Unplugging Sky TV

I was a loyal customer to Sky TV from 2001 until 2019. I only paid for satellite TV and didn’t want broadband (I had Virgin cable for many years) or a phone line (my company paid for my phone and it had to be BT).

The only sport I like is Formula One (F1) and I blame my wife for getting me interested in that. I paid for Sky Sports for a few years but I couldn’t justify the cost when I only watched it for the F1 weekends so I dropped that in 2018. I admit that I missed watching it but, unfortunately, F1 is in a rut and the races weren’t that engaging so I was happy to watch the highlights on Channel 4.

So, after dropping Sky Sports, I was subscribed to the cinema channels (which my wife didn’t really watch) and the entertainment package. I was paying about £52.00 a month. I don’t earn much money because I don’t have expensive tastes and I prefer to earn what I need what is not a huge amount. That means £52 is a lot of money for me.

At the beginning of 2019, my village had a new broadband cabinet installed (which the village part funded – maybe that will be another blog topic). This meant my broadband speed went from about 1.8Mbps to 30Mbps. This was a key moment to consider whether I needed to keep Sky or look elsewhere.

With the faster broadband, I was able to sign up to Netflix (first month free) to see if that would fill the gap left by the cinema channels. It wasn’t perfect but I kept reminding myself that moving from £52 per month to about £8 per month was a good saving.

None of my TVs are smart TVs so I would need a way to view Netflix (I was using an Xbox console at this point). But the big consideration is that we have a TV in the kitchen and in the bedroom which we use to watch recorded programmes and live TV. This was easy with Sky and the “magic eye” system allowing you to control the Sky box in the living room from other rooms in the house.

I looked at a few options. Freeview (using an aerial) in my area is limited to the number of channels it can pick up. I thought about an Android box which can stream the channels but I wasn’t sure if I could view the content in other rooms without buying something to enable each TV to connect to the internet.

After doing some research, I settled for Freesat. I could make a one-off payment for the box (and some extras) and not have to worry about a monthly subscription. I also bought a Triax Tri Link with allowed me to connect my Freesat box to the existing “magic eye” set up and control the living room set top box from the kitchen and bedroom. The Freesat box is connected to wifi and has a Netflix app (plus BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Rakuten, UK TV, etc). The broadcast signal comes via a satellite dish so I could just connect the old Sky cables to the new box and allow me to record, pause and view two channels.

I was missing the live F1 but I’d already given up on that. I was missing the cinema channels but, if I want to watch a film before it makes it to Netflix, I’ve got the option of Rakuten. It’s also worth noting that Channel 4 pull some of their content from Freesat so there is no All 4 app and the Channel 4 channels are in standard definition and not high definition; annoying but not the end of the world.

I’ve got to say, I haven’t looked back. I’m very pleased with the content available to me now and I’ve saving about £44 per month (once the Freesat box and Triax box are paid for).

And the part that made me satisfied I’d made the right decision? When Sky kept trying to win back my business by offering me large discounts (but obviously not large enough). I hate it when companies don’t reward loyalty by giving existing customers good deals compared with new customers so I was happy to leave them after 18 years. My advice if you’re with Sky and you want a better price – threaten to go. They’ll offer you all sorts of discounts to keep your custom. Unfortunately, they couldn’t offer me enough once I’d decided to go.

Running and owning a holiday cottage

I’ve been involved with four holiday cottages over the passed few years. For one of them, I just cleaned. Two of them I manage everything from bookings to cleaning, washing and ironing. The fourth I have been involved in the technical aspects where I’ve helped a friend set up her holiday cottage and get her first booking.

Since I’ve been involved in these different roles, I’ve had many conversations with people about how they could set up and run their own business. I thought it was worth writing a few pages with my ideas and the pros and cons of this as a business / money making model. I’ll cover some basics here and then follow up with some more specifics in detail later.

For clarity, I don’t own any of the cottages with which I’ve been involved. I do this work and get paid by the people who own the cottages. They have asked me either due to their distance from the cottages, their lack of time, their lack of experience or a mix of all of the above.

The Cottage in Earl Sterndale
The Cottage in Earl Sterndale

You can make good money running a holiday cottage but you need to bear in mind several things. Due to the fluctuations of seasonal holiday-making, you must always consider your costs and revenue over a 12 month period. Winter has a low income and, for me, because I need to provide guests with logs for the fire, etc, it can be much harder work. Summer is much easier and, if you decide on seasonal pricing, you can make more money. It is worth considering closing for a winter month for maintenance, especially if your costs might be higher than your income. You need to look across 12 months and, if you want a regular income, you might need to hold some money back during the summer and pay it to yourself in the winter.

You also need to consider if you will do the work yourself or if you will use other people or services. Obviously, you can make more money doing things yourself but it’s surprising how time consuming it can be.

All the cottages I’ve been involved with have been within a mile radius of where I live. You need to consider how far you can travel on turnover days but also if you get called due to a problem. You can’t always expect guests to flip a switch in a consumer unit if the electricity trips. Having an hour round trip to flip a switch at 9pm when you’ve just sat down with your family is not nice. Also, if you arrive at the cottage to prepare it for guests and realise you need a screwdriver which you haven’t brought, will you have time to fetch it. My cottages generally have a departure time of 11am and an arrival time of 3pm. This gives a window of 4 hours which isn’t a lot of time if you need to do some unexpected work.

Lilac Cottage in Earl Sterndale
Lilac Cottage in Earl Sterndale

The washing, ironing and cleaning can be outsourced but, again, each function you don’t cover yourself is erroding your income. These services can be bought and will depend on the size of the property (e.g. bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, etc) and what you expect to be done on changeover day (e.g. water plants, change batteries, gardening, etc) in addition to the usual tasks of changing beds and cleaning. I guess you could be paying between £40 and £60 for a one bedroom cottage depending on the extras you might need.

Finally, the part people usually forget about, and actually costs the most to outsource, is the “selling”. This covers advertising, marketing, booking the diary, responding to enquiries, meet and greet, etc. Basically, all the stuff you need before you really need to bother about all the other stuff. There are companies which can do most of this for you and they might charge about 20% of your booking price. You get informed that a booking has been made and you just need to arrange the “domestic” stuff. They handle all the booking process and even the prices. They have good internet and publishing presence so will likely get a lot of bookings, even if you might not be getting as much income as you’d like.

Alternatively, you can advertise and market your property via websites like Airbnb and Trip Advisor. Depending on your country, they charge about 4% but you need to do the legwork of bookings, responses, etc yourself. It’s tempting to use the cheaper option (and that’s what I do) but it takes a lot of time and you need to respond to people promptly or risk being penalised.

In all, there is good money in running a holiday cottage but it depends if you’re willing to do the work yourself. It’s not easy and the market is getting saturated do, if you want to get on the bandwagon, start planning now before it’s too late or legislation is tightened up to cut down on the number of holiday cottages in certain areas.

The website has changed!

The original “I Know the Ending” website was created back in 2003 after a quiet day at work discussing comical film summaries. The idea was good but I didn’t have time to maintain it and, eventually, it wasn’t updated at all and stagnated.

Now I’m older, and I feel somewhat wiser but also grumpier, I wanted to take advantage of the domain name and I’m aiming to discuss the many, varied things I get up to and wound up by.

The main topics will cover setting up a holiday cottage business using Airbnb, Trip Advisor and the other offerings; my love of DIY and woodwork and the tools I buy and never use; my experiences living in a small village after moving from London and the community I find myself within; and my love of retro video games and consoles and how I make and tinker with my own arcade machine.

I’m looking forward to a whole world of talking nonsense and trying to figure out what is doing on in the world today and how I fit into it.