Cashback websites are your first port of call when you want to start saving money on everything you buy. A typical user can make an average of between £280 and £330 a year, without really trying. With a more dedicated approach, some bargain-hunters report making £500 or more.
If the world of cashback websites is fairly new to you, it pays to get to know what's on offer, and how you can take advantage.
The two most popular cashback sites are Topcashback and Quidco, and it's worth looking out for special freebie deals they tend to run for new members when you sign up.
After you have joined a site, whenever you buy anything - from groceries to furniture, and fashion to Christmas presents - instead of going straight to a retailer's website, you go into the cashback website (or through the app), and click on the link to the retailer.
You can continue shopping as normal with all the stores you usually shop at, and your transaction will be with the retailer themselves, but by going in through the cashback website, they have essentially 'referred' you.
The cashback website will be paid by the retailer for the referral, and they will pass some of that onto you, though cashback. This can be anything from 1% of everything you spend to 100% of it - and tends to average around 7%. The amount you get back will vary between cashback sites, retailers, and will change throughout the year as each site runs special offers.
The money comes back into your cashback account - which takes between seven and ten days, although, if the small print of a particular cashback deal is complicated, it can take longer.
Once the money is in your cashback account, you can transfer it to your bank account. Cashback websites have evolved, so you no longer have to build up a minimum payment, you can transfer it immediately. It's worth doing sooner rather than later, because the money in your cashback account is not protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
Make the most of it
Rather than always sticking with one site, it's best to sign up to a couple, as no one site is always better for cashback rates, so it's worth shopping around - especially on larger purchases.
It's also important to go into the sites every time you shop. You shouldn't let it stop you getting a better deal from a store that's not on any of the cashback sites, but you'd be surprised at the kinds of things you can get cashback on - and the kinds of rates some of the sites will pay.
One of the most rewarding approaches is to hunt for your next holiday on the sites. It's something we spend thousands of pounds on every year - so just getting back 1% of your spend would be a major boost to your spending money when you get there.
Likewise you can get cashback on your utility bills, insurances, and shopping everywhere from eBay to Argos and Iceland.
It's also worth checking for the 'free cashback' deals. So, for example, at the time of writing Autotrader is offering cashback of £2.50 if you opt for a free bike listing - so you get a free listing, and you make money at the same time. Likewise, Confused.com will offer you £2.30 for searching for an insurance quote, and EE will give you £5.25 if you get an EE free sim.
Save money on shopping: ten great tricks
Save money on shopping: ten great tricks
The more work you are prepared to put in, the more you stand to save. If you put your shopping list into mysupermarket.com, you can identify where each individual items is cheapest, and can technically buy every single item at its lowest possible price.
If that sounds a bit too much like hard work, a reasonable compromise is to shop at two supermarkets: once at the weekend and once mid-week. You can buy each item at the cheapest of the two shops, and save money without devoting hours to shopping.
There are several deal-sharing sites, including hotukdeals.com and latestdeals.co.uk. Most of them have a ‘freebies’ section, where you can get items completely free, and all have a section where they post fantastic deals that are well worth taking advantage of.
They will often point the way to coupons for brilliant discounts too.
The more time you have spare to spend looking for these, the more you can save.
It’s worth following your favourite brands on Facebook or Twitter. It’s also important to pick up in-house magazines, try your free local paper, and check any letters from supermarket loyalty schemes for your vouchers. If you have a Nectar card, visit the website before you shop, so you can upload the latest deals to your card.
While you’re in-store, keep your eyes peeled for promotions on packets, and on receipts. Often the deal-hunting websites will offer a short cut to many of these, but if you have the opportunity to do some legwork, you will find plenty of others.
Compare the price of your branded goods (after you use the coupon) with the cheapest supermarket alternative. If the discount makes it the cheapest option, then feel free to use it immediately.
However, if it doesn’t bring the price down below the own brand price, then don't throw it away. Hang onto the coupon, and check Mysuupermarket.com every few days to see if there’s an offer running on the brand at any time before the coupon expires. A deal plus a coupon is often the cheapest option.
Prices change all the time, but it pays to have a shopping list annotated with the usual price - or an old receipt - on hand when you are shopping. When something is on sale, compare it to the usual selling price from your list, to decide if it’s really as good value as it purports to be.
The frugal experts have decent storage areas at home, so if there’s a very special deal on washing powder or toilet paper, tins or toiletries, they can stock up for a few months at a knock-down price. It’s not generally worth doing on fresh produce, or packets with a short shelf life though, because throwing something away that’s out of date will undo all of your good work.
There can be some incredible bargains in the ‘yellow sticker’ sections of the supermarket. Most stores will have a spot for fruit and vegetable reductions, somewhere for chilled food price cuts, one for bakery products, and a final one for those with a longer shelf life that may be a bit battered, or separated from the outer packaging. Check them all for a possible discount.
The ’yellow sticker’ items will usually be reduced at least twice a day: once in the afternoon and once later in the evening. If you can wait to shop at around 7.30pm or 8pm you can get astonishing discounts.
If you want to time your shop exactly, then your best bet is to ask in store when they do their final reductions - don't be shy!
Get to know the rules around freezing ‘yellow sticker’ items, so you can buy when they are cheapest and use over the following weeks and months.
Don't assume something is perishable without checking. Everything from cheese to beansprouts is fine to freeze as long as you treat them correctly (beansprouts need blanching, chilling in ice water, and freezing immediately).
It’s never worth buying something just because it’s cheap: you also have to be able to factor it into your life. If you can't immediately think how you would use that over-ripe avocado, a pack of cut-price tongue or kippers, then don't buy them.