With life getting more and more expensive and living costs expected to rise, people are looking for ways to save money this winter.

With Rishi Sunak announcing a 4% rise to inflation at the October 2021 budget, now is a good time for people to have a look at their bills.

Experts at consumer watchdog, Which? have answered 12 key questions on how to cut your household expenses this winter.

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The tips cover energy bills, broadband and mobile, food, fuel and how to get help if you're struggling.

1. DON'T switch energy provider

Usually people are advised to compare prices and switch energy supplier or tariff to get the best deal, but these aren't normal times.

But switching is definitely not the right idea for many people at the moment. Suppliers aren’t selling cheap deals and lots of us are facing increases at the moment.

However, it’s still important to look closely at your current deal, though, and what you should do depends on your situation.

If you’re on a low-priced fixed-term deal, don’t switch away from it early. You’re unlikely to find anything as cheap.

If you move onto a deemed or default tariff (e.g. if your supplier closes, or you haven’t switched in a while) then you may be paying the maximum permitted by the price cap.

This gives you some protection – Ofgem revises the level every six months (next in April 2022) – but it’s likely to be much pricier than your old deal.

A fixed-term deal will give you price security but you may have to pay a premium for it.

2. Always ask why your fee has increased

You’ll usually see your direct debit payments increase if you’re moving onto a pricier deal, for example if your fixed tariff ended and you move onto an out-of-contract price-capped tariff automatically or your energy company went bust.

Your payments might also rise if your supplier notices your energy use has increased.

If you don’t understand why your direct debit payments are increasing, ask your supplier to explain.

If you don’t agree then you can ask for your payments to stay the same. and if you are unable to pay your higher energy bills, help is available.

Contact your supplier in the first instance.

3. Turn down the thermostat temperature
Central heating is generally the most cost-effective way to heat your home
Central heating is generally the most cost-effective way to heat your home

Central heating is generally the most cost-effective way to heat your home, but make sure it’s working efficiently and use timers, room thermostats and thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) to control which rooms are heated and when.

Set your thermostat to the lowest comfortable temperature, as turning it down by just 1°C can save you £80 to £85 a year.

If your central heating system doesn’t have individual room controls and you only need to heat one room, a portable heater can be cost-effective.

Convector heaters, including oil-filled and oil-free radiators, are best for heating a room for a period of a few hours or more, while fan or halogen heaters are better for a shorter blast of heat to warm you up quickly.

Choose a heater with a decent thermostat and timer to avoid overheating and save money.

4. Check your appliances

An efficient appliance can help avoid unexpected bills after you buy.

Which? find big differences between seemingly identical A-rated machines, and even B and C-rated machines.

You could save hundreds of pounds a year by factoring this in when you’re buying new appliances, and even more over the lifetime of the appliance.

5. Make sure your home is insulated
While some energy efficiency upgrades need professional installation
While some energy efficiency upgrades need professional installation

While some energy efficiency upgrades need professional installation, there are other quick and cost-effective DIY ways to insulate your home.

Some recommendations include; Insulate the loft, install draught proofing, insulate hot water pipes and tanks, fit secondary glazing and add cosy furnishings.

6. Keep an eye on broadband deals

If you're out of contract it's always worth exploring options to save money and get a faster connection.

If you still have standard broadband (also known as ADSL), switching is an opportunity to upgrade to fibre.

Fibre broadband can cost the same as standard broadband – or less – plus it’s more reliable. What’s more, switching to a cheaper provider could save you as much as £143 a year, according to Which? research.

7. Check how much mobile data you are using

It's worth keeping on top of your data usage to make sure you're on the best mobile deal for you.

It’s increasingly common for providers to offer high, or even unlimited, data allowances, but the average UK consumer uses just 4.5GB per month.

However, deals with high data allowances aren’t always more expensive so this might not be a huge factor in your choice of provider.

8. Haggle with your broadband and mobile provider

If you’re happy with the provider you’re with, you might feel reluctant to switch away just to get a better deal.

Negotiating with your provider means you can stick with your current deal and pay less.

Haggling can sound more daunting than it actually is, it’s not like randomly asking for a discount in a supermarket or high street shop as broadband providers expect customers to do it.

If you don’t fancy a long call, most providers allow you to do it via email or live chat instead.

9. If you can, pay insurance annually
As your renewal approaches, use comparison sites to see if you can get cheaper quotes than your current insurer is offering.
As your renewal approaches, use comparison sites to see if you can get cheaper quotes than your current insurer is offering.

As your renewal approaches, use comparison sites to see if you can get cheaper quotes than your current insurer is offering.

If you can, ask your insurer to match or beat the best quote.

Even if you’re not nearing your renewal date, it can pay to check what your insurer’s rivals are willing to offer you to switch early.

If the difference between competitors’ quotes and what you’re currently paying is more than the cost of cancelling early (cancellation fees are typically around £50) then doing so might be a way of saving money.

Paying annually for insurance will often be cheaper overall than paying monthly.

Check your cover level and strip out any optional extras that you don’t need.

Similarly, increasing your voluntary excess will reduce your premium, but make sure you can afford to cover it in the event of a claim.

Young and inexperienced drivers tend to pay the most for car insurance. Adding a more experienced ‘named driver’ to your policy can reduce the premium, as their lower risk will be taken into account.

You could also consider black box policies. These use GPS devices or smartphone apps to track how you drive, meaning the insurer can give you a more tailored price.

10. Always use a shopping list at the supermarket

It won’t surprise you to know there’s a big difference between prices at different supermarkets.

Discounters Aldi and Lidl are unfailingly the cheapest, but if you prefer the range of a bigger store and the convenience of online deliveries, Asda is your best bet – it’s been the cheapest ‘big four’ supermarket for almost two years.

Regardless of where you shop, you can also develop some savvy habits such as always use a shopping list to avoid picking up things you don’t really need, scrutinise the ‘special offers’ to check whether they’ll really save you money and consider swapping big brands for own-label products.

Buying less meat and fish can also mean cheaper food bills.

11. Switch up gears as early as possible to save money on fuel
Regardless of what car you own, driving as smoothly as possible and preserving momentum will improve your overall fuel economy
Regardless of what car you own, driving as smoothly as possible and preserving momentum will improve your overall fuel economy

Regardless of what car you own, driving as smoothly as possible and preserving momentum will improve your overall fuel economy.

Keep an eye on the road ahead and brake more slowly, as braking wastes the energy used to get the car up to speed.

If you drive a manual car, shift up gears as early as possible without labouring the engine.

Newer cars often have an indicator on the dashboard showing the most efficient time to change gears. Many automatic cars also come with an ‘Eco’ driving mode, which will change when the gearbox shifts to minimise consumption.

On colder days, it’s better to drive your car gently immediately rather than letting it warm up.

Modern engines warm up very quickly, so not only will it get up to temperature quicker – reducing the potential for engine wear – you’ll also use much less fuel.

Air conditioning and heated seats are heavy power consumers, and regular use can have a small but noticeable effect on your fuel bills – so it’s best to use them only when necessary.

12. Always contact your providers if you're struggling

If you’re struggling to pay your council tax bill, contact your local council as soon as possible. You can spread your payments over 12 months, rather than 10, or you might be granted a one-off discount if you still can’t pay the balance.

If you’re on a low income, live on your own or with someone who’s disregarded for council tax, or get benefits, you may be eligible for a council tax reduction – but this will depend on whether you fulfil your local authority’s eligibility criteria, so contact them to find out more.

If you’re 74 or older and you or your partner receive pension credit, you can also apply for a free TV licence. This used to be free to all over-75s, but is now only granted for those claiming this benefit. And if you claim Universal Credit but find your payments aren’t enough to cover household bills, there are a range of schemes you may be eligible for – but their availability can depend on where you live and what your circumstances are.

Cold weather payments and WaterSure bills cap, for instance, could help reduce your monthly bills. No matter what type of bill you’re worried about, the first step is to talk to your provider – the sooner they know, the sooner they’ll be able to work out a plan with you.

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