Holly Smith’s tricks to transform your finances

Savvy Shopping 

Holly Smith reckons it would just take her just a few seconds to save the average family £20 to £30 on their weekly shop. Here she tells readers of The Mail on Sunday how to do it: 

Slash your supermarket spend – by going shopping on a full stomach

Don’t buy pre-prepared or pre-packed fruit and vegetables – it costs double, except for potatoes, which are cheaper bagged. ‘Wonky’ fruit and veg is a fraction of the cost of perfectly formed items, while frozen is cheaper and just as nutritious. 

Own brand isn’t second-best for basics, such as pasta and tinned tomatoes. Often they’re made in the same factory and you are just paying for a prestige label. 

Bagging a bargain: Holly Smith reckons it would just take her just a few seconds to save the average family £20 to £30 on their weekly shop

Bagging a bargain: Holly Smith reckons it would just take her just a few seconds to save the average family £20 to £30 on their weekly shop

Bagging a bargain: Holly Smith reckons it would just take her just a few seconds to save the average family £20 to £30 on their weekly shop

Don’t buy pink. Female toiletries often cost more. For instance, a five-pack of ‘pink’ razors for women costs £1.30, so head for the men’s aisle, where a ten-pack costs only £1, made by the same company in the same factory. 

Beware of buy-one-get-one-free (BOGOF) and three-for-two offers. Some supermarkets raise prices before promoting items. Check specialist food aisles for Indian , Polish, Thai and Chinese cuisine – rice, lentils and spices can be found in bigger bags at better value. 

Supermarkets put premium brands at eye-level on middle shelves. You will find cheaper products on the shelves above and below them. Don’t go shopping hungry – you’ll end up buying more food than you need – and avoid the homeware, clothes and toys aisles that supermarket planners use to tempt you. They know the longer you stay in store, the more you spend.

Yellow stickers indicate fresh food at a reduced price, but the savings vary according to the time of day. Generally it’s 20 per cent off at 5pm, 50 per cent off at 7pm and up to 90 per cent off by 9pm.

It’s easy to check if cheaper medication is the same as a branded item 

When buying items such as cold and flu remedies, check the ‘product licence’ number on the packaging. Products with the same number have the same ingredients and are made in the same factory. If it is the same, then switch to the own brand version. 

Go for items near their ‘best before’ date, like loo rolls! 

Explore bargain stores such as Home Bargains and B&M, which sell branded goods at far cheaper prices than supermarkets. Here’s why: they’re coming up to their best-before date. Typically the packaging contains an old promotion or a competition that has expired. Or it’s a seasonal item such as chocolate eggs that didn’t sell before Easter and the bargain store has bought the excess stock. 

However, the most regular and significant savings can be made by shopping for ‘best before bargains’. Fresh foods such as meat and dairy have a ‘use-by’ date and it is illegal to sell them after that. But ‘best-before’ dates apply to items such as toilet rolls and food in tins or jars, which can be found for a fraction of the cost and is unlikely to go off. 

If you are looking online try approvedfood.co.uk, clearancexl. co.uk and cutpricebarrys.co.uk. 

Do try an app to cut food waste such as Too Good To Go. It helps you buy unsold food from cafes, bakeries or restaurants that might be thrown away. Olio is an app for individuals to give away excess food they’ve bought, grown or cooked.

CALLING THE CANCELLATION LINE CAN CUT UTILITY BILLS 

Home Wins 

Utility bills and other regular outgoings often represent a household’s biggest financial burden. Yet just because you have to pay them doesn’t mean you have to pay full whack.

Earn cashback on monthly bills 

Use a price-comparison website to switch energy provider, but once you’ve identified the provider with the best tariff, don’t buy it through the price-comparison website. 

Go to a cashback website such as Quidco or TopCashback and get a lump sum for switching. Go to savewatersavemoney.co.uk, put in your postcode and order free water-saving devices for your shower, toilet and taps. 

Cool it on laundry bills: Wash your clothes on a cold setting if they aren't very dirty or stained

Cool it on laundry bills: Wash your clothes on a cold setting if they aren't very dirty or stained

Cool it on laundry bills: Wash your clothes on a cold setting if they aren’t very dirty or stained

A smart meter might make you more conscious of energy consumption. You’ll see how much energy is saved by doing small things such as turning your thermostat down a couple of degrees or having a shorter shower. 

Haggle on a phone and TV deal 

Always haggle when the time comes to renew your broadband, and don’t assume you have to pay a set amount for streaming services such as Netflix or Now TV, there’s room for negotiation. 

Go through to the cancellation line if you are ready to switch providers. Customer service might offer you a deal but the cancellation line has the real power. 

In summer, use a solar phone-charger, around £20 from Amazon.

Do a good job on car cover 

Pay annually – monthly instalments are treated as loans by insurers and you’ll pay interest on them, possibly the equivalent of up to 36 per cent a year. 

Choose the right job title for yourself and see how quotes differ. Never lie about your role, but titles such as community nurse, staff nurse or assistant nurse may raise or lower a quote. 

Add an experienced driver to a younger person’s policy. It is legal to add a secondary driver, with their permission, and it can reduce premiums, as can a tracker, an immobiliser or an alarm. 

Don’t auto-renew and cut extras such as breakdown, which can be bought cheaper elsewhere. 

Cool it on laundry bills 

Wash your clothes on a cold setting if they aren’t very dirty or stained. It is much cheaper in terms of electricity to wash them on cold wash, and it also makes them last longer. 

How to be a savvy online armchair shopper 

Use cashback websites such as TopCashback and Quidco to earn commission on your purchases. 

Use price-comparison websites such as pricespy.co.uk, kelkoo.co. uk, pricerunner.com and idealo.co. uk before you buy. 

Or type the barcode of the item you want to buy into Google to compare prices at different retailers. Alternatively, type in a model number and it will bring them up in Google Shopping. 

Registering with sales sites such as lovesales.com will give you a head start on any upcoming sales to help with your planning. 

Signing up for the newsletters of your favourite brands will often secure a discount code. You can sign up each adult member of your household if you want to receive several codes. 

Download a Google Chrome plugin such as Honey or Pouch. When you’re on a website and go to the checkout page, they’ll go through every discount code that could possibly work for that retailer and automatically apply it to your basket within seconds. 

If the online store you’re using has a ‘live chat’ function, use it to ask for an on-the-spot discount. You have nothing to lose in asking, and it often works. 

You can sell unwanted gift cards on websites such as cardyard.co.uk and you can buy them there at a discount too.

MISS PIGGY MAY BE WORTH A MINT 

Some tips from my friend Joe Stutter – he’s been buying and selling online since he was 15 so knows how to get the most cash: Things worth trying to sell on sites such as eBay, Etsy, Facebook Market – place, Gumtree and the online car boot sale app Shpock include the unexpected: old tins or jars advertising food brands such as Cadbury’s and Ryvita. 

Other items include books signed by authors; novels recently made into TV shows or movies; and DVDs of TV shows that are not on streaming sites. 

Make a mint: Classic soft toys such as characters from the Muppets and other retro collectables are worth selling

Make a mint: Classic soft toys such as characters from the Muppets and other retro collectables are worth selling

Make a mint: Classic soft toys such as characters from the Muppets and other retro collectables are worth selling

Old computer games and consoles can be of interest, similarly obsolete technology such as Walkmans; action figures from Star Wars, Transformers and 1980s and 1990s cartoons; as well as Lego from before 2000 – you can even sell individual pieces on bricklink.com. 

Board games are popular, as are classic soft toys such as characters from Sesame Street and the Muppets; advertising characters such as the PG Tips monkeys and Tony the Tiger; Jellycat toys – try jellycat.com/retireddesigns and jellyexpress.co.uk. 

Clothing from Kate Moss’s collaboration with Topshop, and 1990s brands now back in fashion such as Fila and Champion may sell. Or, to earn some spare cash, try this: You will be paid small sums for doing surveys on websites such as: Voxpopme, Swagbucks, Toluna, YouGov and i-Say. 

Upload photos of local landmarks at websites such as picfair.com, foap.com and shutter stock. com and they may be used by newspapers. 

Become a mystery shopper by registering at websites such as uk.marketforceshopper.com. 

Make sure it’s shops that stay loyal to you 

Create a dedicated email address for loyalty schemes so you are not bombarded with messages on your normal email. 

Alternatively, try an app such as Stocard to store them all on your smartphone.

If you provide your date of birth, many stores (including Paperchase, The Body Shop and Hobbycraft) will send you a £5 voucher on your birthday. 

However, loyalty doesn’t always pay. If a retailer knows you are loyal, they are unlikely to send you many promotions. Stop shopping at your usual supermarket for a few weeks and wait for them to try to entice you back.

Learn where to find the relevant discount coupons 

Download a digital coupon app such as Shopmium, ClickSnap, GreenJinn and CheckoutSmart. They’ll load the money you save into your account on the app and when you have reached £10 you can get it paid out via Paypal or into your bank account. 

You can find printable coupons on websites such as caringeveryday. co.uk, which is run by Johnson & Johnson and gives you money off its brands. Follow supermarkets or brands on social media as they will often let you know about coupons, special offers or voucher codes. 

Find Amazon discounts through a jungle of offers 

Bank the look: Clothing from Kate Moss’s collaboration with Topshop starting in 2007 is popular

Bank the look: Clothing from Kate Moss’s collaboration with Topshop starting in 2007 is popular

Bank the look: Clothing from Kate Moss’s collaboration with Topshop starting in 2007 is popular

Use Amazon discount-finder websites such as jungle-search.com/uk to find bargains. Select the category you want to search and the discount level (up to 95 per cent) and it will scour the entire site for the best deals. Also use Amazon’s Subscribe and Save scheme for 5 per cent off purchases and free delivery – you can order in bulk once, then cancel the subscription when you no longer need it. You’ll still have saved money. Similarly, take advantage of the free month’s trial for Prime. 

To track price-drops on Amazon use websites such as uk.camelcamelcamel. com. And check the ‘today’s deals’ section of the Amazon site. The average saving is about 30 per cent but can be as high as 70 per cent. 

Amazon also has a voucher page where you can find discount codes for popular products. Click on the item to collect the voucher for that product, then, if you choose to buy, the voucher will automatically be applied at checkout. 

Amazon Warehouse resells millions of like-new, pre-owned items that have been returned by customers at a discount. And Amazon Outlet is a little-known section of the website where you can get discounts on overstocked or clearance items. 

If you put things in your Amazon basket and leave them there you will get a notification when the price has dropped.

Savings to Dine Out on

Eating out does not have to be an expensive affair if you plan the occasion in advance.

Sign up for birthday treats – even for your pets 

Set up a dedicated email address for restaurants’ newsletters, which often include promotions and vouchers, and join restaurant loyalty schemes. If you add your date of birth, you’ll get: a free meal from Frankie & Benny’s; a free treat from Greggs; a free doughnut from Krispy Kreme; a free cookie from Millie’s Cookies; a free bottle of prosecco from Pizza Express or a free milkshake from Ed’s Diner. Even your pet will get a free treat if you take them into Pets At Home on their birthday. 

Download apps from restaurants, takeaways, pubs and cocktail bars for introductory offers. Try Greggs, McDonald’s and All Bar One. 

Discount app Wriggle (getawriggleon.com) gives independent restaurants the chance to share last-minute offers in certain cities – currently Bristol, Brighton, Cardiff, Bath and Birmingham. 

LIKE SURPRISES? TRY ‘SECRET’ HOTELS AND SAVE A FORTUNE 

Travel Checks

Whether you’re going abroad or planning a staycation, you can make huge savings on holiday bookings: 

Drive a hard bargain 

If you rent a car, don’t pay extra for a satnav. Instead, try apps such as Navmii, which will turn your phone into a satnav. Avoid data-roaming charges by using Google Maps and downloading the maps you need in advance, then using them offline. 

Find cheap fuel with apps such as PetrolPrices in the UK. 

Travel checks: Whether you're going abroad or planning a staycation, you can make huge savings on holiday bookings

Travel checks: Whether you're going abroad or planning a staycation, you can make huge savings on holiday bookings

Travel checks: Whether you’re going abroad or planning a staycation, you can make huge savings on holiday bookings

Railcards are associated with students and pensioners, but there are nine types of railcard available – including Two Together, Family and Friends and a 26–30 Railcard offering up to 30 per cent off rail travel. 

Use the Seatfrog app to bid on empty first-class train seats. From 24 hours before you travel, use the app to search for your train journey and check available upgrades. 

Surprise hotel bookings 

Use comparison sites with good rewards, such as hotels.com and ebookers.com to find hotels while earning cashback and potentially a free night’s stay.

Do log on to Try A Top Secret Hotel – this is a section of the website lastminute.com that offers rooms at four and five-star hotels for up to 40 per cent less than the regular price, although you won’t know the name of the hotel until after you book.

Pick a good time to fly

It’s usually cheaper to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Try secretflying. com for cheap dates and a website such as Skyscanner to compare airlines. Clear the cookies on your browser, or prices may rise. 

Get the app Red by Dufry for duty free discounts or try the airports’ own apps for restaurant or retail savings. 

Don’t book excursions through your package holiday firm, try an app such as viator.com to book direct with local guides for a better price. 

Sign up to the website Holiday Extras, browse for airport car parking or an airport hotel, get a quote, then close the app. Within 24 hours you should receive an email offering you a discount on your searched booking, usually of 10 to 15 per cent. 

 

Take out a Tastecard, which offers 50 per cent off or two-for-one meals at more than 6,000 restaurants. They offer trials, for example 60 days for £1, so you can try it out and then cancel if you want. 

Restaurants that serve alcohol must serve tap water free of charge – don’t be embarrassed to ask.

Time for Giving and Receiving

With our thoughts turning to Christmas, it’s worth thinking about gifts in all shapes and sizes. 

Christmas treats that don’t rely on Santa visiting

Christmas is probably the most expensive time of the year. It can also be a stressful time, pressuring people to pay for perfect presents and food. Spread the financial load by buying gifts, decorations and accessories throughout the year. Here’s the savers’ calendar: 

November: Fancy-dress outfits are reduced after Halloween – a Disney princess or superhero costume will work as a Christmas gift. 

December: Expensive toy advent calendars are reduced from the start of the month. You can repurpose the contents as individual gifts or buy a reusable wooden advent calendar and restock it every year. 

January: Festive stock will be 50 per cent off at the start of January and 90 per cent off by the end of the month. Buy decorations, wrapping and crackers at this point. 

February and March: After Valentine’s Day and Easter are the best times to buy chocolate cheaply. The weeks after Easter are also the time to buy craft supplies. 

August: Big toys such as bouncy castles and paddling pools go on sale at the end of summer. 

September: Stationery is cheap after the start of the school year – excellent for stocking-fillers. Try ‘skimming’ and keep the money you save for Christmas. Skimming is when you round up your purchases to the nearest whole number and put the extra into a savings account. 

LIKE A BRAND ON FACEBOOK – AND GET FREEBIES

Stylish Saving

Saving money can be a beautiful experience when it comes to pampering yourself. Tips include: 

Roll with the coupons 

Many fashion websites rotate their coupon codes every 24 hours, so if an item has free delivery one day, there’s likely to be a discount the next. Work out what will save you the most. 

Try a website such as everything5pounds for ex-high-street stock costing a fiver. 

Hairdressing bills cut:  Groupon and Wowcher will find you reduced deals at hair salons

Hairdressing bills cut:  Groupon and Wowcher will find you reduced deals at hair salons

Hairdressing bills cut:  Groupon and Wowcher will find you reduced deals at hair salons

If you aren’t in a hurry, put something in your basket and leave it there. If you are registered some retailers will email you a reminder along with a discount code.

All-season favourites 

TK Maxx and The Original Factory Shop sell discounted highend make-up because it’s out of season. 

Discontinued Rimmel, Max Factor, Maybelline and Barry M products are available in Poundland, where you may find two items, such as two nail varnishes or eyeshadows, for £1. 

Makeovers can be booked free of charge at beauty counters such as Boots No7 and Benefit, earning you expert advice on products. At others such as Charlotte Tilbury, the cost of a makeover is redeemable against any purchases. 

Some luxury brands, including Armani, YSL, John Frieda, Rituals and Sanctuary Spa give freebies to people who like their Facebook page. You’ll start getting adverts for free samples of their new products in your Facebook feed. 

Hairdressing bills cut 

Groupon and Wowcher will find you reduced deals at hair salons. 

Your local beauty college is likely to offer appointments with final-year students for about £1.50 for a cut and blowdry, or £7.50 for a head of highlights. Their work will be supervised by teachers.

Local salons need models for trainees to practise on. Blowdrys and trims are usually free and you pay a reduced price for colour. 

Try the app-based banks Monzo and Starling for this service.

Be nice to benefit from random acts of kindness 

Customer services tend to deal mostly with complaints and problems. If you love a brand, write to tell them – they enjoy positive feedback, especially funny stories they can use in marketing or on social media. I sent our favourite sausage company a thank-you note and received a £200 hamper and a photo of the pig farmer holding up my daughters’ drawing.

Something for nothing? Here’s how to get it… 

Join specialist websites that curate freebies such as magicfreebies. co.uk and freesamples.co.uk. Download the hotukdeals app for its freebie section. 

Borrow free ebooks, audiobooks and magazines from your library using your phone or tablet. Go to overdrive.com and use your library card to search its collection. You can borrow (download) anything it has to offer, and it ‘auto returns’ them once your loan expires. 

Become a product tester for Philips at producttester.philips.com and Boots at bootsvolunteers.com. 

New online banking apps such as Chip, Curve and Starling will give you money for joining. 

Many subscription services will offer you the first box free when you join – you just have to pay for postage. Try graze.com for a free snack box and beer52.com for a free box of eight craft beers. Gillette’s starter kit is free when you join its subscription service, and if you take out a tails.com dog-food subscription, you’ll get a free two-week dog-food bag. Meal-subscription boxes such as Hello Fresh, Gousto and Mindful Chef are excellent on offer, so take advantage of 50 per cent off for the first month. 

Always read the terms and conditions before you join to check that you are not tied in and can cancel as soon as you want.

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