hiked by 7.5 per cent on average; broadband and mobile bills are soaring by over 17 per cent in some cases and, of course, the energy discount that kept us going through the winter has come to an end.

Admittedly, pensions and some benefits are also going up but overall it looks like we will have to find more ways to save.

So I’ve set my team at the task and here’s what we’ve come up with. (If you’ve found some new ones yourself do let me know at

n According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the average UK household spends £4,296 on groceries annually. Even small changes can help a little, so don’t throw away old, bruised and soft fruit: they make great smoothies, or you turn them into muffins to stop food wastage.

Get as much free and cheap food as possible using the food-sharing apps Olio and TooGoodToGo and going to for cheaper, out-of-season items.

It’s worth remembering the power of your local community. According to, a third of us have cut costs thanks to neighbours, saving up to £200 a year. So get onto platforms such as Nextdoor (or set up a groupchat) where you can swap items with people in your community, share babysitting, and get free furniture, food and clothes that others are giving away.

As stamp prices go up it’s worth thinking about ways to cut the cost of postage. One of my team found that it was a lot cheaper to split a light gift he was sending by post than to send it in one package.

‘I paid for two large letters (now £1.45 each) rather than pay for one ‘small parcel’ at £4.45,’ he says. ‘The reason is because Royal Mail’s ‘large letters’ allow you to send any items that can fit through an inch-thick letterbox.’ Take a couple of spare envelopes with you to the Post Office and see which option works out cheapest.

Make sure you’re getting the most from your job. Double check what, if any, employer discounts and benefits you are eligible for. Larger companies often have tie-ins with supermarket chains, restaurants and mobile phone companies, among others, and you may get discounts of up to 10 per cent. Also take advantage of any extra pension payments your employer offers, even if it could mean you have to put in a bit more yourself month on month.

It may not be a glamorous place to look for bargains, but don’t forget your local dump. Many waste-processing centres keep a lot of the furniture, TVs, toys and more if they’re basically good. Then you can buy them from their ‘charity shop’ at a fraction of the usual cost. This includes flat-screen TVs for £25-60 and bikes for £30-40 each.

Cut the cost of beauty. Sephora’s ‘pick-n-mix’ section offers five mini products to try for free (although you have to pay £3.95 for postage). Go to

Buy clothes and household goods cheaply at Simon Charles auctioneers ( You can find ex-High Street goods from firms such as John Lewis that have been returned to the shop.

There’s nothing wrong with the products, it’s just that they haven’t necessarily been returned in their box or may have minor dings.

You can also bid on new clothes, including branded designer items, beauty products, toys, furniture and equipment.

If you’re planning on a spring clean or renovation, rather than wasting money on things you’ll use only once, rent cleaning equipment, power tools, cooking or sewing items and more at the Library of Things (

Think about ways you can reduce your water usage. Put the plug in the bath when having a shower, then use what you collect to flush the loo and your water bill will be cheaper.

Or put a watering can in the sink and collect the cold water as you wait for the hot to come through. Keep a jug or bottle of water in the fridge to save running the tap all the time.

Cut the cost of home essentials. Chop sponges in half and you’ll have twice as many to use in the kitchen. Squash your toilet rolls before you use them because then it will be harder to get the sheets to unfold and you won’t waste as much.

Cut the bottom off tubes of toothpaste, tomato puree etc so none goes to waste. To ensure there’s no leakage, use a clothes peg to seal the tube.

Sicily sunshine – at just half the price

The Easter break is a popular time for thinking about booking another holiday. And there are some great deals which mean you could get away for less.

SeeSicily is offering tourists 50 pc off flights, one free tourist attraction and a free night’s accommodation if you stay in Sicily for at least three nights (apart from July and August) up to the end of September 2023. You just have to book your trip through an affiliated partner (visitsicilyinfo/en/seesicily).

If you’re flexible about where and when you go, you could take advantage of pricing glitches. The newsletter Jack’s Flight Club ( sends subscribers details of routes and dates going for less than the airlines’ advertised fares.

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Meet the cheapest US states to buy a house

A new study analyzing Zillow data has found that the monthly median sale price of a house last year was more than $500,000 in Utah, California and Colorado — and more than a staggering $800,000 in Hawaii.

The study, conducted by Studio City realtors, found that Hawaii clocked in as the most expensive state in the U.S. for homebuyers. On the island, the average home price was $805,775 — hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the cheapest state on the list.

Studio City realtor Tony Mariotti noted that market turbulence contributed to a “significant increase” in house prices across the U.S.

Home prices went up nationwide in February after months of declines amid low inventory and a small uptick in demand — and experts have said they expect affordability will continue to be a problem for prospective homebuyers in the months ahead.

Here are the priciest and cheapest U.S. states to buy a home:

The most expensive states to buy a home
Eight states and Washington, D.C., saw a monthly median sale price of a house last year of $400,000 or higher, with Oregon sitting at that exact figure.

Washington state, Nevada, Montana and Washington, D.C., came in between $402,900 and $487,500.

California, Colorado and Hawaii were the top three most expensive, at $537,000, $537,125 and $805,775 in monthly median sale prices last year, respectively.

Costs differed in different areas within states: for example, the median monthly sale price of a house last year in California’s cheapest city of Red Bluff was $320,000 — while the ticket in its most expensive city of San Jose was $1,370,000.

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Don’t just hug a tree this Arbor Day — plant one, too

Nearly five years ago, Hurricane Michael became the first Category 5 storm to hit the United States in 25 years. It left a trail of destruction in its wake, and my community of Panama City — located in the Florida Panhandle — was hit especially hard. Since then, working together as neighbors and citizens, we’ve made significant progress in key recovery areas, including rebuilding key and vital infrastructure, enhancing quality of life, developing our downtown, and attracting new businesses across a mix of industries. However, one of our most important recovery efforts lies within our tree canopy restoration — an often overlooked but vital area of disaster recovery and prevention.

When Hurricane Michael uprooted nearly 80 percent of Panama City’s trees — approximately a million trees, generating 5.7 million cubic yards of debris within the city — it created serious challenges. Not only did we lose the beautiful canopy from 100-year-old oak trees, but the vital function of the trees was lost, the first of which was the absorption of groundwater. The loss of so many trees significantly increased the risk of flooding in our community,

where we now experience flooding in areas that haven’t typically flooded in the 114-year history of the city. The second function lost from the lack of trees is shade.

Trees serve to mitigate the urban heat island effect, where an entire city is warmed by concrete being heated by the sun. These increased temperatures not only result in uncomfortably hot weather but can also lead to other extreme weather events like wildfires. Since the storm, Panama City has experienced increased flooding whenever thunderstorms roll through, in addition to wildfires that consumed over 40,000 acres last year – both due in part to the damaged tree canopy and loss of trees.

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The problems facing VA modernization are bigger than its software systems

The list of criticisms of the new Veterans Affairs (VA) electronic health record system, Oracle Cerner, is long.

Thousands of doctors’ orders went missing, putting patient safety at risk. Its downtime has been high compared to the old system, though it has improved. The new system is expensive: $16 billion so far, up from the $10 billion originally estimated. And, so far, it has been rolled out at just five of the VA’s 171 sites.

One of the problems is that the old record system, VistA, has its own lengthy list of reasons why it cannot continue to serve as the main software for VA hospitals. VistA was coded in Mumps, a computer language so old that few programmers are available to work on it. This old system is also not cloud-based, and cloud-based systems are now standard. And each VA location has customized VistA for its own particular needs, which means that each system is, in its way, unique, and interoperability is not-at-all simple.

Even those who still love VistA concede that sticking with the old software is not a long-term solution. And even in the short-term, VistA is expensive to maintain, costing $900 million for this purpose just last year. So VA has been sinking money into two different electronic health record systems, each one broken in its own way.

As of last Friday, VA has called for a complete reset of the modernization program and a halt to any further Oracle Cerner rollouts.

How did this implementation go so wrong? And what should be done now?

Electronic health record (EHR) implementations often take a long time and go over budget. And while the VA implementation of its new EHR software has been challenging for a number of reasons, all of these reasons could be, and indeed were, anticipated.

VA is unique in its geographical breadth — most EHR rollouts occur in a single health care system that is physically situated in one state, not across 50. Most EHRs, including the new Oracle Cerner system, are designed around billing, which is not a focus for providers in VA hospitals. The VA patient population is also different than the general public, with different frequencies of disease (more PTSD and missing limbs; less pregnancy and pediatric care), and it requires management of referrals and care outside the VA system.

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