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From time to time I need to send money from the UK to the US, and now that the dollar is stronger, back from the US to the UK. By pure coincidence today I happened to buy something from the UK with my US credit card the same day I moved US Dollars to GB Pounds with CurrencyFair.

Look at the difference in rates. Remember higher is better 😉

Credit Card: I bought something in a UK store for £599.63.

You can see my credit card bill here


I love my US prepaid credit card – handy for budgeting

So you can see that including the International POS (Please Our Shareholders?) charge of $18.31, the total cost in dollars is $933.88. This implies a dollar to pound rate of exchange of

0.6421 USD-GBP (Credit Card)

This is the trade I made in CurrencyFair’s platform. It allowed me to set my own rate, which then found a matching order in their peer-to-peer exchange operation.


I got to have some fun trading at a limit price, but it could have been all done automatically

So you don’t have to be Warren Buffet to realize that the exchange rate of 0.656 USD-GBP is much better. True, there’s a 3 GBP charge to transfer money out of the platform, so taking that expense into account, the exchange rate would be

0.6553 USD-GBP (CurrencyFair)

The other glaringly obvious thing is that the exchange rate is explicit and not handled by a credit card company or bank trying to squeeze a little out of the transaction.

That’s all well and good, but is it worth the effort?

If you transfer money or buy things overseas with any great regularity, I would always go with an explicit exchange rate over allowing the back office of a bank to take care of it. For my $4000 example above if I’d have paid for the $4000 item in the UK with my credit card, I would be $52.66 worse off than by using CurrencyFair. That’s 1.3% worse off if I didn’t.

So yes, I would say it is worth the effort, and I’ll be using CurrencyFair.com again (and if you click on the link here, you get to get a free transfer saving the three quid I was talking about)

Send money abroad


Yesterday I went to take my mother to buy a new laptop in Nottingham. I’d read the reviews, I’d browsed the stores. And I thought I’d nailed it – either the 14″ Chromebook or a 15.6″ entry level laptop. How wrong I was, and it took only 15 minutes in PC World to figure it out.

I’d made two fatal mistakes collecting requirements for the OAP laptop – I’d missed one, and assumed another:

  1. My mum doesn’t need an actual laptop. It stays still on a desk. She just had a laptop as I’d bought her one from the US in my hand luggage – easier than bringing in a tower.
  2. It needs an SD card reader for her camera. Now I know that I have a USB to SD card attachment that I could have given her. That’s just one extra thing to lose or break though, so I didn’t want to go this route.

So what laptop did we decide on for my mum?

The Chromebooks were all too small. Good value. Budget level Celeron processors. But too small, and the HP Chromebook 14-x000na (NVIDIA Tegra K1, 2 GB RAM, Chrome OS) didn’t have an SD card reader. Despite me so wanting to get a simple computer, they just didn’t fit.

The laptops were in the running – but we got scared off by the sales associate at Curry’s who told us the Celeron would be underpowered in the medium term. So we upped our budget a bit and passed on the amazingly good value Lenovo G50-30 – a brand we like.

We ended up with an all-in-one – primarily as it had speakers and microphones and a webcam and a 19.5″ screen. It was also much more powerful, sporting a Pentium or four (or two as the label in store claimed). It’s easy to see. Not too big to fit in an alcove. It has a full sized keyboard and mouse, and it’s been a general pleasure to set up. It was £320 in store versus the £230 laptops, but then again, hopefully with additional processing oomph it will last longer and with a bigger screen it will survive the varifocal glasses for longer too.

The moral of the story is not to assume too much, and to get in a store and play with the boxes. Also, screen size wins. I’d like to think that Amazon was cheaper, but in this case it was the same price for the same model (maybe £10 cheaper if we’d got the black version rather than the white version they carry in the shops). That said, Amazon certainly has more options in the all-in-one category, and you can find some different configurations.


Best Laptop For The Over 65s


Will the little Chromebook win the shootout?

My mum is not really a little old lady in my eyes, now that I’m a middle-aged man. She is still in her 60s having survived the 1960s, and after working on the same laptop for seven years, it’s time to get an upgrade. Not to my mum, to her machine.

What do older people like in a laptop?

My mum turned 30 in an age without personal computing. In a way, I’m projecting my own expectations and wrapping them with her description of what she wants here. She’s a casual internet user.

  1. Simplicity. Who doesn’t want simplicity? Well a few decades ago I thought computers were fun, and learning how to tweak and optimize them was a useful thing to spend time on. Now I just want to drive them and keep the bonnet down. This is making me lean towards a Chromebook
  2. Size. Her last laptop had a 14″ screen, and with the challenges of varifocals, I’m going to say that bigger is better, although screen size is a big driver of price.
  3. Keys. Yes, my mum still types text messages without predictive text on her cell phone. So it’s truly a miracle when I get a long message as it has probably taken her an hour. That said, fiddling around with a tablet is probably not for her. She likes to type. She’s proficient at typing.
  4. Familiarity. Who likes learning stuff just for the sake of it? Well, I do. But I think my mum has used Windows for a long time, and I don’t fancy being the on-call support for her learning something that isn’t intuitive and laden with familiar metaphors. I moved to Windows 8.1 a few days ago, and it was a pain in the everywhere. If I could get a new computer with Windows Vista on it, I would.
  5. Value. I made the mistake of walking into Best Buy the other day and telling the salesperson that I wasn’t bothered about cost, I just wanted something for myself that would last a long time. Under demanding conditions. My mum just wants something that will sit in her house and get opened a few times a week for her to browse photos of the grandchildren, send some emails and do online banking.
  6. Skype. Since she has remote grandchildren, the occasional ability to do some kind of online video calls would be useful. This is pretty key as in moving to a ChromeBook, Skype isn’t supported initially. But apparently it’s possible to run skype and many other Android apps on one with a little effort.
  7. Something you can buy from John Lewis. I’m not sure what this brand devotion is about – it certainly predates my tendency for online disintermediation (I want to buy it from an online marketplace like Amazon)

So there we have it – this is what we need:

An entry level Chromebook with a 14+ inch screen for under two fiddy pounds.


Or will the discount conventional Windows machine win out?

So there are a few out there, some of which are just under 14″ at 13.3″ screens – hopefully close enough.

  1. Toshiba 13.3″ Celeron 2GB RAM, 16GB SSD for under £230. (model I’m looking at is PLM01E-004007EN.) This is only about nine quid more expensive than the equivalent at Amazon.co.uk.
  2. HP 14″ Nvidia Tegra 2GB RAM, 16 GB Flash for under £230. This is a similar spec and has a slightly larger screen. This is a similar price to the same chromebook on Amazon.

But why John Lewis?

They claim to give a 2 year guarantee on every laptop, and of course will want to upsell tech support and maintenance plans. And you can go in and try the keyboards – pretty important when you’re typing. And they let you prod them in store.

So it sounds simple, right? The only challenge is that for the same money or less you can get a 15″ laptop with Windows 8.1:

  1. Lenovo G50-30 4GB RAM Intel Celeron 500GB HDD – for under £230. This is really quite a deal. But not as much as a deal for the same laptop on Amazon which is on sale for £180. This Lenovo boasts accu-type keys on its keyboard – I’m not sure what that means. My mum is very deft with her hands, so this might not be a factor. It’s about 2.5kg vs the Chromebooks approximately 1.5kg. the battery lasts half as long as the Chromebook batteries. And it can do a whole bunch of things that my mum doesn’t want to do. Which could detract from the simplicity that was one of our motivating factors.
  2. What about the Acer Aspire ES1 4GB 1TB HDD with Windows 8.1 – for less than 200 quid? It’s got the same 15.6″ screen, the Intel Celeron dual core processor and you can get it from Curry’s. Curry’s will tell you it can get 7 hours of life from the batteries, where other reviews quote 5 hours. Still – it shows there’s choice in the 200 pound range.

So how to decide on Laptop vs Chromebook for an OAP?

I would personally like to see my mum try the different ones out in store. I think it’s going to come down to size and keyboard. While the Chromebook will spring to life and hopefully require less support and maintenance from yours truly, I can see the conventional laptop winning out.

So tomorrow we go testing in store!