The new year is here but our budgets will be facing the same old pressures as the cost of living continues to rise sharply.
With a recession on the horizon and energy bills set to rise again in April, new ways of finding savings are more vital than ever.
Here Which? experts share 23 top tips for fortifying your finances in 2023.
1. Haggle or switch broadband and mobile phone providers
Our survey of more than 5,000 customers found that more than seven in 10 who switched to a new provider at the end of their contract made a saving of between 13% and 16%.
If you’re happy with your existing provider, it’s worth negotiating. Haggling typically leads to savings between 5% and 7%.
Don’t be daunted – haggling is invited and encouraged by telecoms providers. Build your case by getting price quotes from rivals first.
2. Check if you’re eligible for a discounted broadband tariff
Social tariffs are special discounted broadband deals available for certain low-income customers. You’re likely to be eligible if you receive a means-tested benefit, such as universal credit or pension credit.
Social tariffs start at just £12 a month, and are offered by a range of providers. For a full list, head to our online guide. Eligible customers could save £250 a year. Social tariffs also don’t usually have setup fees and aren’t subject to price rises.
3. Shop around for groceries
Every month, we scrutinise thousands of grocery prices to reveal the cheapest supermarket. We compare how much the biggest supermarkets charge for a trolley of goods, including everything from bread to toothpaste – and the differences can be shocking.
For example, in November 2022 shoppers would have paid 35% more at Waitrose, the priciest supermarket, compared with Aldi, which was cheapest.
4. Avoid ‘express’ supermarkets
Doing your weekly grocery shop at a big supermarket is often much cheaper compared to their express counterparts.
In 2021, we compared costs at Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local with the same items at their supermarket counterparts.
Over the course of a year we found the average weekly difference added up to £322 more for Sainsbury’s and £279 more for Tesco.
5. Time your tech purchases
Home and tech appliances can be cheaper at different times of the year. In a year-long investigation, we found that some products such as TVs followed a clear pattern.
Our investigation tracked prices from June 2017 to May 2018, and all three TVs we looked at showed a distinct downward price trend.
Meanwhile, the spring months were a good time to buy the three popular printers in our investigation – probably down to the academic year ending.
6. Reduce your taxable income
Contributing to a workplace or personal pension can be a great way of reducing your taxable income. Basic-rate taxpayers automatically get 20% tax relief on the money they put into their pot, so a £100 contribution would only cost you £80.
For higher and additional-rate taxpayers, you can claim an additional 20% or 25% respectively by filing a self-assessment tax return.
If you’re an employee, don’t forget about salary sacrifice offers, such as season ticket loans and cycle-to-work schemes, which let you save tax by swapping pay for perks.
7. Compare fuel prices
Traditionally, supermarkets were cheaper for fuel, but that’s no longer necessarily the case. To find the cheapest fuel nearby you can use sites such as petrolprices.com or the function in some sat nav apps. Petrolprices.com claims its users save an average of £220 each year.
Premium or ‘super’ unleaded petrol tends to cost 10p to 15p more per litre than regular unleaded, and contains greater amounts of performance additives. It won’t harm your car to use premium fuel, but it’s typically only beneficial in high-performance cars that require a higher-octane rating on petrol.
8. Change your driving habits
The way you drive impacts the efficiency of your car and, as a result, how much you need to spend on petrol.
Harsh throttle inputs and acceleration can increase your fuel use. Keeping the revs between 1,500rpm and 2,500rpm (petrol engine) and 1,200rpm and 2,000rpm (diesel engine), while avoiding labouring the engine, will help your fuel last longer.
Changing gears earlier and short shifting (skipping gears, such as going directly from first gear to third) will also help efficiency, again, providing you don’t labour the engine, while braking unnecessarily can hamper your car’s efficiency.
9. Claim refunds for delayed journeys
In 2019-20, only 37% of eligible passengers claimed a refund on their delayed or cancelled rail journeys.
Most train operators offer a 50% refund on journeys delayed by 30 minutes or more, and a 100% refund on journeys delayed for more than an hour or cancelled altogether. Several rail companies now also offer compensation for 25% of the value of your ticket for delays of 15 minutes or more.
You can also claim for delayed and cancelled flights. Unlike rail delays, you won’t get money back if the reason is beyond the control of the airline – such as bad weather.
10. Don’t miss out on benefits
If you’re over state pension age and on a low income, check if you’re eligible for pension credit. This can act as a gateway to other benefits, including a free TV licence and electricity bill discounts.
You can check your eligibility for other benefits by using the free tool at entitledto.co.uk.
11. Make the most of Isas
The end of March and start of April is known as ‘Isa season’. This marks your last chance to use up whatever’s remaining of your £20,000 tax-free Isa allowance.
This heightened demand can lead to providers upping their rates to attract new customers, so it’s worth hunting around in April for good deals. However, it’s still a good idea to use up your remaining 2022-23 Isa allowance in March before it’s lost.
12. Switch bank accounts
Switching your current account provider is a quick and simple way to earn some free cash.
The most generous offers we’ve seen recently were £200 from HSBC and £175 from First Direct (a Which? Recommended Provider for current accounts).
You’ll need to use the Current Account Switch Service for these deals, which involves closing your old account, and meeting any other conditions such as a minimum deposit.
13. Stock up when you can
We all know there are groceries that seem like they’re on offer nearly as often as they’re at full price. But did you know prices can fluctuate by up to 284%?
Lavazza Qualita Rossa Ground Coffee (250g) at Ocado had the dubious honour of being the product with the most dramatic price difference in our investigation. Bought on a good day in 2020 (of which there were 63), it would have cost you £1.30. But if you unknowingly picked one of the 130 bad days, you would have been stung for a whopping £5. Ocado told us the fluctuation in price was ‘a technical error’, which it then fixed.
This so-called ‘yo-yo’ pricing means it’s worth stocking up when items you buy regularly are discounted.
14. Don’t automatically renew your insurance
The ban on the insurance ‘loyalty penalty’ in 2022 brought an end to new customer discounts, but it’s still worth shopping around when your policy is up for renewal.
Use the best quotes you’ve gathered to negotiate with your insurer, and take your business elsewhere if your insurer doesn’t improve its offer.
Some 48% of Which? members who haggled in the first six months of 2022 made savings.
Significant savings can be made from haggling or switching
15. Check you aren’t overpaying council tax
Anyone who lives alone, or with people who are ‘disregarded’ for council tax purposes, can get a 25% discount on their council tax bill.
On the average band D council tax bill for 2022-23, that’s a saving of £491.50. If the whole household is disregarded, there’s a 50% discount – which would mean a saving of £983.
The disabled band reduction scheme can also help if you, or someone you live with, has a disability that means you have to live in a larger property. If you qualify, your bill will be reduced to the next-lowest council tax band.
16. Search for insurance on comparison sites
Comparison sites can be a great way to save on your insurance, and some also offer cash-saving incentives to entice you to use them.
At the time of writing, Confused.com and MoneySupermarket guarantee to beat your car or home insurer’s renewal offer or refund the difference plus £20. GoCompare, meanwhile, offers free ‘excess cover’ with car insurance. This reimburses up to £250 of your excess if you claim (excluding breakdown and glass damage).
Comparison sites aren’t without shortcomings – not all insurers or policies are on them, and we’ve found they don’t always ask detailed-enough questions to allow all customers to get accurate quotes.
17. Monitor your appliance usage
With energy bills set to rise again in April, it’s important to reduce your use where possible to lower costs.
Our calculations show average condenser tumble dryers cost £170 a year to run, so dry your clothes on a regular clothes horse or line outdoors where possible.
To lower your washing machine costs, opt for a 30°C wash if your clothes aren’t stained, to cut your energy use by 38% on average compared with a 40°C wash.
You could also consider forgoing your oven for smaller cooking appliances, such as a microwave, air fryer, or slow cooker. These are often cheaper to run than ovens.
Home appliances have seen significant increases in running costs
18. Renew your car insurance in February
Our analysis of 33 months of car insurance premiums data from Compare the Market (Jan 2020-Sept 2022) suggests the time of year could play a role in the cost of renewal.
We found regular variations of as much as £50 in the average premium depending on the month you buy, with prices peaking in December and dropping between February and April.
Even if your policy isn’t up for renewal in February, check what premiums look like. If they’re lower, and the saving is larger than your insurer’s cancellation fee, making an early switch will save you a bit in the short term and should mean you’re not being disadvantaged by seasonality in the long run.
19. Make your loyalty points go further
If you’ve built up Tesco Clubcard or Nectar points you might be better off putting them towards your next holiday rather than your next grocery shop. That’s because there are plenty of partner deals that will boost the value of your points.
For example, Tesco Clubcard vouchers treble in value when you spend them on the Eurotunnel (£5 of points equals £15 to spend); similarly if you’ve got £10 in Clubcard vouchers, you could get £30 credit to spend at Hotels.com.
Nectar points, earned through Sainsbury’s purchases or a Nectar credit card, can also be cashed in for hotel stays.
20. Improve home insulation
Buying foam insulation to fit around any exposed hot water pipes costs around £15, and will typically reduce your annual energy bills by £9 as well as cutting 18kg of CO2, according to estimates from the Energy Saving Trust (based on a three-bedroom semi-detached property in September 2022).
Also consider fitting your own loft insulation. Using a 270mm roll of insulation can save £390 a year compared to not having any, the Energy Saving Trust found. For detached houses, the saving is nearly £600 a year.
21. Don’t heat your entire home
Portable electric heaters are great at providing a quick heating fix for short periods. They’re much cheaper if you only want to heat one room or part of one, compared with central heating. The electric heaters we’ve tested and named as Best Buys range from around £29 to £398.
Making use of electric blankets or hot-water bottles will also help cut your heating bill. Electric blankets tend to cost anywhere from around £40 to more than £100 for a more premium product. They also cost between 3p and 8p per hour to run on their highest setting for someone on a typical* energy contract, while heated throws cost between 3p and 4p an hour to use.
*The energy regulator Ofgem defines a typical energy user as a direct debit customer on a variable tariff using 2,900kWh of electricity and 12,000kWh of gas per year.
22. Get paid to spend
Cashback sites such as Quidco and TopCashback pay you back a percentage of the money you spend on some online purchases.
You simply search these sites for the retailer you want to shop with, and click the link through to make your purchase. TopCashback claims its members earn an average of £345 cashback a year.
Browser extensions, such as Pouch and Honey, also scan the internet for discounts automatically when you visit a retailer’s website.
23. Move your savings
Recent hikes in the Bank of England’s interest rate have helped boost the savings market, but there is a huge gap between the best and worst rates.
The best instant-access accounts pay around 2.85% AER yet some of the big high street banks are still paying rates as low as 0.2%. Moving £10,000 from the one of the worst accounts to the current market leader could net you an extra £269 a year.