Financial whizz Jasmine Birtles of moneymagpie.com shares her expert tips on making the most of your money
1. Save a bundle on train fares
Consider signing up to train operators’ emails to receive some amazing short-term offers. East Coast and Southern often have half-price ticket deals. If you can, book 10 to 12 weeks in advance for really good deals – this certainly applies to Eurostar.
If you want to book a return ticket, check first to see if two singles are cheaper, and make sure you have a railcard if you qualify for one. Visit railcard.co.uk to see the types available. For example, a senior railcard costs just £28 and cuts fares by one third.
2. Cut the cost of giving
Gift cards and vouchers make great presents. At giftcardconverter.co.uk you can find discounted cards that people sell on. Bargains might include a £60 Starbucks card for £35 or a £50 iTunes voucher for £40, for example. And if you receive a card for a store you never use, the site will buy it for almost face value.
3. Find a free pet sitter
If you have pets you will know how expensive it can be to have them looked after when you’re away. So cut costs by joining petsitterswap.com. Put in your postcode and search for other local owners who will look after your pets in exchange for you looking after theirs another time. You can search for pet sitters in your area without joining, but an annual fee of £9·99 allows you to contact the pet sitter of your choice directly.
4. Switch your bank account
Current accounts may never give you the best interest rates, but some banks offer good rates if you can pay in a manageable amount per month – typically around £500. What’s more, if you switch banks, they usually offer a cash incentive of up to £300, and will even move your direct debits over from your old account, so it’s totally hassle free!
5. Swap and share things
Have a swap shop every now and then where you and your friends swap clothes, accessories and even unwanted gifts. Also, why not get together with your neighbours to save money by sharing lawnmowers, power tools and other expensive items you don’t use that often.
6. Do you qualify for benefits?
Whether you’re disabled or care for someone with a disability, there’s tax-free support available so make sure you get what’s rightfully yours. Disability Living Allowance pays up to £130 a week for anyone under 65 needing care due to illness or disability. Attendance Allowance is for over 65s and offers up to £77·45 a week, while the Independent Living Fund pays from £340 per week to severely disabled people who want to live independently. However, from 2013, the new Personal Independence Payment replaces Disability Living Allowance for disabled people aged 16 to 64. Visit direct.gov.uk for details, and see turn2us.org.uk to check what you’re entitled to.
7. Enjoy low-cost dental care
A possible way of benefiting from cheaper dental care is to go to one of several dental hospitals in the UK that offer treatment by students. All procedures are closely supervised by senior dental staff so standards of care are very high. Not all procedures are suitable for treatment by students and in some cases you do need to be recommended by an NHS dentist. Click here for a list of all UK dental schools.
8. Join a city car club
If you live in a town or city and you own a car, you’re probably wasting money every day. If your vehicle sits unused for most of the time, why not rent it out through websites such as blablacar.com or whipcar.com. Or sell it and use car clubs such as zipcar.co.uk and citycarclub.co.uk instead. These clubs offer pay-as-you-go cars for reasonable fees, saving you money on tax, maintenance, MOTs and servicing costs.
9. Take a holiday for a song
House-swapping schemes enable you to enjoy cheap holidays anywhere in the world by switching homes with another family. Most schemes charge a fee, which enables you to list your home and browse what’s available. Take a look at guardianhomeexchange.co.uk, which costs £35 per year to join; or try lovehomeswap.com, which charges a fee of £99.
10. Build a pension for your kids
Did you know that even babies can enjoy the tax-free benefits of a pension? Stakeholder pensions are open to anyone, so you, plus your family and friends, can all contribute to a pension for your child. You can put up to £2,880 a year into a stakeholder pension and the government will add the tax you would have paid on it, making it £3,600 a year. See moneymagpie.com to find out how your child can enjoy a millionaire retirement pot even if you only pay in for the first 10 years of their life.