10 secrets to living for less

Once you've done the basics, there are 10 less obvious ways to save more than £1,000 a year


As the cost of everyday expenses creeps upwards, it's hardly surprising that so many people are starting to struggle. Even after they have tightened their belt to what feels like the smallest possible notch, there's still a shortfall between what's coming in and what's going out. Fortunately, even when you have taken all the money-saving steps you can think of, there are still ten more that most people overlook.

1.Solar panels

If you have solar panels installed, you can produce your own energy - and thereby cut your bills by anything up to £130 a year. You can also sell energy back to the system: and despite the fact that feed-in-tariffs have been cut, you can still make hundreds of pounds a year.

Some companies will offer free installation, in return for keeping any money made from the feed-in-tariff. However, if you can invest in a solar panel and keep the payments, it will reward you in the long term. The panels cost around £7,000, and feed-in-tariffs now typically pay around £630 a year. This is locked in for 20 years - which means over that time you'll receive £13,000.

In order to benefit, you need to expect to stay in your home for long enough to repay the outlay. You also need a south-facing roof so that it has enough sunlight during the day to earn you the maximum solar payments, and an Energy Performance Certificate of grade D or above (or your feed-in-payments will be almost halved). If you want to make as much money as possible you also need to be able to time much of your energy use to take place during the day.

2. Grow your own

This requires a bit of effort, and you'll need to learn to eat around the seasons, but you can save yourself a fortune. The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners calculates that allotment holders spend around £202 a year growing fruit and vegetables - and produce the equivalent of £1,564 worth of food. Tending to a vegetable patch is time-consuming, but if you enjoy gardening, you can produce a crop of your favourite organic vegetables for a fraction of the price.

3. Have a vegetarian day

Sir Paul McCartney is famously a supporter of meat-free Mondays, but you don't have to be passionate activist to save cash this way. Around a fifth of the household budget is meat, so if you can cut it out for one day a week, you can shave around 3% off your food bill without having to do anything else. It can be a daunting prospect, but when you realise that many pizzas, pasta dishes, baked potato fillings, and curries are vegetarian, it might inspire you to give it a go.

4. Cut waste

This is generally a good idea, given that we throw away almost half of all the food we buy. The best way to avoid waste is to plan your meals and just buy what you need on each trip to the supermarket. If you want to have something in the house in case of emergencies, then make it dried pasta and tins of beans.

It's also useful to have a number of strategies to fall back on. First, do a fridge audit between shops. At this point you can see what will go off before you get a chance to eat it, and you can turn it into a meal or freeze it. It's also worth having specific approaches to things that commonly go off - like turning old bread into breadcrumbs and freezing them, or clearing out the vegetable drawer by making a soup or a curry once a week.

5. Get rid of your car

Your lifestyle is going to dictate how practical this is, but if you live in a city or you have two cars, then its worth thinking seriously whether it's worth the enormous amount of money you spend on getting around.

Once you factor in car sharing schemes, public transport and renting a car for the family holiday, you could find you are covered for the essentials and you can live without the enormous financial drain of owning a car.

6. Stalk the money-saving boards late at night

Most people will do a quick internet search for vouchers whenever they make any big purchases, but if you can put in some research during more antisocial hours, you could stand to save even more.

When there's a new deal or a glitch discovered, it tends to be in the early hours of the morning, and by the time most people have woken up, it's too late to take advantage. If you are a night owl, therefore, it could pay to schedule a quick internet search before you go to bed to see if the dedicated bargain-hunters have uncovered any gems.

7. Go back in time with technology

The world of technology is designed to make us want the latest version of every new gadget. However, if you can become a gadget time-traveller, you could save a fortune.

When the new version of a phone or tablet comes out, the stores themselves will discount the previous version by around 7%. However, if you are willing to time travel back another generation of the same product, and look on eBay, you could save a third off the full price. Given that a new version is produced every year, you're still getting a reactively new product at a brilliant price.

8. Use the internet to fix things

Even the least DIY-minded people should give this a go, because the internet makes repairs so much easier.

When something breaks around the house, before you call a professional, have a look online. You can simply input the error code, or the model and the symptoms, and you will find a host of advice and information as to how to solve the problem.

In many cases there are also photos or a video, taking you through the process step-by-step. It won't solve everything, but even if it helps once in every three times, you could save £100 a year.

9. Go on a spending detox
This is a great strategy for January: commit to spending nothing at all (except for a rigid food budget and essential bills) for the entire month. This will have an immediate money-saving impact, but it will also show you the things you really miss. By the end of the month there will be some things you are desperate to buy again, but others you'll realise you got along perfectly well without. It could finally be your way to break your takeaway habit.

10. Never pay for accommodation
You're already paying to put a roof over your head, so it should mean you never have to pay to stay anywhere else either. For longer breaks you can arrange to swap houses with another couple or family, and for shorter ones you can stay with friends or family, or couch surf through a more formal website.

The only word of warning is that it's important to take sensible safety precautions and know the etiquette involved. So, for example, if you are staying for free on someone's couch, you should always offer to return the favour.
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