finance

Top tips for kick-starting a savings habit

To help get your savings habit up and running, it’s a good idea to get your finances organised first. After all, it’s difficult to improve your financial situation if you don’t really know what it is. Here are some good ways to start getting your house in order so you can build a strong foundation on which to save.

tips

There’s a simple way to turn dusty possessions into shiny money. Dom Welstead shows you how.

“Junk” is an ugly word. It implies that your unused belongings are worthless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Virtually everything has its price. The clothes you’ll never wear again, the books you’ve read and the Christmas gifts that you didn’t ever want in the first place all have a loving home waiting for them. All you need to do is find the right buyer, and the internet has made that process much simpler.

Use your head to maximise your profit

Online auctions are a great way of converting your unwanted items into cash, and a few golden rules will make the difference between picking up small change or big bucks. Be creative with your listings to make them stand out from the crowd. Include a picture wherever possible. This will cost you a few extra pence but is worth the investment. Set your auctions to end at around 8pm – 9pm on a Saturday or Sunday when most people are at home – a late finish time also allows for the difference between time zones and gives you more chance of picking up custom from abroad, particularly America. Last year I sold a record that I no longer wanted to a buyer in the States for $80. A couple of weeks later I noticed another seller had listed an identical item with the auction due to end on a Tuesday afternoon. I got it for $8, re-listed it and sold it for $70 the following Sunday.

Music to your ears

DVDs, CDs and even old vinyl can still bring in money instead of sitting around taking up storage space. Music buyers in particular are extremely passionate and will pay top money if you have something that they desperately want. If you haven’t got the time or patience to list all of your discs individually on auction sites, there are companies online who will buy them from you in bulk. All you have to do is enter the details and you get an instant valuation and quick payment. There are still a lot of second-hand record shops around so do some research, find your nearest one and get negotiating.

Year-round entertainment – for little or nothing

Once you have cashed in and created valuable shelf space, don’t rush out to fill the gaps with more films, music or books. There are hundreds of online clubs you can hire them from these days. Best of all, your local library has a wide range of movies, music that you can borrow very cheaply – and books of course, that are absolutely free.

Remember be ruthless with your possessions. If you’ve not used it in the last six months or so, the chances are you never will. Clear out your clutter and watch the cash come rolling in.

Running your home like a business will produce a better bottom line on your domestic balance sheet. Angela Irmin shows you how a few prudent measures can shave a big chunk off of your utility bills.

Running a home is not a 9-to-5 job – the hours are terrible and the pay diabolical – but treat it like a business and you can make huge savings each year. Energy costs are a worry right now, so the first thing to do is cap your bills. Don’t think about doing it, or put it off until tomorrow, do it today. Speak to your providers before the next price hike kicks in. Once you’ve done this you can then set about reducing your usage.

Less charge all round

Keep an eye on what your kids are doing. I find myself constantly following them around and switching off their various electrical appliances. It only takes around an hour to fully charge a mobile phone yet kids happily leave them plugged in overnight, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to switch off games consoles, stereos and televisions. A typical PC left running for 24 hours will use £70 of electricity over a year – if you only use it for 2 hours a day you could save almost £60 each year by turning it off.

Turn the heat down for cool savings

Turning the thermostat down on your heating reduces your heating bills by 10%.
You won’t notice the difference in the warmth of your home but you will in your quarterly bill. I never use the washing machine unless it is full, and use a cool wash wherever appropriate. The same applies to my dishwasher. I’m also using any surplus hot water from my kettle in the washing up, and the water from my baby’s bath gets recycled to wash the car or give the garden a drink. Try taking showers instead of baths to reduce your water and gas bills, and keep your time in there to a minimum. A shower uses 6-10 gallons of water per minute. Knock 2 or 3 minutes off of your daily ablutions and you’ll notice the difference in your pocket.

These are just a few really simple measures that any of us can take to reduce our energy usage. Better than feeling the heat when the bills drop through the letterbox.

With petrol prices soaring, Gary Ellis shares a few tricks to help you get the most out of each gallon.

When I had more hair and fewer responsibilities my regular motorway jaunts were all about speed and how quickly I could get from a to b. As I’ve got older and turned into my dad, I’ve noticed my recklessness has been replaced with a desire to do things as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Trying to break my personal best from north London to Bournemouth (1 hour 45 minutes if you’re interested) has been replaced with getting as much as possible out of one tank of petrol and keeping my motoring expenditure to a minimum.

Save time and money with a sat nav system

Modern technology has helped. Being a typical male driver I don’t think I’ve ever stopped and asked for directions in my life. The hours and petrol I’ve wasted over the years driving round in circles don’t bear thinking about, but since buying a sat nav I’ve saved time, money, and arguments with my better half. Now I can tell her that I know where I’m going without actually lying, and save money at the same time.

Ease back on the gas for better fuel economy

My right foot has had to have a complete re-education as I’ve got older and the cost of a full tank of petrol has reached almost as much as the price of my first car. Instead of pushing the accelerator flat to the floor as quickly as possible and then slamming the brake whenever traffic slows, I’ve found that gently pulling away and braking in plenty of time has increased fuel consumption dramatically (driving at 100 mph uses roughly 5 times more fuel than at 50 mph).

Allow yourself plenty of time for your journey and you won’t have to race to get to your destination on time. Stripping the car of unnecessary ballast helps as well. Golf clubs, roof racks, and tools in the boot all put a bigger strain on the engine. I also check my tyre pressures regularly to further improve fuel usage, and use the great comparison websites that find the cheapest petrol prices in my area. Get online and shop around.

Switch it off, whatever the weather

It’s nice to get into a warm, pre-heated car in the winter, but be brave and don’t start the engine until you’ve scraped the ice and frost off of the windows. It is a huge waste of money and bad for the environment. In the summer, avoid running anything electrical that you don’t need – hot air blowers, window demister, even turn the radio off if you’re not really listening to it.

If you put miles per gallon ahead of miles per hour you’ll be amazed how much difference these measures can make. Over a year you can find yourself saving enough to pay next year’s road tax or insurance renewal.

Thought that a palatial holiday villa was always going to be out of reach? Not so. With boldness and canny research Rob Acteson discovered how we could all live the dream.

Travelling abroad on a tight budget doesn’t have to mean cutting back on creature comforts. One of the best trips of my life was done on a shoestring, yet we still managed to spend two weeks in a secluded luxury villa, complete with its own tennis court and infinity pool. All you really need is a bit of pluck and a willingness to engage with the locals.

Make an offer – you’ve nothing to lose

Towards the end of another wet summer, we decided we had to get some sun. But money was tight. We wanted to travel immediately so we searched for properties available the following week. All we found was a luxurious six-bedroom villa. Working on the theory that the owner would rather have guests paying something than an empty property, we submitted an offer way below the usual rate, more in hope than expectation. We got a reply the next day accepting our offer of less than a quarter of its usual cost, and spent a blissful fortnight making full use of all the facilities.

The best things in life are free

On only our second day we visited a restaurant popular with the locals and got chatting to Fernando, a fisherman. He insisted that we join him and his family at the beach the following day. Not wanting to arrive empty-handed, we went to the local supermarket and bought some beers and domestic wine and set off for the rendezvous. While we relaxed on the shore, Fernando was waist deep in the ocean, casting his line repeatedly until the tide started to recede. On his way back he poked around in the sand and under rocks, and returned with a big haul of fish and every type of shellfish imaginable. After building a makeshift barbecue and gutting the catch, he set about cooking his delicious haul. We sat eating, drinking and chatting for hours, watched an incredible sunset and had the most wonderful time, all for the price of a few cervezas and a couple of bottles of vino blanco.

So remember, if you’re thinking about getting away but need to make a few cutbacks, be bold, friendly and do things yourself. You’ll be working on your tan before you know it. And if you’re lucky you might just bump into your very own Fernando.

An unexpected Christmas present changed Michael Williams’ life in more ways than one. A little effort produced remarkable results on his bank statements and turned him into a budding Gordon Ramsay too.

A couple of years ago I opened a hefty looking Christmas gift fully expecting to find a games console, only to discover a copy of The Silver Spoon, a collection of traditional Italian recipes that have been passed down for generations between Mamas and their bambini. The book sat on the shelf gathering dust for a while but eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try my hand at something a little more adventurous than cheese on toast, my usual signature dish.

Avoid the supermarket – It pays to shop around

After perfecting a couple of easy antipasti recipes, I progressed to more adventurous dishes. Soon, Roast Pork with Orange, Chicken Cacciatore and Sea Bass with Fennel were all miraculously appearing from my kitchen. In my quest for the freshest ingredients I found myself visiting farmer’s markets, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers, and without even trying I found myself shaving pounds off of my weekly food bills. Now I’m even considering turning half of my garden into a vegetable patch for bigger savings and the ultimate fresh produce.

Shop later in the day for bigger bargains

I soon learnt that building a rapport with the various traders gave me the opportunity to try a spot of haggling, particularly if I shopped just before they were about to pack away. Best of all, I noticed that the food I’d bought at the markets didn’t go off as quickly. Even the fish and meat lasted longer, and as I could choose exactly which cuts I wanted, there was virtually no waste. Although the supermarket produce seemed cheaper it was actually costing me more in the long run.

A little effort in the kitchen can save you a lot

The advantages of real home cooking didn’t end there. Dishes such as Pot Roast Chicken were so big they couldn’t be finished in one sitting, so they were left to cool and put away in the fridge to be reheated a couple of days later, when they tasted even better. An hour or so of cooking produced enough food for two big meals. I virtually stopped eating out at lunchtimes, preferring to take my own creations into work. A few slices of leftover home-braised beef in a sandwich were heaven compared to what I’d been buying on the run.

The icing on the cake

I’ve now turned my hand to creating desserts and cakes. A few pieces of fruit, some flour, butter and caster sugar produces a cake that lasts for days – healthier, tastier and far cheaper than packets of biscuits or chocolate.

If you get a recipe book as a gift this year, get stuck in and make the time to shop around rather than take the easy option. You’ll notice the difference in your taste buds and your pocket. Who knows, one day your cooking prowess might not just be saving you some cash, but making you pots.