This time last year, I began to get a sense of foreboding about the state of the energy market as firms began to fail. Little did I know that I’d be spending 2022 writing about subjects I never imagined I’d be asked to cover in modern times.
In the last six months, I’ve spoken to news channels about buying food in bulk and food sharing apps for local communities. I’ve written columns about benefits, Government grants and rebates and debt recovery plans. I hosted a phone in show about ‘downsizing’ for people who can’t afford their mortgages.
The dire news about rising bills and inflation has had such a wide impact that the vast majority of people I speak to are now looking at ways they can save cash.
But I just can’t bring myself to talk about saving money by using the cooker less, or investing in a better kettle. The savings are a drop in the ocean in comparison to the massive rise in energy bills alone. If you’d like to find out more about what those money saving options are – or more energy efficient ways to use energy in your home, the Energy Saving Trust have lots of information on their website: https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/
You can still save £200 to £250 a year by using your home appliances more effectively. But if you really want to save money, you’ll need to look elsewhere – and get creative.
The best ways to save some money that you might not have thought about
There are lots of ways you can make a much bigger dent in your bills that don’t involve microwaving everything. Changing your broadband and TV streaming service can halve your bills by a good £50 a month if you are out of contract. While admitting that you aren’t going to use that gym membership any time soon might dent your pride but could save you hundreds of pounds (rather than help you sweat off a few).
However, there are a few less well-known ways you can save money. Here are my suggestions.
Check your phone bill
Did you know that you can pay for subscriptions, apps and all kinds of regular subscriptions through your phone bill? More to the point, are you aware that you might be paying for things you don’t want through your phone bill?
‘Charge to bill’ or ‘charge to mobile’ payments are one of the more mysterious ways of paying for goods or services. For years now we’ve been able to agree to payments through our mobile bills. But since telecoms businesses (rather aggressively) pushed us to online billing, millions of people don’t check their mobile bills unless the amount is much higher than normal.
It’s notable that many of the big tech companies like to debit us this way – make of that what you will – and rightly or wrongly, lots of people simply don’t notice. If you haven’t authorised a payment, then you’ll need to complain through your mobile phone company if you want your cash back – but you can cancel straight away. Failing that, you can report the firm that debited you to the Phone-paid Services Authority, or go to one of the two telecoms ombudsmen services.
Micro-charging is the act of billing people small amounts for goods or services, in the hope that they either don’t mind or don’t notice. It’s one of the reasons why charities prefer to get people to sign up to a £2 a month payment, rather than a £10 donation. But micro-charging is also the way that phone apps lure you in.
Chances are you’ve tried out the free version of apps that offer lifestyle tips and support. These apps are big businesses, from meditation to workouts, healthy eating to going out, photoshop to filters, you may well have clicked on a link to try out the ‘paid-for’ version of an app without realising. These debits often lurk on your account (or phone bill) in the name of the developer. Sometimes they are listed under other random or oblique terms, making them hard to identify. That’s why it’s worth questioning any regular payment on your statements that you don’t recognise, even if it’s only for a couple of quid. Again, you can ask for a refund through your bank or card provider if the firm doesn’t have your permission to debit you. To put that in perspective, just one app debiting you £5 a month is costing you £60 a year.
The high cost of love
Speaking of lifestyle choices, dating apps are big business. But over the pandemic they bit the dust, largely because we couldn’t go out on actual dates in reality. In the last year or so, thousands of people have made complaints about dating apps. Almost all of them are about monthly debits for services that had been cancelled – and the impossibility of contacting many of the big businesses.
You might not even realise you’ve agreed to pay for some services. But if you’ve clicked a box on an app to see more pictures, send more emails or ‘unlock’ more profiles, you’re probably still being billed. Remember that you don’t have to waste hours trying to contract the firm, just speak to your bank or card provider and ask for a refund if the payment wasn’t authorised or you cancelled it.
We spend an awful lot of money on subscriptions for cyber security and online storage. This is usually because we click to accept the online storage solutions when setting up anti-virus software, document storage and transfer services or cloud storage. It’s not uncommon for people to have three or four virtual storage services when we only need one (and an external hard drive for emergencies).
Tech businesses capitalise on our failure to understand how technology and software works, as anyone who has ever struggled to understand an online instruction guide or ‘live’ chat with a ‘techspert’ will testify. Don’t be afraid of cancelling these duplicate services. Pick the one that is easiest to understand and ditch the rest.
Never underestimate the ingenuity of businesses when it comes to parting you from your cash. In recent years, there’s been a trend to start debiting people annually rather than monthly. The theory behind this is you might balk at a large annual payment for a subscription that’s pushing £100 – but only if you notice it. Monthly subscriptions give consumers 12 chances to spot a subscription they don’t want or need, as opposed to one.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive way to track down every annual payment outside of trawling through your bank, credit card and phone statements, but there are some new free open banking apps that are making this easier. If you do opt to go back through your statements then I’d just pour over two months at a time to take make the task less tiresome.
Combine and save
We spend thousands of pounds each year on ‘specialist insurance’ – policies that cover one specific thing breaking, being lost or damaged. Warrantees are often the worst value of all insurance policies with many worded so badly and in the insurer’s favour, it’s hard to know if they will ever pay out. Speak to your home insurer to see if things like white goods are covered under your existing policy to save on annual warranty bills.
But the biggest savings come from combining your gadgets on to one policy. You can get a multi-gadget policy that will cover five pieces of tech for £20 to £30 a month. If you consider that mobile phone insurance policies start at around £10 – and you may be paying out for separate policies for your tablet, laptop, gamming system and more – you could save £500 just by consolidating the policies to one.
Being a bit of a cynic, I’m usually a bit wary of free services that turn out to be ‘chargeable’ for the good bits you actually need. However, there are a range of free apps and services out there to help you find the best deals or cut your spending.
Little Birdie has just launched, which allows you to locate the subscriptions you’re regularly paying for – and you’ll be able to cancel through the app soon too. Hyperjar helps you save cash and keep on top of your payments and you can add limits to your spending if you’re shopping too. Link have a great ‘locator’ that will help you find free ATM’s in your local area, along with ‘cashback without purchase’ shops if you can’t find a free cash machine nearby. And Idealo is good for price comparisons, so you can find the lowest prices in the UK and abroad too (air fryers seem to be popular this week).
I’ve tried out these tips with friends and family and found that they’ve been able to save between £500 and £2,500 each year – so it’s definitely worth putting some time aside to see where you can cancel things and save.
I’ve also been speaking to my fellow broadcast and columnist expert friends too, to find ways that you can make some serious savings in the coming months. Watch this space.
Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James