US websites suggest plenty of ways to spend a few dollars less – but do they work for British penny-pinchers?
Americans are far ahead of us Brits when it comes to financial matters – or so they like to think. We decided to put this to the test by looking at some of the money-saving tips on sites such as My Two Dollars and Monevator. Here are some of our favourites – but be warned, not all of them work.
? Fill up early in the morning when the air is cool, and the gas is dense. You’ll get more gas and less air.
Petrol does expand and contract more than other liquids depending on temperature, but Ian Crowder of the AA says that even in the hottest parts of the US it will only make a difference of a few millilitres. In the UK, petrol is stored in tanks underground, so there is no temperature fluctuation at all.
? Check your vehicle’s tyre pressure each time you fill up. Things like under-inflated tires and dirty air filters can reduce your gas mileage.
The AA says a car with tyres under-inflated by 8lbs per square inch will use between 4% and 6% more fuel. It’s also likely to exacerbate wear and tear, and could lead to the driver losing control of the car. Ian Crowder adds: “It is a complete myth that deflating tyres slightly in icy conditions gives a better grip.”
? Give your old car to charity instead of scrapping it and having to pay tax.
Until 2007 motorists paid £50 to scrapyards to dispose of their old cars, but European legislation encouraging recycling made even the rustiest of cars a commodity with value. By recycling through giveacar.co.uk you can donate any money raised to a charity of your choice. Charities benefiting from the scheme include Cats Protection, War Child and Oxfam.
Scrap car donations are based on the weight of the metal, but if the car is still roadworthy giveacar may be able to raise more by selling it at auction. The service also deals with vans, motorbikes and lorries.
? On a water meter? Take a navy shower – where you get wet, turn the water off, scrub with soap, turn the water on again to rinse then get out. Shred credit card applications and use as mulch in the garden.
Economising by taking showers can be increased by using a single setting showerhead, offered free by several water companies. Or you could insert a Showersave, a gadget that screws into the bottom of your shower hose. Even if you do not pay for your water, these gadgets will save you money on energy.
Also consider shredding food waste and direct marketing leaflets and save yourself even more money while benefiting the garden.
? Only wash shirts, jeans and pants (UK translation – trousers) when necessary: unless there is a massive spill on your clothes, these items don’t need to be washed often. You’ll save by having smaller laundry loads. This does not apply to underwear.
While fewer washes will undoubtedly save on electricity and water costs (if your water usage is metered), there are only so many days you can leave a pair of jeans before they must be cleaned. This one is purely subjective: if you (and your colleagues, friends, loved ones) can stand wearing clothes for longer than two or three wears, you’ll save money. But you might find yourself spending more on soap and deodorant instead.
? Keep your blinds and curtains closed: save energy by keeping the warmth in or the sun out.
Even for the more anti-social money-saver, this tip doesn’t work so well for the UK. According to uSwitch.com, curtains will help keep the heat in and the draughts out, but the saving might be cancelled out by the electricity you’d need for extra lighting, while the sun helps heat rooms during the day. This tip makes more sense in the US, where temperatures are more extreme and air conditioning is necessary in summer.
? Don’t pay babysitters: get young couples who are thinking about having kids to “rent” yours for the evening. They get to see what it will be like, and you can get paid instead of paying out.
I’m presuming this tip applies to young couples that parents already know rather than strangers. Also, you’d have to recruit carefully, otherwise you could end up spending a fortune on cleaning after a couple of amorous teenagers have raided your drinks cabinet, got drunk and thrown up all over your sofa. The main problem is that the very nature of renting your children out to people with no experience of kids is that … they have no experience of kids. Expect a frantic phone call just as you’re tucking into your restaurant starter, which you shouldn’t be eating anyway as you’re meant to be saving money.
? Keep a distance from lavish, high-roller friends: hanging out with such people often can lead to a lot of unnecessary desires and discontent.
A straw poll of The Observer office concluded that, rather than avoid these people, you should aim to spend more time with them. That’s more time eating their gourmet food, using their luxury goods, allowing them to pay for meals and drinks – and enjoying their large house with extensive gardens, hot tub and pool.
? Clean your teeth with baking soda (bicarbonate of soda in Britain). Toothpaste is a luxury, it’s the brushing that does almost all of the work.
The internet is awash with guides and videos on how to brush your teeth with baking soda – which some people claim gives them the sparkling white grin of a US daytime soap star. In reality, most dentists warn that baking soda, especially when used with hydrogen peroxide, can damage the enamel on teeth and should be used sparingly. Baking soda as an ingredient in household toothpaste brands is not a problem.
? Sharpen your multi-blade razor on the back of your arm: you may never need to buy one again.
To learn how to do this you must sit through an online tutorial featuring a topless middle-aged man. Then you actually have to do what he says – run a razor blade up and down your arm. This is not for the faint-hearted – but, with a four-pack of Gillette Fusion blades costing around £9.79, could it be a money-saver? In reality it made no difference whatsoever when we tried it. The theory is that using your arm should be similar to the old-fashioned method of using a leather strop but, according to Shaveblog, strops were never used alone to sharpen a blade – you had to first use a stone. Moreover, sharpening just one side of a blade (the only thing you can do with a modern razor cartridge) would have no effect at all. Avoid this technique – as well as a potential trip to the hospital.
? Discover Freecycle.
We are big fans of this idea – if you are moving home, Freecycle is a brilliant source of free furniture and equipment that you might not be able to afford to buy new. The people running the local sites can be pedantic about the way the ads are worded, though, and there are often many more people wanting things than offering them. You will need to be quick if you see something you like.
? To unclog a drain, pour a cup of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) in the drain and follow with a cup of vinegar. Wait an hour and follow with boiling water.
This works, but is better used regularly as a preventative measure than a cure once the drain is blocked. However, it can prove tricky to track down in supermarkets. Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado all sell 200g packets for around 85p, but local stores often fail to stock it. There’s plenty of Mr Muscle (£2.63), but no bicarbonate of soda.
? Hang up your landline telephone service. If most of your calls are to other cell (mobile) users in the same network, consider cancelling the landline and using a cell phone exclusively.
In the UK you need a landline in order to get broadband unless you have cable or satellite. According to Dominic Baliszewski of Broadband Choices, any saving from swapping a landline for cable/satellite is “generally minimal if there even is a saving”, but there are big savings to be made on broadband itself. “Broadband is often the forgotten bill, which is shocking when people could potentially save hundreds of pounds by switching. Offers such as 12 months half-price, free wireless printers and £50 shopping vouchers are all currently available.” He recommends Tesco’s new £2.50 a month deal (landline £13.75 a month); TalkTalk’s broadband and phone essential package at £3.35 a month (£13.80 line rental) and Orange’s broadband offering at £5 a month with £12.75 line rental.
? If you live in an apartment, see if you can split the cost of a wireless connection with your neighbours. But make sure it’s legal first.
You could do this, but whether you should depends on how well you know your neighbours. You could find you can’t download because they have hogged all the megabytes. Worse, you could find yourself subject to a dawn police raid trying to find who has been using your connection for illegal downloads.
? Eat breakfast for dinner, substituting eggs and beans for meat.
Beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat the more you … save money? This would reduce your shopping bill, but how much depends on how carnivorous you are in the first place. Remember, the US is predominantly a land of meat eaters; if you are a vegetarian American, this usually means you eat chicken.
According to mySupermarket.co.uk, around 600g of pork chops – enough for two greedy people – would cost £4 at major supermarkets, while a tin of value baked beans costs as little as 29p-34p at the likes of Asda and Tesco. Dry cannellini beans cost 75p-79p for 500g – but if you don’t have a pressure cooker to cook them, you’d have to fork out at least £29.99 at Argos.
? Marketers know that eye-level is the place most people tend to shop, so they to put the items with the highest margins at eye level, right in front of you. Better deals are usually found on lower shelves.
We tested this in a branch of Tesco and found it to be untrue. Discounts and offers were displayed at head height as well as on higher and lower shelves, while cheap pasta, noodles and other staples were also on middle shelves.
? When travelling, carry food: make it ahead of time or buy from a cheap grocery store. Especially in airports, it’s all overpriced – cinemas, too.
Of course it’s cheaper to pack picnics rather than buy food out – especially at tourist places or attractions such as museums and theme parks. At Chessington World of Adventures’ Zafari Bar & Grill, for example, main meals cost from £8.95 (chick pea and falafel burger with chips) to £22.95 (8oz fillet steak with chips), while kids’ meals cost £4.50 to £7.75, and soft drinks start at £2. That’s a minimum spend of £35 if a family of four (with two kids) eat as cheaply as they can – compared with no more than £10 for a family-sized picnic.
This can be tricky at cinemas and theatres where they sometimes check bags to make sure you are not taking your own food in. But as bottles of water were selling for £2.75 in Wandsworth Cineworld last week, it’s worth a try: use a small bag so the cinema attendant won’t suspect that you have several cans and a three-course meal concealed inside.
? If your kids complain about generic cereal, put it in a name-brand box. They’ll never know the difference.
It could work, but you would need to be sure not to choose a packet with a free gift included, and you might have to invest in the branded version every so often when the packaging gets scruffy.
? Keep the freezer full. If you have to, put jugs filled with water in it. It’s less expensive to keep a full freezer cold.
Freezers are most efficient when at least 75% full, according to website Housing Energy Advisor : the less space available, the less the freezer has to do to keep the temperature down. The opposite is true for fridges: the cold air needs to be able to circulate to keep food chilled. If the fridge is crammed, the unit has to work harder to keep the temperature down.
? Divide credit card minimum payments in half and pay that amount twice a month, rather than waiting until the end of the month. Interest is calculated based on the average daily balance for the entire month. By making a payment every couple of weeks you are reducing that and therefore reducing the charges.
Barclaycard, with more than 9m cards in issue in the UK, calculates interest in this way and its spokesman, Andrew Bond, says customers can save even more by paying all of the amount due as early in the payment period as they can manage. He adds: “There is no restriction as long as you meet your minimum payment by the due date.” It’s worth checking to see if your credit card company charges interest on the same basis.
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