Car rentals can be very expensive in England.  It is even more so if you cannot drive a manual.  Most cars here are manuals.  They are cheaper to rent, as well as buy, because they are more readily available.  Some car rental companies do not carry many automatics, if at all.  So, if you can’t drive a manual, you should start learning now.

For those, like me, who cannot drive manuals and dread learning to, there are other considerations in renting that will impact their finances.  First, and foremost, is the insurance.  If you cannot prove that you have adequate insurance coverage (for their purposes), then you are required to purchase their insurance.  In addition, if something should happen, there is a high deductible (called excess) applied.  This deductible is added to your car rental until you return it claim-free.  You can also choose to pay an extra fee to reduce this deductible (or excess).  The terms were so confusing that we did not fully understand it at first.  Besides the basic car insurance that you pay for, you also must pay another insurance for Tire & Windshield.

The issue regarding fuel over here is similar to the US.  You either choose to pay for your gas upfront or refill it to the same level you took it out.  If you don’t return it at the same level, they charge you a small fee for refueling it.  The difference is that you don’t have to pay the maximum rate for fuel.  They just charge you their current fuel charge, which can be cheaper than what you’d find locally.  I know Hertz does something similar now.

When we’ve rented in the US, there never seems to be a major inspection of the car prior to you taking the car; but when it is returned, sometimes they look it over, other times you just park it up and leave.  that attitude varies over here.  Some places, you have someone going around the car quite thoroughly with you before they hand over the keys and they do the same when you return it.  Others, they just hand you the keys and expect you to look it over yourself.  It is your responsibility to report any damage to the car before you take it.  Otherwise, you may be expected to pay for it.

Whether you are visiting or staying, you will need your passport as proof of identity.  Some places (we know from our experience of Enterprise) will also require your flight details in order to confirm that you are only renting temporarily.  If you are staying, some places (again, Enterprise) will want proof that you are residing here – they will want two bills for this.  It made it difficult for us because we still didn’t have a place of residence and needed a car to rent.  We couldn’t prove that we were staying because we didn’t have any bills and we couldn’t prove that we were visiting because we didn’t have airline tickets.  They had no answer when we asked how we could rent a car so that we could get around and find a place to live.  Luckily, we had found another company that was not going to put us through that rigmarole.

It’s best to use a credit card to reserve a car.  Using a debit will mean that they will take your money out first and return it later if you did not damage the car.  I find it more reassuring if they only take out money after the fact and you know how much they will take, rather than guessing whether they have returned your money.  Or, if you have cash on hand, that is even better.  Just remember that Discover is not accepted at most places in England.

Although the housing market is suffering in sales, rentals are going quite strong.  We found that out in our search for living accommodations.  As soon as we made up our minds about a property, it was gone.

The rental market is good enough to support the seemingly high rents that are being asked.  The high cost was what was preventing us from making rapid decisions.  The lack of housing options also contribute to the high cost.  High demand, low supply.

At times, we regret that we did not decide quick enough and lost out on the best house available.  However, we have to move on.  Our house is not “bad”, except that it needs a new roof (in the works) and a new bathroom (in the future works).  We have a wonderfully scenic view of the country and we know we don’t have to worry about crime and such.

One major thing we did not take into account when we did decide to accept a property is the council tax.  We never asked and really did not even know about it.  If we had, we might have made a different decision.  Who knows.

The housing market is expected to increase as people are lowering their asking price.  If it does improve, I wonder how it will affect the rental market.  Will it still remain robust, continuing to ask for high rents?  Or will it mean that people are less likely to rent and the rents will fall?  Let’s wait to see.

I’ve had many odd experiences in my life, and waiting at the car rental station for a day had to be one of the stranger ones.  Due to some unexpected problems with the rental of a car at the airport, I had to stay at the rental’s shuttle station until my husband could resolve the issues.  

Having just arrived that morning, my only meal was the airline’s breakfast.  It was inadequate for an entire day, yet I really didn’t feel hungry.  One of the shuttle drivers did offer to get me something late in the afternoon, but I declined because I wouldn’t have been able to go to the bathroom.  I had a daughter who ended up sleeping on my lap for almost the entire day.

My husband arrived back in the early evening and managed to get a car, but it was not big enough for all our luggage.  He had to take our daughter and some of the luggage first and return for me later.  It was a good thing he brought dinner because I was getting hungry at 10PM.

All throughout the interminably long day I had to amuse myself with people watching.  I thought, as I sat on a bench outside the rental office, I could make a good study of all the flights coming in and out of Heathrow.  Then I thought about the terrorists and it was sobering to think how they could use information like that.

Heathrow is such a huge international airport that I was amused by the various people who worked there, as well as those coming in or going out of England.  England is composed of such diverse ethnic and national backgrounds – at least at the moment – it makes for an interesting study of people.  I couldn’t help but imagine who all these characters were and what they did in life.  Also, just by the way they walk, talk and act, you can make assessments about their personalities.

Although I did not ask for it, the long wait at the end of the terminal turned out to be quite a unique experience and hopefully, I may make use of the information gathered.

There are lots of banks in England and with the vast number, you’d think you have a “choice”.  However, it turns out that some banks are actually owned by others, so the number is less than it appears.  In addition, what each of these banks offer to make themselves attractive are all really similar, so it doesn’t seem to matter where you bank, you’re getting pretty much the same thing. 

Right now, Lloyds TSB is trying to buy up HBOS (Hallifax Bank of Scotland), which would make it the largest bank in England.  Although this step would make it appear that Lloyds is quite stable, there are no guarantees in the current economic climate.  Nevertheless, we did open an account there.  Which isn’t saying much since we opened it with a zero deposit.  (I don’t think I’ve ever been able to open an account in the US without putting some money into it initially.)  Of course, the account is just sitting there open and we are unable to do anything with it except use a debit card to withdraw money at the bank’s ATM (it cannot be used elsewhere).  They call this a Cash Only Account.  Any withdrawals are unlikely given the balance.

Because of the current recession, the government recently lowered the interest rate.  Although it sounds very good to consumers who are spenders, it is not so good for the savers.  I’m a saver by nature, so the lower interest rate doesn’t do much for me.  In fact, it means I’m getting less interest on my savings.  That’s not good news for me.  The lower interest rate is to encourage spending and get  money circulating; however, given the recent “bust” in the housing market, etc., I’m surprised anyone would want to go out and get a mortgage right now.

One of my first experiences of British culture was Bonfire Night.  For those who don’t know, Bonfire Night is in remembrance of the capture of Guy Fawkes and his accomplices in the infamous Gunpowder Plot that was meant to blow up the existing parliament of the time.  Since those times, people have been burning effigies of Guy Fawkes and others on November 5th.

We went to one Bonfire Night event and had planned to go to more, but the weather was not very cooperative.  It was drizzling and cold the night we went.  Yet, it did not diminish the celebration at all.  It was unbelievable how much more elaborate Bonfire Night was as compared to the Fourth of July celebrations I’ve seen in the US.

The night started with a procession of various groups in masked costumes.  Each group had torch bearers and the whole effect was quite gothic.  Especially when they had one group carrying an effigy of Guy Fawkes.  Once the effigy reached the bonfire, they light this massive structure of tree branches and add their torches to it.  This one also burned some huge teddy bears.  (We heard that one bonfire was going to have an effigy of Sarah Palin – we did not authenticate this.)  Being a cold and rainy night, we welcomed the warmth from this huge fire.

During this entire time, several organizer members were throwing off fireworks.  When the real display came, it was fantastic.  For a full half-hour, fireworks were continually being let off and in the end, a Guy Fawkes image was blown up.  Having been used to short firework displays in the US during July 4th and New Year’s Eve, I was very surprised at the quantity and quality of fireworks on Bonfire Night.  In the US, they tend to have fireworks for about 10 minutes, with a major let-off at the end, so that you knew it was the finale.  Here, it was continuous for 30 minutes and you didn’t know when they’d be done until Guy Fawkes blew up.

This Bonfire Night display took place several days before Guy Fawkes Day.  Unlike the Fourth of July, Bonfire Night is an extended event, taking place several days before Halloween and ending several days after Guy Fawkes Day.  That may be one reason why Halloween is practically ignored over here, to my daughters’ disappointment.  It is overshadowed by Bonfire Night.  Driving around the country at night during the two weeks surrounding Guy Fawkes Day, you can see various firework displays in different towns and by individuals as well.  We saw a very nice one from our window – we didn’t know whether it was from our village or the adjacent one.

The first thing I noticed over here is that the cost of living is relatively high when compared to the States.  Of course, this is taking into account the exchange rate.  It seems that most things you buy are equivalent in numeric value to those in the US, but with the exchange rate, it means it actually is at least one-and-a-half times more expensive.  Occasionally, you may find a bargain on an item that is quite exotic in the States but not here.  I wonder if that means that raw ingredients in an item are more costly over here.

Since moving here, England has gone into a recession.  The US had been drifting into it for a very long time.  I wonder what will happen once Obama has taken over.  Will we have to go back to the US because the cost of living is too high over here?

When we first moved here, the rate was very favorable to England, but now it is more favorable to the States.  So, in essence, the cost of living has improved somewhat.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, the rate is in constant flux.  If the rate continues in favor of the US, we will be unable to go back to the States in comfort.  It’s a sticky situation.