The task of balancing a household budget is never easy, and it certainly hasn't been made any easier by increasing energy, food and fuel prices. Although you may feel overwhelmed by mounting costs, 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 buy expensive products or sign up to contracts. Also, don't be afraid to exercise your consumer power when it comes to negotiating.
Read on for more tips on how to save money on:
- food and groceries
- household bills
- home energy use
Food and groceries
- A supermarket price survey we conducted in 2007 found you can stretch your food and basics budget by buying some or all of your staple items at lower priced stores such as Aldi.
- Think twice before you fork out on luxury items. For example, some of the top scorers in our sparkling wine test came from Australia, not France.
- Think before you buy: do you really need it and will you actually use it? An unused item not only costs money to buy, the process of production and transportation requires energy consumption and only adds to landfill if the product's thrown away.
- Prepare cheap, easy-to-make winter warmers using a slow cooker. It's a great way to turn cheap 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 or stovetop does.
Reduce household bills
We all know energy costs have gone through the roof in recent years, so make sure you're getting the best deal.
- By shopping for a cheaper energy retailer, you could potentially cut your energy bill by almost half - depending on your electricity consumption, where you live and which retailers are available to you.
- When we test appliances, we look at their energy efficiency. Check out our test reports before buying a new appliance for your home. An energy efficient dishwasher, fridge or washing machine could knock hundreds of dollars off your power bill every year.
- 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 provider, as they don't always let their existing customers know when they're offering a better plan.
- If you use a number of different phone and internet services, a bundled package could make for great savings.
Greening your home with energy-efficient appliances and whitegoods is just one of the ways you can save money on outgoings. Some others include:
- Insulating your roof or ceiling will save you money on heating and cooling your home, and will end up paying for itself over time.
- The Federal and State Governments offer various rebates for energy efficient initiatives, so be sure that you can claim them. Some state-wide eligible initiatives include rainwater tank installation, gas-boosted hot water heaters and water-efficient appliances.
- Switch appliances off at the wall rather than leaving them on standby. 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 are using unnecessary energy. These days, low standby energy consumption is legislated for all televisions. It's a step in the right direction, but when it comes to your other appliances, it still pays to be proactive.
Save on insurance
Banks, credit unions and building societies charge fees when consumers exceed their credit limit, pay their credit cards one day late or have insufficient funds in their account when a direct payment is due. You can avoid them.
- Contact your bank and ask for penalties to be reversed. One CHOICE reader sent our 'Fair go on fees' letter to her bank after discovering penalty fees totalling $195. The bank agreed to refund the full amount.
- Many consumers have been successful at getting their penalty fees reversed or waived as a result of our Better Banking campaign.
- The simple act of moving your savings to an online savings account or low fee account can make plenty of difference to your household's bottom line.
Save on fuel
- Beat the bowser blues by doing your homework on when and where to fill up your car. For example, websites like MotorMouth tell you which service stations currently have the lowest rates, and accc.gov.au can tell you which day of the week you'll get the cheapest petrol prices in your area.
- Western Australia has been running a statewide 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 decisions.
Find fashion bargains
- Clothes: Buy clothes from second-hand stores and factory outlets – if you're prepared to spend some time looking, you can make serious savings.
- Footwear: Opt for mid-price running shoes that suit your feet rather than fancy top-range runners. And make sure you get the complete story on design and quality before investing hundreds on a pair of high heels.