It has become far harder to look after your money and find the best deals.
If you want to be a money fighter and win ? rather than be a money loser ? you need to glove up.
Money Fight Club author Lindsay Cook gives you some hard and fast ways to save cash smartly.
I read my gas and electricity meters regularly ? sometimes daily during high-usage periods such as holidays or cold snaps ? instead of trusting occasional estimates from my supplier.
When you know what you are using you are more likely to turn down the thermostat or turn off lights.
You need to spot the patterns. If you check regularly you will be able to tell that your tumble dryer is costing you a fortune. I found fancy designer lighting was a major consumer of electricity.
If consumption is high when you are not at home then it suggests your fridge or freezer are heavy electricity users or that you leave too many appliances on standby.
I have a plumber on speed dial rather than trusting in boiler insurance costing more than £100 a year. When our heating failed last December the cover counted for nothing. It took more than a week before an engineer came because we did not have a ?very old, very young or very sick person? in the household.
Terms like ?peak?, ?off peak?, ?standard? and ?variable? can all cost you money if you don?t know exactly what they mean ? whether you are buying a train ticket or making a phone call.
When do peak periods start and end, for example? Depending on your phone company, the cheaper weekend rate may start at 6pm on a Friday or later. Find out.
I like ?free? phone call packages, especially when they allow you to dial worldwide for a fixed monthly fee ? but I always note when the call starts. There is usually a 60-minute limit per call. If you go over the hour, charges rack up big-time. Get yourself an alarm or set it on your mobile and ring off and redial after 59 minutes.
I go in low when I hit the supermarket ? literally. The best deals and cheapest prices are often tucked away on the bottom shelves. Supermarkets get paid by manufacturers to promote eye-level deals and end-of-aisle promotions.
On a recent supermarket trip, boxes of a well-known maker of detergent capsules cost £7 for 19 at eye level while on the top shelf two packs of the same brand cost £6 for 24. On the bottom shelf a far bigger box containing 33 was £6. It pays to crouch.
For example, never pay full price for a restaurant brand of pizza, fajita kits, mayonnaise, dishwasher tablets or olive oil. Spot the pattern and use it against them by only buying outside the high-price periods. They?ll hate you for it.
Only shop at convenience stores if you have no choice. I find these smaller stores ? often owned by the big supermarkets ? are only convenient for the retailer.
They make even bigger profits by selling food at a premium just because it?s slightly closer to where people live. Individual prices can be 40 per cent higher than for their bigger stores.
Also, shop where there is competition ? the more supermarkets in one place, the better. Become a voucher ninja. Remember, supermarkets give us vouchers to encourage us to spend more.
So, if my weekly shop is around £70 I expect to get a voucher offering bonus loyalty points if I spend £80. Another customer spending £30 will often be offered a cash voucher for £5 or £10 if they spend over £50 next time.
The reason you are offered cash is because the supermarket computer is convinced you?re also spending money with a rival and it wants to persuade you to buy more with them.
Turn the tables. Is there someone with a smaller or larger spend that you could swap cash vouchers with? My family regularly does this, even sending vouchers in the post. It saves us a fortune.
BANKS AND CREDIT CARDS
Put your payment dates in a diary. I pay my credit cards by direct debit, so I check my statements as soon as they arrive to see how much is due and when the money is going to be deducted from my account.
This can vary by a few days each month and can catch you unawares, perhaps putting you in the red and leaving you facing hefty bank charges ? not to mention black marks on your credit record.
This is particularly important if, like me, you?ve opted for paperless bills, or discreetly been moved on to them. If you?ve gone paperless, you may not remember to look at your card account before it?s due.
You may be able to set up text messages and email reminders to alert you when your card bill is available online but these don?t happen automatically. Check.
If your payment date is a pain ? for example, just before pay day ? move it. Contact your card company and ask to have the payment date changed. They will usually do this without question, unless you try to do it too often.
I also regularly check if my credit card offers the best deal available. But you must be careful not to switch cards too often so that you look like a credit risk. Too many credit checks by financial services suppliers can lead to a flag on your credit profile.
Don't tell an insurance company that you may need to make a claim until you know the full facts. I recently rang an insurance company anonymously to find out what they would do with a claim for a flood-damaged vehicle that would not start. I was told that they would arrange for it to be collected and taken to their chosen garage to decide whether it could be repaired.
If I had given my name or policy number, this would have ruined my precious no-claims bonus. Just telling them about a possible claim can affect next year?s premium.
I opted to use the AA to get it moving and a local garage fixed it cheaply that day. I was told that if I?d made a claim, the insurance company would have deducted two years? no-claims bonus.
Use an alias to get a good deal. I used my husband?s name to do an online check for household insurance and got a better deal than I had been offered for renewing under my own name.
I telephoned and was told my husband?s £100 cheaper deal was because he was a ?new, online customer?. I asked if I needed to cancel my policy and for my husband to take out a new one.
The answer was no ? the insurer not only matched the quote for my husband but knocked another couple of pounds off into the bargain.
Never let any insurance policy automatically roll over into a new year without checking out the best deals.
I always put the renewal date in my diary and start researching two or three weeks before it is due.
BUYING OR RENTING A HOME
Try to bypass the agent and negotiate with the landlord if you are renting a home and want it for two or more years.
This worked for me. I insisted my offer was put to the landlord. I got a deal: cheaper rent over three years because the landlord had a guaranteed tenant with no voids and none of the costs of finding new tenants and cleaning up after old ones.
When you get older, get wiser. Bespoke retirement properties can be hard to sell despite the so-called ?benefits? of tended gardens or communal dining rooms.
The management companies often insist on vetting new buyers and the service charges can be higher than the tenants expect.
Instead, think about moving or down-sizing within striking distance of friends in normal residential streets.
TRAVEL BY AIR AND TRAIN
Flying midweek can save hundreds of pounds for a family going on holiday. When I go away, I tend to fly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Prices will vary, but on one return flight for four to Barcelona, outward flights were £35 cheaper for mid-week than on Saturdays and return flights were £40 cheaper each.
Split train fares if part of your journey is going to be in peak time. For example, if I leave my home town before 9am it costs me more than travelling later.
On long journeys I check the times for super off-peak fares, and if they start halfway through my journey, I buy two tickets, one for the first bit ? at full price ? and one for the second leg at often less than half the price.
However, the train must stop at the station where your second ticket starts or you do not qualify. You do not have to get off the train. There are also deals to be had by splitting because certain journeys are much cheaper per mile than others. Always buy from the train company you are travelling with.
I find that the train companies offer the best deals if you buy your tickets direct and online. You can set up email alerts for when new tickets go on sale, and you may get bonus points as well.
LETTERS GET RESULTS
It can be satisfying to sound off on the phone when things go wrong. But nothing packs a punch like a well-worded letter, correctly addressed to named individuals if you cannot make progress on the telephone or by email.
That?s why I?ve created a whole host of downloadable letter templates on the Money Fight Club website. It saves you time and they get results because they use what I call ?courtesy with menace? ? a deadly combination.
- Money Fight Club by Anne Caborn and Lindsay Cook is published by Harriman House at £11.99.