14:56 09 January 2013
We're in the depths of winter, which means the coldest season of the year will be taking an even bigger chunk of your household budget as more energy is used to light and keep the home warm.
The cold, dark winter months are a financial burden for many and this season is expected to be even tougher thanks to the inflation-busting energy price increases that have been implemented in recent weeks by the UK's 'Big Six' energy suppliers.
Homeowners typically use around 40% of their annual energy consumption during the winter months, according to analysis by Moneysupermarket.com, so if you are on a standard tariff, you can expect to cough up as much as £530 when your next bill arrives.
But there are ways to reduce your energy costs. By making just a few simple changes, you can reduce how much energy you use and cut your bills in 2013. Here's what to do:
Make a move now
Switch providers and fix online
The first thing you should do is reduce how much you are charged for energy in the first place, and this means moving onto the cheapest tariff. The cost of energy may have increased by an average of 7.6% (around £94 a year), but you can cut yours by more than this simply by switching.
Clare Francis, our consumer finance, said: "All you need is a copy of your latest bill and 10 spare minutes when you can get online, compare available tariffs and move on to a better value energy deal,"
"Those languishing on their provider's standard energy product should take action as quickly as possible; the typical saving they could make by moving to the best value online fixed deal is £173. This saving would go some way to offset their costly winter bills."
Fixing your energy tariff will shield you from any future price rises over the term of your deal. This will ensure you don't face another bill shock after Christmas 2013.
Clare added: "The best fixed deal currently available is the iSave Fixed v6 from First Utility, with typical bills of around £1,170 and would safeguard you from any further price rises for the duration of the 12-month contract."
But it's important to make a diary note of when your fixed deal comes to an end so you can remember to switch again in time, otherwise your provider may transfer you onto its standard price plan, which could result in your annual energy costs leaping by more than £300.
Also look out for any fees that might be levied if you need to come out of the fixed term agreement before the end of the agreement.
How you pay matters
Energy suppliers typically offer a discount to those who choose to pay by direct debit, arguably the cheapest payment option. It's easier and convenient for both the provider and the customer to manage these accounts, so you may want to go for this.
You'll be offered fixed monthly payments, which may mean overpaying in the warm summer months, but you are also likely to underpay in the cold winter months, which should balance things out.
Small changes, big difference
How you live your life can make a big difference. With the year still fresh, now's the time to make a New Year resolution that could save you a lot of money in the long run. It is the little things that matter, so you should resolve to:
Keep windows and doors shut
This will ensure you trap as much heat as possible in your house, thereby minimising the need to crank up the thermostat to compensate. Have your windows firmly shut and avoid leaving outer doors open when you step into your garden as doing so essentially means you are throwing money out of the house in the form of escaped heat.
You should also look into insulating any windows that might be letting heat escape, even when closed. Draft excluders at the foot of the door can also help.
Make a cup, not a pot of tea
We all love a good cup of tea, especially now when it is so cold, but do you really need to fill your water kettle to the brim when all you need is a cuppa? Resolve to heat up only what you are bound to use up and apply the same philosophy when boiling water for cooking as well.
Run full washing loads
The washing machine and dishwasher are incredibly useful, but they also consume a large amount of energy to run their cycles and heat the water required for cleaning. But you can lower this cost by resolving to only run full loads and also choosing the lowest temperature possible. Follow the guidance on the soap powder box as many soaps are formulated to work at lower temperatures than in the past.
Avoid the standby trap
Your digital music player, smartphone, tablet, computer, digital radio, TV and other gadgets do collectively consume a lot of energy when left on standby.
So if you're not using them, switch them off completely and unplug them from the socket where possible. Ensure you also only charge portable gadgets for the required length of time rather than leaving them on overnight. Most gadgets only need two or three hours to fully charge, so save energy by avoiding unnecessary charging.
Turn the lights off
Switch off the light when you leave a room. Lighting accounts for around 15% of home electricity usage, so just turning them off when they're not in use could save you a significant sum. And if you haven't switched to energy-efficient bulbs, do so now - what you spend on them could be recovered through savings before the year's up.
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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