10 great things to do for free this January

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January is officially the most depressing month of the year, when you're dealing with the cold, the dark mornings, and the festive comedown. At the same time, most of us have had our budgets stretched to breaking point, so there's no way we can splash out on cheering ourselves up. Fortunately, there are ways to bring a little joy to your life for nothing.

1. Have a drink
If you're not having a dry January, then sign yourself up for the Pitcher & Piano newsletter, and you'll get a voucher for a free drink sent to you every month. In January there's a Bacardi Mojito on offer.

2. Get yourself to the gym
The experts at Magicfreebies.co.uk argue that at least it's less painful if it's free, and recommends tracking down a free monthly pass from the new Sports Direct gyms using the code FIT15. It doesn't all have to be hard work either - especially if there's a swimming pool.

3. Join a Park Run
These are 5km runs held in parks across the country. You have to sign up online before you go for the first time, and in return you get the chance to participate in a free, timed run, push yourself to improve, and meet other local runners who might just help persuade you to get out and get fit. In many of the races, dogs and prams are welcome too, so you could use it as a chance to make your regular exercise a more social experience - without forking out for classes.

4. Take in a London skyline
You don't have to buy tickets for the Wheel, the Shard, or pay for an expensive meal at the Gherkin, because the users of HotUKdeals.com have spotted that you can get access to the Sky Garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie for free. You need to register in advance, and there's lots of demand, so it's worth doing it plenty of time before you plan a visit. However, the views are spectacular.

5. Have a makeover
Magicfreebies also highlights that you can enjoy a free mini facial at Origins this month - with a skin consultation and your pick of free skincare samples. You can also get a free makeover at your nearest Body Shop and a free Benefit Brow Wax at Debenhams.

6. Make a free calendar
Three Mobile has set up a very silly website which lets you take a photo of yourself, and then places it into photos of various scenarios for every month of a calendar. You can be Santa, a skier, in a rock band... you get the drill. Then you can print it off for a pick-me-up for the rest of the year.

7. Finally finish the Lego the kids got for Christmas
There's something particularly depressing about half-finished Lego models hanging around the house - and that's not even taking account of the pain of stepping on the leftover bricks. If you're being held back by missing parts, then you can have them replaced for free by the missing parts service. A word of warning, though, don't go over-the-top or they will charge.

8. Spend hours watching decent TV
If you sign up for a month's free subscription to Netflix, you'll have access to hundreds of box sets and films to keep you entertained all month without having to leave your home. Just make sure you cancel it before you're charged for the next month.

9. Hold a shwopping night
It's like a bring and buy sale without the money. Get your friends to bring along a couple of items they no longer wear (but think someone else might like). Then you can all take your pick from each other's cast-offs. It's a great way to refresh your wardrobe for nothing, and if you get everyone to bring a bottle you can turn it into a free party too.

10. Get a free hot drink
If you have an Aviva insurance policy, and you download the MyAviva app, then as long as you go into the app every Monday, you can get a free hot drink at Cafe Nero - either a coffee, a tea or a hot chocolate. The deal will run every Monday in 2015, so there are plenty of freebies to cheer you up all year.

Of course, there will be times when you need to buy something specific, and none of these freebies will help. However, you should at least make sure you don't pay full price for your shopping. It's worth visiting the AOL Deals site and searching for the store, or the type of item you want to buy, to see if you can get a hefty discount to help you make it to the end of the month.

Cut the cost of groceries
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10 great things to do for free this January
Shopping starts long before you leave the house. Check the fridge, freezer and cupboards, then draw up a list of all the meals you plan to make and eat during the week (making sure you include any leftover perishables in those meals). That'll tell you exactly what you need to buy. This isn't everyone's favourite activity, but you'll be astonished how much less you buy - and crucially how much less you end up throwing away. This process typically cuts 5% off your grocery bill.
Supermarkets are entirely designed to make you do this, with flashy displays at the door, and discounts heaped high on the end of each aisle (they're put here because they know it takes a while to turn your trolley so they have longer to catch your eye). There will be new products and special offers which will sorely tempt you, but everything extra you buy will mean you either eat more or have more to throw away more at the end of the week.
There are three levels of products: the branded ones (including the premium supermarket ranges), the own-brands, and the own-brand value range. The best way to shift down is to move down one rung of the ladder on everything you buy - so if you usually buy branded baked beans go for own-brand, and if you usually buy own-brand, go for the value own-brand.
Most people choose a supermarket out of either convenience or habit. However, switching to a cheaper supermarket could be the easiest way to save. No one supermarket is cheaper for everything across the board. However, as a very rough rule of thumb Asda is the cheapest of the big players - it regularly wins awards for this (and did so last year), and it also has a pledge, which promises that the items you pick that are part of its scheme will be 10% cheaper than elsewhere or you can claim the difference. If you are willing to go beyond the big players, the discounters are substantially cheaper, so it's worth trying Aldi or Lidl to see what you could save.
Of course, no supermarket is cheaper for absolutely everything. And in some instances the supermarket is not the cheapest place for your food - local markets for example can offer much cheaper fruit and vegetables.

You'll need to get to know your local independents, but the best way of being sure of getting a good deal at the supermarkets is to do your research before you go. Mysupermarket.co.uk lets you compare prices for Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Aldi and Ocado.

You'll need to put your shopping list into the site, which is a bit time-consuming the first time you do it but gets quicker once you have saved your favourites. It will tell you the cheapest places for your shopping - leaving you to choose whether to make more than one trip or to go with the supermarket that is cheapest for the most of your items.
There's definitely a right and wrong way to do this. The right way is to search for vouchers, coupons and deals for things you already need to buy. Alternatively, you can keep an eye out for BOGOF deals on things you regularly use (as long as they aren't perishable), and stock up on them. This can be useful for things like toiletries - just don't be tempted to switch to a more expensive brand in order to do this unless you have checked that the deal constitutes a saving from your usual brand at its usual price.
Supermarket deals are not simple to compare, so you could easily find yourself trying to work out if 350ml of something at 58p is cheaper or more expensive than 250ml of something at 46p. For most people this isn't the kind of maths that's easy to do on the fly. The only solution is to take a calculator and work it out - unless you want to focus on building world-class mental arithmetic skills.
Your careful list-making will not always go to plan, so if you end up eating something different one night, think about what you will do with the food you had planned to eat. Can you cook it and freeze it? Can you substitute it for another meal? Likewise with the leftovers, have you factored these into your eating plan? Or will you need to freeze it for next week?
This is classic advice for a reason. Research has shown that if we eat before we go we buy 18% less food. So have a sandwich and shave almost 20% off your bill.
If you are good at managing your credit cards, then shopping using a cashback card can be a great way to earn back money on your shopping. It's worth emphasising that in order for this to be a money-spinner you'll need to pay it off in full and on time every month. However, this is something that disciplined shoppers should definitely consider.

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