David O’Leary: A little change here and there will save the pennies

Family finances are under increasing pressure
Family finances are under increasing pressure
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As families’ spending rises and incomes fall, David O’Leary tracks down some tips to make your money go further

ONE report reveals we pay the highest childcare costs in the UK, another points out that the fuel prices have hit yet another record milestone.

Add to this spiralling utility bills, mobile phone charges, and the cost of a weekly shop, and there is little sign of the squeeze on the household finances being loosened any time soon.

This week motorists at forecourts across the Central Belt saw the price of diesel reach an eye-watering £1.50 a litre, whilst a report by two children’s charities, Daycare Trust and Children in Scotland, revealed that Scots families pay the highest childcare costs in the country.

Susan McPhee, head of policy at Citizens Advice Scotland, says her organisation is greatly concerned at the strain being put on budgets by rising prices, especially as incomes are falling.

She says: “The story of this recession – as reflected in CAB cases – is one of rising prices, set against falling household incomes. Those who were on the lowest incomes to begin with have tended to be hit hardest of all.

“Our advisers regularly see people who simply can’t afford to pay their household bills – many families are routinely going without food in order to pay their mortgage or their heating bills. That’s the reality of life for many Scottish households today.”

So in this uncertain economic climate how can you make sure your money goes as far as possible?

Archna Luthra of {http:// moneysavingexpert.com|moneysavingexpert.com|moneysavingexpert.com} has some handy hints to help.

Motoring

You can lower your fuel costs by changing your driving habits. It’s possible to drive the same distance in the same time, yet use much less fuel. By following these handy hints you can chop up to 60 per cent off your fuel costs – without cutting your top speed.

Accelerate gradually without over-revving. Press harder on the pedal and more fuel flows. Get to the same speed using less power, stay under 3000rpm.

Drive in the correct gear –always drive in the highest gear possible without labouring the engine. Slow naturally rather than brake frequently.

Think about road position. To do all this takes road awareness, the more alert you are, the better you can plan ahead.

Regular MoTs are a must. Yet as their maximum cost is fixed at £54.85 for cars, it’s not the test fee but repairing the fails that makes the biggest dent.

If you’ve had problems with Del Boy dealerships in the past, little-known council-run MoT centres don’t do repairs so there’s no vested interest to fail you.

Also find the cheapest petrol price in your area using price comparison websites.

Childcare

The costs of childcare can be prohibitive, yet thousands of working parents are missing out on cash, benefits and easy help.

It’s a common misconception that child tax credits are for the unemployed, actually for help with childcare it’s the opposite, you have to be in work.

Also, apply for childcare vouchers. These can save many parents with kids aged up to 15, more than £1000 a year on childcare. They need to be offered via employers, but many large and small companies take part.

The MSE benefits checker at mse.me/benefits will quickly show you what you’re entitled to. Plus there are thousands of schemes across the UK offering range of activities for children, from sports coaching to dance and music sessions.

Energy

If you’ve never switched energy provider before, do it now. It only takes five minutes and you can save more than £300 a year. Simply plug in your details to one of the comparison sites like energyhelpline.com or uswitch.com. Remember it’s the same gas, same electricity, same pipes and safety, only the price and billing processes really change.

TV

TV packages aren’t cheap but it’s possible to slash costs with a five-minute phone call. Call your provider and say you’re not happy with the cost – if they don’t budge, threaten to leave. You’ll usually be put through to disconnections, internally known as customer retentions. Some have managed to haggle a 50 per cent discount for six months, no argument.

Alternatively switch to Freeview.

Food

The cost of food is rocketing but a few techniques can save hundreds. An easy trick to try is the downshift challenge. Simply drop one brand level of everything you buy and see if you notice the difference. For instance, if you buy finest biscuits try the supermarket’s own. This isn’t about buying no-frills everything – just don’t be hypnotised into the supermarket spin.