British Gas launches its cheapest deal in over a year (existing customers can get it too), and other giants have fought back

Since January, the price of the cheapest energy deals has dropped by £100+/yr based on typical use. There was a time only small players cut prices, but now the giants have entered the fray.

In April and early May, BOOM, British Gas cut the cost of its cheapest deal five times. Then, POW, two weeks ago E.on hit back cutting costs. Last Friday, KAZAM, BG cut its price again, and yesterday, ZAP, E.on responded. Plus EDF now has a cheap 2yr fix. Yet YOU MUST CHOOSE THE CHEAP DEALS, THEY’RE NOT AUTOMATIC.

Most customers with a biggie have prices ‘capped’ as they’re on a standard tariff, but these still typically cost £340/yr more than a cheap deal. So we’ve listed the latest offers below (not for prepay or in NI, sadly). The links take you to a comparison to check they’re right for you as prices vary by use and region – and via us, all give £25 MSE dual-fuel cashback. Compare these to the £1,254/yr standard price on the same use.

  • British Gas 1yr fix (and it’s green).Avg £916/yr on typical use, save £340/yr. This is very cheap for BG, and as its Energy Plus Protection Green Jun 2020 tariff is fixed, the rate won’t change for a year. Plus existing customers qualify. Yet it’s a DON’T ASK, DON’T GET deal, only via comparison sites.

    It also has 100% renewable electricity and 100% offset gas, so it’s green. Plus most get a year’s heating cover for free (it charges after, so cancel then if you don’t want it).

  • E.on’s 1yr fix is cheaper for some. Avg £912/yr on typical use, save £340/yr.E.on’s cut on its Fix Online Exclusive v3 tariff makes it marginally cheaper than BG based on typical use, but it’s only for new customers.  Like BG, it’s only available via comparison sites.

  • Lock in for TWO YEARS with EDF. Avg £987/yr on typical usage, save £270/yr. EDF has also joined the energy price war. Its Easy Online Exclusive Jul21 deal, which launched last week, is the cheapest 2yr fix – in fact, there hasn’t been any such deal cheaper in 7mths.

    You get the surety of no price hikes for at least 2yrs – good if you don’t want to switch often – but you won’t benefit if rates drop elsewhere. It’s for new AND existing customers, but only via the MoneySupermarket Group (which we’re part of).

  • Bulb – the greenest of the cheap deals (there are cheaper and there are greener, but this is the best combo).Avg £945/yr on typical use, save £300/yr. The Bulb Vari-Fair tariff has 100% renewable electricity, 10% of its gas is from renewable sources, and it pays to offset the rest. It also has a good service record – receiving a 76% ‘great’ rating in our service poll.

    The deal is variable, so the price could rise or fall (Bulb’s last two moves have been cuts) yet if it rises, you can leave penalty-free. Also see our new Green Energy Guide for what these ‘green’ terms mean.

  • You can beat these prices a little if you go for names you may not know. Many of you tell us you want to avoid smaller suppliers, especially as nine have gone bust in the past year, and you instead look for big firms or those with a good service record. But if you’re simply determined to get the cheapest, find your winner via an Energy Club comparison.

PS: Switching energy is easy. No one visits your home (unless it’s to install a smart meter), and it’s the same gas, same electricity, even the same safety. The only things that change are price and service. See our Switching FAQs for more help.

Travel credit card

Image result for family vacation jpg

Consistently UNBEATABLE exchange rates providing you repay IN FULL

Most debit & credit cards add a 3% load to the perfect rates the banks get, meaning £100 of euros costs you £103. All these cards are load-free worldwide, so you get untouchably good rates in every country, every time. Set up a direct debit to repay IN FULL to minimise interest. Full info in Cheap Travel Cards.

Image result for travel images jpg

Are they easy to get? Use our eligibility calculator to find which card you’ve the best chance of getting.GOOD FOR CASH WITHDRAWALS

No fees to exchange or withdraw cash, plus 0.25% cashback, until August 2023. Full info.

Rep APR: 21.9%


No fees to exchange, zero ATM fee and low cash withdrawal interest. Plus, earn 0.5% cashback. Full info.

Rep APR: 18.9%


No fees to exchange, zero ATM fee and low cash withdrawal interest. Full info.

Rep APR: 19.9%


No fees to exchange, plus 0.5% cashback on all spending. 3% (min £3) ATM fee. Full info.

Rep APR: 34.9%

ATM: 3%

Important! How this site works is part of, a website is based on journalistic research. It does not constitute financial advice. Any information should be considered in regard to specific circumstances. All tips are followed at your own risk and should be followed up with your own research.

  • Bureaux are included based on their competitive online rates and feedback. Yet there is little regulation of foreign exchange bureaux and this site can’t take any responsibility for problems that occur. Please be careful before you part with your money.
  • We don’t as a general policy investigate the solvency of companies mentioned (how likely they are to go bust), but there is a risk any company can struggle and it’s rarely made public until it’s too late.
  • Small local specialists can beat online rates, yet it’s rare. Try areas with many overseas visitors e.g. Bayswater. If you spot another competitive online provider that you think merits inclusion, let us know.
  • We often link to other websites, but we can’t be responsible for their content. is brought to you by This website is based on journalistic research. It does not constitute financial advice. Any information should be considered in regard to specific circumstances. All tips are followed at your own risk and should be followed up with your own research . See Full Terms &Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Explanation (of * links): Go via any link with a * by it and a contribution may be made to, which helps it stay free to use. You shouldn’t notice any difference, the links don’t impact the product at all and the editorial line (the things we write) is NEVER impacted by it. If it isn’t possible to get an affiliate link for the best product, it’s still included in exactly the same way. As we believe transparency is important, we’re including the following ‘un-affiliated’ web-addresses for the same things: aqua, , HalifaxTandem . Read more about how this site is financed. is part of the MoneySupermarket Group, but is entirely editorially independent. Its stance of putting consumers first is protected and enshrined in the legally-binding MSE Editorial Code.

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Guide to Scams

A beginner’s guide to scams

Image result for scams jpg

Scams are getting more and more sophisticated, particularly when it comes to targeting you online and through mobile devices. In this guide we take a look at how you can recognise a scam, protect yourself and what to do if you’re a victim or have been targeted.

What is a scam?
Types of scam
How to recognise a scam
How to protect yourself against scams
What should you do if you’ve been the victim of a scam?
What is a scam?
Scams can come in many forms, but all are designed to get hold of your money.

They can do this by getting you to reveal your personal details, stealing your information, or even getting you to willingly hand over the cash.

The key is knowing how to recognise a scam, protect yourself and what to do if you think you’ve been targeted or have fallen victim.

Types of scam
The tactics used by scammers and fraudsters can vary from someone coming to your front door to an unexpected phone call.

The internet and advances in digital communications have opened other ways for scammers to target you and steal information.

Chances are, you’ve come across the most common type of scams – the spam email from a Nigerian prince or reporting to be from HMRC or your bank.

However, while email scams can be quite easy to spot and avoid, others are much more sophisticated.

Find out more about the different types of scams, how to spot them and what to do if you’ve been targeted.
How to recognise a scam
Knowing what to be on the lookout for when it comes to scams is one of the best ways to protect yourself.

Unsolicited or unexpected contact. If you have received any kind of contact, but particularly a phone call, out of the blue, it is best to avoid it. Since January 2019, there has been a ban on cold calling about pensions. This means you should not be contacted by any company about your pension unless you’ve asked them to.
Email address. If you get an email, expand the pane at the top of the message and see exactly who it has come from. If it is a scam, the email address the message has come from will be filled in with random numbers, or be misspelled.
Is it a scam?
The FCA’s ScamSmart website has a tool to help you check if an investment or pension opportunity is a scam.

There’s also lots more information about avoiding the latest scams. Visit the ScamSmart website.

If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. This is something you normally find with pension or investment scams, where the fraudster guarantees you huge returns, but tells you it is low risk.
Personal details, PIN codes and passwords. These are things no legitimate company will ask you for.
Quick decisions. If you are pushed into making a decision on the spot, be suspicious. Scammers don’t want you to have time to think about it.
Random competitions, particularly if you don’t remember entering them, should ring alarm bells.
You can find a more comprehensive list of the warning signs for specific types of scams on this page.
How to protect yourself against scams?
Did you know?
Scammers can hijack phone lines. If you think you’re being targeted, hang up the phone, wait five minutes and then call your bank directly. Find out more what you can do to stop fraud on the Take Five website.

The next step to avoiding scams is to know how to protect yourself. While some of these are good advice in general, many are aimed at keeping you safe online:

Avoid any unexpected contact. Any phone calls, letters, emails or people knocking on your door should be ignored.
Never give out personal information. This can be used to steal your identity and access accounts.
Keep operating system and virus protection software up-to-date. Don’t ignore updates as these can often include patches to protect against new kinds of scams, viruses and ransomware. This goes for mobile devices as well.
Make sure all accounts have a strong password. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts and change them regularly.
Don’t make any advanced payments until you are sure the company you’re dealing with is legitimate.
If you’re unsure about a financial services company, check the FCA register of regulated companies. If they’re not on it, don’t have anything to do with them.
If you’re unsure about any other kind of company, you can look them up on Companies House to find out their background, or search for reviews online.
Use safe and secure WiFi connections and avoid public WiFi. Your standard 3G or 4G connection is often more secure than the one in the coffee shop or restaurant.

Make sure any websites you are using are secure. Check to see if the web address starts with HTTPS, not just HTTP.
Sign-up for a call blocking service like the Telephone Preference Service. This might not stop all scam calls as they operate outside the legal guidelines, but it will stop cold-callers. This means any suspicious or unexpected calls you do receive are almost certainly from people you don’t want to deal with.
What should you do if you’ve been the victim of a scam?
If you think you’ve been scammed there are three things you need to do:

Stop sending money straight away. If the payment has been set up as a Direct Debit, get in touch with your bank to stop this immediately.
Report the scam to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, use the Action Fraud online reporting tool, or the FCA Scam Smart website.
Beware of follow-up scams. Sometimes after reporting a scam you might get targeted again by a fraudster who says they can get your money back.
Check your credit file for free through, Credit Karma, MSE Credit Club, and ClearScore. You’re best to check it monthly for credit applications done by a fraudster. See if there are applications for credit you don’t recognise, or if you have a Cifas marker on your file. If your bank believes you’ve been a victim of fraud if could put a Cifas ‘Victim of impersonation’ note on your account. It warns lenders that you’ve been a victim, or are vulnerable to becoming, a victim of fraud. If you have a Cifas marker on your file, request more information about why from Cifas.
If you think you’ve been targeted by a scam, you should also report it so it can be investigated. You can do this through the Financial Conduct Authority website using their reporting form

New Tenancy rules

The Tenant Fees Act (2019): A Ban on Tenant fees, Including Admin and Agency Fees

May 28, 2019 – by Nucleus_advice – in Housing Advice FAQ

The Tenant Fees Act will come into force on 1st June 2019.  

From then, all tenant payments will fail by default unless the Act specifically permits them.

The Act’s Main Effects:

  • Limits tenancy deposits to 5 weeks’ rent
  • Limits holding deposits to 1 week’s rent

Landlords Face fines of £5,000 for first offence (civil) to £30,000 for second offence (criminal).

What’s in the Act?

Here are the key new rules contained in the Act.

1. All Payments Prohibited Except Rent, Deposits and Three Exceptions

Landlords or their agents can no longer charge tenants for anything except: the rent, the tenancy deposit and a holding deposit (more on these below).

This means you can’t ask tenants to cover the cost of their own referencing. You also can’t charge check-in, inventory or admin fees.

2. The 3 Exemptions

The only exceptions are for contract amendments and two kinds of ‘default’ fees, when the tenancy agreement is broken.

(a) Late Rent Fees

Landlords can still charge fees for rent payments that are over 2 weeks late. These are a maximum of 3% plus the Bank of England base interest rate, annually. 

(b) Lost Keys

Landlords can still charge tenants for losing their keys (or other security device if your property is high-tech),  they should provide evidence of the cost to you.

Remember, both default fees need to be in the tenancy agreement for you to charge them, and previous rules about fair clauses still apply.

(c) Changes to Tenancy

Landlords can charge up to £50 for making changes to the terms of the tenancy. For example, adding a new tenant or allowing a pet. This exception doesn’t apply to renewals or changes to the length of the tenancy.

3. Cap on Tenancy Deposits

Tenancy or security deposits will be limited to 5 weeks’ rent for annuals rents under £50,000.

4. Cap on Holding Deposits

Likewise, holding deposits will be limited to 1 week’s rent.

5. New Rules on Holding Deposits

Landlords must return the holding deposit to the tenant: either in direct payment, putting it towards the first rental payment, or the security deposit.

There are some exceptions. In these cases the landlord can keep the holding deposits:

  • Tenant withdraws
  • Renter doesn’t take all reasonable steps to enter the tenancy
  • Tenant fails a right to rent check
  • The tenant provides misleading information which materially affects their suitability to rent the property

6. Repayment of Holding Deposits

Landlords can only hold the holding deposit for 15 days unless another ‘deadline’ date is agreed in writing.
After the deadline, the holding deposit must be repaid within 7 days according to the above rules (see 5).

Hold my deposit with care please!

The holding deposit can be repaid to the tenant, or it can be put towards the rent or tenancy deposit.

What Are the Penalties to Landlords Who Charge Tenant Fees?

Landlord (or agents) who charge illegal fees will face huge fines, starting at£5,000. If the offence is repeated within five years, there would be either a criminal offence or a fine of £30,000.

Local Trading Standards organisations will enforce the ban.

The rules will apply to all existing tenancies from 1st June 2020. So If this tenancy runs past 1st June 2020, then  the new laws apply, i.e. the deposit needs be less than the maximum five weeks’ rent before that date. You should get the excess back

The following is can still be charged as Part of the Rent?

  • Council tax
  • Utilities, e.g. gas, water, electricity
  • Television license
  • Communication services (e.g. broadband)

How Easy Is It to Switch Utilities?

Tips on Switching Utilities

By now you’ve probably heard the message that switching can save you money hundreds of times. But still some people get put off, thinking it’ll be too much hassle and too complicated. But is it?

A survey by comparison site GoCompare has looked at just how easy people find switching, and found home and car insurance the easiest to change, with more than 80% of adults who have switched saying it was easy.
Switching your banking accounts – whether credit card, current account or savings account – were viewed as almost as easy, with around 75% saying it was simple to switch. Positive comments about changing gas and electricity were about the same.
Communications such as broadband, mobile phones and landlines didn’t fare as well, with under 70% feeling it was easy, while mortgages were viewed the most difficult. However, more than half (61%) still said it was easy.
The difficulties with switching
For those that struggled, the survey found a third of people thought it took too long to switch. A quarter also found the process too complicated.
How to switch
The process is different for what you’re trying to switch.
For most, including insurance, credit cards, energy and telecoms, it’s well worth using a comparison site. You’ll be able to filter by the different deals and find what works best for you.
You rarely need to tell your old provider you’re leaving them, but it’s important to check. Some, including insurance policies, may auto-renew if you don’t cancel.
Others, such as most phone and broadband switches, and all energy changes, will talk to your old supplier on your behalf.

Either way it’s worth checking your final bill. It’s possible you could be owed money by your old account and it’s not always sent back to you unless you chase them.
Current accounts are slightly different as you can have more than one account at any time. To take advantage of switching offers you need to make sure your new bank is part of the switching service which guarantees payments will be automatically transferred. You’ll also need to tick a box that says you agree to fully close your old account.
If you want to switch your mortgage, pay attention to the fees and charges with both your old and new lender. You might find it’s actually more expensive to move once these are taken into account. It’s worth talking to a mortgage adviser to help find the best deal for you.

Is it worth switching to a water meter?

Is it worth switching to a water meter?

Step one – work out how you’re paying

There are two ways you can pay your water bill:
You pay a set price per year. This is called rate-able billing. How much you pay depends on your home –

You have a water meter. This means you pay for the water you use.
If you’re not sure how you pay, take a look at your bill. You can read more on

Generally speaking, the bigger your home and the fewer people that live in it, the more likely you are to save money with a water meter. But, don’t try to change without checking with the calculator!

Step two – work out if it’s worth switching
If you’re on rate-able billing, you can choose to get a water meter instead. This can be cheaper, but it isn’t always. To see if it’s right for you, use a water usage calculator.You can use the calculator on the Consumer Council for Water website.

You’ll just need to estimate a few details about your water use – like how often you flush the loo – and it’ll show how much you could save compared to your current rate-able bill.
Use the Consumer Council for Water’s calculator.
If your water use changes – perhaps when the kids leave home – you might want to try the calculator again.
Can’t get a water meter?
If your water supplier can’t provide you with a water meter, they are obliged to offer you an alternative to compensate. This alternative is called an Assessed Charge , this is usually results in a saving of about 1/3 or on average £150 per year.
Some water company s allow you to change back to rate-able value based billing – Thames Water does allow this, Affinity Water does not!

If you have a metre, here are some tips on how to save water

Also here are some free water saving gadgets

If you are having problems paying your bill, below are some links for how to get help


Reducing Food Waste

Before you take up dumpster diving to rescue forgotten-about food, consider some of these tips for how to reduce food waste at home.

1. Make a Grocery List and Stick to It

Overbuying leads to food waste. Planning your meals for the week, making a list and sticking to it can prevent impulse buys and limit the vegetable carcasses not even good intentions could revive.

Gunders suggests thinking double duty. If you need fresh cilantro for a meal, can you plan a second meal that will use it, too? This not only saves your budget, but it eliminates casual food waste.

2. Buy Frozen Instead of Fresh

A man shops in the frozen food section of a grocery store

The bright, beautiful colors of fresh fruits and veggies tempt me every week. Then I remember how quickly fresh produce can spoil.

Now, I’ve turned to stocking my freezer with produce. I call this the Too Many Avocados Left Behind Act. I don’t freeze my avocados, but I do buy most fruits and veggies frozen now. I can thaw them in a flash and count on having a random assortment of ingredients on a whim.

3. Plan for Surprises

It’s so easy to get tempted by the events of the week, from an unscheduled lunch to a surprise happy hour. Leftovers get abandoned as you nosh on an unplanned (and unbudgeted) meal out.

You can plan your meals for the week and allot some wiggle room for spontaneous outings.  By having a backup recipe or frozen meal you will always have on hand, you can accept a last-minute invitation and not fritter away a thing.

4. Rethink Expiration Dates

Yogurt containers with expiration dates

Sell-by, use-by and expiration dates all mean different things. Most often, the dates serve as a freshness, quality or display indicator, not a marker for when the food will actually go bad. Many people throw out perfectly good foodbecause of date stamps. Use common sense, and research what the date on your packaged or canned food really means before you toss it.

5. Make Your Freezer Great Again

Good intentions can’t reverse rotten tomatoes or spoiled meat. That steak you meant to eat on Sunday looks questionable by Tuesday.

You can extend the life of your meats, bread and vegetables by freezing them.

Gunders said almost anything can be frozen: Milk, shredded cheese, sliced bread and even raw eggs (out of the shell) can go in the freezer.

It’ll all be there when you’re ready, thus, it will save you future cooking time, money and food waste. Don’t you feel better?

6. Store Items Where You Can See Them

Some produce slips into the crisper abyss. Out of sight, out of mind. Keep items where you can see them. You’re more likely to use items that you can physically see.

Additionally, learn how to store each type of vegetable. Some ripen faster and can speed up others nearby. Consider investing in special airtight containers that keep produce firm and fresh longer.

Washing the pieces of fruit or vegetables you plan on using will also keep the whole bag from going bad before you get a chance to enjoy their deliciousness.

7. Clean Your Fridge and Organize Your Cupboards

Food in a refrigerator

Expired items hide, and mold lurks on the edges you can’t quite see. Having a tidy fridge helps you see exactly what you have and inspires you to use it.

Same goes for the pantry: Keeping it tidy allows you to see what you have at a glance and prevents items from getting lost behind the castles of steel cans.

8. Try Composting

Skip the landfill, and start composting. Everything from your coffee grounds to celery ends can find their way into your bin. In turn, you can eventually use it toward your next home gardening adventure.

9. Learn to Preserve or Can Foods

Pickle? Preserve? Can? They’re all options gaining popularity. But these practices have been around for centuries and have helped folks survive harsh winters and economic downturns.

With a little upfront investment of time and money, you can acquire the tools necessary to preserve your excess foods. This can prolong their shelf life and reduce food waste and costs.

10. Donate Extra Food

If you know your family won’t eat something, donate it. Many local pantries and food banks welcome donations, however, consider friends or families in your community who might appreciate a little extra food. There are restrictions and rules at some charities about what can be donated, so check before making any contributions.

11. Eat What You Have

Plan recipes around what’s been sitting around for a while or what needs to get used before it expires. Keeping your fridge and pantry clean and organized helps you see exactly what you have and what you should cook before adding more supplies to the mix.

12. Mix It Up

Leftovers you’re tired of eating can be repurposed into new recipes. Some fruits and vegetables that are a little too ripe can be baked or mashed into a casserole. Ripe bananas make great banana bread, and soft strawberries can be added to smoothies.

Other scraps can be made into stocks or added to a compost. I’ve put coffee grounds in my soil, and a friend of mine makes corn silk tea. There’s a practical use for almost any piece of food you might throw away.

13. Host a Potluck

I’m a picky eater, yet I love to cook. Sometimes I acquire ingredients for recipes that I don’t end up using again, or I try something and end up not liking it. So, I’ve hosted potlucks to use said ingredients. Invite friends over, and have leftover lunches for days. You’ll help everyone else also clean their cabinets. Win-win.

14. Get an App

A woman boils water on her stove while checking her cell phone

There are a few apps on the market that try to put a dent in the global food waste problem. Here are a few to consider:

Olio helps to connect neighbours and local retailers so surplus food can be shared and not disposed of. This also works as a trading platform with other items on offer such as garden tools and kitchen appliances.
Download here.

Foodcloud partners supermarkets with charities to donate unsold food items. This is one of the best food waste apps for supporting local communities through organisations such as homeless shelters and family support services. 
Download here.

15. Channel Bob Ross

Ever wish you could make art with your food outside of Instagram posts? Let the bright colors of your leftovers become the colors of your clothes or the paint on your canvas.

Yup, your peels and ends from scraps of everything from beets, spinach and lemons can be made into permanent fabric dye that could double as watercolor paint.

16. Life’s a Garden… Dig It!

Even the brownest thumbs can turn green. Try regrowing your food scraps, and see what happens. Put seeds in the backyard, or try sprouting them over a cup of water.

The Lesson: Waste Not, Want Not

It’s simple math: Buying less food means more money in your pocket.

It’s not going to happen overnight.

But with a few small adjustments and active intentions of how to better store, buy and cook food, you can start a ripple effect that will save time, money and food in the long run.

Who knows — maybe others will catch on. Look at Denmark. It reduced its food waste by 25% over a five-year period, and it didn’t happen without a real effort and cultural shift to address the problem.

3 Billion in Unclaimed Benefits

Billions of pounds of benefits left unclaimed

A recent analysis by the DWP found that millions of people are failing to claim benefits they are entitled to, leaving nearly £13 billion pounds a year unclaimed. Could this include you?

The poor take-up rate could be influenced by the stigma many people feel about taking welfare benefits. The public vastly overestimate the numbers of people ‘claiming falsely’ or ‘committing fraud’. Kent University found that 1 in 5 people believe a majority of claims are false, while 14% believe a majority of claims are fraudulent. The Government’s own statistics indicate an actual fraud rate of only 1%.

Many pensioners are struggling

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that nearly 2 million elderly people are having money problems, with hundreds of thousands unable to pay regular bills or keep their homes warm. At the same time around 1.4 million pensioners are failing to claim £3.3 billion they are entitled to. The DWP estimates that these pensioners are on average entitled to £2000 per year. If your only income is the basic state pension, you might qualify for Pension Credit and other benefits.

Pension Credit is an income-related benefit made up of 2 parts – Guarantee Credit and Savings Credit. Guarantee Credit tops up your weekly income if it’s below £159.35 (for single people) or £243.25 (for couples). Savings Credit is an extra payment for people who saved some money towards their retirement, for example a pension. You can find out more at

The “forgotten” unemployed

Recent research by the Resolution Foundation found that only 800,000 of the 1.5 million unemployed actually claim benefits. 300,000 people of working age who are unemployed or work less than 16 hours are entitled to Job Seekers Allowance (or the Universal Credit equivalent) but do not claim it at all. The study found that they are mostly women aged 55 to 64 or young men. The DWP estimates that half a million people may be entitled to £1.6 billion of unclaimed Income Related JSA.

In addition the DWP figures show that around half a million people who are unemployed through disability or long term illness are leaving £2.7 billion of Income Related Employment and Support Allowance unclaimed. This amounts to a massive £5000 per person.

Families missing out too

The DWP estimates that only 8 out of 10 families entitled to Housing Benefit are actually making a claim. This means that around 1.6 million families are missing out on 4.8 billion pounds a year. Take up of Housing Benefit is particularly low in the private rental sector where only 64% of those entitled are claiming this.

What you can do

If you think you may be entitled to Pension Credit, it only takes one phone call and you won’t have to fill in a form. Call the Pension Credit claim line on 0800 99 1234 (textphone: 0800 169 0133). They will fill in the application for you over the phone. It’ll be quicker if you have the following details to hand: National Insurance number; bank account details; information about your income, savings and investments; information about your pension (if you have one); details of any housing costs (such as mortgage, interest payments, service charges); and partner’s details (if you have a partner).

To check if you should receive other benefits and how much you should get, you can use the benefits calculators at

10 Money Saving Hacks

10 Money Saving Hacks

1 Set a limit on spending. You have to be rich to make a really grand anti-materialist gesture à la Nigella (Lawson). One year, she told her children that they could only keep one present: the rest were going to a local children’s hospital. An alternative is to declare a budget. I’ve warned my five children that there’s a £50 ceiling for their main present, though Santa may shove some bits and pieces into their stocking. So far they have taken the disappointment well: the budget is sufficient to get a Sainsbury’s cashmere cardigan (£35) or a Zara Basics belted jacket (£49.99). For discounted toys try, whose star buys section has an electric guitar reduced from £69.99 to £19.99, Baby Born dolls at £17.50, and Playmobil Pirate ships (£19.99). Under-a-tenner ideas include the following: turns photos of your nearest and dearest into hand-drawn cartoons for £3; a Glana four-photo frame from Ikea is £9.99; cushions from TK Maxx cost £9.99; a four-pack of tulip wine glasses at M&S are currently reduced by 30 per cent, to £9.50.

2 Make your own presents. Christmas mornings this year will resound with cries of “Oh, how lovely”, as people swap apple chutney. My sister has already been hard at work with her copy of Pam Corbin’s Preserves (Bloomsbury, £12.99), making raspberry vinegar, pickled shallots and quince-paste membrillo. I’ll go for preserved lemons: easy, cheap and a nice colour on the shelf; I’ve already stocked up on cheap Kilner jars; and sell them.

3 Let’s keep bookshops in business. If you want to buy someone a book, the answer is not always Amazon. Find the best price for it on WH Smith is selling Jamie’s Ministry of Food for £10, while the Guinness Book of World Records is £9 at Asda.

4 Choose useful presents, but don’t go too far. My sister’s godmother once gave her loo rolls. Oxfam shops are stocking some relatively fun ideas that can’t be deemed useless luxuries, including a Hippo Water Saver for £1.99. Placed in your cistern, it will save roughly a third of the water flushed down the loo; if the recipient looks unconvinced when they unwrap it, tell them it’s an item much-loved by Cate Blanchett. The charity also sells notebooks with recycled bright plastic covers bearing a description of what they used to be – cup, box or bag – at just £2.49 a pop. They also have an ingenious wind-up torch (£19.99) which will never need new batteries – an ideal gift for credit-crunched dads.

5 When it comes to lunch, plan ahead. I wish I had. I’ve missed the boat for raising my own turkey in a plastic coop in the back garden: June or July is the time to install a pullet to give it time to fatten up. Having to kill, draw, hang and pluck the bird would be a downside, but if the financial belt has to be tightened still further, it may appeal next year.

6 Serving Christmas pudding to my children has always been a waste of money; this year I’m copying the chocolate version from Nigella’s Christmas (Chatto & Windus, £25) – essentially it’s a normal cake recipe, except that it’s made in a bowl, steamed for an hour and a half, and served draped with chocolate sauce. That will stop the children hiding the heavy fruit version under their spoons once they’ve got the sixpences (5p bits) out. It is also comparatively cheap to make.

7 Waste nothing. When Sheherazade Goldsmith inadvertently boils the family jumpers, the wife of zillionaire Zac cuts the resulting felt into a cross shape and sews it into pencil holders. Another of the ideas from her Christmas Book (Dorling Kindersley, £16.99) is to pot up cuttings of your best plants. (B&Q sells 23cm terracotta pots for £1.) She decorates labels with glued-on seeds and leaves. Delia’s good at scrimping, too. In Frugal Food (Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99), she recommends using dry cider in place of wine to make coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon – everyone needs a break from turkey – and claims they have turned out “beautifully”. Alternatively, I freeze the dregs in wine bottles for cooking with another time.

8 Go on a booze cruise. Twice a year I head to Calais to stock up as duty on wine in France is 0.02p per bottle, as opposed to £1.46 in the UK. Majestic were the first to offer free Seafrance car ferry trips to customers – alternatively, they give cash back. See for details. Oddbins and Sainsbury’s offer similar deals. I went with a girlfriend; between us we spent just over £800 and got £96 back, which paid for the crossing and lunch at Le Channel near the port (four courses €21.50; 0033 32 13 44 230). Majestic’s best cheap blended plonk is Cuvée Richard (white and red) at £1.69. Five years ago, they mostly stocked beer and Liebfraumilch; the range now is much the same as in UK stores.

9 While in Calais, go to a hypermarket. There’s a choice: Auchan and Carrefour, as well as Sainsbury’s. Even with the dire euro exchange rate, there are some good buys: check online at and I load up with cheeses, pâtés, olive oil, apricot jam, tomato concentrate, mustard, vinegar, coffee, madeleines, powdered hazelnuts (good for meringues), lardons, jambon cru fumé, circles of ready-rolled pastry (why can’t you buy them here?), oysters, fresh yeast and tins of Bonduelle peas. Recent best-buys were a giant (32cm) Le Creuset-style cast iron casserole for €55.45, a salmon-sized (60cm) fish kettle for €29.95, and six one-litre preserving jars for €10.92. NB: diesel is still cheaper in France but unleaded isn’t – and I wished I’d bought petrol before going to the supermarket because the Auchan pump gave me a €5-off voucher.

10 Talking of money-off vouchers, dedicated discount hunters can chase up the best deals by going to Yesterday, they were showing 15 per cent off first orders over £25 from Littlewoods and 20 per cent off clothes from Asos.

11 Raid your garden. I was given a magnificent home-grown lettuce by a friend for my birthday recently – and couldn’t have been more thrilled. Complete with roots and wrapped in cellophane (see tip 19), it doubled as a table decoration until I had finished nibbling it.

12 The best gifts can be free. Famously thrifty pensioner Gay Cossins once asked each of her children for “just one hour of your time”. Each of them agreed to do a job for her , such as clearing out her food cupboard and helping her sort her wardrobe. A pledge to clean someone’s car would be similar gift. Get tickets for a favourite BBC show from (sadly, under-18s can’t go to Top Gear); ask for free samples when buying something from a cosmetics counter (they make great stocking fillers); or give away some of your treasures. I was thrilled when my sister gave me a dress she no longer wears.

13 Give presents that will provide hours of pleasure… How about “three-for-two” paperbacks this year? A more extravagant option that should ensure warm feelings all year is a subscription to a favourite magazine; cheap deals are available from (eg, National Geographic for a year for £29) or (eg, Harpers Bazaar for £24.99). A bottle of perfume lasts for ages, and you can get it cheap from or . Find discount make-up at

14… or gifts that support a good cause. Chit Chat is a double CD of interviews conducted for a talking newspaper for the blind, with old favourites (living and dead) including Peter Ustinov, Yehudi Menuhin and Spike Milligan. All proceeds go to Fight for Sight Eye Research (£10 inc p&p from Wienerworld, 020 8206 1177, ).

15 Make your own tree decorations. With a bit of effort and know-how, you can dress a tree on the cheap. Among the ideas on is one for wrapping up chocolate biscuits and sweets in silver foil and hanging them from the tree; it works best if there are no dogs in the house. Children can make little hard iced biscuits that make good tree decorations if dotted with silver baubles. If you’re not draping it in lights, make paper chains with pages torn from glossy magazines. Oranges look good, too, when turned into pomanders: stick cloves into the skin, and suspend them with ribbon. Make hearts by bending gardening wire and wrapping ribbon round it. Stars can be made by bending twigs into two triangles and tying them together. Make your own angels using sheepswool stuffing from craft suppliers

16 Don’t forget the jokes. The most memorable presents are often the cheap, silly ones like Smiffy’s extendable fork for pinching food from others’ plates (£4.50 from many joke shops, including Hawkin’s Bazaar (, 0844 5734000) has Gelli Baff (£4.99) which turns bath water into coloured goo (and then back into bath water). Another cheap bath joy is a glowing LED “glow in the duck” (£4.79) from; they also sell reindeer mugs with noses that light-up when you put a hot drink in them (£5.59).

17 Share the cost of Christmas by gathering as many members of the family together as you can. Each person can provide one element – the turkey, booze, puddings, etc. You could also set up a Secret Santa scheme. Each person buys a gift for one other person, chosen by ballot, spending to an agreed limit. Alternatively, make opening cheap treats more fun by putting them, wrapped, into a festively-decorated dustbin filled with shredded newspaper and turning present-giving into a Lucky Dip.

18 Christmas cards are a major expense. Send free ones online via Or take a child’s drawing along to a Prontaprint: at my local branch, 100 cards with envelopes costs £62.71 inc VAT. More expensive but memorable: print your own photo with personalised message, £6 for 4 from Or make your own using coloured card (100 A5 sheets: £3.79 from and potato cuts. (NB December 18th is the last day for second class postage.) I’ve never made an online calendar but I’m impressed when I receive one. is selling wall calendars half price (from £4.99). The cheapest delivery option is 21 days: £3.08 for one calendar, £3.78 for 10. Or make a calendar of your favourite recipes, £10 plus p&p from

19 Wrapping is another money guzzler but there are alternatives to expensive sheets and ridiculously short rolls. Use up left-over bits of wallpaper – not only is it decorative, it doesn’t rip when children inspect what’s under the tree. Alternatively, you can get a 300m roll of brown paper from for £19.59. I go to my local wholesale flower market for big florists’ packs of tissue paper but you can get 240 sheets for £6.99 from From the same source you can get 250 yards of thin curling ribbon for £0.75, and various kinds of fancy cellophane (from £10.56 for 120m). Add a touch of gold: a can of spray paint (£4.99 from will jazz up everything from twigs and pine cones to walnuts and apples.

20 I’m hopeless at decorating but Liz Bauwens – whose book Thrifty Chic comes out in March – has some good ideas. She makes door wreaths by cutting supple twigs from the garden – willow is bendiest – and binding them at regular intervals with wire. Disguise the wire with ribbon or raffia. Cheap baubles from a pound shop will add sparkle. She makes her own bigger baubles by winding coloured ribbon (see tip 19) around plain polystyrene baubles (10 x 50mm balls for £2.49 from She secures the end with a coloured drawing pin and hangs them in groups.

21 Holly is always expensive and hard to find but Posy Gentles, interiors expert and cash-strapped mother of four, finds good substitutes in local hedgerows. Rose hips are abundant, as are hawthorn berries. She also uses old man’s beard, a variety of wild clematis, to drape as fake snow from her tree. Make a few showy flowers go further by floating them in a dish as a centrepiece, as Sarah Raven suggests in her Complete Christmas (Bloomsbury, £25). Grapes dipped in egg white and sugar make a glistening centrepiece.

22 Cheap lights work out expensive: once one bulb goes the whole lot is useless. This year I’ve invested £69.99 in 10m (100 bulbs) of heavy-duty LED lights that won’t give up on me and are cheap to run (0845 370 0333, Make your home twinkle with 8-hour nightlights (£6.16 for 100 from

23 What to wear? My children have rumbled that the label “Atmosphere” means clothes have come from Primark, so I can no longer expect whoops of delight and they are suspicious if I cut out the labels. However, Ugg boots are cheaper this year than they have been for 10 years because the Australian dollar is low (AUS$2.3 to £1). A short pair is £40, plus £10 p&p, from Also, lists clothes for under £20. And there’s always for cheap versions of designer items. If in doubt wear red. It’s cheering, no more expensive than dreary black and Michelle Obama has given it the seal of approval by wearing it when she was shown around the White House. Research shows that men are more generous to women who wear red. When life gets gloomy I pull on some red suede Footgloves from M&S (£39.50).

24 Relax cheaply. Doing a jigsaw is a great way to unwind. I immerse myself in a 1,000-piece puzzle every Christmas. This year, I’ve ordered a Mona Lisa from for €15.99 . The Jigsaw Gallery (01420 525515, also has a huge selection. Or you can make a jigsaw from a photograph through Or play a board game. The new Cleudo (£14.99) is a hit in my house. “Colonel Mustard with the lead piping in the library” has given way to “ageing football star Jack Mustard with a baseball bat in the home cinema”, but it’s just as much fun. If that palls, watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I found it for £11.98 (£6 off the RRP) at Amazon.

25 If you want to get out, head for the nearest wind/rain-swept hill or beach. Or find a half-price restaurant meal deal from If you must escape abroad, check out