Life is expensive and it doesn’t appear to be getting any cheaper. The average British adult has around £500 per month available in disposable income after tax, mortgages or rent, basic living costs and bills.
Most of us regardless of income strive to treat ourselves to a holiday every once in a while (because why the devil not?) and the result is that less than a third of individuals in the UK are reckoned to have the recommended three month’s salary in savings in case of major bills or redundancy.
But when we’re already working ourselves as hard as is humanly possible, how can we shift the balance and make our money work harder for us? The starting point is to look at where we can save money on bills and be more efficient with the choices we make – but how?
While the Internet is a marvelous thing it is awash with ‘offers’, discounts and information and frankly it can all get a little overwhelming sifting through everything to find the best and most reliable options. After all, cheaper isn’t always less expensive in the long run, so quality and cost have to be weighed up against one another.
Here you can find out how to save on:
- Mortgages & rent
- Electricity & gas bills
- Water bills
- Internet & mobile phones
- Basic household costs
- Credit cards
Mortgages & rent
Top of the list for most people on the outgoings chart is the mortgage or rent. If you’re starting out on the property ladder, this is where it pays to shop around and do your research to find the best mortgage possible at the outset. Well known sites like Comparethemarket.com and Moneysavingexpert.com are well known for a reason and are a good starting point for research. As you are no doubt aware, the market is constantly changing, so there’s no definitive answer to finding the best mortgage rate, the answer is to be clued up on what’s happening.
If you already have a mortgage and want to make the payments more affordable, then while it isn’t always easy as it’s one of those areas that can spiral very quickly out of control if it’s not managed properly, it’s best to address any issues early on. It may be possible to switch to a cheaper mortgage or insurance deal but do keep in mind that there could be costs involved, so it’s worth doing the sums first to make sure it makes sense for you.
The options available are broad and varied, so you might want to look at greater flexibility or a better rate to reduce monthly payments but make sure it’s the right decision for you by using the Annual Percentage Rate of Charge to compare deals.
Alternatively, switching to a more cost effective mortgage protection insurance, buildings or contents insurance could be an alternative route to long-term savings. A good recommendation is to take a look at The Money Advice Service which has a lot of in-depth and practical information on what to look for and who to contact.
Obviously, when it comes to saving money on rent it’s a slightly different ball game because there’s no real reason for a landlord to want less money for his property.
Then again, it’s a market like any other, and if there’s an oversupply, particularly in times of economic downturn, then there’s an opportunity for you pitch your thoughts to the powers that be for reducing rent. Once again, the key is in research and planning – get up to speed on the wider rental market in your area to see whether you’re paying over the odds – something that can be easily done online with a little help from the likes of Rightmove.com.
Then try to understand both your landlord’s position and be honest with yourself about the relationship you have with them. Have you been a reliable tenant? Is that something they value? How long have you been there? What is their own personal situation? It’s worth understanding your request from their side before pitching it to them with a logical argument for change.
Electricity & gas bills
The first things you can do to reduce gas and electricity bills seem abundantly obvious but all too often they are overlooked or dismissed. Replace old light bulbs with energy saving ones, a tip which is believed to save up to £78 over the lifetime of the bulb (definitely worth having), fit reflector panels behind radiators, consider Smart Radiator valves and Radiator Boosters to circulate heat more efficiently, and invest in heavy curtains and draw them when you’re out in the winter to keep the heat in.
You can generally save around 3% on your heating bill for every degree that you turn down your thermostat according to UKPower, so combining that with measures to keep heat in should save you money without meaning that you’re any colder in chillier months. It’s a good idea to invest in draft-proofing the house around windows, doors, and loft hatches, a move that’s estimated to save around £55 a year in the average household.
In the kitchen try to only use washing machines with full loads rather than just a few items, and by switching to 40 degree or even 30 degree temperatures you can use up to a third less electricity. Try not to use the dryer unless completely necessary – in the summer months and dry days try to hang washing outside – it’s better for the fabric, the environment, and your bills!
When cooking on the hob only use the size of pan that you need rather than an oversized one. If you’re cooking in the oven try to keep the door shut to stop it from using more energy than necessary, and remember to defrost your fridge and freezer regularly to help them work more efficiently. In other areas of the house try to turn plugs off when they’re not being used, especially at night, and try to use washing machines and dishwashers at night when you’re likely to be on a cheaper rate.
Having done all of that it’s of course worth looking at your tariff. Shop around using price comparison websites like Moneysupermarket.com and Utilitywarehouse.co.uk, and having around the right one for you look for a fixed rate to control your spending.
In a similar vein, when it comes to water bills, taps tend to drip hot water which is a waste all round. So make sure that any leaks are fixed and that the taps are fully turned off when you’re not using them – simple, but effective as it’s believed that the amount of water wasted in a week by a dripping tap could fill a bath.
It’s also worth installing a water meter. It’s very easy to take running water for granted; it’s one of the luxuries we are used to, so installing a meter can help you keep track of the amount of money being spent so that there aren’t any surprises and you can budget accordingly. As with all of these things, when we see what we’re spending, we tend to be more careful.
Similarly, when it comes to the dishwasher, fill the whole thing before using it and use economy settings. On the other hand, when you boil the kettle try to only boil the amount you need and look into getting insulation around your hot water tank if you don’t already have it.
Remember that with gas, electricity and water bills there are often incentives available from the energy companies and government to support a greener approach, and which can help you to save money as well, so it’s worth talking to your provider about renewable energy. For example, the Government has a Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive which could give you money towards renewable heating costs in your home.
Internet & mobile phones
When it comes to your mobile phone, the lifeline for most of us, have you considered doing pay as you go or opting for a SIM only contract? It sounds archaic to think of going back to pay as you go, but in much the same way that a water meter will help you to keep an eye on usage in that department, being more aware of what you’re spending, and having a cap on it, will stop costs from getting out of control.
Alternatively, a SIM only contract where you only pay for a package of minutes, texts and mobile data but without the phone itself means a saving per month and also leaves you free to find the best deal possible without being distracted by securing the handset you had your eye on. It does however mean that you need to shell out for the phone itself in one lump sum – more incentive to look after it properly perhaps.
All the leading broadband providers offer fairly competitive rates now, and it may be a case of one operating a better service in certain areas than others – if you are in a remote corner of the country for example, so a search on a comparison website like Moneysupermarket.com is a good place to start. On these well recognised sites however, a lot of the leading brands also offer deals and incentives for limited time periods. As we type for example, Sky has an online only offer on Moneysupermarket.com which includes a £100 M&S e-voucher as well as a very competitive rate.
Basic household costs
Basic household expenses are probably where most of us fall down on lifestyle costs, and yet it’s a fairly simple one to address because it’s all about good organization. Weekly shops can escalate in cost pretty quickly, and as we’re all becoming quickly aware, in-store ‘deals’ are often somewhat misleading and can actually end up costing you more.
The first recommendation is a biggie… make a list. We know, it’s groundbreaking, but instead of going to the supermarket on an empty stomach and with your head filled with a hundred other things, make a list before you go to the shops of the things you actually need and stick to it. You would be surprised to find out how much all those little extras at the check-out add up to.
Also try to make a concerted effort to do a full weekly shop rather than lots of bitty shops. Plan meals ahead, and if you can, shop at the ever increasingly popular supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi which if you are careful do tend to be much more cost effective than other high street stores, although they don’t always have everything you may want. Key to any supermarket shopping however is to compare products and for the most part to go for store branded goods rather than big names and labels.
In a poll, 78% of people surveyed didn’t notice any difference in quality between store branded products and big labels, but savings ranged from 25-60%. That said, when comparing products and prices remember to take into account the nutritional information on pre-packaged products to make sure you’re not compromising on healthy ingredients, and also look at the volumes to make sure they’re the same.
As a real home maker’s tip, but consider having a ‘piggy bank’ in the house to put all your spare coins and loose change into – you would be surprised how quickly it can add up to a weekly shop. Take advantage of points cards wherever you can, but with any store incentive cards be very careful to pay them off in advance – if you’re in any doubt that you will do it, steer clear.
Last but by no means least, credit cards are a big problem for a country where everyone seems to live on debt. If you’re struggling to pay off credit card loans whatever you do, don’t sign up for more cards. Moneysavingexpert.com recommends the ‘credit card shuffle’ which requires a fairly savvy approach that they say can save up to 70% off the cost of your debts
You then need to list all of your debts so you know where you stand, ideally in a spreadsheet, then phone your provider to see if they will bring down the interest rate. If and when you’re successful, shift the debt to where it’s cheapest, paying one off with the other. Repay the most expensive ones first, but remember you really need to stay on top of it all to make it work.
As with all things, be organized, and focus on one thing at a time!