Even when we aren't in the midst of an ongoing cost-of-living crisis, January is a great time to make changes that will help give your finances a lift.
Resolving to eliminate junk food and do more exercise will help your physical health, but what about your financial wellbeing?
Our CHOICE experts have crunched the numbers on everything from energy savings to health insurance costs to help you save thousands across the year.
January is a great time to make changes that will help give your finances a lift
"Saving money doesn't always have to be a grind. Sometimes it doesn't even require huge amounts of sacrifice!" says CHOICE editorial director Mark Serrels.
"Something as simple as switching your health insurance or being more selective about your energy providers can save you hundreds – sometimes thousands – of dollars."
We've crunched the numbers from our lab tests and investigations to come up with some simple steps you can take to reduce your cost of living this year.
Turning off appliances at the power point could save up to $240 a year.
Energy costs are one of the biggest concerns for Australians. In our September 2023 Consumer Pulse survey, 85% of Australians told us they're concerned about their electricity costs, the highest figure we've ever recorded.
Choosing energy-efficient appliances, turning off lights you're not using, and making sure your home is well insulated to reduce heating and cooling costs are well-known ways to manage your spending on electricity.
But what about the energy being stealthily consumed by appliances in standby mode?
"There are several appliances around your house that cost you money even when you think you've turned them off," says Denis Gallagher, CHOICE digital home product manager.
"Wireless routers and printers are particularly notorious for being the biggest energy hogs.
"Turning your appliances off at the wall when they're not in use will make sure you're not wasting unnecessary power and money."
Total possible savings: Up to $240 a year.
If you're among the 45% of Australians with hospital cover or the 55% with extras cover, chances are you're paying more than you need to.
Our experts independently compare the policies of 46 health funds (some commercial comparison sites compare as few as eight), and time and again we see significant savings on offer if you shop around.
While the two biggest health funds – Medibank and Bupa – dominate with a combined market share of more than 50%, it's often the smaller funds where we see savings.
But even more than merely switching to a cheaper policy, our longstanding advice is to carefully consider whether or not you need health insurance at all, especially extras.
Our recent Consumer Pulse surveys show increasing worries about the price of private health insurance, with 78% of Australians expressing concern about this household cost in our September 2023 survey.
If you do want to hang on to your health insurance, our experts calculate that if you switch your hospital insurance to a cheaper policy there are potentially significant savings.
"The same cover with a different insurer can be hundreds of dollars cheaper," says CHOICE health insurance expert Uta Mihm.
"Whether you have a Gold, Silver or Bronze policy, it's likely that you'll be able to find a cheaper deal that will give you exactly the same amount of cover."
Our experts found that:
- People with Gold policies could save up to $1730 a year by moving to a cheaper Gold policy.
- People with Silver policies could save up to $1170 a year.
- People with Bronze policies could save up to $860 a year.
Total possible savings: Up to $1730 a year.
Lots of small changes can add up to big savings in the laundry.
Because we regularly test laundry detergents and washing machines in our laundry lab, we can fairly accurately calculate how much you can save by tweaking the way you wash your clothes.
"There are lots of opportunities to make savings in the way you do your laundry," says CHOICE laundry and whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale.
"Washing full loads in cold water rather than small loads in warm, and switching to a top-performing but cheaper detergent – and using less of it – will save you about $440."
You could save nearly $450 a year just by switching to line drying
"We found in our testing that this approach gets clothes just as clean but costs significantly less. Cutting out unnecessary fabric softener will further cut your costs by about $76.
"And reducing your reliance on a dryer will add even more savings: we calculated you could save nearly $450 a year just by switching to line drying," he says.
Our washing machine reviews can also help you save if you're in the market for a new machine: we factor energy use into our ratings so you know if it's recommended it means it will be efficient to run.
Total possible savings: Up to $970 a year.
Whether you're a coffee lover or more of a fizzy drink fan, buying your drinks rather than making them yourself can end up costing you more than you might think.
Sure, that lunchtime can of soft drink or that mid-morning coffee might only be a few dollars, but if you're buying one most days that will quickly add up.
Making coffee at home rather than buying it from a cafe could literally save you thousands.
When we looked at the cost of making your coffee at home, including buying the machine itself, parts, maintenance and all the ingredients, we calculated it would set you back around $1284 for two cups of coffee a day for a year.
To buy the same amount of coffee from a cafe each day for a year would end up costing you around $3504.
This means you could save $2200 by making your coffee at home.
The savings from making your own soda water aren't quite as big but they're still significant.
We compared the cost of making your own sparkling water at home using a soda maker with the cost of buying the cheapest supermarket bottled sparkling water, and estimated you would save $150 a year by making your own.
Total possible savings: Up to $2350 a year.
With concerns about gas and electricity prices on the rise for many Australians, finding the cheapest retailer is something that could really help you save.
Unfortunately, many of us sign up to a plan based on a cheap initial offer, but when the deal ends we stay with the provider on the newer, more expensive plan.
Energy retailers love to lure us in on cheap rates, knowing that we'll probably stick with them even when the prices go up.
Energy retailers love to lure us in on cheap rates, knowing that we'll probably stick with them even when the prices go up
CHOICE has partnered with Bill Hero to help make it easy for people wanting a better deal on their energy bills. Bill Hero guarantees it will find annualised savings on your first bill, and that you'll save more than the price of your annual subscription. If it can't, you can cancel immediately for a full refund.
Exactly how much you'll save will depend on a lot of factors, but Bill Hero says the average first-switch savings for its customers is $350.
A Bill Hero annual subscription will cost you between $49 and $79, depending on whether you're looking for a better deal on your electricity, gas or both. So all up you'll be looking at savings of between $271 and $300.
Total approximate savings: $285.50.
While buying everything from one shop is certainly convenient, it might be costing you more at the checkout.
In September 2023 we asked the CHOICE Community how much they saved by splitting their shops between multiple retailers and they estimated they could save as much as 20% to 40%.
In November 2023 we put this idea to the test and found we could save around $40 on a selected list of 19 items by choosing the best value product from one of four stores – Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and The Reject Shop. Across the year, those sorts of savings could really add up.
We found we could save around $40 on a selected list of 19 items by choosing the best value product from one of four stores
"It certainly takes more time and effort, but we recommend spreading your weekly shop across different supermarkets," says Mark.
"We've found you can save up to 20% on your groceries if you do a little more planning, and take advantage of the specials on offer. If you're lucky enough to have a Woolies, Coles and Aldi in a nearby shopping centre, it's worth being strategic in order to save a few dollars."
Exactly how much you can save will depend on your household size and the items that you buy. But according to Statista, in August 2023 Australian households spent an average of about $160 at the supermarket per week, which equates to around $8320 per year.
By shopping around to find the cheapest option for an average 20% saving you could be looking at around $1664 in savings per year.
Total approximate savings: $1664 a year.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.