14:56 28 March 2013
It's clear from the steady flow of emails we are receiving here at MoneySupermarket in response to the recent Budget , that households up and down the country are really feeling the financial pain. In fact, according to our poll, a resounding 82% of you reckon the Budget won't leave you any better off.
But, while we can't offer you the perfect remedy to cure the strain on your household finances, we CAN offer you 10 ways to fight back against the Chancellor and beat him at his own game.
1. Check you're getting the benefits you're entitled to
The benefits system is difficult to navigate your way through. But don't automatically assume you won't be entitled to anything. Whether you are employed or unemployed, single or a couple, you could be entitled to something - so it's well worth using a benefits calculator such as this one to double check.
Be aware that new changes are being made to the welfare system in April - you can read the full breakdown in Mark Hooson's article.
2. Make full use of employee benefits
Many companies also offer employee benefits. If you haven't checked, or have simply forgotten what they are, ask your employer for more details.
Some, for example, offer season ticket loans where your employer lends you the money for your annual train ticket and deducts the payments from your salary over the course of 10 months - giving you a two-month payment break. And the good news is the government is doubling the amount an employer can lend to an employee tax-free to £10,000 from next year.
Alternatively, if you fancy cycling to work instead of spending the commute under someone's armpit or slouched behind the wheel, the cycle-to-work scheme helps employees to buy a bike tax-free. It could shave as much as 42% off the cost.
Some companies also offer life insurance as part of their employee package, childcare vouchers, discounts on gym memberships, free eye tests and help towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses.
3. Check your council tax band
Ignoring the government's attempts to freeze council tax for a third year, many local authorities have gone ahead and pushed up prices anyway. But while there's no way to avoid this, it could pay to check whether you are in the right council tax band.
The first step is to find out how much your neighbours are paying by heading to the council tax valuation list and typing in your postcode (England and Wales only - those in Scotland should go through the Scottish Assessors website).
If you discover you're in a higher band than your neighbours, the next step is to ask the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) to look into it. If the VOA agrees you're in the wrong band, it will correct it and you'll be given a refund.
4. Check you're paying the right tax
The personal allowance (the amount at which you start paying tax) is rising to £9,440 from April this year, up from the current £8,105.
In April 2014, it will go up again to £10,000 - a year earlier than expected. However, if you haven't recently checked your tax code is correct, you could be paying too much tax.
Your tax code can be found on your payslip and is usually three numbers followed by a letter. By multiplying the number by 10, you should get the total amount of income you can earn in a year before paying tax. If you think your tax code is wrong, contact HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to get it corrected.
5. Check you're on the best energy tariff - regularly
Regularly checking to see whether you are still on the cheapest possible energy tariff could save you hundreds on your household bills.
It doesn't take long to compare deals and remember you can switch tariffs as often as you like - providing you aren't tied in to your current tariff. Our research shows that households could reduce their energy bill by 22% simply by switching to the best deal - a saving of £282.
Also check that your bill is based on an accurate meter reading, not an estimated one. If it is estimated, give your supplier a call to update it.
6. Don't accept your insurer's renewal quote
According to our research, seven million (19%) motorists automatically renew their car insurance each year without shopping around first. But by doing so, they are throwing away an average of £300 a year.
So next time your car insurance or home insurance is up for renewal, hunt out a better deal.
Find out how you can make £300 in 10 minutes with Mark Hooson's article, though he actually pocketed double that by rejecting his current insurer's offer and shopping around.
7. Get a cheaper mobile phone deal
Check whether you're making full use of the minutes, texts and data that are included in your mobile phone package. You can usually see what you've used on your online account or phone to ask your provider. If you discover you're not using your full allowance, downgrade to a cheaper deal as soon as you can.
Better still, choose a SIM-only deal instead. You won't get a new 'upgraded' mobile phone, but you could save yourself hundreds of pounds a year. Plus, you'll only be tied into a 30-day rolling contract as opposed to the two-year contracts that are now commonplace.
8. Avoid booking fees
Booking fees pop up everywhere - whether you're booking a train fare or theatre or cinema tickets. But there are ways to get around them.
If you use the thetrainline.com, for example, you'll pay a £1.50 booking fee, plus an extra 22p if you pay by credit card or PayPal. (A fee of £1 applies if you are booking via the mobile app.) Yet head to TravelSupermarket or Virgin Trains and you can book your ticket fee-free.
It's not quite as straightforward for theatre and cinema tickets as the only way to avoid booking fees is to buy your tickets in person. That said, Cineworld no longer charges booking fees. Odeon, on the other hand, charges a fee of 75p per ticket.
9. Save and earn on your online shopping
If you shop online, always check whether you can earn cashback first. Websites such as Quidco and topcashback allow you to earn money back as you spend. Simply check whether your chosen cashback site lists the shop you want to make your purchase from and buy your item as usual through the link it provides.
The cashback site will then credit your cashback account with the money you've made. These sites are a great way of earning a little extra money for minimal effort, but be aware that Quidco keeps the first £5 cashback you receive each year.
Don't forget to keep an eye out for voucher codes that will slice even more money off your bill.
10. Don't waste reward points
If you have accrued reward points with your credit card or loyalty points through a retailer's scheme, don't forget to use them - otherwise you stand to miss out on some super savings.
With the Boots Advantage card, for example, you can earn four points for every £1 you spend. One point is worth one penny, so once you've accumulated enough points you can redeem them on your future purchases. Superdrug offers a similar scheme with its Beautycard but you'll only earn one point for every £1 you spend. Again, one point equals one penny.
And if you have a Tesco Clubcard or Sainsbury's Nectar card you can collect points which can later be redeemed on your grocery shopping or on days out or holidays.
What's more, if you use the Tesco Clubcard Credit Card for your spending - which offers 0% on spending for 16 months - you'll collect points even faster. For every £4 you spend in Tesco stores or on Tesco fuel you will earn five Clubcard points, and for every £4 you spend elsewhere, you will earn one point.
Let us know how much you've saved
We'd love to hear how much you've saved by following tips like these. Email Rachel Wait to tell us.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.
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