I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the old adage “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”. For one, I prefer to advocate big savings over little ones. Major changes like down-sizing your home, relocating to a cheaper part of the country, or swapping your car for a pushbike, will make much more difference to your bank balance and your overall wellbeing than a string of minor life tweaks. The way I see it, choosing NOT to go on a £3,000 luxury holiday is like getting 3 years worth of FREE energy, or 10 years car insurance!
But – and it’s a big but – the sheer practice of habitually making successive small enhancements to your routine and to your budget, like changing your energy supplier or turning down your thermostat by one degree, is an amazing discipline to have. It helps you adopt an ‘always-on’ 100% frugal consciousness and keeps you at arm’s length from life’s constant stream of rampant consumerism.
I’ve shortlisted my 6 favourite bill-trimmers, none of which are as dramatic as moving home or selling the gas-guzzler! They’re all super-easy to implement and can collectively save you a nice little chunk of cash, every day.
1. Buy tube heaters
The cheapest way I’ve found to heat a room. Leave one of these on as long as you like and it’ll keep a room warm for as little as 4p an hour. Much cheaper than electric convector heaters or halogens. One tube heater alone is not going to heat the whole house, or give you a roaring glow in the depths of winter, but they are perfect for those chilly spring and autumn months, or when you just need to keep one room nice and cosy. Hide them under the sofa if you don’t like the aesthetic appearance – I know some people find them visually offensive.
2. Get a wood-burner – and pick your fuel carefully
Ahhh, our new energy bill saviour. We’ve forked out £1200 to have a Firefox 8.1 woodburner installed but it’s paying back handsomely. We have a small-ish 2-bed cottage and it warms the whole house in no time. We have it going all day in the winter months when we’re both at home and light a small fire of an evening when outside temperatures are more in the region of 5-10C. I find coal is the cheaper fuel to run overall while wood is useful for getting the heat going quickly or for shorter periods. Having both options – ie, a multi-fuel stove – is important. Based on initial estimates I’d say our gas bill will be around 30% lower. And as we both work from home self-employed we can claim a portion of it back on our tax return forms.
3. Buy in bulk, make in bulk
Discovering Muscle Food was a watershed moment for me. We get 3 months’ worth of high-quality meat for around £60. Package it up and stick it in the freezer on the day of delivery and you’ll notice your weekly shop from then on is a damn sight cheaper. It also helps you plan meals better, which means less waste and gets you seeking out interesting new recipes. (“Hmm… What could I do with those chicken breasts tonight?”)
Similarly, you can buy big bags of rice, pasta, oil, flour, potatoes, frozen veg – the staples we all need – at exceptionally low prices. Sign up for supermarket alerts and voucher codes and you’ll soon see that you can also get great deals when bulk-buying luxury items like sauces, cheese, or even wine.
4. Create your own cleaning products
Big-brand cleaning products can cost a fortune. I shudder to think we live in an age where there’s a fashion for lemon-tinged bleach and rose-thorned purifiers. Insane. You don’t need any of this stuff. You can make all your own liquids, lotions and potions for pennies.
Vinegar and a few drops of essential oils in a spray bottle is all you need for your everyday household cleaner. Hydrogen peroxide can be a good, cheap alternative to carpet stain remover. For a powerful non-toxic oven cleaner you could try mixing up some borax, vinegar, baking soda and boiling water. (Note – before creating your own, please research the portions and mixture methods carefully.)
5. Re-sell your energy
If you generate your own energy through solar panels you can cut your bills by around 25-50% and sell any surplus energy back to the grid. The initial outlay is still quite high, which is why I’ve not yet done this one myself but the the costs are coming down all the time and the resale prices are going up so a 15-year break-even point, as it is now, should tumble to 5-10 years reasonably soon.
6. Live by day, sleep by night
Rise with the larks! Enjoy the world in daylight when its warmer, more colourful and altogether more beautiful. And when night comes, bunker in under a blanket and go to bed early during those long dark winter months. Get your house working to the same routine too. Turn off all your power-points when you turn in for the night.