This summer, whatever you plan on getting up to, CHOICE can save you time and money with our tips for an awesome summer. Whether you’re cooking the perfect steak or cleaning the BBQ, preparing for the family road trip or booking the overseas holiday of a lifetime, we can help.

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  • Perfect herbs

    If you buy herbs for a recipe or cocktails but don't use them all – or if your soft herbs aren't coping with the heat – pack chopped spoonfuls of them into an ice cube tray, pour in some olive oil and freeze them. The freshness will be preserved and the solidified oil will be infused with a herby flavour, ready to throw into a pan for a quick sauté or fry-up.

  • Sausage no-nos

    Don't prick your sausages on your barbecue. This drains the flavour and makes them dry, plus as the fat runs out of the sausage it causes the barbecue to flame and scorch the outside.

  • Beautiful flowers for longer

    To keep your flowers fresh, add a pinch of salt and sugar to the water in the vase. They last much longer (especially if they don't come with the flower feed). Another tip is to dissolve a Disprin tablet in water in the vase and then put your flowers in. They'll last for weeks!

  • Stupendous steaks

    Succulent, mouth-watering and cooked to perfection. Here are your tips for cooking the perfect steak.

  • Pizza the action

    Looking for a great pizza dough and sauce recipe with tips on how to cook it in your barbecue? Check out summer pizza recipe.

  • Chill out sooner

    To chill canned or bottled drinks fast, add a handful or two of salt to ice-water. This lowers the freezing point of the water so it gets very cold very fast and chills your drinks quickly.

  • No more smelly fridges!

    To prevent bad odours filling up your fridge, keep some baking soda in an opened bottle or small box.

  • Keep clothes bright

    To make sure your new brightly coloured clothes don't bleed colours when washing, soak them in a capful of vinegar with cold water for half an hour. Then, rinse with water and wash normally.

  • Don't overdose

    Most people don't fill their washing machine to full capacity, so why put in a full dose of detergent? Try out a half-dose instead and save yourself some money.

  • The perfect pav

    Nothing says summer like an amazing pavlova - sweet juicy fruit, crisp meringue and more! Check out our super easy-peasy pavlova recipe.

  • Dishwasher tip

    Don't bother rinsing your dishes before putting them in a dishwasher – they're built to remove the dirt. Just scrape and go.

  • There's an app for that

    Keep track of your receipts and warranties, and always have information on the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) at hand, by downloading the ACCC Shopper, NSW Fair Trading's ShopSmart or Victoria's MyShopRights apps. You can use these apps to store photos of your receipts, set reminders for gift card expiry dates and find out more about country-of-origin labelling, among other useful features. Download CHOICE's smart shoppers guide.

  • Faded glory of receipts

    Check if your receipt is a thermal one (and will therefore fade with exposure to sunlight, plastics and the elements) by scratching a blank part with your fingernail. If a black mark appears, the receipt is printed on thermal paper.

  • Kill mould dead

    Don't waste your money on supermarket mould killers. Vinegar diluted with water (80:20 ratio) will do a better job and is a fraction of the price.

  • In case of emergency

    Emergency numbers vary throughout the world. Australians use 000 to contact services such as police, fire and ambulance, while other countries such as the US and Canada use 911 and several different numbers throughout European, Asia and Africa.

    While many of us brought up on a diet of American cop shows may think of 911 in case of emergency, don't try it in here. Contrary to some myths that the number is redirected to 000, all you'll get is a wrong number.

  • Ideal conditions

    The ideal thermostat setting for air conditioners is about 24-27°C in summer and 18-20°C in winter. This may seem counterintuitive, but in most climates these give reasonable thermal comfort without using too much energy. The key is for your air-con to be as close to the outside temperature as possible without defeating the purpose of using it (see smart air-con use).

  • Smart air-con use

    The greater the differential between indoor and outdoor temperature, the harder your air conditioner has to work. It is sometimes advised not to set the thermostat more than eight degrees different to the outdoor temperature. But you can go beyond that provided you're smart about air-con usage and have a thermally efficient home.

    In extreme cases, such as a 40øC day, plan ahead to minimise energy use. Start your air-con early in the morning while it's relatively cool inside and out, so it can cool the interior of your home and keep it cool, rather than struggle later in the day to cool an already hot house.

  • Don't get ripped off

    If you're considering a travel money card, check the exchange rate that will be applied rather than worrying too much about fees. An excessive exchange rate margin is the business model behind these cards, and bank-sponsored cards generally rake off bigger margins than non-bank cards. Last time we checked at the beginning of December 2013, the OxForex Travel Card and the airline-sponsored cards, Qantas Cash and Velocity Global Wallet, were offering better rates than the banks.

    Read more of CHOICE's work on foreign transaction fees.

  • Credit card tease

    Beware of teaser rates and interest-free periods on credit cards. With the former, the real rate can take a sharp turn upward once the teaser period is over. With the latter, you may end up paying more in fees than you would have paid in interest, and the interest rate can go through the roof if you're late on a payment. You should always put the card's product disclosure statement (PDS) under the microscope. The credit card provider must reveal all the tricks and traps as a matter of law, but is banking on you not reading the PDS.

  • Frequent flyer farce

    Don't go chasing frequent flyer points unless you're a very frequent flyer. Our research shows you'll come out ahead in the long run simply by picking the cheapest flight rather than booking with the same carrier in a quest for more points. Airlines place all kinds of restrictions on how and when you can redeem your points, which for most travellers are more of a marketing ploy than a legitimate rewards program.

  • Banking fee bite-back

    If your bank account charges a monthly account-keeping fee or high dishonour fees, get a new bank account. Anything above $15 for an insufficient funds incident is extreme, and there are plenty of fee-free or low-fee banks out there these days. Banks are now required to help you switch your direct debit and credit details.

  • Sick of surcharges?

    Despite increasing government scrutiny, years of CHOICE campaigning and new powers given to Visa, Amex, and MasterCard to rein in the practice, serial surchargers, such as airlines and taxi companies, are still up to their old tricks. Avoiding a surcharge may take some doing – such as using cash for a cab or not buying an airline ticket with your credit card – but the extra effort can save you serious money. POLi Payments is one alternative to credit cards, but be advised that CHOICE has not investigated this service.

  • Sizzling barbecue cleaning tips

    When cleaning your barbecue, after each use while the plates are still warm, scrape or brush off any food residue and excess oil, or turn the burners on high for five minutes. This will burn off any excess fat.

  • Bonza barbecue maintenance

    Regularly check your gas bottle for leaks – connect it to the barbecue and turn on the gas at the bottle. Brush soapy water over the bottle's joints and connections; leaking gas creates bubbles. Give your barbecue an annual maintenance check, particularly at the start of summer. Remove the flame diffusers and check the burners are not clogged. Check the gas bottle connection, ignition and controls – there are companies that can do this for you.

  • No to no refunds

    If you see a sign in a shop that says "no refunds", "no refunds on sale items" or "exchange or credit note only for return of sale items", it contravenes the ACL. You can return something if it doesn't do what you'd reasonably expect it to or isn't of acceptable quality. But stores aren't obliged to take it back if you change your mind or find a better deal somewhere else.

  • Faulty product?

    If a product is not of acceptable quality, the retailer can't charge you for fixing it. They also can't just refer you to the manufacturer – they're obliged to resolve your issue.

    Contrary to what you might get told, you don't have to return a product in its original packaging.

    And if you've lost your receipt you can use the following as proof of purchase: a credit card statement that itemises the goods; a confirmation or receipt number from a phone or internet transaction; a warranty card showing the date, price and place of purchase; or the serial or production number if it's stored on the retailer's computer.

    Read more from CHOICE about your shopping rights.

  • Online shopping Q&A

    Asking these questions before clicking "buy" on your next online purchase will save you a lot of consume-ARGH!

    • Who am I dealing with?
    • How much is it going to cost me?
    • What am I buying?
    • Is there stock available?
    • What delivery methods are available? Are there different options for delivery methods and prices? Will they deliver to my country?
    • How do I know when I've confirmed my order?
    • How can I pay for my purchase?
    • What personal information are they asking for? What will they do with it?
    • Where can I complain if something goes wrong?
  • Gift card grief

    There are only a handful of cards that don't expire at all. However, some stores may exchange expired cards for new ones or honour them even after they've expired. A large number of card providers allow a grace period (usually one month) after the card has expired.

  • Opt-in charges

    Be careful when booking flights online – some airlines may automatically opt you in for extra services and charges you don't need. Some credit cards automatically include travel insurance when you book travel with them, for example, so you won't have to buy a second policy when it's offered.

  • Smart accommodation booking

    When booking overseas accommodation, don't let the website automatically select the currency in which you pay. You may be able to get a better exchange rate by letting your bank do the money exchange and paying in the local currency.

  • Time to swap?

    If you're travelling in a large group, consider a house swap instead of a hotel. You get all the mod cons but can save a significant amount of money. There are lots of sites offering these opportunities – read more from CHOICE on home rental ideas.

  • Chill out

    Some fridges have a chiller compartment, which should be at around 0°C to keep perishable food fresh for longer. It's useful for keeping uncooked chicken, fish and other meats fresh, or even for quickly chilling a drink. You’ll also find precooked foods keep longer here, but be careful about cross-contamination with raw foods.

  • Taking the perfect picture

    Trust your camera - Even entry-level cameras these days are good at picking the right scene or offering manual scene selections

    Get closer – with your feet. A common mistake is not getting close enough to your shot, especially for people photos

    Rule of thirds - Most cameras offer the grid on the screen so you can use the rule of thirds. This helps you frame up a shot and will result in interesting composition

    Take lots of photos - Why? Because you can with digital cameras. Someone is bound to blink or look away, so just shoot lots, keep the best ones and discard the rest.

  • Public holiday penalties

    If you’re planning on dining out over the festive period, be prepared to pay a public holiday surcharge. It is the restaurant's responsibility to make the percentage of the surcharge is clear on its menu.

    It's also a good idea to plan ahead and check with your favourite restaurant before you turn up. Some offer alternative menus or special banquet deals over key holiday dates.

  • Hot plate barbeque cleaning

    Leave a light coating of oil to protect the hot plates from rust. If the plates are washed in warm soapy water they'll need to be seasoned again and sprayed with a coating of vegetable oil. Plus keep your fat tray lined with foil, sand or volcanic rock and replace it regularly.

  • Cleaning your barbeque exterior

    To clean grease and dirt off your barbecue's exterior, use any all-purpose cleaner or warm soapy water. Make sure the barbecue is completely dry before covering or closing the hood.

    Stainless steel requires extra attention as it can easily scratch, and low-grade stainless steel can rust.

    Use hot soapy water and vinegar or a commercial stainless steel cleaner.

    Avoid harsh scourers, as they can scratch the stainless steel. Dry and polish with a microfibre cloth to prevent corrosion.

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