Hi, and welcome back to Episode Four of Mrs MummyPenny Talks Cost-of-Living with Much More With Less. This week we have another very important topic, which is your essential bills and how to save money on all of those other bills. Previously we talked about energy in Episode Three and we talked about food in Episode Two. So, we’re just working our way down the bills. Thank you to our sponsors, PensionBee, I’m just going to talk about the PensionBee podcast. So, we get it, pensions can be complicated, but PensionBee’s on a mission to make them simple with its podcast. So, whether you’re just starting on your savings journey, nearing retirement, or somewhere in between the Pensions Confident podcast can help you to get the best out of your pension. I joined them for Episode Five to discuss the cost-of-living crisis, why it’s happening, and when it will all be over. And you can find this and other episodes of the Pension Confident podcast on all major podcast platforms, which are available to listen to today. So, Faith, this is an area that we’re both very passionate about. But you’re going to take the lead on this episode, which is about essential bills and how to save money. What’s the first thing you want to start with?
I think the biggest saving for the least effort for me, if you’re looking at essential bills, is actually cracking open those bank statements. Go to the banking app on your phone and check out every single regular payment that you have. Look at every single direct debit, every single standing order, and sneaky recurring payments that come on your credit card statements once a year or every month. Those subscriptions that you sign up for with every intention of canceling after the offer period. What you need to do is have a look at them. What can you cancel? What can you ditch because you no longer want or need it? And if you can’t ditch it, because it’s an essential bill, what can you switch to get a better deal? This is the kind of thing where in the afternoon, you could focus on saving yourself hundreds.
Let’s just talk about that very quickly. Because I know this is boring. I know it’s boring. And people don’t want to do it. They can’t be arsed. But it’s two or three hours’ worth of poring through your credit card statements and through your bank statements, let’s say the last three months’ worth. Highlight the things that you don’t need and be strict. Take me for example, I know at the moment I’ve got Amazon Prime, and I’ve got Netflix and I’ve got a TV licence. Do I need those three subscriptions? Of course, I don’t. That’s ridiculous. So, get rid of Amazon Prime. I don’t think I can get rid of Netflix. It’s not essential though, is it?
It’s a call depending on how much budget you have. The good things with some of the TV streaming services, like Netflix and Disney plus, is that you’re not on a contract. You could choose for example, to do without it this month because I’m doing something else, but then restart it in another month. It doesn’t have to be forever, but it can free up cash.
Yes, absolutely. Spending that time going through each of your bills and either getting rid of the direct debit or going out and finding a better deal could add up to savings of £50 a month, £100 a month, £200 a month. If you haven’t done it for years, there’s potentially a lot of savings there. Multiply that by 12, you’ve suddenly got a huge chunk of money that you’ve just saved based on two or three hours of work. If you don’t fancy doing it in a big chunk of time, use the prompts when you get those renewal notices. For some people, that’s slightly less painful if you can get through the next few months. So, every time there is a renewal, at the end of your mobile phone contract or the end of your insurance contract, never let it auto-renew without checking.
I think how we’re going to structure this is I’m going to go back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is my favorite psychological theory. I did a psychology A Level and I’m very interested in psychology. So, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a pyramid of needs. The bottom requirements are basic things you need in life to exist. So, we’ve got food, water, shelter, and love. Can’t really buy love, some would say. I was thinking of subscriptions to dating apps! But, real essentials, if we think about the roof over your head, mortgage or rent. For most people, before the energy price rises, that was their biggest bill every month. It’s a priority bill. You have to keep it otherwise you could end up homeless. So, if you’ve got rent, there may not be much you can do apart from moving. I suppose you could have a word with your landlord if you’re really having problems. But your mortgage, check your mortgage. Are you on a decent deal? When is it finished? If you’ve come off a deal, or you are coming close to the end of the deal, do check whether you can re-mortgage at a lower rate, it’s one of those things that can be a hassle, it might be a big effort, but the potential for savings is huge. All the forecasts seem to be that interest rates are going to be rising, so now could be a really good time to lock in a lower deal.
I’ve just changed my mortgage. It was no hassle at all. My post-divorce mortgage was such a hassle to sort out, but let’s not go into that because I needed big multiples. I did all that via a mortgage broker. Again, no affiliation with the company, but choose an independent mortgage broker, I use Trussle. I’ve used them and I know that they’re good. They really looked after me. Customer service was good – I’m a fan of good customer service. They can survey the whole market and they can find you the best deal. But there are loads of others. Habito is another one, isn’t it?
There are loads of mortgage brokers. The big deal is that they can take the effort out of it, in terms of crunching all the numbers to identify what is the best deal for you. They have access to mortgages that you could not get just by rocking up at a high street bank. They may also have a sense if there are any issues with your situation. If you are self-employed or have issues with your credit record, they might be able to find lenders who’d be more sympathetic.
Yes. And certainly, Trussell is free. So that’s if you need to get a new mortgage with a different company, as I did back in 2020. In 2022, my two-year deal was up for renewal. It was with Santander, so I just went online and they gave me three different options. I wanted another fixed deal because I thought that interest rates were going to be going up. I did all this in January, even though my fixed deal didn’t expire until May, because you can lock it in six months. So, I locked it in in January before the interest rates start to go up, and I managed to lock in. I’m not showing off here, and it depends on how much equity is in your house and stuff, but I managed to lock in a rate of 1.89%. I locked in for three years. Is three years enough? I don’t think so, I wish I’d done five. But the rate I was paying before then from 2020 was 1.69%. So, I went from 1.69% to 1.89%. My monthly payments went up by about £30 a month.
Not much difference. And, let’s face it, if you’re looking for a deal now it would probably be a lot higher.
Exactly. So, the lesson there is to have a look when your fixed deal or your variable rate deal is ending and you can lock in a deal six months before. If you want no hassle, just stay with the same company like I did with Santander. You don’t have to go through all the affordability checks again. So that’s rent and mortgage.
The other thing to keep a roof over your head is council tax. Again, that is a really tricky one to escape without moving. However, there are discounts available – 25% off if you live alone or only live with under eighteens. You can also check reductions for low-income and if you’re on certain means-tested benefits such as pension credit and Universal Credit. Another thing that might be relevant for those of us who don’t qualify for the discount is that a lot of councils spread the payments over 10 months. So that gives you a bit of space in your budge in February and March. However, if you are in a financial bind right now and just want to bring your living costs down, go back to the council and ask to spread the payments over 12 months.
Such a good shout. That’s a really good idea, I’ve never thought of that.
The other essential from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is water. Again, this depends on your situation. You might only be able to change your water bill by moving house unless you’re on a water meter. The general rule of thumb is if you’ve got fewer people than you have bedrooms, a meter can cut costs. Obviously, there might be different situations, for example, if you’re running a massive swimming pool.
I don’t think anybody can afford a swimming pool in this cost-of-living crisis.
Maybe don’t start building the swimming pool now! But if you’ve got a water meter, the advantage there is that you can actually influence your bills. If you use less water, your bill should come down.
I have a water meter and my bills are £14 a month. What are yours?
I think they’re at least £30!
I do employ a lot of water-saving tactics as well. I’m very good at water saving. So, more showers than baths. I don’t have that many cups of tea and coffee. I might reuse water that I collect in water butts out in the garden if I need to water the two flowers I have in my garden! I don’t have any flowers in my garden, so I don’t need to water them. I very rarely wash my car.
Cut down on the amount use your washing machine and only use it full when you run it. That will cut down your water bill. The other thing I’d add is leaks. If you notice a leak, say at the back of your loo cistern’s running all the time or there’s a dripping tap, do fix them. It does make a difference. And if you have discovered a leak and get it fixed, call your water company, because they may be able to knock some money off your bill for past water waste.
So just reiterate that rule – if there are less people than bedrooms?
You probably can save with a water meter. So go for it. I think now looking at regular bills, we’re probably moving beyond Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’m not sure that phone and internet access came onto that. But, for most people, they aren’t longer a luxury. They are essential if they’re needed for work, or studying, or job seeking. Or if you’ve got disabilities or health conditions. So top tips for mobiles?
I know all about mobile phones, I used to work for EE. Full disclaimer – I am the cost-of-living partner of Vodafone. Okay, so I know a lot about mobile phones. I’ve switched from EE to Vodafone. I have to say that I could not live without my mobile phone, and I absolutely could not live without broadband. My broadband is terrible which is really annoying me – I need to phone them. If your broadband is terrible phone your broadband company and say your broadband is awful. They can probably fix it, but I’ve got a great deal on my broadband.
If it’s terrible do a speed test online, because if you are paying for really high speed and they are not delivering it, you should be on a lower rate. Don’t pay for something you’re not getting.
Absolutely. Broadband is an essential because how would we have survived during lockdown with working from home and educating our kids without broadband? There are a lot of households that don’t have broadband and have got broadband poverty.
Lowest income households, ask your supplier if they have a social broadband tariff. They all have it. It will bring your cost down. For mobiles, my own top tip – is if you possibly can hang on to your phone handset and shift to a SIM-only deal so that you are not paying extra money when you have a perfectly good handset.
So, my old Samsung phone I managed to make it last for three years. I got rid of my contract after two years, the contracts are normally 24 months for phones. Then I switched to SIM only. I went from £35 a month down to £17 a month. However, Faith pays absolutely nothing for her mobile phone and I don’t understand how she’s done it!
I have put it up a bit recently!
You always have a crappy mobile phone.
No, not so much. I’ve got a refurbished iPhone. It’s a secondhand iPhone, so not the latest model.
You’ve got three networks in the country, Vodafone, EE and O2. Everybody else just piggybacks off those three networks. But some networks are better than others. I have no idea. It was pretty old when I got it, but it works well. I have a SIM-only deal which keeps the cost down. What I did do was I discovered that on my super low deal I was paying extra because I kept going over my allowances. So, I switched suppliers, and I’ve got bigger allowances now. I’m with Plusnet. Happy with that and it’s easy to manage. Again, you can check online, and check your postcode to see which one has better coverage in your area.
My friend in Surrey has no phone reception in her house. She’s on O2, but when people on EE visit her their phones work, so she needs to switch to EE.
So, priority bills are bills that can have really serious consequences if you don’t pay them. They are things like child maintenance, court fines, unpaid income tax, VAT, and National Insurance. The government really goes for you.
I was one day late paying my VAT bill.
Have you been fined?
No, they let me off. Because it was the first time. It’s like the Dart charge. The first time you miss the Dart charge call them up. Call them up explain it’s the first time you’ve messed up and they refund it.
It’s a good point. If it’s a first-time offense, you may be able to get refunded. For a lot of the things I just mentioned, you may not be able to move at all. The other thing, if you do watch live TV or catch-up services such as iPlayer, you’ve got to have a TV license. They can really chase you for it. But as we’ve said, if you’ve got any other streaming services or TV subscriptions, you might want to think is that the best use of money? Should I be canceling? Should I be switching elsewhere?
Should we talk about switching quickly? So, the things that you can switch at the moment are broadband, mobile phone, insurance. We haven’t talked about insurance yet. So, with broadband and mobile phone, I switch my broadband every 18 months to two years, whatever the length of the contract is. So, one time I’m Sky, the next time I’m Virgin, the next time I’m Vodafone the next time I’m EE. Because then, very great tip here, I do it all via TopCashback. I love TopCashback. There is also Quidco, but I love TopCashback. I’m a member where I pay £5 a year, but I get much higher TopCashback rates. So just to explain what TopCashback is. So, it’s a cashback website, if I’m going to switch my broadband I go onto TopCashback, I type in broadband, and it comes up with ‘switch to Virgin’. Even though I’m on EE, I search for the Virgin offer and it says, ‘Oh Lynn, you can swap to a £25 a month deal but you’re going to get £120 cashback as well. This is free money people because TopCashback is getting some money from Virgin to bounce you as a customer onto them. So TopCashback is just giving you the money that they’ve earned from the broadband supplier. It’s free money.
It’s free. Absolutely, free money. The only thing I would say is that I tend to go to comparison sites first to check where I can get the best deal. Then I loop back to TopCashback and find out if the cheapest supplier can give me a decent slug of cashback. I wouldn’t change a contract solely for chunky cashback. Because sometimes you’re going to end up spending a lot more on a monthly basis – even if you do get a slug of cashback as well. You can be caught, so just double-check. But absolutely, if you’re switching suppliers, always check whether you can pick up a chunk of cash back.
When I switched to Virgin, that isn’t working properly, Virgin! When I switched to them, it was a £25 a month deal. It was the same deal on their website. The same deal on TopCashback. So, it was £25 a month plus I got £120 cash back. It took three months to clear out, which is a very long time, but I got £120—money for nothing.
Insurance is another area where you can pick up really good chunks of cash back. Now. I say this as somebody who does not like spending money, but even being frugal, I still recommend it.
What insurance do you have?
Well, car insurance you have to have. It’s a legal requirement. And I pay an arm and a leg for home insurance, buildings, and contents insurance, just because of the house that I live in. Some of the ways that I have reduced those insurance costs are, for example, bumping up the excess. The excess is the first part of any claim that you pay. I regard home insurance as something for dire emergencies – if we get flooded or the house gets burned down. It’s not if we knock something over.
Guess who flooded their kitchen.
Oh my God.
I did it a year ago. Can I still claim?
Well, it’s worth asking.
Now I can smell the damp.
At the time, did you incur any costs? Have you got any evidence? It’s always worth a call. That’s what we’re saying with so many of these things. Contact the company it’s worth a call. It might just be too long a delay, but worth asking. So I do have car insurance. I do have home insurance. I also have life insurance. One of the things with life insurance, so that’s something that pays out if you die, the younger and healthier you are when you buy the cheaper your rates will be. Once you purchase it, you’re then locked in at a nice low price.
I have a life insurance policy with Legal & General, that I took out when I was 24. It lasts until I’m 49 because it was linked to my 25-year mortgage. £6 a month for £110k. Obviously, it runs out when I’m 49 and that’s four years away.
So, then you need to have a look and see what you can get. Use a broker.
I am going to. I’m going through a life insurance process at the moment because I don’t have enough life insurance. It’s a little bit of an issue with the Tesco life insurance policy, but that’s a long story to go into, which I will be writing about. So, I’m speaking to an independent broker. There are lots of them around. I’ve got slightly complex medical stuff with my blood, and a lot of people in my family have heart attacks. I’m fine, but a lot of people do. There are a few questions that just complicate my life insurance, so I needed to go to a specialist broker. Generally, people like Life Search is a good generalists. They’re a really lovely company. Again, I have done work with them in the past but I’m just saying they’re a good company.
And I’m actually using Cura insurance at the moment. Full disclaimer, my friend Kathryn owns it. But they’re great for specialist medical stuff. Stuff like I didn’t realise that you can get life insurance when you’ve got HIV.
Yes, it’s just going to be a matter of premiums.
We don’t want to talk too much about life insurance, but if you’ve got a mortgage, you probably should think about having life insurance.
If you’ve got a mortgage and if you have people who depend on you financially
I don’t have pet insurance.
No, I don’t either.
I have been wondering whether we should but at the moment we don’t.
You’ve got a dog!
Yeah, we’re kind of self-insured because we’ve got savings, I was kind of putting it off.
I don’t. I used to do annual policies when we went away. I think with annual policies typically if you go away more than twice a year abroad is worth doing. Recently, we’ve just been doing single-trip insurance because let’s face it over lockdown, we didn’t go anywhere.
Do you insure any appliances? I do not recommend doing that.
Most family’s biggest bill is going to be their housing, food, energy, then fuel, and transport. Just as we’ve seen energy to heat your house go sky high, we’ve seen the price to fill up your car go sky high. Petrol prices, pay less so I recommend looking at the website www.petrolprices.com to find the cheapest petrol in your area.
Can I just say that Costco is always 10p cheaper. Costco membership is only £30 a year. I’ve done the maths. Do the maths. It’s worth it.
So, suss out the cheapest petrol station near you, whether it’s Costco or somewhere else. As a general rule, if in doubt go to a supermarket. Try to avoid filling up at motorway service stations. Otherwise, it’s how can you use less. Maybe now is the time to really think if you’re going to use the car, how can you drive more efficiently? All those things like taking weight out of your car, emptying the boot, take the roof rack off, drive smoothly. Check tire pressure. Check, it’s right. Because if it’s too low or too high you can end up using more petrol.
Lift sharing. I have to take my eldest to football all the time. And it’s an 80-mile round trip, so I lift share with parents.
Now, obviously, for an 80-mile round trip, you’re going to have to use a car for that. But are there any journeys where you don’t have to use a car at all? Can you walk? Can you cycle, if you’re feeling brave?
Let’s talk about trains because tomorrow night we need to go to St Neots It’s a really easy train journey. And actually, it’s quite nice to just sit there and play on my phone rather than drive. There is an associated cost with train journeys, but I have, and I think I’ve messed this up, but you can correct me; I’ve got a Friends and Family Railcard and I’ve got a Network Railcard. Have I paid for two things when I only need one of them? Anybody can get a railcard of some type.
With the Network Railcard, you can use that when you’re traveling on your own, but it’s only a certain area in the southeast and after 10am. When you’re traveling in that area in the southeast, if you’ve got the kids with you or one other adult, you will save on their fares too. So that’s within the Network Rail area. Friends and family is only off-peak. If you’re traveling outside the network railcard area then the Friends and Family Railcard is the right one.
So, it’s alright that I’ve got both of them?
Yes. If you’re going to Cornwall on the train for example.
It was just worth it just for Cornwall because it’s only £30 a year. And then I basically got a discount as well. I got my cards for 20% off with Trainline.
I think some people use Tesco ClubCard vouchers to buy their railcards.
Just went to Blackpool at the weekend though – £100 for a return. If I’d driven in my hybrid car, it was a 400-mile round trip, that would have cost £60 in fuel if I’d driven there and back. It cost us £200, but the train was delayed so we managed to claim back 25%.
Brilliant. And if you are delayed make sure you’ve put the form in. We were hoping to have some time to talk about family savings on things like outings, trips, school uniform and activities. What I would say is that both of us have a blog post with loads and loads of ideas for cheap and free family fun.
We will pop the links in. Also, we recorded a YouTube video and a special one-off podcast edition of Mrs MummyPenny Talks at the beginning of the summer holidays. We talked about all of that kind of stuff, which was again a collaboration with PensionBee, so I’ll put the link to that in as well.
Definitely check it out for more ideas on cutting your family budget. So, I would suggest… mission. If you need to cut costs, check all your regular payments one by one. What can you cancel completely? If you’ve got to keep it, where can you switch? Try and get those better deals. Overall, we’re aiming to use less and pay less for what we use, and comparison sites can really help you find those better deals.
Amazing. So, I think that was a really great summary of our essential bills. So that was Episode Four. The next episode next week is all about making money, so we’re moving on to a way of creating some money rather than saving some money. We’ve both got some amazing things to tell you about. Thank you to PensionBee for sponsoring this whole season of Mrs MummyPenny Talks Cost of Living with Much More With Less. You can find me on social media @MrsMummyPennyUK or just Google Mrs MummyPenny.
And my website is www.muchmorewithless.co.uk and I’m also on Instagram and Twitter as @muchmore_less.
You can find @PensionBee across all the social media. And thank you ever so much for listening and we will see you next week.