Pay in cash – and haggle hard: 15 ways to save money this winter

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Inflation is above 10% and millions are struggling with their finances. And that’s before the dreaded winter heating bill and huge hikes in mortgage costs drive households into despair. Britain is grappling with the worst cost of living crisis in a generation – and we’re just at the start of it.

So what can you do now to genuinely reduce your bills? Even the usually ebullient Martin Lewis appears dejected as the standard money-saving hacks, such as switching utility providers, bear little fruit these days.

Yet there are still some easy wins and sneaky savings that will make life this year that bit more tolerable. Do all of these and you’ll save potentially thousands over the next 12 months.

1. Follow every one of these home-heating hacks

We should all know by now to turn the thermostat down one degree. The Energy Savings Trust estimates your annual heating bill increases by about 10% for every degree you turn the thermostat up. Don’t forget to bleed the radiators.

Set your boiler correctly. As Which? says, you only really need to have your boiler on its highest setting in the very depths of winter. Otherwise your boiler is needlessly heating water up to a very high temperature and wasting energy.

Stop heat escaping. An open fireplace lets £65 of hot air escape up the chimney. Woollen “chimney sheep” draught excluders start at £20, or make your own (breathable materials are best).

Windows lose about a fifth of your home’s heat. Close the curtains as soon as the sun goes down. Put clingfilm on your windows for extra draught exclusion. Thermal curtains keep some of the heat in, but cost between £20 to £50.

Stripped floorboards look lovely but are like leaving the window open. Draught-proof the gaps quickly and neatly with almost invisible V-shaped plastic from £20. Shove carpet offcuts under the sofa for extra insulation.

2. Slash your electricity bill

The fastest and easiest way to cut your electricity bill? Switch all your lights to LED and cut your lighting bill by nearly 90%. Bulbs are now widely available for less than £1.

3. Go back to the office this winter

A typical home uses about £7 a day of gas during the coldest months of the year (depending on the size of your home, age of boiler, etc). If your commute costs less than that, and you don’t buy £3 coffees and £6 lunches, then it might just be worth showing your face in the office. Switching off your home computer should also save another 50p a day.

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4. Save £85 haggling over broadband

Don’t be nervous. Which? polled 5,000 readers, and while just over half didn’t challenge their broadband and mobile phone provider, those who did saved an average of £85 annually. And they said they found it quite easy. A third managed to continue with the 12- or 18-month “introductory” offer after it expired. Just tell them you’ve been given a better offer elsewhere and ask them to match it. But be realistic, and polite.

5. Cut your council tax bill

This is one of the most popular tips on MoneySavingExpert, with typical savings between £100 and £400 if your home has been wrongly banded. But it requires a little legwork; check the Valuation Office Agency website to see if you are paying more than your neighbours, then do a valuation check (MSE has a calculator). It can backfire; a householder on a street in Hull requested a move down from council tax band B to band A. Instead, the council moved all the houses up to band B and nearly everyone got higher bills.

6. End the home insurance rip-off

Many homeowners have a naive loyalty to the home insurance policy sold to them years back by the bank or building society when they took out their mortgage. Some are charged as much as £1,000 a year for insurance that can be found for £250 with a few clicks on a comparison site.

7. Take hundreds off your monthly mortgage bill

If you’re sinking financially, ask the lender to extend the term of your mortgage loan. Say you have 12 years left on a £150,000 loan. When your current fix ends and new rates (of about 6%) kick in, the cost will be about £1,470 a month. But if you extend the loan to 25 years, the cost would drop to less than £975 a month.

Alternatively, request a switch from “repayment” to “interest-only”. On a £200,000 loan at 6%, switching to interest-only cuts the monthly bill from £1,289 to £1,000. But you will, of course, not be paying the loan down.

8. Stop wasting food

Sainsbury’s estimates that British households chuck out 914m potatoes, 733m tomatoes and 728m carrots each year. One in five people say they don’t really know how to cook.

Top tips? Never head to the supermarket without planning your meals for the week, says Lesley Negus of the ThriftyLesley food blog, and don’t get sidetracked down the aisles buying stuff you don’t need and that will probably end up in the bin.

Jamie Oliver posts free budget recipes for families along with shopping checklists on his website.

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If you prefer videos, try the chef Ash Hamilton of the Curious Kitchen in Brixham, Devon, who set himself the task of feeding a family of four for £25 over five days, posting the meals on YouTube. That was during the pandemic, and he admits the cost will be a bit higher today. But they are tasty.

9. Do a benefits check

Millions of people are missing out on thousands of pounds. Check what’s rightfully yours at the Turn2us website; all the UK’s debt advisers recommend it. It also has advice on getting grants and help with energy bills.

10. Wash your clothes in cool water.

Detergent manufacturers say there’s really no need to set your washing machine above 30C or run it for longer than 60 minutes for most clothes. Towels and sheets may need 40C but that’s all, according to Persil.

11. Pay in cash

Tap-and-go is ubiquitous and super convenient. Try going back to the 90s and paying in cash; watching £100 in notes slip through your fingers brings a sobering reality to your spending.

Have two bank accounts – one with your core direct debits (rent, gas, electricity, etc), so you can get a proper idea of what you have left after they have been deducted; and another just for spending.

If you are already with one of the newer banks such as Starling or Monzo, you probably already have an app telling you how much you have spent on flat whites in the past month. But, used well, their apps can be brilliant at giving you insights into your spending and where you can cut back.

There are also numerous standalone apps that help you budget, such as Money Dashboard, which lets you connect all your accounts with UK banks and set budgets, and warns you about overspending.

12. Cut your childcare costs

It now costs on average £274 a week for a full-time nursery place for a child under two. But some parents qualify for free childcare for two-year-olds if they receive certain benefits. If you are working in England, every parent is eligible for 570 hours of free childcare a year for 3- and 4-year-olds, which works out as 15 hours a week during termtime.

You’re eligible for a further 15 hours a week if you’re a parent working at least 16 hours a week on a minimum wage or above, up to a maximum of £100,000. Find out more at the gov.uk website.

13. Swap to a water meter

The rule of thumb is that if there are more bedrooms in your home than people it’s probably worth switching to a water meter. Grab your last water bill and go to the calculator at ccwater.org.uk, operated by the independent Consumer Council for Water, to find out how much you could save.

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14. Drive more smoothly

Excessive speed is the easiest way to waste money on petrol. Driving at 80mph on the motorways is not only illegal, but can use up to 25% more fuel than keeping a steady 70mph. The same goes for pulling away fast at lights or braking rapidly – they all drink fuel.

“Drive smoothly, accelerate gently and read the road ahead to avoid braking unnecessarily,” says the AA. You should try moving up a gear every time the rpm hits 2,000 in a diesel car or 2,500 in a petrol vehicle.

What’s the best speed to drive? “Typically, cars are most efficient at 45 to 50mph,” says the RAC. And remove an empty roof rack or roof box – they add drag when driving faster, making your car much less fuel efficient.

15. Enjoy a European holiday for almost nothing

Holidays are one of the first luxuries to be cut in crisis times. But there are ways to go on holiday around Europe and stay in fabulous accommodation on the cheap.

WarmShowers.org is a community of 180,000 cyclists around the world who open their doors to fellow cyclists who are touring around. It’s about reciprocal hospitality – you are expected to host other cyclists when they message you, and vice versa. No money changes hands, bar a $30 (£25) sign-up fee (it’s a not-for-profit that started in Colorado). It’s like Airbnb, except you don’t pay.

Or stay in a stranger’s house – while they stay in yours. Home-swapping can dramatically cut your holiday costs and let you live like a local. Register on one of the housesitting websites, such as trustedhousesitters.com.

There are numerous commercial home-swap websites connecting owners both nationally and internationally with fees from about £50 to £150 a year. Popular sites include HomeLink, HomeExchange and the Guardian’s own website, Guardian Home Exchange, run by Home Base Holidays.

The drawback? You will have to seriously clean and prep your home just before you go away, make wardrobe space and leave out spotless towels and linen. And it helps if your home is close to an internationally renowned area such as Edinburgh, Oxford or Bath.

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