01.CHOICE's top 10 tips
The task of balancing a household budget is never easy, and certainly has not been made any easier by the recent increases in energy prices. While you may feel overwhelmed by mounting cost pressures, there are ways to modify your everyday spending to ensure your money goes further.
An easy way to save is to make sure you’re informed about the best deals before you sign up to any contracts or make big purchases. Also, don’t be afraid to exercise your consumer power when it comes to negotiating with service providers. The simple act of moving your saving to a online savings account or low fee account can make plenty of difference to your household savings bottom line. We’ve also found that a bit of creative planning and investing can go a long way in cutting back ordinary living costs.
Here are 10 tips from CHOICE, with links to some of our tests and investigations, to help you get your finances back on track.
1. Save on food and groceries
Our supermarket price survey (2009) found you can stretch your food and basics budget by buying some or all of your staple items at an Aldi store — sometimes by as much as 56%.
In our most recent survey, we found that, for a total basket, Woolworths is cheapest in 42 of 61 regions in Australia while Aldi has the cheapest staples basket in all 40 regions where Aldi operates.
Also, think twice before you fork out on expensive produce. For example, our experts found that some of the top scorers in our sparkling wine tests came from Australia, not France.
Also, think before you buy: do you really need it and will you consume it? An unused product not only costs money to purchase, the process of production and transportation requires energy consumption and only serves to adds to landfill if thrown away.
2. Save on insurance
You can save hundreds of dollars by shopping around for your comprehensive car insurance. We found average annual savings across all states of $1500 for a young driver, $1030 for a family with a young driver, $495 for an adult driver and $440 for an older driver.
Also, don't just renew your compulsory third-party (CTP) insurance. You can save hundreds of dollars every year on Greenslip renewal by using the Motor Accident Authority's Greenslip comparison page for NSW, and the Motor Accident Insurance Commission's CTP Premium Calculator for Queensland.
The floods and bushfires of 2011 reinforced the importance of home insurance, and it pays to shop around. CHOICE found average price differences of up to $380 for home insurance and $410 for contents insurance policies.
3. Reduce household bills
National energy bills are set to soar, so make sure you're getting the best deal. See our energy efficient home guide for more information on a range of energy-efficient appliances and whitegoods.
By shopping for a cheaper retailer, you could potentially cut your energy bill by almost half, depending on your electricity consumption, where you live and which retailers are available.
If you've been with your phone or internet provider for a long time, you may get a better deal by shopping around. It also pays to check current deals being offered by your own mobile phone or internet provider, as they don't always let their existing customers know when they're offering a better plan, with say faster internet or more calls on your mobile for less money. We've also found that switching providers to get a bundled package can make great savings.
4. Save on meal costs
Prepare cheap, easy-to-make winter warmers using a slow cooker. It’s a great way to turn relatively inexpensive cuts of meat into hearty stews, soups and casseroles.
And in summer, they’ll cook a pot roast or one-pot meal without heating up your kitchen like an oven.
5. Avoid bank penalty fees
Banks, credit unions and building societies charge fees of up to $40 when consumers exceed their credit limit, pay their credit cards one day late or fail to have sufficient funds in their account when a direct payment is due.
However, you can contact your bank and ask for penalties to be reversed. One reader sent the ‘Fair go on fees’ letter to her bank after discovering it charged her penalty fees totaling $195. Shortly afterwards she received a call from the bank advising that they had agreed to refund the full amount and offered her the opportunity to go into a local branch and speak to the manager about the fees.
Many consumers have been successful at getting their penalty fees reversed or waived as a result of our Better Banking campaign.
6. Beat the petrol bowser blues
Save on fuel by doing your homework on when and where to fill up your car.
For example, based on fuel price survey results from MotorMouth, on 15 April 2009, you could save 12c a litre on unleaded petrol in Sydney City if you went to the cheapest service station. For an average-sized tank of 60 litres, this translates to a saving of $7.20 each time you fill up. It takes only 14 refills to save $100.
You can also save by filling up when petrol prices are lowest. To find out what day of the week is typically cheapest for your area, see the ACCC website.
The Rudd government tried to improve fuel price transparency by proposing the implementation of a national FuelWatch scheme, but the initiative was rejected by the Senate in November 2008. Western Australia's Department of Commerce has been running a state-wide FuelWatch scheme since 2001. The scheme requires petrol retailers to 'lock in' their proposed prices for the next 24 hours so that consumers are able to make informed fuel-purchasing decisions.
7. Find fashion bargains
Buy clothes from factory outlets – if you’re prepared to spend some time looking, you can make serious savings on most clothes.
You can also save big on footware. Opt for mid-price running shoes ($150-$200) that suit your foot type rather than fancy top-range joggers (up to $260). And make sure you find out the complete story on design and quality before investing $400 on a pair of high heels.
8. Become energy efficient
Insulating your roof or ceiling will save you money on energy bills, and pay for itself over time. To find out more about buying insulation and how to avoid being ripped off, see our Insulation buying guide.
Greening your home with energy-efficient appliances and whitegoods is just one of the ways you can save money on outgoings. To find out more about some of CHOICE's best Green Buys – as well as a range of other, simple ways you can begin to green your home – see our Energy efficent home guide.
9. Make sure you're claiming eligible rebates
The federal and state governments offer various rebates for energy efficient initiatives, so be sure that you can claim them. Some statewide eligible initiatives include:
- Rainwater tank installation
- Gas boosted hot water heater
- Water-efficient appliances
10. Standby power
When you turn appliances off with the remote, the appliance will go to standby power. Government research has shown that in most households, TVs, videos and DVD players, computers and stereos are on standby more than 80% of the time and, as such, are consuming unnecessary energy.
These days, low standby energy consumption of televisions is legislated. It's a step in the right direction, but when it comes to your other appliances, it still pays to be proactive.