Small changes, big difference
I love New Year's Resolutions.
Ever the optimist, I start January bursting with enthusiasm about getting fitter not fatter, sweeping clutter from my home (in fact, just sweeping my home), never snapping at my nearest and dearest and oh, maybe a little bit of world peace. As you do.
Sure, many of them fall by the wayside. Life, laziness and cake intervene.
But last year, I resolved to do something extra each month to make the most of my family's money.
All that stuff like comparing insurance prices, switching electricity providers and applying for higher-paying current accounts. The kind of thing you know you should do, but don't always get round to.
I wrote about the results in yesterday's Sunday Times, and when I added up all the cost savings and extra earnings during 2016 it came to a whopping £9,000.
(Here's the link - afraid it's behind a paywall but think you can still see a photo).
However much I bang on about small savings adding up, I was really surprised at the total.
As regular readers will know, I already try to make every penny count.
We live on a limited income, but do still have emergency savings and money stashed away for retirement. This means I'm keen both to cut costs on money we spend, and also to earn extra on our savings, at a time when interest rates are generally rubbish.
So in case it helps with any of your own New Year's Resolutions to make the most of your money, here's what I did:
Switched electricity provider, saved £394, earned £16.16 cashback by clicking through from TopCashback to the comparison site.
Cut costs on our broadband and home phone without switching, saved £118.
I blogged about asking Plusnet for a better deal back in April last year.
Sold a broken washing machine on eBay, saved £38.50.
Instead of paying the council £38.50 to remove our broken washing machine, I sold it for a penny on eBay for repairs or spares - with the buyer to collect.
Switched to a multi car insurance policy, saved £529, earned £65.65 cashback
We finally bought a new-to-us second car in June. Rather than paying the eye-popping insurance quote, we saved by switching to an Admiral multi car policy, getting a partial refund from our old insurer and clicking through from TopCashback to buy the policy.
Cut our petrol costs, saved £216
Switching to a smaller, more efficient car means we spend a lot less on petrol for my husband's commute into Ipswich.
Bought mobile handsets and switched to cheaper tariffs, saved £195
Buying an older handset outright and adding a SIM-only deal turned out to be cheaper than a contract for the lastest all-singing all-dancing smartphone. I asked for a second fiver a month SIM card from Virgin Mobile for my husband, and cut his costs too.
Researched cooker and connection prices, saved £539
Remember my excitement about the new cooker? I saved £500 by asking a local firm, Stellisons, to price match the best deal I found online, and also found an electrician to connect the cooker for less.
Claimed water leakage allowance, saved £92.97
We had a couple of dripping taps and leaky loos, which is not great when you're on a water meter. Once I got it all fixed, Anglia Water paid us a one-off leakage allowance.
Compared heating oil quotes, saved £150
I've written before for the Sunday Times about saving money on heating oil, as blogged here, and saved £150 in 2016 by ringing around different suppliers.
Cut train fares with a railcard, saved £145
My £30 Network Railcard, as mentioned here and here, has more than paid for itself by cutting a third off the cost of off peak train tickets to London.
Grew herbs, saved £8
Remember my attempts at growing some herbs? Somewhat to my surprise, all but one have survived, and I reckon I've saved about £8 in 2016 compared to buying herbs like parsley, mint, sage and tarragon from the supermarket.
GOT PAID TO SPEND
I'm a big fan of earning cashback on money we would have spent anyway. We use a simple no fee Nationwide Select credit card to get 0.5% cashback, but check out websites like www.moneyfacts.co.uk to find out which cards might suit your circumstances.
Claimed loyalty points, earned £300
I've blogged before about making the most of supermarket vouchers and loyalty cards.
However, even I was surprised to find we'd benefited by £300 thanks to a combination of the Boots Advantage, Morrisons More and Sainsbury's Nectar schemes, plus my Co-op card.
Got cashback on when shopping online, earned an extra £65
In addition to the cashback on insurance and switching electricity provider mentioned above, we earned another £65 from assorted online shopping via cashback websites like Quidco and TopCashback.
MADE THE MOST OF ANY SAVINGS
Interest rates are ridiculously low right now, but you can still get 5% interest on limited monthly payments for a year on regular saver accounts linked to current accounts from the likes of First Direct and Nationwide, For clear, independent best buy tables on savings, I always go to Savings Champion.
Used high-interest current accounts, earned £830 interest & cashback
I've blogged before about using current accounts to earn reasonable rates on your savings.
The good news is that we earned £830 in interest and cashback, after fees, on our five (count 'em) current accounts. The bad news is that the Club Lloyds, TSB Classic and Santander 123 current accounts have all either already cut their rates or will this month, and introductory rate we had with Nationwide only lasted for a year, so I can't hope for similar interest earnings again. Check out Savings Champion if you'd like to see which current accounts are the best bets today, including the Tesco current account I opened in November..
Paid into my pension, earned £675 in tax relief.
I don't know many investments that earn you 25% on day one, but if you bung money in a pension, the taxman will top it up with tax relief. I sent off a cheque for £2,700 to my personal pension, the taxman added £675, and now I can sit back and hope the investment grows.
All my attempts above added up to around £4,700 during 2016.
However, I've also written for the Sunday Times about how just over a year ago I overcame a lifetime of caution to move my hard-won Isa savings from cash into the stock market, and how they progressed afterwards.
Got growth and dividends on my investments, earned £4,300
During 2016, the investment trusts in my Isa grew 14% - from just under £30,070 to almost £34,370 with dividends invested. That's a whole £4,300 higher than on 1 January 2016, carried along with the rising stockmarket.
It bumped up the grand total saved and earned in 2016 to £9,000.
I haven't blogged about my investments before, partly because this blog started off about frugal food and I wasn't sure if anyone would be interested.
But I've been writing about investing for the newspapers for more years than I care to mention - so if you might be interested in me blogging a bit more about what I've invested in, and why, then please do say so in the comments.
Any financial resolutions or top tips for saving more money in 2017? I'd love to hear!