Thursday, 28 March 2013

Everyday budgeting without pain

One of the things I’ve noticed since having to keep an eye on the finances a bit more closely, is just how easy it can be to cut down on bills, by just shopping around, or paying a bit more attention.  I am acutely aware that for some people, money is so tight, that the steps below would only be a drop in the ocean, but for many of us, NOT doing these steps is to throw money down the drain.  Money that could otherwise be saved for the future, or taken from your debts, or simply used to balance the books.
The following are some of my top tips for household bills – I’d love to hear about some of yours:
1)   Look critically at your utility bills and mortgage.  Can you switch to a cheaper provider?  Are you even on the right tariff?  Can you reduce the overall amount you’re paying by paying up front (this is often an option for phone/broadband deals).  Paying by direct debit can often work out cheaper.  Also check the amount you’re paying on your utility bills – if you’re in credit, reduce your payments!  It’s amazing how often utility providers ask you to pay more, regardless of the status of your account.  Better the funds in your pocket than theirs.
2)   Lower the temperature on your central heating by half a degree to a degree – particularly if you have it set on higher than 20 degrees.  Our houses shouldn’t be warm enough to be able to walk around in shorts and t-shirt in the winter.  While you’re on, turn the temperature on your hot water down by a couple of degrees too – I promise you won’t notice the difference (and you’re less likely to scald yourself too).
3)   Turn off the lights in rooms you’re not using.  If you have a room you rarely use, consider turning the radiator off completely, or turning down very low.
4)   Don’t use domestic air-conditioning.  It really isn’t necessary in the UK.  And most other places in Northern Europe.  And it really isn't pleasant being in an air-conditioned environment.  Open a window - use a fan.
5)   Keep track of your spending – don’t just do the budget as a one –off exercise, but keep an eye on things all the time.  If you know you’ll have to write it down, it keeps you accountable.
6)   Consider getting a water meter if you live in a property with more bedrooms than people, or if you are out for much of the day.  Even with us having 3 bedrooms and 3 people and the extra washing that comes with a baby or toddler, we still come out ahead.  Why pay more for the same thing?
7)   Check your direct debits and standing orders on your bank account, as well as any regular payments coming from your credit card.  Are you paying for something that you no longer need, or that has been cancelled?  Examples could include insurance, a direct debit for a membership which has expired, or something like airport lounge access when you no longer fly frequently (yes  - that was me!)
8)   Get a cashback credit card and use it for as much as possible.  Its amazing how much you can gain.  But beware.  Only do this if you know you can keep track, and you know you’ll be able to pay it off in full each month.  The costs of borrowing on these cards far outweigh any benefit to be gained from the cashback.  You can also make ‘extra’ cash by shopping online via cashback websites (I use  You need to be disciplined though, as their whole purpose is to tempt you into additional purchases with the thought of cashback.  If you didn’t need the item in the first place, it isn’t free cashback.  Same goes for loyalty points – I find Boots and their threshold spend coupons the most dangerous.  Just check that what you are gaining outweighs the cost.
9)   Run your washing machine on cold, or 30 degrees.  Use a short cycle unless what you are washing is really dirty.  Take the same approach for the dishwasher.  Use the short cycle for everyday – its rare that something won’t be clean within the 30-40 mins it takes.   And only run it when totally full.  Most of us have sufficient crockery and cutlery to manage.
10) Save your loose change in a jar – we save everything up to and including 50 pence pieces.  Its amazing how it adds up!
11) Walk where possible instead of using the car.  This one is easy for me as I don’t even drive – but it astonishes me the number of people who drive the few hundred metres to the local shop.  Walk.  Better for your health, your wallet and the planet.
Next instalment in the series will be about eating well and still keeping the budget in check.
In the meantime, have a wonderful Easter!

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