Times are tough. Every penny counts. I’ve just rather adeptly (if I do say so myself) summed up the gist of this entire guide using a mere two clichés. Well-worn phrases they may be, but with good cause; the economic malaise still hangs over us like a bad smell, but there’s a tonne of stuff you can do to ease the pain. Cutting costs here and there might seem like more hassle than it’s worth, but it doesn’t have to be laborious.
What can I do to save money?
Loads! As an avid Bitterwallet reader, you're no doubt a frugal money-minder already, but the aim of this guide is to gather up useful information in one place, for those who need an occasional kick to reassess their finances.
Save money on gas and electricity
Three of the big six (Scottish & Southern Energy, Scottish Power and British Gas) recently announced price hikes. At the time of writing, much of the country is covered in snow; as we head into the dark winter months, it’s essential that you get the best deal on your gas and electricity.
Price comparison websites are invaluable when choosing a supplier. Pop in as much detail as you can about your usage, and keep an eye out for cashback deals.
Am I in the right council tax band?
It's still possible that your local council has your property in the wrong tax band, meaning you could be overpaying on your council tax. Historical property valuations and the corresponding banding details are freely available online. Here’s how to check:
Save money on broadband, home phone, mobile and TV
‘Convergence’ is the buzzword among suppliers these days, as they vie to become the exclusive provider of all your telecoms/entertainment-type needs. Using just one supplier is attractive for two reasons: a) it’s easier than shopping around for the best deal on four different products, and b) it’s often cheaper.
In terms of television, have a think about whether you even need the likes of Sky or Virgin; the latest Freeview boxes have HD recording facilities and online television is worthy of your consideration; Bitterwallet has covered the services available in the past, and new and improved services are launching all the time.
If you have a good credit rating and little-to-no debt, there’s a cheeky option that could make you a small fortune. ‘Stoozing’ is the act of borrowing using an interest-free credit card, investing the money during the 0% period, then keeping the interest. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s entirely legal. And, there’s nothing to stop you doing it all over again with a different card. Brilliant.
Yes, it might seem like a daunting prospect, but it’s worth looking into. Slashing 1% off a £100,000 mortgage equates to around £80 a month; that’s almost £1,000 per year. Weigh up the savings against any fees required - we're not financial advisers, in case you hadn't guessed.
Pay off debts with savings
As mentioned in Bitterwallet’s guide to keeping your credit score in check, the interest rate on credit cards and loans usually outweighs the rate on savings accounts. As such, in the long term, it’s best to part with your savings and clear the debt.
Save money by switching bank accounts
When was the last time you shopped around for the best interest rate for your hard-earned cash? Too many people are guilty of lazily leaving their money lying in the same place for years on end. True, the rates are fairly terrible right now, but it still makes sense to shop for the best deal. And some banks will pay up to £100 if you switch. Sweet.
If you sleep on a bed of cash, you might want to pop some in a term deposit account – that’s where you get a guaranteed (and usually fairly high) rate if you leave your dough untouched for a set period.
Blast your eyes with laser beams
Actually, let a qualified practitioner do it for you. Laser eye surgery is often cheaper than a lifetime of buying contact lenses, and it’s completely safe. Alright, so we're not doctors either, but you see the point. Or at least you would if you had the surgery.
Save money on petrol
Travelling a mile further down the road might make a big difference to your car's running costs. You can search for the cheapest petrol in your area using petrolprices.com.
Am I eligible for tax credits?
Parents can claim tax credits for kids in full time education up to the age of 20. To be eligible, the parent(s) must be employed, and work at least 16 hours per week (each, if it’s a couple). The credits can run into the thousands annually, depending on income, hours worked and weekly childcare costs. Unfortunately, the rules are set to change in April 2011, meaning families earning over £40,000 will qualify for fewer credits.
To check your eligibility, call the tax credit hotline on 0845 300 3900.
Benefits and grants
There’s a rather handy charity-funded site called turn2us, that lets you know which benefits and grants you may be entitled to. As the site says, it’s ideal if you’re ‘unemployed and looking for work, on a low income, retired, bringing up children, ill, have a disability or care for someone’.
And of course...
Bitterwallet readers are generally a fairly savvy bunch, so feel free to add more suggestions in the comments. And, of course, check out all the other great advice in Bitterwallet’s How To... archive.