Surprise charges that make thrifty living a challenge

Surprise - sometimes inexplicable - charges can make it more difficult to be thrifty, says Sheena Gr

Surprise - sometimes inexplicable - charges can make it more difficult to be thrifty, says Sheena Grant. Photo: PA - Credit: PA

Thrifty living, with Sheena Grant

The outlook is not good for UK consumers. Wages are stagnating but costs are going up - everywhere.

Food prices have risen this year, adding £21.31 to the average household shopping bill in the three months to April. Fuel and energy prices are also up and in May, inflation rose to a four-year high, thanks to the pound’s sharp fall since the Brexit vote.

Everyone, it seems, is out to make a profit from the consumer and sometimes it happens when you least expect it, which is especially hard to guard against.

This has been my experience twice in recent weeks, firstly when I went to my local Royal Mail office to pick up a letter posted to me without a stamp. I guessed what it was as soon as I saw the handwriting on the envelope - a birthday card from a college friend. I got out my purse, ready to hand over the 65p cost of a first class stamp, and perhaps a few pence more for Royal Mail’s trouble. What I was not expecting was a £2 charge to get my letter.

I queried the amount. Was the card too big to squeeze through a standard letter box? It wasn’t. That was just the charge. I thought about leaving my friend’s card there, for her birthday wishes to remain forever unread. But I couldn’t do that. She’s one of my dearest friends.

The second unexpected charge came during a visit to Framlingham Castle, with a friend and our children. A family ticket was the cheapest option.

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“With gift aid?”, the assistant asked. We nodded. If you’re a taxpayer, why wouldn’t you go for gift aid? It means the charity can claim the tax back, at no extra cost to you. Or so I thought.

“It’s an extra £2.40 with gift aid. Is that OK?” asked the assistant. “It’s an admin charge.”

We stumped up, not wanting to look mean where charity’s concerned. I’ve since discovered the extra charge is because under HMRC rules at least 10% more must be paid if an organisation is to claim gift aid on admission charges. As far as I can work out, gift aided membership does not cost extra, if anyone visits lots of historic properties and wants to learn from my mistake. As for that missing stamp, the solution may lie in having a word with my friend before another birthday...

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