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As we head towards winter, many of us are inevitably drawn towards a rise in our household outgoings. This is mainly linked to increased use of heating and electricity as the days and nights get colder and darker, but there may be some other consequences as well. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it hard to demonstrate the same zest for life in the winter as I do in the summer and I’m equally sure that this is why I seem to ‘treat’ myself to extra little bits and pieces in order to cheer up the dreary days.
Therefore, I thought it might be helpful to list a few quick reminders about how we can all save money on our household bills so that we can remain happy and positive all year round!
We’re all likely to stay inside more during the winter months, which means increased use of the television, internet and maybe even the land-line telephone. Ensure that you’re getting the best value for money by contacting all your suppliers and enquiring about what deals they offer. You may well find that bundling these services together via a package deal from one provider will save you considerable amounts of money.
When it comes to your utilities (for most of us, this comprises gas, electricity and water) providers, it’s worthwhile regularly - by which I mean at least every year - reviewing the amount you’re paying and using price comparison websites to discover whether you could be getting a cheaper deal elsewhere. Always ring your current provider first as they may well try and negotiate a good price for you in order to retain your custom, but if they don’t seem forthcoming then change to whoever is offering the biggest discount off your current bill.
Not only will this make your life easier, but there is often a discount available for those customers who pay by direct debit. Organisations are also keen for people to sign up for paperless billing (as aside from being good for the environment, it saves them money on resource and administration costs if there is no hard copy of the bill to produce) and will therefore offer some financial incentive for this as well. When making one-off purchases online, it is now very rare for there to be any sort of security issue and therefore can transactions can be made easily and much more quickly than was previously the case.
When it comes to your food shopping, decide in advance what your family’s meals for the next week will be and then only buy the ingredients necessary to make these dishes. Obviously you will have to purchase other essentials as well (toilet roll, milk, etc) but if you enter the shop with a list you’re far less likely to get distracted and buy things that you don’t need.
On a related note, it’s always worth eating before you go to the supermarket as if you do your food shopping when you’re hungry you’ll end up buying much more than you’d planned!
When you’re choosing your meals for the upcoming week, try and maximise the use of all ingredients and of leftovers as well, i.e. you could have a roast chicken on a Sunday, followed by a chicken curry on the Monday with the leftover meat. A perishable item such as a pack of mushrooms could be split between a risotto on one night and a stir fry the next, so that they’re not left to go off and thus be wasted.
I can definitely recommend registering with the websites of stores you love and/or use regularly - you’ll get information about sales and deals first, plus you may hear about promotions before the general public. In a similar vein, ensure that you belong to any loyalty schemes for the aforementioned stores. I manage to accumulate enough loyalty points at my supermarket to completely pay for my family Christmas meal - an amount that often exceeds £200! Not too bad for money saved on doing my regular shopping. Some of the larger supermarkets also let you collect loyalty points at their petrol stations and at other stores owned by the same retail group, so be aware of this as well.
Entertaining your family on a budget can be very tricky, especially when the fail-safe summer option of going for a walk or a play in the park is taken out of the equation by the winter weather. Check out your local council’s website or your nearest tourist information centre for ideas for free days out. Libraries may also have information that could help, as well as being great places to visit in their own right. Investigate local areas of interest and if there are places further afield that you’d like to visit, see if you could use public transport or car-share with another family to reduce costs.
Schools and nurseries often hand out free magazines about local activities for children so keep your eyes peeled for these and, of course, checking parenting websites on the internet will usually throw up some good ideas as well.
There are some simple guidelines we can all follow around the house to that will save money and will also benefit the environment by consuming less energy.
Use less water by taking showers of four minutes or less, turn the tap off when brushing your teeth and installing a water-saving device in the cistern of your toilet.
Reduce the electricity you use by making sure lights are switched off when you’re not on the room and using energy-saving lightbulbs.
Think carefully about when to use the heating so that you don’t have to have it on all the time - perhaps a couple of hours in the morning and evening would suffice?
Write down everything that you spend. This will not only help you keep track of your regular income and expenditure, but will also highlight any easily missed areas of overspending. Typical examples of this might be an expensive daily coffee on the way to work, or one too many magazines or newspapers. You can then find ways to try and cut down (bringing a flask of lovely coffee from home) or eliminate these costs entirely (reading free newspapers online), which will free up funds that can then be used towards more vital bills.
This may seem to contradict the rest of the advice in this article, but research shows that many of us find it very hard to be frugal and stick to strict guidelines if we are never allowed some ‘time off’. If you recognise this trait in yourself, then set a monthly goal (a cinema trip, a new pair of jeans - whatever works for you) with which you can ‘reward’ yourself if you are sensible and stay within budget in the meantime.